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Archive for the ‘Commissions’ Category

 

An interesting civil trial is transpiring at the 19th Judicial District Court. Though estimates vary, if the plaintiffs prevail, about one taxpayer in five in the Greater Baton Rouge area may eventually wind up with a surprise check in the mail.

The trial involves a group of taxpayers, now represented as a class, who have sued the Amite River Basin Commission (ARBC) over what they claim are vastly overpaid property taxes covering construction of the Comite River Diversion Canal. The project was originally envisioned after the massive 1983 flood which resulted in significant backwater flooding long after rains had stopped. The concept behind the project involves providing a sort of relief valve (the Canal) to divert water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River. By lowering the water level of the Comite River, water levels would also be lowered in the Amite River basin in flood-prone areas such as Port Vincent and French Settlement.

What is in dispute is the amount of funding for which the ARBC (through local property owners) is responsible. The original estimate of the project’s construction costs was approximately $120 million (the current estimate is $199 million). Of that $120 million, the Army Corps of Engineers (through the Federal government) was to be responsible for 70% of the construction costs, or $84 million. The remaining $36 million cost was originally designated to be $30 million to the State of Louisiana, and $6 million to the ARBC.

A sidebar to the whole affair is how a Baton Rouge lawyer is legally or ethically able to represent ARBC when he also served as the plaintiff attorney in litigation against the state that could ultimately cost the state from $60 million to $70 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that $6 million was the full extent of the construction costs for which the ARBC was responsible. To date, by way of a 3-mill property tax approved by voters in the District in 2000, combined with a renewal (at 2.65 mills) of that tax in 2010, plaintiff attorneys say about $24.5 million has been collected to date. The suit seeks a refund of the alleged $18.5 million overpayment.

At various stages in the trial, plaintiff attorneys have accused ARBC Executive Director Deitmar Rietschier of financial mismanagement and voter deception in order to “keep a project alive that is on life support.”

The attorneys have argued that Rietschier has an ulterior motive for over-collecting on the tax in order to fund his own $93,000+ annual salary along with his executive secretary’s $38,000 salary.  The board’s executive secretary, Toni Guitrau, also happens to be the Mayor of the Livingston Parish Village of French Settlement.

So, basically, the trial boils down to the claim that taxpayers of the district have been tricked into paying around $1.1 million in salaries for Rietschier and Guitrau during a period for which no funding has been appropriated for the project’s continued construction.

Plaintiff attorney Steve Irving argued that it is virtually impossible to accurately estimate the final cost of the project or if, it may even be completed.

Defense attorney Larry Bankston says there never was any intent to cap the ARBC’s contribution to construction costs at $6 million. He argues that the Canal project remains viable and is fully ongoing. He indicated that he has eight more witnesses to call.

Bankston’s roles as both plaintiff and defense attorney in cases involving the state would appear to pose a conflict of interests. Currently, he is:

  • Legal counsel to the State Auctioneer Licensing Board under a $25,000 contract;
  • Defense attorney for ARBC in its ongoing litigation over the overpayment of taxes to that board;
  • Plaintiff attorney in ongoing litigation against the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, and the state’s Rice Promotion Board and Rice Research Board over claims of excessive assessments against the state’s rice farmers.

Employing the doctrine that “the state is the state is the state,” it would appear that Bankston may have a conflict of interests under the code of ethics which governs attorney representation.

But as we discovered years ago, nothing is ever cut and dried in the legal world. And it’s obvious those in charge of attorney ethics or either ignorant of the subject or protective of their peers—or both.

And so it is with this question. We contacted a number of organizations, including the Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, and the State Bar Ethics Council and each one punted. Eric K. Barefield of the State Bar Association’s Ethics Council did finally respond to our email question about the propriety of working both sides of Litigation Street but his answer did little to shed light on the issue:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service is designed to provide eligible Louisiana-licensed lawyers with informal, non-binding advice regarding their own prospective conduct and/or ethical dilemmas under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct (the “LRPC”).  According to limitations set by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, we are not permitted to evaluate contemplated disciplinary complaints, to serve as the catalyst for potential complaints or even to comment on the conduct of lawyers other than that of the requesting lawyer. 

“As such, regrettably, we are not permitted to help you evaluate whether the lawyer in your scenario has or may be violating the LRPC nor are we permitted to give you legal advice on matters such as those contained in your e-mail. 

“In addition to the foregoing, if you are concerned about protecting and/or asserting your rights and interests in this matter, perhaps you should strongly consider consulting another lawyer as soon as possible with regard to getting an evaluation of your facts and a legal opinion about your rights, interests and options.  Regrettably, no one on the staff at the LSBA is permitted to offer legal assistance and/or legal advice.”

That rendition of the Bureaucratic Shuffle would easily get a “10″ rating on Dancing with the Stars.

Bankston, you may remember, is a former staff attorney for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, was assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and a member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission before his 1987 election to the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1994, while serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bankston met in his law office with Fred Goodson, owner of a Slidell video poker truck stop. The FBI later said Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to manipulate the legislative process in order to protect the interests of video poker companies in exchange for providing key legislators secret financial interests in video poker truck stops.

Bankston was subsequently indicted and convicted on two racketeering counts, one of which was a scheme whereby Goodson would pay Bankston “rent” of $1,555 per month for “non-use” of Bankston’s beachfront condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama—a bribe, according to prosecutors.

Bankston was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 1997 and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Released on Nov. 6, 2000, Bankston was subsequently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Mar. 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but was re-admitted to practice law on Feb. 5, 2004.

So, now he represents two state boards and is suing two others and a state agency.

And there apparently is no one who can—or will—call a foul in this game.

 

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By Robert Burns

LouisianaVoice writer

Following up our recent post regarding shill bidding and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) turning a blind eye to the illegal practice, I’ll now shift to another alarming aspect:  racism.  To get the true tone and tenor of that racism, I would encourage readers to click on the audio links supplied in this post and merely listen to (or watch) what is said.

