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Archive for the ‘Civil Service’ Category

What will Gov. Bobby Jindal say when he appears on Meet the Press Sunday?

Of course we know he will attack President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare while ignoring the fact that his decision not to expand Medicaid may end up costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s a given.

At the same time he is criticizing Obama for not being more proactive on the Ebola crisis, he will fail to mention his rejection of the Medicaid expansion has been at the expense of health coverage for a couple hundred thousand low-income Louisianans.

He will condemn the president for his lax immigration policy while turning a blind eye to the indisputable fact that Latin Americans who do enter this country generally take low-paying jobs no one else wants. He won’t mention companies like IBM, Dell, ACS, and Pfizer, to name but a few, that have taken advantage of an obscure work visa (the H-1B program) to lay off more than 250,000 Americans from high-tech IT jobs. These companies lay Americans off in favor of importing hundreds of thousands of Indians who work for far less, thus saving these companies billions of dollars.

He will no doubt boast of his accomplishments as governor—claims that simply will not stand up under close examination—apparently pulled off by remote control. This is especially the case during his second term when his title would more accurately be governor in absentia. He has spent an inordinate amount of time traveling outside the state in an attempt to build support for a anemic campaign for the GOP presidential nomination that, despite his near-desperate efforts, is gaining no traction.

He could lambast the Common Core curriculum, once again ignoring that fact that he was in favor of Common Core before he was against it.

There are so many other things he could discuss but probably won’t.

He won’t mention, for instance, his abysmal record in the state’s courtrooms. One of these was his miserably failed effort to jerk retirement benefits from under the feet of active state employees, some of whom would have seen their retirement income plummet to as little as $6,000 a year—with no social security—had he been successful.

He will attempt once again to convince the nation—those of us in Louisiana know better, of course—that he has balanced the state budget while cutting taxes and reducing the number of state employees.

Yes, he has reduced the number of state employees, but at what cost? The Office of Group Benefits (OGB) is a shell of the once smooth-running state office that handled the medical claims of some 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. Not that that matters to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols who, we are told, is a member of the LSU health plan and thus unaffected by the changes.

And of course Jindal, through his smoke and mirrors game of premium reductions, has managed to siphon off more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund. He also recently attempted to slash benefits and pile unaffordable co-pay and deductible increases onto the backs of state employees and retirees. In short, his grand scheme to privatize OGB has proven nothing less than an unmitigated disaster of politically humiliating (to him) proportions. His firing of respected CEO Tommy Teague and the mess that has ensued stand as a monument to unparalleled mismanagement and political meddling.

And his budget balancing has produced unprecedented cuts to higher education. Colleges and universities in Louisiana have seen their appropriations gouged by nearly 70 percent during Jindal’s almost seven sorry years in office. God help us if he should somehow be placed in the position of inflicting such carnage on the nation as he has on Louisiana.

And what of that claim of balancing the budget, anyway?

Let’s review.

We will take figures provided to us by State Treasurer John Kennedy that reflect the general fund balances as of Oct. 31. And while we are quick to acknowledge the fact that the numbers will certainly improve next spring when revenues start picking up from state income tax and corporate tax collections, a comparison of the last five Octobers is both startling and sobering.

As of Oct. 31 of this year, the general fund balance reflected a deficit of $924.6 million. That’s just $75.4 million shy of $1 billion—and OGB alone is losing $16 million each month.

And yes, the numbers will improve next spring but let’s look back just one year. As of Oct. 31, 2013, the balance reflected a deficit of $656.7 million. That’s nearly $268 million less in negative spending than for this year.

Still not convinced? Well, for Oct. 31, 2012, the deficit was $476.6 million, about $448 million less than for the same month in 2014.

And while it was slightly higher at $565.2 million on Oct. 31, 2011, the number for 2010 was only $181.5 million—almost three-quarters of a billion dollars billion better than this year.

In five short years, the October deficit for the state general fund balance has increased fivefold.

The historically high negative balance, which arrives just a few months into each new fiscal year (which begins on July 1), “is forcing fund borrowing to sustain cash flow,” Kennedy says. “It darkly foreshadows the challenge ahead for lawmakers and the governor in the 2015 regular session. A budget shortfall of at least $1.2 billion is expected, but it’s clearly a figure that could move. It also increases the likelihood of midyear budget cuts in the minds of some.” (The administration finally admitted this even as this post was being written on Friday. Spending for the next seven months will have to be slashed by at least $171 million because of lower than anticipated revenues.) http://theadvocate.com/news/10833948-123/state-needs-mid-year-budget-correction

And here is the rub that has Kennedy and Nichols crossing swords: Kennedy says to some lawmakers, “the negative balance is at a critical high because the state started the fiscal year with a deficit cash balance of $141 million and because expenses actually are greater than revenues,” Kennedy said.

