Folks this post sets the record for time spent in drafts and it was this latest Rich Rainey installment from the Jefferson Parish Council cesspool on the topic of JPAC and Parish Capital Projects Director Reda Youssef that dictated I find a way to adequately explain the construction disaster that has squandered millions in state tax money. Adequately explain? By now everyone knows JPAC is money pit but with all the finger-pointing it is hard (but not impossible) to identify those most responsible. The last time I linked the State Legislative Audit Advisory Council meeting on the topic I came away feeling the Legislators were lost too. Hopefully this post changes that. Now the disclaimers and disclosures.
I’ve interviewed 1 person with first hand knowledge of the project, whom I’ve granted anonymity. I also obtained some fantastic research from the Citizens for Good Government, the people who are the most responsible for having the Legislative Auditor take a peek at the project. I’m also relying heavily on my own professional expertise on this topic and yes Virginia on this topic I would qualify in a courtroom as an “expert” for I am. Finally my original idea was to compare the beat reporting by the Times Picayune that covered the various change orders with the Legislative Auditor’s report on the project but the T-P reporting does not show in Google for the most part, which is odd considering how Newhouse Management are evidently SEO freakazoids but it is what it is. That said the research I obtained from the M&M sisters compensates for this somewhat. So with the fine print filled in let’s circle back to Rich Rainey’s piece from last week:
The Legislature has agreed to shovel $2.6 million more into construction of the Jefferson Performing Arts Center, already considered by many to be a $44.7 million money pit. But Parish Councilman Chris Roberts said he is still looking for answers about an earlier payment that attracted the ire of state fiscal watchdogs.
Roberts is demanding that Reda Youssef, the parish’s capital projects director, explain why he balked at approving a $5.6 million payment in 2009 to the project’s general contractor. “Everyone is dealing with it like it’s plutonium, and no one is addressing the matter,” Roberts said. “And it’s not like it’s going to go away.”
Mini-me is correct this is not going away and when I saw the story my initial reaction was Reda Youssef was headed for the chop shop. I realized that after reading this:
But Parish President John Young countered Wednesday that the questions had already been asked and answered. And Youssef said he approved only half the request because the rest dealt with charges for delays, an area of project management beyond his scope.
I disagree with Parish President Young that these questions have been answered, at least with a good answer. To hone in on duplicity here we need to check in with the Legislative Auditor’s report on Change Order 5, which is the heart of this matter:
Mr. Youssef stated that all change orders are submitted by the Center contractor, JCC, to the construction management company, P&C, who reviews and approves each change order prior to submittal to the Parish Capital Projects Department. Mr. Youssef further stated that change order five originally totaled $6.2 million, but after review by the Parish Engineering Department, was reduced to $2.85 million. This reduction was due to the removal of delay charges. The change order was then submitted to the Finance Department for payment. At this point, Mr. Youssef stated that Mr. Whitmer requested that he approve the payment for $5.6 million. Mr. Youssef stated that he did not approve the payment and decided that he would no longer approve change orders for the Center.
The scenario laid out by the legislative auditor is nothing like what Parish President Young said. To be clear I’m not ripping on Young here, he inherited this turd from Aaron Broussard and his band of Goatherders and it was FUBAR long before Broussard resigned in disgrace as Parish President. No Young is trying to protect a member of the team but to the extent Gwen Bolotte has held accountable for her role in the JPAC disaster Youssef should too. To her credit Bolotte has appeared at the Parish Council meetings when this topic is broached, in part I’m told to prevent Youssef from blaming her further for his mistakes. Further despite the fact Youssef told the Legislative Auditor he picked up his toys and went home after change order 5 sources indicate to Slabbed he remained an active management participant in the project after.
I figure if I am aware of the duplicity then Mini-Me must be as well thus putting Yousself to the question in a bit over a week at the council meeting in Grand Isle. I bet the council would be happy to see Youssef refute what he told the legislative auditors and he just may since he made up some of what he told them in an effort to shift blame to people like Bolotte. I see this as impossible situation, especially given the enemies Youssef made among his co workers for not taking his share of the blame. And frankly what good is the department responsible for Parish construction projects when its director, per his own statements, has the freedom to pick and chooses projects for which his department will play nice with the rest of the bureaucracy and participate in? None.
I read that report and Youssef’s assertions as saying he knew something was rotten in the woodpile and rather than buck the system he got as far away from the stench as he could. Today, Parish Prez Young would have us believe his capital projects director is an incomp that does not understand the concept of a delay claim. I’m not buying it.
