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Two emails popped up on our computer on Wednesday that we simply could not ignore and while the messages concern men who have an intense dislike for each other, the emails are nevertheless related in ways that should offend every voter citizen in Louisiana.

If you were not already turned off by Bobby Jindal and David Vitter, these should do it. If not, then you are part of the problem.

The first is a response to one of our readers from U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor.

Our reader had written Vitter to ask for his support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that said corporations and unions may not be restricted from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, in effect giving corporations the same rights as citizens. (The exception is that citizens may be sentenced to prison terms for white collar crimes while corporations may only be fined—usually in amounts far less than the financial gains realized from the criminal activity.)

Anyone who still does not see the manner in which money buys elections in this country—from legislators all the way up to president of the United States—either is a special interest lobbyist, a corporatist power broker, or someone who lives under a rock.

Vitter, in his response, somehow managed to morph the request for the regulation of campaign finance to the muzzling of free speech. “Thank you for contacting me in support of a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and states to regulate campaign finance and political speech,” he said.

“As you know,” he said, “more than 40 Senate Democrats are supporting an amendment to the Constitution to allow regulations on political speech during federal elections. This proposal comes in response to multiple United States Supreme Court cases upholding the free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment.”

Right away, he manages to turn it into a Democrat vs. Republican rather than a bipartisan issue. Somehow, when they get to Washington, they just have to make everything an us vs. them fight—like it would kill them to ever admit anyone in the other party might have a good idea. No wonder Congress has such a low approval rating, right down there with televangelists. And we just as quickly get the feeling that Vitter isn’t going to be very sympathetic to any suggestion of campaign reform. Not that’s any real surprise; a special super political action committee was set up on Vitter’s behalf earlier this year to help catapult him into the governor’s office. That PAC, The Fund for Louisiana’s Future, immediately funneled more than $3 million into his campaign.

But back to his email:

“Proponents of the amendment argue that corporations and individuals should be limited in their ability to indirectly support or oppose federal candidates, but the amendment would grant Congress power to pass new statutory limitations on political speech that could impact anyone,” he said.

Oh, please.

“I fear that its adoption would allow Congress to regulate everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association, pro-life and pro-choice groups, and could even suppress publishers and producers from releasing new books and movies that pertain to a candidate.”

What unmitigated B.S.

“Moreover, nothing in this amendment is limited to corporations or billionaires; it could easily include limitations on the rights of every American. A free society must engage in robust discourse in search of truth,” he continued in his self-serving gooneybabble.

“Objectionable speech should be confronted in the free marketplace of ideas where the best ideas win out, not through government regulations.

“Never in the history of the Constitution have we amended the Bill of Rights. I firmly disagree that we should do so now, especially not a right so fundamental to who we are as a nation. Although we disagree, rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind.”

So the bottom line is Mr. Vitter, who desires to be our next governor, wants corporations, lobbyists and special interest organizations with the financial clout to continue to buy access while drowning out our voices—to club our ideas, letters, emails and small (read: meaningless) contributions into so much pulp with their millions of dollars.

Mr. Vitter’s version of free speech—speech that favors those who are connected and who have the financial resources to purchase elections and politicians—is precisely what is wrong with the political system in the United States—and Louisiana.

The plain truth is Vitter is trying to purchase the governor’s office with his PAC and well-heeled political supporters who are contributing to his campaign not in the interest of good government but in the expectation of some quid pro quo in the form of contracts or favorable legislation. In other words, the buddy system wins, the state of Louisiana loses.

That email is just the sort of thing that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) should plaster all over every newspaper and television station in the state to show the real manner in which David Vitter views democracy and free speech.

And those views have nothing to do with representative government. They are to be used as a vehicle to roll over honest, hard-working citizens and, in the process, to make them think he’s doing them a favor. It’s all about convincing the great unwashed to vote against their own best interests by waving the flag and finding new enemies to hate.

The other email was a report in Wednesday’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Business Report, edited by Rolfe McCollister, a Jindal appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors and who served as campaign treasurer of Jindal’s gubernatorial campaign and who now serves a treasurer of his presidential campaign.

That story said Jindal, who announced he was a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination just a week before the close of the second quarter fundraising period, raised $578,758 in that first week.

