In the constantly-shifting tides of Louisiana politics, it seems the same personalities keep bobbing to the surface over and over in a never-ending parade of appointments, resignations, and re-appointments, always ushered in or bid adieu with words of laudatory praise and expressed optimism.
Such is the case of Angelé Davis, who until this week served as Commissioner of Administration for Gov. Bobby Jindal. Before being brought on board by Jindal, she served as Secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism and prior to that, she was Deputy to Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennan in the administration of Jindal’s mentor, former Gov. Mike Foster.
On her way out the door, it was announced that Davis would enter the employ of politically-connected Arkel International of Baton Rouge as vice president of strategic programs. She will be in charge of “identifying and evaluating strategic acquisitions and business partnerships and alliances, business development strategies and capitalization and overseeing strategic planning,” according to an Arkel press release.
In 2007, the First Circuit Court of Appeal overturned a ruling favorable to Arkel during litigation initiated by Arkel against the state. The trial court judge who ruled in Arkel’s favor on a key motion was Tim Kelly of the 19th Judicial District. Kelly is married to Davis. One of Arkel’s attorneys was Murphy J. Foster, son of former Gov. Mike Foster. Kelly’s ruling was handed down before Davis joined Jindal’s administration.
“Angelé led us through some unprecedented budget challenges and our state is in a better posture today because of her cost-cutting approach and dedication to streamlining government,” Jindal said. “Paul Rainwater will be an effective leader at DOA, as he was at LRA and as Deputy Chief of Staff. The budget challenges facing our state are historic and his dynamic thinking and quick action will be essential to moving our state forward,” the governor added.
As soon as it was announced that Davis was leaving the state, speculation began as to the reason for her sudden departure. Some equated her and other top Jindal administration officials’ recent exodus to “rats deserting a sinking ship” in anticipation of impending budgetary shortfalls next year estimated by some as approaching $2 billion to $3 billion.
Others felt that agency privatization and the controversy surrounding the awarding of the contract for health coverage to Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana led to her resignation, or ouster.
Considerable controversy resulted from the handling of the privatization of the Office of Risk Management when Davis appeared before the Joint Committee on the Budget with no supporting documentation from her or agency Director Bud Thompson. Both were chided by committee members and told to return later with information requested by lawmakers. Lawmakers didn’t learn until after the privatization contract was approved that the state would actually be obligated to an increase in state funding the first year of the contract.
A month later, when Blue Cross was awarded the contract for health coverage for 114,000 state employees, dependents, and retirees, Humana, which had previously held the contract, appealed to Davis to block the contract. Davis refused and Humana filed suit against the state claiming that the Office of Group Benefits made a “mockery” of the contract process by “awarding a contract that was never bid,” according to Humana attorney Phil Franco.
Tommy Teague, executive officer of the Office of Group Benefits, said the Blue Cross contract, which took effect on July 1, would save the state $34 million in the first year.
But on June 21, Judge Mike Caldwell, who serves with Davis’s husband, Judge Kelly, in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge, ordered the state to reconsider its award of the contract to Blue Cross. Caldwell said Humana had raised some valid issues over the Blue Cross contract. Within a matter of days following Caldwell’s order, Davis announced her resignation, which takes effect this Friday.
But when Davis decided to leave the state for Arkel, she did not leave controversy behind.
When former Congressman William Jefferson was convicted on 11 of 16 federal counts of racketeering, conspiracy, solicitation, and money laundering, the second count for which he was found guilty was for conspiracy to bribe officials of Arkel Sugar, one of Arkel International’s many interests. That charge involved Arkel’s efforts to build a $500 million sugar mill in Kenya for which Jefferson allegedly demanded a 4-percent cut in exchange as “consulting fees” for his brother, Mose Jefferson.
Deborah Haggard, who was Arkel Sugar’s vice president when the deal was consummated in 2001, said the extent of Mose Jefferson’s consulting was when he appeared to receive his pay, which totaled just over $21,000. “To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t do anything,” Haggard said. Arkel did secure an $8 million feasibility and engineering contract with a Nigerian sugar company, according to the William Jefferson indictment documents.
Arkel, an infrastructure and construction services company employing some 300 people and which works with government agencies, had about $85 million in sales in 2008 and boasts of having constructed the world’s largest sugar refinery in Sudan. Besides sugar mills, the company engages in the design, engineering, and construction of biomass power generation, ethanol plants, warehouses, and port facilities as well as offering food service solutions to government agencies and commercial organizations during times of disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, and sustained catering operations for longer duration missions in remote regions.
In April, Arkel International was awarded a $6.4 million federal contract by the Kandahar Air Field Regional Contracting Center in Afghanistan to set up electrical power and force protection barriers at 16 buildings at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.