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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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© 2013

You’d think that John White would’ve learned from others’ mistakes.

He is, after all, the Louisiana Superintendent of Education and one of the definitions of education is the act or process of educating or being educated, according to our handy dandy Free Online Dictionary which also defines education as the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.

Education.com further defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

It was only four years ago that the news broke that Paul Vallas, White’s predecessor at the Recovery School District had taken 30 personal trips to his hometown of Chicago between 2007 and 2009 in a state-owned Dodge Durango in violation of state regulations governing use of state-owned vehicles.

He even took one of those trips to appear on a Chicago TV station to announce his intent to run for governor and while he did make the announcement, he never ran for that office. He currently is a candidate for lieutenant governor in next year’s election.

The use of the Durango for personal trips did not become public knowledge until the vehicle was involved in an accident in Chicago and the Louisiana Office of Risk Management received a claim for damages from the Department of Education (DOE). Vallas was en route to a press conference to discuss a constitutional convention for Illinois at the time of that accident.

Then-State Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, Vallas’s superior, said he was unaware that it was against regulations for Vallas to use the state vehicle for such trips, an incredulous claim at best.

Vallas subsequently moved on to Hartford, Conn., (where he would ultimately be deemed by a state judge to be unqualified and directed out of office) and was replaced by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s choice, John White. When Pastorek was booted, White was then promoted to State Superintendent.

So, the precedent was clearly there for White to see and to learn from. Certainly he was perceptive enough to avoid that particular pitfall. Pastorek, after all, had to pony up about $4,000 (an amount that also covered $946 in fuel costs) in reimbursement to the state on Vallas’s behalf though it was never made clear why Vallas himself was not held accountable for the costs.

So White would never repeat that mistake, would he? Of course not. We’re not going to catch DOE employees running all over creation in state-owned vehicles, no siree.

That’s what Enterprise Car Rental is for.

John White’s expenditures on Enterprise rental cars make Vallas look like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Remember that Vallas accounted for an estimated $4,000 in documented personal travel in a state vehicle over a period covering nearly three years, including fuel costs.

Seven current DOE unclassified employees with combined annual salaries totaling north of $1 million have tallied more than $63,700 in car rental fees in just over a year—and that does not even include fuel.

And while state regulations stipulate that only compact or intermediate vehicles may be rented by state employees at monthly fees not to exceed $680, some employees have been cruising around town in vehicles like Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, GMC Terrain, Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade at monthly rentals as high as $1,450.

And with the exception of a couple of skipped months, the vehicle rentals, while charged on a monthly basis, would appear to be on a permanent basis for the employees, each of whom has been on the job for less than two years.

The records could be incomplete because LouisianaVoice initially requested the records on Oct. 18 only for the months of July 1, 2012 through Oct. 18, 2013. The records were only made available on Wednesday, Dec. 11, nearly two months after they were first requested.

State law requires that public records be produced on demand unless they are unavailable. In such case, the state must respond immediately as to when the records will be available within three working days of the request.

LouisianaVoice has made a supplemental request for Enterprise car rental records for each of the seven employees for their entire tenure at DOE as well as a complete record of fuel costs for the rental vehicles.

Neither White nor his Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania responded to an email request from LouisianaVoice asking them to justify the issuance of permanent rental cars to state employees in light of the state’s ongoing budgetary problems.

Of course no story of DOE chicanery would be complete without the participation of our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith.

He is, as might be expected, one of the Enterprise Seven.

You will remember the ubiquitous Lefty as the motivational speaker who worked with pre-collapse Enron and Jeb Bush’s administration in an ambitious but unsuccessful effort to corner the market on drinking water in the state of Florida.

He next showed up first as a contract worker for DOE and then as the head of the Office of Portfolio for the department at $146,000 per year. He currently works with the department’s course choice program which has had its own image problems.

Despite Jindal’s oft-proclaimed goal of keeping the best and brightest Louisiana citizens in Louisiana, the administration seems hell bent on going outside the state for its talent and Lefty is no exception. He has maintained his residence in Los Angeles and actually commutes from that city to his day job at DOE. He apparently works only four days a week and heads west on Fridays and returns Sunday night or Monday morning.

Of course when he is in town he needs a vehicle to get around Baton Rouge and to take him to and from New Orleans International Airport each weekend. Records show he rents his Enterprise vehicles on a weekly basis, usually for four days at a pop (Monday through Friday) with sometimes a couple of hours extra thrown in.

Incomplete records show that he has spent about $6,000 on car rental fees (not counting fuel, of course) since Oct. 14, 2012. LouisianaVoice has requested complete records dating back to his date of employment with the department and including the cost of fuel for his vehicles.

