Housing board not recognized by HUD

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 1, 1999

LAPLACE – Despite being sworn in on Aug. 26, the new Housing AuthorityBoard of Commissioners is not a legal body, according to Chester Drozdowsky, director of the New Orleans office of the U.S. Department ofHousing and Urban Development.

The question of legality centers around the person who did the actual swearing-in process, which was St. John Parish Council attorney WalterWillard.

“Walter Willard cannot swear in the board,” said Drozdowsky. “He does notrepresent the Housing Authority.”As a result, HUD does not recognize the new Board of Commissioners.

Willard ended up doing the swearing-in at the request of board chairperson Sheila Morris because the attorney for the St. John Housing Authority,William O’Regan, did not show up at the meeting.

“I thought the meeting was premature,” explained O’Regan on why he didn’t attend.

O’Regan said proper procedures were not followed in naming the new members to the board. He said Parish President Arnold Labat was supposedto give a list of nominees to Housing Authority Executive Director Patrena Ester, who was then to submit the list to HUD in New Orleans. HUD wouldthen OK or accept the list and send it back to Ester, who then would submit a certificate of appointment to the parish clerk of court. ThenEster could call a meeting and the new board would be sworn-in.

Instead, Labat took it upon himself to appoint the board members, which according to O’Regan is totally illegal. He sent a letter to Labat sayingthis.

“I thought the swearing-in would be totally inappropriate because there was no certificate of appointment,” O’Regan said.

Labat’s view on the events is a little different. According to a 1997 statelaw, the parish president is allowed to appoint board members, he said.

“The law says that I can appoint the members,” said Labat. “I give that listto the secretary of the Parish Council, who submits it to the clerk of court, who then mails it to the Louisiana Secretary of State.”When confronted with O’Regan’s interpretation, Labat seemed to throw up his hands in despair.

“We have two lawyers going in two different directions,” he said. “Who isright and who is wrong? Let HUD and the legal minds decide. I don’t knowwhat to do anymore, it is so confusing.”The swearing-in ceremony isn’t the only thing HUD disagrees with Labat over. His firing of Ester is also illegal, according to HUD and O’Regan.”What HUD told me is that Ester is still in charge, ” said O’Regan.

Labat responded angrily to HUD’s charges. “If they want to come in andtake over the housing business, that’s OK. Let them come in and take itover, but let them do it in a safe and responsible way.”Drozdowsky finds it hard to believe what is going on.

“I don’t know what they are doing down there,” he said, “but it sounds like they are trying to write their own rules.”O’Regan was a little more direct about the situation.

“This thing has totally gotten out of hand,” he said. “If people had sat downand read the laws on this, none of this would be happening right now.”

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