City-parish and state agency officials who deal with federal Homeland Security grants met Thursday to try to resolve some of their differences on how the grants should be handled to keep East Baton Rouge Parish from losing federal funds.
“It was a very positive meeting,” said Murphy J. Foster III, an outside lawyer retained by Mayor-President Kip Holden.
Foster said he, another lawyer from his office and JoAnne Moreau, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, met for 2 1/2 hours with top officials of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and a state agency lawyer at the state agency’s headquarters.
Foster said Moreau is returning to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness on Friday with members of her staff to try to work through issues the state agency has raised with respect to $1.3 million in Homeland Security grants from fiscal year 2008.
“That’s obviously the most urgent,” Foster said, noting a Dec. 15 deadline for closing out that grant.
He said the group is on track to “hopefully have 100 percent of the $1.3 million in grants for fiscal year 2008 funded.”
Foster said some reimbursement requests for that fiscal year exceeded the $1.3 million and would not be eligible for reimbursement. He said he did not have information on the amounts.
He described the discussions Thursday as “very constructive, not at all acrimonious,” although major issues are yet to be resolved.
“Hopefully these discussions will lay the groundwork for a positive relationship between the Mayor’s Office and JoAnne’s agency and GOHSEP going forward,” Foster said.
He said the city-parish remains strongly of the opinion that GOHSEP, which administers federal Homeland Security grants in Louisiana, does not have the authority to require that the parish sheriff review and sign off on grant applications.
“We have a difference of opinion on whether the sheriff needs to be signing off on these grants in the future,” Foster said. “Hopefully we can reach a middle ground on that in the future.”
Foster said the group also discussed briefly GOHSEP’s decision last week to remove the Mayor’s Office from control over Homeland Security grants. He said that will need to be the subject of future discussions.
GOHSEP designated the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ascension Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness as the 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.
Foster said he thinks previous “misunderstandings on both sides” led to the conflicts between Moreau’s agency and GOHSEP.
He said sometimes it helps to bring everybody together to “take a fresh look at things with other persons who are involved to help bring matters that may have been out of focus into focus.”