In all, he has raised more than $9 million, with the bulk of that (more than $8.6 million) raised through super PACs—the American Future Project, Believe Again, and the America Next non-profit—which only reinforces what we said above about the unlevel playing field created by PACs.

The report said that 87 percent of Jindal’s campaign donors contributed $100 or less.

That’s the same kind of garbage he once tried to feed us about the contributions to his governor’s campaign. Trouble is, readers should not listen to what he says but rather to what is not said.

In poring over his initial presidential campaign report (yes, we do that), we found 180 contributors gave the maximum $2,700. That included multiple members of the same household, or in the case of the Madden Construction family in Minden, eight separate Maddens contributed $2,700 each.

The 180 individual donors combined to account for $486,000 of that $578,758. Two of those donors were listed as giving additional checks of $5,400 each (which exceeds federal limits, but we’ll leave that to the Federal Elections Commission). Moreover, an organization identified as the Smoke Bend Political Action Committee ponied up another $5,000.

That runs the subtotal to $501,800.

Continuing down the list, we find that 14 individuals gave $1,000 each, 21 gave $500 each, 42 contributed $250 each, five gave $350 and two more chipped in $300 each.

Altogether, that comes to $538,800, or 93 percent of the total $578,758 and it leaves only about $40,000 for that 87 percent who gave $100 or less. Don’t listen to what they say; hear what they’re not saying.

So the point is, the big money donors simply overwhelm the small donors and to say that most of his donors were small donors is deliberately misleading and disingenuous.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s take a look at a few of major donors.

  • Rolfe McCollister (LSU Board of Supervisors member) and Gene McCollister of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Hank Danos (LSU Board) and Rodlyn Danos of Larose, $2700 each;
  • Jack Lawton (LSU Board) and Holly Lawton of Lake Charles, $2700 each;
  • Jim McCrery (LSU Board), $2700;
  • Robert Yarborough (LSU Board) and Marsha Yarborough of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Chester Lee Mallett (LSU Board) and son Brad Mallett of Iowa, LA., $2700 each;
  • James Moore (LSU Board) and Lynn Moore of Monroe, $2700 each;
  • Scott Ballard (LSU Board) and Kristi Ballard of Covington, $2700 each;
  • Blake Chatelain (LSU Board) of Alexandria, $2700;
  • David Madden, Connie Madden, Sharon Madden, Lydia Madden, James Madden, John Madden, Melissa Madden and Douglas Madden, all of Minden, $2700 each;
  • Former Congressman Robert Livingston and Bonnie Livingston of Alexandria, VA., $2700 each;
  • Former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater of Baton Rouge, $2700;
  • Louisiana Department of Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield and Nan Barfield of Baton Rouge, $2700 each;
  • Publisher of Baton Rouge Business Report Julio Melara of Baton Rouge, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • Robert Bruno of Covington, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • J.E. Brignac of Prairieville, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, $2700;
  • William Windham of Bossier City, appointed by Jindal to the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, and Carol Windham, $2700 each;
  • Former Jindal Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth of Pineville, $2700.

Those are just a few, but they account for $94,500. Not too much in the way of contributions outside Louisiana. Apparently the price of being appointed to a prestigious board or commission is not only to vote the way you’re told (see LSU board’s vote on firing presidents, doctors and attorneys, and on giving away state hospitals) but to pony up campaign funds when the boss comes calling.

Conspicuously absent (with only a couple of exceptions), however, were the names of Indian-Americans who practically lined up to contribute to his gubernatorial campaigns of 2003, 2007 and 2011 before watching in dismay as he began to distance himself from his Indian heritage, claiming that he did not believe in hyphenated-Americans.

 

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

On Monday, November 5, 2012, the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) conducted a meeting at which two members, Vice President James Sims and Greg Bordelon, engaged in racist roll call responses. Because the meeting was quietly moved up by nearly three weeks, neither I nor Rev. Freddie Lee Phillips, Louisiana’s only African American auctioneer in its history, were aware of it and thus didn’t attend (our only absence in seven years).

Upon learning of the meeting, I made a public records request for an audio recording of it.  My request was ignored for almost a month, so I threatened litigation. Reluctantly, the LALB provided the recording.  Phillips, who thought I was joking about the racist responses, was justifiably outraged when he heard the tape. He wanted the Jindal Administration to hear the recording, so I supplied it to them. Meanwhile, an Advocate reporter, Ted Griggs, took an interest in the matter, and published this article on December 22, 2012. Jindal called upon the inspector general (IG) to “investigate” the matter. That “investigation” concluded with the release of this this report on February 20, 2013 in which the behavior is excused as mere “diabetes and dentures” flaring up for Sims and Bordelon merely “mocking Sims as a North Louisiana redneck.” Griggs published a follow-up story on the IG’s report soon after its release.

