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Archive for the ‘ATC’ Category

In our lowlights review for the first six months of 2014, we were reminded by State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) that we had omitted a major low point in Louisiana politics.

Accordingly, we will preface our second half with the June veto by Gov. Bobby Jindal of HB 142 by Richard and Sens. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) and Mack “Bodi” White (R-Central) which was pass unanimously by both the House (84-0) and Senate (37-0).

Called by Richard as the only “piece of legislation that would’ve done anything in the form of reform,” HB142 called for a reduction in consulting contracts. Richard said the bill also “would’ve provided transparency in the way the state hands out contracts” and would have provided savings that would have been dedicated to higher education.

“It just made too much sense to Bobby,” Richard said.

Jindal, on the other hand, said the bill would “hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high-quality services.”

Such high-quality services as paying $94,000 to a firm to assistant students to learn to play during recess; paying consulting fees to Hop 2 It Music Co. or to the Smile and Happiness Foundation.

Jindal also said the bill would “cause significant delays and introduce uncertainty to executing a contract” and would “discourage businesses from seeking opportunities to provide services to the people of Louisiana.”

Which now brings us to the second half of political news that could only occur in Louisiana.

JULY

Troy Hebert back in the news:

Three former ATC supervisors, all black, have filed a federal lawsuit in the Baton Rouge’s Middle District claiming a multitude of actions they say Hebert took in a deliberate attempt to force the three to resign or take early retirement and in fact, conducted a purge of virtually all black employees of ATC.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimian T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit said that all three plaintiffs have received the requisite “right to sue” notice from the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.

So, where are all those savings we were promised?

To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana a scant 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as administrators of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, now stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

We can save, but we have to let you go…

The Jindal administration announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

Neil Riser helps Edmonson revoke the irrevocable:

One of the single biggest state political stories of the year was the surreptitious attempt of State Sen. Neil Riser to slip an amendment into an otherwise nondescript bill ostensibly addressing procedures in handling claims against police officers that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an illegal $55,000 per year retirement boost.

Events quickly began to spin out of control after Riser first denied, then admitted his part in the ruse and as retired state police opposed the move and public opinion mounted against the move, Edmonson, after first claiming he was entitled to the raise, finally relented and said he would not accept the increase.

Meanwhile, Jindal, who signed the bill, was eerily quiet on the issue despite speculation he was behind the attempt to slip the increase into the bill.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, just to make sure Edmonson didn’t go back on his word, filed suit to block the raise and a Baton Rouge judge agreed that the bill was unconstitutional.

The bill, which quickly became known as the Edmonson Amendment, along with the Office of Group Benefits fiasco, constituted the most embarrassing moments for a governor who wants desperately to run for president.

AUGUST

Selective—and hypocritical—moral judgments

Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in early on the kissing congressman scandal up in Monroe. When rookie U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister was revealed on video exchanging amorous smooches with a female aide, Jindal was all over him like white on rice, calling for his immediate resignation.

Jindal’s judgmental tone was dictated more by the philosophical differences between the two (McAllister wanted the state to expand Medicaid, Jindal most assuredly did not) than any real issues based on morals as Jindal’s silence on the philandering of U.S. Sen. David Vitter who did a tad more than exchange affectionate kisses.

Edmonson Amendment spawns other state police stories:

LouisianaVoice, in its continuing investigation of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), learned that a number of DPS employees enjoy convenient political connections.

  • Dionne Alario, Senate President John Alario’s daughter-in-law, is a DPS Administrative Program Manager;
  • Alario’s son, John W. Alario, serves as a $95,000 per year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission.
  • DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux retired on April 28 from her $92,000 per year salary but the day before, she double encumbered herself into the position and reported to work on April 30 in the higher position of Undersecretary. Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis ordered her to repay the 300 hours of annual leave (about $46,000) for which she had been paid on her “retirement,” but Davis resigned shortly afterward and the matter was never pursued.
  • DPS issued a pair of contracts, hired the contractor as a state employee, paid her $437,000 to improve the Division of Motor Vehicles and ponied up $13,000 in airfare for trips to and from her home in South Carolina. The contractor, Kathleen Sill, heads up a company called CTQ but the company’s web page lists Sill as its only employee.
  • Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie was simultaneously employed in an offshore job and was on the payroll for seven months of the State Police Oil Spill Commission.
  • Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was employed as a “specialist” for State Police.
  • Tammy Starnes was hired from another agency at a salary of $92,900 as an Audit Manager. Not only was her salary $11,700 more than state trooper Jason Starnes, but she is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

Thanks, retirees; here’s your bill for medical coverage:

LouisianaVoice was first to break the news that the Jindal administration was planning to force retirees out of the Office of Group Benefits by raising premiums astronomically and slashing benefits.

