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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

State Treasurer John Kennedy isn’t the only one who disputes the veracity—or the political motives—of administration claims of a $178.5 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

There are a couple of Kristy Nichols’ predecessors, former commissioners of administration and a former state budget officer who have been there, done that and got the T-shirts, who are genuinely perplexed and skeptical of the whimsical claims.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), aka Booby Jindini, through Commissioner of Administration Nichols, is claiming the implausible “discovery” of some $360 million, dating back to 2002 that pulls the state from the jaws of a $141 million deficit in favor of the surplus explained thus far only as Immaculate Discovery.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has learned that the true “discovered” money is more like $500 and that it actually goes back as far as 1998, near the end of Gov. Mike “the Jindal Creator” Foster’s second term. But, says Kennedy, the money has already been spent, which would make the real deficit more like $200 million, instead of the mere $141 hole claimed by Kennedy.

But the devil, as they say, is in the details and the details have not been readily forthcoming from the administration. And members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) sat mutely Friday morning as committee Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (D/R-Jonesboro) proclaimed that the committee would not be discussing the matter until it received a report from the Legislative Auditor’s office, probably sometime in December.

What?!!!!!!!” legislators should have sputtered, shouted and otherwise protested.

Sorry, guys, you should have stood as one and protested that the time to discuss this little matter is now and the place is right here. Right here, right now. We want, no, demand an explanation, an accounting of where this money suddenly came from and how it is that the administration did not know of its existence for the past seven years.

And while we’re at it, why is it that Fannin sudden decided to exercise his power to disallow a request by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) that a non-member of the JLCB, Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson), be allowed to sit in on the committee as his proxy. Legislative observers cannot recall a time when such a request was denied. Was Fannin afraid Havard might ask some embarrassing questions about the budgetary procedure?

Or was it that Havard was not among the members who had been called in a few at a time in advance of Friday’s meeting to be reminded by the administration that capital outlay projects in their respective districts could suddenly face a lack of funding for their implementation?

Regardless, it is quite obvious from our perspective that the fix is in.

Instead, committee members sat mutely as one as Fannin, desperate to hang onto his chairmanship and reportedly considering a run at the State Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), allowed that rather than demanding details and explanations from the administration, there was no urgency to the issue that could not wait until December.

Retired state budget officer Stephen Winham said that in his 21 years in that office, nothing of this magnitude ever occurred.

“The hidden piles of money is a myth,” he said. “There may have been hidden pockets of money before modern accounting and information technology, but it is impossible to hide money in the state treasury today.

“This has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen happen with regard to the state’s financial condition and its reputation,” he said. “How can $500 million simply have been hiding in the state treasury? Do Ms. Nichols and others have any idea how her contention totally undermines the integrity of our financial system? It makes a mockery of our accounting system and our annual Comprehensive Financial Reports for the past 16 years, if not longer, and of our state itself. People already routinely suspected the numbers they were given. Now there is no reason to believe anything.

“I cannot overstate how horrible this is.”

Raymond Laborde and Stephanie Laborde agree.

Raymond Laborde (Stephanie Laborde’s uncle) served as commissioner of administration from 1992 to 1996 under former Gov. Edwin Edwards. Before that, he served five terms in the Louisiana House, serving as Speaker Pro Tem from 1982-1984 and also served as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

He was re-elected without opposition to a sixth term in 1991 but immediately resigned to become Commissioner of Administration during Edwards’ fourth and final term as governor. In 2003, Raymond Laborde was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.

“I haven’t seen any details yet and neither, apparently has John Kennedy,” he said.

“We had surpluses each year during my tenure, but they were legitimate surpluses. If the money was there, it should have been seen. If Kennedy’s approach is correct, there is a heck of a difference between what the administration says and what he says.”

Reminded that Kennedy has said any money found from prior years has already been spent, Raymond Laborde said, “It should have been spent.”

Stephanie Laborde served as commissioner of administration during Edwards’ third term (1984-1988) when she was Stephanie Alexander.

Her observations were supportive of Winham’s and were equally critical of the administration.

“If the surplus is real, where were those dollars when the budget was being developed 15 months or so ago?” she asked, perhaps not so rhetorically.

