U.S. Sen. John Kennedy on Monday took a shot at Gov. John Bel Edwards and his aides for what he called a "Three Stooges-like performance" overseeing the state's $1.6 billion recovery program for flood victims.
An Edwards spokesman responded that Kennedy was spreading "false information" and trying to score political points at the expense of the good of the state.
State officials have been preparing to award a lucrative contract to a management firm to oversee the rebuilding program for victims of the state's 2016 floods. After reviewing five proposals, state officials decided to award a $250 million contract to North Carolina-based IEM.
However, the award was tossed out after the attorney for the state Licensing Board for Contractors said that IEM and the second-place bidder, PDRM, didn't have the proper contracting licenses at the time they submitted their proposals. IEM has since filed a lawsuit challenging that decision.
Former state Sen. Larry Bankston should have mentioned a possible conflict before he rendere…
Larry Bankston was the attorney who issued the opinion, and his son, Ben, is a regional manager for a company that is owned by the firm that ranked third among the five bidders for the contract and was in line to get the award after the top two were disqualified.
In his statement, Kennedy said that "anyone who knows a law book from a Sears and Roebuck catalog can see that Sen. Larry Bankston has a conflict."
"The Division of Administration and the committee Gov. Edwards put in charge of the recovery have once again turned in a Three Stooges-like performance," Kennedy said in a statement. "The legal opinion they relied on, done by an attorney (and former state senator) whose son worked for one of the contract bidders, has now resulted in even further delay in getting money that the U.S. Congress appropriated seven months ago in the hands of our people."
He added that the appearance of impropriety would make it more difficult to persuade Congress to appropriate more money to victims of the catastrophic August floods.
"Members of Congress and their staff read newspapers too," he said. "And the stench they have been reading about hurts our cause mightily."
Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Edwards, said the state has not caused any "delay in getting assistance to homeowners but, rather, is working within the guidelines of the federal approval process."
"Sen. Kennedy is purposefully choosing to mislead the public and spread false information to homeowners who are still recovering from last year's historic floods," he said. "It would be to Sen. Kennedy's advantage to educate himself on this process since he is our state's voice on the Appropriations Committee.
"At a time when Louisiana is seeking an additional $2 billion to help families and businesses who lost everything in the floods, we should be speaking with one voice for the people of our state, but as is always the case, Sen. Kennedy is looking out for himself," Carbo said.
The original request for proposals was canceled last week and reopened for a fresh round of solicitations. Officials with Edwards' administration said it was canceled because of confusion about which licenses were required and because the original bids were more expensive than projected. Responses to the new solicitation are due April 7, with the winning bidder to be chosen by April 13.
Last week, when The Advocate first reported about Ben Bankston's relationship to the third-place applicant, SLSCO, Larry Bankston said he had been unaware of the potential conflict at the time he issued his opinion.
Billy Sullivan, a co-owner of SLSCO, said the company Ben Bankston works for would not have been involved in the contract work and would not have benefited financially from the award.
The Edwards administration officials said they were unaware of the conflict even at the time they decided to restart the bid process. They also noted that Larry Bankston was hired directly by the licensing board at a time when Edwards had no appointees serving on the board.
Carbo noted that the funds appropriated by Congress have not yet been released to the state.
"Sen. Kennedy's time would be best spent improving efficiencies within the federal government to expedite assistance to homeowners, as the governor has requested, but he has not made a single attempt to do that," Carbo said.