The news sparked waves of protests from employees and retirees alike, prompted legislative hearings at which Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols looked more than foolish in their attempts to defend the ill-conceived plan.

The entire fiasco was the result of the Jindal administrations foolish decision to cut premiums, which allowed the state to be on the hook for lower contributions as well. The money the state saved on matching premiums went to help patch those recurring holes in the state budget. Meanwhile, because of the lower premiums, the $500 million OGB reserve fund shrank to about half that amount as OGB spent $15 million per month more than it received in premiums.

All this occurred just three years after then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, in a letter on the eve of the privatization of OGB, promised the continuation of quality service, rates that would be “unaffected” with any increases to be “reflective of medical market rates.” More importantly, he emphatically promised that benefits “will NOT change.”

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

OCTOBER

What premium decrease?

Contrary to the testimony of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that Buck Consultants recommended that the Office of Group Benefits reduce premiums for members, emails from Buck Consults said exactly the opposite. State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) had asked Nichols during legislative committee hearings who recommended the decrease and she replied that the recommendation came from Buck. All witnesses before legislative committees are under oath when they testify.

Surplus, deficit, tomato, to-mah-to:

Nichols “discovered” a previously unknown “surplus” of $320 million in mystery money that set off a running dispute between her office and State Treasurer John Kennedy—an argument that eventually made its way before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

With a tip of our hat to cartoonist Bud Grace, we are able to show you how that surplus was discovered:

JINDAL SURPLUS SECRET

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Murphy Painter vindicated, Jindal humiliated:

Jindal’s attempted prosecution persecution of fired Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter blew up in the governor’s face when Painter was first acquitted of criminal charges, costing the state nearly half a million dollars in reimbursement of Painter’s legal fees, but Painter subsequently won a defamation suit against his accuser.

Secret survey no longer a secret but “no one” more popular than Jindal:

A survey to measure state employee satisfaction in the Division of Administration (DOA) should be an eye opener for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols and agency heads within DOA.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) received some exciting news this week when a new poll revealed that no one was more popular among Republican contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

The excitement was short-lived, however, when the actual meaning of the numbers was revealed.

It turns out that in a CNN poll of New Hampshire voters, Jindal tied with Rick Santorum with 3 percent, while “No one” polled 4 percent, prompting Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to joke that Jindal should adopt the slogan “Jindal 2016: No one is more popular.”

To shred or not to shred:

The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history.

NOVEMBER

Secret grand jury testimony of Greenstein made public:

The Louisiana Attorney General’s office, in an unprecedented move, released the 100-plus pages of testimony of Bruce Greenstein, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals but the testimony did little in revealing any smoking gun related to the state’s $180 million contract with CNSI. About the only thing to come out of his testimony was the indication of an incredible bad memory in matters related to his dealings with his former bosses at CNSI and a razor-sharp recall of other, more insignificant events.

Approval? We don’t need no stinkin’ approval:

The very first state agency privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal was the Office of Risk Management (ORM) and after the state paid F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) $68 million to take over ORM operations and then amended the contract to $75 million after only a few months, the agency was subsequently transferred three times to other firms. The only hitch was a specific clause in the original contract with FARA that no such transference was allowable without “prior written approval” from the Division of Administration. The problem? When LouisianaVoice made an FOIA request for that written approval, we were told no such document existed.

Edwards’ Last Hurrah:

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, one of the most successful, colorful and charismatic politicians in Louisiana history, lost—decisively. Republican Graves Garrett rode the Republican tide to easily hand Edwards his first political defeat, dating back to his days on the Crowley City Council. Some may remember when Buddy Roemer led the field in 1987, forcing Edwards into a runoff. Technically, though, Edwards did not lose that election because he chose not to participate in the runoff, thus allowing Roemer to become governor. But he would return in 1991 to win his unprecedented fourth term.

DECEMBER

Friends of Bobby Jindal seeking donations:

A new web page popped up seeking donations for the Friends of Bobby Jindal, raising speculations of an attempt at a higher office (president?) since Jindal can’t run for governor again.

The new web page cited a speech by Jindal at a foreign policy forum at which he called for increased military spending.

Gimme the keys to the cars:

The Public Service Commission (PSC) became the second state agency (the State Treasurer’s office was the first) to openly defy Jindal when the administration demanded that the PSC relinquish possession of 13 vehicles as part of the administration’s cost-cutting measures.

We have already examined State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard’s attempt to cut consulting contracts which was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate but vetoed by Jindal.

