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Never let it be said that LouisianaVoice isn’t willing to save the state a little money.

Remember that survey of Division of Administration (DOA) employees that revealed severe morale problems throughout state government? Well, in case you don’t, here’s the link to our story on that survey: http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/02/employee-survey-of-doa-employees-reveals-simmering-morale-problem-no-one-more-popular-than-jindal-in-poll/

It turns out the state shelled out $25,000 to IBM for that survey that showed employees simply are not happy with the administration, scoring it abysmally low in trust, employee recognition, senior leadership values, communication from management, senior leadership vision, opportunity for advancement, employee involvement in decision making, and prospects for positive change.

Basically, the survey showed that state leadership languishes far below the national norm. In a word, it sucks.

But $25,000 to learn that? We could have told the administration that for…oh say, $5.

So who authorized the expenditure of scarce state funds for such a worthless piece of research when the conclusions were long evident to state employees and certainly should have been to the administration?

Well, it turns out that Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson signed off on the contract with IBM on June 24.

Johnson, you might recall, retired on June 21, 2012, from her $130,000 per year job as head of the Department of Children and Family services. She moved out of state but returned on May 27, 2013, as Director of Accountability and Research for DOA at $150,000 and less than four months later, on Sept. 30, 2013, was promoted to Assistant Commissioner at $170,000 per year. As if that were not enough, on Feb. 24 of this year, she was again promoted to the title of Director in the governor’s office at $180,000. Bottom line: in just 16 months, she retired and returned, netting in the process a pay increase of $50,000 per year—more than the average state employee makes in a year.

That will do wonders for employee morale.

LouisianaVoice made a public records request on Oct. 3 for the request for proposals (RFP), the contract and payment history for the survey contract with IBM.

On Oct. 6, DOA responded to our request:

  • Your public records request, dated October 3, 2014, was received by the Division of Administration. We are conducting a search for records.  Once the search is finished, the records will be reviewed for privileges and exemptions.  We will contact you as soon as the review is completed.

Three weeks later, on Oct. 24, DOA finally complied with a six-page document. Apparently, there was no RFP for a vendor—just a sketchy six-page document and even more significant, there were no redactions, no privileges or exemptions. There was only a delay of three full weeks—14 working days—in complying with our request.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:1 says:

  • All books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state, are “public records.”

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:33 says:

  • If the public record applied for is immediately available, because of its not being in active use at the time of the application, the public record shall be immediately presented to the authorized person applying for it.  If the public record applied for is not immediately available, because of its being in active use at the time of the application, the custodian shall promptly certify this in writing to the applicant, and in his certificate shall fix a day and hour within three days, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays, for the exercise of the right granted by this Chapter.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:37 says:

  • Any person having custody or control of a public record, who violates any of the provisions of this Chapter, or any person not having such custody or control who by any conspiracy, understanding or cooperation with any other person hinders or attempts to hinder the inspection of any public records declared by this Chapter to be subject to inspection, shall upon first conviction be fined not less than one hundred dollars, and not more than one thousand dollars, or shall be imprisoned for not less than one month, nor more than six months.  Upon any subsequent conviction he shall be fined not less than two hundred fifty dollars, and not more than two thousand dollars, or imprisoned for not less than two months, nor more than six months, or both.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that DOA has launched an intensive witch hunt for our source on the employee satisfaction survey, which apparently was supposed to be a closely-guarded state secret. And while we really hate to even let them know this and spoil the fun, the funniest thing is they are so far off base in their search. They don’t have the foggiest idea that our sources are not even in a single building; they’re scattered throughout state government because apparently state employees place more trust in what we write than what the administration says.

So guys, have fun in your search because every time you think you’ve found one, three more pop up. You can’t stop the truth. Hell, you can’t even slow it down.

Given the results of the survey, it’s easy to understand why DOA wanted to keep the survey from public view. What’s not so easy to comprehend is why the Jindal administration is so hell-bent on keeping everything it does from public scrutiny.

We will make this observation, however: When an administration goes to such great lengths to shield its actions from public view and when that same administration expends an inordinate amount of time and effort in attempting to determine the source of leaks of such benign, non-sensitive information as a simple employee survey, one can only deduce that administration has far more to hide than a simple satisfaction survey.

And paranoia, it seems, feeds upon itself.

As if the administration’s handling of bogus criminal accusations against former Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter wasn’t already embarrassing enough after Painter’s acquittal ended up costing the state $474,000 in reimbursement of his legal fees and expenses, a recent civil court decision has added insult to injury.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa/New Hampshire/Florida/Anywhere but Louisiana) thought he could make an example of Painter over the then-ATC commissioner’s refusal to bend the rules for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, whose family and businesses have poured some $40,000 into various Jindal political campaigns.