“That is not to say when there was not extra money,” she said. “There were times when there were more taxes collected than anticipated or when the price of oil was higher than expected but for this much in surplus funds to be lying around for years? That just didn’t happen.”

She also said the sources of such revenue would have been considered one-time money and not recurring revenue. “There is a difference of philosophy, a difference of opinion with the character of funds found in the past.

“But it still comes down to where was this money during the budget writing process, where was it, in fact, for all these years?

“If it was there, it speaks to the administration’s competence, its ability—or inability—to give us an accurate budget.

“If the money was not there as is being claimed, it speaks to something else entirely,” she said.

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Call it what you will—strong-armed politics, intimidation, extortion, blackmail or bribery—the result is the same: the fix appears to be in on the administration’s claim of a $178.5 million budget surplus developed by a “new and improved” accounting procedure.

Except the numbers don’t seem to add up to a surplus, but rather the possibility of an even greater deficit that first indicated by State Treasurer John Kennedy.

LouisianaVoice has learned that the $320 million in mystery money suddenly discovered by the administration and trumpeted by Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols may actually be $500 million or more. But even that may be suspect in the way it affects whether or not there is an actual surplus or in reality, a deficit.

As an indication that the administration was taking care of business, LouisianaVoice also learned that members of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) had been called in by the governor’s office in groups of two and three over the past several days for “come to Jesus” meetings in order to dissipate opposition to the administration before it can develop.

In those meetings, committee members supposedly were not-so-subtly reminded of pending capital outlay projects in their respective districts that could sudden be placed in peril should the wrong questions get asked in committee.

But hey, folks, if you think the Jindal administration is the gold standard of ethics and wouldn’t really do that, you are so very wrong. Nothing that has taken place over the past six-plus years that would invalidate a comparison to Huey and Earl Long.

The circling of the wagons even went so far as JLCB Chairman Jim Fannin’s (R-Jonesboro) refusal of an otherwise routine request by one committee member to allow a fellow House member represent him as a proxy at today’s (Friday, Oct. 17) meeting in order to ensure there would be no surprises at the meeting.

Committee chairmen must approve a request from any committee member to have a non-member of that committee sit in as his or her proxy.

Even the meeting itself appeared to be a sham. When the committee convened at 9 a.m. Friday, Fannin announced he would not take up the issue over the budget surplus/deficit until the legislative auditor could provide a report on the financial picture.

It is extremely rare for a committee chairman to deny a request for a proxy, but when Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) asked that Rep. Kenny Havard (R-Jackson) be allowed to sit as his proxy, Fannin refused. Efforts by LouisianaVoice to reach Havard for a comment were unsuccessful.

But if you watched any of the proceedings of the House Appropriations Committee on Sept. 25 which met to hear testimony about the proposed changes to the state’s group benefits plan, it’s easy to understand Fannin’s actions.

Fannin also chairs the Appropriations Committee and during that Sept. 25 meeting, Havard asked some pretty tough questions of Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West.

Havard probably represents more state employees as constituents in East and West Feliciana parishes than any other representative outside Baton Rouge because of the presence of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Louisiana War Veterans Home and East Louisiana State Hospital in Jackson. So naturally, he would be concerned about the hardship the OGB changes are going to impose on state employees and retirees.

Accordingly, it was only natural that Fannin would not want any surprises during the committee hearing which turned out to be no hearing at all so Armes’ otherwise routine proxy request was rejected out of hand.

Fannin, who several months ago, switched from Democrat to Republican and is firmly ensconced in the Jindal camp (though it’s difficult to understand why anyone would throw his lot in with this governor whose popularity in Louisiana rivals only that of President Obama—other than his apparent desperation to hang onto his chairmanship), so it’s understandable, in a quirky sort of way, that he would do the administration’s bidding.

In fact, LouisianaVoice has also learned that Fannin has a report from the administration that contains a year-by-year breakdown as to where the mystery dollars came from to make up the surprise surplus.

That report is not public and Fannin is supposedly the only legislator who is privy to its existence and its contents.

The numbers, we are told, go all the way back to 1998, during the latter part of the Mike Foster administration, instead of to 2002 as originally reported, and the money consists of self-generated funds the Foster, Blanco and Jindal administrations never recognized for appropriations.