I was intrigued by the recording’s revelation of LALB members, especially Vice Chairman James Sims, lambasting Jindal over his freezing their per diem payments. Despite Jindal’s signing this Executive Order effective August 5, 2012, LALB members defied the order and accepted payments for the September 2012 meeting. I raised this issue privately with LALB Attorney Larry S. Bankston via email, and he responded with an email assuring me I could address my concerns at the next meeting (January 8, 2013). Meanwhile, Phillips wanted to address the roll call responses as part of the approval of the November 5, 2012 minutes. Phillips wanted verbatim roll call responses entered into the record of those minutes.

When January 8, 2013 rolled around, Bankston was emphatic that neither Phillips nor I would be permitted to speak on our respective issues as evidenced in this video.

Louisiana Revised Statute 42:14(D) mandates an opportunity for public comment on any meeting agenda item for which a vote is taken. Since the minutes of the prior meeting requires a vote for adoption, as does approval of financials (within which the illegal per diem payments constituted a line item), Phillips and I filed this open meetings law violation lawsuit pro se on March 6, 2013. In an effort to maximize his billings to his LALB client, Bankston filed back-to-back Dilatory Exception motions (a fruitless legal technique to drag out a case’s duration). The first motion, for which oral arguments were heard on July 22, 2013, resulted in Judge Hernandez granting a 30-day period to amend the lawsuit to more succinctly state a cause of action. The second motion, for which oral arguments were heard on February 3, 2014, was denied, thus forcing Bankston to file an answer to the suit over a year after it had been filed.             Because the case was a clear violation of the law, Phillips and I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 12, 2014.  Oral arguments on our motion were heard by Hernandez on August 4, 2014. We argued that the case was a violation of the open meetings laws and we were therefore entitled to $100 each from the board members for denying us the right to speak on items clearly on the agenda. In a motion for summary judgment, one side (us in this instance) argues that no issues of material fact exist which can permit the case to continue to trial; therefore, judgment should be granted to the moving party as a matter of law. Upon the conclusion of oral arguments on August 4, 2014, Judge Hernandez took the matter under advisement, saying, “It will all boil down to whether the court finds there is a matter of material fact to permit the case to continue.”

Bankston filed his own Motion for Summary Judgment for the LALB for which oral arguments were set for September 15, 2014. Meanwhile, in a continued effort to maximize his legal billings, Bankston took depositions for both Phillips and myself. For Phillips, Bankston argued he suffered “no harm” from not being able to address the roll call response, to which Phillips told Hernandez, “I was unable to defend my culture, my heritage, or to confront the two board members directly on their actions.”

Bankston also argued that, because per diem payments were not a line-item on the agenda, the LALB violated nothing in terms of denying me the opportunity to speak. Never mind that per diem payments were a line item on the financials and that those very financials containing the illegal payments were being approved at that January 8, 2013 meeting. Never mind that Bankston had provided me with an email on December 23, 2012 which said that I would be permitted to address my concerns. If one isn’t permitted to discuss such an integral component of the financial statements being approved, what can the public state regarding the financials at the meeting? Bankston also posed the argument that, because I had informed Jindal’s office that the LALB was defying his executive order and Jindal’s office had demanded that the board members refund the per diem overpayments as a result, my goal had been accomplished notwithstanding the fact I was not permitted to discuss the matter at a public meeting.

Judge Hernandez again took the matter under advisement. When no ruling was issued prior to the November 4, 2014 election, I told Phillips, who resides in Hernandez’s district, that was a very bad sign. I said if Hernandez were to issue a ruling against us before the election, the contents of his ruling may cause Phillips to implore his congregation, relatives, and friends to vote for Hernandez’s opposition. Because of that, Hernandez was delaying making his ruling until after the election. If so, he was smart because he barely survived a strong challenge by Democrat Collette Greggs (53-47).

