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“What about all the other troopers who retired under the old system?  If Edmonson and the Houma guy are the only ones left on the payroll, what about the ones who already retired?  Shouldn’t they now sue for equal treatment?  I wonder what that would cost?  A lot more than the minimum of $300,000 this bill will cost.”

—State retiree who possesses considerable knowledge of state fiscal matters, commenting on the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gives State Police Commander Mike Edmonson an extra $30,000 in addition to his earned $134,000 retirement.

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State Police Commander Col. Mike Edmonson has been rumored to be priming himself for a run at public office and his latest “Who, me?” pronouncements would seem to indicate that he’s finally ready for the big jump.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Retired Troopers Association is not happy and appears ready to leap into the controversy surrounding a special amendment giving Edmonson and one other state trooper hefty retirement benefit increases.

Edmonson says he is not getting special treatment, that he did not seek nor was he aware of the $30,000 a year retirement bump he got from an amendment sneaked into an otherwise nondescript bill on the final day of the session.

So, here’s the deal: everyone in the room who believes Edmonson please line up against the opposite wall. Now. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. We’re waiting. C’mon, people…

All right, let’s try a different tactic: everyone who does not believe his tooth fairy story, please leave the roo….Hey! Whoa! Not so fast! Someone’s gonna get hurt!

Edmonson also says that he and a Houma-based state trooper are the last holdovers from a defunct retirement plan and that the amendment allows them to retire in the current State Police Retirement System.

Are we to believe, then, you would have had no pension whatsoever had this amendment not been slipped in? Seriously?

Forgive our skepticism, Colonel, but that seems something of a stretch. First you deny knowledge of the amendment and then you go to great lengths to defend it.

Such self-serving denials/non-answers (bureaucratic two-steps) round out the qualifications for political office for Edmonson who, before moving upstairs to shadow Gov. Bobby Jindal for all those photo-ops, spent much of his career on the sidelines of LSU football games protecting the Tiger head coaches from…what, Hostile fans? Groupies? Reporters?

So now, as the State Police Retirement System staff prepares to take up this issue today at 1:30 p.m., the Retired Louisiana State Police Communication Network is abuzz about the sneaky way in which the amendment was tacked on by the Legislative Conference Committee on the last day of the session.

Word is there are retired state troopers scattered across the state who are not at all happy with the news that Edmonson, in addition to 100 percent retirement (his salary is $134,000 per year), based on more than 30 years of service, he also now becomes eligible for longevity benefits and the three Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) years, boosting his retirement income another $30,000 per year over and above the amount at which he qualified at the rank of captain when he entered DROP.

And if anyone was of a mind to file a lawsuit to halt the special treatment of Edmonson, any retired state trooper would have sufficient legal standing to do so.

The actuarial notes prepared by the Actuarial Services Department of the Legislative Auditor’s office, calculate a fiscal impact on the retirement system of $300,000 but that’s only over a five-year stretch because that’s as far out as the notes may project. That calculates to $30,000 per year for each of the two troopers.

We can only speculate, of course, but it seems reasonable to assume the two will live more than five years beyond their retirement, which of course, will only add to the cost.

(The actuarial notes, by the way, were prepared on June 5, three days after the legislature adjourned, which gives us some idea of the surprise element involved with this amendment.)

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=913382

But back to those disgruntled retired state troopers: What might it cost the state if a retired trooper—or several retirees—got their backs up sufficiently to file suit?

While it might be a windfall to Jimmy Faircloth, it also might cost the state a lot more to defend the action than the $300,000, especially if the state should lose as it very well could. Such a lawsuit, after all, would be about fair and equal treatment.

One observer in a position to know said fiscal notes are required for bills affecting a pension plan’s unfunded accrued liability (UAL). “I don’t imagine one was prepared for this bill, but somebody knows what it will cost and the law requires any acts with the effect of increasing the UAL to have to be funded so that they don’t (affect the UAL).”

State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), who submitted the bill, said it was intended to address routine changes in the law governing police officers under investigation and had nothing to do with retirement benefits. He said he was unaware of the impact of the amendment, a claim that most of the legislators who voted for the bill can probably make with a high degree of honesty considering the last minute crush of business in the session final days.

“Assuming Morrell is not lying,” our observer said, “I read into this…that Edmonson himself got him (Morrell) to do this amendment (after) having been tipped to its enrichment potential for him.”

Thus far not mentioned in all of this, but something that should certainly be considered:

How can Edmonson, after this furtive move and his lame denials, realistically expect the men and women under his command to continue to respect him as a leader?

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The news just keeps getting worse for Superintendent of Education John White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has put White on a short leash with Executive Order BJ 2014-7 on June 18 and last Wednesday (June 25) Internal Audit Administrator Marsha Guidry issued an extensive laundry list of documents information relating to the Department of Education’s (DOE) contract with Data Recognition Corp.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned the Legislative Auditor’s office is conducting an investigation of DOE that could involve payroll fraud, according to sources inside the department.

White, as we have reported several times in the past, has loaded up the department with unclassified appointments at bloated six-figure salaries.

There are apparently three major problems with that:

  • Many of these appointees seldom, if ever, show up for work and apparently are required to perform few, if any, duties to earn their keep;
  • The department did not have enough money in its budget to pay their salaries so they are reportedly being paid from federal funds earmarked for specific purposes;
  • The appointees are not assigned to areas for which the federal funds are allocated.

If true, these are serious allegations and even more serious violations that could prompt a federal probe in addition to the investigation already underway by the Legislative Auditor.

Of course, no one really knows who works where at DOE because no one has ever managed to obtain an organization chart for the department.

Oh, the Legislative Auditor, among others, has tried but with each request over the past couple of years now, the response has always been that the department is “undergoing reorganization.”

