Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe said he wants the council to consider an official investigation of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, in which the mayor’s staff could be subpoenaed and required to testify under oath.
“There’s a provision in the Plan of Government that allows the council to vote to conduct an official investigation,” Loupe said Friday.
He has placed an item on the council’s agenda for Wednesday to consider authorizing such an investigation, which he said would allow the council to issue subpoenas and get sworn statements.
“My experience as a lawyer is that if you want to find out the truth, most of the time you have to swear people in and get their statements under oath,” Loupe said.
Mayor-President Kip Holden and officials with his office did not respond to email requests and telephone calls Friday seeking a response to Loupe’s proposal.
If the full council votes to authorize an investigation, it would mark the first time that has happened in recent history.
Council Administrator Brian Myers said there have been two such attempts in the past 25 years he has worked in the council administrator’s office to conduct official investigations. Both failed because they did not receive a council majority, he said.
Holden’s Homeland Security office has been embroiled in a long-running conflict with the state agency charged with administering federal homeland security grants in Louisiana.
Holden has refused to follow a requirement of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness that the parish sheriff review and sign off on grant applications, saying that essentially gives the sheriff veto power over homeland security spending. He contends GOHSEP does not have legal authority to impose such a requirement.
GOHSEP stripped Holden’s office of its control of homeland security grants and has designated the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security as new grant managers and fiduciary agents.
The decision means the mayor will have to go through the Sheriff’s Office for projects funded by Homeland Security grants in fiscal years 2009, 2010 and in future years. For regional projects, the controlling agent will be the Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security.
GOHSEP has cited deficiencies in the way the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security has handled grants, including failure to itemize purchases submitted for reimbursement; noncompliance with various program rules and failure to provide required documentation.
Loupe said he wants a detailed accounting of how Homeland Security funds have been spent the past several years and how computers, Apple iPads and other items purchased with the funds have been distributed.
“I have enough information already that I think a formal investigation is warranted,” Loupe said.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker, who serves as the council’s chairman, said he supports Loupe.
“I have no problem with Chandler Loupe doing that,” Walker said. “I understand and support his efforts.”
Walker separately sent an email to council members Friday outlining several suggestions that he said are meant to prevent the kinds of problems the city-parish is confronting with the grants.
He called for an independent, outside auditor to be contracted with “to audit the 2008, 2009 and 2010 grants in question in order to determine compliance with grant requirements and to also recommend changes to the city-parish internal process for handling and reporting on these grants.”
Walker recommended that the administration provide periodic reports — possibly monthly — on the status of the grants.
He also said that the Parish Attorney’s Office should be directed to review GOHSEP’s interpretation of its authority to set grant rules, specifically the requirement that the parish sheriff review and sign grant documents.
Holden has retained an outside lawyer, Murphy J. Foster III, to represent the city-parish in its dealings with GOHSEP on the grants issue.
Holden’s office has not responded to a request for a copy of the legal services agreement with Foster. The contract is expected to be below the $50,000 amount that would require council approval.
Loupe questioned hiring an outside lawyer when the services of the Parish Attorney’s Office could be used at no cost to taxpayers.
Loupe had previously set an informational hearing on the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security spending practices for 2 p.m. Wednesday, before the council’s regular meeting at 4 p.m.
“I don’t expect much cooperation but I’m still going forward with that,” Loupe said.
Regardless, he said, an official investigation is still warranted.
Holden defended his office’s handling of Homeland Security grants in a news release this week, saying, “no money has been misused, mismanaged or misallocated.”