Judge Hernandez issued his ruling granting Bankston’s Motion for Summary Judgment more than 60 days after the election. In doing so, Hernandez went from openly questioning if any issue of material fact existed on Aug. 4, 2014, to permitting defendants to continue toward a trial, in effect saying plaintiffs had no basis for proceeding with trial!

Hernandez said in his ruling, “The agenda did not include the subject of per diem payments,” and he therefore ruled that the board would be required to add the line item of per diem payments to the agenda to permit discussion! So, using Hernandez’s “logic,” a board guilty of making illegal payments must vote to add a line item entailing the illegal payments in order for the public to address them! Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to occur. Hernandez’s ruling not only makes a mockery of LA R. S. 42:14(D), but his ruling makes the court culpable in attempts to keep illegal payments by board members. Moreover, the court is made to appear even more culpable than those seeking to keep the illegal payments. His ruling sends a horrible message to members of the public seeking to hold public bodies accountable.

Hernandez went on to say that, even if a violation of the open meetings law transpired on January 8, 2013, it was remedied at the March LALB meeting. The fact that a judge has to say, “even if a violation occurred,” is a point-blank statement that an issue of material fact exists in the case and therefore he was bound by law to deny Bankston’s motion and permit the matter to continue to trial.

We wanted to appeal Hernandez’s ruling as it’s doubtful any three-judge panel of the First Circuit would have upheld his ruling. State agencies, with infinite resources of taxpayer dollars, routinely appeal rulings knowing they stand no chance of being overturned.  LouisianaVoice readers may recall an article on the CNSI trial in which Judge Kelley told the state’s attorneys “there is nothing to appeal because this matter is that clear,” regarding Bruce Greenstein having waived attorney-client privilege. Nevertheless, at a cost approximating $30,000, the state appealed Kelley’s ruling, only for it to be upheld.

My attorney informed me it would cost about $9,000 to appeal Hernandez’s ruling and even if we prevailed, there was no way to recover that $9,000. Hence, we had little choice but to walk away. That’s why Judge Caldwell’s “split the baby” ruling in the Tom Aswell’s public records request lawsuit last week felt like such a victory from my vantage point. A judge finally provided some relief to the “small guy.”

 

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LouisianaVoice is continuing its fundraising drive to help offset the costs of litigation against the Division of Administration and Bobby Jindal in our never-ending fight for access to public records.

These are records of what the administration is doing, how it is spending your taxpayer dollars, and how it is implementing policies that affect your daily lives.

These are also records that belong to you, the citizens of this state, and Jindal does not want your prying eyes looking over his shoulder—even if that shoulder is in Iowa or New Hampshire. Nor do the various boards and commissions which exercise tremendous power over small businesses want us looking into their operations.

But we do and we will continue to do so. But it is costing us legal fees—fees that we don’t recover if we fail in court. And the courts are not inclined to side with the public’s right to know; they would rather take the easy way out and rule for the state.

But we nevertheless must keep the pressure on and to do so costs money and time.

Please help by contributing what you can either by clicking on the Donate Button with Credit Cards button to the right of the page or by mailing your check to:

Capitol News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727-0922

Thanks for your support!

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Forty years ago, actress Tippi Hedren offered a program for 20 Vietnamese women to learn the profession of being manicurists. The result was a complete revolution of the nail salon industry. The industry is now an $8 billion powerhouse which is dominated by Vietnamese operators. According to Nails, a publication devoted to the nail salon industry, 51 percent of nail salon operators nationwide are Vietnamese. Moreover, in Louisiana, despite the fact that Louisiana Cosmetology Board (LCB) Executive Director Steve Young said that the vast majority of nail salon operators are Vietnamese, his only explanation for why the LCB has no Vietnamese representation is that “it just has not reached that point.”

Vietnamese operators routinely undercut the competition’s price by 30-50 percent. They are recognized by Nails to have a stellar reputation for high-quality work, and they often support relatives in Vietnam. Numerous Vietnamese nail salon operators told Louisiana Voice that the LBC has targeted them for harassment and discriminatory inspections designed to drive them out of business. Their claims are detailed in a class action lawsuit filed by former U. S. Congressman Joseph Cao on February 6, 2014.

The suit alleges the LCB, its Executive Director, one of its attorneys, Celia Cangelosi (who is named personally as a defendant), and at least two of its inspectors, Sherrie Stockstill and Margaret Keller (also both named as defendants) have subjected the Vietnamese operators to being “harassed, intimidated, falsely imprisoned, and arbitrarily discriminated against.”

