Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso has been sitting on the Metro Council for three years despite a 2002 opinion from the Board of Ethics that told him it was problematic to be a councilman while running his company Prime Properties.
The Ethics Board concluded back then that the relationship between Amoroso’s property management firm and the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority raised red flags. The housing authority describes itself as an independent and autonomous agency. The Metro Council appoints its membership, but has no budgetary control over the housing authority.
Amoroso said this week that he believed rule changes made since 2002 made it OK for him to sit on the council despite the old opinion.
But Amoroso has not sought an updated opinion from the Board of Ethics about whether sitting on the council while running Prime Properties creates a conflict. Had Amoroso asked for a more updated opinion in recent years, it may have come to a different conclusion.
Two more recent opinions pertaining to public officials who also had ties to housing authorities gave them more favorable results. The two more up-to-date opinions, from 2012 and 2015 and in different parts of the state, both deemed housing authorities as separate entities from local government.
The opinion Amoroso sought in 2002 states that Amoroso should not have both jobs because Prime Properties has a contractual and financial relationship with the housing authority. Specifically, the opinion cites contracts between Prime Properties and the housing authority for Section 8 rental assistance subsidies for low-income tenants.
Amoroso said his firm is required to accept section 8 vouchers, but that Prime Properties has “very few of them.”
“We don’t have any direct contracts with housing authority, all of our properties are private pay,” Amoroso said.
The opinion from 2002 also states that public servants cannot have contracts or transactions that fall under the supervision of a public servant’s agency. It specifies that the housing authority is considered to fall under the jurisdiction of the Metro Council.
Amoroso said he did not see it as a conflict because the Metro Council lacks control over the housing authority’s money and operations.
“We were told that since we don’t have direct authority over the housing authority or section 8…we felt that it was no problem with going ahead and running,” Amoroso said. He said he asked for the opinion when he was considering running in 2002, but Amoroso was not elected to the council until 2012.
Amoroso’s beliefs may be backed by some other, more recent ethics board opinions.
In 2012, an opinion concluded that a Kenner councilwoman who owned property in the Section 8 program was not violating ethics rules because the Kenner City Council did not have supervision over the housing authority. The Kenner housing authority is separate from the city, aside from the mayor appointing its board members.
An ethics opinion from 2015 addresses whether a town alderman for Jonesboro was within his rights to provide paid services for their housing authority. That opinion also determined that the housing authority was its own entity, separate from the town of Jonesboro, which made it OK for the alderman to do both.