As mentioned in our first installment, Rev. Freddie Phillips was appointed to the LALB in early 2008.  He is the first and, to date, only African American auctioneer in Louisiana’s history.  Rev. Phillips attended the 2008 National Auctioneer’s Association (NAA) convention soon after he joined the LALB.  He wasn’t aware that, as an LALB Member, he was entitled to have his trip paid for by the LALB.  Upon his return and learning that fact, he applied for reimbursement.  His request, however, became engulfed in an ocean of technicalities (most notably reimbursement being sought after the closeout of a fiscal year), so Rev. Phillips ultimately ceased pursuit of the reimbursement.  Instead, he informed me that he would seek approval to attend the 2010 NAA Convention as an LALB representative instead.

Accordingly, at the May, 2010 LALB meeting, Rev. Phillips made what he thought would be a simple request to attend the Convention.  He quickly got a surprise, however, when I was the only other LALB member voting to approve his request.  He thus became the first LALB member to be denied the privilege of attending as a Board representative.  Many board members, in explaining why they opted not to approve his attendance, were rude and mean-spirited in their assessment of Rev. Phillips.  Those assessments included former long-time LALB chairman Delmar “Buster” Gay’s saying that  Rev. Phillips may be an embarrassment at the convention.  Then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Tessa Steinkamp also said that she wouldn’t want Rev. Phillips to represent the LALB.

Frustrated in his efforts, Rev. Phillips began seeking historical LALB travel records, only to face demands by then-Chairman James Comer and former long-time Chairman Gay as to why he wanted the records. (Editor’s note: Louisiana’s public records laws expressly prohibit any inquiry into why a citizen would want to see any public record.) The badgering reached an apex when Comer told Rev. Phillips to get an attorney and sue the LALB.  As evidenced by the preceding audio clip, Comer also indicated that Rev. Phillips and I may end up “by theirselves (sic),” implying that Gov. Jindal may soon remove one or both of us from the LALB (a prophetic statement as I was subsequently terminated).  Rev. Phillips  finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t have to take this.”   Others also spoke up in his behalf.  First, I defended him.  Also, audience member (and then-auctioneer) Nell Stuart expressed her displeasure with comments made regarding Rev. Phillips.  Finally, Rev. Phillips’ then-Representative, Rep. Regina Barrow, whom Rev. Phillips and I invited so she could witness first-hand the relentless attacks, voiced her own observations of “underlying issues” that she’d witnessed.

All of the audios in the preceding paragraph transpired at one meeting (which would turn out to be my last):  August 2, 2010.  I sent all of these audios clips (and others) to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and relayed my sentiments that the kind of conduct being exhibited by Chairman Comer, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay, then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Steinkamp, and others was completely unacceptable and that I expected either changes or that other more professional board members would be recruited to serve.  I also made it clear to the Jindal administration that I intended to provide these audio clips to anyone who requested them or may have interest in them.  I was given my walking papers (I believe the term is teagued) by Gov. Jindal 39 days later.  What Gov. Jindal nor the Board counted on was that my ouster would leave me free me video subsequent meetings.

The August 2, 2010, LALB meeting prompted Rep. Barrow to address board and commission appointments in general at a special meeting of the Joint Committee on Governmental Affairs on November 17, 2010.  She requested that a representative from the LALB attend to answer any questions the panel may pose but only Rev. Phillips and Ms. Steinkamp attended.

Rev. Phillips never received a check for his attendance at that legislative hearing even though the LALB had no qualms about issuing Ms. Steinkamp a check for her $97 per diem for her attendance. When Rev. Phillips inquired why he didn’t receive a per diem payment,  Executive Director, Sandy Edmonds, said that since Rev. Phillips was “suing the board” (Rev. Phillips filed a Writ of Mandamus to obtain travel records which Chairman Comer was refusing to provide), he “should not be a representative of the board.”

Following is a list of a few of the events involving Rev. Phillips that have transpired since my ouster from the LALB:

1.  1/10/11:  Rev. Phillips repeatedly threatened with lawsuits for questioning the fact the LALB didn’t vote to approve its attorney charging for time attending an NAA Convention (the same one he was denied being able to attend).  The threats begin at the 3:09 mark of this video.  The lawsuit treat was followed up in writing soon thereafter.  (Note:  By the time of that meeting, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay’s LALB membership had been severed.  Also the 1/10/11 meeting turned out to be Chairman Comer’s last meeting as his membership was severed days after the meeting).

2.  7/17/11:  Rev. Phillips’ license is threatened for attempting to bring up issues at New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG), which filed bankruptcy on 4/1/11 and employed LALB Chairman Steinkamp as its “Vice President, Director, and Treasurer.”  Chairman Steinkamp begins her threat at the 1:33 mark of this video.  At the time of bankruptcy, NOAG had over $600,000 in unpaid consignors and had been paying company operating expenses with consignor escrowed funds, yet Chairman Steinkamp, her position with NOAG notwithstanding, never alerted the LALB to any problems at NOAG and the LALB instead learned of them via the bankruptcy filing.

3.  9/17/11:  Rev. Phillips is asked four times within a two-minute span if he is “carrying a weapon.”   There’s no way to know if there’s a correlation, but Board Attorney Anna Dow sent then-Chairman Comer this letter dated July 25, 2010 relaying that the females feel a need for security in light of “events over the last few years.”  From the August 2, 2010 meeting on, the LALB has employed an EBRP Deputy (Ronald Landry) at all its meeting at a cost of $160/meeting.  Rev. Phillips told me that the “are you carrying a weapon” inquiry was the proverbial “last straw” and that he informed Gov. Jindal’s administration hat he would not agree to serve another concurrent term and that Jindal needed to begin searching for a replacement for his second term.  Gov. Jindal did appoint a replacement days after he began serving his second term.

