Statement from former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro.
During my tenure as St. Bernard Parish President, St. Bernard Parish enjoyed a very productive partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Together, we cleaned and rebuilt over 2,500 homes. Unfortunately, one of the newly built homes was not consistent with local ordinances which required homes constructed post-Katrina to be built in accordance with the established style and size of the homes of the existing neighborhood in which the structure was to be built. As a result of the code violation and the formal objections by the surrounding neighbors of this particular house, neighborhood conflict developed, the intended sale of the house was not executed, and the home began to deteriorate. The house was found to have Chinese Drywall and subsequently began to fall into disrepair and was on a track to become a blighted property on an otherwise recovering residential street. Habitat recognized the growing problem and agreed that if the house could be moved, they would consider allowing its use for a community purpose instead of letting it continue to fall into blight and potentially having to be demolished. Habitat subsequently concluded to donate the structure to Our Lady of Lourdes Church for a community center but it was not cost effective for Habitat to incur additional costs for moving the structure.
With the generous financial assistance of Mr. Besselmen’s donation, Nicky Mones was tasked and agreed to move the house from its residential lot location to the Lourdes property for a cost of $20,000.00. Nicky Mones defaulted on the task agreement and subsequently demanded additional funding to complete the job for which seemed to be proving too big for him. The neighborhood was now left with a structure that was not livable and not movable. Habitat for Humanity agreed to donate the proceeds from the sale of the property on which the house sat. St. Bernard Parish Government had no involvement of the sale of the property but the donated funds for the house move would provide for additional charges related to the cost of the move. Mones was subsequently authorized to finish the move for an additional $10,000.00 plus additional materials for an additional moving trailer, which St. Bernard Parish Government retained at the time of my departure from office. As I appreciate it, the trailer has since been dismantled and sold for scrap. These costs were covered by the Habitat for Humanity donation. At the conclusion of the preparation phase of the house moving, Mones again defaulted on completing the task and requested more funds to complete the move. If left incomplete, the structure presented a safety hazard and a neighborhood nuisance. In lieu of paying additional funds to Mones after failing to complete the task as agreed, I tasked the Assistant Director of Public Works to address the neighborhood safety and nuisance issue by delivering the structure to the Lourdes property. This strategy allowed the cost of completing the move to be covered totally by donated funds, including any charge that St. Bernard Parish would incur for the public works employees involved in the moving activity. It was clear that completing the task was in the best interest for the neighborhood, for Habitat, and for the parish. Just as our Public Works crews were used to eradicate a private blighted structure in neighborhoods and along our thoroughfares, this assignment was consistent with the parish’s stated and budgeted activity within the scope of the recovery of St. Bernard Parish. The added benefit for the Violet community would be an additional community center that created no additional financial burden to local government.
During the recovery of St. Bernard Parish, the elimination of blight and the enforcement of code compliant rebuilding activity have been critical to the parish’s success in leading the Gulf Coast region in recovery. This included the upkeep of private properties that had fallen out of compliance with health and safety requirements, demolitions of problem structures through the use of parish resources, and assistance to non-profit projects that had a public benefit to it. Employees of parish government also have partnered to assist with public and non-profit projects such as playground clean ups and rebuilding, assistance to organizations rebuilding their locations, and support of community activities such as tree planting, Special Olympics, and others community based activity.
Throughout the course of the recovery in St. Bernard Parish, the opportunities to join generous philanthropists to organizations in need of assistance in their recovery efforts were regular. As Parish President, it was common for requests to facilitate such activities to be presented to me. Whenever possible, I would attempt to connect needs with willing generous individuals and organizations willing to provide assistance. I would hope St. Bernard Parish does not lose that characteristic.
When examined from a pure context, without political rhetoric and without a biased bent, the circumstances being reviewed here are pretty simple:
Habitat for Humanity had a significant presence in St. Bernard Parish’s recovery;
Habitat for Humanity built a non-compliant structure in a neighborhood that subsequently opposed its presence;
The sale of the structure was never executed and it began to deteriorate, including being discovered to have Chinese Drywall;
Habitat for Humanity agreed to allow the structure to be moved and used instead of demoliton;
Mr. Besselmen, through generous financial support, provided funding for the relocation of the structure;
Habitat for Humanity reached a donation agreement with Our Lady of Lourdes Church for the structure if used for a community center;
Nicky Mones was tasked to relocate the structure for $20,000.00;
Nicky Mones failed to fulfill his original commitment and demanded more money to complete the relocation;
Habitat for Humanity sold the property independent of any Parish Government involvement;
Habitat for Humanity donated proceeds from the sale of the property on which the structure sat;
Nicky Mones was authorized to complete the relocation of the structure for an additional $10,000.00 and material costs for an additional trailer to be built;
Nicky Mones failed to complete the task and left a neighborhood with a safety hazard and nuisance situation;
As Parish President, I authorized the Assistant Director of Public Works to address the non-compliant and safety issue and deliver the structure to the Lourdes property;
Lourdes Church parish set the structure, ripped out the Chinese Drywall and the related damage, and repaired the structure. St. Bernard Parish Government was able to rectify an intensifying problem situation through networking private, public, and non-profit partnerships. There are dozens of examples of these types of situations throughout St. Bernard’s recovery in which resolutions to problem situations were resolved because generous individuals and organizations were willing to step out to assist others in need. As the former Parish President and a current resident of St. Bernard Parish and as a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, I was privileged to be in a position to facilitate a productive, legal, and ethical resolution that will benefit hundreds of families in the Violet community and the Lourdes Church Parish.