Potential conflicts may be reason behind Jim Bernhard bowing out from LSU board service

    Jim Bernhard continues to remain tight-lipped about his reasons for declining Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointment to the LSU Board of Supervisors.

    Edwards last week, without explanation, tapped Acadian Ambulance Services CEO Richard Zuschlag to replace Bernhard, who’d been named to the board by the governor just three weeks earlier.

    But the reason may center on potential conflict-of-interest issues related to companies owned, at least in part, by Bernhard’s private equity group, Bernhard Capital Partners.

    According to the publication Inframation, an industry news source, Bernhard’s LA Energy Partners, a joint-venture between Bernhard Energy Solutions and Johnson Controls, was until earlier this month pursuing a deal with LSU to take over the aging utility system on the main Baton Rouge campus.

    A Bernhard spokesperson, in a statement to Inframation in April, confirmed that the firm had submitted a proposal to the university that would have built on LA Energy Partners’ existing contract with the state.

    “LSU, like several other state entities, asked LA Energy Partners to complete the due diligence needed to establish the specific terms and conditions of the statewide contract for LSU,” a Bernhard official reportedly told the industry publication in an email. “Pursuant to LSU’s request, LA Energy Partners has submitted to LSU the information needed to include LSU within the statewide contract.”

    Bernhard declined multiple requests for comment, but a Bernhard Capital official confirmed the accuracy of the Inframation report, which is behind a paywall and not available to the general public.

    LSU did not respond to a request for comment before this morning’s deadline.

    The governor’s office has also declined to comment.

    But LSU has made no secret of its plans to upgrade its aging utilities system and LA Energy Partners already is performing similar services for other state entities through an agreement inked with the state in August 2019.

    Under that deal, LA Energy Partners leases the chiller systems at the Shaw Center for the Arts from the state then sells chilled water to cool the system back to the state. LA Energy Partners is also making energy upgrades to more than 30 state office buildings.

    According to a July 24 report from Inframation, LSU has since decided to open the procurement process and publicly solicit proposals from companies interested in providing energy services to the university.

    In addition to the energy company, Bernhard Capital also has a significant ownership stake in The Lemoine Co., a general contractor that counts LSU among its many south Louisiana clients.

    Lemoine has completed several projects at LSU in recent years, including the Nicholson Gateway, Spruce Hall, Tiger Stadium south end zone expansion, Patrick F. Taylor Hall and the LSU Business Education Complex.

    State ethics laws prohibit members of the LSU board from doing business with the university or from benefiting from deals with the university.

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