So, no organization chart and no determination of who works where in DOE.

And now, on top of that sticky wicket, up crops the controversy over Common Core and the testing by Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC).

Short version: Jindal, White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) back Common Core and legislation is introduced for state implementation of Common Core.

But then, somewhere along Jindal’s way to the White House, someone whispered in his ear that path of least resistance to the Oval Office would be for him to oppose Common Core on grounds that he didn’t want the big bad old federal government dictating how we teach our kids in Louisiana. He may even have waved a little American flag when he said it.

But White and BESE continue to back Common Core and the legislature passes it.

Jindal vetoed it but White and BESE said they were going ahead with it, and Jindal jumped onto his Nautilus Nitro Plus workout station to prepare for battle. He announced he was canceling the contract for the testing because, he said, DOE had issued the contract without taking competitive bids.

And now, the Office of Contractual Review (OCR) is reviewing the contracts.

Meanwhile, Guidry sent this letter to White:

Executive Order BJ 2014-7, issued June 18, 2014, directed the Division of Administration (DOA) “to conduct a comprehensive accounting of all Louisiana expenditures and resources related to PARCC.”  Pursuant to the Executive Order (EO) and the auditing authority of DOA over consulting contracts, I have been asked by the Commissioner to collect and review certain information.  Please provide the following information to carry out the EO to ensure DOE is complying with Louisiana law.

 Please identify and provide documentation for the following:

 1.      All documentation related to contracts with DRC or other testing or academic assessment tools, including both paid and outstanding invoices.

2.      Please provide an accounting of the cost of the PARCC Technology Readiness Tool survey, the method and documentation related to the procurement of this survey, and documentation of the funds used to pay for it, including all receipts and accounting paperwork.

a.       Please provide information related to the price of PARCC assessments as a total cost to the State of Louisiana and as an individual cost of each assessment to be provided in the State of Louisiana. This should include:  any cost information related to an increase or decrease in cost as a function of the number of states withdrawing from PARCC or other reasons.

3.      Please provide documentation related to negotiations on the price of any new assessment tool(s) including any negotiations or communications related to the cost of individual assessments, the total cost to the State of Louisiana of new assessments, or any breakdown of the cost negotiated or discussed by or with DOE. This should include communications conducted in writing (emails, letters, and memos) as well as any meeting minutes and calendar entries.

a.       Please also provide documentation of how DOE’s negotiations met the statutory requirement for the lowest-cost bidder, for a competitive procurement process, and the statutory authority of DOE to conduct such negotiations.

4.         Please provide evidence of DOE’s process to ensure during any Request for Proposal (RFP) conducted by PARCC or by a member state on behalf of PARCC that such RFP was a fair, competitive, price-sensitive proposal and was conducted using a fair, transparent process in accordance with Louisiana revised statutes. Please provide all files relative to these procurements.

5.         Please provide evidence that John White affirmed in writing to the Governing Board Chair of PARCC the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by John White’s predecessor as Chief State School Officer as required by the Memorandum of Understanding establishing the PARCC Consortium.

 In addition to providing the above documentation, please provide a written response to each of the following questions:

a.       What contracts or other agreements are in place or in negotiation for the purchase of an assessment?  Please provide a list of these along with copies of all related documentation.

b.      What steps have been taken by DOE to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

c.       What steps have been taken by PARCC to procure any Common Core aligned assessment product?

Please provide these items by June 30, 2014. I may identify other documents or information necessary to complete this review and request your cooperation pursuant to the Executive Order.  Please identify any additional individuals within DOE who will be available to respond to any questions I may have during the course of the review.

 The documentation requested should be delivered to the Office of the Commissioner to my attention at 1201 N. Third Street, Baton Rouge, LA, 70802, Suite 7-210, on the 7th floor of the Claiborne Building.

http://www.myarklamiss.com/story/d/story/division-outlines-next-steps-in-doe-contract-revie/34643/LOilN9i14EaHl0wQ9zrGuA

You will note that White was given until today (Monday, June 30) to provide the information.

The problem with the governor’s request, as LouisianaVoice, Crazy Crawfish and others have learned, is that Jindal may not have followed proper procedure in seeking the information.

You see, when we ask for information, we are required to ask for specific documents, not simply information.

In fact, both DOE and the Division of Administration (DOA) have in the past simply refused to comply with our requests with the stock response that we requested information as opposed to specific records and therefore, both DOE and DOA felt comfortable informing us (somewhat condescendingly, we might add) that they were not required under the state public records act to respond.

Now if White only had the stones to tell DOA and Jindal that, we might yet have that epic Niles-Sheldon grudge match on Pay per View.

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“No one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation. Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO.  Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

—Shreveport attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway, in response to a state audit that revealed that former DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Davidson’s private company used the sheriff’s office to run nearly half a million dollars in background checks in an 11-month period, netting his firm approximately $372,000.

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A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to an investigative audit report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

His company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 per report. That represents an income of more than $498,800 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo over the 11-month period.

Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013. Besides being listed by the Secretary of State as 50 percent owner, he also is listed as the registered agent of the company.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle, through his legal counsel, defended the practice, saying that Davidson did not own a “controlling interest” in the company and that he did not “participate” in the transactions because he was employed in the criminal investigation division of the sheriff’s office and the background checks were performed by the civil administrative division. “The criminal investigation division is both physically and functionally separate and apart from the civil administrative division,” he said. “Thus, he did not “participate” as defined by the Code of Ethics…”

Arbuckle also claimed that the three DPSO employees ran the background checks for which they were paid by Lagniappe and Castillo on holidays and weekends, adding that state law does not prohibit deputies from being paid by a non-public source for off-duty work.

State law requires that employers obtain criminal background checks prior to making an offer to employ or contract with a non-licensed person. Background checks are run through the Louisiana State Police Internet Background Check System database.