So, when Jindal faced a real deficit at the end of the fiscal year just ended on June 30, he scraped the bottom of the barrel, figurative and literally, to come up with the funds and voila! The amount was more in the neighborhood of $500 million instead of the $360 first reported.

The problem is, however, the $500 million may have already been spent and if so, it would create an actual deficit of some $360 million instead of the $141 million initially claimed by Kennedy. And it certainly would not create a surplus.

And taking the scenario to its logical conclusion in this Alice in Wonderland world of Louisiana politics, State Treasurer John Kennedy, the one person who should be the one kept abreast of all budgetary developments, the one person responsible for accounting for every dollar spent, is being kept in the dark along with other legislators who would like to have some answers.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, instead of sitting at her desk and sniping at Kennedy for questioning her numbers, could just as easily pick up the phone and call Kennedy to invite him over, or even offer to walk across Third Street, take the elevator up to the third floor of the State Capitol, and sit down with the Treasurer and explain how the administration arrived at its numbers.

A truly transparent, ethical and accountable administration owes the citizens of this state that much at a minimum.

But don’t hold your breath.

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When Jeff Skilling took over as President and Chief Operating Officer of Enron in June of 1990, he did so only after insisting that the company convert from conventional accounting principles to a method preferred by his former employer, McKinsey & Co.

In 2001, hedge fund manager Richard Grubman said to Skilling, “You are the only financial institution that can’t produce a balance sheet or cash flow statement with their earnings.” By October of that same year, Enron had begun its death spiral in a historic collapse that would pull the giant accounting firm Arthur Andersen down with it.

The key to Enron’s failure was the mark-to-market accounting method, where anticipated revenues and profits are entered into the company’s books before they are ever received. The system allowed Enron to conceal losses and to inflate profits for nearly 11 years before its house of cards came crashing down.

On Thursday (Oct. 8), nearly seven years into his administration, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) rolled out a new accounting formula with an alarmingly familiar ring to it.

Jindal, like Skilling, is a McKinsey alumnus.

Commissioner of Administration/Surrogate Gov. Kristy Kreme Nichols announced that the state, instead of having a deficit of $141 million as claimed by State Treasurer John Kennedy, will suddenly have a surplus of $178.5 million, a gaping difference of $319.5 million.

Nichols did not reveal how the $178.5 million was arrived at but Kennedy said the administration is switching to a cash balance form of accounting instead of the modified accrual basis employed by state governments. “If we use the methodology we have always used,” he said, “we don’t have a surplus. We have a $141 million deficit.

“The commissioner says the calculation has been inaccurate for years and it needs to be changed,” he said. “They have to explain why we have been doing it wrong all these years and why the Revenue Estimating Conference is doing it wrong.”

Nichols, an appointed state employee, was less than deferential to Kennedy, a statewide elected official when she sniped back at Kennedy, saying, “I’m surprised the treasurer is not reporting this.” She added that Kennedy is obligated to report available revenue. “He should probably do a review of the accounts to ensure there are no more outstanding revenues he is not reporting.”

Kennedy and Jindal have been at odds for years over fiscal policy, so it was no surprise to see Kristy Kreme, with her super-sized ego, get a little mouthy with the state treasurer. After all, she bolted from a House Appropriations Committee hearing on the Office of Group Benefits on Sept. 25 to take her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert at the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the comfort of Jindal’s executive suite.

Just as Enron misrepresented its finances for years, it now appears that the Jindal administration may be attempting the same tactic, prompting one political observer to say, “If cooking the books isn’t malfeasance, what is? The bond rating agencies and others rely on the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report), where the year-end position is officially reported in decision making and they are not going to like this.”

Another Jindal critic asked rhetorically, “What happens when a state ends a fiscal year with a deficit of $141 million but the administration of the day pretends that there is actually a surplus of $178 million? I don’t think there is any precedent for such a thing ever happening anywhere. This is starting to sound like Enron!”

