The head of a law firm in line for a piece of a lucrative city contract has offered to quit his job at a larger firm in order to maintain his status as a city-certified disadvantaged business.
The city requires such minority- and women-owned businesses to be independent, but The Lens found numerous connections between The Law Office of Errol B. Conley and Scheuermann & Jones LLC, where Conley, who is black, is an associate attorney.
The city’s Office of Supplier Diversity opened a review of Conley’s firm in October. In response, Conley offered to resign his position at Scheuermann & Jones — but only if the city ends up signing a contract, worth an estimated $3 million annually, with the firm he’s working with.
Conley’s firm, the Law Office of Errol B. Conley, was listed as the legal services subcontractor on a bid by collections agency Archon Information Systems to get the city’s delinquent property tax collections contract. In September, a city evaluation committee gave Archon the highest score among three bidders, in part because Conley’s portion of the bid met the city’s goal of 35 percent disadvantaged-business participation for city contracts.
But earlier this year, a competing business accused Conley’s firm of being a “DBE front” for Scheuermann & Jones. After reviewing Archon’s bid, The Lens found evidence suggesting the law firm was not an independent business:
Conley’s firm was founded and certified as a disadvantaged business in 2009, a year after he started working for Scheuermann & Jones.
The experience listed on the Conley firm’s bid sheet corresponds with the period that Scheuermann & Jones was the legal services subcontractor for Strategic Alliance Partners, the city’s collections contractor since 2005. Strategic Alliance Partners was founded by Blake Jones, managing partner of Scheuermann & Jones.
Conley’s firm comes to the job “in association with the Blake Jones Law Firm, LLC,” according to the bid, which frequently refers to the legal team as “Conley & Jones.” Louisiana business registration records filed with the Secretary of State show that Jones founded the Blake Jones Law Firm in April.
Two weeks after The Lens reported those connections, Office of Supplier Diversity Director Arkebia Matthews sent a letter to Conley identifying the office’s concerns about the law firm, including some of those raised in the story.
In Conley’s response, he denied any business relationship “at present” between his firm and Scheuermann & Jones or the Blake Jones Law Firm. He also offered to resign from Scheuermann & Jones once his firm signs a contract with Archon — which is contingent on Archon and the city reaching a deal.
Conley’s answers were apparently satisfactory, as a city-appointed panel that reviews disadvantaged-business qualifications found “no evidence of interlocking business relationships” between Conley’s firm and Scheuermann & Jones.
In response to The Lens’ inquiry about the review, Conley said by email:
It is my personal view that the DBE program was implemented to help businesses such as my own to thrive on its own. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, my wife and I had our own firm for nineteen years which was literally destroyed and Scheuermann & Jones has been my support while I rebuild.
Regardless of whether he gets the contract — or if he stays with Scheuermann & Jones — Conley said he plans to retain his disadvantaged-business status so he can pursue other work.
The city also provided Conley’s disadvantaged-business application, which it withheld for a month while it completed the review. Those records include notes of a July 15 site visit by a city employee to Conley’s home office, including a photograph of Conley’s home office.
Conley told the employee he worked 35 hours per week for his own firm, even as he was employed full-time by Scheuermann & Jones.
Conley said during the site visit that his firm’s primary workload came from a contract with the city assigning administrative hearing officers for parking violations and camera tickets for the Department of Public Works. Meanwhile, his duties at Scheuermann & Jones primarily involved legal work on the Strategic Alliance Partners collection contract.
As of late last week, negotiations between the city and Archon for the collections contract were ongoing, according to mayoral spokesman Tyler Gamble.