Council hopeful Briones fined in Louisiana
By Josh Baugh
In the late 2000s, District 8 City Council candidate Rolando Briones and his engineering firm were hard at work helping rebuild Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the state.
Briones said his firm, Briones Consulting & Engineering Ltd., was there “trying to help cities rebuild,” but the Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board wanted to know if he was licensed to do business in the state.
By his own admission, he was not.
In October 2011, that licensing agency that oversees the engineers, hit the Briones firm with a $1,000 fine — plus $549.47 in administrative costs — for doing business in Louisiana without the proper license.
Earlier in the year, it had sent a certified cease-and-desist letter instructing him to immediately stop using “the word engineering in conjunction with your firm’s activity in the state.”
Louisiana law prohibits the use of several words, including “engineering,” in “a person’s name or form of business or activity in the State of Louisiana without proper licensure.”
Briones said he made a mistake in not seeking a license when he began subcontracting work in 2007.
“I was unaware that the state rules required my firm to file for a license because I was not a prime on the contract,” he said.
The firm was doing “project management,” not “engineering” work, he said. And to this day, Briones has never “signed and sealed” engineering documents in Louisiana, he said.
Briones and Ron Nirenberg are seeking to replace outgoing Councilman Reed Williams, who decided not to run for re-election, making the District 8 race the only council election with an open seat. Nirenberg declined to comment for this report.
Briones said the Louisiana incident was a bit of a misunderstanding, and that the licensing board didn’t discover he was out of compliance until after it already had issued him a temporary license.
In February 2011, he received a letter from the board saying he’d been approved for the temporary permit. The year before, he’d applied for the license — twice. The first time, Briones said, his paperwork was lost. The second time, in December 2010, the application made it through and received board approval.
Then in April 2011, he received the cease-and-desist letter notifying that he was violating state law. He since has received a permanent license.
“I applied for a license and got a license and then they put these pieces together. And I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Briones said. “It’s just odd how I was told ‘yes’ and then I was told ‘no.’ It’s like one department wasn’t talking to the other department.”
The board’s investigation showed “that since at least May 2007, (Briones’ firm) has conducted business in Louisiana with the word ‘engineering’ in its name, including providing project management services for FEMA-funded repairs project in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, in 2007 and for the Louisiana Land Trust demolition project in Louisiana in 2009.”
According to the board’s consent order, which assessed the fine, Briones later sought certification as a “disadvantaged business enterprise contractor with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport,” the latter of which listed his firm as available to provide “Engineering-Civil, Structural; Construction Management, Project Management.”
By signing the board’s consent order, dated Oct. 14, 2011, Briones admitted to having worked in Louisiana without the proper license. He said in an interview Wednesday that he made a business decision to pay the fine rather than spend the time and expense of fighting the issue.
“The problem with that is that you are not required to read the rules and the regulations until you’re licensed as an engineer,” Briones said of the board’s sanction. “But I wasn’t doing engineering work. I wasn’t trying to do engineering work. I hadn’t been required to read the rules; so I didn’t read the rules.”
Briones has faced professional troubles before. In 2002, he was fired from his engineering job at the San Antonio Water System for “lack of leadership” and “willful violation of company policy.”
He has said the incident gave him the push to pursue his lifelong dream of business ownership. Briones Consulting & Engineering Ltd., now does work in 14 cities across seven states and employs 40 individuals, Briones said Wednesday.
His business website lists four locations under the “contact us” tab, including office suites in Houston, New Orleans and New York.
The Houston address is for a residential condo from which Briones Consulting & Engineering sometimes works, he said. Property records show the residential unit is owned individually by Briones.
When a reporter called the New Orleans building to confirm the engineering firm was a tenant, a building employee said the “suites” actually were post office boxes inside an on-site UPS store.
Anyone can claim a suite on “prestigious 5th Ave in New York City,” through a business like NYMAIL.com and NYCvirtualoffice.com — which actually appear to be the same company. A search of public records results in countless businesses listing suites at the same address.
“Our mailbox service enables you to send and receive mail globally and supplies you with a company mailbox address on New York’s honored Fifth Avenue,” the NYMAIL website reads.
Briones confirmed the New Orleans and New York addresses are for post office boxes. He said he runs a small business that is “very cost conscious,” and such mail services allow his company to remain nimble. He also said he keeps apartments in New York and New Orleans, though those aren’t the addresses he lists on his company website.
“I’m a small business. I watch every single dollar,” he said. “I like having P.O. Boxes because I can have mail routed. It’s more efficient. They offer other services.”
Though his business site prefers the term “suite,” Briones eschews it on his campaign site, which lists a simple P.O. Box for incoming mail.