Nichols, however, vehemently disagrees, claiming instead that the administration stumbled upon some $320 million in extra cash from prior years lying around in agencies scattered across the state which she claims gives the state an actual surplus of nearly $179 million.

The problem she has, however, is that no one believes her—including two former commissioners of administration interviewed by LouisianaVoice, both of whom say it’s just not feasible that that much money could have been just lying around all these years without anyone’s knowing of its existence.

Nichols, of course, has to maintain a brave face in order that her boss can save face.

You see, as Bob Mann points out in his latest posting on his blog Something Like the Truth, Jindal “must never have raised a tax” and “must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget” if he wishes to cling to any fading hopes of the GOP presidential nomination.

“All your advantages—your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics—won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications,” Mann said. http://bobmannblog.com/

“Jindal knows Republican audiences in Iowa and elsewhere will pay him little mind if they learn about his fiscal recklessness,” he said. “So, he and Nichols tried to cover their tracks, including dishonestly blaming their budget deficit on state Treasurer John Kennedy.”

Jindal, of course, won’t address any of these issues. But were he of a mind to do so, he could even discuss on his Meet the Press appearance how he tried to frame Murphy Painter, former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control after Painter refused to knuckle under to demands that he look the other way on behalf of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson over Budweiser’s application for an alcohol permit at Champion’s Square. He could tell how that effort backfired and the state was forced to pay Painter’s legal bills of some $300,000. But he probably won’t

He could discuss how he attempted unsuccessfully to circumvent state law and obtain a hefty $55,000 per year increase in pension benefits for his state police commander. But most likely, he won’t.

And he could disclose how much it has cost Louisiana taxpayers in terms of payroll, meals and lodging for state police security as he jets around the country in pursuit of his presidential aspirations. But don’t expect him to.

Yes, Jindal could discuss these and other matters during Sunday’s program, but he won’t.

The simple fact is, by virtue of his bottom-feeding position as the anchor in the GOP nominee sweepstakes, he just can’t afford to.

And saddest of all, no one on the program’s panel is likely to inquire about these issues.

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

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

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

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

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

To accomplish this, we need your help.

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

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

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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The Jindal administration may have been thwarted in sneaking through an amendment giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an extra $55,000 per year in retirement income but pay raises for at least 29 mostly unclassified employees could mean additional liabilities of $25 million to $42 million over 20-30 years for the Louisiana State Employee Retirement System (LASERS), LouisianaVoice has learned.

Even as merit pay increases for rank and file civil service employees has been frozen for the last five years, top tier employees, mostly unclassified supervisors and agency heads, have realized pay raises ranging from a one-year increases of 12.5 percent for the governor’s director of communications and 118.7 percent for the CEO of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) to nearly 127 percent for the press secretary for the Department of Health and Hospitals.

No fewer than 10 of the pay bumps not surprisingly benefitted gubernatorial appointees and employees in the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), who has devoted much of his time while in the state to firing state employees, slashing medical benefits and trying to destroy the state retirement system.

Retirement for state employees is computed by multiplying the average salary for the top three earning years times the number of years employed times 2.5 percent.

Thus, in the case of Susan West, who was promoted from State Risk Administrator at a salary of $83,200 in 2013 to the $170,000-a-year position as CEO of Group Benefits, her retirement, should she remain at OGB for three years, would be based on the higher amount, a difference of $86,800.

Thus, if she retires after 20 years at her present salary, she will receive 50 percent of $170,000, or $85,000 per year as opposed to $41,600—an additional $38,600 per year—had she remained at the $83,200 pay level. That would mean an additional $1.158 million in retirement income over 30 years.

In her case and in the cases of a few others, the salary increases were the result of major promotions but in others, pay increases went with lateral moves or new assignments and some of the other promotions would appear to be just for the purpose of implementing pay raises for favored employees.

In the case of 20 employees, the pay increases were $1,000 or more bi-weekly, or at least $26,000 a year while 10 others’ pay increases ranged from $500 to $999 bi-weekly, according to records obtained from the Office of Civil Service.

And it’s all legal—as opposed to the backdoor attempt the Edmonson to revoke his decision to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which locked in his retirement at his captain’s rank level when he entered DROP.

