NEW ORLEANS -- In seven months, the state hasn't been able to hire anyone to manage its $1.6 billion "Restore Louisiana" flood-recovery program, and now U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is weighing in on a brewing contracting controversy, calling the state’s process a "Three-Stooges-like performance."
The state was on the verge of hiring IEM to manage Restore Louisiana for about $250 million when the second-place bidder challenged the fact that IEM did not have a commercial contractor’s license. But then the second-place bidder, PDRM, was also disqualified when Larry Bankston, the attorney for the State Licensing Board for Contractors, gave a controversial opinion saying the contract required the management company to hold a residential contracting license. That left the third bidder, Sullivan Land Services, which had bid $100 million more than IEM, and which happens to have a subsidiary firm that employs Bankston's son, Ben Bankston.
Kennedy said that was an obvious conflict for Larry Bankston. “Anyone who knows a law book from a Sears and Roebuck catalog can see that Sen. Larry Bankston has a conflict,” Kennedy said. “The appearance of impropriety, and the delay, makes it that much harder for us in Congress to convince our colleagues to appropriate more taxpayer money to help our flood victims” from major floods in March and August 2016.
The fact that Bankston is even involved is also controversial. He was convicted of bribery as a state senator in 1997 and was stripped of his law license for two years. Attorney General Jeff Landry warned the licensing board against hiring Bankston last year, but board executive director Michael McDuff rejected Landry’s concerns and called on him to approve the contract, ironically to deal with legal issues surrounding flood recovery.
“The Board is facing very serious legal issues related to the recent historic flooding in Louisiana,” McDuff wrote to Landry on Aug. 29, 2016. “We would ask that your office approve this contract as quickly as possible.”