But there was another veto that should be mentioned in context with Jindal’s penny wise but pound (dollar) foolish fire sale approach to state finances.

Earlier this year, State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

Another (yawn) poor survey showing:

24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, released a report which ranked Louisiana as the 11th worst-run state in America.

Louisiana, in ranking 40th in the nation, managed to fare better than New Jersey, which ranked 43rd, or eighth worst, something Jindal might use against Gov. Christ Christie if it comes down to a race between those two for the GOP nomination.

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall.

May we pray?

Meanwhile, Jindal prompted more controversy by having his favorite publisher and LSU Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister run interference in securing the LSU Maravich Center for a political prayer event in January of 2015. The event will be sponsored by the controversial American Family Association and will not (wink, wink) be a political event, Jindal said.

And that, readers, is where we will leave you in 2014.

For 2015, we have an election campaign for governor to look forward to.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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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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Not only does Troy Hebert berate, intimidate, harass and even fire personnel, he keeps the pressure on even after they’re gone.

Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, has already been shown to be an egotistical administrator who insists that his underlings rise and greet him with a cheery “Good morning, Commissioner,” whenever he enters a room.

He has contracted with 17-year-old girls in efforts to entrap bar owners into selling alcohol to underage patrons.

He has said he would rid his agency of all black employees and indeed, has already had to settle one lawsuit with an African-American former agent whom he fired and is currently facing litigation from three others.

He has ordered an investigation into the background of LouisianaVoice’s Editor and even boasted that he could have LouisianaVoice’s computer hacked if he so desired.

He even threatened criminal trespass charges against a woman who took his crippled Great Dane dog home in the belief it had been abandoned.

But most demeaning of all, he forced agents to write essays as punishment as if they were school children.

In short, he has run his agency with the impunity of an out of control despot, instilling fear in his staff…because he can. And he has done so without the slightest fear of restraint or discipline from his boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

Take the case of former agent Jeffery McDonald.

A veteran of 18 years in law enforcement, McDonald was summarily fired by Hebert for failure to answer charges against him that included a claim that his GPS indicated he was in one place for two hours when in fact he had been riding for five hours with another agent.

His fate was sealed, apparently, in a staff meeting in Baton Rouge when he disagreed with the ATC attorney who indicated she thought it unfair that ATC agents could have a take-home vehicle and she could not. Hebert at the time was attempting to institute a competition whereby top-rated agents would get a take-home vehicle. “They were pitting agents against each other in an unfriendly manner that was detrimental to morale,” McDonald said.

But prior to that, about two years ago, is when the real trouble started and typical Louisiana politics entered the picture.

McDonald and a Tensas Parish sheriff’s deputy raided a restaurant that was selling liquor without benefit of having obtained a permit to sell alcohol.

McDonald wisely turned the liquor over to the deputy for safekeeping at the sheriff’s office. Later, after a local mayor and a state legislator got involved, McDonald was contacted by his superiors and told “to return the evidence and to not file misdemeanor charges” against the owner of the establishment.

“I told them I didn’t have the liquor, that I had turned it over to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

State law says a law enforcement officer must be given 30 days in which to obtain legal counsel if he desires before his final termination. “But they didn’t do that,” he said. “They notified me on May 16 and ordered me to meet them on May 22 for an internal investigation,” he said. “I told them my attorney was out of town and I asked for a later meeting. I was on sick leave with a heart condition at the time. They never got back with me until they sent him his recommended termination notice on June 4. “It was hand delivered by state police on the 5th and they gave me until June 10 to respond but I was undergoing treatment was unable to respond by their deadline. They came to get my equipment on the 11th without providing the legally required seven days from receipt of notification,” he said.

“When they terminated me, they said I had not responded in a timely manner even though they did not give me the legally-required seven days.”

Frustrated with dealing with Hebert and his rules which seemed to change daily, McDonald put in for retirement. His retirement was approved on Aug. 22.

On Aug. 30, he wrote Hebert and the human resources departments of the Department of Revenue and ATC to request a retired ID commission card as allowed under state law.

A retiring agent is supposed to receive the commission upon retirement and McDonald did so eight days after his retirement went through.

Hebert, reportedly upset that McDonald was allowed to retire before he could fire him, has not responded to McDonald’s request.

Without his commission, McDonald cannot legally qualify to carry a firearm as a retired peace officer.

It’s not the first time a commission has been held up. Hebert’s policy regarding the commissions is all over the road; he issued one on the same day one agent retired while another who retired at the end of 2011 was forced to make several phone calls before getting his commission. A third waited eight months and before being given instructions to follow a vague, non-existent policy that including writing a letter to Hebert. Even after writing the letter and sending Hebert a copy of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which explains the right to the commission, it still took intervention on the part of a state senator to finally obtain the commission.