Odd as it may seem to make that comparison, the similarities between Jindal and Enron run much deeper than the latest developments surrounding the new accounting methods. Here are some points about Enron lifted from The Smartest Guys in the Room: the Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron (Penguin Books, 2003), a probing book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind about the failed energy company: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/113576.The_Smartest_Guys_in_the_Room

  • The Deutsche Bank once described Enron as “the industry standard for excellence.” Jindal boasted of instituting the “gold standard for ethics” in Louisiana.
  • When the chief accounting officer of Enron Wholesale expressed concern about wholesale electricity sales, she was reassigned. When another employee questioned Skilling on his claim that Enron was going to make $500 million, she was laid off that same day. When state employees or legislators complain or do not vote with the administration, they are teagued.
  • Pollster Frank Luntz said instability and chaos were defining features at Enron and the six company reorganizations in just 18 months were a “running joke” and that Enron’s lack of discipline was “destructive and demoralizing.” Jindal’s penchant for reorganization and reform has created a similar atmosphere within state government.
  • Enron sold assets and booked the one-time proceeds as recurring earnings. Nearly 40 percent of Enron’s 1998 and 1999 earnings came from sales of assets rather than from ongoing operations. Jindal over the past several years has sold state property, buildings, and entire agencies and turned state hospitals over to private entities.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal are alumni of the blue-chip consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., which wrote the Enron business plan and as far back as 1986, advised AT&T there was no future in the market for cell phones. McKinsey also was an advocate of mark-to-market accounting practices.
  • Both Skilling and Jindal thought—and think—like a consultant. Skilling felt that a business should be able to declare profits at the moment of the signing of an agreement that would earn those profits. But just because traders were reporting earnings under mark-to-market accounting, it did not necessarily follow that the money was in hand. See this link: http://theadvocate.com/news/10494146-123/jindal-budget-surplus-questioned
  • A Wall Street banker said of Skilling: “He’s either compulsively lying or he’s refusing to recognize the truth.” Another banker worried that Enron executives were not carrying out their fiduciary duties and questioned “sweetheart deals” negotiated by them.
  • Skilling believed that social policies designed to temper the markets were “wrongheaded” and counterproductive. “Wrongheaded” has been a favorite term invoked by Jindal whenever he has suffered setbacks at the hands of the courts on issues ranging from education reform to a revamp of state retirement plans.
  • When asked a question he didn’t like, Skilling, in a tactic learned from his days at McKinsey, responded by dumping “a ton of data on you.” Jindal’s one outstanding skill is to spew statistics and factoids in rapid-fire fashion that can overwhelm and confuse challengers.
  • Skilling, like Jindal, was considered brilliant and extremely articulate. He, like Jindal, always seemed to have the right answer and whenever he was asked about problems it was always someone else’s fault.
  • Skilling displayed no remorse for his own actions, nor did he have any sense that he hired the wrong people or emphasized the wrong values. (See above.)
  • Enron founder Ken Lay saw himself as a business visionary, much as Jindal portrays himself as a policy guru. Lay traveled the world to offer his wisdom on everything from energy deregulation to corporate ethics to the future of business. (Ditto)
  • At the end, Enron employees’ accounts were frozen even as top executives were walking away with fortunes.
  • Efforts by Enron and Arthur Andersen to avoid reporting $500 million in losses “only pushed the problem further off and added another tangle to the fragile web of accounting deceptions.” Do we really need to elaborate here?
  • Enron executives accepted the argument that wealth and power demanded no sense of broader responsibility which in turn led them to embrace the notion that ethical behavior requires nothing more than avoiding the explicitly illegal, that refusing to see the bad things happening in front of you makes you innocent and that telling the truth is the same thing as making sure no one can prove you lied.
  • Enron’s mission was nothing more than a cover story for massive fraud, much as Jindal’s administration is being exposed almost daily as a sham. The story of Enron, like that of Jindal, was a story of human weakness, of hubris and greed and rampant self-delusion, of ambition run amok, of a business model that didn’t work and of smart people who believed their next gamble would cover their last disaster—and most of all, of people who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—admit they were wrong.
  • Enron once aspired to be “the world’s greatest company” but rather became a symbol for all that was wrong with corporate America, exposing Lay’s flaws as a businessman that could no longer be hidden behind Enron’s impressive but misleading façade and Skilling’s glib rhetoric.
  • Despite Enron’s efforts to camouflage the truth, there was more than enough in the public record to raise the hackles of any self-respecting analyst (read: reporter). Analysts (read: reporters) are supposed to dive into a company’s financial records, examine footnotes and even elbow their way past accounting obfuscations. Their job, in short, is to analyze (re: report).

