Investigating Alphonso…Another Heckuva Katrina Contract Story

Alphonso_2

The Bush years have given us so many stories rich in irony. Here is one such story.

Last weekNational Journal updated the story theybroke in October of HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson being under investigation for possibly lining up a $485,000 contract at HUD-controlled Housing
Authority of New Orleans (HANO) for a friend and golfing buddy named William Hairston. National Journal reports the investigation is heating up with several senior HUD officials and current or former executives at HANO having been questioned. The investigation is apparently“focusing on Jackson’s ties to William Hairston, a stucco contractor from Hilton Head Island, S.C.”

New details from NJ include that a respected senior HUD official was “pulled back to Washington” after he refused to sign a contract awarded to Hairston and urged Hairston be let go as a construction manager because HANO already had a construction manager. This official eventually took an early retirement. Another HUD official who had approved the contract recounted to others that Alphonso “Jackson called him to complain that HANO was not paying Hairston” and that “Jackson had screamed at him over
the phone and “read him the riot act.”

There is much more in the National Journal article but let’s examine Jackson’s concern that his friend and golf buddy, Mr. Hairston, be paid.

Apparently Hairston had fallen on hard times in 2005. Hairston was the focus of a Wall Street Journal article on the effects of cheap labor on businesses. The article was subscription only butappeared in full at the Drudge Retort in December, 2006. It is quite the story.

In the late 1980’s Hairston’s stucco business was located in Atlanta. But “by the mid-1990s, stucco jobs increasingly took Mr.
Hairston and his predominantly black crew from Atlanta to Hilton Head
Island.” So he decided to move his family and business to Hilton Head. His business did well but it really flourished when he decided to hire Hispanic workers attracted to the city by the growing number of construction jobs.

So Mr. Hairston, who until then had mostly relied on
black labor, hired a handful of Mexicans. He says they were diligent
and eager to learn. They were “prepared to acquire basic knowledge and
not afraid to try” new work, says Mr. Hairston. When he needed more
hands, his Mexican workers sent for their relatives back home and
elsewhere in the U.S. Mr. Hairston says they presented Social Security
numbers, and he in turn paid taxes and workers’ compensation although
he acknowledges some of them had probably entered the U.S. illegally.

In 1997 the stucco business made $971,000,
according to the Hairstons’ tax return. To handle his blossoming
business, Mr. Hairston rented a large office with four rooms, two
restrooms and warehouse space behind it. He bought a condominium and a
plot of land as investments. Flush with success, the Hairstons broke
ground on a 7,600-square-foot, three-story house with an ornate
gold-and-black gate, a cherub fountain in the front and a large
swimming pool in the back.

Then in an ironic twist it all unraveled. In time the Hispanic workers decided to go into business for themselves. They began to undercut Hairston’s bids and he lost much of his business.“Hairstons’ net income plunged from roughly $500,000 in 1997 to about $70,000 in 2005, according to the couple. To stay afloat, the Hairstons remortgaged their house
twice and sold a condominium and a plot of land.” WSJ reported that Hairston was left hustling for jobs in North Carolina “and beyond, looking for better
opportunities.”

And beyond, looking for better
opportunities…it appears opportunity struck in 2005 with Katrina. In the wake of Katrina, HUD thought HANO needed to have a construction manager to“repairand rehab its housing units.” And of course Hairston needed work. Voila— Hairston received a non competively bid HUD contract that“paid more than $485,000 for working at HANO during an 18-month period.” Now an investigation focuses on the question of whether Alphonso Jackson threw that contract to his friend, Hairston. Reading of Hairston’s financial struggles makes the question more compelling as well as perhaps explaining why Jackson was determined to keep Hairston on the government teat even though HANO thought he was of no use.

The irony here abounds. Jackson may never have come under scrutiny had he not shot off his mouth in Dallas that he“once had killed a contract award because the contractor had disparaged his friend President Bush.” Hairston is a man who made a small fortune off illegal labor only to find it lost when those very laborers struck out on their own. But there is more. Enter Hairston’s wife, Starletta

As their fortunes were souring, Mrs. Hairston, a Republican who had
become involved in community activities, decided to run for a seat on
the 11-member County Council of Beaufort County.

Starletta won. And irony of ironies, once in office she introduced an“illegal
immigration relief ordinance” under which “companies that knowingly hire undocumented laborers could
have their business licenses revoked.” It received loud opposition from Hispanics and employers. And in the end Starletta was voted out, having lost in a primary challenge.

This isn’t fiction though it reads like it. And it’s only the beginning of this story. I swear there is a heckuva book in these Katrina contract stories.

 

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