Search This Blog


Levee chairman tops self in questionable ethical behavior

Just when you thought there was no way the Orleans Levee District could demonstrate itself to be more derelict in its behavior than by its negligence of flood protection that likely contributed to the flooding of New Orleans, it produces another episode of loose-and-fast ethical behavior.

Of course, it comes courtesy of its chairman Jim Huey. For months he’s been trying to engineer himself a big payoff since the District’s board chairman only earns a pittance and state law allows other levee district board leaders to earn $1,000 a month. He argues that he’s owed the monthly stipend over his nine-year term even if state law doesn’t entitle him to it. This has come after he tried to get a fast one pulled in the legislature to accomplish much the same thing. And instead of making sure of adequate flood protection, the District has been funding amenities for casinos and investigations (and paying judgments because of them) into Huey’s ideological opponents.

Now it comes out that Huey didn’t waste any time after Hurricane Katrina in putting the fix in. He committed the board to pay rent (reimbursable by the federal government) for office space to his cousin-in-law, and to that guy’s son a contract to get cleaned up both of the District’s marinas (just two of the many things where District money went instead of flood protection). Let’s check out his explanations concerning these sweetheart deals.

In the name of the board, he rented 3,000 square feet for $5,000 a month for six months in Baton Rouge. Which raises a number of questions:

  • Out of the vast property holdings of the District, there wasn’t anywhere it had enough room to gather its seven members together (a few already holding other government offices who surely could have lent space nearby)? All of its holdings were that badly damaged?
  • Even though a couple of them were clearly around the area, Huey claimed couldn’t contact any (wasn’t New Orleans City CAO Charles Rice easy enough to find – just follow the television cameras to Mayor Ray Nagin?)?
  • Baton Rouge was the closest he could find (Huey says the state turned him down to lend the District space)? Besides the aforementioned other board members and their connections to places nearby (such as Rice and New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis), what about the Northshore? Or the western part of the Westbank, largely unaffected by the flooding?
  • Would the federal government really refuse to reimburse a monthly lease, as Huey claims? That makes no sense if it meant saving taxpayers’ money.
  • Maybe rental rates have gone up in unaffected areas, but isn’t $5,000 a month rather high?

  • And, despite his connections, he could not find any property at a lower rate?

    The other no-bid contract almost makes this one look virtuous. Essentially, Huey contracted to the son of his cousin’s husband and to another guy who the son had met only days before to create a new company in a field they didn’t know anything about to restore order to the smashed-up marinas. Huey said he did this out of fear that people would happen or intrude on the property, injure themselves, and sue the District. Again, there are questions:

  • I thought the city was closed, parts of it still are, and the authorities clearly stated anybody venturing into closed areas were at their own risk (or there illegally). This includes the marinas, and then excludes any legal actions from occurring.
  • And if all this new company did was find a firm to subcontract the work out to, why didn’t Huey just pick up the phone and do it himself instead of letting the new company take a 10 percent cut out of its deal?

    Fortunately, other board members finally have woken out of their slumber and have started to ask questions about these things. To which Huey has responded he might step down from the board because of the querying. My advice to it: take this offer and lock the door in case he changes his mind.
  • No comments: