Archive for the ‘OGB, Office of Group Benefits’ Category

In a state drowning in consulting contracts, what’s one more?

Bobby Jindal is a lame duck governor who long ago set his sights on bigger and better things. He has abdicated every aspect of his office except the salary, free housing and state police security that go with the title. In reality, he has turned the reins of state government over to subordinates who are equally distracted in exploring their own future employment prospects.

His only concerns in almost eight years in office, besides setting himself up to run for President, have been (a) appointing generous campaign donors to positions on state boards and commissions and (b) privatizing state agencies by handing them over to political supporters.

To that end there has been a proliferation of consulting contracts during the Jindal years. The legislative auditor reported in May that there were 19,000 state contracts totaling more than $21 billion.

So as his term enters its final months and as Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols has less than a month before moving on to do for Ochsner Health System what she’s done for the state, what’s another $500,000?

LouisianaVoice has learned that Nichols signed off on a $497,000 contract with ComPsych Corp. and its affiliate, FMLASource, Inc. of Chicago, to administer the state’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) program. FMLA CONTRACT

It is no small irony that Nichols signed off on the contract on May 19, less than two weeks after the legislative auditor’s report of May 6 which was highly critical of the manner in which contracts are issued with little or no oversight.

The latest contract removes the responsibility for approving FMLA for state employees and hands it over to yet another private contractor.

Apparently FMLA was just one more thing the Jindal administration has determined state employees are incapable of administering—even though they have done so since the act was approved by Congress in 1993.

Because no state employees stand to lose their jobs over this latest move, the contract would seem to simply be another consulting contract doled out by the administration, obligating the state to more unnecessary expenditures.

Whether it’s farming out the Office of Risk Management, Office of Group Benefits, funding voucher and charter schools, or implementing prison or hospital privatization—it’s obvious that Jindal has been following the game plan of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to the letter. That plan calls for privatizing virtually every facet of state government. If you don’t think the repeated cuts to higher education and health care were calculated moves toward ALEC’s goals, think again.

The contract runs from May 17, 2015 through May 16, 2016, and the state agreed to pay FMLAServices $1.45 per state employee per month up to the yearly maximum of $497,222.

Agencies for which FMLAServices will administer FMLA include the:

  • Division of Administration;
  • Department of Economic Development;
  • Department of Corrections;
  • Department of Public Safety;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice;
  • Department of Health and Hospitals;
  • Department of Children and Family Services;
  • Department of Revenue;
  • Department of Transportation and Development.

The legislative auditor’s report noted that there is really no way of accurately tracking the number or amount of state contracts. STATE CONTRACTS AUDIT REPORT

“As of November 2014, Louisiana had at least 14,693 active contracts totaling approximately $21.3 billion in CFMS. However, CFMS, which is used by OCR to track and monitor Executive Branch agency contract information, does not contain every state contract.

“Although CFMS, which is a part of the Integrated Statewide Information System (ISIS), tracks most contracts, primarily Executive Branch agencies use this system. For example, Louisiana State University obtained its own procurement tracking system within the last year, and most state regulatory boards and commissions do not use CFMS (Contract Financial Management System). As a result, there is no centralized database where legislators and other stakeholders can easily determine the actual number and dollar amount of all state contracts. Therefore, the total number and dollar amount of existing state contracts as of November 2014 could be much higher.”

The audit report also said:

  • State law (R.S. 39:1490) requires that OCR (Office of Contractual Review) adopt rules and regulations for the procurement, management, control, and disposition of all professional, personal, consulting, and social services contracts required by state agencies. According to OCR, it reviews these types of contracts for appropriateness of contract terms and language, signature authorities, evidence of funding and compliance with applicable laws, regulations, executive orders, and policies. OCR also reviews agencies’ procurement processes against competitive solicitation requirements of law. The contracting entity is responsible for justifying the need for the contract and conducting a cost-benefit analysis if required.
  • However, state law does not require that a centralized entity approve all state contracts.
  • According to the CFMS User Guide, OCR is only required to approve seven of the 20 possible contract types in CFMS. The remaining 13 types accounted for 8,068 contracts totaling approximately $6.2 billion as of November 2014. Exhibit 2 lists the 20 types of contracts in
  • CFMS and whether or not OCR is required to approve each type, including the total number and dollar amount of these contracts.
  • In fiscal year 2014, 72 agencies approved 4,599 contracts totaling more than $278 million.

The Office of Contractual Review was since been merged with the Office of State Procurement last Jan. 1.


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“Danger, Will Robinson!”

Okay, for those of you not old enough to remember the ‘60s, that’s the catchphrase from the old CBS series Lost in Space.

But the warning might just as well be applicable for patients of Ochsner Health System come Oct. 15.

That’s the date Kristy Nichols will be leaving as Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration to become Ochsner’s Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read lobbyist). That was something of a surprise in that the smart money had her going to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana.

Even as Jindal was sending out an email blast informing all three of his Louisiana supporters that he had just landed in California for the Republican debate and that he was “fired up” (yes, he actually said that; we’re so lucky to be on his email list), Nichols was announcing her resignation.

In her own email sent to all Division of Administration (DOA) employees on Tuesday, Nichols said she will be helping Ochsner “to strategically manage their growth as a healthcare provider.”

In other words (well, not in other words; as Oscar Madison said to Felix Unger in The Odd Couple: “Those are the words”), she will be doing for Ochsner what she and her boss did for the state during her three-year reign.

There were some other classic quotes contained in Kristy’s email as well as the official announcement from Jindal’s office. “I believe that our accomplishments will provide lasting benefits for generations to come,” she said.