Painter twice rejected applications by SMG (formerly Spectacor Management Group), the Mercedes-Benz Superdome management firm, for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle and approval of the permit was sought by Southern Eagle, SMG, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) board and a law firm representing SMG. Altogether, the Benson family, LSED board members, SMG, its law firm and Southern Eagle had combined to pour more than $203,000 into Jindal campaigns between 2003 and 2012.

When Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack insisted that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack refused.

Not only did Jindal fire Painter when his commissioner insisted that the permit application for the Champions Square tent be complete and proper, he even had Painter indicted on criminal charges of stalking a female employee. Present at the firing ceremony were Waguespack, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, and another member of the governor’s legal staff.

The subsequent criminal prosecution of Painter fell apart and his acquittal carried a stipulation that the state pick up the tab for Painter’s legal fees and affiliated costs.

Now, a civil trial jury has determined unanimously that the female former employee, Kelli Suire, defamed Painter even though the Louisiana Office of Risk Management, most likely at the insistence of Jindal’s Division of Administration, settled Suire’s claims against the state in 2011 without Suire’s ever having been required to sit for a sworn deposition in the apparent hope the settlement would bolster the state’s case against Painter.

Oops.

Painter’s defamation suit against Suire was bifurcated, meaning it was to be tried in two parts. The first part, the part just completed, was to settle the question of actual liability. Had Suire been found not guilty of defamation, the second part to determine actual monetary damages would have been unnecessary.

Unfortunately for Jindal’s chances to avoid further embarrassment over the sloppy manner in which the Painter matter was handled, such was not the case and the damages part will be tried next.

Throughout the entire matter, Painter has made clear that he wanted his day in court.

The liability trial was heard in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana before Judge Shelly Dick and a seven-person jury. Following a three-day trial, the jury took about three hours.

Painter was represented at trial by attorney Al Robert, Jr., and Suire by Jill Craft.

The issues in the case first arose on Aug. 16, 2010, soon after Suire filed a complaint with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OID) alleging a myriad of allegations against Painter. The lead OIG investigator at the time, Shane Evans, now employed by the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, testified that he met with Suire and that he personally chose to use the words “stalking” and “harassing” to describe the nature of Suire’s complaints in his application for a search warrant.

Painter also has a civil lawsuit pending against OIG which alleges the agency’s investigation, which began in August of 2010, was improperly conducted.

Robert said the jury’s verdict confirmed the finding of an outside investigator hired by the Louisiana Department of Revenue (DOR) under which ATC operates. The investigator determined that Painter’s actions did not violate DOR anti-harassment policy. Moreover, when questioned by the DOR investigator, Robert said, Suire “admitted that Painter did not make unwelcome sexual advances toward her and that he did not request sexual favors or engage in verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature toward her. Inexplicably, the Office of Inspector General ignored this investigation when it chose to move forward with its investigation of Mr. Painter,” he added.

“This has been a long, four-year ordeal to clear my name of the lies and untruths that Ms. Suire—and those working with her—used to damage my character and reputation,” Painter said.

In her instructions to the jury, Judge Dick said defamation requires proof of a false or defamatory statement made to a third person or persons. “A person who utters a defamatory statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural and probable consequence of the person’s statement,” she said.

Suire, in her defense, did not deny making the statements but said rather that her statements were subject to “privilege,” or inadmissible, Judge Dick said, acknowledging that Suire’s communications did in fact “occasion a conditional or qualified privilege.”

Therefore, in order for Painter to prevail, she said, he “must prove that (the) defendant abused this privilege by acting with actual malice.” Such a finding, the judge said, would require that Suire either knew the matter to be false or acted in reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

Suire currently resides in Florida.

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The movies Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Terminator, Jurassic park 4, Ender’s Game, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation were all shot in New Orleans. More specifically, they are all filmed in the Big Easy Studios in New Orleans. http://www.bigeasystudiosneworleans.com/aboutus.php

Geostorm, starring Gerard Butler as a satellite designer who goes into space to thwart climate-controlling satellites from creating catastrophic storms, just started shooting in the Big Easy Studios which are housed, appropriately enough, in the Michoud Assembly Center which once built the space shuttle’s external tanks before the shuttle project was scrapped by NASA.

All of which begs two single overriding questions: did Big Easy Studios receive favorable treatment in landing the lease of the 1.8 million-square-foot facility and were other Louisiana-based studios afforded the same opportunity to compete for a similar deal with NASA?

