Monday night, the city-parish council put a stop to any negotiations to sell or lease LUS, or allow an outside company to manage the utility.
That vote came hours after Next Gen announced the withdrawal of its offer to manage LUS. Read that story here.
Council members said continued talks about a potential deal would cause confusion and worry among LUS employees and the stakeholders.
With a unanimous vote and a round of applause from the audience, the council sent a clear message that LUS will remain a city-owned and operated company.
“LUS is for us, it’s for Lafayette,” Council Chairman Kevin Naquin.
“I feel like from the start, from the get go, there’s been distrust from this whether it was intentional or not,” said Councilwoman Liz Webb-Hebert.
Former LUS director Terry Huval also expressed his concerns during the meeting.
“You don’t try to get rid of something that generates the kind of cash that this utilities system is generating. You know, it’s clear that [Next Gen] or any company that is coming in to buy our utilities system is buying it because it’s well-run and making a lot of money,” said Huval.
He also acknowledged that Next Gen offered him a job as their director, if the LUS deal had gone through, an offer he declined.
“Terry Huval is not for sale, he is not to be for lease, or not to be part of any management scheme,” he said.
Mayor-President Joel Robideaux admitted he should have handled the process differently.
“The roll out certainly had a clumsy feel to it. I certainly would’ve preferred to introduced the concept differently, probably start off with an RFP from the beginning, make it as transparent as possible,” said Robideaux.
He said he realized this when the citizens “made their voices loud over the past month and a half,” and continued to say he “still would stand by that it was worth looking into.”
Most recently, Robideaux told The Advocate that he acknowledges mistakes made in this situation, and that he wants to “hit the reset button” on the process. To read that interview, click here.
Earlier in the night, LPUA members considered another resolution regarding any possible LUS deal. LPUA voted down Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux’s resolution, calling for any LUS management deal to go out for a bid process.
Council members Liz Hebert, Nanette Cook and Pat Lewis voted against the measure, saying they want to end any discussion about a deal altogether.
“It wasn’t about Next Gen or any one particular entity, it was about an instruction to the mayor-president on how we do business. I think the people have come to expect in government full transparency and I think, yeah, that was the misstep,” said Boudreaux.
Now, the council and the administration say they will focus on improving LUS.
“The council has chose to make the City of Lafayette and its employees its priority. And now the next step is to find the best director that we can to move LUS forward and continue in its success,” said Councilman William Theriot, who authored the resolution at the full council meeting.
Although the resolution is non-binding, council members feel it sends a clear statement.
Robideaux said he will now discuss with the council the next steps for finding a permanent LUS director.
The council learned this summer, only after reading a story in The Current, that Robideaux had been talking to a Bernhard Group subsidiary for more than a year about a possible sale, characterized as a “management contract,” of LUS. He had given them access to operations information and even allowed the company’s people to tour and interview employees, all without the knowledge of any of the members of the council. Robideaux signed a letter of intent with the company.
So far, two more companies – Cleco and Entergy – have sent letters requesting that they be allowed to provide proposals to “manage” LUS as well.
To read about Bernhard’s connections to Robideaux’s political campaigns, click here. To read more about the process that happened without council knowledge, click here. To read about the initial reaction from the council, click here.