The obvious question becomes: could there conceivably have been 41,574 jobs or job applicants in an 11-month period in a rural parish of only 27,000 living souls, including children? If not, for what purposes were these background checks done, what information was contained in them, and to whom were they sold?

Perhaps we have a Fourth Amendment issue here.

One other question still unanswered is whether or not Sheriff Arbuckle received any of the proceeds from the transactions other than the $3 per report charged by the sheriff’s office.

Employers who request background checks through the State Police are charged a $26 fee. Authorized agents approved by State Police are also charged $26 for each report but until July 1, 2013, State Police did not charge a fee to local law enforcement agencies. To circumvent the $26 charge for each report, Lagniappe and Castillo simply routed its requests through the DPSO, which was not charged for the reports. For that privilege, the company paid the sheriff’s office $3 while charging clients $12 for each reported generated through the DPSO, the audit report said.

State Police records indicate that during the 11-month period from April 1, 2012 through Feb. 28, 2013, all local law enforcement agencies statewide combined to run 91,074 background checks. Of that number, 65,174 (72 percent) were ordered by DPSO. The 41,574 ordered by Lagniappe and Castillo represented 63.8 percent of the total run by DPSO. Arbuckle said his office averaged 200 to 300 background checks per day.

“During the audit period, Mr. Davidson’s company paid DPSO more than $124,000 ($124,722) for information that we understand his company sold to private clients for nearly a half a million dollars,” ($498,888) the audit says. “Because Mr. Davidson entered into transactions with the DPSO in which he had a personal, substantial economic interest, he may have violated the state’s ethics laws.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Arbuckle’s attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway of Shreveport argued that Davidson, with 50 percent ownership, did not own a “controlling interest” in the company, he committed no wrongdoing.

Nice try. Such creative interpretation of the law might even land him a job representing Gov. Bobby Jindal if Jimmy Faircloth didn’t already that gig.

Sterritt’s legal interpretation notwithstanding, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1102(8) clearly defines controlling interest as “any ownership in any legal entity…which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

The audit report also cites a state statute which “prohibits public servants from participating in transactions involving the governmental entity (sheriff’s office) with any legal entity in which the public servant (Deputy Davidson) exercises control or owns an interest in excess of 25 percent (emphasis added) and who by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly the economic interests of such public servant.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Thus, the report says, “former DPSO Chief Investigator Robert Davidson’s 50 percent interest in Lagniappe and Castillo was a controlling interest which may have prohibited Lagniappe and Castillo from entering into transactions with the DPSO.”

The audit also cites yet another state statute [R.S. 42:1111(C)(1)(a)] which “prohibits public servants from receiving anything of economic value for any service from a nonpublic source that is similar to the work being done for the public employer.”

The audit report said that since the three employees’ jobs “were to run background checks for the DPSO, this relationship may have violated the state’s ethics law.” The report added that the “vast majority” of the reports “appear to have been performed during on-duty hours, thus contradicting Arbuckle’s contention that the work was done on weekends and on holidays.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says that’s okay, too.

The audit report also dismissed Arbuckle’s examples of off-duty deputies working for private concerns such as providing security for businesses. “The instant case differs from the instances cited by Sheriff Arbuckle in that, here, the deputies were performing the same—not similar—services that they are paid to perform in their on-duty jobs.”

The audit report, signed by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, ended with a recommendation that Arbuckle seek further legal guidance (emphasis added).

“We recommend that the DPSO consult with legal counsel and the Louisiana Board of Ethics on the legality of these relationships.

“The DPSO should also adopt detailed ethics policies and procedures, including requiring all employees to complete the annual ethics training in accordance with (state statute) and prohibiting employees from contracting with the DPSO,” it said.

A copy of the audit letter was sent to the Board of Ethics.

Sterritt, meanwhile, assures us that “no one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation.

“Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO. Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

While this has the potential of becoming a gravely serious issue for a small community—and it certainly should be considered as such—we can’t help thinking after reading Sterritt’s convoluted (and glaringly faulty) legalese of the half-serious joke about an attorney’s legal response to the claim that his dog had bitten a man as he walked past the lawyer’s home:

“My dog doesn’t bite. I keep my dog inside a fence. I don’t own a dog.”

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The latter part of January 2014 should probably be remembered when the policies of Gov. Bobby Jindal began to unravel in rapid succession and as a time when he was finally exposed as far more goobernatoral than gubernatorial.

If that seems harsh and disrespectful of the man and the office, then so be it; it’s only because he has earned it—in spades.

He has submitted executive budget after executive budget crafted around one-time funding for recurring expenditures—something he vowed never to do when he was running for office. He has sold off state property and entire agencies to finance those budgets. He has gone on a privatization rampage that is now coming home to bite him in the posterior, to the surprise of few observers. He has stacked board after commission with campaign lackeys who possess few, if any, qualifications for their positions of responsibility for running such things as the state’s flagship university. He has embarked on an ambitious quest for the Republic presidential nomination that is doomed to failure and disappointment.

That said, let’s examine the developments of the past few days that have converged to upset the house of cards upon which his administration has been built over the past six years:

  • The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) was privatized only a year ago. In that time, some 100 state employees lost their jobs, a $500 million reserve fund has dwindled to half that because of an ill-advised decision by Jindal to reduce premiums to some 250,000 state employees, dependents and retirees by 7 percent to make the privatization more palatable—and to reduce the state’s share of premium payments thereby helping Jindal balance his budget. Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, the third party administrator who assumed management of OGB as a “cost savings plan” was forced to draw down that cash reserve to pay claims.

The folly of that ploy, of course, manifested itself this week when it was learned that double digit (some say as much as 25 percent) premium increases are imminent in order to keep what was once arguably the best-run agency in state government afloat. Meanwhile, yet another CEO has departed and the fourth in less than three years has been ushered in.

  • The crash and burn disaster of the administration’s privatization of the LSU hospital system is even more dramatic. The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF) took over the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Shreveport last October because Jindal assured us that it would save taxpayer dollars. Yet, less than four months after BRF assumed operation of the two facilities, it is asking the state to bankroll more than $120 million in hospital improvements and expansions.

And don’t forget this privatization deal was approved by the LSU Board of Stuporvisors. One of the board members who voted for the deal which at the time, included a contract with more than 50 blank pages, just also happens to be the CEO of BRF but Jindal pooh-poohed the very idea that there could be a conflict of interests.

  • Another hospital privatization, that of the Interim Louisiana Hospital which replaced the old Big Charity that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina, is also proving to be a tad more costly than we had been told by Jindal, thanks to the scrapping of a $46.5 million medical records system that is less than two years old.

On Friday, Jan. 24, ILH CEO Cindy Nuesslein notified employees of the one-time LSU Medical Center now jointly run by Children’s Hospital of New Orleans and Touro Infirmary that the electronic health record system installed by Epic Systems Corp. was being scrapped in favor of something called the Soarian Clinicals Siemens platform. No cost estimate was provided for the changeover, but it’s a good bet that the cost will be borne by the state.

The Epic system only went live in July of 2012 and the Epic contract, which began on May 18, 2010, expired on May 17, 2013.

  • When Jindal privatized the University Medical Center in Lafayette, he also closed the medical center’s First Step Detox, a “first step” treatment center for those suffering from chemical dependency—typically chronic alcoholics, IV heroin and/or other opiate abusers, including polysubstance abusers. When First Step Detox reopened, it sublet the center to Compass, a private entity that accepts only private pay and insured patients.

The news release announcing the reopening of First Step made no mention of the new admission policy, nor did it mention the ever-shrinking number of options for treatment for indigent patients. Now former patients are referred to the overburdened Baton Rouge Detox where they are instructed to fax their paperwork in order that they may be placed on a long waiting list.

  • Another private contractor with four contracts worth more than $385.5 million has been the subject of two critical audits by the Legislative Auditor’s Office. Moreover, a north Louisiana doctor claims that physicians are refusing to accept patients with Magellan insurance.

The first state audit, released in mid-December, says that the Department of Health and Hospitals provided no external evaluation of the performance of Magellan under its $361.4 million contract to handle paperwork and connect Medicaid 151,000 patients with mental health care providers.

Last August, the legislative auditor’s office said claims payments have been problematic for four state agencies and blamed Magellan for failing to meet significant technical requirements.

DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert disputed that claim, saying that the privatization is working. She said the number of health care providers has expanded from 800 to 1,700—a claim hotly disputed by Scott Zentner, a Monroe neuropsychiatric doctor.

“I wish I could get to the bottom of Kliebert’s phony numbers regarding the supposed increase in providers since the Magellan takeover because the evidence is clearly to the contrary,” Zentner said. “I would bet my medical license that people are being counted now (that) weren’t before.”

Zentner said Magellan’s contract extends to private and public providers in a number of treatment settings. “Previously, they (providers) were reimbursed by fee for contracted services through DHH and some were not billing Medicaid at all, such as employees with the Office of Family Support.” Now, though, providers who were already delivering services before Magellan are now being included in the count who were not before, he said.

“I find it despicable that the head of DHH is twisting the numbers to cover up for a dramatic decline in services,” he said.

Zentner retired in 2012 after 20 years that included work as a medical director and staff psychiatrist for DHH and as a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at LSU. He said he returned to private practice after being “unable to further tolerate Jindal’s dismantling of our mental health system.”

He said he accepts all private insurances now except Magellan after “having been burned by them in the past for unpaid claims. They are the ultimate master in the use of passive-aggressive stall tactics in denying payments to providers, typically for silly technicalities; eg, misspellings resulting from typos.”

“In the northeast region of the state, with Monroe as the center of a 12-parish district, 75 percent of the physician/psychiatrist coverage has abandoned the community mental health system since Jindal took office,” he said. “Several Medicaid rehab agencies have shuttered their doors, one mental health clinic has closed in Rayville and others, including those in Winnsboro and Jonesboro, have been reduced to part-time outreach clinics operated by skeleton crews. Other outreach clinics, providing the most basic of mental health services, have closed in Tensas and East Carroll parishes,” he said.

“Other regions in the state have experienced even greater cuts than ours, but I doubt any of the regional administrators who are still employed would admit this publicly lest they be fired by Jindal.

“I’m highly skeptical of their (DHH) claims that provider rolls have increased, as (their figures) grossly contrast with reality,” he said.

The second audit was of the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) and cited the office for its failure to develop a plan to monitor OJJ contracts managed by Magellan.

Magellan has a $22.4 million two-year contract with the Department of Children and Family Services also scheduled to expire on Feb. 28.

That contract calls on Magellan to provide an array of coordinated community-based services “for children and youth with behavioral health disorders and their families that risk out of home placement.”

Magellan’s contract calls for it to take over management beginning Jan. 1, 2013, at Harmony Center-Camellia Group Home in Baton Rouge, Boys and Girls Villages in Lake Charles, Boys Town of Louisiana (two facilities, in New Orleans and Baton Rouge), Harmony Center-Harmony III Group Home in Baton Rouge, and Allen’s Consultation, Inc., in Baton Rouge.

The contract requires that Magellan submit a written report detailing its progress to OJJ every six months but as of December 2013, OJJ had not received any such report documenting use of contract funds or of meeting specific goals of the contract.