To his credit, it should be pointed out that Lefkowith generally stuck to the compact car requisite rate of $32 per day for his rentals. On those occasions when he did upgrade, it was only to $36 per day—unlike some of his co-workers who did not appear to even attempt to stay within the state-approved rate mandates.

Following is an itemized list of the remaining six employees, number of months they have driven an Enterprise rental car, the type cars and the total cost (In some cases, the make of vehicle was not provided):

  • Kerry Laster, Executive Officer ($135,000)—nine months, from Nov. 2, 2012 through Aug. 20, 2013 (no record for Feb. 9 to Mar. 4, 2013): GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Cadillac Escalade (four months), Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer (two months)—$11,205;
  • Melissa Stilley, Liaison Officer ($135,000)—12 months, from Aug. 13, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Malibu, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey (three months), Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Edge (four months)—$13,550;
  • Warren Drake, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 10, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Honda Accord, Kia Sorento, Ford Flex, Grand Cherokee (nine months)—$8,160;
  • Gayle Sloan, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 4, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013 (no record for December of 2012); Chevrolet Impala (three months), Toyota Camry, Jeep Liberty (seven months), Jeep Patriot—$9,060;
  • Francis Touchet, Liaison Officer ($130,000)—15 months, from July 11, 2012, to Sept. 16, 2013; Nissan Altima (two months), Nissan Murano (seven months)—$11,800;
  • Gary Jones, Executive Officer ($145,000)—12 months, from Sept. 17, 2012 to Sept. 13, 2013; Nissan Sentra (nine months), Ford Fusion (three months)—$7,980.

The free use of a rental car on a year-round basis could pose another problem besides the obvious criticism that might come from the Legislative Auditor.

These Enterprise rentals are not the occasional rentals for quick one- or two-day trips on departmental business; they are perks by every definition of the word—used year-round, nights and weekends, for personal use as well as the occasional business-related trip.

And perks are taxable in-kind income.

Or at least they should be…unless DOE neglected to report the in-kind payments and the employees neglected to report them on their tax returns.

If that is the case, then DOE and the seven employees could have some explaining to do to the IRS and the Louisiana Department of Revenue, that is if Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield should be inclined to pursue the matter.

But don’t count on that.

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If public humility is your thing, all you have to do is appear before a state legislative committee or state commission unprepared to provide answers to even the most basic of questions.

That’s what happened last Friday in two separate legislative committee rooms during meetings of the State Bond Commission and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) during discussions of capital outlay projects and BA-7 requests, respectively.

BA-7s are budget request forms used to make changes in revenues and/or expenditure line items during the year. Agencies submit them to the Division of Administration (DOA) Budget Office and if approved there, they are placed on the monthly agenda of the JLCB for consideration.

Bond Commission Chairman State Treasurer John Kennedy was particularly rankled over the shifting of construction projects to be replaced by $5 million in capital improvements to the LSU Health Sciences Building in Shreveport which is being taken over by Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF).

After Mark Moses of State Facility Planning and Control submitted changes to the commission, Kennedy said, “In July, you said the list was top priority and shovel ready. Now you’re saying they are not. What changed?”

“Cash flow needs have changed,” Moses said. “We’re shifting money. Eighteen projects are complete and on 76 others, there has been no activity and if the need is not there, we shift the dollars.”

“Why did you say in July that they were top priority?” Kennedy asked again. “The problem is if we replace them with something else, the original projects go to the back of the line. We’re shutting 90 projects down even though we have already spent money on some of them and now we’re sending those projects to the back of the line.”

Kennedy then launched into his ongoing criticism of the privatization of the Louisiana Medical Center at Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. “We’re making $5 million in capital improvements to the Health Science Center. Who’s going to own that?”

Liz Murrill, DOA chief legal counsel, said, “We own the building. They (BRF) are leasing it.”

“We’re spending $4.8 million on scanner clinical and research imaging equipment for Biomedical Research Foundation…”

“This is a non-state entity. The dollars are being used for a public purpose,” Murrill said.

“Like an NGO (non-government organization)? We’re just giving it to them?”

“We’re providing money for this piece of equipment,” she said.

“Do we require them to file quarterly reports?”

“It’s contemplated it will be used for a public purpose,” she said, failing to answer his question.

Kennedy then asked if the legislative auditor would be able to audit the expenditure of the funds to which Murrill said, “I assume so, just as with any capital outlay projects.”

“One of the conditions of the agreement is there would be no public record,” Kennedy said, referring to a clause in the certificate of agreement between the LSU Board of Stuporvisors and BRF which says, “Financial and other records created by, for or otherwise belonging to BRF or BRFHH (BRF Hospital Holdings) shall remain in the possession, custody and control of BRF and BRFHH, respectively,” and that “such records shall be clearly marked as confidential and/or proprietary,” and thus protected from Louisiana public records laws.