In that case, Jindal, his executive counsel Thomas Enright, State Sen. Neil Riser, Edmonson and his chief of staff, Charles Dupuy all appear to have conspired to sneak an amendment, aka the Edmonson Amendment, onto a law officer disciplinary bill on the final, hectic day of the legislature. The amendment sailed through both the Senate and House and Jindal promptly signed it into law only to have a state district judge rule the procedure unconstitutional.

By granting generous pay raises, a procedure known as pension spiking, retirement benefits are automatically ratcheted upward, even if the employees does not stay a full three years at the higher level.

If, for instance, an employee who made $75,000 two years in a row gets a $25,000 raise to $100,000 and stays for only an additional year, his retirement still goes up. Say the employee retires after 40 years. He automatically retires at 100 percent of his salary. Not the $100,000 level, but not the $75,000 level, either. Two years at $75,000 is $150,000. Add the one year at $100,000 and you get $250,000. Divide that by three years and his retirement is $83,000. So, by jacking his salary up by $25,000 for one year, he gets an additional $8,333 per year for the rest of his life.

In California, pension spiking could increase public pension costs as much as $796 million over the next 20 years the state controller said recently.

Besides West, here is pay raise information for a few other Louisiana employees since 2010:

  • Kathy Klebert, Assistant Secretary, Department of Health and Hospitals from July 1, 2010, to Jan. 21, 2011 at salary of $140,000; promoted to Deputy Secretary on Jan. 22, 2011 at salary of $145,000; named DHH Secretary on April 1, 2013, at salary of $236,000 upon resignation of Bruce Greenstein. Overall increase of 68.6 percent since 2010.
  • Ruth Johnson, former head of the Department of Children and Family Services—retired at salary of $130,000 per year on June 21, 2012, re-hired on May 27, 2013 as Director of Accountability and Research in the Division of Administration at $150,000; promoted to Assistant Commissioner on Sept. 30, 2013, at $170,000; promoted to Director’s title in the governor’s office on Feb. 24, 2014, at $180,000. Overall increase of $50,000 (38.5 percent) since June 21, 2010.
  • William Guerra, hired as State Budget Management Analyst 3 on May 3, 2010 at $48,500, promoted to Chief Operating Officer for the Office of Group Benefits on Feb. 20, 2014, at $107,000 per year, a four-year increase of $58,500, (120.6 percent).
  • Courtney Phillips, hired on Oct. 1, 2010, as a Program Manager 2 at a salary of $93,000, was named DHH Deputy Secretary at $145,000 per year on May 10, 2013, a three-year increase of $52,000 (55.8 percent).
  • William Jeffrey Reynolds, named DHH Medicaid Deputy Director on May 31, 2011, at a salary of $113,700, promoted to DHH Undersecretary on March 10, 2014 at $145,000, a three-year raise of $31,300 (27.5 percent).
  • Calder Lynch, hired on Oct. 25, 2010 as DHH Press Secretary at $52,000, on Aug. 26, 2013, was named Kleibert’s Chief of Staff at a salary of $118,000, a raise of $66,000 (126.9 percent).
  • Thomas Enright started on Mar. 8, 2010, as Executive Counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs at $104,000 and on Feb. 4, 2013 was hired as Jindal’s Executive Counsel at $165,000, a $61,000 increase in only three years (58.7 percent).
  • Jane Patterson was an IT Telecommunications Technical Services Administrator on Nov. 18, 2012, at a salary of $126,000 and an IT Telecommunications Administrator on Oct. 1, 2013, at a salary of $131,500, a raise in less than a year of $4,900 (3.9 percent).
  • Christopher Guilbeaux was an $85,200-a-year Section Chief for the Governor’s Office of Home Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on June 29, 2011. Two years later, on Oct. 1, 2013, he was a $130,000-a-year Deputy Director, a raise of $44,800 (52.6 percent).
  • Stephen Chustz was appointed as Section Head at the Department of Natural Resources on Aug. 9, 2012 at $129,200, up $25,600 (24.7 percent) from his $103,600-a-year salary as Deputy Assistant Secretary on Sept. 30, 2011.
  • Jerome Zeringue has gone from Deputy Director of the Governor’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority at $126,250 in July of 2011 to advisor to the governor at since last Feb. 28 at $160,000, a $33,750 (26.7 percent).
  • Thomas Barfield came on board as Jindal’s Executive Counsel in July of 2009 at $167,000 per year but by July of 2013, he was the $250,000 per year Secretary of the Department of Revenue (DOR), a three-year increase of $83,000 (49.7 percent).