The lawsuit alleges that Thoa Thi Nguyen’s Exotic Nails was visited by LCB inspectors, including Stockstill, on Friday, July 19, 2013, at a time when the salon was “packed with patrons.” After several minutes of loitering and communicating facts of the salon’s operations, Stockstill shouted, “Everyone keep still.  Don’t move!” The suit alleges Stockstill and the other inspector, despite producing no identifications or search warrant, began opening drawers, sorting through files, and, for two hours, and demanded that Nguyen not leave the premises. Nguyen contends that LBC’s actions resulted in a loss of confidence among some of her patrons who witnessed the scene and that her business has suffered from the episode.

The lawsuit details several other similar incidents including operators being subjected to repeated “inspections” and forcing some operators to sell their businesses to escape the relentless attacks.  Meanwhile, the plaintiffs allege that non-Vietnamese operators are rarely, if ever, subjected to any inspection whatsoever. The lawsuit provides exhibits which show virtually all of the hearings for the LCB entail Vietnamese nail salon operators.

LCB meetings appear to be a vehicle for impeding competition and creating a self-generating source of revenue to provide fees for attorneys who serve under contract and to pay the board’s salaried staff. While the “inspectors” of the LBC earn average salaries of around $27,000, which perhaps explains their fundamental lack of knowledge or training regarding requirements to conduct searches, the LBC payroll approaches a staggering $1 million a year!  That doesn’t even include the $200,000 or so per year it generates for its two contract attorneys:  Cangelosi and Sherri Morris. Meanwhile, Vietnamese operators, who supply much of the funds through which they are harassed, are forced to literally beg the board for permission to work as evidenced by this applicant’s husband’s plea to the board after they moved from Texas and she sought a Louisiana license through reciprocity. Instead, the LCB proceeded to grill her on questions about her Vietnamese high school diploma and decide if the transcript translator should be “approved.”

Vietnamese citizens often immigrate to California and practice as manicurists before relocating to Louisiana, and one salon operator said he personally knows of 15 manicurists planning to relocate to Louisiana within weeks.

These operators were understandably concerned about the April agenda item on “California reciprocity.” At that meeting, Young sought to suspend California reciprocity based on its licensing authorities informing them they were “removing their seal from their documents.”  It was also claimed that it was difficult getting anyone on the phone from California.

Louisiana Voice contacted California licensing authorities, and we had no difficulty getting them on the phone. Moreover, we were told that Young’s statement was false and that they’d experienced a temporary machine failure but that a new color-printed seal was being incorporated into their documents. Accordingly, Louisiana Voice made a public records request for whatever documentation Young referenced in the previous video clip indicating California was removing its seal. What we got was this this email which confirmed what California licensing authorities said to us. It’s not clear whether the LBC is going to accept the new color seal, but what is clear is that Young came across as being determined to suspend California reciprocity and slow the expansion of Vietnamese nail salon operators in Louisiana. Though it’s not clear what an acceptable seal now is, Young and the LBC agreed to back off of reciprocity suspension and merely return as “rejected” any California documents with “no seal.”

Another common complaint among Vietnamese operators is that the LCB itself can’t decide what is legal and what isn’t. Inconsistency appears to rule the day. One operator indicated he was licensed by an LCB official only to be informed by a subsequent inspector that he failed to have proper equipment nor adequate space for conducting his operations. Another operator appeared to suffer a similar plight as evidenced by this video clip from the April 2015 LCB meeting during which one LBC attorney, Sherrie Morris, had to explain to another LBC attorney, Cangelosi, as to the fact that nails can’t be done in an esthetic salon. Cangelosi says “somebody” told them they could but she says it was “not someone from the Board.” Louisiana Voice has been told by several operators that it was LCB officials who told them they could operate. Cangelosi even admits, “Somebody licensed them.” In yet another instance at the same meeting, the LCB demonstrated that its inability to provide guidance to its licensees on acceptable “cheese graders.”

Still another nail salon operator said his salon was cited for violations and, when he informed the inspector that a beauty salon nearby operated in the same manner as he with the same equipment and space allocation, the investigator told him, “There are different rules for you guys.” When he complained to the investigator that he may challenge an administrative hearing on the issue, she said, “You may as well pay the $1,200 fine now.  If you challenge it, they’re just going to add $550 administrative costs and there is no way you can win!” When he inquired how that could be possible for his operation to be treated so differently than the nearby beauty salon, the investigator responded, “They can do whatever they want!”

