Dial Dalfred: Parishioners concerned about minority contractors not getting fair shot at church construction job

Dial Dalfred

NEW IBERIA, La. (KLFY) – While nearly 3 million dollars of construction is happening at one New Iberia Catholic Church, some parishioners say minority contractors are not getting a fair shot at the jobs.

New construction has been in the works for several years at Saint Edwards Catholic Church in New Iberia. A new rectory and storage facility are done and the nearly two million dollar family life center is still months away from completion.

While grateful for progress, District 4 Councilwoman and St. Edwards Church member Deidre Ledbetter has some questions about who’s doing the construction.

“We are an African American church and there are no African Americans or any minorities, so far, being used as subcontractors.”

Ledbetter said the smallest of the projects, the storage building, was mostly done by minority contractors.

In September of 2017, an ad was placed in the church bulletin announcing the Finance Committee and the Parish Council of St. Edward/St. Jude were moving from advertising for three bidders for the building project, and that they selected Fremin’s General Contractors.

Merv Boyance, St. Edwards Catholic Church member said, “I brought up several different contractors that were former members of the church that wanted to help. Father Vu was pretty much set on Fremin’s builders. One single contractor.”

According to then church parish President Michael Cormier, the council chose Fremin’s because they were familiar with their work, specifically at Catholic High School in New Iberia.

With the general contractor already selected, the concerned parishioners were hoping that minority subcontractors would be awarded some of the work that remains to be completed; whether it was flooring, ceilings, electrical, plumbing, or even the HVAC system.

Merv Bonyoce’s specialty happens to be heating and air conditioning.

The 2017 bulletin ad invited all licensed contractors who are members of the church to submit bids for the project.

Boyance says he placed a bid but was told he was not the lowest bidder.

“I’m a small business and I don’t get the breaks as the large businesses. I don’t get the price discounts for volume so my quote would have been a little bit more.”

Boyonce and Ledbetter understand the bidding process but say the church is not fulfilling its mission to “help the least among us.”

“Our church should be helping people mainly that look like us because we are the least among us. Helping them to grow and strive and reach the higher heights would be fulfilling our mission”, Ledbetter said.

Concerned parishioners tell us the main issue throughout this process has been transparency from the Finance and Pastoral Councils with the congregation.

According to the Diocese of Lafayette, St. Edwards Parish leaders communicated the overall scope of the projects through bulletins and town hall meetings which is documented.

But further questions from Ledbetter to view copies of bids, total cost of the completed rectory, and minutes from finance and parish council meetings were unanswered.

The Diocese replied by saying ‘disclosure of bids may be restricted to not reveal sensitive, sometime financial information of a contractor’s business.’

However, diocesan policy requires the pastor to make all construction documents to the pastoral and finance committee, members of both councils have confirmed with me they reviewed said documents.

If there’s an ongoing issue in your neighborhood or community or there’s a story you’d like me to investigate, send me an email at DialDalfred@klfy.com.

It’s worth noting that I called Fremin’s to ask if any minority contractors would assist with the construction of the family life center on Tuesday July 7th and was told Ronald Fremin was on vacation and would be back July 13th. When I followed up Monday I was told Ronald would be on vacation for another week, and there was no one else in a management position that could answer my questions.

I do plan to call again on July 20th.

UPDATE (7/20): Ronald Fremin sent me an email 7/16/20 stating that “Minority contractors will be assisting with construction services on the Family Life Center.” A follow-up question asking ‘who those contractors are and which services they’ll be providing” has not yet been answered.

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