“A public record is a public record,” Murrill said somewhat tentatively. “We have procedures to decide what is public record.”

“Who decides what’s public?” Kennedy asked.

“It depends on who gets the request.”

“Do you have a problem adding a condition to these purchases on the legislative auditor’s being able to audit the purchases?”

“I think that’s the case now,” Murrill said.

“Why are we buying this for the Biomedical Center instead of LSU?” Kennedy asked.

Mimi Hedgecock of the LSU School of Medicine—and formerly Jindal’s policy advisor—said the purchase was part of the partnership with BRF prior to the certificate of agreement between LSU and BRF.

“Is it accurate to say we have not picked an operator of the hospital yet?” Kennedy asked. “The testimony before the Louisiana Joint Budget Committee was they (BRF) were going to pick an operator. We’re entering a 99-year lease and don’t know who is even going to run the facility. The legislature has no say. How can we audit if we don’t know who’s running it? We can’t audit HCA (Hospital Corp. of America).

“This makes a mockery of the capital outlay procedure,” Kennedy said. “You’re supposed to be building a priority of projects. In July, you cam to us and said these projects were absolutely top priority and (were) shovel ready. Now they’re not shovel ready or top priority. Now we have new projects and these projects are going to the back of the line. I don’t think this is a good way to do business.”

Joint Budget Committee

Things got even testier at the Joint Budget Committee, thanks to the amateurish performance of witnesses appearing on behalf of the Recovery School District (RSD), just another ongoing embarrassment for the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE).

The fun began when committee member Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), who also serves as House Appropriations Committee chairman, questioned RSD’s claim to having $34 million in self-generated funds for the projects it was submitting.

“Explain how you self-generated $34 million,” he said. “It’s unusual for RSD to self-generate that many dollars.

The breakdown given was $27.13 million in new market tax credits, $3.37 million from insurance proceeds and $4.05 million from Harris Capital funding for construction of Wheatly and McDonough 42 schools.

Fannin responded that the way the budget was presented was “confusing.” He said he was seeing too many “other” expenditures on the BA-7 submitted by RSD. “You have legal expenses of $800,000,” he said. “I never saw legal expenses of $800,000 to rebuild two schools.”

“Those legal fees pay for 82 schools—the entire master plan,” said RSD spokesperson Annie Cambre.

But it was Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) who peppered the RSD types with a barrage of withering questions—withering because the RSD representatives were woefully ill-prepared with answers much as State Superintendent John White has been since his appointment in January of 2012.

Murray asked about the expenditure of $375,000 in funds for engineering and architectural costs before RSD had authority to spend the money. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?” he asked.

“Most were paid from multiple fund sources,” responded a young, unidentified red-headed RSD representative who more resembled a high school FBLA member than a public education professional.

“Let me ask my question again,” Murray said. “Are we using any of this $375,000 to pay them already?”

“For some of them, yes. Some are eligible from FEMA, some not,” said Red.

“Then why are we just now getting this request if we’re already using the money?”

“We already had some authority but we just realized we need additional authority.”

Murray, beginning to show his exasperation, then asked, “How much of the $375,000 have we spent so far?”

“I don’t know,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“It disturbs me that we’re spending money without authority to do so,” Murray said. “Let’s go to the legal expense of $800,000. How much of that have we spent?”

“Again, I don’t have that exact number,” said Red. “I can get that for you.”

“Mr. Chairman,” Murray said to committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), “can we get them to come back next month when they have answers?”

“That would seem appropriate,” said Donahue. “There’re a lot more questions than answers.”

Bordelon, in a last-ditch effort to salvage the request said, “It’s important that everyone understand the timing of the Wheatly-McDonough projects. There will be several thousand students affected by any delay. The New Market tax programs and closing times are specific. Timing is of the essence.”

“We’d like to help you guys,” Donahue said, “but when you come here you don’t have sufficient information to answer questions. I don’t know how you think we can approve something when you can’t answer questions about the money you’re asking for that you’ve already spent and how many dollars are involved.”

“We were utilizing previously granted authority,” Bordelon said.

“I appreciate that,” Bordelon said, “but on the other hand, you’re already spending it and didn’t come for authority to do that until you started spending the money. And when members ask how many dollars have already been spent, and you can’t answer, that’s a problem.”

“It was my understanding we were operating under previously granted authority,” Bordelon persisted.

“That’s not what was said,” Bordelon said. “That was not the testimony. The testimony was you were already spending that money but you don’t know how many dollars were spent.”

Murray’s motion to defer action until next month passed unanimously and Murray then had one last word of advice to Bordelon.

