In his nearly 40-year career, Gary Beard has found work as an engineer, a legislator, a failed candidate for statewide office and an inventor—according to his LinkedIn page. About a decade ago, he also dabbled in the state’s film industry, securing pre-certification for movie infrastructure tax credits that he sold but was never actually awarded, according to a lawsuit that he ultimately lost.
But it has been at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, where he served as a member of the Airport Commission from 2013 to 2015, that Beard has found his niche. Since at least 2009, he has worked as a subcontractor to the various firms that have held BTR’s program management contract. At the same time, he has secured a lucrative program management contract of his own from one of the airport’s tenants, the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district, which is completing construction of a new $11.2 million facility on airport property.
Together, the work from the airport and the MARC project has earned Beard and his small firm, Beard International, at least $1.7 million since late 2015, and that’s only a partial accounting because Beard’s complete billing records from the airport were not made available by the city-parish.
Those who know Beard say they’re not surprised by his success at the airport, where he can at once use the political connections he developed during several years in the Louisiana Legislature and still keep a relatively low-key business profile.
“Gary’s the kind of guy who would show up and try to use his credentials as a state rep to try to sell his own business,” says one longtime business associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There was always a blending of the political and the professional.”
Beard got his start with his father’s engineering firm after graduating from LSU in the late 1970s. But he was more adept at working deals than hardcore engineering, according to those who know him and describe him as passionate, intense and prone to popping in unannounced at the state, local and private sector offices where he does business.
“We used to call him Kramer,” as in the “Seinfeld” character, says one state official who knew Beard when he was in the Legislature trying to secure movie industry tax credits. “All of a sudden you’d look up and he was just there.”
“Gary’s the kind of guy who would show up and try to use his credentials as a state rep to try to sell his own business.”
—A longtime business associate
As far back as 1988, Beard was trying to interest the Metro Council in his firm’s wastewater treatment system, which he said would save the city-parish at least $10 million. But city officials and their program manager at the time didn’t buy it.
In 2001, he entered politics, winning the state House seat being vacated by longtime Rep. Chuck McMains in a special election. Though a Republican like his predecessor, Beard was part of an emerging breed of far right conservatives who were growing in power at the time, and his election was touted as a “victory for religion and Christianity” by then Rep. Tony Perkins, who went on to head the national Family Research Council in Washington D.C.
Beard quickly made a name for himself, staking out his opposition to issues like fetal stem cell research and abortion. He also got a lot of press, some not so flattering, for successfully spearheading an amendment to the state budget that prohibited the department of health from using federal dollars to buy and distribute condoms.
He later ran for lieutenant governor against then-incumbent Mitch Landrieu but lost, after raising a little more than $41,000, according to campaign finance reports, and personally loaning the campaign $50,000.
Beard was also busy in those years creating the Louisiana Film Institute, which applied for state movie tax credits under a now-defunct program that awarded generous incentives for construction expenditures on studios and sound stages. But he became embroiled in a controversy, after selling $125,000 worth of credits—for which he had been pre-certified by the state in 2006—that ultimately never materialized. The state denied them in a May 4, 2007, letter from Sherri McConnel, then director of the state’s Office of Entertainment Industry Development, because of concerns about Beard’s business plan raised by an independent auditor and the fact that he never actually built anything.
The Lafayette broker, Apex Transfer and Exchange, sued and won a more than $124,000 judgement against Beard and the film institute. An attorney for Apex recently told Business Report his client has yet to be paid.
Since the early 2010s, Beard has been involved in program management work, primarily at the airport, where he is a subcontractor to the airport’s program management firm—which was URS at the time Beard was retained, then AECOM and is now a joint-venture of four engineering and consulting firms called AMG.
In a separate deal, he also does program management for MARC’s new facility at the airport, per a $478,000 contract that was approved by the Metro Council in November 2015 and has been extended four times (See chart, page 25).
Beard says he is able to juggle the hourly duties as a subcontractor and the program management contract for the MARC project because he has employees who work with him—including his son, Jason Beard—and he also retains subcontractors of his own.
“They’re two separate deals,” he says. “But they don’t overlap.”
What has overlapped, at least chronologically, has been Beard’s tenure on the Airport Commission, where he oversaw some of the very deals from which he now benefits. But Beard insists there was never a conflict of interest.
“I would always recuse myself from voting on anything that involved me or one of my firms,” he says.
Corrections: This story has been updated and corrected since its original publication for the following: Beard did not incur “some $1.8 million in campaign debt” during his unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor. Campaign finance records show Beard loaned his campaign $50,000 while raising a little more than $41,000. Also, the story incorrectly reported that Beard left the Catholic Church to become an Evangelical Christian. Business Report regrets the errors.