  • What’s the difference between an Assistant Secretary and a Deputy Secretary? Apparently, about $19,100 a year. Jarrod Coniglio went from Assistant Secretary of DOR on Oct. 15, 2010 at $107,800 to Deputy Secretary on July 1, 2013, at $127,000 (a 17.7 increase).
  • In just over a year, Andrew Perilloux went from Assistant DOR (May 27, 2013) at $90,000 to Under Secretary on Aug. 18, 2014 at $107,800, an increase of $17,800 (19.8 percent).
  • Joseph Vaughn, Jr. was making of $69,000 on Jan. 29, 2012, as an Assistant Director of DOR and was named Assistant Secretary on Jan. 30, 2012 at a salary of $107,800, a raise of $38,800 (56.2 percent).
  • Noble Ellington (you remember him, the legislator who retired and went to work as Deputy Commissioner of Insurance) is making $162,100 in that position, up $6,200 (up 4 percent) from Oct. 1, 2012.
  • Kyle Plotkin, the New Jersey import started out in the governor’s office on Nov. 19, 2008 as Press Secretary and on July 26, 2011, was named Special Assistant to the governor at $85,000. Less than three years later, on Mar. 4, 2014, he was named Chief of Staff at $165,800, a three-year increase of $80,800 (95 percent).
  • Michael Reed of Boston began as an $80,000-a-year Deputy Director of Communications on Feb. 4, 2013 and a year later was Director of Communications at $90,000 (12.5 percent).
  • The difference between Administrative Assistant and Executive Assistant apparently is $24,000. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Rayford Bossier was making $30,000 on Sept. 10, 2012, as an Administrative Assistant in the governor’s office. By July 22, 2013, she was making $54,000 as an Executive Assistant, an increase of $24,000 (80 percent).
  • Melissa Mann has gone from Executive Assistant in the governor’s office in February of 2010, at $54,000 to Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs on March 3, 2014, at $95,000, a $41,000 (75.9 percent) increase.
  • Elizabeth Murrill went from being the governor’s Executive Counsel on Nov. 5, 2010, at $110,000 to Executive Counsel and Chief Texter for the Division of Administration on Oct. 16, 2012, at $165,000, an increase of $55,000 (50 percent).
  • Ileana Ledet was making $63,300 a Public Information Director 2 for the Department of Insurance (DOI) on Feb. 7, 2011, and on Oct. 1, 2013, whe was earning $127,400, an increase of $64,100 (101.3 percent).
  • Keith Lovell was making $83,300 as a Coastal Resources Scientist Manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in May of 2010, and by April 1, 2013, he was making $109,200 as Assistant Secretary of DNR, an increase of $25,900 (31 percent).
  • Barry Landry was making $70,000 a year as a Public Information Director 1 for the Department of Education (DOE) on Jan 27, 2014 and less than five months later, on June 2, was making $85,000 as Press Secretary, a $15,000 (21.4 percent) increase.
  • Marian Lee Schutte was making $60,000 as a Coordinator for DOE on Dec. 2, 2011, and on July 22, 2013, she was a director earing $75,000, an increase of $15,000 (25 percent).
  • Robert Keogh has been a Procurement Director for DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) since June of 2012 but his salary has also jumped $15,000 (25 percent) in two years, from $60,000 to $75,000 on May 12, 2014.

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In 2011, two agencies within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety (DPS) entered into a pair of contracts with a company called CTQ Consultants totaling $38,400 to eliminate waste and to increase efficiency in the Office of Motor Vehicles ($22,400) by employing a combination of a trendy management method and to decrease the average DNA purchasing process turn-around time ($16,000).

Taken at face value, $38,400 is not an exorbitant amount for two contracts given some of the contracts awarded by the state. The infamous $270 million CNSI contract comes to mind. So does that $7.4 million consulting contract the state awarded Alvarez & Marcel (A&M) Consultants to track down $500 million in savings.

But then DPS promptly placed CTQ’s only employee, Kathleen Sill, on the state payroll as a $140 per hour state employee and proceeded to pay her $437,000 in salary over the next 28 months.

That’s $437,000 for her personally, not for her company.

Additionally, DPS paid $12,900 in air travel for 21 flights for Sill between Baton Rouge and CTQ’s Columbia, S.C., home office between Jan. 6, 2012 and March 2014, according to records obtained by LouisianaVoice.

