- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

The president of the Orleans Levee Board has resigned rather than answer questions about why he awarded no-bid contracts to family members after Hurricane Katrina and gave himself a $100,000 bonus.

Jim Huey, who submitted his resignation late Wednesday to Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, said he welcomes an investigation into his actions, which he deemed necessary and appropriate.

Weeks before Katrina struck, Mr. Huey took out $100,000 from the board’s budget for “back pay,” however, neither the president or levee board members receive salaries.

Days after Katrina hit New Orleans, Mr. Huey signed a six-month lease for a 3,000-square-foot office owned by George Carmouche — the board’s legal consultant and a cousin of Mr. Huey’s wife — for $30,000. Mr. Huey said that the board needed the working space after its office on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain was destroyed and that state officials refused to provide a new office.

A second contract, to salvage boats at the two marinas owned by the levee board, was awarded to Mr. Carmouche’s son, Scott. The contract was for emergency work Mr. Huey said was needed because of insurance concerns.

Mr. Huey blamed press accounts of the contracts and his “back pay” as the reason for his resignation, saying the story had become “a sideshow” for the levee district when it needed to focus on rebuilding its levees and airport.

“Every single decision made during this crisis situation was made in the best interest of the levee district, and that will be proven in time,” Mr. Huey said.

Some state officials speculated that Mrs. Blanco had demanded the resignation, but the governor’s spokesman said Mr. Huey “offered his resignation and the governor accepted it.”

A levee board spokesman did not return a call for comment, and Mr. Huey, who has declined to return calls regarding the contracts and payment, could not be reached yesterday.

Mr. Huey was to explain his actions to the board during its monthly meeting today and on the agenda had included votes to spend $43,000 to lease 20 apartments for levee employees and $20,000 to rent apartment furniture.

Levee board member Dan Foley told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he was “bewildered and deeply disturbed by what’s happened” and that such contracts were authorized without board approval.

The governor’s office and the legislative auditor have been asked to investigate the contracts.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Vincent Bruno, Mr. Huey’s former chief of staff who was fired five years ago for exposing contract irregularities. “He does not have the authority to do” contracts.

Mr. Bruno said he is “obviously pleased” in the change of leadership but is doubtful that it signals spending reforms.

“This is just damage control right now, the heat’s getting on them,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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