State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office received via email Wednesday attorney Richard Becker’s request for an opinion on whether documents on the partnership formed to develop Cypress Trails Apartments are a matter of public record.
On behalf of the LPTFA, which is spearheading the north Lafayette low-income apartment development, Becker wrote a letter March 14 to the AG for an opinion on the issue and mailed it, but for reasons still unknown, the request never made its way to Baton Rouge. The LPTFA board passed a resolution March 10 directing Becker to seek the opinion in connection with The Independent asking for information on the partnership. In reporting this week’s cover story, “How Gachassin Games the System,” we requested records on the individuals involved in the low-income, 72-unit apartment complex under way at Moss and Sophie streets. We also put in a public records request for a copy of the development consulting contract with Greg Gachassin, a former LPTFA board member. The $10 million project is being funded in large part with low-income housing tax credits awarded to the LPTFA by the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency.
Becker spoke with the AG’s office last week about the request, at which time he informed an assistant AG that he had indeed mailed it March 14 and said he would send it again. By Wednesday morning of this week, the assistant AG still had not received it.
So The Independent checked back in with Becker. In a phone conversation early Wednesday afternoon, Becker told The Independent that he had indeed emailed the request last week. After speaking with Assistant AG Emalie Boyce later Wednesday, Becker resent the April 21 “sent” version of the email to her, AG spokeswoman Sharon Kleinpeter says. It remains a mystery how that original email has yet to show up in Boyce’s inbox.
Taking issue with this week’s editorial “Pas Bon,” which he calls “a gross misuse of any journalism privilege that the Independent may have,” Becker also delivered a hard copy of last week’s “sent” email to The Independent's office Wednesday.
Becker, however, never returned the phone call The Independent placed last week for this online story, a phone call that could have easily cleared up the issue and prevented him from making this week’s Pas Bon. (Before going to press Monday afternoon, we contacted Kleinpeter, who informed us the request had not yet been received.)
With the request now in the AG’s hands, it will take at least two weeks for an opinion to come down. “It’s in the works, and it will be dealt with as quickly as possible,” Kleinpeter says.
To execute its first low-income housing development, LPTFA formed an affiliate non-profit entity, Cypress Trails Corp., that is the general partner in Cypress Trails Limited Partnership, which also includes a private entity representing a tax-credit investor as the limited partner. LPTFA’s affiliate owns .01 percent interest as the general partner, with the private group owning 99.99 percent as the limited partner. Initially, LPTFA’s project involved the Lafayette Housing Authority, but LPTFA recently kicked the LHA out of the deal because of the staggering chaos there that has become the subject of an ongoing federal investigations.
Legal counsel provided to The Independent by the Louisiana Press Association maintains that because LPTFA is a public body, a trust organized under the laws of the state that holds millions in assets for the benefit of city of Lafayette, Becker would need to point to a specific exemption to keep its records out of the public’s view. This newspaper asserts that there is no such exemption.
In denying the public records request, Becker stated that because the partnership that includes the LPTFA affiliate, Cypress Trails Limited Partnership, is not a public body, its records are not subject to public disclosure.
In the St. Antoine Gardens and Villa Gardens partnerships, two LHA low-income housing developments Becker is also involved with (Gachassin is the development consultant on Villa Gardens), the records for the partnership are exempt from the Louisiana Public Records Act, due to a special exemption for “affiliates” of housing authorities. According to the state law, “Affiliates of housing agencies shall not, by virtue of their affiliation with such local housing agencies, become subject to the laws of this state applicable to public agencies and their governing bodies, including but not limited to laws pertaining to public disclosure of records, open meetings, minimum wage rates applicable to government contracts and employees, if any, procurement of goods and services, and laws relating to public employees.” Becker defines such affiliates as partnerships in which the housing authority has less than a majority interest; in St. Antoine and Villa, the LHA has a .01 percent interest and the limited partners have 99.99 percent.
State Rep. Rickey Hardy has introduced legislation to strip that sentence from the law.
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