The first contract, for $16,000, was awarded to CTQ by the Office of State Police on Feb. 1, 2011. That contract expired three months later, on April 30, 2011.

On Aug. 1, 2011, the $22,400 contract was awarded by the Office of Management and Finance. That contract expired five months later, on Dec. 31. Among the objectives of that contract was one that called for CTQ to assist in “streamlining including the operations of the Office of Motor Vehicles (OMV).”

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson heads DPS in his dual role as Deputy Secretary and oversees, besides State Police, the Office of Management and Finance, the Office of Motor Vehicles, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, the Office of State Fire Marshal, the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission. http://www.dps.louisiana.gov/deputy.html

On Jan. 1, 2012, one day after the second contract expired, Sill was placed on the state payroll as an employee/consultant and remained employed until May 1, 2014, records show.

So, what is CTQ and who is Kathleen Sill?

Well, if McKinsey & Co. is considered the world’s premier business consulting company, Alvarez & Marsal might best be considered Mac Lite and CTQ as something several rungs down in the consulting pecking order. It’s a typical touchy-feely out-of-state organization that makes suggestions on to how local administrators can best do their jobs—after waltzing in, analyzing, discussing and writing expensive reports—all in a matter of a few weeks or months, as in the case of CTQ. Or, in Sill’s case, 28 months.

Sill formed CTQ in 2009 after spending more than 30 years with Bank of America as a “quality and productivity executive.”

The CTQ web page has an about us feature but when we clicked on it, only Sill’s profile appeared on the screen. No other employees of the firm are identified anywhere on the web page. http://www.ctqconsultinggroup.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=5

CTQ and Sill specialize in something called Lean Six Sigma, which Sill says is an abbreviated form of Six Sigma that draws upon her Six Sigma training and hands-on experience “to identify and implement results-driven solutions for your business.”

Six Sigma is a set of techniques for process improvement that was developed by Motorola in 1986 and General Electric adopted the program for its business strategy in 1995.

The program attempts to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing causes of defects by employing a set of quality management methods and creates a special infrastructure of employees within an organization (“Champions,” Black Belts,” “Green Belts and “Yellow Belts”) who are experts in infrastructure methods.

Lean_Six_Sigma_Structure_Pyramid.svg[1]

The name Six Sigma originated from terminology tied to manufacturing, especially terms associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes.

Sigma indicates its yield or percentage of defect-free products it creates while a six sigma process is one in which 99.00066 percent of the manufactured products are statistically expected to be defect-free (3.4 defective parts per million).

According to Wikipedia.org, Six Sigma doctrine asserts:

  • Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results are of vital importance to business success.
  • Manufacturing and business processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, controlled and improved.
  • Achieving sustained quality improvement requires commitment from the entire organization, particularly from top-level management.

Features that set Six Sigma apart from previous quality improvement initiatives include:

  • A clear focus on achieving measurable and quantifiable financial returns from any Six Sigma project.
  • An increased emphasis on strong and passionate management leadership and support.
  • A clear commitment to making decisions on the basis of verifiable data and statistical methods, rather than assumptions and guesswork.

Just how all this applies to the Department of Public Safety and how it justified an expenditure of $450,000 remains unclear.

Asked why Sill was placed on the state payroll as an unclassified employee instead of being retained as a contractor, DPS explained that the department “utilized a Civil Service hiring option to employ Ms. Sill as a WAE (when actually employed) due to the length of proposed projects underway or planned. This allowed her to perform projects across various state agencies as a state employee.”

One explanation might be the $50,000 plateau for contracts. Any contract of $50,000 or more must be approved by the Office of Contractual Review.

A better reason could be that contracts are easier for prying eyes to spot and more susceptible to prompting questions from nosy reporters than an otherwise low key state hire.

But if the results of “streamlining operations of OMV” can be used as a barometer, the efforts of CTQ and Sill are less than auspicious. One need only make a trip to one of the local DMV offices gutted by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s employee layoffs to witness the interminable delays brought on by his privatization obsession. And while you’re waiting, don’t take it out on the overworked, stressed-out employees. Just remember to thank Jindal—and Lean Six Sigma.

And bring a good book to read while you wait.

