Home speaker wished Louisiana to pay stepsons $48K for transform of state-owned residences | Legislature

When a pipe burst on the Pentagon Barracks in February 2021, the state company that oversees the historic construction throughout from the State Capitol moved ahead in regular vogue to repair the three broken residences.

Officers employed a state-approved contractor, who set about changing the waterlogged flooring and fixtures with a aim of getting all of it performed earlier than that yr’s legislative session six weeks later.

However Home Speaker Clay Schexnayder, the chief of the Home, insisted on a extra complete transform of the 2 residences he makes use of on the Pentagon. One unit gives residing quarters, whereas the opposite serves as a lounge for guests.

And Schexnayder ditched the state’s contractor and introduced in a brand new firm to do the work: A small contractor referred to as DAPA Enterprises, owned by his two stepsons, Jonathan and Beau Diez, in line with paperwork obtained from a public information request. The paperwork included emails between state officers, invoices, budgets and notes from state officers.

In the meantime, Schexnayder’s spouse Phoebe requested new home equipment, and turned to Gorman Brothers in Prairieville, an home equipment retailer, the place she works as a bookkeeper.

With the modifications sought by the Schexnayders, they changed the Formica counter tops with quartz, a expensive improve; the outdated ceramic tile flooring with a extra modern tile flooring; and the vary and hood of their residing quarters with home equipment value not less than $13,500.

In all, upgrading the place would price taxpayers not less than $44,338.10, in line with a state doc.

The state-hired contractor didn’t get the prospect to put in the home equipment or full the transform, nonetheless. Schexnayder locked out the employees after they tried to complete the work, claiming they did a poor job. That’s when he employed his stepsons.

They billed the state for an extra $48,462.06, in line with state information. Officers on the state Division of Administration ready to reimburse DAPA — till they discovered that the corporate was not within the state’s procurement system, which meant the state couldn’t pay the contractor.

DAPA shouldn’t be licensed by the state Licensing Board for Contractors, which requires contractors to be licensed in the event that they do work on condo buildings just like the Pentagon Barracks if the supplies and labor exceed $50,000. Whereas the corporate billed slightly below that quantity, it isn’t clear whether or not the price of the supplies they used would require them to be licensed.

A day after The Advocate | The Instances-Picayune requested him questions in regards to the spending, Schexnayder supplied a protection of his actions to the total Home when he offered House Bill 756, which might put the Pentagon Barracks and different close by state buildings beneath the lieutenant governor’s workplace. He’s privately saying he would run for the workplace.

Schexnayder instructed Home members the delays in repairs by the Division of Administration have been “political” and mentioned he certainly employed his stepsons to supervise restore work. The speaker didn’t point out that he tried to invoice the state for the work.

Schexnayder mentioned in a press release he waited too lengthy for the state to complete the work, and ultimately “made the choice to get it performed myself.” He mentioned when the Division of Administration didn’t pay the $48,462.06 in invoices, “I paid for it myself.”

However Jonathan Diez, one of many stepsons, mentioned in an interview he has nonetheless not been paid for the work and hasn’t been instructed why. He mentioned it was a “nice query” why he hasn’t been paid but.

Schexnayder added that he “labored out a fee plan and the subcontractors got here first.” His private monetary disclosure for 2021 exhibits his solely earnings was $59,787 from his work as speaker and fewer than $5,000 from his building enterprise.

Schexnayder may have paid for the work out of the speaker’s finances or through the use of cash from certainly one of two legislative-oriented nonprofit teams he co-founded final yr that don’t need to report their contributions or spending.

Schexnayder’s hiring of his stepsons to work on the Pentagon constructing doesn’t look like unlawful, even when he paid them utilizing state funds. The Louisiana Board of Ethics has held that stepsons are not considered “immediate family,” that are prohibited from contracting with an elected official’s company.

However Daryl Purpera, who served because the Louisiana Legislative Auditor from 2009 to 2021, mentioned the transactions don’t look good.

“Everytime you begin doing issues with household, you want to guarantee it’s an arms-length relationship,” Purpera mentioned. “These points should be performed very rigorously.”

Schexnayder, 53, a Republican from Gonzales, was elected speaker by the Home as his third and last time period started in 2020.

Because the speaker, Schexnayder wields huge energy, deciding which committees Home members sit on, which payments are heard and who will get to dwell within the coveted Pentagon Barracks residences, amongst different issues.

The Home speaker receives a number of perks. One in every of them is use of the 2 residences on the Pentagon Barracks, a former navy garrison steps from the State Capitol. The sequence of 4 two-story crimson brick buildings encompass a courtyard with a fountain within the center.

Schexnayder pays $500 per thirty days, in line with state information, for side-by-side models that face the Pentagon’s courtyard. A choose group of lawmakers picked by the speaker and Senate president get residences on a budget, paying $200-$400 a month; many have roommates.

One in every of Schexnayder’s residences incorporates 1,735 sq. toes and presents him a spot to sleep with a bed room, kitchen and front room. The adjoining one, with 635 sq. toes, additionally has a kitchen and serves as a lounge for legislators and different guests.

Schexnayder had been speaker for a couple of yr when a three-day freeze in mid-February 2021 ruptured a pipe within the Pentagon attic, sending water cascading right into a second-floor condo and Schexnayder’s two first-floor residences. The lounge suffered the worst injury.

