Livingston Parish appears once again on the verge of a possible settlement of a legal dispute with its former road engineering firm.
The Parish Council called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss in executive session a pair of lawsuits between the parish and Alvin Fairburn & Associates. The dispute began in 2012 after the parish fired the firm amid allegations of overbilling on Livingston’s 2010 road overlay program.
“It looks like we have something that, through a lot of effort, may pass muster, and the council will be presented with a resolution Thursday for possible settlement,” Council Chairman Ricky Goff said.
It is unclear whether the settlement, which parish officials have said would include Fairburn paying an undisclosed amount of money, would also settle a pair of defamation lawsuits filed against two Parish Council members personally for comments they made about the firm and former Council Clerk Mary Kistler.
A dispute between the Parish Council and Parish President Layton Ricks over whether to pay the legal bills of council members Marshall Harris and Cindy Wale Franz in defending those two cases nearly ground the Fairburn settlement talks to a halt last month.
The council has resolved to pay the bills, but Ricks repeatedly has refused to sign the check. He’s said he will appeal a recent court ruling ordering him to follow the council’s resolutions to pay.
Fairburn, where Ricks worked prior to taking office in January 2012, and Kistler, who now works as Ricks’ executive assistant, sued Harris and Wale Franz for comments they made in a March 2013 WBRZ-TV news report. The report claimed Kistler had changed the wording of a council resolution to allow Fairburn to bill for unauthorized work on Duff Road near Walker.
Fairburn and Kistler have said the change actually clarified exactly what work had been authorized and that the parish paid less than the council had agreed to pay.
Fairburn and Kistler are seeking money from the two council members personally and signed affidavits agreeing to hold the parish harmless for the council members’ comments.
In refusing to pay the legal bills, Ricks cited a state attorney general’s opinion that suggested withholding payment until a court decided whether Harris and Wale Franz were acting as public officials when they made the comments. That opinion, issued Oct. 7, 2013, also said the Parish Council could vote to pay the bills if it determined the two council members were acting as public officials and that the parish could be liable for any possible wrongdoing.
Goff indicated late Tuesday that Fairburn’s defamation case against the two council members may be resolved as part of the overall settlement. But that part of the deal would have to be approved by Harris and Wale Franz individually, rather than by the council as a whole, he said.
The Kistler case may have to be severed from the group entirely. An Oct. 17 letter from Kistler’s attorney, Karl Koch, to parish legal adviser Chris Moody indicates Kistler was willing to consider a settlement only if Harris and Wale Franz publicly apologized to her for their comments.
Neither Harris nor Wale Franz could be reached for comment on the matter Wednesday.
In the contract dispute, Fairburn sued the parish on April 25, 2012, claiming the parish breached its agreement by firing the company before the contract’s end date of Jan. 21, 2021, when the parish’s voter-approved road tax supporting the overlay program was set to expire. The parish filed suit against the firm five days later, seeking reimbursement of $312,425 of a $453,000 check Ricks wrote to the firm immediately after taking office in January 2012.
The parish claims Fairburn performed unauthorized work on the 2010 road overlay project and overbilled for the work performed. The firm has said it performed only authorized work and billed only for work performed.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.