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Tomorrow (Aug. 15) is the last day for 24 employees of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) but the bad news doesn’t end there, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ glowing guest column about the condition of OGB in Jeremy Alford’s Louisiana Politics notwithstanding, some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents are in for some serious sticker shock.

http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Even as Nichols babbled on about providing “better service and care to its members” while at the same time employing the by now tired and time-worn Jindal tactic of blaming everyone but Jindal for rising health care costs, the Legislative Fiscal Office was dropping a bombshell in announcing dramatic increases in health care insurance premiums for state employees coupled with benefits that will be undergoing deep cuts.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and an aging population for rising health care costs, Nichols said “financially responsible practices” are necessary to continue providing benefits. She conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Jindal administration’s decision a year ago to lower premiums as a means of lowering the state’s 75 percent match, thereby freeing up money to plug gaping holes in Jindal’s makeshift budget.

That move, of course, help decimate OGB’s reserve fund. What started out as a $540 million surplus a year ago now stands at less than half that.

“At first glance it may seem like having a fund that large is a great thing,” she wrote. “But in reality, keeping hundreds of millions unnecessarily locked up in a reserve fund was not the best use of taxpayer money.

“Considering that the state funds 75 percent of member premiums through taxpayer dollars, letting that large of a balance sit unused meant that those funds weren’t being used for other important projects,” she said.

Nichols, of course, overlooks the fact that successful insurance companies keep health reserve funds in cases of a natural disaster or major epidemic. Companies who only manage to pay claims out of premiums on the other hand, traditionally don’t survive.

Her entire 800-word piece never once mentioned that state employees and retirees would soon be asked to pay significantly higher premiums for equally significantly reduced benefits. Instead, she parsed words, saying, “Plan changes for fiscal year 2015 are estimated to lower expected claims costs by $131.8 million…”

That sounds pretty good until you read the first page of the nine-page report released Monday by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain.

State employee health plan changes, according to the report, include, among other things:

  • An increase in premiums state employees and retirees pay for health coverage;
  • Significantly increase the out-of-pocket maximum for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for those proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300 from $1,200 to $1,500 per year, a 20 percent increase;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Removing all vision coverage from the health plan options.

The latest premium increase of 6 percent will go into effect on Jan. 1 is on top of a 5 percent increase implemented on July 1 of this year.

Of course, the revamp of OGB premiums and benefits was the result of the infamous Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) study.

The really amazing thing about that is Jindal rushed into the OGB privatization convinced he could do no wrong and that his was the only way and that the state was going to save millions. Yet, when things started going south, he calls in the big A&M guns.

Not only that, he forked over $199,752 to A&M to learn the best way to screw state employees.

Speaking of A&M, the contract with the firm was originally for a little more than $4.2 million but was promptly amended by $794,678, bumping the amount up to a cool $5 million. The problem with that is state law allows only a one-time contract amendment of no more than 10 percent without legislative concurrence. The amendment was for 18.9 percent.

As if that were not egregious enough, the Division of Administration subsequently amended the contract by yet another $2.4 million in May—again without bothering to obtain the legally mandated concurrence from the legislature.

Nothing, it seems, is beneath this administration.

Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. LouisianaVoice said before the OGB privatization ever took place that it would be necessary to raise premiums or lower benefits.

But Jindal, wunderkind that he is, insisted his privatization plan, ripped straight from the pages of the handbook of his only private sector employer, McKinsey & Co., would be more cost efficient than having those lazy state workers process claims and that the state would save money.

And lest you forget, McKinsey advised AT&T in 1980 there was no future in cell phones.

And of course, McKinsey developed the flawless business plan for Enron.

To a degree Jindal is correct; the state will now save money—on the backs of state employees.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 election agrees.

“The OGB fiasco is proof positive that privatization for the sake of privatization is foolish,” he said. “A reserve balance that recently exceeded $500 million is half that now and  bleeding $16M per month due to mismanagement and budget chicanery, and the ultimate price will be paid by state retirees and employees through higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance in exchange for fewer benefits, more forced generic drugs, and more preclearance of needed treatments and other changes that make crystal clear that the OGB beneficiaries will pay more for less.”

Bingo! And right on cue, Carpenter’s report echoed Edwards:

“The health plan and prescription drug plan policy changes…will shift more of the costs from the state to the OGB plan member,” it said.

That shift will save the state a minimum of $44.7 million for health plan changes and at least $69 million for prescription drug plan changes in fiscal year 2015, the report said.

“Along with premiums, the major costs incurred for medical services by an OGB plan member will be deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance,” it said. “The new health plan offerings will significantly reduce the cost to OGB, while the OGB members pay more for their medical services.”