In the end, of course, Enron crumpled under the weight of its own corruption and mismanagement, destroying thousands of lives and even taking down one of the big five accounting firms in the process.

The Jindal administration with each passing day, with every revelation of some new scandal (the Edmonson Amendment, CNSI, the Murphy Painter fiasco, et al) and with each new flawed policy (the Office of Group Benefits debacle), is looking more and more like a train wreck that will adversely affect Louisiana citizens for years to come.

Just call it Enron East.

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While we have had no trouble unearthing double standards, misrepresentations, distortions and outright lies in our coverage of the Jindal administration, political campaigns often take the practice to a new level.

The mind-numbing campaign for the U.S. Senate comes to mind. At this point in the campaign, voters just wish Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy would both shut up and leave us alone. But those TV ads from both camps keep pounding away at us, each accusing the other of distortions, lies, misrepresentations, pro-this, and anti-that.

The comic strip Non Sequitur would well have been referencing either candidate with this submission:

nq141010[1]

Or it could have been alluding to the recently ramped-up campaign of 6th Congressional District candidate Garrett Graves, former chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, who only recently kicked off his media blitz.

Of course most observers are accustomed to grandiose promises.

For at least the past 20 years or so, the challenger in the Baton Rouge mayor-president’s election without fail has promised to improve public education in East Baton Rouge Parish—never mind the fact that the mayor’s office has absolutely nothing to do with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Zero. Zilch. They are two entirely separate political entities.

And we’re all used to congressional candidates saying they are going to fight waste, work to improve infrastructure, and vote to defend the Constitution blah, blah, blah.

But Graves has taken the rhetoric to a new extreme. He has one TV spot running on the Baton Rouge in which he says not that he will “work to” or “vote to,” but that he “will” repeal Obamacare, he “will” cut spending, he “will” stop illegal immigration, and he “will” eliminate terrorism.

Those are pretty big promises, folks, and unless he’s Clark Kent in disguise, we just can’t see how one freshman tea party congressman can impose his will on 434 other members of the House and 100 senators, not all of whom are tea partiers.

And while we are on the subject of political rhetoric, there has been much said about U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s ownership of an $800,000 home in Washington, D.C. while not owning a home outright in Louisiana (though she is part owner, along with her siblings, of her parents’ home in New Orleans).

But not a peep has been said about Graves’ 2005 purchase of a home at 210 11th Street SE in Washington, also appraised at more than $800,000. Nothing on his federal financial disclosure statement for Jan. 1, 2013 through July 15, 2014, indicates ownership of a home in Louisiana—not even part ownership of his father’s home—although he does list ownership of property in Gulf Shores, Alabama. And Graves has never been elected to any office, let alone one that demands his presence in Washington.

He apparently purchased the home during his tenure in Washington. He worked as a policy adviser to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux and U.S. Congressman Billy Tauzin and worked for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also served as staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Climate Change and Impacts. http://www.epa.gov/gcertf/bios/graves.html

Apparently he liked Washington well enough to plan on returning because he did not sell the home when he grabbed onto Gov. Bobby Jindal’s coattails in 2008 to head up CPRA at $135,000 per year through 2012. His salary was bumped up to $147,300 in 2013, according to his financial disclosure records.

Even though he left the state’s employ on February 28, his financial statement indicates he still received $52,961 in salary from the state this year and another $31,346 from Evans-Graves Engineers, the firm owned by his father, John Graves.

Graves flew pretty much under the radar until he became a high-profile opponent of the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for damage to the state’s wetlands while at the same time carping at the U.S. Coast Guard for its failure to force BP to be more responsive to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. http://theadvocate.com/home/8290180-125/graves-to-step-down-from

His opposition to the lawsuit seeking to hold big oil responsible for the damage it has done to the state’s coastline for the past century notwithstanding, the real story of Garrett Graves is the awarding of more than $130 million in government contracts to his father’s engineering firm while he was head of CPRA, which oversees such contracts.

That figure represented an 1800 percent increase over contracts awarded to Evans-Graves for all years prior to Garrett Graves’ tenure at CPRA.

