A former Kenner City Council member faces state ethics charges for voting to give an engineering contract to a company her husband was doing work for at the time.
The Louisiana Board of Ethics filed charges earlier this month against Sandra “Jeannie” Black, a Kenner councilwoman from 1994 to 2014.
The Ethics Board also charged the company involved, Hartman Engineering, for making payments to Black’s husband while holding a contract with the city.
Gerard Black worked as an inspector on a sewer system repair project in St. Bernard Parish for Hartman Engineering from June 2012 to October 2013. Hartman paid Black $113,722 for his services, according to the Ethics Board. During the same period, Hartman won two contracts from Kenner worth a total of $423,567.
The Ethics Board said the payments to Gerard Black were illegal because state law forbids elected officials from receiving anything of economic value — even indirectly — from someone with business ties to their government agency.
Jeannie Black, 73, said in an interview Tuesday that she thought she had been cleared of any wrongdoing earlier by investigators. Word that an ethics complaint had been filed against her first surfaced last summer.
She pointed out that her husband, now 75, was an independent contractor for Hartman, not an employee; he worked for various companies in the New Orleans area.
“The file was closed, and there were no discrepancies,” Black said. “At my age, the only good thing I have left is my name. To have something like this come up — I don’t understand what’s going on.”
An attorney for Hartman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The next step for Black and Hartman is an Ethics Adjudicatory Board hearing. If found guilty of ethics violations, each could be fined up to $10,000 and be made to pay restitution.
About eight months after Black’s husband of 52 years began working for Hartman, the Kenner City Council approved a $219,052 engineering deal with Hartman related to the so-called University City and Audubon Drainage project, according to documents published Tuesday.
Black did not discuss the agreement or vote on it when it came up for approval on Feb. 21, 2013, but as council president at the time, she signed an ordinance formalizing the deal.
Then, less than two months later, the Kenner council approved a $204,515 contract for Hartman to work on improvements to the city’s Hanson City Sewer Lift Station. Black voted in favor of that deal and also signed the ordinance, according to the Ethics Board.
Black’s career at Kenner’s City Hall spanned 32 years. She was a secretary for the first 12 years and then spent the rest of her tenure as both a district and at-large City Council member.
It’s not the first time Black has had trouble with the Ethics Board. In 2003, the board fined her and then-Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi $1,000 each for receiving free or discounted private accounting services from a firm that held the city’s auditing contract.
Hartman is owned by B.K. Sneed, whose daughter is former Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Sneed and whose son-in-law is wealthy landfill owner Fred Heebe.