Of the total OGB population, 75 percent are currently enrolled in the HMO plan which presently has no deductible for the employee but those members will, effective January 1, be subject to both a deductible and coinsurance whereas most are currently subject only to fixed co-pays.

 

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It’s the story that won’t die, no matter how the Runaway Governor (apologies to Julia Roberts) would like it to.

While Gov. Bobby Jindal may go running off to Iowa or New Hampshire or Washington, D.C., or wherever his latest odyssey takes him in his futile attempt at resuscitation of his moribund presidential aspirations while ducking his responsibilities at home, folks like political curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston and State Treasurer John Kennedy just won’t go away.

Instead, Kennedy is staying home and demanding answers to the nagging problem of the Edmonson Amendment that Jindal so obligingly signed into law as Act 859, giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $55,000 bump in retirement income.

Act 859, which began as a bland, nondescript bill by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) that addressed procedures in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, quietly turned into a retirement bonanza for Edmonson.

That happened when State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted language into a Conference Committee amendment to the bill that allows Edmonson and one other state trooper in Houma to revoke their decisions of several years ago to enter into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which gave them higher take home pay but froze their retirements at their pay level at the time of their decision.

In Edmonson’s case, his payment was frozen at 100 percent of his $79,000 a year captain’s pay but Act 859 allows him a do-over and to act as though all that never happened so that he can retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 per year colonel’s pay instead.

Other state troopers, teachers and civil service employees who made similar decisions, meanwhile, are stuck with their decisions because….well, sorry, but this is special for Col. Mike Edmonson Esq. Swank. Riff raff need not apply.

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board is scheduled to receive a special report by Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an acknowledged authority on public retirement plans, and local attorney Denise Akers at its Sept. 4 meeting but Kennedy isn’t waiting that long.

As State Treasurer, Kennedy holds a seat on the LSPRS board and he has repeatedly voiced his concern over the amendment which he says could put enormous strain on LSPRS if other retired state police officers file suit to obtain similar consideration as Edmonson.

He has claimed the board has a fiduciary responsibility to file suit to overturn the new law that Jindal so hastily signed.

A group of retired state troopers also has signaled its willingness to enter into litigation to get the law overturned.

Both Kennedy and the retired troopers contend the law is unconstitutional because it was not properly advertised in advance of its passage.

“Talking points” originating in State Police headquarters by Capt. Jason Starnes and sent to Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, and—for whatever reason—Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones, said the bill was properly advertised but because the bill in its original form in no way addressed retirement issues, that claim appears rather weak, especially given the fact that state police should be more skilled in producing hard evidence to back their cases.

The additional fact that the amendment never made its appearance until the last day of the session even though it had been discussed weeks before adds to the cloud of suspicion and wholesale chicanery enveloping Jindal, Riser, Edmonson, and Dupuy.

And Kennedy, who already has fired off two previous letters to LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps demanding a full investigation of the rogue amendment, now has written a third.

That letter, dated today (Aug. 13), while much shorter than the others, loses no time in getting right to the point: Kennedy is demanding under the state’s public records statutes (La. R.S. 44:31, et seq.) that Felps provide him a copy of the report generated by Klausner and/or Akers.

“Please immediately email the document(s) requested to me,” he wrote. “If you cannot or will not email them, please immediately inform me, and I will send a representative to your office to pick them up right away.”

Here is the link to his letter: Treasurer Kennedy Public Records Request to Irwin Felps August 13 2014

His letter sets the stage for a probable showdown between Kennedy and the rest of the board given the fact that Felps has previously denied Kennedy’s informal request for the report.

Felps said following Kennedy’s initial request, he was advised by legal counsel (most probably Akers) to release the report to the board members but not to the general public. He added that he expected Kennedy will have the report Thursday morning.

“I don’t know why the big cloak and dagger that they won’t share with the board,” Kennedy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/john_kennedy_demands_state_pol.html#incart_river

“I’m a board member and I’m entitled to it. They can’t tell me I can’t see it,” Kennedy said. “This is a very important issue and it’s not just limited to state police. We have thousands of employees in the retirement system (who) didn’t get this treatment.

“I just want to see a report that I asked for and the board asked for. It is a public document.”

Kennedy should know better. LouisianaVoice has already received its comeuppance from the House and Senate, both of which have refused to comply with our request for copies of emails and text messages between the six Conference Committee members who approved the amendment and Jindal, Edmonson or any of their staff members.

Even though such discussions would have fallen under the narrowest of definitions of public business, we were told the public has no business peeking over legislators’ shoulders to see what they’re doing and to please just butt out.