4.  11/05/12: At the first LALB meeting that Phillips missed in more than four years, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims and Consumer Member Greg Bordelon respond to the roll call with “I’s here.”  Rev. Phillips requested that I submit that audio clip to Gov. Jindal’s Office, so I did.  Accordingly, knowing that an article in The Advocate was pending about the incident, Gov. Jindal’s office requested that the Inspector General’s Office investigate the matter.  The IG’s Office issued this report in which Sims attributed his response to his “diabetes and dentures.”  Bordelon, meanwhile, denied answering the roll call in that manner in the Advocate article but ultimately admitted he did make the roll call response but said he was “merely mocking Sims, a North Louisiana redneck.”  Shortly after release of the IG report, The Advocate published this article of the report’s findings.  Bordelon’s LALB membership was severed about three months later.  Mr. Sims continues to serve as LALB Vice Chairman.

Rev. Phillips decided that it would be a good idea for the LAPA website to have an “embarrassment index” which was alphabetized by board member or affiliate.  It was an excellent suggestion, and here’s that alphabetized link of embarrassments for anyone who’d like to see it.  Perhaps future LALB meetings will provide additional material.

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By general consensus, State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) is regarded as one of the most principled, most respected members of the Louisiana Legislature.

Over the past several legislative sessions, he has annually introduced bills to force more transparency in the governor’s office by requiring greater accessibility to records kept under protective wraps by a governor already vested with more power than virtually all of his 49 contemporaries.

It has been a lonely fight with his fellow lawmakers mysteriously reluctant to stand up to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Still, he has soldiered on, willing to strive in near solitude for more openness in the executive branch.

So why, then, has he suddenly pre-filed Senate Bill 79 which would only give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks?

Adley, in reflecting on experiences with four previous governors—Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco—said he had “never seen the kind of things I’ve seen in this administration.”

He cited the Louisiana Transparency and Accountability Web site on which Jindal is quoted as saying, “I have advocated for transparent government, as I believe that the bright light of transparency and public access should extend to every corner of the state budget. An honest government has nothing to fear from openness.”

That being case, Adley said, “Why does the governor fight attempts to open his office’s records? You’re either for transparency or you’re not.”

Adley’s bill would do two things: give Jindal the authority to reject nominees to the two boards and require the committee that chooses nominees to present him a longer list of candidates from which to select members.

The bill, as written, would all but abolish restrictions that prohibit politicians from determining who is appointed to the two boards. It would serve as a major boost to Jindal who has sought to replace members of the east bank authority to support litigation against more than 90 oil and gas companies.

The bill also provides that rejected candidates would be ineligible for re-nomination and if new names were not submitted by the nominating committee, the governor would then be enabled to make the selections himself.

On the surface, given Adley’s penchant for openness and accountability, the bill defies logic since it is obviously a counteroffensive to attempts by The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

Jindal has made no secret that he would refuse to appoint members to the board who support the lawsuit and he has already kicked three members off the authority who supported the litigation, including former chairman John Barry.

SLFPAE is attempting to force the oil and gas companies to restore the wetlands or pay SLFPAE for damages, with the money going to the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claims that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes heretofore had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge, a reality abundantly clear to residents of New Orleans. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s SB79 should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

As that AT&T commercial says, it’s not complicated.

Adley has owned Pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and, more importantly, has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley could claim that the contributions had no bearing on his opposition to the litigation or to his filing a bill that flies in the face of his call for more openness on the part of the governor’s office, but such an argument would be disingenuous at best and downright dishonest and self-serving at worst.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee.

Somehow, it seems to us that a more appropriate committee assignment might have been the Natural Resources Committee. Or perhaps the Environmental Quality Committee or even the Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee.

We are told, however, that the assignment to that committee is appropriate in that Senate rules vest jurisdiction of legislation affecting levee boards with Transportation, Highways & Public Works, though an argument could be made that because the bill deals with appointments subject to confirmation, that it could have been assigned to the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee.

The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley. (318) 965-1755, adleyr@legis.la.gov

Oops.

Other members and their oil and gas-related contributions in descending order (and their contact information that we gave you earlier):

  • Troy Brown (D-Napoleonville)—(985) 369-3333, brownte@legis.la.gov, $0 (as in nothing, nada, zilch).

This lawsuit, as District 5 Public Service Commissioner and former gubernatorial candidate Foster Campbell (D-Elm Grove) has said on many occasions, is about holding the oil and gas companies accountable for the damage done to Louisiana’s coastline. “If your neighbor runs his car into your fence and knocks it down, you would expect him to pay for the repairs,” the Bossier Parish native said. “That’s all this litigation is about—holding someone accountable for the damage done to our property.”

Opponents, including the ultra-Tea Party blog The Hayride, have latched onto the claim that the lawsuit has earned Louisiana the designation as a “judicial hellhole.”

By providing the contact information of the committee members who will be considering Adley’s bill, we have given both opponents and proponents an opportunity to pass their sentiments on to their elected officials.

And that, friends and neighbors, is called democracy in action in a representative government.

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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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It’s small wonder that Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to get out of town quickly—he departed the state for an extended trip to Asia to recruit business and industry investment in Louisiana—given the flak he is receiving from the legislature and radio talk show hosts over his hiring of a consulting firm at a cost of $4.2 million to somehow magically find $500 million in state government savings. http://theadvocate.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=sZuDzNJoJK2fudmeRm9FJpM5tm0Zxrvol3sywaAHBAlauzovnqN0Cbyo1UqyDJ6gE0$uXvBjavsllACLNr6VhLEUIm2tympBeeq1Fwi7sIigrCfKm_F3DhYfWov3omce$8CAqP1xDAFoSAgEcS6kSQ–&CONTENTTYPE=application/pdf&CONTENTDISPOSITION=Alvarez%20Marsal%20Government%20Savings%20Contract.pdfhttp://theadvocate.com/news/8045923-123/vitter-super-pac-raises-15

And that contract doesn’t even take into account Pre-Jindal recommendations by the firm that may ultimately end up costing taxpayers $1.5 billion which, of course, would more than offset any $500 million savings it might conjure up that the Legislative Fiscal Officer, the State Treasurer, the administration, the legislature and the Legislative Auditor have been unable to do, largely because of a time honored political tradition affectionately known as turf protection.

