One of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s former teachers at Baton Rouge’s McKinley Middle Magnet School recently provided revealing insight into his mental makeup when she confided that he was a difficult student who simply could not accept the fact that he might be wrong. About anything.
That certainly explains a lot.
Take, for example, that state Civil Service Commission meeting of Feb. 1.
The commission each month is provided a list of proposed contracts along with justifications of why it is more economical—or necessary—to contract services out than for state employees to perform a job.
(These are the same documents, by the way, that the Division of Administration said did not exist when LouisianaVoice made a public records request for them back on Dec. 19.)
Yes, this more about Jindal’s apparent obsession with privatization.
The contract called for the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to contract out its information technology (IT) services to the University of New Orleans. The proposed contract would have provided IT services currently provided by 69 classified employees.
Approval of the contract would have resulted in the 69 employees being Teagued.
To the less erudite, to be “Teagued” is to be removed from one’s employment with state government by a governor critically short on forgiveness.
The term derives its name from Jindal’s propensity to fire employees, especially those who may have the temerity to question or challenge his decisions. It began early in his first administration when Tammie McDaniel, a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, questioned certain budget decisions. Jindal immediately asked for her resignation. She refused at first but eventually resigned.
Then there was William Ankner who was forced out at the Department of Transportation and Development when it was revealed that a $60 million highway contract was awarded not to the low, but the high bidder.
Jim Champagne, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, in a moment of ill-advised level-headedness, disagreed publicly with Jindal’s plan to repeal the state’s motorcycle helmet law. Gone.
Ethics Administrator Richard Sherburne hit the bricks when Jindal gutted the Ethics Board’s adjudicatory authority and gave it to administrative law judges.
But the most high-profile firings, and the namesake of our new terminology, were the dismissals of Department of Social Services grant reviewer Melody Teague in October of 2009 and her husband, Office of Group Benefits (OGB) Director Tommy Teague, 18 months later.
Mrs. Teague testified against Jindal’s government streamlining plan that included calls for massive privatization. It took her six months but she got her job back.
Her husband was not so lucky. He was shown the door when he did not jump on board quickly enough to please the administration when it floated its idea of privatizing OGB.
Thus, the all-too-appropriate term Teagued.
But now, back to those 69 IT employees.
The Civil Service Commission took one look at the contract proposal—and balked.
For one thing, documents submitted by DHH never nailed down the precise cost of the proposed three-year contract, saying it would be for either $35 million of $37 million.
Carol Steckel, chief of DHH’s Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology, said the proposal would save an estimated $2.1 million over the next three years (later revised to $7 million) but commissioners weren’t buying it.
“I have zero confidence in your numbers,” commission member Scott Hughes, of Shreveport said.
“I don’t think you have come close to showing there’s either a cost saving or efficiency,” added member John McLure, of Alexandria.
Member Lee Griffin, of Baton Rouge, said he could not understand the proposal despite his “50 years in the banking industry.”
Commissioner Kenneth Polite, of New Orleans, said he found it difficult to support the proposal because the Jindal administration “has railed against increased spending” and yet DHH is relying on additional federal funds, which the administration also has opposed.
Information submitted by DHH was “woefully inadequate,” said commission Chairman David Duplantier, of Covington.
The commission voted unanimously to disapprove the contract after Hughes observed that the documents submitted by DHH made it clear that instead of saving money, the agency would actually increase spending by up to $8 million with the contract.
That, as we said, was on Feb. 1.
But let’s back up to December. DHH employees were called in for a telephone conference call several weeks before the contract proposal was presented to the Civil Service Commission.
During that conference call, the IT employees were informed that in January, their positions would be abolished.
Following that collective downer, the IT personal returned to their work stations only to discover that during the conference call, they had been locked out of their computers.
Subsequent to the Civil Service Commission’s action, the employees have regained access to their computers. But the issue is scheduled to come before the commission again in March and if the past is prologue, there will have been considerable pressure applied by the fourth floor of the State Capitol by then.
So, what we have here is an administration so cocksure of itself that it notified 69 IT employees that they would be unemployed in a few weeks before it ever got around to making its pitch to the Civil Service Commission, even going so far as to unplug the employees’ computers while their backs were turned.
What could conceivably account for such arrogance, such underhanded Machinations?
For that answer, perhaps someone should ask the governor’s middle school teacher.