Yet another complaint of Vietnamese operators is the haphazard manner in which Young is “notified” of violations. Many Vietnamese salon operators said inspectors were shifted to their districts to concentrate on them and that they make it a point of showing up on Saturdays to provide the maximum negative impact to their salon’s operations.

Young said that unlicensed salon operators have “no skill” and “aren’t educated.” Vietnamese manicurists and salon operators said his statement was as an insult and indicated Vietnamese families train relatives to perform the service with safety at the forefront.

Recently, President Obama proposed his FY ’16 budget containing $15 billion for states to explore abolishing many boards and commissions which restrict job opportunities. Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy supports such action in Louisiana.

In an interview with Louisiana Voice, Young indicated the Federal discrimination lawsuit is “about over with,” a curious claim given that Federal Judge Brian Jackson has denied every state effort to toss the suit. In his rulings of March 20, Jackson denied the state’s motions to dismiss the complaint against inspector Stockstill both for racial discrimination and false imprisonment. Jackson dismissed the false imprisonment complaint against Keller but refused to dismiss the discrimination claim. The trial is estimated to commence on January 17, 2017 and last for seven days.

According to records available through LaTrac, the state has authorized spending of close to $300,000 so far in defending the racial discrimination lawsuit. Louisiana Voice made a public records request directly to the law firm providing the defense, Shows Cali. Readers may recall that Shows serves as Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer for this fall’s attorney general race.  Further, in an investigative report by WWL in New Orleans, Shows was identified as a huge beneficiary of Caldwell’s propensity to award lucrative multi-million-dollar contracts to his close friends and associates.

Mississippi, also has considerable problems with its Cosmetology Board as evidenced by this rant by Mississippi State Representative Steven Holland in February of 2015. Unlike Louisiana, however, Mississippi requires all funds collected by boards and commissions to be placed in the state’s general fund and then individual boards and commissions must make application for funds for that year. Holland says the Mississippi Cosmetology Board’s funds need to be a “big goose egg.”

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As an illustration of the arrogance of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and the Division of Administration (DOA), one need only examine the most recent “compliance” to our request for public records in the matter of former Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC) Executive Director Frederick Tombar, III. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/21/frederick-tombar-a-key-jindal-appointee-resigns-260k-job-at-lhc-following-internal-investigation-of-sexual-harassment/

Even as the parties to our lawsuit against Nichols and DOA were awaiting the start of our case in District Judge Mike Caldwell’s courtroom on Monday, DOA’s legal counsel asked our attorney about our post of Sunday, May 3, in which we revealed that DOA was sitting on another request of ours. We made simultaneous requests, we explained, to DOA and to an office under DOA (LHC). The office responded with the records but DOA still had not complied nearly two weeks after our request was submitted. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/05/03/louisianavoice-v-la-doa-goes-to-trial-monday-we-need-your-help-to-defray-legal-costs-that-will-continue-on-appeal/

But don’t just take our word for it. Here is a column by Robert Mann from nearly two years ago:

http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2013/05/louisiana_government_is_making.html

The attorney for DOA, upon being told what records we had requested, promised us we would have the records on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, apparently buoyed by only a partial victory by us, DOA responded with partial compliance as some sort of weird game of gotcha.

The records we received from the LHC contained 16 pages. The records provided Tuesday by DOA contained four pages.

DOA insisted in the trial of our earlier lawsuit against DOA (also before Judge Caldwell, who, in that case, ruled against LouisianaVoice altogether—do we see a pattern here?) that we were not being singled out for deliberate non-compliance or the withholding of records despite DOA’s historically taking weeks and even months to provide requested documents.

Yet, withholding 12 pages of a public record (the LHC board, with the concurrence of legal counsel, had previously decided that the investigative report into allegations of sexual harassment against Tombar was indeed public) certainly appears to us to be deliberate—and against the law.

Here’s the gist of the investigative report:

LHC board Chairman Mayson Foster asked the DOA Office of Human Resources to conduct an investigation on April 13 into claims by two female employees (one, a contract employee and the other a full-time employee of LHC) that Tombar, who lives in New Orleans, had pressured each of them to spend nights with him in his hotel room when he was in Baton Rouge for board meetings.

