NewsLafayette Parish


LCG council member wants independent investigation of LUS

Posted at 12:16 PM, Nov 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-22 14:54:51-05

LAFAYETTE, La. — Lafayette City-Parish Council Member Liz Webb Hebert says she wants an independent third-party investigation into allegations related to LUS.

"I would feel more comfortable if we had a full audit, full forensic audit from a third party, independent company to come in and audit LUS and LUS Fiber," Hebert said.

The council met in a special joint session with the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority at City Hall on Tuesday to hear what Mayor-President Joel Robideaux had to say about the latest kerfuffle involving the Lafayette Utilities System.

The LPUA is the board made up of five council members that oversees LUS.

During that joint meeting, Hebert said she plans to put the issue on the next meeting agenda on Dec. 3.

Also during that meeting, Robideaux said his internal review of LUS Utilities & LUS Fiber should be complete and ready to be presented to the LPUA at its next meeting on Dec. 17.

Robideaux claimed that former LUS Director Terry Huval knew how many sewer lift systems were connected to LUS Fiber and that they were behind on installations.

Robideaux's report claims that the issue could have been avoided if fiber had been run to the stations and charged a connect fee and not been activated until the installations were finished. However, the report states, the "goal was to raise money for Fiber, so they lit it up."

The report also claims that LUS Fiber already had the ability to detect if service was interrupted at a customer's home for any number of reasons as part of its existing build-out. It states that LUS senior management suggested that the existing Fiber system could be used as a Power Outage Management System, or POMS, for Utilities and how to price it.

However, the Fiber system only included data on Fiber customers, which are a small percentage of Utility customers.

The price of POMS was based on "savings to customers," and the Fair Competition Act and the Public Service Commission rules require full cost accounting, or what it cost Fiber to provide the service.

You can see Robideaux's presentation for yourself below.

LUS is owned by the citizens of Lafayette and is overseen by the council members who have the largest percentage of city voters in their districts.

It has been mired in politics over the past four years.

Here's some recent history:

In 2018, Mayor-President Joel Robideaux negotiated in secret for months to sell LUS - which is owned by the citizens of Lafayette - before the story was broken by The Current, an independent Lafayette magazine. Not long after that was revealed, LUS's longtime director, Terry Huval, retired abruptly. He had announced his plans to do so a couple of months before, but had said he planned to stay on until the end of the fiscal year in October. Instead, he left in July. Our investigative team learned that the company with which Robideaux was negotiating had made campaign contributions to him.

The City-Parish Council put the kibosh on any sale or "management" deal by passing a resolution stating its clear opposition. Since LUS is owned by the citizens, it is run by a board made up of five council members. That board, and the full council, both passed a resolution making a clear stand against any deal.

Also in 2018, LUS officials found a problem with some payments made to LUS Fiber by LUS. There was supposed to be Fiber service at sewer lift stations, but it hadn't happened. Nevertheless, LUS had been paying Fiber for it, so Fiber paid back the money and reported the problem to the Public Service Commission, a state entity that oversees utility systems. The PSC audited the situation and determined that the payments were "unintentional," according to reporting by our media partners at The Advocate.

The night before the primary election for his replacement in October, Robideaux's office issued the following statement:

Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux has appointed new Interim Directors at Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) and its sister telecommunications system, LUS Fiber. The change was initiated to facilitate an internal review on behalf of the Public Service Commission (PSC), which has limited oversight of both entities.

Lowell Duhon, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG), will assume the post of Interim Director of LUS and Kayla Miles, LUS Fiber’s Business Manager, will take the role of Interim Director of LUS Fiber. As interim directors, Duhon and Miles’ appointments are temporary during this internal review and permanent directors will assume the roles under the new administration in January. Both appointments will be effective Monday, October 14, 2019.

LUS and LUS Fiber are currently under review by the PSC for two self-reported findings of potential violations. Subsequent to the self-reports, the PSC requested that a more in-depth and internally unbiased review of all LUS Fiber inter-agency transactions be performed, necessitating the staff changes.

“It is important that we provide the PSC with assurance that this review process removes any internal bias that might be associated with long-term employees. The best way to accomplish that is with fresh sets of eyes,” Robideaux commented.

“LUS Fiber is an incredibly important community asset that has earned Lafayette the title of ‘Fastest Internet in the World.’ That reputation is responsible for attracting new businesses and the next generation of workers, which in turn bolsters and further diversifies our economy,” Robideaux continued. “As we look to the future of LUS Fiber, it’s important that we get past these issues and focus on remaining at the forefront of innovation.”

During this review period, LCG’s Chief Communications Officer Cydra Wingerter will assume the role of Interim CAO.

But The Current again broke the story, saying that this part of the above statement: "Subsequent to the self-reports, the PSC requested that a more in-depth and internally unbiased review of all LUS Fiber inter-agency transactions be performed, necessitating the staff changes" wasn't true. Here's what the Current reported:

Changes to LUS and LUS Fiber leadership, announced suddenly the night before October’s primary, were said by the Robideaux administration to be tied to an ongoing internal review of transactions between the systems that was requested by the Louisiana Public Service Commission. PSC representatives, however, contradict that assertion — saying no such internal review was asked for, and the leadership change is not related to any request from the commission.

The Advocate confirmed The Current's reporting in this story.

Our media partners at The Advocate then reported that Robidaux's personnel changes came with hefty raises.