  • Finally, in what is probably the most heartless, most ungrateful act yet by this administration, Jindal last week ordered the Louisiana National Guard (LNG) not to process any benefits for gay veterans on state property—in open defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Apparently Jindal based his position on some state’s rights legal opinion which he feels gave him the leverage needed to deny benefits on state property. It looks to us like more work for Jimmy Faircloth to try and defend another administration policy of questionable legal merit.

What makes this order so egregious is the blatant flag waving hypocrisy in which Jindal envelopes himself.

This is the same governor who, in a great show of his patriotism for the benefit of newspaper photographers and television cameras, traveled all over this state to hand out those appreciation medals to military veterans. The bill to award the medals was passed in the belief that legislators would benefit from the goodwill but Jindal stole that opportunity from under their collective noses with his shameless traveling awards show, denying lawmakers the chance to get in on the act. (Just for the record, as a matter of principle, I chose not to stand in line to have him present my medal nor did I apply for it to be mailed to me even though I served.)

Moreover, as thousands of Louisiana guardsmen were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade or so, never once do I remember anyone in this administration inquiring if anyone being placed in harm’s way for his or her country was gay. Apparently it’s perfectly okay to get shot or blown up by a roadside IED if you’re gay but if you’re lucky enough to survive, don’t bother coming home and applying for benefits.

Never, in my 70 years, have I witnessed an act so gutless, so callused. To hide behind the flag and to call oneself a Christian and a patriot while at the same time issuing such a cowardly order is beneath contempt.

It is the act of a petulant little ingrate who would defend the senseless and insensitive comments of a Phil Robertson while pretending to support the men and women who wear the uniform that he never had the courage to wear.

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Whether driven by paranoia or some other motive, the Division of Administration (DOA) appears to have settled into a circle the wagons mentality in an apparent attempt to stymie two independent agencies from performing their duties in a timely fashion.

It has long been suspected that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sycophants shielded him from the political realities by whispering in his ear the things he wanted to hear, i.e. that he is viable presidential timber, that he is adored and idolized by the great unwashed. His rigid practice of holding precious few press conferences—and those with his taking no questions—has only reinforced that perception.

But now comes something official, in writing, absent of deniability, which in its unmistakable implications, is as jaw-dropping as it is unprecedented. It also should make one wonder if anything was learned from 40 years of history.

An email memorandum dated Thursday, Jan. 16, was sent out by DOA to agency and department heads to the effect that any documents sought by the Legislative Auditor or the Legislative Fiscal Officer would be required to be in the form of formal requests for public records and routed through DOA.

That message, from the DOA Office of General Counsel, said that if anyone from the Legislative Fiscal Office or Legislative Auditor’s Office calls and requests documents, the requests are to be sent to the DOA legal counsel “and the request will be handled as a Public Records request.”

A second email was sent on Tuesday of this week, this one from the DOA Internal Audit Administrator.

That message noted that a number of audits were being conducted of DOA agencies and that all personnel should notify her of any audits that are initiated. “In addition, when responding to requests for information from auditors, please send the information through me before releasing the information to the auditors. Please make sure your staff is also aware that responses to audit requests for information must be submitted through me,” she said.

While perhaps not a fair comparison to the denial of records to the Judiciary Committee four decades ago—Jindal, after all, has not been accused of breaking any laws—it is nonetheless reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of events that pushed the presidency of Richard Nixon to the brink and, ultimately, over the edge in 1974.

So the Legislative Auditor’s office and the Legislative Fiscal Office will now be required to jump through hoops to obtain public records so they can do the job they are mandated by law to do.

Each member of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council was informed of the Jan. 16 memorandum but as of late Thursday, not one had responded to requests by LouisianaVoice for comments.

Those members include Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge), chairman; Sen. Edwin Murray, (D-New Orleans), vice-chairman; Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), Rep. Dalton Honoré (D-Baton Rouge), Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales), Sen. John Smith (R-Leesville), Rep. Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas), Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)

The Legislative Fiscal Office is an independent agency created by statute to provide factual and unbiased information to both the House of Representatives and the State Senate. The office provides assistance to individual legislators, committees of the Legislature and the entire Legislature. Often times, information is needed quickly to respond to requests from lawmakers and to compile fiscal notes on pending bills.

Specific information about the Legislative Fiscal Office can be found in the Louisiana Revised Statutes, RS 24:601 through 24:608.

The Legislative Auditor’s office performs financial audits of state agencies and universities on a routine basis. In addition, information technology (IT) auditors analyze computer systems of government agencies to ensure data integrity and security. http://senate.legis.louisiana.gov/Documents/Constitution/Article3.htm

Performance audits address specific objectives regarding economy, efficiency and effectiveness of programs, functions and activities of state agencies under Louisiana Revised Statutes 24:522 to provide the legislature with evaluation and audit of state agencies. Under R.S. 24:522, the Legislative Auditor’s office is mandated to audit each of the 20 executive branch departments over a seven-year period and, if necessary, to bring audit topics to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council for approval. Additionally, the Legislature may request a performance audit on a particular agency to address given issues or problems.

Investigative audits are conducted for the purpose of gathering evidence regarding fraudulent or abusive activity affecting governmental entities. Investigative audits are designed to detect and deter any misappropriation of public assets and to reduce future fraud risks.

Each of the 20 executive branch departments hopes to receive an unqualified opinion. That means that the Legislative Auditor has no reservations as to the accuracy and authenticity of the information contained in its report.

If DOA, however, is attempting, for whatever reason, to screen data or conceal file document contents requested by the Legislative Auditor, the issuance of a qualified opinion, meaning the auditor conducting the examination is not willing to vouch for the accuracy of the report because of the absence or unavailability of certain records, would likely be issued in its stead. Thus, the Legislature itself would be thwarted in its oversight role of all state agencies, an untenable position in which the Legislature most likely would not like to find itself.