The Workplace of State Buildings, which is a part of the sprawling Division of Administration, instantly started working.

With the legislative session set to start in six weeks, the company declared the incident an emergency to speed up the work. It employed one firm to take away the water-logged flooring, ceilings, cupboards and furnishings in all three residences. State officers employed one other contractor to return the models to their former situation.

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That contractor, Baton Rouge-based Nerams Building, started engaged on Schexnayder’s two residences on March 3, 2021, in line with state information, lower than 10 days after the rupture.

However Schexnayder started to vary the plans even because the contractor started working.

On March 5, Cindy Mancuso, Schexnayder’s government counsel, relayed that Schexnayder “needs a distinct ceramic tile in his residences” than within the one upstairs that was additionally being reworked due to flood injury. That condo ought to have wooden laminate flooring which can be in different residences, she mentioned.

“These residences are simply utilized by the members,” Mancuso wrote. “The Speaker’s areas — (models) A-10 and A-11 are public areas, utilized by many outdoors teams, and many others. He needs one thing ceramic and sturdy, however he may have particular concepts about what, so we’ll need to ask him.”

On March 8, Phoebe Schexnayder made her needs recognized when she met with an official from the Workplace of State Buildings to “talk about our present building actions, timeline, and expectations with reference to finishes,” in line with notes of an company official.

Phoebe wished the quartz counter tops, a extra modern tile for the ground, a brand new kitchen sink and new home equipment and fixtures.

Within the lounge, the Schexnayders additionally wished the Workplace of State Buildings to take away a wall to open up the kitchen, take away a bath and convert the room right into a closet and renovate one other closet.

Officers on the Workplace of State Buildings signed off on the modifications.

Nerams did its greatest to deal with the modifications sought by the couple and attempt to full the work earlier than the legislative session started on April 12.

On April 9, Schexnayder and an Workplace of State Buildings consultant toured the residences to see what work remained. The speaker identified some touch-ups he wished, however had no complaints in regards to the work, in line with the Division of Administration.

Nerams labored by means of the evening to suit the brand new sink, which had simply arrived, with the brand new counter tops. The contractor was set to complete putting in the brand new tile flooring the subsequent day.

However that day, the “Speaker wouldn’t enable Nerams into condo to finish punch listing gadgets as a result of reconstruction work was lower than his requirements,” in line with notes of a state official.

That’s when Schexnayder introduced in his stepsons’ firm to complete the job. They needed to end putting in a bit over half of the brand new flooring, in addition to kitchen and toilet cupboards, two new sinks, a dishwasher, Sheetrock and the brand new home equipment within the lounge. In addition they needed to repaint it. DAPA billed the state $35,526.10 for the work in that unit.

The Workplace of State Buildings had decided that the speaker’s residing quarters had solely a punch-list of things, together with touch-up paint and set up of baseboards. DAPA billed $12,935.96 for work performed in that condo. Mancuso forwarded each invoices to the Workplace of State Buildings, in line with emails obtained by means of a public information request.

“That’s rather a lot,” mentioned Ivan Quinones, who runs Nerams along with his spouse, mentioned when instructed the value, including that the job took longer than deliberate as a result of he needed to look forward to the brand new flooring ordered by the Schexnayders.

Being pushed apart shocked Quinones.

“We didn’t actually have a likelihood to select up our instruments,” he mentioned, estimating the loss at about $1,500.

Whereas Nerams was nonetheless on the job, Phoebe Schexnayder organized for top-of-the-line home equipment from Gorman Brothers. These included a $2,600 Kitchen Support ice maker, an $8,500 vary and a $2,500 wall hood, in line with emails.

Whereas it’s not clear who paid for the home equipment, the speaker’s workplace appeared to plan on paying for them with tax {dollars}, emails present. Mancuso emailed Workplace of State Buildings representatives on March 23 to ask in regards to the home equipment, and mentioned if “we” must get them organized, “we are able to then flip the bill in for reimbursement from (the Workplace of State Buildings) beneath the insurance coverage coverage.” She added that in the event that they have been going to be “Home property,” they would want to challenge a purchase order order to Gorman and provides the home equipment a listing quantity.

An proprietor of Gorman Brothers didn’t reply to inquiries in regards to the home equipment.

Across the similar time the work was getting performed, in April 2021, Schexnayder and different legislative leaders hatched a plan for funding upgrades to the State Capitol Complicated, a bunch of historic buildings that features the Pentagon Barracks. They fashioned two nonprofits to solicit donations to pay for work privately, with lobbyists requested to put in writing checks.

The saga of Schexnayder’s residences didn’t finish with the transform.

When the Legislature convened this yr, Schexnayder proposed a brand new plan for the Pentagon Barracks.

He filed Home Invoice 756 that may take the State Capitol Complicated — a bunch of historic buildings together with the Capitol, Pentagon Barracks and Outdated Arsenal Museum — from the Division of Administration and put it beneath the lieutenant governor’s workplace.

The transfer put Schexnayder, who has develop into certainly one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ foremost adversaries within the Legislature since he grew to become speaker, additional at odds with Edwards’ administration.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne has objected to HB756, saying the Workplace of State Buildings can oversee the Pentagon Barracks and the opposite State Capitol Complicated buildings extra effectively and extra cheaply.

Ninjay H Briotyon

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