Some might call this old news, given the fact that Jeremy Alford first reported on this as far back as 2008. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20080203/news/659908125

But the practice went unabated for years after his story and even more curious, when an ethics opinion was sought as to the propriety of the contracts, it was not the Louisiana Board of Ethics that was consulted, but attorney Jimmy Faircloth.

Faircloth, who was Jindal’s first executive counsel before running unsuccessfully for the Louisiana Supreme Court, has done extensive legal work for the administration, collecting fees in excess of $1 million defending losing positions that Jindal has championed.

But his issuing an ethics opinion in the case of Evans-Graves Engineering appears to have been a conflict in itself: Faircloth at the time was the legal counsel for Evans-Graves.

“As we discussed, Governor Jindal has asked that we disclose and commit to avoiding even the appearance of conflict,” Faircloth said in his opinion. “Thus, as we agreed, out of an abundance of caution, the appropriate solution is that your father’s company not pursue an interest in or receive any state contract that involves coastal restoration, levees or hurricane protection while you serve in the administration. This would explicitly include such contracts overseen by DOTD (Department of Transportation and Development) and DNR (Department of Natural Resources).”

Even though Garrett Graves in February of 2008 agreed to cease pursuing projects that could cause a conflict of interest, Evans-Graves kept receiving lucrative contracts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CPRA’s primary partner. And while Garrett Graves did not actually sign the contracts, his agency did set priorities for the state on corps-related work.

“I said from the beginning there was a potential conflict of interest, and apparently that fell on deaf ears,” said John Graves when the issue first arose more than six years ago. Jindal’s office professed to know nothing of the potential conflict.

And even though Garrett Graves was working for the state and his father’s company was receiving millions of dollars in contracts with the Corps of Engineers through Garrett Graves’ agency, Garrett Graves was given a Toyota Tundra truck by the elder graves in 2009, a clear violation of state ethics rules against state employees accepting gifts from vendors.

And while Evans-Graves was receiving millions of dollars in CPRA-approved contracts with the Corps of Engineers, Evans-Graves was subcontracting nearly $66.5 million in work to 18 construction and contract companies, compared to only $3.5 million prior to Garrett Graves’ appointment. Those 18 subcontractors have combined to contribute more than $250,000 to Graves’ congressional campaign.

Additionally, 11 of those 18 companies, along with corporate officers and family members, have combined to contribute nearly $316,000 to various political campaigns of Jindal.

Here is the list of subcontractors and the amounts they and/or their corporate officers and families contributed to Jindal:

  • Daybrook Fisheries—$1,000;
  • Industrial Specialty Contractors—$29,500;
  • Bollinger Shipyards—$65,850;
  • Major Equipment and Remediation—$50,000;
  • Arkel Constructors—$4,500;
  • Delta Launch Services—$11,000;
  • Cajun Constructors—$52,000;
  • Coastal Environments—$30,500;
  • Performance Contractors—$41,500;
  • H. Fenstermaker & Associates—$20,500;

JNB Operating—$5,000.

And now Garrett Graves just wants to move back into his $800,000 home in D.C.

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Not only does Troy Hebert berate, intimidate, harass and even fire personnel, he keeps the pressure on even after they’re gone.

Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, has already been shown to be an egotistical administrator who insists that his underlings rise and greet him with a cheery “Good morning, Commissioner,” whenever he enters a room.

He has contracted with 17-year-old girls in efforts to entrap bar owners into selling alcohol to underage patrons.

He has said he would rid his agency of all black employees and indeed, has already had to settle one lawsuit with an African-American former agent whom he fired and is currently facing litigation from three others.

He has ordered an investigation into the background of LouisianaVoice’s Editor and even boasted that he could have LouisianaVoice’s computer hacked if he so desired.

He even threatened criminal trespass charges against a woman who took his crippled Great Dane dog home in the belief it had been abandoned.

But most demeaning of all, he forced agents to write essays as punishment as if they were school children.

In short, he has run his agency with the impunity of an out of control despot, instilling fear in his staff…because he can. And he has done so without the slightest fear of restraint or discipline from his boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

Take the case of former agent Jeffery McDonald.

A veteran of 18 years in law enforcement, McDonald was summarily fired by Hebert for failure to answer charges against him that included a claim that his GPS indicated he was in one place for two hours when in fact he had been riding for five hours with another agent.

