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Ethics violation charges fly between commissioners

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 23, 1998

LAPLACE – Charges and counter-charges of possible ethics violations flew at Wednesday’s meeting of the South Louisiana Port Commission.

E.J. Martin, a governor’s appointee to represent St. John the Baptist Parish,has been one of the targets of a State Inspector General’s Office probe into the inner workings of Bay Star Enterprises and its operation of the Globalplex facility.

Martin is a friend of Bay Star’s principle, Marvin Harvey.

Commissioner Brent Tregre, a St. John Parish government appointee to thecommission, said on Sept. 16 that Martin’s financial involvement withHarvey and Bay Star constituted a conflict of interest regarding Martin’s subsequent votes on matters regarding the Bay Star probe.

At that meeting, Tregre displayed a list of checks paid by Bay Star to Martin, including loan repayments and others for non-specified purposes.

“That’s the definition of a conflict of interest,” Tregre declared.

At Wednesday’s meeting, however, Martin had a few conflict of interest charges of his own to aim at Tregre.

Martin noted that Tregre’s 1996 appointment had been motioned by Parish Councilman Ranney Wilson, whose own business, Belle Point Services, has been operating Globalplex’s foreign trade zone.

By Tregre making a motion to reduce foreign trade zone fees to Wilson’s company in October 1997, and by Tregre’s motion to reduce Wilson’s lease at Globalplex in November 1997, Martin charged, Tregre himself was possibly in violation of state ethics code rules.

“I have no problem with the Ethics Board,” Tregre declared.

According to minutes of the port commission, at the Oct. 8, 1997 meetingon FTZ rates, the commission followed the recommendations of staff attorney Joseph Accardo. The motion was made by Louis Joseph andseconded by Gregory Lier.

At the Nov. 12, 1997 meeting, Tregre did argue for the reduction in thelease with Wilson and made the motion to do so. The motion was approvedwith all present voting yes. Only Lier was absent from that meeting.St. James Parish port commissioner Cart Davis stalked from the roomwhile accusations were flying, declaring the meeting had veered into the ludicrous. “I don’t know what’s going on, but this is ludicrous. I don’t haveto stay here and listen to this foolishness,” he said.

Davis then abruptly got up and left the meeting room.

St. Charles Parish commissioner Lier motioned to send a letter to theEthics Board regarding the Bay Star Enterprises probe, and it was seconded by Tregre.

St. John Parish commissioner Joseph commented, “We need to do thingsmore fairly. This is not a new image for the port. We’ve got a Cadillacoperation with a Volkswagen engine.”The commission voted 5-1 to send letters to the state Ethics Board to review all the matters. Tregre and Martin each voted in favor; Josephvoted no.

In port business, executive director Gary LaGrange announced tentative plans for the port to host an evening dinner on Dec. 15 for 34 Ministers ofTransportation from Central and South American nations, along with Vice President Al Gore. The dinner is part of a major conference to be hosted bythe Port of New Orleans.

“It would be a major coup for us,” LaGrange said.

Also, the port is making plans to partner with Port de Cortes in Honduras to rebuild after Hurricane Mitch. “A lot of the port doesn’t exist anymore,”LaGrange said, adding this could develop into a port partnering relationship which would pay off in the long run.

Also, the commission voted to approve bids for a wastewater pretreatment facility at Delta Beverage, a $200,000 project, and hired LaPlace consulting engineer Oscar J. Bourgeois to design the project for a$30,000 fee.

The commission also approved a request for the state Capital Outlay project, $4.8 million for the Globalplex warehouse and $4.7 million for thegeneral cargo dock project, and also $9.4 million from the Department ofTransportation and Development’s Port Priority Fund for the general cargo dock improvements.

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