Normally, when state auditors enter an agency, such as the Office of Risk Management (ORM), for example, they compile a list of documents (lawsuits, in the case of ORM) and make specific requests for each file as the auditor moves from one to another. In other agencies, the records auditors may wish to examine could be travel documents, payment receipts, attendance records, equipment inventories, university scholarship and tuition payments or athletic program expenditures, to name but a few.

Full compliance with either email directive could unnecessarily slow the process of either agency’s performance of their mandated duties by forcing their personnel to make formal requests each time they wish to review a file or document and then to wait until DOA decides to comply.

LouisianaVoice typically must wait weeks for even an acknowledgement of our requests even though the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.) clearly says that the custodian of the record requested must comply immediately or, in cases when a file is in use or otherwise unavailable, respond immediately in writing as to when the record will be available within three working days.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, when contacted by LouisianaVoice, said he was unaware of the memorandum from DOA.

“That’s going to keep ‘em pretty busy up there because we’re in every agency in the state conducting our audits,” he said.

He said he has never encountered any major problems with DOA and that his auditors were almost always able to obtain requested documents “except in cases of deliberative process, a phrase they’ve used from time to time.”

Deliberative process comes into play when actions on matters are pending in the governor’s office and the governor wishes to keep details confidential until decisions are made but the Jindal administration has arbitrarily expanded the definition to other agencies as well.

Purpera’s predecessor, Dan Kyle, experienced problems obtaining records from the departments of Insurance and Economic Development because of the sensitivity of certain records claimed by the agencies.

Purpera expressed some bewilderment as to the motives of DOA in issuing the memorandum. “I really don’t know why they would do that,” he said.

Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter was not available for comment.

One possible motive behind the latest dictates from DOA could be that the administration wants sufficient time to review any potentially damaging documents and to take whatever steps necessary to deny unfettered access to records in order to conceal or delay their release under the deliberative process clause. Another possibility, far more unlikely (we hope) would be to give the administration an opportunity to destroy embarrassing documents.

If one thinks that would be an extreme measure even by this administration’s standards, consider this: There is a curious but seemingly unrelated message written on a whiteboard in one DOA office which directs employees: “Do not ask about the law, do not research the law.” But as an apparent disclaimer, the message also cautions that “ignorance of the law is not a defense.”

Curious indeed.

All of which, of course, only echoes the words of an administration consultant who told DOA employees a couple of years back: “Don’t let the law stand in the way” of the administration’s objectives.

History, apparently, really does repeat itself. Richard Nixon once said, when David Frost asked about the legality of the president’s actions, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

All that’s missing now is a tape with an 18½-minute gap.

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A company holding two state contracts worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rollout late last year, LouisianaVoice has learned.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec Province, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

The largest tech firm in Canada, CGI also has offices in the Washington, D.C. area—Fairfax and Manassas, VA., Washington and Baltimore, and is part of the CGI Group which has 72,000 employees in 400 offices worldwide—many of those in India.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI also has a $300,000 contract with the Office of Information Services to provide technical support for the Division of Administration’s (DOA) advanced financial system (AFS). That contract is set to expire on June 30.

The state also has a $20 million contract with Hunt Guillot & Associates of Ruston through OCD and DRU for grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages resulting from hurricanes Katrina, Rita in 2005 and Gustav and Ike in 2008.

The Hunt, Guillot contract was first issued for $18.2 million on Oct. 31, 2007—just 10 months after Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, and called for the firm to work in program design, the pre-application and application process, pre-construction and construction of projects related to hurricane recovery. That contract expired on Oct. 30, 2010, but the company was awarded a subsequent contract of $1 million on Dec. 1, 2009 which called for it to review applications for grant funds pursuant to the hazard mitigation grant.

It was not immediately clear how much, if any, overlap there might be between the CGI and Hunt, Guillot contracts, if one was intended to augment the other, or if the two are completely separate, unrelated contracts.

What is clear is that in April of 2013, less than a year ago, the Legislative Auditor issued a report which indicated the state could be on the hook for a minimum of $116 million and possibly as much as $600 million in improperly received or misspent disaster aid following Katrina and Rita.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/04/louisiana_on_for_misspent_road.html.

State auditors reviewed 24 loans to property owners through the state’s Small Rental Property Program. The state had allocated $663 million to the program and of the 24 cases reviewed, none had been flagged as problematic by OCD. Though only 24 cases were reviewed, more than 8,000 properties benefitted from the assistance program—increasing the likelihood that the total number and amount of improper payments could go significantly higher.

OCD Executive Director Patrick Forbes said rather than attempt to chase down homeowners to retrieve the misspent funds, he intends to change OCD regulations to provide more assistance to homeowners before “triggering the recapture of funds.”

Despite that statement of intent, a month after that audit report, on May 21, the administration issued a $600,000 contract to the Baton Rouge law firm of Shows, Cali & Walsh to “review and analyze Road Home files for overpayments, ineligible grantees, etc., (and to) negotiate and collect funds due to the state.”

Shows, Cali & Wash, meanwhile, has its own problems stemming from a federal judge’s findings that it manipulated evidence in a federal lawsuit by three death row inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/03/baton-rouge-law-firm-with-3-million-in-state-contracts-faces-legal-sanctions-over-evidence-manipulation-in-angola-lawsuit/.

Meanwhile, the ObamaCare project—healthcare.com—disaster appears to have had caused a negative impact on employee morale at CGI, according to a staff worker who asked not to be identified. “There’s a lot of frustration,” he said. “People are getting sick, fainting in conference calls.”