Taking the questions in reverse order, we will probably never know what chances, if any, other studios had to vie for the space but at least one competitor said there was no open competition for the facility.

The answer to the first is shrouded in secrecy as lease terms, including rental and payments, as well as the very signatures of Big Easy principals signing the lease were redacted throughout the 28-page lease document. We suppose lease payments may be some kind of protected state secret which fall under the heading of national security.

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Still, with conspiracy theorists out there who continue to insist the 1969 moon landing was staged, one would think NASA would be a little skittish about leasing out its facilities for movie making.

But there are more serious issues involving NASA’s decision to lease the gigantic facility to a movie production company. For openers, NASA’s rules say that any deal with an outside entity must serve the agency’s mission. NASA’s response was that anything that brings the federal government revenue serves NASA’s mission. Taking that logic to its extreme, it would seem safe to say a meth lab or house of ill repute could conceivably qualify under that definition.

NASA rules also dictate that any lease agreement must recover the full cost of the rented space and must not create unfair competition with the private sector by undercutting its lease terms. Yet, competing studios maintain that first, they were not given the opportunity to compete for the lease and the lease arrangements with Big Easy Studios and second, that they pay higher rent per square foot than Big Easy Studios.

So just how did Big Easy gain such an advantage, if indeed it did?

To answer that, we must take a look at the two principals of Big Easy Studios.

Herbert W. Gains, an independent filmmaker, was in New Orleans in 2010 to film Green Lantern, much of which was shot at the Lakefront Airport.

At the same time, The Lathan Co. of Mobile, Alabama, was under contract to perform major repairs and restoration work to the airport which had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. http://www.lathancompany.com/portfolio/lakefront.html

Lathan Co. President Jerry Lathan, a member of the Alabama Republican Party’s State Executive Committee who had worked in the presidential campaigns for Bob Dole and both Presidents Bush as well as other local, state and national Republican candidates, also had contracts for restoration of a number of other structures, including four others in New Orleans and one at East Louisiana Hospital in Jackson.

http://www.lathancompany.com/projects.html

Lathan, who reportedly likes to boast of his political contacts, would probably have had connections at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, through which he could have assisted Gains in acquiring access to NASA.

http://algop.org/jerry-lathan/

Big Easy Studios was incorporated on Nov. 9, 2011, with Gains and Lathan as the only officers, and the lease with NASA was signed by an unidentified officer of the new company (remember, that name was redacted) 16 days later, on Nov. 22, 2011. An amendment to the contract was signed less than three months later, on Feb. 14, 2012, by Robin Henderson of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center but again, the names and signature of the Big Easy officer were again redacted.

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Stephen Moret, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LED), said his office had “many conversations” with NASA about the need to offer more competitive lease rates at Michoud to better position the facility to attract “advanced manufacturing projects.”

The director of operations for one competing studio told the Baton Rouge Business Report in 2012 that he had heard from producers that Big Easy received lease rates more favorable than his studio. “The taxpayers didn’t fund Michoud to make movies,” he said. “The lease with Big Easy Studios was a done deal before we even knew the facility was available.”

http://businessreport.com/article/20120917/BUSINESSREPORT0112/120919831/

While, studios located in Louisiana once received 40 percent infrastructure tax credits—discontinued in 2009—the movies filmed in those studios still receive movie production tax credits and the system quickly led to widespread abuses that prompted the conviction and a 70-month prison sentence for for Martin Walker of Baton Rouge for his activity involving the buying and selling of Louisiana motion picture investor tax credits. He also was ordered to pay more than $1.8 million in restitution to 24 victims of his fraud.

In 2009, revisions to state incentives guaranteed a tax credit of 30 percent of expenditures provided a production spends more than $300,000 in Louisiana. Major productions like Twilight: Breaking Dawn can receive state tax credits of $10 million to $30 million.

Because most productions don’t owe any taxes in Louisiana, there is no need to claim the credits but they can transfer those credits to the state and the state will cut the companies a check for 85 percent of the face value of the credits. Thus, if a production company earns $1 million in Louisiana tax credits, those credits can be transferred back to the state and the state will issue the company a check for $850,000.

Another option, a variation of which landed Walker in hot water, allows production companies to sell their credits to individuals or corporations who do owe taxes in the state at a discount. Should an individual or corporation owe the state $1 million, for example, and a production company holds a $1 million tax credit, the production company may sell its tax credit to a speculator for say, $500,000 and that person in turns sells the credit for $750,000 to the individual or corporation owing the $1 million in taxes who then receives a $1 million tax credit—and each party profits $250,000.

