If you like irony (and who doesn’t?), you should like this little item:
The State Civil Service Commission will meet Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss the proposed outsourcing of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plan.
Don’t see the irony yet? Well, consider this: the meeting will be held in the Claiborne Building’s Louisiana Purchase Room.
What could possible be more appropriate—and ironic—than for the administration’s proposal to be held in the Louisiana Purchase Room? The governor, after all, is attempting to sell out 60,000 state employees in general and about 170 employees of OGB in particular who would lose their jobs.
In other developments in and around the Capitol, the governor’s office has been awfully defensive about a report critical of Jindal’s retirement reform legislative package.
A 38-page report by the Dallas law firm of Strasburger & Price cited legal cases in 18 different states as well as seven Louisiana legal cases in concluding that virtually all of the provisions sought by Gov. Bobby Jindal would not stand up to constitutional challenges.
The analysis and subsequent study was commissioned by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera and was originally posted on the agency’s web page.
In ordering the report, Purpera must know that he placed his career in jeopardy; Jindal does not take criticism or even mild disagreement lightly.
The governor’s office initially pooh-poohed the report, intimating that the law firm with offices in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, New York and Washington, D.C., in addition to its Dallas office, was unqualified to interpret the intent of the House bills 53, 55 and 56 and Senate bills 51, 52, 42, 47.
In a formal statement, Jindal’s office denied that the additional 3 percent in employee contributions called for in HB 56 and SB 52 would go into the state’s general fund and denying that the additional 3 percent would constitute a tax on state employees.
Under provisions of the Louisiana Constitution, the legislature is prohibited from initiating any tax legislation during even-numbered years.
The governor’s denial was the first indication by his office or any other source that the money from the 3 percent would not be diverted into the general fund.
Everything that has been said up to the time of the governor’s response to the report indicated that the 3 percent would go neither to additional retirement benefits nor to reduce the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), but to the general fund.
It is strange that the governor would remain silent for so long on that particular issue and his sudden defensive posture as a result of an independent study should raise more question than answers.
Is Jindal, like Rep. Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) was with the education bills he authored, completely oblivious to his own proposed legislation? [Or should that be the proposed legislation of the American Legislative Exchange Council? ALEC)]
The observation that Gov. Jindal cannot stand criticism is steeped in the reality of what happens when a subordinate differs with the governor.
Jim Champagne was fired when he disagreed with Jindal’s repeal of the state’s motorcycle helmet law. Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Tammie McDaniel was forced off the board when she resisted the governor. Melody Teague testified against Jindal’s plan to streamline government during a hearing to accept public comment. She was fired the next day and it took her six months to get her job back. Her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as director of the Office of Group Benefits when he was not enthusiastic enough on the administration’s plan to privatize the agency despite the fact that he took OGB from a $30 million deficit to a $500 million surplus in five years. Then, Martha Manuel was “Teagued” from her position as executive director of the Office of Elderly Affairs after she testified that she had not been informed in advance of the governor’s plans to move her agency from the governor’s office to the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).
There are those who would be quick to point out that the legislative auditor does not work for the governor, but for the legislature, and they would be correct.
But there are also those who have observed how this governor works and they understand that he has complete control of a weak and submissive legislature and it would be a small matter for Jindal to come down hard on Purpera through House Speaker Charles “Chuckie” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles).
But if it’s real irony you want, then there is the faint hope that the Civil Service Board might take the same action it die with the proposal to privatize the Information Technology (IT) section of the DHH, which would have put about 60 IT workers on the street.
In that case, back in February, the Civil Service Board simply said no. Board members said there was not nearly sufficient information provided on which they base an informed decision. One member said he had been in banking for most of his adult life and still could not interpret the figures provided by DHH. In short, they just didn’t buy the numbers.
The Civil Service Board is another of those agencies the governor can’t touch—theoretically, at least. The president’s of the state’s private colleges and universities submit nominees to the board and it is from those nominees that the governor is constitutionally bound to make the appointments. And since the private colleges and universities are unfettered by state appropriations and appointments, the image of independence prevails, or should.
Of course, one member of the board is a state classified employee elected by state employees and there could be reprisals for a wrong vote.
The Civil Service board, back in 2010, approved the governor’s proposal to privatize the Office of Risk Management based on projections that such a move would save the state millions of dollars. The results have been questionable at best.
First, the state paid F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) of Mandeville $68 millions to take over the administration of the state’s agency that insures against loss. Then, less than eight months into its contract, FARA was back seeking a 10 percent increase in its contract, to almost $75 million.
Three weeks after the amendment was approved, FARA sold its contract to an Ohio firm which in turn sold the contract to a New York firm only a few months later.
The contract with FARA contained a clause that written consent was required from the state before any transfer of the contract could be executed. When LouisianaVoice made a public request for copies of the written consent, the Division of Administration (DOA) admitted there were no such documents in existence, meaning the contract was violated not once, but twice.
Traditionally, ORM released its annual report that showed expenditures and other financial data around September of each year.
In an effort to determine how much has been saved by the privatization, LouisianaVoice requested a copy of the agency’s annual report from ORM and DOA only to be told the annual report has not been released as yet.
It would seem reasonable to assume if there were major savings as projected a few years back, the administration would be eager to roll out such supporting documentation.
On the other hand….?
If the Civil Service Board, employing the adage “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” takes into account the sloppy manner in which the ORM contract has been handled and the conspicuous absence of that agency’s annual report supporting claims of major savings, opts to dig its heels in on the OGM issue? If the board balks at the governor’s attempts to manipulate the system in order to consolidate his power base?
Now that would be ironic.