Sewer contract negotiations rife with potential conflicts of interest

Section 4.5 of the proposed Construction, Operating and Cooperative Endeavor Agreement between Ascension Consolidated Utilities District No.. 2 and Ascension Sewer, LLC is entitled Affiliates; Staffing and Labor Issues.  It reads:

At its discretion, the Operator (Ascension Sewer) may interview and hire employees of the Parish currently providing services related to the System so long as the employees are hired solely for the purpose of providing Operations and Construction Services for the District.  In addition, the Operator shall be permitted to continue employment of and hire its own new employees in connection with the services contemplated by this Agreement.  The District shall not direct the hiring, firing, the compensation of, or any other employment aspects of employees of the Operator.

Who does Ascension Sewer, a/k/a Bernhard Capital Partners (BCP) have in mind?  President Kenny Matassa is considered a parish employee who could use a job come January to pay off his criminal legal fees.  Ever wonder who showed up at the high-end can-shake in April?

We digress.

Start with the parish Infrastructure Division Director, William Daniel, whose projections of doom if the deal doesn’t get done, whose incessant cheer leading for BCP, has worn translucently thin.

Daniel has oft stated that he took the job, a position newly-created just for him, in September 2017 to bring sewer treatment to Ascension’s east bank, the cherry on top of his career sundae.  Newly-hired herself, then HR Director Taleta Wesley commenced a “national search” for Ascension’s inaugural Infrastructure Division Director which was scheduled for four days, September 26-29.  Daniel had already been chosen on September 27 and it was announced on October 10, 2017.

Is Daniel’s gig with Ascension Parish really his dream job?

A former East Baton Rouge Parish power broker, we highly doubt it.  Plying his trade in the Capital City, William Daniel had plenty of occasion to rub elbows with BCP’s top man, Jim Bernhard.  In fact, Bernhard and his former company ponied up $15,000 for Daniel’s failed bid for EBR mayor in 2004.

It was William Daniel who went out and found BCP, allegedly convincing the firm to prepare and propose the sewer deal in October 2018.  Was that the first time they discussed the deal?  Does Daniel have a job lined up with BCP or Ascension Sewer or one of Bernhard’s numerous other companies after he accomplishes east bank sanitary sewer?

Daniel’s latest pronouncement (in yesterday’s Baton Rouge Business Report):

“I think it’s a really, really good contract.”

It was offered without any analysis of actual contractual details.  Maybe Daniel could be prodded to tell the Parish Council what he likes best about the proposal tonight.

More from the Business Report:

Daniel, who has spearheaded the deal, says the outgoing council has been studying the proposal since May and a majority supports it. He argues that the multiple, disconnected systems that currently serve the parish are ineffective, causing public health issues and will ultimately need to be replaced anyway.

How does Daniel know this unless he violated Louisiana Open Meetings Law to poll those council members?

“The long term prospect of not doing this deal is that starting in January, we would need to charge $90 a month to every household in the parish just to break even, best case scenario,” Daniel says. “Worse case, the feds could come in and order us to build a sewer system.”

According to the most recent census estimates there are 48,680 “housing units” in the parish.  $90 per month over the course of a year would come to $52,574,400.  We knew it was bad, but…It was an irresponsible statement from William Daniel who will, apparently, say anything to push Ascension Sewer’s agenda.

And then there’s Ascension’s retained outside legal counsel…

Tim Hardy of Breazeale Sachse & Wilson, LLP whose career accomplishments (according to his bio on the company website) “includes, in 2003, being named as an Executive Vice President of the Shaw Group.”  That’s the company Jim Bernhard used to run.  Potential conflicts of interest, never openly discussed, abound.  Given BCP’s reach it would be surprising if it had never engaged Ernst & Young (the subcontractor hired by Hardy to analyze the financials) and HNTB (the engineering firm engaged by Hardy).

Hardy’s firm (his new one since leaving Roedel Parsons which dug deep into taxpayer pockets to, among other things, represent Matassa’s effort to have criminal legal fees reimbursed) is being paid $300,000 to advise the parish on this shadowy deal.  Try getting an answer, straight or otherwise, out of Tim Hardy…or Ernst & Young’s Stephen Auton Smith.

Stephen Auton Smith of Ernst & Young

Will parish council members, six of whom will not be around in six weeks, ever ask a meaningful question about specific contractual provisions?  What about President Matassa?

LAME-duck council legacy is BANKRUPTCY if Ascension Sewer deal gets done

Start with this one:

What is the dollar figure to cash out Ascension Sewer when the contractual term expires?