Council opts to cancel vendor contracts

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 16, 2009



LAPLACE – St. John Parish Council members voted Tuesday in favor of canceling four parish contracts with three companies linked to a bribery scheme involving former Parish President Bill Hubbard.

The council also moved to terminate Dawn Whitmer as the insurance agent of record for the parish’s dental insurance program.

Council members voted unanimously to terminate contracts with Pipeworks Plumbing & Demolition and Parson & Sanderson and two contracts with Davezac Consulting Engineers at the request of parish administrators. St. John Parish spokesman Buddy Boe said the request came as a result of legal reviews from state legislative auditors and the St. John District Attorney’s Office, which said the contractors were identified as having made “payments for the personal benefit of the former parish president.”

Hubbard admitted in federal court proceedings Sept. 25 he had solicited $20,000 in bribes from the three parish contractors, which were identified in court documents as Vendors A, B and C. Hubbard resigned from office Sept. 24.

“The parish is evoking the 30-day cancellation clause contained in each of the agreements,” Boe said. “Letters will be sent out this week informing the companies of our plans. We’re all in agreement that it is a step in the right direction for the parish.”

Parish records indicate St. John Parish has paid out more than $1 million this year to the three companies combined. Boe said the contracts with Pipeworks for general parish maintenance and ditch digging and Parson & Sanderson for general pump repairs were both due to expire at the end of this year. He said in-house parish employees would pick up the work that was tied to those contracts.

Boe said work related to the two contracts with Davezac – management of the parish’s $29.5 million bond issue and oversight of the parish’s Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant – will also be managed in-house with the help of the parish’s Planning and Zoning Department.

In the other matter, Whitmer was named as the agent of record for St. John Parish employees’ dental insurance program on Nov. 25, 2008. Her husband, Tim Whitmer, is the chief administrative officer for Jefferson Parish, which has several contracts with Hubbard Enterprises, a contracting firm owned by the former parish president.

Boe said Whitmer, as agent of record, received a commission from the insurance company handling the dental plan. He said the parish was not informed of the amount she received.

On Tuesday Daley said the parish council was free to terminate the agent of record without losing the employee’s insurance plan.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of firing Whitmer, with Division B Councilman-at-Large Steve Lee and Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard abstaining from the vote since both are insurance brokers.

Daley said the parish could immediately replace the agent, but that person would not be able to take over until after a 30-day termination notice is served out. After hearing the insurance contract ends at the end of the year, some members said they were willing to wait until that time to find a replacement. Others were not so hesitant.

“It makes a lot of difference to make a move now,” said Division B Councilman-at-Large Dale Wolfe, who made a motion to immediately replace Whitmer. “There is a ‘French connection’ here, and if we can’t see that then we must all be blind.”

Wolfe’s motion failed to garner enough votes from the council. Only he, District 1 Councilman Haston Lewis and District III Councilman Charles Julien voted in favor of immediate replacement.