Speaking of buying in someone had to get the Parish Council to buy into approving all the change orders that have almost doubled the cost of JPAC over the past 5 years. That someone was Tim Whitmer as assisted by Mini-Me’s Parish Council Aid Deano Bonano, an incomp in his own right that was Aaron Broussard’s hatchetman. Bonano’s name was prominently mentioned in the Legislative Auditors report on the subject and I’m sure he made sure Mini-Me knew the location of the remaining pressure points and this brings me to another major point.
The Parish Council save one member was misled by the Broussard Administration as to the nature of the change orders that one member being Elton Lagasse. This concept literally oozes out of the research done by CFGG when it is compared to the Legislative Auditor’s report. Change order 1 illustrates this.
On November 14, 2007 the T-P published an article that covered this change order titled, “Jefferson arts center emerges ‐ Parish Council to smooth out some budgetary bumps” and this is what the CFGG recap quoted:
After years of planning and months of digging, the first iron bones of the new facility’s skeletal frame have begun to rise above the grass, contractor Joe Caldarera said.
The Parish Council today will examine a request to add $655,300 to Caldarera’s bill to clear unforeseen “underground obstructions.” Caldarera said ancient cypress root networks and old concrete pilings from a defunct railroad were blocking some areas of the foundation today.
But there was more to that change order than cypress roots and old concrete pilings as the Legislative Auditor pointed out:
Change order one totaled $655,300, and lists the reasons as follows:
1. Foundation issues
2. Underground obstructions
3. The changing of the steel supplier resulting in an increase in steel cost
According to Parish records, approval of the design plans by the SFM caused a delay in signing the contract with JCC, which in turn caused JCC to incur $143,517 of additional steel cost. However, the material quotes submitted by JCC had not expired as of the date the company signed the contract. Further, had JCC not been able to guarantee the bid price at the time the Center construction contract was signed, the construction contract should have been re-bid.
That $143,000 plus oversight was not Gwen Bolotte’s fault folks and Youssef was still playing nice with the rest of the gang at that point. Perrin and Carter, the Parish’s construction manager missed it big time as well but as this project progressed 6 figure screw ups would almost be excusable compared to what was coming.
Change order 2 has no compare and contrast as the T-P beat team evidently did not cover it but we have Parish Council Clerk Eula Lopez’s word for Council Resolution 110402:
Change Order No. 2 adding $195,399 to the contract amount of J. Caldarera & Co. and 7 days for JPAC to add Bentonite blankets to waterproof the elevator pit, orchestra pit and slabs below underground elevation.
And the Legislative Auditor on change order 2:
On June 11, 2008, the Parish Council approved change order two, which totaled $195,399 and was for the addition of Bentonite blankets to waterproof the areas of the Center foundation that are below the Center’s first floor elevation. The elevation of the first floor, rather than the basement, was used to determine the foundation elevation. However, the Center’s basement is approximately three feet below the foundation grade, which contains the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning and other mechanical systems.
The Center is located on the corner of Airline Drive and Stable Drive in Metairie, Louisiana. According to Capital Projects Director Reda Youssef, the Center’s foundation elevation was determined by using Stable Drive rather than Airline Drive. The basis of this decision was that Stable Drive was not known to flood. If Airline Drive was used as the basis, the Center’s foundation would need to have been built up an additional three to four feet.
Mr. Youssef stated that, in his opinion, this would have been a significant cost. According to Mr. Youssef, the elevation and grade level is based on the foundation height at the entrance point, not the lowest point in the building, and due to this he believes it is within parish building code.
The Parish’s Building Code has been a topic numerous times here on Slabbed and this is a prime example of the old saying penny wise and pound foolish. It is worse though because Youssef had help with this screwup as I continue:
In a letter to Mr. Deano Bonano, then deputy chief administrative assistant, dated February 15, 2006, Mr. Cohen recommended that the Parish elevate the Center foundation five additional feet and stated that the estimated cost would be $500,000. Mr. Cohen’s letter provides the reason for elevating the foundation: “Should we have another levee breach in a location that floods the project site, please be aware that the incoming electrical service, the emergency generators, the fire pumps, and the mechanical equipment will be, in all probability, rendered useless. In this scenario, because of energy efficiency requirements and the resulting “tightness” of the building envelope, mold and mildew will essentially render all interior finishes, the seating, and much of the theatre accoutrement, worthless.” Mr. Bonano responded to Mr. Cohen on February 16, 2006, and advised Mr. Cohen to continue to move the project forward and that the Parish did not have $500,000 to deal with the elevation issue and would obtain a commercial flood insurance policy. When asked, Mr. Bonano stated that the issue was taken to then Parish President Aaron Broussard and that Mr. Broussard decided not to raise the elevation but rather purchase flood insurance.