Such is the manner in which Troy Hebert runs his shop.

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  • The Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC).
  • The Louisiana Department of Public Safety (DPS).
  • The Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office.

From liquor permit rejections, wholesale firings of agents that may have been racially motivated and amateurish investigative tactics at ATC to a multitude of questionable activities at the State Fire Marshal’s Office to attempts to sneak a hefty retirement benefit through the legislature for the state’s top cop, Louisiana’s three major enforcement agencies appear to be riddled with procedural matters bordering on federal EEO violations, investigative cover-ups and back door politics which sometimes blur ethical and legal lines and which reach all the way into the governor’s office.

The latest incident involves an ATC agent who apparently sent a teenage undercover operative into Hook’d Up Bar and Grill in Hammond in an attempt to purchase alcohol. The girl, age 17, was accompanied by a 21-year-old female. The older woman purchased a drink but waitress Ashleigh Burdett refused to comply with the 17-year-old’s repeated requests for another cup so the drink could be divided.

Burdette said she refused the requests, telling the girl, “I can’t do that because you’re a minor.”

Fortunately for Burdette and the establishment’s owners, a video camera captured the entire sequence of events, including the older customer leaving the table to go the restroom just after 10 p.m., whereupon the 17-year-old picked up the older woman’s drink and walked outside with it.

ATC agent Jeff Barthelemy then entered the establishment and wrote a warning to the business and a $500 citation to Burdette, both for serving a minor.

“The fact of watching my staff carding her, telling her no, going as far as to give two checks to each individual showing that the underage person was not served, it’s kind of disheartening,” said Jennifer Mier who co-owns the business with husband Mark Mier.

Mark Mier, interviewed by LouisianaVoice, said he was scheduled to meet with ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert on Wednesday in an attempt to get the matter ironed out but Mier was still upset at the idea of sending a 17-year-old undercover operative in an attempt to purchase alcohol.

“The legal age for purchasing alcohol is 21 so why couldn’t they have sent a 19- or 20-year-old in instead of a 17-year-old. That was a very ill-advised thing to do with someone that young. I would never have done that.”

Hebert, who has been the subject of several stories by LouisianaVoice for the manner in which he arbitrarily fires employees, particularly African-American agents and for his insistence that all employees rise from their desk and offer a cheer “Good morning” when he enters a room, defended the practice of using operatives that young. “We use 16- and 17-year-old operatives to make sure that we’re only catching the worst violators out there.”

Huh? Did he really say that?

“I appreciate people that are there to keep us safe,” Jennifer Mier said, “but when the line gets crossed, when someone with authority chooses to use it just because they decide they’re going to, that’s not acceptable.

As strange as Hebert’s comment about “catching the worst offenders” was, the most curious comment by him was when he said, “ATC goes above and beyond to make sure we don’t use trickery. At ATC, we’d actually like to not write any violations across the state.”

That is odd indeed, given the fact that Hebert keeps a log of how many citations and how much in fines each agent issues and writes up agents who do not produce the number and amounts expected.

By established procedure, two agents are supposed to be involved in each case when underage operatives are used to attempt to purchase alcohol and at least one agent has to witness the sale.

But Hebert has fired so many agents that there are not enough to go around for each bust so ATC contracts with civilians such as the 21-year-old woman who accompanied the teenager into Hook’d Up. The contractors are paid an hourly rate but they are expected to produce an illegal sale or ATC will cease using them for undercover operations. Accordingly, the contractor is under pressure and has the incentive to ensure that an illegal sale will be made in order to continue collecting the hourly fee.

But what Hebert did to the owners and waitress at Hook’d Up pales in comparison to what he has done to a decorated retired Army Reserve major who has been attempting to open a restaurant and bar in the New Orleans French Quarter.

Tracy Riley, you see, is black and as LouisianaVoice has previously reported, Hebert has lost racial discrimination lawsuits and currently has others pending after vowing and then making good on that promise to rid his department of blacks.

So intent on carrying out his denial of her license was he that he even went so far as to file an official complaint with her commander when prior to her retirement that she had the audacity to show up at ATC headquarters to check on her permit—in uniform. In a Sept. 30, 2013, letter to Maj. Gen. Peter Lennon in Belle Chasse, Hebert cited what he called “unbecoming conduct” demonstrated by Riley for appearing at Hebert’s offices in full military uniform.

In a meeting at ATC headquarters, Barthelemy told Riley that being granted a permit was a privilege, not a right. He then admonished Riley and her son, saying that when they were in the ATC building, they were to conduct themselves “respectfully.”