Employee turnover is said to be high at CGI, making matters more complicated when trying to assemble a web page for the health-care exchange. Despite that, the upper management mentality at CGI appears to work toward establishing relations “so intimate with the client that decoupling becomes almost impossible,” according to one company profile. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/16/meet-cgi-federal-the-company-behind-the-botched-launch-of-healthcare-gov/.

CGI was hired by the Hawaii Health Connector, that state’s new health exchange for providing insurance options under ObamaCare, to build its website and the state portal, like HealthCare.gov, had immediate problems when it launched on Oct. 1, 2013. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/10/23/red-flags-company-behind-obamacare-site-has-checkered-past/.

“The morning I heard CGI was behind (the Obamacare web page development), I said, ‘My God, no wonder that thing doesn’t work,’” said James Bagnola, a Texas corporate consultant who was hired by the Hawaii Department of Taxation in 2008. “The system is broken all the time.” Bagnola said CGI was able to continue work on the Hawaii project despite repeated managerial complaints and a “corrosive environment” in which state employees felt pitted against CGI staff.

CGI’s contract to design and execute a new $46.2 million diabetes registry for eHealth Ontario, part of the Canadian government health care system, was canceled in September of 2012 after a series of delays that rendered the system obsolete.

The state of Vermont as recently as last October, meanwhile, was considering whether or not to penalize CGI for not meeting deadlines for designing and producing that state’s health care exchange as per an $84 million contract with the company.

It may be too early to say that there is an “ominous pattern” of inferior work product from CGI as claimed by some http://www.examiner.com/article/is-cgi-and-white-house-liable-for-obamacare-massive-site-failure and http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/fobbs/131028 but there can be no denial that the failed debut of the ObamaCare web page has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Which raises the obvious question: What quality of work Louisiana is receiving from the firm? Considering last April’s findings of the Legislative Auditor in its examination of the Road Home program, that’s a fair question.

Contractors are being paid tens of millions of dollars to provide oversight of the grant programs in the hurricane recovery efforts. But what oversight is being provided of the contractors themselves? And if the contractors need oversight, why are they even in the equation to begin with?

How do we know they are doing the jobs they are being paid to do?

If we are to believe the auditor’s report, they well may not be giving the state a return on its dollar.

Are contracts simply being doled out by the Jindal administration with little or no vetting? When one looks at some of the other contracts awarded since 2008, there seems to be ample cause for concern.

All one has to do is study the administration’s smarmy record of questionable contracts, beginning with the hiring of Goldman Sachs to help write the request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Who was the sole bidder on that project at the outset before the project was re-bid? Goldman Sachs. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/01/jindal-and-rainwater-preoccupied-with-ogb-privatization-missed-or-chose-to-ignore-obvious-cnsi-contract-red-flags/

And then there was the infamous contract with CNSI http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/volpe/billionaire-swindlers-line-up-for-obamacare/

and the ensuing investigation by the FBI  http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/fbireportscnsi3.pdf

http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/dt-common-streams-streamserver1.pdf and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office http://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/ldoj-interview-report-on-cnsi-from-0514121.pdf

There also is a series of contracts with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), since absorbed by Xerox. ACS, once represented by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy’s sister-in-law Jan Cassidy who now works for the Division of Administration (DOA) as Assistant Commissioner in Procurement and Technology at an annual salary of $150,000). http://www.linkedin.com/pub/jan-cassidy/6/4aa/703

ACS also has its own string of problems as evidenced by stories from other states http://louisianavoice.com/2013/03/15/doa-hires-jan-cassidy-sister-in-law-of-cong-bill-cassidy-at-150000-previous-employers-records-are-less-than-stellar/ and with the Securities Exchange Commission http://www.sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21643.htm

Not to be outdone, Deloitte Consulting which helped the state in planning for a comprehensive consolidation of information technology (IT) services for DOA, was named winner of the state contract for “Information Technology Planning and Management Support Services,” according to an email announcement that went out to IT employees last September.

Never mind the fact that Deloitte Consulting has experienced a multitude of problems in North Carolina, California, Tennessee, and Virginia because of delays, false starts and cost overruns. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/05/surprise-surprise-gomer-deloitte-wins-it-contract-after-spending-year-consulting-with-state-on-consolidation-plan/

And yet this governor is so unyielding in his misguided belief that the private sector can perform any and every governmental function better than public employees that now, six years into his eight-year term, he has decided pay yet another contractor, the international consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, $4 million to conduct an efficiency study to determine possible savings in state government.

Clueless, thy name is Jindal.

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“Overall, the proficiency rating for the Scholarship (voucher) Program is 41 percent. This rating is based on the percent of students who scored basic and above on standardized tests during academic year 2012-2013.”

—Report by the Legislative Auditor on the Louisiana Department of Education’s “Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program.”  (Hosanna Christian Academy in Baton Rouge, which subjects job applications to an extremely personal questionnaire based on religious believes and sexual activity and orientation while receiving $1.4 million in state funding, and New Living Word School in Ruston which the audit report says overcharged the Department of Education by more than $395,000 before subsequently being removed from the program, had proficiency ratings of 41.2 percent and 21.1 percent, respectively.)

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Give Gov. Bobby Jindal credit: He, along with a gaggle of Louisiana politicians, is all over A&E Network like…well, like a duck on a June bug over the Phil Robertson flak stemming from his comments about gays and blacks in that GQ interview. http://theadvocate.com/home/7889023-125/gov-jindal-responds-to-ae

Without going into the full story (you can get that from virtually any news source, from ABC-TV to local newspapers), suffice it to say Jindal has already spent almost as much time on this issue as on that sinkhole in Assumption Parish—or even staying at home to address other Louisiana problems, for that matter.

