GRETNA, La.—A Jefferson Parish agency aimed at expanding home ownership is mired in controversy over plans to appoint a politically-connected woman as its next executive director.
The Jefferson Parish Finance Authority offers down payment assistance to people with limited income to help them buy a home. In exchange, the home buyers pay a slightly higher interest rate over the life of their mortgage.
A series of WWL-TV investigative reports in February 2017 revealed questionable spending by the agency.
Despite calling many of the issues raised in the reports "false," Executive Director Terry McCarthy announced he planned to retire ten days after the stories aired.
McCarthy insists his pending retirement is for personal reasons, unrelated to the reports.
At the time he steps down, McCarthy’s salary will top $134,000 a year.
The JPFA Board of Trustees advertised the position and received 14 resumes.
Among them, Wanda Theriot, a tax attorney with an MBA. Her father, Steve Theriot, was appointed interim JP President after Aaron Broussard pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges.
Steve Theriot also served as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and later as the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
“Just because her father was an interim parish president is not the rule that we took to recommend Mrs. Wanda Theriot. She is the most highly qualified,” said JPFA Trustee Frank Muscarello.
The board’s administrative committee met to evaluate the 14 resumes for the position and ranked the candidates for the position based on a set of criteria they designed.
Based on those rankings, Muscarello proposed a resolution offering the position to Theriot on Tuesday.
But other board members questioned why the board would want to offer Theriot the six-figure job without interviewing either her or the other candidates.
“What is her vision for this agency? What ideas does she have? Does she have any housing experience,” continued JPFA Trustee Marcy Planer, “People are interviewed to work at McDonald’s, why wouldn’t we do that here?”
In the past, Theriot has served as an underwriter for the JPFA while working at Coastal Securities.
“No one from the administrative committee has interviewed her. We worked with her for all those years. So, it's not as though an interview would tell us anything about her work ethic. We've seen it,” said JPFA Chairman Greg Faia.
But none of the other candidates were interviewed either.
Ultimately, the board agreed to hold a special meeting Thursday to interview the top three candidates for the job.
It will be the first time in the agency’s history that a search is conducted for its executive director.
The position was created in 2009 and McCarthy was hand-picked for the job. Until then, the down payment assistance program had been handled by an executive assistant.
Correction: a previous version of this story said Steve Theriot was Louisiana Inspector General. He served as Louisiana Legislative Auditor.