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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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The metaphorical ink wasn’t even dry on the Baton Rouge Advocate web page story (yeah, we know, there’s no ink—or paper—on the internet) about Grovernor (as in Grover Norquist) Jindal’s decision to issue an executive order to do what the Legislature, in a rare flash of clarity, refused to do—approve House Bill 707 by State Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City)—when outraged comments from irate readers began appearing.

The House Civil Law Committee voted 10-2 to return Johnson’s silly yet dangerous Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act bill to the calendar, a move that effectively kills the bill this session.

The grovernor immediately went on the attack by issuing his executive order to accomplish what legislators wisely would not—put in place the necessary protection for businesses to discriminate against gays. http://theadvocate.com/news/12415408-123/house-panel-effectively-kills-religious

“It’s not about discrimination,” Grovernor Jindal insisted. “It’s about protecting rights.” JINDAL EXECUTIVE ORDER

Whose rights? Certainly not those of gays and if the law is taken to more extreme measures, as some will almost certainly attempt to do, against blacks, against Islamics, against Jews, against Hispanics, perhaps even against Asians, including Indians.

This is about anything but protecting a business owner who has deep-seated religious beliefs from catering to same sex marriages. What if that business owner has equally deep-seated religious beliefs against Little League baseball players playing a Sunday afternoon makeup of an earlier rained-out game? Of if he is offended because Jews don’t observe their Sabbath (Saturday) on the same day of the week (Sunday) as Christians?

There have already been stories about how just about any one of us is condemned to hellfire and damnation by laws and dictates of the Old Testament. Robert Mann had a dandy that ran in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that illustrates the sheer idiocy of Johnson’s bill and those like it passed in Indiana and Arkansas. http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2015/04/louisiana_religious_freedom_ga.html

And thorough as Mann’s story was, there was no mention of Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death.”

So there you have it: could Jindal’s real agenda be an executive order as the first step toward capital punishment for gays? It is in the Bible, after, and Jindal’s agenda is by his own admission, faith-driven. It’s only logical, to quote Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock.

As one Advocate reader so aptly observed, Jindal is the non-candidate running all over the country bitching about overreach in government but who apparently had no problem handing down his own edicts that control millions of people’s lives when it happens to be political expedient to him.

Another reader was quick to pounce on Jindal with his own words in an earlier attack on President Obama. He wrote, “Here is what Jindal had to say about President Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration: ‘If the President wants to make the case that the law should be changed, he should go make the case to Congress and our people. This is an arrogant, cynical political move by the President, and it’s why so many Americans no longer trust this President to solve the problems we face.’ Substitute the word ‘Governor’ for ‘President’ and what’s the difference?” he asked, perhaps not so rhetorically, of Jindal’s hypocrisy.

If Jindal’s latest actions, taken in context with the above statement, do not represent a double standard, then there never has been and never will be a double standard by any definition.

At the same time, it represents yet more legal fees for Jimmy Faircloth or whoever is called upon to defend the state when the lawsuits start flying and U.S. Supreme Court rulings come down.

A reader named Beatrice said that Jindal should begin waving one of those giant foam fingers people wear at athletic events, “except make it a middle finger, pointed at Louisiana.”

Our favorite, from Joe: “You’ve been bested, old man. Can you believe it? We have a genuine psychotic tyrant on the loose in the governor’s mansion.”

Finally, one reader attempted to steer the dialog back to the real issue. “The legislature just showed that you can’t be a bigot and get away with it here. There is finally hope for this state. Now maybe the legislature can get back to important things – like finding $1.6 Billion to et rid of next year’s deficit without destroying education and health care. You know—the thing that really matters in the day-to-day lives of Louisiana citizens.”

Not that any of those comments will matter to Jindal who with each passing day more and more frequently exhibits psychopathic patterns of behavior.

No, we’re not doctors, analysts, counselors or social workers, but some of the symptoms are right up front for all to see. Which of the below symptoms might apply to Jindal?

  • A disregard for laws and social mores;
  • A disregard for the rights of others;
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt;
  • The inability to form emotional attachments or feel empathy with others (though they often can mimic emotions and fool those closest to them, even family members);
  • The ability to manipulate people and to easily gain others’ trust;
  • They generally are well-educated and able to hold steady jobs;
  • They are cool, calm and meticulous, planning out every detail in advance;
  • All the above.

Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and con artists, thanks to their calm and charismatic natures. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wicked-deeds/201401/how-tell-sociopath-psychopath

But none of those traits come close to describing Jindal, of course. Not this grovernor. No siree. Grovernor Jindal is sincere, understanding, compassionate, reverent and most of all, ambitious.

And there are delegates to woo in Iowa and those folks up there are God-fearing Christian who will take up his banner and follow him when they see what he’s done down there in Louisiana. Just you wait. He’s gonna bust through to 2, maybe even 3 percent in the presidential sweepstakes polls yet.

