LAFAYETTE, La. — Lafayette Utilities System, the city-owned entity that made Lafayette a real city a century ago, has been mired in politics over the past four years.
KATC asked both candidates for Mayor-President, Carlee Alm-Labar and Josh Guillory, to comment on three recent occurrences involving LUS. Alm-Labar sent her responses, you can see them below. We received no response from Guillory yesterday, but learned today that there was an issue with email. Guillory now has our questions, and we are waiting to hear back.
KATC also reached out to Mayor President Joel Robideaux, and we're waiting to hear back.
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.
Here are the topics we requested comments on:
Robideaux's negotiations with Bernhard
The lift station payment reimbursements
Recent changes in LUS leadership
Here are the responses we got from Alm-Labar. Alm-Labar provided updated responses on Friday to include on LUS’ negotiation with NextGen.