Kenneth Boudreaux’s $2.3 million conflict of interest

   

Vote to introduce six tax districtsTerm-limited Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux didn’t run for re-election this last time around. His twelve-years of “service” will end with an exclamation point: a brand new library that nobody wants or needs. He’s been friendly to raising taxes in his home district, as evidenced by his 100% pro-tax voting record. That record was extended just the other day when he voted on November 19th in support of levying SIX new taxes on the public he purports to serve.

The case could be made that votes on all of these taxes should be considered a conflict of interest. That’s because sales taxes are disproportionately raised on the backs of the poor. However, the conflict we’re talking about is one that could legitimately be looked into by the district attorney, the state’s attorney general, or even the FBI.

Reminder: red text links to original source material.

Large sums of money attract “ideas” on how to spend it

It was two years ago that we pointed out the Library’s huge surplus. At the time, no one at the Library or on the council would admit any surplus existed. Yet, just a month ago voters agreed to move some $10 million out of that “non-existent surplus” to other priorities.

A year ago we told you about the nearly $10 million in surplus stacking up in the courthouse maintenance fund. A regular reader will recall that the council were so oblivious to this surplus that they actually tried to levy a new courthouse tax. According to the latest CAFR from 2018 (page 143), that surplus has now grown to $9,828,177. In fact, it has increased about $2 million a year for the last few years. At the time of that tax vote, Sheriff Garber even commented that he had been holding up maintenance projects because of the impression he was given that the courthouse fund was insolvent.

A series of failures

The readers may also recall that the voters rejected an attempt to raise a new tax for the Sheriff last December. Add to that failure our pointing out the $10 million surplus in the courthouse fund and it’s a perfect storm: a brainstorm on how to spend that money.

It was during the September 5th budget meeting that amendment number eight to budget ordinance O-134-2019 was voted down. That item had been introduced by Jay Castille and discussed at some length back on August 29th (video here, starting at marker 31:29 and concluding after an hour at 1:32). The purpose of that amendment was to move $1,752,769 from the parish courthouse maintenance fund to the Sheriff’s office. Then Parish CAO, Lowell Duhon, mentioned that this effort was not a one-time transfer, but an ongoing, annual expense. We have an idea on why Kenneth Boudreaux didn’t introduce the budget amendment himself. However, he certainly took a lead position during discussion of the the proposal. He also supported the measure with his vote during the September 5th meeting.

The vote itself isn’t anything spectacular or out of the ordinary for the council. In fact, the measure failed by a single vote (thank you Bruce Conque.) However, the actual vote isn’t recorded anywhere we can find. To get it, we had to review the September 5th meeting video. The vote happens at time marker 56:40. Favorable members included all three Democrats (Castille, Boudreaux, and Lewis), and brand new Republican Kevin Naquin.

So what’s the conflict of interest?

According to documents acquired by Citizens for a New Louisiana, Kenneth Boudreaux is a contract employee with the Sheriff’s office. This has been the case since April 9th of 2018. Page 3 of the agreement between Boudreaux and Sheriff Garber reveals that Boudreaux receives $5,500 per month (or $66,000 per year) for the life of the contract – which has no expiration date. On the same page, the Sheriff also grants Mr. Boudreaux the exclusive use of a Sheriff’s office vehicle at taxpayers’s expense.

In a second, corroborating, document, Boudreaux himself disclosed on Schedule F (page 8) that he is indeed employed by the sheriff’s office. Although the contract is for $66,000, he only reports $40,000 in income. This may be attributable to his agreement starting four months into the year. However, the vehicle, its maintenance and fuel costs do not appear anywhere in the disclosure.

Manufacturing a little extra incentive?

After twelve years, Kenneth’s time at the council is tick-tick-ticking to a close. In just a few short weeks, he won’t be in a position to directly impact LCG policy. In fact, this Tuesday (tomorrow) is the very last meeting where he can introduce anything new. With that in mind let us turn our attention to recent news that the Sheriff’s office has announced notable cost-cutting measures including employee layoffs and even closures of entire departments.

Drastic and sudden actions like these, especially around the holidays, are the tell-tale sign of a manufactured crisis. It encircles and pervades the imagination of those likely to be impacted, especially those who hold contracts of trivial importance with the sheriff’s office. Contracts such as the one possessed by Mr. Boudreaux. Under this pressure, Boudreaux used his official position on the council to attempt directing significant monies to the agency for which he holds that lucrative contract.

We mentioned earlier that Jay Castille was brought in previously to introduce the $1.7 million budget amendment for the Sheriff’s benefit. However, just today we had our first look at Tuesday’s council agenda. It includes brand new ordinance O-261-2019. That ordinance again attempts to give the Sheriff’s office $601,546, but this time from the parish’s Juvenile Detention Center fund. Its author? Kenneth Boudreaux.

What an amazing coincidence!

By the way, the Sheriff threatening to close the Juvenile Assessment Center a few weeks ago is no accident. It seems every single time we tell you about a surplus, people are surprised. It’s apparent, though, that someone has finally been paying attention. A number of departments whose finances are independently tracked are listed, one to a page, between pages 144-175 in LCG’s annual report. All one has to do is flip through those pages and identify something with a nice fund balance that closely aligns with the right purpose. That is: something your organization does. If this sounds like hunting for a grant, that’s exactly what’s happening.

A few months ago, the council said no to giving the Sheriff any money from the courthouse’s $10 million surplus. Only one other department could be considered close to a service the Sheriff’s office provides. The parish’s Juvenile Detention Center fund also just happens to have a $4,440,541 surplus (LCG’s 2018 annual report page 144), which grew by about $600,000 year-over-year. The ordinance is proposing to give the Sheriff $600,000.

What does state ethics law say?

According to Section III F, “The Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits the participation by a public servant in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which [the public servant has] a substantial economic interest.” It goes on to prohibit participation for “any person who is indebted to him or is a party to an existing contract with him and by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly his economic interests.” A contract for $66,000 cash, plus the use of a brand new Chevy Equinox, and its maintenance and fuel, would definitely qualify as directly affecting the economic interests of Kenneth Boudreaux.

Likewise, Sheriff Garber is an elected official who is “a party to an existing contract” with Kenneth Boudreaux. Sheriff Garber’s employee, as a sitting councilman, is also in a position to affect directly the economic interests of the Sheriff. A logical person may conclude that makes Sheriff Garber indebted to Kenneth Boudreaux.

State law doesn’t stop at a favorable vote, either. Louisiana Revised Statue 42:1120 says that not only should Boudreaux have recused himself from the vote, but before he’s allowed to even participate in discussions, he is to disclose even a potential conflict of interest and ensure that the disclosure is added to the official record. Upon reviewing the August 29th video starting at marker 31:29 and concluding at 1:32, it becomes clear that no disclosure took place either from Kenneth Boudreaux or Sheriff Garber.

A trifecta of trouble

Mr. Boudreaux 1. did not disclose his remunerative contract with the Sheriff’s office before engaging in the debate to send his employer $1,752,769. He then 2. voted in favor of the money transfer; an action for which he should have instead recused himself. Finally, he has now 3. actually authored an ordinance attempting to transfer $601,546 of taxpayer money to his employer.

Sheriff Garber’s entanglements here are similarly problematic. He engaged in a dialogue with the council while his employee, Kenneth Boudreaux, was seated. During that exchange, Sheriff Garber never once disclosed that Kenneth Boudreaux was his employee. Sheriff Garber encouraged the council members, including his employee, to vote to transfer significant monies to his control. Employee Kenneth Boudreaux voted as his employer requested.

In any world where ethics matter, this has to be a huge problem.

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