Ethics board didn’t clear Lambert

Councilman’s new job with landfill in question

August 13, 2008 at 9:13 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Councilman Marcus Lambert said the state’s Board of Ethics cleared him to work at the TransLoad America landfill. However, the board says that’s not the case.
Shonna Riggs/Herald Guide
Councilman Marcus Lambert said the state’s Board of Ethics cleared him to work at the TransLoad America landfill. However, the board says that’s not the case.
Councilman Marcus Lambert, who was recently hired by the TransLoad America, Inc. landfill in Killona, did not seek a formal written opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics before he accepted his sales job this summer.

That could be a conflict of interest since TransLoad plans to go before the council with an expansion proposal this month. Lambert said that he had gotten cleared by the board, but they say that didn’t happen.

The company hired Lambert in May and plans to go before the council this August to request an expansion of the landfill. With the expansion, TransLoad would be able to accept more construction and demolition debris on 70 additional acres near the facility.

St. Charles Parish Attorney Leon C. Vial says he recommends that the council members get an opinion from the ethics board.

“I know that Marcus should recuse himself from voting because he’s employed by the company, which is a conflict of interest, and he also shouldn't be speaking at all about the landfill expansion because he works for them,” Vial said. “To the question of whether or not he should be employed there - the ethics board needs to make that decision.”

Lambert says he spoke with someone at the ethics board over the phone, but would not give the name of that attorney.
“The attorney informed me that as long as I didn't vote on any issue concerning the landfill that it was okay for me to have this position,” Lambert said.

Kathleen Allen, an attorney for the ethics board, says that informal opinions over the phone do not reflect the decision of the board and don't really count.

“The only opinions that count are those done in writing and voted on by all members of the ethics board,” she said. “There are ethics provisions in place that govern what a public official is allowed to do in circumstances like this that the board would consider and have to decide on - collectively and formally.”

Two of those regulations, RS:42:1112 and RS:42: 1111C(2)(d) could apply in Lambert's case.

The first regulation states that a public servant cannot speak openly for an organization in which he has a substantial economic interest. The second regulation discusses the relationship a public official has with a company that wants to do business with the governing body he represents.

“Someone has to file an ethics complaint and request an inquiry,” Allen said. “If someone wants to submit a complaint to the board they can.”

Lambert says he is not aware of an agreement between St. Charles Parish and TransLoad, so he believes that there's no reason to bring it to the ethics board.

But a letter written to former Parish President Albert Laque in 2001 by Attorney Louis G. Authement, who represented the previous landfill owner Killona Ventures, states that the parish can dump construction and demolition debris free of charge.

The agreement goes on to say that the remaining residents in St. Charles Parish can dispose of debris for one-half the normal commercial rate.  That agreement is still being honored today. A recent receipt obtained from the parish shows debris was delivered to the site at no charge on Aug. 6.

Doug Wilson, site manager for the landfill, says St. Charles Parish does have an agreement with the company, but he couldn't find the paperwork.

“There is an agreement in place with St. Charles Parish. When we bought the landfill from Killona Ventures, that agreement was never canceled and it just carried over,” Wilson said. “Marcus was hired because he was the best of the applicants for the job, not because he is a councilman for St Charles Parish.”

John ‘Bubba’ Wynn, TransLoad landfill operations vice president, says that if a formal opinion is required for Lambert to keep his employment with the company, he doesn't have any problem ensuring that he gets one.
“We were under the impression that Mr. Lambert had sought a formal opinion,” Wynn said. “However, it doesn't change his employment status with us. We plan to keep him as an employee.”

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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