“You say this is going to affect ‘several thousand students.’ I’m pretty familiar with Wheatly and McDonough 42. You don’t have several thousand students in those two schools. We want you, when you come before this committee, to tell us accurate information.”

Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) added, “When you come back, be prepared to discuss the oddly round legal expenses and issues related to that.”

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Twitter apparently is the new eight-party line.

Growing up in Ruston when it truly was a rural community (the two taxi services were the One-Four (green Chevrolets) and the Twelve Hundred (black Fords) taxi companies because their respective telephone numbers were 14 and 1200. (One could go just about anywhere in Ruston for a quarter and the cabbie kept his money in a cigar box—and tipping was unheard of.) The local furniture store was 1. Apparently they had the first telephone ever installed in Ruston.

Much like Barney Fife and Andy in The Andy Griffith Show, we had to pick up the receiver and wait for the operator to come on the line and we would give her the number we wanted to call.

This was, of course, long before the first dial system came to Ruston and our number was changed from first 122-J and then 1190-M (the letters J and M told the switchboard operator which way to move the lever—push forward and pull back were the options—to ring the proper number on a two-party line. Four- and eight-party lines had ring codes like a long, a short and another long, etc.) to Alpine 5-0177, later AL5-0177 and then simply to 255-0177 and still later to 255-5276 because the telephone company didn’t want the last four digits starting with a zero. (And we thought things were simpler back then.)

But even with the dial system, we remained on a two-party line with our neighbor, the Williamsons. To my knowledge, neither of us listened to the others’ conversations because we were friends and respected each other.

Out in the country, it was a different story. The best way to get news back then was to listen in on those eight-party lines—mainly because with eight households sharing a line, it was impossible to know who was eavesdropping.

Ah, nostalgia. It’s not what it used to be.

Twitter, it seems, can be just as fun.

Take the recent exchange between Gov. Bobby Jindal’s alter-ego Timmy Teepell and Robert Mann, political historian, holder of the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU, and who formerly worked for three U.S. Senators and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

The topic of conversation was the recent report by the Louisiana Inspector General which noted that the Jindal administration paid the equivalent of $28 a bag for 10-pound bags of ice following Hurricane Isaac last year only to pay another $312,000 restocking fee to the ice vendor and then allow the ice to melt in an unrefrigerated storage building at a total cost of more than $7.1 million.

Occasionally others listening in on the 21st Century party line would chime in.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the entire string of comments, but we have enough to know that Teepell got a little thin-skinned about the whole matter and attempted to toss the issue back into the lap of Blanco by alluding to events that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Following are a few of the choice comments:

  • Mann: “Jindal’s response to Ice Capade is that too much is not enough. If only he took same approach to higher ed and health care funding.”
  • Teepell to Mann and Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project: “Remember when (Mann) worked for Blanco and that hurricane hit and people didn’t have enough ice. That sucked.”
  • Mann to Teepell and Moller: “Waiting days and days for the ice, buses and troops that Bush and FEMA promised. That really sucked.”
  • Teepell to Mann: “Do u remember working for Blanco? Should I post links to the TV footage? When people need food, ice and water…u get it 4 them.”
  • Mann to Teepell: “You seriously want to talk about people ‘suffering’ under a governor’s watch?? Your irony meter needs adjusting.”
  • Teepell to Mann: “We got ice to everyone who needed it…but under your watch (Mann was working for Blanco at the time of Katrina), these folks were left to suffer.”
  • Mann to Teepell: “I recognize those people. They’re the same ones to whom you now refuse health insurance. They love Jindal.”
  • Teepell to Mann (attaching photo of a throng outside the New Orleans Convention Center after Katrina): “Do you recognize these people, too?”
  • At this point someone named Calvin Lester Jr. offered his two cents worth to Teepell and Mann: “Those are the people you (Republicans) made sure never came back so your guy could win.”
  • Another participant, Jenny Barber Valois, to Teepell and Mann: “I applaud having ordered ice. The amount and waste are unacceptable. Melting for a month, why not offer to public?”
  • Third party line member, identified only as Baudenski, to Teepell and Mann: “So happy that the nation’s most desperate can be used to prop up Jindalite’s rhetoric.”

That certainly beats the local news from the old eight-party lines where the most titillating news item was when it was learned that Mrs. Brewster just got back from Houston where she had a wart removed from her nose only to learn that Mr. Brewster had supper of squash, collard greens and cornbread with the widow Johnson while she was gone.

But I’d still rather hear about the wart on Mrs. Brewster’s nose any day than listen to Timmy Teepell whine.

Somehow, trying to prop this administration up by attacking someone who has been out of office for more than five years just doesn’t seem to be much of a defense for such monumental waste.

I guess as much as anything else, it’s his cavalier attitude that is so reflective of the entire Jindal administration that I find offensive.

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