Wednesday, February 22, 2006
By ALAN SAYRE
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, who has undertaken several criticized building projects, does not have to follow the state's public bid law when the projects are financed by the Louisiana Agricultural Finance Authority, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Without dissent, the high court turned away an appeal by the Louisiana Associated General Contractors Inc., a group of construction contractors that objected to Odom's no-bid projects.
Odom said Wednesday he was pleased with the ruling. An association spokesman was not available for comment.
Although the case specifically involved the use of $4 million in LAFA revenue bonds in 1998 to construct seven metal-frame buildings for the state agriculture department, the decision apparently covers a $45 million sugar mill at Lacassine and Odom's most recent proposal to build a $14 million rice terminal at the Port of Lake Charles.
LAFA, the finance arm of the agriculture department, is largely under the control of the commissioner. Odom has used state employees from his agency in his construction projects, the need for which has often been questioned by his critics.
Last year, the Legislature turned away a bill — part of an unsuccessful package aimed at curbing Odom's power — that would have put the agriculture department's construction projects under the public bid law.
In its decision, the high court said the Legislature, when it created LAFA, had the authority to exempt LAFA from public bidding, and did so. The Legislature also legally gave the authority the power to carry out construction projects for the agriculture department, the court ruled.