The administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to cloak itself in a veil of secrecy despite the governor’s spurious boasts of having the most transparent administration in America.
His actions fly in the face of his bogus claims of accountability and openness.
After his ridiculous and shameless exhibition of releasing his birth certificate—as if it mattered or more significantly, as if anyone cared—one would think he’d be eager to comply with a simple request to divulge his federal income tax returns.
One would think wrong.
One would think that after the public relations disaster that occurred at the confirmation hearings of his secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, he would be equally eager to comply with a public records request as to the identity of the financial analyst selected to conduct an assessment of the Office of Group Benefits.
Again, one would think wrong.
LouisianaVoice made both requests—in vain, it turns out….again.
Not that we’re surprised; this administration doesn’t even respond to legislative committees. Why should we be any different?
We thought it would great to let all those north Louisiana Protestant churches that Jindal loves to visit know how well the governor backs up the talk with the walk. In other words, does he back his professed belief with support of his church? That information would be contained in his federal tax return, so we made the request.
It wasn’t an original idea. The San Antonio Express recently published an interesting story about Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his religious commitment. Perry, the story said, earned almost $2.7 million from 2000, when he became governor, through 2009.
Any good Baptist will tell you that you should to tithe 10 percent. Perry’s donations to churches and religious organizations totaled $14,243—one-half of one percent, or one-twentieth of the minimum recommended dosage.
Surely Jindal would not be so crass. Certainly, he would reveal what a generous giver he is. After all, he appears to like nothing better than jumping in a state police helicopter and hopping up north to visit a church in say, Shongaloo, Haughton, or Mansfield.
So, we asked.
The response, from Elizabeth B. Murrill, deputy executive counsel to the governor, was short and sweet:
“We are in receipt of your public records request for copies of Governor Jindal’s federal income tax returns for the years 2003 through 2010. These documents are not public record.”
We’ve been writing for some time now about Jindal’s efforts to privatize the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). After negotiations with Goldman Sachs fell through pursuant to a request for proposals (RFP) for a financial analyst to conduct an assessment of OGB, the Division of Administration (DOA) promptly issued a second RFP.
The deadline for the submission of proposals on the second RFP was June 6 with the “probable” date for naming of the financial analyst being June 15.
LouisianaVoice learned that on June 6, a representative or representatives of DOA appeared at OGB and retrieved the proposals, reportedly from three companies, including Goldman Sachs.
June 15 came and went, so we called DOA Chief of Staff Dirk Thibodeaux and his answer was decidedly curt. “If you read the RFP, you saw that June 15 was a tentative date,” he said.
“Well, since today is June 15, has there been a tentative decision?” we asked.
So, we waited a few more days and asked again—this time as a formal public records request.
The response was clear indication that DOA has dug in its heels:
“In accordance with R.S. 44:1, et seq., this letter acknowledges our receipt of your correspondence dated June 15, 2011, where you have requested information regarding ‘the selection of the financial analyst chosen pursuant to the RFP…on behalf of the Office of Group Benefits.’
“Having reviewed your request, we are able to inform you that the Division does not possess the requested records. Furthermore, no such record exists.”
By now, it’s clear that DOA is determined to conceal public information, even to the point of lying, so we fired off another email:
“We are getting quite weary of the Division of Administration’s policy of dodging legitimate questions to which the public has a full and complete right to know the answers. Now you are beginning to play with semantics. You have taken the word ‘records’ and used it as the basis on which to deny our requests.
“So, now we will try a different approach.
“We are aware that on the day the proposals were due at the Office of Group Benefits by close of business on June 6, 2011. We are also aware that on that date, a representative or representatives of the Division of Administration appeared at OGB and took possession of the proposals. Further, we are aware that the ‘probable’ date for the naming of the financial analyst was June 15, 2011.
“You have chosen to split hairs by seizing on the terminology of ‘public records,’ denying there were any ‘records’ that would be responsive to my request. Accordingly, we are now making the same request but applying that request to ‘public business’ as defined in the applicable section of the law below.”
“The Louisiana Open Meeting Law under R.S. 42:4.1 through 10 provides the methods by which public meetings are conducted. The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states, ‘it is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”
“We are all aware that you (a) have the proposals and that you are (b) withholding information on ‘the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.’ The citizens of Louisiana are legally and morally entitled to know what our government is doing. Gov. Jindal has repeatedly boasted of his ‘open and accountable’ and ‘transparent’ administration.
“We have played games long enough. We want this information and we want it in a timely fashion.”
We’re betting that this “open, transparent, and accountable” administration will ignore our request and continue to withhold information that you, the voting public, are legally and morally entitled to know.
We’re pretty sure of this because when the administration did comply with a routine request for innocuous records recently, we were instructed to make an appointment with one Kara Allen of DOA to arrange to pick up the documents. We did and she was kind enough to give us an appointment for 1:00 p.m. the next day.
When we showed up at the guard desk of the Claiborne Building, the guard called up to the seventh floor. Instead of allowing us into the DOA offices, a student worker was sent downstairs to the guard station with the documents.
We first thought that perhaps we must be carriers of some dreaded disease. But now we know that the disease exists in the administration itself and that its victims fear that a little sunshine may be lethal.
Whether the administration is responsive or not, we will have made our point.