When an obviously intoxicated Mandeville Mayor Eddie Price smashed through a Causeway barricade in the wee hours of April 22, he set into motion a chain of events that also ended up smashing the mayor's reputation as well as the careers of Causeway Police Chief Felix Loicano and three Causeway police officers. The release last week of a Louisiana Legislative Auditor's report detailing abuse of city funds, failure to follow state and local procurement laws and acceptance of gifts and travel from city contractors further erodes the mayor's legitimacy as a public official. It's time for Eddie Price to resign.
Even before the Causeway incident, Times-Picayune reporter Cindy Chang reported that Price was being investigated by the Legislative Auditor for accepting Wal-Mart gift cards from the Mandeville Police Citizen Service Fund (better known as Toys for Tots) over a period of several years. Her report triggered an audit of several years of city finances. Among other things, the audit confirmed that a mere 28 percent of the funds raised in the name of Toys for Tots went to needy children; the remainder went to "gifts, food, celebrations and sponsorships," according to the audit report. Furthermore, the fund was not registered as a charitable organization and thus is liable for income taxes which, auditors noted, the city has not paid since the fund was created in 1994.
The final report, issued Aug. 10, underscored suspicions that Price has played fast and loose with city coffers. It found that he used city vehicles and gasoline cards for personal trips including one to The Master's golf tournament in Augusta and accepted golf and hunting trips paid for by contractors and engineering companies that had done business with the city. Among them was a golfing trip to Pebble Beach, Calif., which Price described as a combination golf excursion and "business trip, because he is observing architecture and public facilities and attending local council meetings." Surely we're not the only ones chuckling at the notion of Price "observing architecture." Had he been more observant of Causeway tollbooth architecture on April 22, he might have avoided many of his current troubles. The rest of his justification would be equally laughable were it not so insulting to the intelligence of his constituents.
The audit also exposed Price's failure to follow the state public bid law and Mandeville's purchasing policies. "From December 2004 to August 2005, the city made six disbursements totaling $116,458 to LP Enterprises," the report states, noting that the city could not provide a written description of the work performed, a contract, or "any evidence that bids or quotes were obtained." State law prohibits separating work into smaller segments in order to get around the bid law's $100,000 threshold for advertisements and sealed bids. Price claimed he was not aware that the work should have been viewed as one project and was otherwise unaware of the bid law's requirements and prohibitions. Moreover, the owner of LP Enterprises, Lassider Porte, does not have a Louisiana contractor's license, which is required for public projects costing more than $50,000. Porte does appear to have one key qualification, however: his brother is Price's son-in-law.
Other findings of the audit report include purchases of nearly $500,000 worth of sand and limestone from LP Enterprises without advertisements and bids, failure to use written contracts for $368,481 in public works projects by LP Enterprises, and failure to require surety bonds from LP Enterprises for six jobs that cost more than $25,000 each all apparently in violation of state law.
Last week, after the auditor's report, Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche called for Price to step down. The Times-Picayune followed suit in an editorial the next day. We add our voice to that chorus, and we hope others join in. Eddie Price's arrogance and abuses render him unfit for public office. He should step down now and spare the citizens of Mandeville further embarrassment.
For now though Price is refusing to resign and instead seems intent on making matters worse. In response to Goyeneche's call for his resignation, he used the City of Mandeville's Web site to protest his innocence, without providing any additional evidence and without apparent regard to yet another abuse using a city asset to defend himself in a growing political scandal.
"I can say, unequivocally, that I have never intentionally done anything wrong, nor have I done anything that I did not believe was in the best interest of the City of Mandeville," Price wrote in a letter splashed across the home page of Mandeville's official Web site (www.cityofmandeville.com). "Mr. Goyeneche's call for my resignation is ill-advised. I have done nothing to warrant my resignation and do not believe that would be in the best interest of the city at this time."
We disagree. The evidence strongly suggests that Price's resignation is exactly what Mandeville needs right now. He has abused his office and the trust of the people who elected him. Mandeville deserves better.