The man who headed up the campaigns of the last two Shreveport mayors was on the payroll of a company that got a lucrative contract with the city's water department, city documents and depositions in a lawsuit against the city show.
A subcontractor hired by that company implemented a computerized billing system that has turned out to be rife with problems, those documents show. There has been widespread underbilling of water and sewer accounts. Residents are also complaining of overbilling.
Lynn Braggs, the campaign manager for former Mayor Cedric Glover and the campaign coordinator for current Mayor Ollie Tyler, testified he was on the payroll of Triton Water Technologies of Hammond, which during the Glover administration got a $7.4 million contract to provide water meters to the city. A Triton subcontractor, Systems & Software, was brought in to set up the technology used in the water and sewer billing system, a nearly $3 million contract, documents show.
The water billing setup began under Glover's administration and Tyler inherited the implementation. Billing problems persist.
Braggs gave a deposition as part of a civil lawsuit brought by Scott Pernici, a Shreveport businessman who has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging he discovered chronic underbilling totaling more than $1 million. Pernici's suit alleges the Tyler administration took steps to try to fix the problem but didn't compensate him.
During his Dec. 21, 2016 deposition, Braggs testified he helped broker a deal between the city and Triton. Braggs testified he used this influence to help minority companies get business at City Hall.
He did not reveal how much he made from the water contract, but said he received a salary plus a bonus from Triton.
"They (Triton) paid me a salary every month," Braggs testified.
"Anything else? Did you receive any bonuses or commission?" Pernici's lawyer asked.
"Yeah, I got bonuses," Braggs replied.
"How were your bonuses calculated?" the attorney asked.
"I can't remember," Braggs replied.
Braggs also testified that he was a "mentor" to City Attorney William Bradford Jr.
A string of emails last fall among Bradford, Mayor Tyler, the City Council, Department of Water and Sewerage Director Barbara Featherston and the billing company's software engineers discuss problems with underbilling heavy water users, underbilling sewage accounts in part of the city, and with meters connected to sprinkler systems.
In an email last October, a Systems & Software representative apologized for the sewer billing errors, saying, "We take full responsibility."
Featherston said in an email to city employees and the software company, "We expect Systems & Software will pay for this."
The company set up the software and city employees were to operate it, emails show.
In a February deposition, Featherston was asked if the city had made a demand on Systems & Software to pay for sewerage billing losses that totaled $270,000. She said yes, but the company had not responded.
Systems & Software and Braggs have declined requests for comment from KTBS News.
In Tyler's deposition in the Pernici suit, she said she didn't know Braggs helped private companies get city contracts.
During that deposition, Tyler was asked if she trusted Braggs.
"Did you consider him to be a person of integrity (at the time he was coordinating her campaign)? Pernici's lawyer asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"But you need to think about it now?" the attorney asked.
"I do," Tyler replied.
Tyler issued a statement to KTBS News regarding the contracts awarded for the water billing system.
"Despite the claims of those who wish to harm my administration, as mayor and as a private citizen I had no involvement in the procurement or execution of the prior administration's contract with Triton," Tyler said. "This contract was initiated in 2007 and completed in 2012. During this time, I was serving as Louisiana deputy state superintendent of education and interim state superintendent. Furthermore, I have no direct knowledge that anyone related to my administration had any relationship, whatsoever, with Triton nor do I have any direct knowledge regarding any third party's relationships with Triton. I will continue to exemplify transparency and to ensure that all agreements signed by me on behalf of the City of Shreveport are lawful and in the best interest of its citizens."
Shreveport resident Victor Crusan, who has been following the water billing problems, said his mother-in-law received a $490 water bill at a time she was in a nursing home.
Crusan plans to watch how the current administration handles his billing problems.
"We're gonna see how they deal with this one before I decide on who I'm gonna vote for next," he said.
Observers of City Hall say municipalities often have people who help businesses get city contracts. But it's usually done in the shadows; the Pernici lawsuit is bringing it to light.
"The real question was, was the relationship known?" KTBS political analyst Scott Hughes said. "Was the relationship known that Mr. Braggs was on the payroll? Particularly if the mayor was looking to him for advice. Did other decision makers know that perhaps that decision exsisted?"