If you don’t believe it, just ask his core constituency—those Duck Dynasty people. They’re the ones who believe Jindal would be a great president, gays are abnormal human beings, and that blacks were happy picking cotton.

Seriously, though, the man is a total disgrace.

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Our friend C.B. Forgotston, who follows the legislature relentlessly, alerted us to this little tidbit this morning that illustrates just how far the legislature is willing to go to absolve itself of any responsibility in the current fiscal mess in which the state currently finds itself.

Year after year, when stinging budget cuts are imposed on higher education and health care, the same cry goes up from the citizenry: “Why are only higher ed and health care subjected to repeated budget cuts? Why aren’t other agencies made to share the pain?”

And year after year, the same response from legislators: “Because under the State Constitution, those are the only areas that can be cut.

“Our hands are tied,” they wail in unison.

Not so, says Forgotston, who once was a staff attorney for the legislature.

Of the $30 Billion in the current state budget, $3.9 Billion or only 13 percent is constitutionally-protected, he says.

Of the dedicated funds:

  • $3.3 Billion (85 percent of the constitutionally-dedicated funds) funds public elementary and secondary education’s Minimum Foundation Program (“MFP”) which is approved by the leges.
  • $318 Million (9 percent) pays the annual debt service on state borrowing (bonds).
  • $115 Million (3 percent) pays the supplemental pay for municipal policemen, firemen and deputy sheriffs.

What’s not protected?

            Of the $30 Billion budget, Forgotston says 87 percent is not constitutionally-protected. That includes:

  • NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and other local pork barrel projects in the Operating and Capital Outlay budgets.

The constitutional scapegoat

            The constitution is a convenient scapegoat for the governor and the legislators’ lack of political courage to set priorities,” he said, “especially, since none of them appear to have ever read the document.”

No matter. On Monday, they had a chance to do something about it and they didn’t.

They punted.

And the vote wasn’t even close.

The Senate Finance Committee deferred, by an 8-2 vote, Senate Bill 196 by State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) which would have placed a constitutional amendment before Louisiana voters that would have repealed the constitutionally-imposed dedications. SB 196 TEXT

The Legislative Fiscal Notes, which accompany any bill dealing with fiscal matters, says there would be “no anticipated direct material effect on governmental expenditures.”

The fiscal notes also said, “Due to the elimination of approximately 20 constitutional funds and the requirement that the revenue source of such funds now flow into the State General Fund (SGF), the SGF will have approximately a statutorily dedicated fund balance transfer of approximately $3.9 billion in FY 16 and annual SGF revenue flow of approximately $730 million per year.” SB 196 FISCAL NOTES

Morrell lectured committee members as he testified on behalf of his bill, saying, “We fixed higher ed but not health care. We have too many ‘not me’s’ coming before you to defend their programs.

“If you kill this bill,” he cautioned members, “you’re saying to your constituents not only that your hands are tied but that you like your hands to be tied.”

Which is precisely what they did on motion from Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge).

Before the vote on Claitor’s motion, Sen. Fred Mills (R-St. Martinville) offered a substitute motion to approve the bill, sending it to the Senate floor. Only Sen. Bodi White (R-Central) voted with Mills in favor of the bill. Those voting against approval were committee Chairman Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville), committee Vice-Chairman Norbert Chabert (R-Houma), members Bret Allain (R-Franklin), Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Shreveport), Claitor, Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles), Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), Edwin Murray (D-New Orleans), and Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport).

As an unspoken acknowledgement of the committee’s concern over a possible veto by Bobby Jindal, a fretful White went so far as to suggest to Morrell that he might get a more favorable consideration of his bill if he waited until next year “when we have a new governor.”

So, bottom line, it appears that legislators remain unwilling to confront a lame duck, largely absentee governor despite his abysmal approval ratings by Louisiana voters.

Something is wrong with this herd mentality, folks.

This is not the time to wait for a “new governor.” This is the time for bold, decisive action that says to Jindal, “We damned well dare you to veto this or we’ll throw it back in your face with a veto session like this state—or any other state—has never seen. We will bring the attention of the national media down upon your delusional head.”

Instead, they choose to wait.

Again.

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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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Additional checks by LouisianaVoice into the expenditure of campaign funds after leaving office has revealed that Troy Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was something of a piker in what appear to be his inappropriate expenditures of $39,000 in campaign contributions long after he left the Louisiana Senate in November of 2010.

Campaign reports examined by LouisianaVoice show that two former governors combined to spend more than $600,000 on what would appear to be such non-allowable expenditures as clerical salaries, club memberships, consulting fees, federal taxes, internet fees, office equipment, and something called “constituent relations” long after there were no longer any constituents. shall not be used for any perso

Three other former legislators who, like Hebert, now serve in other appointive capacities in state government were also checked at random and found to have combined for a little more than $22,000 in post-office-holding expenditures that appear to be for purposes specifically disallowed by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

But former governors Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster have made generous use of their leftover campaign bank accounts by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for similarly disallowable purchases and expenditures.