His fate was sealed, apparently, in a staff meeting in Baton Rouge when he disagreed with the ATC attorney who indicated she thought it unfair that ATC agents could have a take-home vehicle and she could not. Hebert at the time was attempting to institute a competition whereby top-rated agents would get a take-home vehicle. “They were pitting agents against each other in an unfriendly manner that was detrimental to morale,” McDonald said.

But prior to that, about two years ago, is when the real trouble started and typical Louisiana politics entered the picture.

McDonald and a Tensas Parish sheriff’s deputy raided a restaurant that was selling liquor without benefit of having obtained a permit to sell alcohol.

McDonald wisely turned the liquor over to the deputy for safekeeping at the sheriff’s office. Later, after a local mayor and a state legislator got involved, McDonald was contacted by his superiors and told “to return the evidence and to not file misdemeanor charges” against the owner of the establishment.

“I told them I didn’t have the liquor, that I had turned it over to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

State law says a law enforcement officer must be given 30 days in which to obtain legal counsel if he desires before his final termination. “But they didn’t do that,” he said. “They notified me on May 16 and ordered me to meet them on May 22 for an internal investigation,” he said. “I told them my attorney was out of town and I asked for a later meeting. I was on sick leave with a heart condition at the time. They never got back with me until they sent him his recommended termination notice on June 4. “It was hand delivered by state police on the 5th and they gave me until June 10 to respond but I was undergoing treatment was unable to respond by their deadline. They came to get my equipment on the 11th without providing the legally required seven days from receipt of notification,” he said.

“When they terminated me, they said I had not responded in a timely manner even though they did not give me the legally-required seven days.”

Frustrated with dealing with Hebert and his rules which seemed to change daily, McDonald put in for retirement. His retirement was approved on Aug. 22.

On Aug. 30, he wrote Hebert and the human resources departments of the Department of Revenue and ATC to request a retired ID commission card as allowed under state law.

A retiring agent is supposed to receive the commission upon retirement and McDonald did so eight days after his retirement went through.

Hebert, reportedly upset that McDonald was allowed to retire before he could fire him, has not responded to McDonald’s request.

Without his commission, McDonald cannot legally qualify to carry a firearm as a retired peace officer.

It’s not the first time a commission has been held up. Hebert’s policy regarding the commissions is all over the road; he issued one on the same day one agent retired while another who retired at the end of 2011 was forced to make several phone calls before getting his commission. A third waited eight months and before being given instructions to follow a vague, non-existent policy that including writing a letter to Hebert. Even after writing the letter and sending Hebert a copy of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which explains the right to the commission, it still took intervention on the part of a state senator to finally obtain the commission.

Such is the manner in which Troy Hebert runs his shop.

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If the Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) goes forward with filing a legal challenge to the proposed changes to health care coverage for state employees, retirees and their dependents, it may have a significant hook on which to hang its case in a report submitted by a company contracted by the Jindal administration which attempted to base its plan changes at least in part on that same report.

If you’re confused, you should be for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols laid the decision to make the changes in the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) plan at the feet of Buck Consultants but the firm’s report is in direct contradiction to the testimony of Nichols at the Sept. 25 hearing of the House Appropriations Committee.

The proposed health benefit changes are so radical for some 230,000 OGB members that the RSEA has scheduled a meeting with a law firm which has tentatively agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis, says Frank Jobert, RSEA’s executive director. http://theadvocate.com/sports/southern/10465870-123/retirees-considering-legal-challenge

RSEA is looking at the failure to go through the necessary legal procedures for approval of changes in plan benefits and “diverting” money from the OGB fund balance which has dwindled from a high of more than $500 million to less than half that amount and which is projected to go broke next year if changes are not implemented.

Nichols has consistently blamed the financial condition of OGB on rising costs she attributed to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Critics, however, point to three straight years of decreased premiums that allowed the state to commit fewer state funds to its 75 percent match which in turn allowed the administration to divert those monies to cover budget holes even as the reserve fund continued to shrink.

Nichols was consistently evasive when asked during last month’s hearings of the House Appropriations Committee, three times managing to evade the direct question of who the actuary was who recommended decreases in premiums over three consecutive years.