As Riley and her son were leaving, Barthelemy asked Riley if she was on active duty and the name of her commanding officer.

This from an enforcement agent whose agency which works closely with State Fire Marshal Butch Browning who drew criticism and even resigned temporarily only to be cleared of wrongdoing over reports that he was wearing military ribbons and medals from World War II and the Korean Conflict on his dress uniform—and Browning never even served in the military.

Something’s a little out of kilter here, folks, and LouisianaVoice will be delving into the Browning Ribbongate issue in the coming days.

“I trust that the unbecoming conduct demonstrated by this military member will be handled accordingly and respectfully request to be notified of any corrective action taken,” Hebert wrote.

Riley was subsequently reprimanded for wearing her uniform while on personal business but the violation certainly didn’t equate to the war crimes offense Hebert made it out to be—especially given the timing of his Sept. 30 letter to Gen. Lennon.

Less than three weeks earlier, on Sept. 12, 2013, the French Quarter Business Association (FQBA) sent its own letter to Hebert complaining about Riley’s establishment, the Rouge House Supper Club, located at 300 Decatur Street.

Jeremy DeBlieux, president of FQBA, said in his letter to Hebert that he understood that a special event permit was granted to Riley to operate during the annual Essence Festival in July of 2013 but that the Rouge House “did not adhere” to provisos set forth in the temporary permit.

“We believe the owner’s blatant disregard to the city’s special event provisos and the unpermitted operations to date has indicated their intent,” DeBlieux said. “The business has clearly operated as a nightclub, rather than a supper club. Nightclub is not a permitted use at this specified location. We believe, with good reason, as a business association in the French Quarter, we should formally oppose the granting of alcoholic beverage permit to The Rouge House.”

So there you have it. Alcohol is strictly taboo in the New Orleans French Quarter.

On Dec. 5, Hebert denied Riley’s permit in a letter that gave as the reasons for denial as:

  • Operating without a valid state alcoholic beverage permit;
  • Misstatement or suppression of fact in application by failing to report managers and provide verification of suitability, failure to report owner Dale Riley (Riley’s husband) and provide affidavit showing that he meets the qualifications and conditions as set out in statute and failure to provide information on landlord as required.
  • Failure to submit fingerprints of members (of) the company.

“If the aforementioned reasons(s) for denial is corrected within 60 days, you may request rescission of this decision,” Hebert wrote.

Riley said she has repeatedly requested meetings with Hebert to discuss her plight and to request a probationary permit but he has refused to meet with her. Moreover, she says she overheard an employee tell an agent that Hebert did not want to talk to her.

She did meet with Barthelemy who told her his only reason for meeting with her was to inform her that when she was in the ATC building she was to be respectful, Riley said. “He would not even discuss my application.”

ATC did conduct surprise inspections of The Rouge House but found the establishment either closed with no activity. In one undated report, agents noted they had conducted “surveillance” for 36 minutes and found the business closed. It is somehow difficult to imagine it taking 36 minutes to determine an establishment is closed. The report said the ATC agent “spoke with owner of Star Steak and Lobster in reference to the target location. Pictures attached.” A sticky note was attached to the report which said, “Pictures show no activity.” The sticky note contained the initials “TAR.”

On another occasion, a “full walk-through” was conducted by the agent from 12:45 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Again, the report, like all the others, was not dated. “Upon arriving at the location I found it open for business,” the agent’s report said. “I completed a full walk-thru of the location and found no alcohol on the premises. There were no customers in the location either. The kitchen was open and food was available to be purchased.”

Despite receiving only two complaints (actually four separate statements from individuals relative to the two complaints) that The Rouge House was operating, ATC spent considerable man-hours and expense in conducting at least 21 separate surveillance and investigative assignments only to find the business closed on each occasion.

One of the complaints was from an individual claiming to be a graduate of Xavier University who also appeared to be not only an authority on permits and licenses but clairvoyant as well in saying the club “will be serving alcohol on Friday, Aug. 16 (2013) with NO alcohol permit or license.”

Riley, unaware of the close association between Gov. Jindal and Hebert (Hebert’s wife is the Jindal children’s pediatrician) and of the fact that Jindal appointed Hebert after his ill-fated attempt to frame former Commissioner Murphy Painter, attempted to obtain help from the governor’s office but we all know how that went.

Now she is seeking justice through the courts. She filed a formal appeal in June in Civil District Court in New Orleans.

And if history is any indication, the administration is well on the way toward yet another in a long line of legal defeats.

LouisianaVoice, in the coming days and weeks, will be taking closer looks at the state’s three major enforcement agencies.

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