LSPRS board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, told the Times-Picayune in a statement (prepared as talking points by Starnes, perhaps?) that he felt it would be “inappropriate and premature” for the board to take a position on Act 859 until it heard the attorneys’ report.

Uh, Trooper Besson, would that be more or less “inappropriate” than passing a secretive bill in the final hours of the session to benefit one person (well, two, since one other trooper fell within the strictly limited parameters of the bill’s language) while no one was looking?

Just as a reminder, it’s going to be difficult to get the board off dead center on this issue considering the board’s 11-person membership is comprised of four active troopers, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and one of Jindal’s legislative puppets, State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee (you can almost see Jindal’s lips move when he talks).

Just in case you lost count, that’s six members that Jindal and Edmonson control—and that’s a majority.

Folks, it’s looking more and more like that group of retired state troopers is going to have to make good on that threat to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act.

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Call it coincidence, but the Baton Rouge Advocate today had an interesting lead editorial thanking State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Gov. Bobby Jindal for assigning 100 state troopers to patrol the city of New Orleans through Labor Day in response to a Bourbon Street shooting spree on June 29 that left one dead and nine others injured. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9965586-123/our-views-thanks-to-state

Certainly the timing of the editorial had nothing to do with the controversy swirling around the secretive passage of an obscure Senate bill during the last day of the recent legislative session that proved financially beneficial to Edmonson.

And certainly it had nothing to do with the fact that Advocate publisher John Georges wants to keep Edmonson happy because Georges holds a majority ownership in seven firms which provide video gambling machines and other services to gambling establishments—and because Edmonson oversees gaming through the State Gaming Control Board chaired by Ronnie Jones who served as Edmonson’s confidential assistant prior to his appointment to the Gaming Control Board. He is still listed as Edmonson’s confidential assistant on the State Police web page even though Jones says he resigned from that position last August. http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/02/john_georges_gets_back_into_ga.html

Jones denies any knowledge of Georges’ video poker interests and says Edmonson is not his boss. “I wouldn’t know John Georges if he walked in the room right now and the fact that he has gaming interests doesn’t impress me,” he said, adding that Edmonson “has no control or influence over my board or its decisions.”

Jones’s denials notwithstanding, it appears we can dismiss any chance that the Advocate might delve into the murky political machinations behind the amendment especially tailored for Edmonson (though it did catch one other state trooper up in its generous net).

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley refused to open an investigation into the infamous Edmonson Amendment because he said the amendment was part of a bill that originated in the Senate. But one would expect no action from Kleckley. Otherwise, Jindal might remove his hand from his butt and Kleckley would then be rendered unable to speak—not that he’s ever said anything profound anyway.

The amendment, of course, tacked on an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson’s retirement benefits and though Edmonson has since said he will not accept the extra income, he apparently overlooked the fact that the bill is now law, thanks to Executive Counsel Tom Enright’s stamp of approval and Jindal’s signing it as Act 859, which makes it impossible for him to arbitrarily refuse the financial windfall.

And it’s true enough that, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) did originate in the upper chamber and we now know that the amendment was added by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) but Kleckley conveniently overlooked the fact that three members of the Conference Committee which tacked on the amendment were members of the House.

But what about Senate President John Alario, Jr. (R-Westwego)? Certainly the esteemed Senate President would never let such a furtive move stain the stellar reputation of the Louisiana upper chamber. Surely he will launch a thorough investigation of the amendment since the bill and the ensuing amendment were the works of members of the Senate.

Don’t count on it. It’s rare that an elected official will bite the hand that feeds him—or a family member.

In this case, we’re speaking of one Dionne Alario, also of Westwego, who just happens to hold the title of Administrative Program Manager 3 for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety at $56,300 per year. She was hired last November and somehow manages to pull off the unlikely logistics of supervising DPS employees in Baton Rouge while working from her home in Westwego.

Oh, did we mention that she also just happens to be Sen. John Alario’s daughter-in-law?

We attempted to contact her at the Baton Rouge headquarters through the DPS Human Resources Department but we were given a cell phone number with a 504 (New Orleans) area code.

So if you expect Alario to conduct an investigation into the Edmonson Amendment, you can fuggedaboutit. It ain’t happening. His nest has been sufficiently feathered as to guarantee there will be no questions on his part.

It’s beginning to look more and more like the ol’ Louisiana political science professor C.B. Forgotston is correct: This entire Edmonson Amendment affair is quickly being swept under a very big rug.

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