By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |
Governors and mayors and presidents have come and gone since Katrina, but Louisiana’s all-time favorite whipping boy seems to have eternal life: the Road Home program.
Exasperated was the one word that best way described the crowd that gathered Wednesday night in the City Council chamber for a special meeting of the state Senate’s Hurricane Recovery Committee.
As though it were 2006 all over again, speaker after speaker lined up and took the mike to carp about problems with the program that since Katrina has distributed some $10 billion in federal make-good money to homeowners clobbered by the hurricane. .
The whirlwind of confusion surrounding the program from the get-go seems not to have abated.
Broadmoor homeowner Brenda McGowan said she had received “two commitment letters with two different prices,” but for all the paperwork, has yet to receive a dime in payment. Her question: Why?
Other residents came to the microphone in a half-filled City Council chamber to vent.
“ICF walked away with a billion dollars,” one speaker charged before going on to complain about the lack of performance benchmarks or accountability for the Florida-based company that was the Road Home’s prime contractor from 2006 to 2009.
While representatives of the state Office of Community Development were on hand to field questions from residents and the Senate committee, they didn’t manage to shed much light on specific problems.
Those present included Bill Croft, a former executive with the Shaw Group, the company hired by Gov. Bobby Jindal to oversee the program. With Croft were Small Rental Supervisor Bradley Sweazy and Infrastructure Manager Pat Forbes.
A frustrated state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson implored the bureaucrats from Baton Rouge to answer questions, and when answers weren’t forthcoming, she tried a different tack. “We want the contractors getting paid to implement these programs here at the meetings,” she snapped, referring to HGI Catastrophe Services, the Lutcher-based firm that succeeded ICF in June 2009.
Peterson called the program “a quagmire” and said she was “dismayed with the total lack of responsiveness from high-paid executive-branch employees and contractors.”
She also called out Jindal, saying he “must be held accountable for these inherently flawed and poorly administered programs.”
Carl Galmon a member of an ad-hoc group calling itself The Road Home Research Team also laid blame at the governor’s feet. “Asking a Republican pharaoh to be fair to African Americans is like asking a vampire to run a blood bank,” said Galmon, a longtime scourge of city government who joined it for a time as a trade liaison to Africa under Mayor Marc Morial’s administration.
Esplanade Ridge homeowner Lynn LeBeaud, another member of the citizens group said Jindal administration officials “know how dysfunctional the program is,” but seem unable to clean up their act. LeBeaud said she applied for funding under the Road Home program only to be told that her case “fell through the cracks.”
The meeting adjourned four hours after it began with most questions left unanswered.
OCD spokesperson Christina Stevens on Thursday defended the program. “We’re actively working with around 15,000 applicants in the hazard mitigation program,” she said. “We’ve made payments to 5,251 people total.”
She said a recipient typically gets front money to start work and then a final payment when it has been completed. “We have another $25 million worth of payments in our finance pipeline right now,” she said, as the sixth hurricane season since Katrina drew steadily nearer.