One might even ask, for example, why representatives of the consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, who somewhat smugly call themselves “efficiency engineers,” were wasting their time Friday at the gutted Office of Risk Management. Isn’t there already a promise of $20 million in savings on the table as a result of Jindal’s privatization of that agency four years ago? For just that one small agency, that’s 4 percent of the entire $500 million in savings Jindal is seeking through the $4 million contract. (The elusive $500 million savings, for the real political junkies, represents only 2 percent of the state budget.)

The Baton Rouge Advocate also got in on the act on Saturday with Michelle Millhollon’s excellent story that  noted that the actual contract contains no mention of a $500 million savings. http://theadvocate.com/home/8131113-125/vaunted-savings-not-included-in

That revelation which is certain to further antagonize legislators, including Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) whom Jindal will now probably try to teague for his criticism of the governor’s penchant for secrecy.

Hey guys, your contract is only for four months, so why waste your time in an agency that supposedly is on the cusp of a $20 million savings? That ain’t very efficient, if you ask us.

Legislators immediately voiced their displeasure at the contract. “There’s a lot of people who don’t like it,” said Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), a one-time staunch Jindal ally.

Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee (if he hasn’t been teagued by now), said when the dust settles any cost cutting will ultimately be the responsibility of state officials. “Even the best PowerPoint presentation isn’t going to cut government,” he said. “The trick is to make the political choices.”

The contract raises immediate questions how Jindal, now entering his seventh year in office, could justify the move in light of his many boasts of efficiencies his administration has supposedly initiated.

Ruth Johnson, who is overseeing the contract for the Division of Administration, defended the deal with the simplistic and less than satisfactory logic that “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.”

And while Jindal has indicated he wants a final set of recommendations in April, the contract runs through 2016, meaning the final cost could far exceed the $4.2 million Alvarez & Marsal is scheduled to receive for its review.

Jim Engster, host of a talk show on public radio in Baton Rouge, on Friday predicted during an interview with State Treasurer John Kennedy that Alvarez & Marsal’s final report will most likely bear an uncanny resemblance to the 400-plus-page interim report of Dec. 18, 2009, by the infamous Commission on Streamlining Government.

The hearings by that commission, you may remember, gave birth to the term teaguing, a favorite tactic employed by the Jindal administration when a state employee or legislator refuses to toe the line. A state employee named Melody Teague testified before that commission and was summarily fired the following day. Six months later her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as head of the Office of Group Benefits when he was slow in getting on board the Jindal Privatization Express. Mrs. Teague appealed and was reinstated but her husband took employment elsewhere in a less volatile environment.

The Alvarez & and Marsal representatives have pleaded ignorant to questions of whether their report will draw heavily from the four-year-old commission report and even professed to not know of its existence.

A curious denial indeed, given that Johnson was also the ramrod over the streamlining commission during Jindal’s second year in office. Does she not share this information with the firm or was all that commission work for naught? Or part of Jindal’s infamous deliberative process? Curious also in that Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the report’s first 51 pages, each of which is in the context of privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. The report quoted the firm as recommending that:

  • “The governor and the legislature authorize and direct the LSU Health System to adopt the recommendations of Alvarez and Marsal for the operation of the interim Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The governor and legislature direct every other charity hospital in Louisiana to contract for a similar financial and operational assessment with a third party private sector consulting firm, such as but not necessarily Alvarez and Marsal, that specializes and has a proven track record in turnaround management, corporate restructuring and performance improvement for institutions and their stakeholders.”

That’s right. That is where the seed was apparently first planted for the planned privatization of the LSU Hospital system, even to the point of directing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to vote to allow a Shreveport foundation run by one of the LSU stuporvisors to take over the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. Alvarez & Kelly performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30 (almost $200,000 per month).

Alvarez & Marsal also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That quickie, ill-conceived plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken

But Alvarez & Marsal’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal, even. http://www.alvarezandmarsal.com/case-study-new-orleans-public-schools It’s a relationship that could become one of the most costly in state history—unless of course, the state chooses to ignore a court judgment in the same manner as it has ignored a $100 million-plus award (now in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars—with judicial interest) stemming from a 1983 class-action flood case in Tangipahoa Parish.

In fact, the state probably has no choice but to ignore the judgment as an alternative to bankrupting the state but that does little to remove the stigma attached to a horrendous decision to accept the recommendation of Alvarez and Marsal which subsequently was rewarded with a $29.1 million three-year state contract from April 4, 2006 to April 3, 2009 to “develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the crack consulting firm that Jindal somehow thinks is going to be the state’s financial salvation.

That resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006. The wording contained in the ruling said:

  • “In December 2005, the OPSB passed Resolution No. 59-05 upon the advice and recommendation of its state-selected and controlled financial consultants, the New York-based firm of Alvarez & Marsal. The Resolution called for the termination of all New Orleans Public School employees placed on unpaid “Disaster Leave” after Hurricane Katrina, to take effect on January 31, 2006.1 On the day that the mass terminations were scheduled to take place, Plaintiffs amended their petition to seek a temporary restraining order preventing the OPSB from terminating all of its estimated 7,500 current employees at the close of business on that day. The trial court granted the TRO and this Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs on the issue. The TRO was later converted into a preliminary injunction that restrained, enjoined and prohibited the OPSB, et al, from “terminating the employment of Plaintiffs and other New Orleans Public School employees until they are afforded the due process safeguards provided in the Orleans Parish School Board’s Reduction in Force Policy 4118.4.” Nevertheless, Plaintiffs and thousands of other employees were terminated on March 24, 2006, after form letters were mailed to the last known address of all employees of record as of August 29, 2005.”

The appellate court upheld the award of more than $1 million to seven lead plaintiffs in the case of Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board but adjusted the lower court’s damage award, ordering the school board and the Louisiana Department of Education to pay two years of back pay and benefits and an additional year of back pay and benefits to teachers who meet certain unspecified requirements.

Immediately following Katrina, state-appointed Alvarez and Marsal set up a call center to collect post-Katrina addresses for a majority of staff members in time for the anticipated layoffs. But when the state began the hiring process for schools that had been taken over, the terminated employees were never called, prompting plaintiff attorneys to charge that the entire procedure was intentional and part of the state’s plan to take over the Orleans Parish school system.

Plaintiffs said that then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, and the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find savings of an unspecified amount. What could possibly go wrong?

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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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For a man who has received more than $20 million in contributions to his various political campaigns, perhaps a half-million or so in questionable contributions shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. After all, that’s less than 2.5 percent of the total.

Still, for the man who set himself up as the beacon of all that’s pure and pristine, the one who established the “gold standard” of governmental ethics, the one who loves to boast (only in out-of-state speaking engagements, of course) of “the most transparent” administration in the state’s history, anything less than clean campaign money should be unacceptable.

Alas, such is simply not the case.

Even his mother, a state civil service employee, got into the act in open violation of civil service regulations, but more about that later.

We have written at various times of many of the contributions which appear to be directly related to appointments to state boards and commissions. Donald “Boysie” Bollinger was appointed last March to the State Police Commission and Aubrey Temple of Deridder was appointed in July of 2008 to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Financing Corp.

Together, the two men and their businesses and family members have combined to give Jindal’s campaigns at least $95,000 and three of their business associates, Red McCombs ($15,000), Corbin Robertson ($5,000) and James Weaver ($1,000) formed a partnership to purchase water from the Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Louisiana-Texas border for re-sale in Texas. That attempt, at first supported by Jindal, failed when the Sabine River Authority reversed itself and killed the deal at least for the time being.

Temple, meanwhile, was paid $400,000 by the Coushatta Tribe back in 2001 for undisclosed services but he was never able to give an accounting for how the money was used. Also involved with the Coushatta Tribe was Alexandria attorney Jimmy Faircloth, who chipped in another $23,000 to various Jindal campaigns and has since reaped more than $1 million in legal fees for defending the state in various legal proceedings, most of which saw the state end up on the losing end of key court decisions.

Faircloth, while serving as legal counsel for the Coushattas, advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm call MainNet for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales. The investment, to no one’s surprise except perhaps Faircloth, proved to be a financial bust for the tribe.

This is the same tribe, with Faircloth as legal counsel, that Paid disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff $32 million to help promote and protect their gambling interests but who provided little in return for his fee.

Another Abramoff associate, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also contributed $5,000 to Jindal. DeLay was convicted of scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money but a federal appeals court overturned that conviction last month.

There was the $55,000 in laundered money the Jindal campaign received in 2007. Richard Blossman, Jr., president of Central Progressive Bank of Lacombe in St. Tammany Parish, issued $5,000 “bonuses” to each of 11 board members but instead of giving them the money, 11 contributions of $5,000 each were funneled into the Jindal campaign in the names of the board members—without their knowledge or permission. Regulators subsequently took over the bank and Blossman was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for bank fraud.

Jindal has refused to return the money.

The State Board of Ethics also said River Birch, Inc., of Jefferson Parish formed six “straw man entities” through which it laundered $40,000 in illegal donations to Jindal.

Again, Jindal kept the money.

The governor accepted $158,500 in contributions from Lee Mallett and a host of his companies in Iowa, LA., and Lacassine and in return, Jindal appointed Mallett to the LSU Board of Supervisors—even though Mallett attended McNeese State University only briefly and received no degree. Jindal also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

Jindal appointed Carl Shetler of Lake Charles to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors in July of 2008 after Shetler, his family and businesses contributed $42,000 to Jindal. Shetler’s biggest claim to fame came when he managed to get McNeese placed on athletic probation by the NCAA after it was learned that he paid money to McNeese basketball players. Now he helps preside over the very school that he placed in jeopardy. So much for that “gold standard” of governmental ethics.

Jindal also accepted $2,500 from Hospital Corp. of America (HCA) which paid a record settlement of $2 billion to settle the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history. The founder and CEO of HCA was Rick Scott, later elected governor of Florida, for whom Jindal campaign extensively.

Speaking of Florida and records, Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein was disbarred and sentenced to prison for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in the state’s history but not before he, his wife, his law firm and three of his corporations contributed $30,000 at a 2008 Jindal fundraiser hosted by Rothstein.

Most news media found the $10,000 contributed by Rothstein and his law firm but missed his wife’s and the corporation contributions that totaled an additional $20,000. Jindal announced that he would refund the money to a victims’ fund but instead, gave the $30,000 to the Baton Rouge Food Bank.

Jindal also took $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration. ACS, meanwhile, has come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for certain accounting practices.

Then there was the $11,000 Jindal accepted from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA), whose board president, Sean Alfortish, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such, is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

Saving the best for last

All these were sufficiently questionable to tarnish the “Mr. Clean” image Jindal has attempted to burnish throughout his administration but the most blatant display of arrogance and complete disdain for campaign laws has to be three individual contributions in 2003 that totaled a mere $5,000—from Jindal’s mother.

So what’s wrong with a relative contributing to his campaign? Several family members, after all, gave to the campaign as do family members of many other candidates.

Well, nothing…except that his mother, Raj Jindal, is a classified state employee, according to Civil Service records, an IT Director 3 with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, formerly the State Department of Labor. She earns $118,000 per year and has been working for the state for 38 years, certainly long enough to know the prohibition against state classified employees being active in political campaigns. State employees, after all, are routinely sent periodic reminders of civil service regulations governing political activity.

Records provided by the State Ethics Commission campaign finance reports indicate that Raj Jindal contributed $3,000 on April 23, 2003, to son Bobby. Nine days later, on May 2, she contributed another $500 and on June 17, she chipped in an additional $1,500, bringing her total contributions to the $5,000 maximum allowable by law—for non-civil service employees.

Article X, Part I, Paragraph 9 of the Louisiana State Constitution says:

“Section 9.(A) Party Membership; Elections. No member of a civil service commission and no officer or employee in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity; be a candidate for nomination or election to public office except to seek election as the classified state employee serving on the State Civil Service Commission; or be a member of any national, state, or local committee of a political party or faction; make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate (emphasis ours); or take active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, candidate, or any political campaign, except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately, to serve as a commissioner or official watcher at the polls, and to cast his vote as he desires.

“(B) Contributions. No person shall solicit contributions for political purposes from any classified employee or official (emphasis ours) or use or attempt to use his position in the state or city service to punish or coerce the political action of a classified employee.”

One veteran political observer said that unless Jindal solicited the contribution, all liability lies with the governor’s mother for the rules violation.

But Jindal is a big boy, as evidenced by his advice earlier this year to his fellow Republicans to put on their “big boy pants.” He has to accept the responsibility for allowing his mother to flaunt state civil service rules not once, not twice, but three times. And yes, she also should be held accountable for her violation of rules that apply to every other state civil service employee.

Now the only question remaining is what will the Civil Service Commission do about the governor’s mother violating state campaign regulations governing political activity by Civil Service employees?

Our best advice is: don’t hold your breath waiting for disciplinary action.

The rules obviously do not apply to this governor.

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For eight months, from Oct. 16, 2012, until June 28, Gov. Bobby Jindal had a director of his re-election committee on the state payroll overseeing state boards and commissions, according to state records.

The duties of Kendal Melvin, director of the Department of Boards and Commissions, was reassigned to Kyle Plotkin, communications director for the governor’s office, according to an announcement by Jindal on Friday, June 28. Plotkin was promoted by Jindal to Assistant Chief of Staff at that time and was given the supervision of state boards and commissions.

Plotkin was given a pay increase, from $90,000 to $110,000 to assume the additional duties, according to Jindal press secretary Sean Lansing.

Melvin, a Vermont native, was initially hired as Director of the Department of Boards and Commissions on Oct. 16, 2012, at a salary of $70,000 per year.

But records provided by the Secretary of State show that she was simultaneously serving as a director of the Committee to Re-elect Bobby Jindal.

Before becoming a state employee, she was on Jindal’s campaign payroll at annual salary of $44,578, according to Jindal’s campaign expenditure report. Her last paycheck from the campaign was for $1,711.86 on Oct. 15, 2012, the day before she went onto the state payroll, records show.

Each of her 46 checks from Jindal’s campaign between Jan. 14, 2011 and Oct. 15, 2012 was issued to her home address in Barre, Vermont, records show, a possible indication that she never moved her legal address to Louisiana even though she was working here.

Her hiring would again raise the question of why, if Jindal really wants to keep Louisiana’s best and brightest in the state as he says, does he continue to go out of state to hire many of his top appointees? Plotkin, for example, is from New Jersey and Jindal policy director Stafford Palmieri is from New York.

Jindal was re-elected in October of 2011 but his committee has continued to function, even filing an annual report on Jan. 10 of this year that showed Melvin was still a committee director.

All campaign expenditures however, are listed in the State Ethics Commission’s campaign finance records in Jindal’s name but no expenditures are listed for either the Committee to Re-elect Bobby Jindal or Friends of Bobby Jindal, the committee’s original name when it was first incorporated in January of 2004.

Jindal entered the 2011 election with nearly $9 million in his campaign treasury and facing only token opposition, so it naturally generates questions as to why his campaign committee remains active, even to the point of filing an annual report in January, instead of disbanding.

Since his re-election, Jindal has continued to collect more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions, leading to renewed speculation about his intentions to seek national office. He is presently 18 months into his second term and is constitutionally prohibited from seeking re-election.

What other reason could explain the need to continue fund raising, especially the $35,000 he raised in New York on a single day—Oct. 25, 2012? His 2012 inauguration, for example, only cost his campaign $156,000.

But an even bigger question is why an active director of Jindal’s campaign committee would be allowed to simultaneously draw a state paycheck for eight months.

State Civil Service rules generally prohibit state classified employees from engaging in political activity. Unclassified employees, however, may participate in political activities so long as such activity is carried out on the employee’s own time. (emphasis ours.)

Melvin was an unclassified, or appointed, employee.

A second question would be how Plotkin could assume assistant chief of staff duties and the directorship of Melvin’s department at an additional salary of only $20,000 compared to the $70,000 paid Melvin for a single function.

Put another way, how is it that Melvin required $70,000 to perform her job and Plotkin was able to absorb that and the assistant chief of staff’s duties for $50,000 less than her former salary for her one job?

Those questions were submitted via email to Plotkin but an automated response said he was out of the office until Monday, July 8. The automated response directed all questions to Sean Lansing of the governor’s office.

Accordingly, the questions were then directed to Lansing, who never responded.

What exactly is the Department of Boards and Commissions anyway, other than an obscure agency tucked away within the Executive Branch?

Basically, it is charged with the responsibility of processing and retaining records of all appointments made by the governor. The St. Peter of Louisiana boards and commissions, if you will.

So the department director is essentially the gatekeeper for all the boards and commissions (and there are many of them) to which the governor may appoint favored campaign contributors—which may go a long way in answering the second question because the job’s duties otherwise appear to be quite mundane.

Who better then to head up the department than a director of his re-election campaign? Such an individual theoretically would know who to reach out and touch for contributions and to not-so-subtly remind them to whom they owe their appointments to prestigious state boards and commissions.

During her tenure at the department, which began a full year after Jindal’s re-election, Jindal received more than $585,000 in campaign contributions, at least $42,000 of that from nine of his appointees to state boards and commissions. Those include:

• Tony Clayton, Southern University Board of Supervisors: $5,000;

• Charlotte Bollinger, State Board of Regents: $5,000;

• Carl Shetler, University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors: $5,000;

• William J. Dore, Sr., Southern States Energy Board: $5,000;

• Dave Roberts, Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Super Dome) Board: $5,000;

• Hank Danos, LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000;

• Lee Mallett, LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000;

• Blake Chatelain, LSU Board of Supervisors: two contributions totaling $2,000;

• Moore Investments (James Moore), LSU Board of Supervisors: $5,000.

Between Jindal’s re-election in October of 2011 and Melvin’s appointment to her state position in October of 2012, Jindal raked in a little more than $1 million, including $76,500 from eight appointees to boards and commissions. The bulk of that $76,500 came from $50,000 in 10 separate contributions from Board of Commerce and Industry member Bryan Bossier of Alexandria, family members and assorted businesses run by him.

The web page for the department features a question and answer section about the procedure for applying for appointment to a board or commission. Call us cynical, but we have taken the liberty of adding our own tongue-in-cheek answers (in parentheses and italics) to those provided by the department:

• (Q): How do I apply for a position on a board of commission?

• (A): Submit an official application, along with a letter stating why you are qualified or experienced in the area of the board’s activity. (read: Submit an official application, along with a letter stating your net worth and how much, in terms of contributions, you are willing to give);

• (Q): What happens after I submit an application to the Governor’s office?

• (A): When it is time for the Governor to make an appointment, an analysis is presented that includes the statutory restrictions and information on professional or personal experience either necessary or preferable to the board’s function. The analysis is reviewed and applicants screened. The Governor then makes his selections. (read: When it is time for the Governor to make an appointment, all political contributions are taken into consideration along with those of other applicants. The comparisons are reviewed and the Governor makes his selection based on the amount contributed by each applicant);

• (Q): How do I know if I am eligible to be appointed?

• (A): Most of the seats on the boards and commissions are restricted by statutes. You can research boards and commissions and the laws that govern them on the Internet. You may apply for any boards or commissions that interest you. Please specify your first and second choices. (read: Most of the seats on the boards and commissions are doled out on the basis of the applicant’s financial stability and willingness to contribute to the Governor’s campaign and on the applicant’s willingness to vote in the manner dictated by the Governor, with no questions asked or by asking only those questions approved in advanced and passed on to the member by the Governor’s staff).

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Gov. Bobby Jindal loves to travel across the country telling anyone who will listen about the “gold standard” of ethics reform he singlehandedly passed to strengthen Louisiana’s ethics laws as one of his first acts upon taking office in 2008.

Except it simply isn’t so.

There are more than 981,000 reasons that indicate Jindal’s boasts are just so much hot air, devoid of any substance.

More than 300 candidates for local, state and national offices, many of them attorneys (and more than a few disbarred attorneys) owe more than $891,500 in fines for filing campaign finance reports late or not at all.

Moreover, 25 political action committees (PACs) owe an additional $90,000, according to figures provided by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

So, just how is it that so many fines and such a large amount—at least four candidates had accrued penalties in excess of $25,000 each—have managed to go uncollected for so long (some dating as far back as 1999)?

For the answer to that, we have to go all the way back to January, 2008, Jindal’s first month in office. One of his first acts was to call a special session of the legislature to pass his “ethics reform” package that effectively gutted the State Board of Ethics. Ten of the board’s 11 members resigned in protest—seven of those because the “reform” legislation transferred ethics enforcement power from the state ethics board to administrative law judges, a move that rendered the board useless.

Next question: What’s so wrong with turning enforcement power over to administrative law judges? Well, for starters, the administrative law judges are selected by an appointee of the governor, hardly a hands-off, arms-length, non-political approach to ethics. In fact, Elliot Stonecipher, a Shreveport demographer and political analyst, observed the Jindal package created a situation in which “we could have people with a relationship with the governor (enforcing ethics laws).”

For decades the ethics commission had full authority to bring charges, hear cases and impose penalties on public officials accused of wrongdoing. No more.

Former Ethics Chairman Frank Simoneaux, who has been critical of the manner in which the ethics board and the administrative judges have interacted on issues, said he agrees that the responsibility for investigating and deciding ethics cases should be split but that administrative judges are not the method that should be employed.

Oh, and there’s this: Jindal proposed the legislation while he was under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The timing of his “reform” measures has to be considered at least somewhat suspect, given that the ethics commission cited Jindal’s campaign for campaign finance disclosure violation just before Jindal pushed through his package.

Examples of outstanding ethics fines for late campaign finance reports include:

• Richard C. Bates, a 2006 candidate for 24th Judicial District Judge (Jefferson Parish) who has since been disbarred: $2,600;

• Michael Bell, former legislative assistant to former Sen. Wilson Fields (now a district judge) and himself an unsuccessful 2011 candidate for the state senate: $3,260;

• District Judge Wilson Fields, unsuccessful 2010 campaign for First Circuit Court of Appeal: $1,000;

• William Bowman: unsuccessful 1997 candidate for St. Helena Parish Clerk of Court: $2,720;

• Raymond Brown: unsuccessful 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish Sheriff: $9,500;

• Douglas Castro: unsuccessful 2005 candidate for Orleans Parish Clerk of Court: $10,420;

• Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards, 2003 unsuccessful candidate for Secretary of State: $39,500;

• James Fahrenholtz: 2000 and 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $41,000;

• Sandra Hester: unsuccessful 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660;

• Percy J. Marchand: unsuccessful 2007 candidate for Orleans Parish state representative: $26,600;

• Robert Murray: unsuccessful 2003 and 2007 candidate for state representative: $16,900;

• Donald Ray Pryor: unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar: $36,200;

• Gary Wainwright: unsuccessful 2007 candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,700;

The Ethics Commission is so weakened by Jindal’s 2008 ethics revamp that it is not only unable to collect outstanding fines but it is even powerless to prevent those with unpaid fines from running in subsequent political races.

Enforcement is just as ineffective with political action committees.

The United Democratic Ballot, Inc., for example, owes $14,000 in unpaid fines dating back to 2002.

Others include:

• The Westbank Independent Coalition (Jefferson Parish): $8,000 in 2003;

• The African American Voters League: $9,000 in 2002;

• Baton Rouge Youth Movement: $8,000 in 2011 and 2012;

• Home Builders Association of Central Louisiana: $8,000 in 2010;

• Independent Rx PAC: $3,500 in 2010;

• Shreveport Committee on Political Education: $4,400 in 2006 and 2010;

As a reward for his comments critical of Jindal’s ethics reform package, Simoneaux was not re-nominated to another five-year term on the board—effectively fired—by the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs in April of 2012.

Ethics, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Put another way: those who have the gold are making the rules.

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The Louisiana Civil Service Commission notwithstanding, the state may not yet be out of the woods with its plan to privatize nine of 10 LSU hospitals and clinics that provide medical care for the state’s poor and uninsured and which provide training sites for many of the state’s medical students.

A spokesman for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in Dallas said on Wednesday that it still has not received answers to all its questions put to the state in a Jan. 30 letter and the continued flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds could hinge on satisfactory responses by the state to those questions.

The Civil Service Commission on Monday reversed an earlier vote and approved the contracts for the takeover of four hospitals in Houma, Lafayette, New Orleans and Lake Charles.

That approval, however, was based on criteria that did not appear to fall within the purview of the commission. Commission member Scott Hughes of Shreveport said since the commission’s previous vote of last week, the legislature approved a budget for next year that assumed the privatization of the hospitals. That action, he said, would leave no money available to operate the hospitals through LSU if the deals had been rejected.

A lawsuit against the City of New Orleans by the New Orleans Civil Service Commission—not unilateral administration or legislative actions—has traditionally been the precedent the commission considers when presented with layoff plans from state agencies. That decision said that administrations “do not have the unfettered discretion to potentially decimate the civil service system by eliminating all civil service positions to privatization.”

That ruling also said the city must turn over “all documents and other evidence which (might) enable the commission to determine (1) whether any civil service employees will be involuntarily displaced from civil service and if so, (2) whether the contract was entered into for reasons of efficiency and economy and not for politically motivated reasons.”

The question of whether the contracts will produce greater efficiency and economy remain unanswered because the contracts for the privatization of the four hospitals contained insufficient financial details.

Hughes changed his vote of opposition last week to one of approval on Monday after Michael Kaiser, chief executive officer of the LSU Health Care Services Division described the financial arrangements in a general overview with few specifics.

Kaiser said a reduction in federal Medicaid financing to the state would force the closure of facilities. He even listed a number of closures that were under consideration before the lease deals—all of which apparently helped Hughes see the light and to become a convert. “If we were to deny these contracts, we will not be able to provide these services to the citizens,” he said. “I believe these hospitals would close.”

So apparently the procedure is to delete funding from the state budget, thereby creating a crisis by throwing the continued operation of the hospitals into doubt and forcing the Civil Service Commission to do the governor’s bidding by accepting the contracts and in the process, throwing some 4,000 employees out of work.

The CMS spokesperson on Wednesday said, “CMS does not play any role in the actual privatization of the hospitals. “However, as part of the privatization, the State of Louisiana is modifying the Medicaid reimbursement to those hospitals. The change in reimbursement requires the submission of State Plan Amendments (SPA). CMS currently has received some of the necessary SPA and they are under review.”

When asked to be more specific as to the number of SPA responses, he replied, “We’ve received two or three but we don’t have a firm number on how many the state would need to submit.”

Last Jan. 30, Bill Brooks, associate regional administrator for the CMS Division of Medicaid and Children’s Health Operations in Dallas, sent a six-page letter to Ruth Kennedy, director of the Bureau of Health Services Financing for the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) in which he requested additional clarifying information which he cautioned had the effect of “stopping the 90-day clock” for CMS to take action on the proposed State plan amendment (SPA) which “proposed to revise the reimbursement methodology for inpatient hospital services to establish supplemental Medicaid payments to non-state owned hospitals in order to encourage them to take over the operation and management of state-owned and operated hospitals that have terminated or reduced services.”

Brooks said a new 90-day clock would not begin until his office had received satisfactory responses to his requests.

A CMS spokesperson on Wednesday clarified that stipulation. “By regulation, we have 90 days from initial submission to review, disapprove or request additional information,” he said. “When we request additional information and the state formally responds, we have an additional 90 days to review and approve or disapprove.”

He said CMS has no control on how long it may take the state to respond. “These are complex state plan amendments, so you can assume that requests for additional information will occur.”

One of the requirements that Brooks cited was one which said CMS “must have copies of all signed standard Cooperative Endeavor Agreements.” He also asked the state to provide all Intergovernmental Transfer (IGT) management agreements and “any other agreements that would present the possibility of a transfer of value between the two entities.”

He said, “CMS has concerns that such financial arrangements meet the definition of non-bona fide provider donations as described in federal statute and regulations.

“Detailed information needs to be provided to determine whether the dollar value of the contracts between private and public entities had any fair market valuation. There can be no transfer of value or a return or reduction of payments reflected in these agreements,” he said.

“Additionally, whether the State is a party to the financial arrangement or not, the State is ultimately responsible to ensure that the funding is appropriate.”

Brooks asked, “How many entities does the State anticipate will participate in this arrangement? Please submit a list of all participating hospitals, all transferring entities doing the IGT, and the dollar amount that the transferring entities will IGT. Please describe how the hospitals are related/affiliated to the transferring entity and provide the names of all owners of the participating hospitals.”

In the case of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center in Houma, the lessee is listed as Terrebonne Medical Center of Houma but in reality, Ochsner Medical Center of New Orleans will be taking over operations of Leonard Chabert.

“What is the source of all funds that will be transferred?” Brooks asked. “Are they from tax assessments, special appropriations from the State to the county (parish)/city or some other source?

“The State plan methodology must be comprehensive enough to determine the required level of payment and the Federal Financial Participation (FFP) to allow interested parties to understand the rate setting process and the items and services that are paid through these rates,” Brooks said. “Claims for federal matching funds cannot be based upon estimates or projections. Please add language that describes the actual historical utilization and trend factors utilized in the calculation,” he said.

Brooks also asked if the private hospitals destined to take over operations of the state facilities are required to provide a specific amount of health care service to low income and needy patients. “Is this health care limited to hospital only or will health care be provided to the general public? What type of health care covered services will be provided?” he asked.

The CMS spokesperson on Wednesday said if CMS disapproved an amendment, “there would be no federal dollars provided for the changes proposed in the State Plan Amendment.”

“No federal dollars” could translate to hundreds of millions of dollars for a state already wrestling with suffocating budgetary constraints.

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