And while offering moral support for Robertson, Jindal has had little to say in defense of his boy-child State Superintendent of Education John White in the wake of a devastating state audit of the Jindal administration’s showcase school voucher program or of a controversial employment questionnaire required of applicants by a Baton Rouge private academy that has received more than $1.4 million in state funds.

Bernard Taylor, on the other hand, acted promptly and decisively to head off attempts by a local organization claiming connections to Jindal and White and headed by a man recently arrested for misuse of Baton Rouge city transit system funds to gain access to the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Okay, that’s a lot to digest in one gulp so let’s take ‘em one at a time, beginning with Taylor and an outfit called Empowering Students for Success.

Empowering Students for Success http://www.educatingourfuture.org/, founded earlier this year to help prepare students for new Common Core standards, is headed up by one Montrell “MJ” McCaleb.

The organization’s web page features separate photos of McCaleb with Jindal and White and also contains an impressive list of corporate sponsors that includes Cane’s Chicken, Infiniti of Baton Rouge, Subaru of Baton Rouge, IBM, the Baton Rouge Advocate, Acura of Baton Rouge, Piccadilly Restaurants, Sprint, Coca-Cola, Kleinpeter Dairy, and the National Urban League.

The problem is McCaleb’s most recent gig was as a member of the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) board of directors until his resignation for health reasons and later arrested after being accused of using nearly $1,500 in bus system funds to pay his private satellite TV and cellphone bills over a three-month period earlier this year. http://theadvocate.com/home/7057877-125/former-cats-board-member-booked

An email sent to EBR school principals by Taylor assistant Jamie Manda, said, “It is our understanding that Montrell McCaleb may contact you or email you to request an appointment to discuss services he provides through his organization, Empowering Students.

“Dr. Taylor asked me to let all principals know that under no circumstances has he given permission for Mr. McCaleb to contact you on his behalf about his program.”

But…but…but he’s got photos of him and Jindal and him and White on his web site.

What more does a guy need to get a foot in the door?

Well, if you want to teach for Hosanna Christian Academy, you’ll need to provide quite a lot of potentially embarrassing personal information.

Besides the customary name, address, phone number, date of birth, and professional qualifications, the questionnaire also asks for the applicant’s marital status, general state of health, religious beliefs, if the applicant smokes or drinks alcohol, is sexually active, lives with a non-relative of the opposite six, and whether or not he or she engages in homosexual activity.

The application form then requires the applicant’s signature on a statement of faith based on Bible scripture. Here is the link to that questionnaire:HOSANNA EMPLOYMENT QUESTIONAIRE (Yes, we know questionnaire was misspelled, but it’s a pdf file and we couldn’t change it.)

Before we get too far into this thorny issue, let’s understand we have no objection to a church-affiliated school setting rigid standards for hiring personnel—so long as the school is completely self-sustaining and not reliant in part or in whole on public funding.

But Hosanna received more than $1.4 million in state funding in the 2012-2013 school year from the state’s scholarship (voucher) program for 284 voucher students, according to an audit of the voucher program released last week by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

That has prompted protests from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT).

LFT President Steve Monaghan said no public funding should be sent to schools “that pry into a person’s life.”

State regulations governing hiring practices of schools receiving voucher dollars are vague, perhaps deliberately so as to allow greater leeway for church affiliated schools to receive public funds but to still act like private schools.

Monaghan said he will ask the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to look into Hosanna’s hiring practices as well as those of other private schools with voucher students.

Josh LeSage, headmaster of Hosanna, said the school is within its legal rights in asking the questions of job applicants. “We are not breaking any laws,” he told the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Vouchers are offered as state aid to students attending C, D and F public school so that they may attend the private schools.

The problem with that theory is that 45 percent of Louisiana’s voucher students still attended D and F rated schools last year, according to data released last month by the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The figures are incomplete because the department only released data on 20 percent of the 118 schools in the program, raising concerns about the lack of accountability in voucher schools.

Those concerns were echoed in a 27-page report by the Legislative Auditor’s office that said, among other things, “…there are no legal requirements in place to ensure nonpublic schools that participate in the (voucher) program are academically acceptable.”

The report further said the DOE review process “lacks formal criteria to ensure that schools have both the academic and physical capacity to serve the number of scholarship students they requested.”

That would reinforce reports last year by LouisianaVoice that New Living Word School in Ruston had been approved for far more vouchers than the school could accommodate. Even after the initial approval of 315 vouchers was reduced because the school had no computers are desks, it still was approved for 58 vouchers for which it was paid a whopping $447,300 by the state.

The audit report indicates that New Living Word overcharged the state by $395,520 and was subsequently removed from the scholarship program.

New Living Word was not the only one. The report says that auditors found that DOE overpaid or underpaid 48 of the 118 participating schools (41 percent) in the 2012-2013 academic year, leaving us to wonder just who is running DOE.

But rather than belabor the details of the audit, here is the link to the report so that you may read it for yourself:00036AA0

The rank and file employees of DOE are doing their best under extremely trying circumstances. Many classified employees were laid off and replaced by highly paid unclassified (non-civil service) employees brought in from out of state and who knew little to nothing about running the state’s largest agency. As a result, programs have been started, halted, re-started, changed, amended and scrapped as the young, inexperienced administrative personnel flail about in an effort to cobble together a policy for the department.

Were their efforts not so pathetic and wasteful, it would be light comedy to watch. Instead, John White and his minions are nothing short of tragic, pitiful excuses of pseudo educators who know only how to drive Enterprise rental Escalades and Jeep Cherokees on the state dime 24/7.

And while White himself must ultimately shoulder the blame for the procedural morass the department has become under his watch, it is David “Lefty” Lefkowith who is the poster child for all that is wrong with the voucher system. That is, after all, his job at DOE: he is in charge of the program—when he’s not jetting back and forth between Baton Rouge and his home in Los Angeles.

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