(The report, as it should, withheld the names of the women and LouisianaVoice has never requested that information. We respect the employees’ privacy; we only wanted the investigative report.)

The harassment of the first employee, a contract worker, began on Nov. 19, 2014, the report said, when Tombar and the employee separately attended a luncheon for the agency. Immediately following the luncheon, he “friended” her on Facebook and Instagram and made repeated requests for her to join him after work for drinks.

The employee made excuses to avoid doing so but then his advances became even stronger as he began to request that she spend the night with him in his hotel room during his stays in Baton Rouge. Specifically, emails provided LouisianaVoice by LHC (with the name of the employee properly redacted) show that Tombar asked her to spend the night with him on Feb. 10, 2015, the night before an LHC board meeting.

Even though she was a contract employee, Tombar promised her in his emails that she would be “safe” from layoffs and then asked her again to spend the night with him on April 7, 2015.

Eventually, the woman blocked his calls and filed a formal complaint and asked that she continue working but away from Tombar.

The second woman, an employee of LHC, said she attended a conference in New Orleans on Feb. 7-9, 2015 and that on March 19, she received an email from Tombar saying he would be staying overnight in Baton Rouge and asking her to stay with him overnight in his hotel room, a request she declined.

He repeated the request on April 7 before she sought relief in the form of a formal complaint in which she said she wished to keep her job but to work “away from Mr. Tombar,” the report said.

In one Instagram message provided LouisianaVoice as part of the record, Tombar asked one of the women, “You’re cool with my having a wife at home?”

The report’s conclusion said:

“Inform

  • “Information gathered from claimant interviews as well as a subsequent review of electronic messages sent to both claimants by Mr. Tombar clearly establish a pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Specifically, Mr. Tombar’s declaration that (the first claimant’s) position would be protected from layoffs while (simultaneously) trying to establish a sexual relationship with her presents clear evidence of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Additionally, the use of sexually explicit content in electronic messages to LHC employees and contractors presents clear evidence of a hostile work environment.”

The report further said the women “should have been more direct and forceful” in putting Tombar on notice “that his advances were unwelcomed and unwarranted, which they acknowledged in their interviews.” At the same time, the report pointed out that the women were fearful of losing their positions because of Tombar’s position as Executive Director and Appointing Authority within LHC.

Attempts to interview Tombar by DOA’s Human Resources Department “to provide him an opportunity to refute and defend those claims” were thwarted when Tombar abruptly resigned his $260,000-a-year position on April 21, the report said.

Tombar was appointed to head LHC after passage of Senate Bill 269 by State Sen. Neil Riser in 2011. The bill, which became Act 408 upon the signature of Bobby Jindal, consolidated three former agencies into one: the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, the Road Home Corp., and Louisiana Land Trust. That consolidation became effective on Jan. 1, 2012 and Jindal named Tombar to head the new agency shortly after that.

Tombar earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Notre Dame University and later attended Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where he earned a Master in Public Policy degree.

He directed the Road Home Program following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Road Home served as the largest single housing recovery program in U.S. history.

LHC currently is house in an elaborate structure on Quail Drive across from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center just off Perkins Road in Baton Rouge. LOUISIANA HOUSING CORP.(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The agency has 125 employees and a payroll of more than $7.9 million. Besides Tombar, eight other employees make more than $100,000 per year, according to State Civil Service records.

http://doa.louisiana.gov/boardsandcommissions/viewEmployees.cfm?board=273

In an April 6, 2015, message to one of the women, Tombar said, “Jindal has a claim to my time until 5. Any plans after are negotiable.”

The employee, in an apparent effort to put him off, responded, “Maybe next time.”

In the most explicit message provided by LHC, Tombar sent a message that gave the definition of “sunrise surprise” from the online Urban Dictionary: “To wake someone up at exactly 6 am by having rough anal sex with them.” There was no response to that message.

As for DOA’s pattern of non-compliance with our requests, our attorney has suggested that we pursue criminal charges against Nichols in addition to our civil petitions.

It’s certainly an option we’re keeping open although Attorney General Buddy (or is it Bubba) Caldwell (no relation to the judge) has certainly revealed his reluctance to pursue the interests of the citizens of this state over such mundane matters as public records.

So, it would fall to the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore.

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