Acting Public Works Director William Daniel said Monday he suggested East Baton Rouge Parish library officials put a hold on the downtown library project so the plans can be reviewed.
Daniel said he made the suggestion during a meeting Wednesday with Library System Director David Farrar and that it had nothing to do with a controversy over the process that was used to select an architect to design the new library building.
Daniel said his concern was opposition from the Metro Council. A majority of council members have signaled they will not vote to approve any contracts for the $21.4 million project.
Daniel said council members remain unconvinced that tearing down the existing structure and building a new one is the right approach. He said he recommended Farrar have a “peer review” done that would take six to eight months to complete.
He said he told Farrar the council’s concerns need to be addressed if the project is going to advance.
“I said the council obviously has some concerns and maybe you should address those concerns,” Daniel said.
Daniel, who serves in a dual role as assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, said the mayor remains committed to seeing a new library built downtown.
“The mayor still 100 percent supports this project,” Daniel said. “We think it’s good for downtown.”
Farrar last week had placed an item on the agenda for Thursday’s Library Board of Control meeting “to remove the River City branch library project from the current construction schedule.”
He said his move was prompted by the controversy that erupted over the architect selection process. He said he thought it was a good opportunity to pause and re-evaluate the project’s status.
Architect Trey Trahan, one of three finalists after an initial screening, has cried foul over how the architect selection process was handled.
His attorney, R. Gray Sexton, said Monday the process was “effectively derailed by the misconduct and untoward action” of two city-parish public works officials and representatives of competing architectural firms.
“It’s unfortunate that this entire process has been undermined by the greed, avarice and jealousy of others,” Sexton said.
The controversy revolves around what Sexton says was misleading information suggesting Trahan’s work wasn’t original, that he had copied from a library design done by an architectural firm in the Netherlands.
Sexton said two of Trahan’s architect competitors provided the information to Parish Architect Jim Frey, who shared it with Parish Engineer Jim Ferguson and other city-parish officials.
Ferguson is chairman of the city-parish Design and Planning Selection Board, an eight-member panel of architects, engineers and city-parish officials that makes recommendations on architectural and other professional service contracts.
Sexton said Ferguson provided copies of the drawings showing the two designs side by side — Trahan’s and that done by the Netherlands firm — to “selected members” of the board.
As a result, Sexton said, Trahan went from receiving the most first-place votes after the selection board’s initial screening on April 28 to finishing last following the oral presentations by the three finalists on May 19.
Sexton said Trahan received a telephone call that evening from Farrar, who served on the selection committee as the using agency’s representative, saying the selection process had been compromised by the distribution of the misleading materials.
Daniel strongly denied Sexton’s claim that his staff acted improperly.
“I can tell you that we have engaged in no misconduct,” Daniel said. “We think the selection process was fine and fair to everybody. We don’t see any wrongdoing on anybody’s part.”
Frey’s attorney, Henry Olinde, said: “Jim Frey did his job, nothing more, nothing less. Jim did not create anything that would have been used or was intended to be used against anyone in the process.”
Ferguson referred questions to Parish Attorney Mary Roper, who said her office reviewed the situation and found no wrongdoing by Frey or Ferguson.
Sexton said city-parish officials advised him that there is an ongoing FBI investigation. He said he did not know its exact focus or status.
Sheila Thorne, a spokeswoman for the FBI in New Orleans, said the agency doesn’t confirm or deny if it is conducting an investigation until something is entered in the public record.