Former manager files whistleblower lawsuit against GOHSEP
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — A former GOHSEP employee has filed a lawsuit against the agency and its director, claiming he was wrongfully terminated for reporting wasteful spending.
"If it was $495 million of your money, you'd want to know, wouldn't you?" asked Bruce Ellis. "It is $495 million of your money."
That is the amount Ellis says was spent by Louisiana on Hurricane Isaac. He was the Operations Section Chief for GOHSEP until September 14, when he was fired. He says he was let go because he criticized his bosses for spending money on things they never used.
"Is it prudent to order two-thirds more than what you really need?" Ellis asked. "Of course, the question begs, how do you know what you need?"
He claims resources of all types were wasted during the response to Hurricane Isaac, including millions of dollars of tarps and hundreds of thousands of meals that now sit in warehouses. He also mentioned busses delivered to New Orleans to facilitate an evacuation that never occurred.
Ellis wrote emails to colleagues and supervisors detailing his concerns. He was told he was fired because he mismanaged a food purchase order, but he believes those emails were the true cause.
"Stating some of the problems, by leadership, stating some of the problems and naming names and dollar amounts. And they took those and they didn't think it was a good idea that that be written down," he said.
Ellis specifically points to ice that was purchased for locations around the state that was not used. He says it was left to melt at facilities in Lacombe and Angola instead of being shipped to DSNAP locations where people needed it.
"And they stayed open for nine days apiece," Ellis said of the DSNAP spots. "Using a refrigerator truck at $1,800 a day instead of bagged ice that was melting right up the road. Twenty to thirty DSNAPs, you're talking $320,000 worth of refrigerated cold water, when they could've just used the ice that was on the ground."
He claims he talked with supervisors about re-routing the ice, but they did not think it would be as simple as he did.
Ellis says state leaders go overboard in their emergency spending because they know FEMA will reimburse them for 75 percent of whatever they spend. But since FEMA uses taxpayer money, they should be more careful.
"Why are we letting that happen?" he said of the lack of accountability. "Doesn't make sense to me. I mean, I don't know how else to say 'I'm looking out for your interest,' and then, 'thank you very much, you're fired.'"
In a statement, GOHSEP said, “We can't speak to the allegations because GOHSEP hasn’t been served with a lawsuit, and contact with his legal counsel after the termination was the first time we’d heard of Mr. Ellis allegedly acting as a 'whistleblower.' In every disaster, we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, and our response to Isaac was no different.”
Ellis knows victims of a storm like Isaac would likely appreciate that approach.
"Well, yeah, everybody would say that," he said. "But what's too much? What's the cost?"