Finally, State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who had already asked the question once without getting an answer, observed, “In fiscal 2013, there was a 7.11 percent reduction in premiums followed by 1.8 percent even though health care costs were going up by 6 percent.”

In questioning Nichols during the Appropriations Committee hearing, Edwards had accused the administration of taking a “self-manufactured crisis” and turning it into an emergency “because we had a fund balance that was healthy.

“We had OGB members who were relatively happy with the plan and today we have an unhealthy fund balance and OGB members who are very unhappy.”

He then asked again, “What actuary told you these reductions were sound?”

Nichols, who was already halfway out the door—before the committee meeting adjourned—on her way to taking her daughter to a One Direction boy band concert in the New Orleans Smoothie King Arena where she watched from the luxury box assigned to Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), replied, “Buck Consulting recommended a 2.25 percent decrease for calendar 2012.”

http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/01/watching-kristy-kreme-nichols-responding-to-legislators-like-watching-jerry-lewis-movie-mixture-of-exasperation-humor/

Well, not exactly. When one reads pages ii and iii of the summary report of the Buck Consultants Actuarial Valuation at 7/1/2013, a starkly different message is conveyed.

http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/osrap/library/afr%20packetts/2014OGB_OPEBValuationReport.pdf

On Page ii, under the CLAIMS AND PREMIUM EXPERIENCE heading, the report says:

  • “Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain. The gain was offset by losses associated with premiums not increasing as expected. See Substantive Plan discussions below.”

Under SUBSTANTIVE PLAN on Page iii, the report says:

  • “It is our understanding that the Plan premium rates, used both to determine contributions from the various employer agencies and to set contributions required from the retirees, were set artificially low to draw down the OGB’s reserve fund… (emphasis added.) As noted above, premium rates were again lower than expected for this year’s valuation.”

Moreover, an email from Buck Consultants representative Tom Tomczyk to OGB CEO Susan West dated Sept. 28 (three days after the Appropriations Committee hearing) says, “The 2.25percent (rate decrease) was not a recommendation for January 1, 2012, but only used to validate our projections for the Fiscal Year 2012-2013. We did not recommend a decrease of 7 percent effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77 percent effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal year beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012-2013.”

In fact, according to that same email, Tomczyk said Buck Consultants was asked in late 2011 for its projection of the indicated rate increase for Fiscal Year 2012-2013. “At that time, based on the most recent claims information available, we projected a rate increase (emphasis added) of 1.75 percent needed as of July 1, 2012.”

An earlier email, on Nov. 12, 2013, from Tomczyk to West’s predecessor, Charles Calvi, who served as CEO of OGB from Jan. 9, 2012, to Jan 31, 2014, concluded, “We have not been asked to provide recommendations for rate adjustments since calendar year 2012.”

The consulting firm’s report, dated July 2014, noted significant decreases in several areas of net liabilities to OGB and gains in areas that benefitted the agency’s bottom line, according to two financial experts who were shown the report.

“As I see it, the Buck report directly contradicts the way Ms. Nichols has presented this,” one said. “Unless I do not understand plain English, Buck says, ‘Overall, the plan had favorable claims experience, resulting in a gain.’ How can a clear gain be a loss by anybody’s definition?”

He noted the following:

  • The actuarial accrued liability (AAL) for July 2013 was $103 million less than what had been projected in July of 2012, meaning that OGB was in better shape on July 1, 2013, than had been predicted. The AAL also increased by only $157 from last year when it had been projected to increase by $260 million.
  • The amount paid in claims was less than predicted and actually decreased the AAL by $195 million—and would have decreased it even more had premiums not been less than projected.
  • The report clearly attributes a loss to OGB of $388 million—totally a result of reduced premiums through Fiscal Year 2012 and that this loss was increased by additional decreases in premium rates in Fiscal Year 2013.
  • The report, on Page iv, minimizes the effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on these calculations and points out that the ACA provided improvements in Part D coverage.

“I am frankly shocked at this report and what has been said about this whole thing by others,” he said. “Either I am totally stupid or it blows all previous explanations away.”

Edwards, commenting on the contents of the Buck Consultants report, said, “Nothing in this supports Kristy Nichols.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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