Two members of the Metro Council are calling for a hearing to fire Todd Walker, director of the Baton Rouge Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district, because of concerns over escalating costs related to the agency’s new $11.1 million facility and Walker’s close ties with a consultant, Gary Beard, who has made more than $1.2 million managing the project.
Council members Dwight Hudson and Matt Watson are sponsoring the measure, which comes one day after the councilmen met with Walker yesterday morning, asking him to resign. Several hours later, Walker replied via email that he had consulted with his agency’s board and decided “not to submit a letter of resignation at this time.”
The MARC board serves in an advisory capacity only. The Metro Council ultimately has control over the agency and is responsible for approving its spending.
In a new cover story, Business Report investigates how lax oversight by the council enabled Walker and Beard to increase the cost of the project, through hundreds of change orders, and grew it in size and scope, while continuing to extend the management contract with Beard, who served as an airport commissioner from 2013-2015 and continues to this day to rake in monthly fees as a “sub-consultant” through a separate contract at the airport.
Watson concedes the council was lax in the past, but says he and his colleagues have been trying for months to rein in the agency’s spending only to be met by defiance from Walker.
“I realize there has been a history of lack of oversight but fiduciary oversight is the single most important job of the legislative branch and the buck stops here and it is not going to happen anymore,” Watson says. “There is something shady going on out there and when we confronted (Walker) Tuesday, he didn’t ask how he could fix it. He argued we were wrong.”
Watson and Hudson say they were particularly troubled to learn just last week that Beard’s firm, Beard International, has an office in the new MARC building. In the letter seeking his resignation, Hudson demanded that Beard and any other subcontractors on the project vacate their offices in the city-owned building immediately.
In his reply Tuesday afternoon, Walker said he had instructed them to do so.
Hudson and Watson’s item will be placed on the Metro Council’s agenda for introduction at the Feb. 27 council meeting, unless Walker resigns before that. The council will then hold a public hearing at its March 13 meeting to vote on holding a formal removal hearing in April.