Mr. Cohen wrote to Mr. Bonano again in October 2006, prior to the second bid, and recommended that the Parish change the elevation before the project started, but the Parish did not address the elevation of the project. However, they did attempt to minimize potential damage to the slab by adding the Bentonite blanket in change order two. Due to the Parish’s decision not to elevate the Center, the Parish may have to obtain and pay for an annual flood insurance policy and will experience increased risk of flooding and potential loss of use.
This brings us to the last change order that we cover today, the now infamous change order #5 aka Parish Council Resolution 112539 which states:
Change Order No. 5 adding $5,900,000 to contract amount for J. Caldarera & Co. in connection with JPAC resulting from structural concrete revisions from the beginning of the job through March 12, 2009.
And the Parish Council approved it without evidently any discussion. 2 days later the T-P covered the increasing costs in an article titled “Performing Arts Center cost goes up $5.9 million ‐ Officials fault initial designs”. It is that article by Mark Waller that I fished from the google cache that to me completely paints Youssef as a duplicitous self-serving leech wasting space at the Yenni Building:
Construction of the Jefferson Performing Arts Center in Metairie is growing increasingly complicated and costly, leading the Parish Council to approve another $5.9 million in expenses.
It is the fifth change order since construction began more than two years ago and raises the total overruns to $10.2 million, on a contract that started at $26.6 million. Since the beginning, the project’s cost has swelled almost 39 percent to a current price tag of $36.8 million.
While some of the previous expense spikes addressed unforeseen problems, such as underground obstructions that hindered foundation work, the latest and largest change order resulted from deficiencies in the building’s original designs, parish officials said.
“It’s incredible,” Reda Youssef, Jefferson’s capital projects director, said describing the magnitude of the change orders. “This is very high. It’s not common.”
The Parish Council approved the new change order on Wednesday.
Youssef said the problems flow from a lack of detail in the initial plans, forcing the parish to call for more design work in the middle of construction. That idles work crews and adds costs because the revisions require more or different materials.
What Youssef described for the Parish Council is known as a delay claim, a subject he now knows nothing about according to Parish President Young. If I were the Parish Prez, formerly of the same Parish Council that approved these change orders, I don’t think I’d be defending Youssef, rather I’d want to know what caused his change of heart between that Parish Council meeting and the time he met with the Legislative Auditors and this is exactly where Chris “Mini-me” Roberts is headed. This is important because change order 5 has caused speculation as to legal exposures Councilman at Large Elton LaGasse may have for his role in this specious transaction. The cause of that speculation is Tim Whitmer’s guilty plea and cooperation with Team Fed along with this snippet from the Legislative Auditor’s report:
Change Order Five – $5.6 Million Payment with No Documentation
In June 2009, the Parish paid JCC $5.6 million7 for change order five on the Center construction project. Parish Finance Department records did not include an invoice to support this payment. According to Finance Director Gwen Bolotte, she was instructed by Mr. Whitmer to generate a check for $5.6 million on June 24, 2009, the day the council was meeting to vote to approve the payment. She further stated that the check was generated without the Parish Finance Department receiving or reviewing the supporting documentation for the expense and that the Capital Projects Department never sent the documentation to the Finance Department.
According to former Parish Accounting Director Lorrie Toups, each payment generated by the Finance Department should have the supporting documentation, such as an invoice, attached to a copy of the payment and stored in the Accounting Department check vault.
Mr. Whitmer stated that he was instructed by Councilman Elton LaGasse to have the $5.6 million payment processed because the Parish relied upon P&C to manage the project and they had stated that the change order was correct and that they could justify the change order’s expenses. Mr. LaGasse stated he did not remember telling Mr. Whitmer to make the payment; however, if Mr. Whitmer said he made the statement, he probably did say it.
There is so much more to this boondoggle that has seen the light of day but the bottom line is Aaron Broussard and his people were in way over their heads at best and at worst, far worse. I tend to subscribe to the second interpretation on JPAC folks.
Finally it was not lost on the Slabbed Nation that Mini-Me wants to flesh all this out on Grand Isle, far from the population center of the Parish. I hope this meeting will be shown on the web as are the other meetings because everyone in the Slabbed Nation needs to pay close attention to what Roberts and Youssef have to say for themselves now that the rest of the tab for this boondoggle is on the Jefferson Parish taxpayer.