Recap: How 2022 left Guillory’s drainage program in a deep hole

Aerial of Homewood detention pond
LCG has spent millions of dollars on drainage projects since 2016, but local rules don't require it to determine how much that work is really worth. Photo by Robin May

In early 2022 Straight News Online began examining the Guillory administration’s $100 million-plus investment in flood mitigation for obvious reasons — it’s an issue important to every one of us. And we need to get it right.

It became a defining issue for our coverage this year, and one that is very likely to shape elections in 2023. Just as I was closing out this look back at our 2022 coverage, a state appeals court dealt a major blow to the administration’s signature detention pond project, upholding a district court ruling that LCG unlawfully seized nearly 400 acres of a longtime Lafayette family’s property and re-opening the door to the family’s claims for attorneys’ fees and damages. LCG estimates that project alone could cost as much as $60 million, much of which LCG has already paid to the contractor. 

As a Lafayette journalist for more than three decades, I want you to know this was some of the most difficult and detailed work I have ever undertaken. We pored over hundreds of pages of public documents and spoke with countless sources to get these stories right.

What we uncovered is a program plagued with problems: conflicts of interest, disregard for public accountability processes and a lack of proven need or efficacy.

To wrap up 2022, I’m walking you through a few of the big scoops we brought you, along with an inside view of how we reported them and why they matter.

Why this matters: The Guillory administration’s dark-of-night stunt in St. Martin Parish is breathtaking, both in terms of its disregard for public bid processes and potential to bite Lafayette in the end.

Interviews with a dozen contractors, engineers, lawyers and former LCG employees established that the operation, executed and paid for in days, is emblematic of the real risks of the Guillory administration’s “new pace of government.”

Just the costs associated with lawsuits — along with federal probes by the FBI, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and others into potential regulatory violations — will be astronomical and likely to drag on for years. This story established what may have been among the first critical mistakes in pulling off this ill-conceived plan: The $3.7 million project was never competitively bid; instead, it was appended to a $390,000 contract awarded in December 2021 to Rigid Constructors, the lowest bidder for as-needed excavation work.

By side-stepping the transparency and cost controls required of public contracting, the Guillory administration may very likely have violated public bid law.

Why this matters: The city-parish charter prohibits the mayor-president from outside employment that would interfere with his official duties, so let’s start from that very basic point.

Josh Guillory knew, or should have known, what the job paid before asking for your vote. Our two-part investigation showed that behind the scenes he and his wife Jamie worked in 2021 to set up a heavy equipment company — and later tried to conceal their connection to it by removing their names from state records — just as his administration was rolling out a massive capital drainage plan that combined state and local cash with a historic influx of federal coronavirus dollars.

A woman identifying herself as the company’s sole employee told Straight News Online this summer that the company had yet to conduct any business; after the story was published, however, the Guillorys told KLFY they had two partners in the company, WM&N, and that it was generating income.

WM&N was only the beginning of what Straight News Online eventually exposed about the mayor-president’s attempts to supplement his income. Even as he wrapped up what he claimed was a stint in rehab, Guillory — with the help of District Attorney Don Landry — was doing client work. Since his election, Guillory has taught classes at UL — after being fired from the university in 2013, he was rehired upon winning the seat — formed at least three LLCs and obtained a license to produce title insurance, all on top of his ongoing legal work.

Days after our reporting, the Guillorys again revised their filings on the equipment company to add Jamie’s name back and shuttered another one of their LLCs. It’s still unclear what those businesses did. Even the appearance of a conflict is a problem here for the mayor-president. State ethics laws would prohibit his companies from doing any business with firms that have business before LCG.

Why this matters: After the administration’s signature detention pond project was shut down by court order, the Guillory administration took the unusual — and likely unprecedented — step of allowing its contractor to buy property so that work could continue at a different site. Citing the “irregular practice of a contractor purchasing property he is working on,” among other deficiencies in required documentation, the state has been withholding $22 million in reimbursements. The contractor, however, has already been paid by LCG for the work, and it remains unclear who is ultimately on the hook for those payments. In the past year, LCG paid Rigid Constructors $61 million.

Why this matters: It is a critical question of transparency. Did LCG purchase property for a major detention pond project based on the science of modeling or because of the property owner’s connection to City-Parish Attorney Greg Logan?

We held this story for months as we tried to answer that question. And while the story we ultimately published does not accomplish that objective, what it clearly establishes is that Logan failed to follow state requirements to properly cure himself of an ethical conflict — and that he stayed close to the project and the transaction after a cursory effort to distance himself.

Logan may have misinformed the mayor-president about the validity of a conflict waiver he asked Guillory to sign, raising more questions about his representation of LCG’s best interests.

“If you’re going to have a conflict under the participation provision under the Ethics Code, there’s not the ability to waive it and still participate,” state Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen told us. “The only way is you don’t participate.”

That’s the pattern here. The Guillory administration has not been shy about doing business differently, but the string of missteps have come at a cost and with tremendous risk. In large part due to our reporting, the City Council is also investigating the administration.

The checks are written so to speak, but the projects aren’t complete — and they may never be.