Campaign expenditures for former governors Buddy Roemer and Edwin Edwards were not available on the State Ethics Board’s web page.

At the same time, we found one former legislator who has not spent a penny of his leftover campaign funds—for anything. Democrat Dudley “Butch” Gautreaux of Morgan City has spent none of his campaign funds—for any purpose—since leaving office in January of 2012. We sincerely hope there are others.

Foster, a Republican, accounted for more than $201,000 in apparent non-allowable expenditures from his campaign fund. He had the following expense items listed in his campaign expenditure report:

  • $3,000 for internet service;
  • $66,675 for clerical payroll;
  • $70,000 for copiers and other office equipment and maintenance contracts;
  • $9,400 in dues to the Camelot Club and City Club, both in Baton Rouge;
  • $4,300 in workers’ compensation insurance premiums for office staff;
  • $25,000 for bookkeeping services;
  • $9,800 in federal income tax payments on office staff;
  • $13,500 for “constituent services”;
  • $403 in payments to M.J. Foster Farms—an apparent reimbursement to himself for unknown expenditures.

In addition, Foster contributed to numerous causes, including $1,000 to a lamppost restoration drive in his hometown of Franklin and other charitable civic and church organizations and several political candidates. Only his contributions to political candidates and to the Louisiana Republican Party appeared to have been allowable under Ethics Board regulations.

Democrat Blanco easily eclipsed Foster with more than $400,000 in expenditures described in various Ethics Board opinions as not allowable for purposes “related to a political campaign or the holding of a public office.”

Some of her questionable expenditures included:

  • $188,000 for communication consulting;
  • $88,000 in clerical salaries;
  • $67,000 in donations to various causes;
  • $64,500 in tech support;

To be fair, however, there was brief speculation that Blanco would oppose Jindal in his re-election campaign of 2011 until health considerations took her out of that race. Any funds spent in exploration of a possible run would probably be looked upon favorably as campaign-related. Charitable contributions are allowed under certain conditions, such as in the cases of pro-rata refunds of unused contributions but otherwise such use of campaign funds for charitable donations is not allowed. We found an Ethics opinion that addresses that very issue: James David Cain

Like Foster, she also contributed generously to several political candidates as well as to the Louisiana Democratic Party, all allowable under Ethics Board regulations.

Former Sen. Anne Duplessis (D-New Orleans), now a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors ($13,440), former Rep. Kay Katz (R-Monroe), now a member of the Louisiana Tax Commission ($7,700), and former Rep. and former Sen. Noble Ellington (R-Winnsboro), now Chief Deputy Commissioner of Insurance ($1,300), each also had combined expenditures from their respective campaign funds totaling about $22,400 for purposes not allowed, according to Ethics Board regulations.

Small as those expenditures were when contrasted to Blanco, Foster or even Hebert, however, the samplings of more than $662,000 in questionable expenditures found by LouisianaVoice for only six former office holders—and the many examples of misuse of campaign funds by current officer holders—illustrates the critical lack of oversight of the manner in which office holders and former office holders alike live the good life off, what for many of them, is tax-free income most times in the tens of thousands of dollars but in some cases, six figures.

Campaign funds are contributed by donors, such as lobbyists, corporations, or other special interests who want something in return, like a favorable vote on a key issue. And because the politicians generally oblige, the donors couldn’t care less how campaign funds are spent. The funds are donated for the wrong reasons, so why should they care if they are spent for the wrong reasons?

That in a nutshell is what is wrong with our political system today. Far too much quid pro quo, a few winks, a couple of drinks over steak or lobster and donors look the other way as the recipient enjoys nice restaurants, club memberships, luxury car leases and tickets to college and pro athletic events and perhaps the occasional hooker.

Two things can occur to rein in this abuse:

The Louisiana Legislature, in a rare (and we do mean rare) moment of integrity and soul-searching, could enact binding laws governing who can contribute to campaigns (such as tracking the federal elections laws prohibiting corporate contributions), limiting PAC funds and spelling out in detail how campaign funds may and may not be spent.

But don’t look for that to happen in this or any other lifetime. Like corporations and banks, politicians just aren’t going to self-regulate without including a gaggle of hidden loopholes in any legislation that might happen to address the issue. You can bet any legitimate attempt will either be killed outright or amended to death in committee.

The other—and this, sadly, is just as unlikely—the voters of Louisiana will, in unity, say “ENOUGH!” They will, like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network, scream out their windows, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” and they will turn out of office any legislator who so much as buys the first ticket to a football game or dines at a fine restaurant or leases a luxury auto with campaign funds. And in equal unanimity, they will demand reimbursement of all funds wrongly spent by current and former office holders alike.

But a final word of caution: That would be in a perfect world so don’t hold your breath.

 

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