MARC director errs saying he must keep job for parish to get tire shredder grant

Metro Council MARC facility
The new headquarters for the city-parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district.

The embattled director of the state’s Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district, whose future will be discussed by the Metro Council at its meeting Wednesday, told his advisory board at a special meeting earlier this month that if the Metro Council fires him the state won’t give Baton Rouge federal grant money to buy a tire shredder.

According to the minutes from a March 4 special MARC Board of Commissioners meeting, MARC Executive Todd Walker says state entomologist Kyle Moppert told him “… that if the current director is not on site this will not go to East Baton Rouge Parish. It will go somewhere else.”

MARC Board Chairman Martha Littlefield, who presided over the meeting remotely by phone, replies by asking Walker, “So you have to have your job for this to go?”

“That’s what he told us,” says Walker, who claimed Moppert made the remarks in a conversation with him and MARC Assistant Director Randy Vaeth.

But a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health, which secured the federal grant on behalf of the parish to buy the $600,000 tire shredder, denies Moppert made such a statement to Walker or Vaeth.

Bob Johannessen goes on to explain that Walker is listed on a pending contract for the shredder between the state and the parish as the point of contact, but says the contract is not with Walker per se. He says the state will not sign the contract until the Metro Council decides Walker’s fate. But he says if the council fires Walker, the state will replace his name on the contract with that of his successor and sign it then.

“As long as East Baton Rouge demonstrates they have an individual with Mosquito Abatement who will be the point of contact on this project then, of course, we’ll sign off on it,” Johannessen says. “All we’re looking for is assurances that MARC will take control of this and it will be used for these purposes.”

A tire shredder is important to mosquito control because it would cut down on the number of abandoned tires around the parish serving as breeding pools for mosquitos.

The shredder, though needed, has been controversial because it will necessitate still more spending at MARC’s facilities at the airport. Though grant funds will cover the cost of the shredder itself, Walker told his board it would take another $230,000 to both fix up the shed that will house the shredder as well as build a fence around it, not including design and management fees.

The council will vote Wednesday on whether to hold a termination hearing later this spring on Walker, who has come under fire for his inability to manage the agency’s books and control the costs of its new $11.1 million facility at the airport.

Walker has hired an attorney, Jason Melancon, who met with him and the board in an executive session following the March 4 meeting. Melancon did not return a call seeking comment in time for publication.

Board chairman Littlefield was teaching a lab at the LSU vet school and was unavailable for comment.

 

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