ACA.lusupdate..01112019

Lafayette City-Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux speaks during the Evangeline Maid centennial mural dedication ceremony Thursday, October 17, 2019, in Lafayette, La.

An internal investigation of Lafayette Utilities System's fiber operations ordered by Mayor-President Joel Robideaux in October should be wrapped up in December.

In his first report about the investigation to the LUS governing body, the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority, Robideaux said Tuesday he will probably be ready to present the results of the investigation to the LPUA or city-parish council Dec. 17. Then the information will be reported to the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

City-Parish Councilwoman Liz Hebert said she would have preferred to hire an independent auditor with no relation to Lafayette Consolidated Government to conduct a full forensic audit of LUS and LUS fiber.

Robideaux, who appointed CAO Lowell Duhon as interim LUS director to conduct the internal audit, said it would cost more to hire an auditor than the $58 per hour pay raise — $100,000 a year — Duhon will receive as LUS director for a few months.

Former LUS director defends, explains pricing for fiber charges to LUS, LCG

His remarks Tuesday were critical of former LUS Director Terry Huval, who retired in July 2018 after more than two decades at the helm of the public utility. Huval was director when LUS twice paid for services it either didn't receive from fiber or for which fiber overcharged.

In April 2018, Huval self-reported a possible violation of Louisiana Public Service rules and a state law after learning the LUS wastewater and electric divisions paid LUS fiber for internet services never used, because LUS never completed the final connection or discontinued the service without notifying the fiber division.

"LUS," Robideaux said Tuesday, "would not have mistakenly or intentionally paid Cox or AT&T for unconnected services."

Fiber repaid LUS $1.7 million plus interest.

Huval retired in part because Robideaux told him he wanted to appoint another director of fiber and cut his $250,000 salary in half, which would cost Huval thousands in retirement and severance pay.

Lafayette councilman challenges LUS pay hike, fiber investigation by Mayor-President Robideaux

Robideaux's three LCG interim promotions came with huge raises

In July 2019, Robideaux reported another issue to the PSC involving a smart meter monitoring system using the LUS fiber system that he said may been priced improperly or not needed, which would be another violation of the Local Government Fair Competition Act, designed to keep government-operated services competitive with private providers of the same services.

At the time, he said, he met with PSC Commissioner Craig Green and his attorney. Green asked about other interagency transfers from LUS and Lafayette Consolidated Government to Fiber. Robideaux said he committed to Green to look at those other transfers.

While there's nothing in writing, Robideaux said, "I took it as an official request to do an investigation."

Robideaux’s LUS, Fiber management shakeup not prompted by Public Service Commission

Robideaux, in October, launched an internal review of the LUS fiber operations. In a press release Oct. 11, Robideaux said the review was requested by the PSC. But PSC officials said they have no knowledge or documents to support that request.

The July 2018 self-reported issue is on the PSC docket for consideration, Robideaux said. He asked the PSC to hold off on it and the second self-report until his internal investigation is complete. If the LPUA decides to hire an independent auditor to conduct a forensic audit, he said, he still will complete the internal review because the auditor will want the report and all supporting materials.

Did Robideaux follow proper procedure in interim LUS, fiber appointments?

Email Claire Taylor at ctaylor@theadvocate.com.