The Louisiana Board of Ethics has accused a former Orleans Parish school official of pressuring a private contractor to create a position and hire a specific person for the job.
Herman Taitt, the former Orleans Parish School Board executive director of operations who criticized how hurricane recovery contracts were divvied up, allegedly wanted GCA Services Group to hire Andrenetta Thomas for a $13-an-hour “coordinator” job that was outside the scope of the private company’s contract with the School Board, according to the Ethics Board’s charging document.
The School Board had a contract with GCA to provide custodial services as well as minor repair work.
GCA on several occasions requested that Taitt amend the contract to include the coordinator position, the Ethics Board alleged. “Herman Taitt advised GCA Services Group not to speak to others with the Orleans Parish School Board and not to go over his head regarding the issue,” the board stated.
If he is found to have abused his office, Taitt could be fined $10,000.
State law forbids government employees from using their authority to compel or coerce a private company to give anything of economic value to the employee or anyone else.
In addition to a fine, violators also can be removed from office, suspended, demoted or have their pay reduced. However, Taitt has left New Orleans for a university job in another state.
“It’s a politically motivated bogus charge,” Taitt’s attorney, Willie Zanders Sr., of New Orleans, said Monday.
“He hired someone to assist in providing more accountability over contracts, but someone seized on the manner in which the person was hired and used it against him to discredit him,” Zanders said. “Our records show he saved the district money by hiring her.”
Zanders said Taitt had criticized the way the Recovery School District divided Hurricane Katrina dollars for school rebuilding work. The Lusher Charter School, for instance, should not have gotten millions in federal money when other schools were still in trailers after Katrina, he said.
Taitt also was a “whistleblower” about a board member’s relative potentially benefiting from a project and about questionable contractor oversight of school projects, Zanders said.
The charge against Taitt followed a confidential investigation by the Ethics Board. The board voted to issue the charge in a closed-door session. It is unclear when the action occurred, but the results were released Monday, when a hearing was requested before the Ethics Adjudicatory Board.
Former Orleans Parish School Board President Ira Thomas said the school administration had alerted the Ethics Board to the situation. He said he was surprised by the ethics charge. “From the information I have, I don’t believe he was in violation,” Thomas said, adding that the woman hired is not related to him.
Andrenetta Thomas worked in the coordinator position from Sept. 26, 2011, until she was terminated on April 16, 2013, when the School Board ceased paying for the position “as it was determined that the position was not within the scope of the contract between GCA Services Group and the Orleans Parish School Board.”
The Ethics Board said the contract required GCA to have a work-order system to manage the work to be performed for the School Board and to ensure that the work was completed.
“In 2011, Herman Taitt ... requested a specific individual work at the School Board’s office to serve the same function as the scheduler in the GCA Services Group’s office,” the Ethics Board said. “Taitt lacked authority to request GCA Services Group to supply a work coordinator position outside the scope of the ... contract.”
The Ethics Board said the firm followed Taitt’s wishes, and that he participated in the interview process and then recommended the hiring of Andrenetta Thomas.
Zanders said Thomas is not a relative or a friend of Taitt.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB.