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On the eve of Bobby Jindal’s anticipated earth shaking announcement that he is squeezing himself into the clown car of candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, I thought we should let our readers know that I am still on the job, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

As we wait with collective bated breath for word that Bobby is not only available but more than willing to do for the nation what he has done for Louisiana (God help us all, Tiny Tim), I remain cloistered in my cluttered home office, working diligently on my book, as yet untitled, in which I intend to fully document precisely what he has done for to Louisiana.

Among the topics to be covered are public education, higher education, health care, the state budget, campaign contributions, political appointments, ethics, privatization, his ALEC connections, the explosion in corporate tax breaks during his two terms, the lack of progress as reflected in myriad state rankings and surveys throughout his eight years as our largely absentee governor, the lack of transparency, his thinly veiled use of foundations and non-profit organizations to advance his political career, his intolerance for dissent (teaguing), his actual performance as compared to campaign promises as candidate Bobby, and his general incompetence.

I was asked on a local radio show if I could be fair to Jindal, given my personal feelings about his abilities as reflected in more than a thousand posts on this site. The short answer is: probably not. The long answer is I can—and will—be as fair to him as he has been to the state I love and call home. Because I do not claim to be objective (as opposed to the paid media who cling to that word as if it were some kind of Holy Grail), I am not bound by any rules that place limits on the expression of my opinions. I see what he has done, I understand the adverse effect his actions have had on this state, and I will offer my take on them for the reader to either accept or reject. If that is not fair, then so be it.

I have written about 60,000 words of an anticipated 100,000-word manuscript thus far. A couple of other writers have volunteered to contribute chapters, which should add another 20,000 words. I have a self-imposed deadline of July 1—give or take a few days—in which to have the rough draft completed. I also have several very capable editors poring over the chapters as they are completed. Their corrections, deletions, additions and suggestions will be incorporated into the final manuscript which is to be submitted to the publisher by late August.

The publisher originally gave me a publication target date of next Spring but recently moved the anticipated publication date up to January, with an e-book to be released possibly as early as this Fall.

That would coincide nicely with Jindal’s second ghost-written book, scheduled out in September.

There will be one major difference in our books: Mine will be based on his record while the source of his claims of balanced budgets and other wild, unsubstantiated assertions are certain to remain a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma (with apologies to Winston Churchill).

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        Because we are working frantically to meet the deadline for publication of our book about Bobby Jindal, we have scaled back on the frequency of posts for LouisianaVoice. Instead, we are relying heavily on several guest columnists. The following post was written by Michael Kurt Corbello, Ph.D.

         He is an associate professor of political science at Southeastern Louisiana University where he has taught since 1987. From 1991 to 2011, he was the founding director of the Southeastern Poll. He teaches courses in American politics, research methods and statistics, polling and public opinion, Louisiana politics, the Louisiana Legislature in Session, political parties, environmental policy, American foreign policy and European politics. Since 2004, he has run a three-week summer study abroad program for SLU in Salzburg, Austria.

         He has volunteered the following column from his own political blog, Dr. Kurt Corbello on Politics:

 

By Dr. Michael Kurt Corbello (special to LouisianaVoice)

In the current battle in the Louisiana legislature over how to fully fund public higher education while not raising the ire of the Jindal/Norquist anti-tax axis, it is heartening to witness comments by leaders in the business community drawing a direct connection between business opportunity and broad, affordable access to higher education. Still, politicians and ideologues in Louisiana often show an openness to diminishing, if not destroying, the great strides made in Louisiana to increase access to higher education. Frequently, this tendency to limit access is born out of well-intentioned ignorance, as in October 2009, when Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker called for a study to explore closing some of the public college “facilities on every corner” of the state.

At other times, calls to reduce the number of public secondary education institutions are clearly born out of malice and deceit. Recently, a rabidly ideological blogger rallied the bandwagon to eliminate a few colleges and universities in Louisiana, arguing that our “14” public four-year institutions are too many to serve a population of 4.6 million. According to the blogger, Louisiana should take a lesson from the “12” public colleges and universities serving the “four times” more populous state of Florida. The implication is that public post-secondary institutions in Louisiana do not carry a heavy enough burden in serving the state’s population to justify having “so many” institutions.

Of course, we’ve heard these arguments before, repeated enough that they are widely accepted as true. Yet, it does not take a tremendous effort to discover that the basic assumptions behind the “downsizing argument” in Louisiana are false! Perhaps it is a bit petty to suggest that higher education policy “thinkers” get their facts straight (Louisiana has 17 public four-year colleges and universities, while Florida has 39), but while we’re at it lets look at the “counterintuitive” side of the debate: that Louisiana’s public system of higher education isn’t just grossly underfunded to the point of bankruptcy, it is overburdened, should be expanded and should be returned to a level of affordability for the average family in this state!

As a point of public disclosure, the reader should know that I am a Louisiana-born, raised, and public-educated political science professor with a nearly thirty-year career at one of the state’s four-year universities. This is to say that I have a bias, but it is one based upon experience and data, not upon ideological deceit, intellectual sloppiness, and a lack of transparency! First, I alter some basic assumptions about the structure of higher education in Louisiana.

My view is that post-secondary education should be thought of as a system with many interdependent parts, public and private, large and small, four-year and two-year, general and specialized, each serving different needs and communities in order to serve the state as a whole. Further, I argue that a good and basic way to measure the burden on the system within each state is to divide the state population by the state’s total number of post-secondary institutions. I used Census data and information available from the U. S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics to compare the population burden upon the higher education systems for each of the fifty states, plus Washington, D.C.  Data on State Populations and Institutions of Higher Education as of 2010 to 2015

Nationwide there are 718 public four-year colleges and universities (avg. 14), 1705 private four-year institutions (avg. 33), 1173 public community colleges (avg. 23), and 284 private community colleges (avg. 6), for a total of 3814 post-secondary institutions (avg. 75). Yet, not all states are the same! Louisiana has 17 public 4-year colleges and universities (rank=11th), 12 private four-year institutions (rank=34th), 16 public community colleges (rank=27th), and 6 private community colleges (rank=12th), for a total of 51 post-secondary institutions (rank=28th). Since critics like (and misstate) the comparison, Florida has 39 public four-year colleges and universities (rank=4th), 79 private four-year institutions (rank=6th), 63 public community colleges (rank=3rd), and 12 private community colleges (rank=8th), for a total of 193 post-secondary institutions (rank=4th).

Combining all public and private four-year colleges and universities yields a different set of results. The national average is 48 institutions per state (New York, 215; California, 200; Pennsylvania, 155; Florida, 118; Texas, 109; Ohio, 108; Massachusetts, 98; Illinois, 97; Michigan, 83). Louisiana (29) and most of the remaining states of the South have a range six to 66 public and private four-year colleges and universities per state.

But the picture of higher education in the United States, Louisiana, and the South would not be complete without considering the impact of the 1,457 public and private community colleges across the country. Nationwide, the average number of these institutions per state nationwide is 39. California has 133, Texas 83, New York 79, Florida 75, Ohio 69, North Carolina 67, and Pennsylvania 63. In the South, there are 540 public and private community colleges, with an average of 32 per state. While Louisiana ranks a low 11th with 22, the range is from a low of 2 in D.C. to a high of 83 in Texas.

In all, there are 3,814 public and private post-secondary institutions across the United States, and each of them plays a critical role in educating a valuable constituency; you, me, our children, and those yet to breathe the air of curiosity and creativity. The question is, does Louisiana have a glut of higher education institutions? The best available data clearly shows that Louisiana doesn’t have enough post-secondary institutions, particularly community colleges that can provide access for people in more remote areas, as well as to individuals not ready for urban four-year institutions! Here is why!

Nationwide, Louisiana ranks 25th in population size and 26th in the percentage of urban population. These are factors that help to define economic activity in a state, the training required of its workforce, and the distribution of educational facilities. In addition, Louisiana is 28th in the total number of post-secondary institutions. Yet, Louisiana ranks 12th (91,170) in population per post-secondary institution. Again, I see this as a measure of the burden on the state’s higher education system.

Comparing Louisiana among the 17 states of the South is even more telling. Louisiana ranks 10th in population size (4,649,676), 8th in the percentage of urban population, 12th in the total number of colleges (51), but 6th in population per institution (91,170) per state. Only Texas (140,401), Maryland (117,184), Florida (103,074), Georgia (99,974), and Virginia (99,122) impose somewhat heavier burdens on their higher education systems than does Louisiana. But each of these states has made a commitment to higher learning that continually fails to gain traction in the morass of Louisiana politics. Nationally, 77% of states are less burdensome to their higher education systems than is Louisiana. In the South, Louisiana’s higher education system is more heavily burdened than systems in 65% of all other states.

Talk of closing public colleges and universities in Louisiana raises the question of access. Critics argue that public institutions “crowd out” potential private ones that would fill any vacuum created in their absence. Yet, public post-secondary institutions exist precisely because private institutions are unaffordable and inaccessible. The argument in favor of creating a vacuum in public higher education is a fraudulent one.

The average college student at a public institution in Louisiana is struggling to fulfill dreams. Tuition and books are increasing in costs, and so are debts for attending college. Most students have little money, even though they often work one, two or three jobs. Many have families. Most are able to go to college because they can drive to one within 30 miles of their families, children, and jobs. Closing public colleges and universities negatively alters the logistics and deprives them, and us, of the promise of a better life!

There is no genius in taking an ax to a budget. There is no brilliance in talking fast and saying nothing. There is no fiscal responsibility in refusing to pay the state’s bills in a way that is prudent. Previous state leaders grappled with Hurricane Katrina and left a $1 billion surplus that the current crop depleted in the blink of an eye. Tax cuts did not generate magic, as they never do. More pockets of “surplus” money had to be found and depleted. The once dependable “Charity Hospital” system is gone, sold off to the highest bidders, its replacement over budget, in legal limbo, and leaving thousands without care.

Post Katrina, bright, young, and talented college faculty came to Louisiana, especially to the University of New Orleans, wide-eyed and full of energy to build a life and a career in an exotic new frontier. Then we began hearing the smart-ass mantra, “Do more with less!” In response, these new creative souls did more with more by leaving the state, in the case of UNO, destroying its brand and making its future more troubled than Katrina ever did.

It is mind-boggling that anyone can think that it is good for business when we refuse to pay our bills and rip the heart right out of our future! We need responsible budgeting and more tax revenue! That is how government pays its bills. It is also how we take care of the multitude of things that, large, medium, or small, add up to a quality of life to be envied!

In the end, the now recurring crisis of higher education in Louisiana is a manufactured crisis. It is a crisis, the prevailing solutions to which run counter to “common” sense. After the players change, it will take us at least a generation and many hundreds of millions of dollars to reverse the damage done by this generation of “leaders.” The alternative is a state cannibalizing itself into unspeakable backwardness.

Without courage and resistance in the State Legislature, the current crop of leaders will continue to destroy what others in Louisiana took generations to build. Thankfully for us and for them, it is wanton destruction that they will never be around to “fix.” Where higher education is concerned, closing public institutions, or privatizing them, alters the mission and leaves people without access!

 

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State Treasurer John Kennedy on Tuesday told the House Appropriations Committee that the Division of Administration exerts extortion-like tactics against legislators and takes the approach that it should not be questioned about the manner in which it hands out state contracts and that the legislature should, in effect, keep its nose out of the administration’s business.

Kennedy was testifying on behalf of House Bill 30 by State Rep. Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux) which provides for reporting, review and approval by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) of all contracts for professional, personal and consulting services totaling $40,000 or more per year which are funded exclusively with state general fund (SGF) or the Overcollections Fund. HB 30

HB 30 FISCAL NOTES

Kennedy, in a matter of only a few minutes’ testimony, attacked figures provided by three representatives of the Division of Administration (DOA) who objected to the bill because of what they termed additional delays that would be incurred in contract approval and because of claimed infringement upon the separation of powers between the legislative and administrative branches of government.

Here is the link to the committee hearing. While Kennedy spoke at length on the bill, the gist of his remarks about DOA begin at about one hour and 13 minutes into his testimony. You can move your cursor to that point and pick up his attacks on DOA. http://house.louisiana.gov/H_Video/VideoArchivePlayer.aspx?v=house/2015/may/0526_15_AP

That argument appeared to be a reach at best considering it is the legislature that appropriates funding for the contracts. It also appeared more of a smokescreen for the real objections: DOA’s, and by extension, Bobby Jindal’s wish that the administration be allowed to continue to operate behind closed doors and without any oversight, unanswerable to anyone.

DOA representatives tried to minimize the effect of the bill by downplaying the number and dollar amount of the contracts affected (which raises the obvious question of why the opposition to the bill if its impact would be so minimal). The administration said only 164 contracts totaling some $29 million would be affected by the bill.

Kennedy, however, was quick to jump on those figures. “The numbers the division provided you are inaccurate,” he said flatly. “The Legislative Auditor, who works for you,” he told committee members, “just released a report that says there are 14,000 consulting contracts, plus another 4600 ‘off the books.’

“The fiscal notes of 2014 by the Legislative Fiscal Office—not the Division (DOA)—said the number of contracts approved in 2013 by the Office of Contractual Review was 2,001—not 160—professional, personal and consulting service contracts with a total value of $3.1 billion,” he said. “I don’t know where DOA is getting its numbers.

“To sum up their objections,” he said, “it appears to me that DOA and more to the point, the bureaucracy, is smarter than you and knows how to spend taxpayer dollars better than you. That’s the bottom line. They don’t want you to know. This bill will not be overly burdensome to you. Thirty days before the JLCB hearing, you will get a list of contracts. If there are no questions, they fly through. If there are questions, you can ask.”

Kennedy tossed a grenade at DOA on the issue of separation of powers when he accused the administration of blackmailing legislators who might be reluctant to go along with its programs.

“Let’s talk about how the division’s advice on contracts has worked out,” he said. “The Division advised you to spend all the $800 million in the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. Now they have zero in that account. In fact, they pushed you to do that. Some of you were told if you didn’t do that, you’d lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers? How’d that work out for you?

“My colleagues from Division who just testified against the bill are the same ones who told you to take $400 million out of the (Office of Group Benefits) savings account set aside to pay retirees’ and state employees’ health claims. How’d that work out?”

Kennedy didn’t stop there. He came prepared with an entire laundry list of accusations against the administration.

“My colleagues from Division are the ones who told you, ‘Look, we need to privatize our health care delivery system,’ which I support in concept. They sat at this table and I heard them say we would only have to spend $600 million per year on our public-private partnership and (that it would be) a great deal ‘because right now we’re spending $900 million.’ I thought we’d be saving $300 million a year. Except we’re not spending $600 million; we’re spending $1.3 billion and we don’t have the slightest idea whether it’s (the partnerships) working. How’d that work out for you?

“I sat right here at this table and I heard my friends from Division say we need to do Bayou Health managed care. You now appropriate $2.8 billion a year for four health insurance companies to treat 900,000 of our people—not their people, our people,” he said. “There’s just one problem: when the Legislative Auditor goes to DHH (the Department of Health and Hospitals) to audit it (the program), they tell him no.”

Kennedy said that pursuant to orders from DOA, “the only way they can audit is if they take the numbers given him (Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera) by the insurance companies.

“This is a good bill,” he said. “It’s not my bill. My preference is to tell Division to cut 10 percent on all contracts and if you can’t do it, you will be unemployed. But this bill allows you to see where the taxpayer money is being spent.

“I have more confidence in you than I do in the people who’re doing things right now,” he said.

Kennedy said he was somewhat reluctant to testify about the bill “but I’m not going to let this go—especially the part about separation of powers.

“You want to see a blatant example of separation of powers?” he asked rhetorically, returning to the issue of the administration’s heavy handedness. “How about if I have a bill but you don’t read it. You either vote for it or you lose your Capital Outlay projects. How’s that for separation of powers?”

That evoked memories from November of 2012 when Jindal removed two representatives from their committee assignments one day after they voted against the administration’s proposed contract between the Office of Group Benefits and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

“Everything they (legislative committees) do is scripted,” said Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray), speaking to LouisianaVoice about his removal from the House Appropriations Committee. “I’ve seen the scripts. They hand out a list of questions we are allowed to ask and they tell us not to deviate from the list and not to ask questions that are not in the best interest of the administration.” http://louisianavoice.com/2012/11/02/notable-quotables-in-their-own-words-142/

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) asked Kennedy what his budget was to which Kennedy responded, “Less than last year and less that year than the year before and probably will be even less after this hearing. But you know what? I don’t care.

“There’s nothing you can say to get Division to support this bill,” he said. “They’re just not going to do it.

“You can’t find these contracts with a search party. But if you require them to come before you, you can get a feel for how money is being spent that people work hard for and you can provide a mechanism to shift some of that spending to higher priorities.

“Next year, you will spend $47 million on consulting contracts for coastal restoration. I’m not against coastal restoration; I’m all for it. But these consultants will not plant a blade of swamp grass. Don’t tell me they can’t do the job for 10 percent less. That $47 million is more than the entire state general fund appropriation for LSU-Shreveport, Southern University-Shreveport, McNeese and Nicholls State combined.

“Under the law, agencies are supposed to go before the Civil Service Board and show that the work being contracted cannot be done by state employees but that is perfunctory at best,” Kennedy said.

To the administration’s arguments of delays in contract approvals and infringements on the separation of powers, Rep. Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles) dug in his heels. “This is not a bad thing,” he insisted. “We’re not going to go through every page of every contract unless someone calls it to our attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s 14,000 or 14 million contracts. The number is immaterial. If there’s an issue with a contract, we need to look at it.”

For once, the administration did not have its way with the legislature. The committee approved the bill unanimously and it will now move to the House floor for debate where Jindal’s forces are certain to lobby hard against its passage.

Should the bill ultimately pass both the House and Senate, Jindal will in all likelihood, veto the measure and at that point, we will learn how strong the legislature’s resolve really is.

But for Kennedy, the line has been drawn in the dust.

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By Monique Harden (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Before state lawmakers on the Louisiana House of Representatives Education Committee on May 7 unanimously agreed to pass House Bill 180, which would prohibit the building of a new school on a waste site, an official with the LA Department of Environmental Quality gave a full-throated defense of the department’s astounding decision to do just the opposite.

The LDEQ gave the thumbs up to a plan by the Recovery School District to build a new school on the old Clio Street/Silver City Dump in New Orleans. According to Chance McNeely, an Assistant Secretary at the LDEQ who spoke to the Education Committee, the LDEQ uses “the safest, most stringent standard,” but “didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there.” This conclusion is absurd. Governmental records show that this dump received more than 150 tons of waste on a daily basis and operated from the late 1890s to the late 1930s. According to the technical reports prepared by environmental consulting firms working for the RSD, which the LDEQ purportedly reviewed, the site of this former waste dump remains contaminated to this day. These reports show “unacceptable levels” of toxins at the ground surface down to 15 feet below ground that exceed the risk-based standard for residential use and would “pose a risk to children occupying the site.”

It is more than eye-opening that the LDEQ would turn a blind eye to information showing the existence of the Clio Street/Silver City Dump and revealing present-day soil contamination that can harm human health. The LDEQ lacks credibility in concluding that it is safe to build a school on a waste dump.

When McNeely discouraged the idea of avoiding the health risks at the former waste dump by looking at an alternative school site he raised the ire of Representative Wesley Bishop from New Orleans.  McNeely suggested that “probably the same thing” would be found at the alternative site as was found at the former waste dump.  When Rep. Bishop asked McNeely to explain why, McNeely admitted that he was not familiar with the alternative site.  Showing his frustration with McNeely, Rep. Bishop declared, “You’re not making any sense.”

Perhaps the only “sense” driving the LDEQ’s apparent opposition to House Bill 180 is the pressure of approving the RSD’s plan to build the school on the former waste dump in order for the RSD to collect $69 million dollars from FEMA.  According to McNeely, “FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger.”

 Monique Harden is an attorney and co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a public interest law firm in New Orleans, LA.

…And for the record, we have, courtesy of Ms. Harden, the transcript of the testimony of Chance McNeely, assistant secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

You may remember Chance McNeely, who moved over from the governor’s office (with a big raise) to become the DEQ Environmental Compliance Officer while simultaneously attending law school. Here are links to some of our earlier posts about Chance:

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/12/taking-a-chance-on-chance-or-how-i-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-the-proposed-m6-open-burn-at-camp-minden/

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/14/environmental-compliance-head-mcneeley-once-worked-for-gop-rep-luetkemeyer-who-leads-the-way-in-science-denial/

TRANSCRIPT OF STATEMENT ON HOUSE BILL No. 180

by

CHANCE McNEELY, ASSISSTANT SECRETARY

OFFICE OF ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE

LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY

(We have attempted to edit out numbers that do not belong. If we missed any and you see numbers that look out of place, ignore them; they’re just the line numbers for the official transcript.)

Chance McNeely: “I would just say. If I may just give you a little bit of history that you guys may already be aware of, but I’ll just proceed anyway. Obviously, we had the Industrial Revolution in the last century. And all of that pre-dated any environmental regulations or laws. So in the sixties and seventies, we started environmental regulations. And so, in the time between there, we obviously had contamination that would take place in various locations. This is not unique to Louisiana. This is something that every state deals with. And so, I just, I guess my comment would be that the point of RECAP [Risk Evaluation and Corrective Action Plan] is to put sites back into commerce. And if RECAP says that it’s, if our system shows that it’s safe, we stand by that system. And I think it’s important for y’all to be aware that there are statewide implications for this bill.

Rep. Carmody: Mr. McNeely, you’re with the Department of Environmental Quality. In these situations where – again, I’m not familiar with the areas in New Orleans were talking about here – but these former sites, impacted sites, the school has then come back over at some point and built on top of them. And the [unintelligible] I was just kind of given was that the remediation plan, I guess presented, has gone through DEQ approval process to say that in order to address the concerns regarding the high standards for some of these chemicals to a depth of – whatever it was – three feet, this has to be removed. And then at that point, encapsulation on top of that should create a barrier to prevent the migration of any of these chemicals. Correct?

Chance McNeely: That’s right. I mean, it’s essentially taking three feet of dirt out, 40 putting six feet of dirt in. Well, before you put the six feet of dirt in, you put a layer – like a fabric –so if you ever dig down and hit that, you know to stop. There’ll be six feet of dirt on top of that that’s clean. And then most of the facility, you know, it’s going to be the school built on top of it. So, there’s not, I assume that there, I think there is going to be some grass area, but a lot of it’s going to be covered with the building.

Rep. Carmody: Do all of these qualify as Brownfields sites?

Chance McNeely: Ummm

Rep. Carmody: And the reason I guess I’m asking you that question is that if it’s a Brownfields site, you don’t go all the way to the bottom of that hole until you finished digging out everything you find, is it?

Chance McNeely: Right. And that’s part of RECAP, where they evaluate all the factors. For schools, it’s treated like residential standards. So this is the safest, most stringent standard for remediation that we have. And we stand by it. So does the EPA. We kind of lead the nation in RECAP. We got a great program. And so it’s, again, we do stand by our standards and say that it is safe.

Rep. Carmody: Just to clarify, you’re here for informational purposes only as a representative of the Department of Environmental Quality.

Chance McNeely: That’s correct.

Rep. Patricia Smith: Question I have for you is when you mitigate a particular site do you inform anyone who’s building there what’s there? Are they aware when they first build 60 of what is actually in the ground?

Chance McNeely: I guess the way to explain that – I’ll use the example that we’re talking about. So the Recovery School District is being funded by the feds, FEMA. FEMA requires that, if you’re gonna spend that money, you gotta confirm that there’s not a contamination that would be a danger. And so, RSD does sampling. We have oversight of that. That’s how we got involved in this is that FEMA requires RSD to make sure that the site is okay. And so that’s how the sampling got done and we got involved. Again, we have oversight. We approved all the sampling plans, everything like that. We run it through our RECAP system to determine, you know, the risks. I’ll also point out and I’ll say that, you know, the sampling that came back was consistent with urbanization throughout the, you know, 1900s. We didn’t find anything that pointed to a toxic landfill or dump site there. So, you know, we’re talking about lead. Lead is the primary thing that we found. And we all know there’s lots of sources of lead, you know, that have existed. And you’re gonna pretty much find that in a lot of urban areas.

Rep. Smith: Well, the question I have though is the school opened in 1942. I’m sure that folks knew it was a dump site at that time. 1942 standards compared to 2015 standards ought to be quite different.

Chance McNeely: They are. There were no standards back then.

Rep. Smith: There probably were no standards. You’re absolutely right. Therefore, there ought to be more stringent standards when we’re looking at something that was already there to be able to determine whether or not anything was emitted from it. You got samples. Did you go all the way down to the 15 foot level for any samples that you know of?

Chance McNeely: I believe we did. I believe we went all the way down. It’s either 12 or 15 feet, I believe.

Rep. Smith: But even if you build and you’re looking at only the three foot level, what’s to say that you cannot disturb what’s under the layer that you put in there? There’s nothing to say that. A bulldozer or something can go farther down – just like folks hit water lines, gas lines, you know, that are underground. So, what’s to say that it doesn’t go beyond that?

Chance McNeely: Again, dig down three feet. Put that fabric in. If you ever get to that point, you see it, and you know you’re supposed to stop. But, during construction, we’re talking about constructing on top of six feet of clean, new soil. And so, the reason you need six feet is out of an abundance of caution. You know, if they had any kind of pipe burst or something that it would be in that six feet of barrier without ever having to down 95 to the area that has any contamination.

Rep. Smith: I guess because of the fact that dump sites and waste sites, Brownfields, and all these are mostly in urban, African American communities. That when we begin to build that’s where we’re building. When we begin to build and looking at trying to replace schools that often times they’re not many places to go unless we look for new 100 sites outside of the urban areas where these have been located and that’s an atrocity in itself. We know that.

Chance McNeely: My response to that would be we’re on the same page. The point of a Brownfields program and RECAP is to put contaminated properties back into commerce. We don’t want to have to build schools for the children of New Orleans way 105 outside of town. We want them to be in town. And there’s contamination in town that we address through RECAP.

Rep. Wesley Bishop: Quick question for you. I am familiar with this area. I am familiar with this district. It’s in my district. And the one thing that stands, I think, as a stark testament as to why we should not be doing this is Moton School. Moton School is in my district. Reason why I know is because my mother-in-law is the principal of Moton Elementary School. And when you look at it right now, you drive in my district, that school has sat there abandoned for years for the very same concerns that we’re talking about. You put that same remediation piece in place. You remediate this particular area, it would actually make it good. The one thing no one has been able to answer for me is why in the world do we have this conversation when we talk about our kids. I can’t figure that one out. My understanding and, Representative Bouie, correct me if I’m wrong, this situation came about based upon the Booker T. Washington High School. I’m also saying also that there is a $40 million budget to erect a new Booker T. Washington High School. I understand that there are some alumni, who have some concerns as to whether or not this will slow down the process. And that’s a valid concern because we’re many years beyond Hurricane Katrina and it’s still not built. But I also understand that there is an alternative site that’s present right now that you could build this very school on right now. Only $4 million has been spent to remediate this process. So, basically you eat the $4 million. As an attorney, it makes sense to eat the $4 million. Because if you don’t and you build this school, the number of lawsuits you’re going to face based upon parents [unintelligible] sent their kids into what most folks consider to be harm’s danger would pale in comparison. Rep. Bouie, can you talk a little bit about the alternative site that’s available for the building of this school?

Rep. Bouie: [Discussion of the Derham School property as an alternative site.] 

Chance McNeely: If I may, if it’s the pleasure, if it’s determined that the site has to move, my understanding would be that, you know, FEMA would still require sampling. And I’ll just tell you they’re probably going to find the same thing they found [stops].

Rep. Bishop: But is there reason to believe that a landfill [unintelligible] at the new site? 

Chance McNeely: I’m not familiar with that site.

Rep. Bishop: You’re not making any sense. How do you get to interject that into the argument when you have no reason to believe that that’s the case?

Chance McNeely: Because what we found through sampling at the current site has nothing to do with a landfill. It has to do with is standard urbanization: lead. It’s not, we 140 didn’t find anything that said, “Oh, there was a hazardous landfill here.”

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you totally, sir.

Chance McNeely: Ok.

Rep. Bishop: I disagree with you. I know you gotta job to do and gotta come and make this argument, but I totally disagree with what you said.

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While others may become bored reading about my grandfather, I never tire of writing about him. He drove from Ruston to Galveston, Texas, back in 1945 to retrieve an abandoned and malnourished infant from a hospital there, brought him home and he and his wife set about giving the baby a home filled with love and not much else.

My grandparents were unlearned in terms of formal education but my grandfather tried to teach me dignity, honesty and respect—respect, most of all. Some of those lessons stuck. Once he bought me a candy bar and as we were riding in his pickup moments later, I tossed the wrapper out the window. Suddenly a resounding POW! exploded in my ears as the palm of his hand found the back of my head and I saw Jesus at the end of a long tunnel waving me to the light. My grandfather never said a word. He didn’t have to and to this day, I refuse to throw anything out my truck window and defy any of my passengers to do so.

But there was another lesson he taught me, one that a man named Winston Churchill also espoused. He drilled into my psyche the importance of defending myself and defending the rights others with equal determination. “If you don’t stand up for yourself, it’s for damned sure nobody else will,” he told me at least a thousand times during my childhood and adolescence. Churchill more eloquently said much the same thing on Oct. 29, 1941, in a speech at Harrow School: “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVEiskNv1hs

That’s why I call Bobby Jindal out on every occasion that I catch him lying through his teeth. Like, for instance his claim that he has reduced the state work force by 30,000 employees during his administration when the Office of Civil Service, in its latest report, puts that actual number far lower—like 13,604 positions abolished but only 8,420 people laid off since Fiscal Year 2008 which actually started six months before he took office. But don’t take my word for it; see for yourself: MAY 2015 LAYOFF REPORT

The words of both my grandfather and Churchill are lessons we can apply in our efforts to confront the efforts of Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature in their efforts to weaken state employees and teachers.

Remember a few years ago when bills were introduced to abolish civil service? Those bills actually provided the impetus to start LouisianaVoice. Already making preparations to retire from my own civil service job with the Office of Risk Management, I could not stand idly by and watch my fellow employees stripped of their job protection, such as it was. (Of course, when LouisianaVoice was born, it hastened my retirement as Jindal did not—and does not—take kindly to criticism of any form or from anyone.)

I could understand and accept the prohibition against civil service employees’ participation in political campaigns. That ban extended to campaigning, contributing to campaigns and even to signs and bumper stickers. But it was okay. Civil Service was established by Gov. Jimmie Davis for the specific purpose of protecting employees from political patronage and their firing for no cause other than supporting the wrong candidate.

But to place that restriction while at the same time abolishing their job protection? Not for one nano-second, not as long as I owned a computer and a keyboard. Even though it ultimately precipitated my retirement a year or so sooner than I had anticipated, my grandfather’s admonitions to stand up for myself and others was stronger than my concerns for job security.

The efforts to do away with civil service failed but now Jindal and his lackeys in the House and Senate are doing their dead level best to follow the example of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker http://thinkprogress.org/election/2015/05/04/3654397/scott-walker-says-crush-whats-left-american-unions-elected-president/ and to meekly obey the demands of Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in his letter to legislators: https://www.atr.org/louisiana-labor-committee-passes-paycheck-protection-bill

That letter calls on legislators to support House Bill 418 by Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) and Senate Bill 204 by Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie), both of which call for the cessation of the withholding of union dues for teachers by the state.

Both bills are blatant attempts to weaken teachers unions, namely the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators. The smokescreen thrown up by proponents of the bills is that it is burdensome for the state to process the dues withholding.

That’s simply a lie and a disingenuous one at that. The transactions are done by computer and once set up, never need human input. It’s certainly no more difficult than withholding state employee premiums paid to the Office of Group Benefits or to any one of dozens of premiums withheld for life, dental and disability insurance companies. You’d think these guys would at least give the appearance of trying to be a little more believable.

A story by Education Week explains the predicament faced by teachers in a single headline: “Education is political; can teachers afford not to be?” http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2015/05/01/education-is-political-can-teachers-afford-not.html

The story points out that teachers often refrain from viewing themselves as political even though curriculum, standards, testing and funding are all political.

“If teachers and parents don’t get more political, our public schools will continue to be assaulted by the privatizers, profiteers, pseudo-reformers, voucherizers and other enemies of public education,” one reader wrote in a comment about the story.

Don’t believe that? Let’s review. It was in March of 2012 when teachers demonstrated at the State Capitol over Bobby Jindal’s so-called “education reforms” and when one teacher attempted to testify before the House Education Committee, then-Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette) attempted to push through a requirement that in addition to the customary practice of witnesses providing their names, where they were from and whom they represent, they also be required to say if they were appearing before the committee in a “professional capacity or if they were on annual or sick leave.”

A furious John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) said he had never in his House tenure seen such a rule imposed on witnesses. “This house (the Capitol) belongs to the people,” added Rep. Pat Smith (D-Baton Rouge), “and now we’re going to put them in a compromising position? This is an atrocity!” http://louisianavoice.com/2012/03/page/5/

If teachers still are not convinced that they should unite as one and flex a little muscle, perhaps they should remember Jindal’s infamous speech before the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry in January of 2012 at which he introduced his education reform package. During that speech, he alluded to paying teachers simply by virtue of their ability to breathe. http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm?tmp=detail&md=newsroom&articleID=3197

Subsequent to that endearing line, several teachers stopped breathing when they sacrificed their lives defending school children from berserk gunmen but Jindal never once acknowledged those acts of heroism. Not once, though he did pose with his family for his Christmas card last year—with everyone, including children, dressed in camouflage. Touching.

If additional proof is needed of the severity of the situation for educators, in North Carolina, teachers have begun demonstrating their commitment to public schools by wearing red clothing as a symbol of support for their vocation.

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask? Didn’t we in recent years start a tradition of wearing red on Fridays as a salute to our armed forces?

Yes, but with teachers apparently it’s different and offensive enough that Senate Bill 480 was introduced in the Tar Heel State legislature that would make such a brazen act a Class 1 misdemeanor because supporting public education is considered a political view, subjecting teachers participating in such anarchy to dismissal.

http://crooksandliars.com/2015/05/north-carolina-teachers-no-free-speech-you?utm_source=Crooks+and+Liars+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=82e35765a1-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_d4904be7bc-82e35765a1-330138269

Never mind that the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that the “threat of dismissal is nonetheless a potent means of inhibiting speech” and a violation of First Amendment rights.

So, bottom line, corporations, with their billions in political dark money, are classified as individuals and free to purchase elections and politicians at will but teachers, with an average salary of $40,065, are political activists to be feared and controlled—muzzled, as it were.

But to all teachers who read this: you vote, your family votes, your friends vote and you would be wise to watch to see how your legislators vote on issues that affect you. The election is this October. We will be choosing a governor and 144 legislators.

I harken back to my grandfather’s sage advice: “If you don’t stand up for yourself, it’s for damned sure nobody else will.”

 

 

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