That means when production companies sell their credits to the private sector, state taxpayers end up subsidizing tax breaks for high income individuals and corporations.

In Walker’s case, though, he sold bogus tax credits with a face value of more than $3.8 million to 24 investors for $2.5 million.

Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street said of the Walker matter, “This sort of blatant fraud undermines the entire tax credit program and cannot be tolerated. We will continue working with the FBI and United States Attorney to make sure that those who engage in this sort of corruption face criminal consequences.”

Former State Film Commissioner Mark Smith described the movie industry in Louisiana as “smoke and mirrors.” He said in Los Angeles and New York, “I can see the headquarters and see who the real players are. In places like Louisiana, who can see it?”

Nearly seven years into his administration, it’s no surprise that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa/New Hampshire/Florida—anywhere by Louisiana) would be losing many of his top appointees. After all, the ride is nearly over and they have to be looking for opportunities beyond the inevitable unemployment line once Jindal’s term ends in January of 2016.

A few left early on, barely two years in, causing raised eyebrows among some political observers. Lobbyist Luke Letlow bolted early from his position as Special Assistant and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs as did Ethics Administrator Richard Sherburne and Department of Transportation and Development (D)TD) Secretary William Ankner. Sherburne’s departure came after Jindal stripped the State Ethics Board of its adjudicatory authority, giving those responsibilities to a set of administrative law judges who have proved largely ineffective. Ankner left after a controversy arose over the awarding of a $60 million contract for a highway construction to high bidder Boh Brothers Construction.

Others, like Department of Health and Hospitals DHH) Secretary Bruce Greenstein and Office of Group Benefits (OGB) CEO Tommy Teague were shown the door—Teague for his reluctance to jump on board Jindal’s privatization train that ultimately carried OGB to the brink of bankruptcy before a controversial restructuring of OGB’s benefit package and Greenstein under the cloud of a federal investigation over the awarding of a contract by DHH to Greenstein’s former employer, CNSI. That cloud has since turned into a nine-count state grand jury indictment brought against Greenstein for perjury.

Still others bided their time until the right opportunities came along. Michael DiResto, a Jindal budget spokesman, left nearly 14 months ago to become Vice President for Economic Competitiveness for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and DNR Secretary Scott Angelle resigned to run for—and win—a seat on the Public Service Commission and recently announced he would be a candidate for governor next year.

And then there are those who walked for no apparent reason other than to get away from a struggling administration that has been virtually rudderless, thanks to a largely absent and detached governor. Jindal seems to be more preoccupied with running for president than completing his job, which he repeatedly called “the only job I ever wanted” before beginning his second term in 2012 and redirecting his attention from the Governor’s Mansion to the White House.

His first Commissioner of Administration, Angéle Davis, left shortly after attending a meeting in which Jindal’s then Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell directed Teague to draft a “tightly written” request for proposals (RFP) for a state employee health coverage plan in such a way that only one vendor would be qualified to bid. Vantage Health Plan of Monroe ultimately was awarded the $70 million contract.

Her successor, Paul Rainwater, was eventually moved over to serve as Jindal’s Chief of Staff but he, too, resigned last February without giving a reason other than to say he wanted to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

Another recent departure who did not explain her reason for leaving was Division of Administration (DOA) Executive Counsel Liz Murrill. Unconfirmed reports have surfaced, however, that she has confided to friends that she felt she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

Over the ensuing 15 months left in Jindal’s floundering administration, there are certain to be other departures as appointees begin jockeying for positions in the private sector or attempt to latch onto the campaigns of candidates who have already announced for governor in the hope of landing another prestigious job in the next administration.

Among those we might expect to see jump ship between now and January 2016 include Jindal’s Chief of Staff Kyle Plotkin, the governor’s Communications Director Mike Reed and Deputy Communications Director Shannon Bates, and perhaps even a few cabinet-level appointees, including Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols.

Question: What’s more dangerous than Bobby Jindal as governor?

Question: What’s more dangerous than Bobby Jindal as governor?

Answer: Bobby Jindal with an automatic weapon in his hands.

Question: What’s more dangerous than Bobby Jindal with an automatic weapon in his hands?

Answer: Bobby Jindal as president.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-p51Ic7kgpA

 

(From: http://www.thelibertypapers.org/)

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This artist is obviously a state employee or surely he would come forward and take credit for his brilliant work! Perhaps someday, after he retires, he can make his identity known so that we may pay him proper homage.

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