Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts called the parish Housing Authority a “cesspool” Wednesday during a testy exchange with the agency’s vice chairman, who in turn accused Roberts of sending him insulting text messages.
The dustup came during a discussion of whether the council should push state legislation that would allow it to take over control of the agency, something council members have been considering since the Housing Authority’s board fired its executive director last month.
Ultimately, the council stopped short of voting on a resolution asking the Legislature to transform the agency into a special district within parish government.
Roberts said he was satisfied for now with the fact that Jefferson Sheriff Newell Normand would be joining the authority’s board, a step the council approved Wednesday at the request of Councilman Ricky Templet.
But the mutual recriminations made it clear that controversy continues over an agency that’s been in turmoil for years.
Roberts said he was withdrawing the resolution “with the idea that this may come up again at another time.”
The latest dispute turned on the authority’s decision not to renew its contract with the executive director it hired two years ago, Juan Patterson.
Roberts suggested that the board let him go because Patterson had raised objections to a $2 million no-bid professional services contract that he said should have been awarded in an open bidding process.
“I find it a bit ironic that the gentleman who is calling into question the contract ... now finds himself unemployed,” Roberts said. “And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
The authority’s vice chairman, Jimmy Lawson, said the contract in question, with the Louisiana Housing Development Corp., has to do with Section 8 housing and is therefore supposed to be a no-bid contract. Patterson, he said, was simply incorrect in saying otherwise.
He refused to say why Patterson, whose contract is up on April 22, was not asked to return.
Roberts also complained that the parish cannot get a clear answer from the either the Louisiana Housing Development Corp. or the authority about how many participants in the Section 8 program have their rent vouchers revoked each year because of violations related to criminal activity.
“I’m just trying to figure out what we’re paying $2 million a year for,” he said.
Lawson — a former parish councilman who lost a bid for Roberts’ council seat in last fall’s elections — said producing those kinds of numbers isn’t as easy as Roberts thinks.
The Housing Authority’s tumultuous recent history includes several federal audits and the firing of the two directors who preceded Patterson.
In 2012, then-Parish President John Young fired six members of the board, and their replacements then fired director Barry Bordelon, who was the subject of federal scrutiny.
But Lawson said he objects to the regular characterization of the authority as “troubled,” saying the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers it a “high-performing” office.
Roberts scoffed at the idea, pointing to four reports from the HUD Inspector General’s Office saying the agency violated federal regulations.
“By no means has this been any role model agency that has been conducting itself like it’s supposed to,” Roberts said.
Lawson said those were compliance audits. He said two were resolved, one was appealed a month ago and the last remains in dispute.
Lawson, who joined the board in late 2014, said he and other members have been working to make sure the office runs legally and professionally.
Lawson read aloud a text he said he received from Roberts calling him “a leech” and telling Lawson and the “thieves” and “thugs” he associates with that “your days are up.”
Roberts responded: “I stand by every word I said.”