Well, the effects of her tenure will be felt for generations to come but to shoehorn the word “benefits” into that statement must’ve taken a bit of imagination on someone’s part.

“I am proud of the work that we have accomplished in making Louisiana a better place to live and raise a family, and I am confident that we will continue down this path going forward,” she added.

The amazing thing is she apparently said that with a straight face. In our upcoming book about Jindal, an entire chapter is devoted to why Louisiana is not a better place to live and raise a family. (A hint: there are nearly three dozen categories in which Louisiana ranks as the worst or near the worst in the nation—hardly a ringing endorsement of the claim of “a better place to live.”)

But for sheer brass cajones, the trophy has to go to Jindal who, in heaping praise on Nichols, said she has “fully dedicated herself to bettering the state of Louisiana,” and “Together, we’ve been able to reduce the size of government, improve health care across the state, and create a better, stronger Louisiana.”

No wonder the boy continues to languish at less than 1 percent in the Republican sweepstakes. Bobby, you may want to check out the 9th Commandment. That improved health care claim is a damned lie. There’s no other way to say it than to say our “Christian” governor is a damned liar. He knows it and we know it.

And as the state, barely two months into the current fiscal year, is already cutting $4.6 million in spending ($3.8 million of which fell on higher education), instead of sticking around to try to solve the mess, she bails. (But then again, we’ve had three years of her problem-solving and we know what that accomplished.)

Just as we learn that the TOPS free college tuition program will fall $19 million short, she lights a shuck.

Even as the projected budgetary shortfall for next year is already more than $700 million, she cuts and runs.

Most important, considering where she’s headed, the Legislative Fiscal Office informs us that Kristy’s office failed to account for $335 million in increased spending anticipated by the Department of Health and Hospitals. So, naturally, she’s going to work for Ochsner to (and we can’t repeat this often enough) do for them what she’s done for the state.

God help us but most of all, God help Ochsner, heretofore a premier provider of health care for residents of South Louisiana.

This is the individual who once said her job was to make Bobby Jindal look good. Well, we all know how that turned out.

She is the same one who commissioned an employee satisfaction/efficiency study only to find the results so devastating that she tried to keep them from becoming public. (Sorry to rain on your parade, Kristy, but it was leaked to LouisianaVoice which posted the results last October and which showed severe morale problems within DOA) http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/02/employee-survey-of-doa-employees-reveals-simmering-morale-problem-no-one-more-popular-than-jindal-in-poll/

Then, after we ran the story, she set out on a crusade to find the leak and ended up punishing the wrong employees in the wrong agency. (How’s that for being proactive in addressing the problem of poor morale?)

She’s the same person who hired Alvarez & Marsal at $5 million and then promptly amended the contract (illegally) to $7.5 million for the company to find ways for the state to save $500 million. The 50 percent amendment was in violation of provisions that allow only a 10 percent maximum increase in contract amounts without legislative concurrence.

She’s the same one who orchestrated the Office of Group benefits debacle which raised premiums and lowered benefits for state employees, retirees, and dependents last year. That was after the state lowered premiums as a furtive means of lessening the state’s contribution obligations so that she and Jindal could use the extra money to patch over gaping budget holes—a tactic that depleted OGB’s reserve fund from $500 million to virtually nothing.

Kristy is the same one who has presided over budget disaster after budget disaster her entire tenure with this year’s patchwork effort barely lasting until legislators hit the door of the State Capitol to head back to their districts. Now, as higher education is facing even more budget cuts after the problem was supposed fixed, she smugly expressed confidence that the funds would be restored “if income forecasts improve.” She said she was “hopeful” about that possibility. http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/blog/2015/08/28/analysis-holes-and-worries-emerge-in-louisianas-budget/

And of course, we are all hopeful that we have the winning Power Ball ticket which would improve our own income forecasts.

And just last Friday (Sept. 11) a glowing press release was issued by DOA lauding the $75 million savings in the first year of the Office of Technology Services consolidation. http://www.doa.la.gov/comm/PressReleases/Consolidated%20Office%20of%20Technology%20Services%20Saves%20$75%20Million%20in%20First%20Year,%2009-10-15.pdf.

The only problem: the release was just one more in a long line of blatant lies designed to make the administration look good. And to be completely candid, it takes some real whoppers to do that.

Senate Bill 481 by State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) created the Office of Technology Services (OTS) and was signed into law by Jindal as Act 712 of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session as part of an effort to consolidate information technology (IT) services across state agencies.

At the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), for example, the IT budget has not been reduced and in fact, may have been increased, according to sources within DOTD.

DOTD is paying for things under the consolidation that it has never had to pay for before, such as paying DOA to house the servers and mainframe (previously housed in-house at DOTD facility). DOTD is also paying more to DOA for services such as the LaGOV Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP),    the state’s data warehouse which provides “end-to-end” support for statewide and agency-specific administrative business processes.

Moreover, DOA has not allowed DOTD to purchase new equipment (which was budgeted) for the last three years. As much as 40 percent of DOTD computer equipment is six years or older, making it difficult to design roads and bridges with modern software.

So, while some savings may have been achieved by other departments and some general fund money saved (of which DOTD uses none), DODT Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) money is not being saved.

And while some savings might be realized in the future, in the short term it is most likely paper savings.

All these attributes are what Kristy Nichols will take with her to Ochsner.

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And the hits just keep coming.

Bobby Jindal, a little distracted in his presidential campaign by his pesky job back home in Louisiana, has yet more legal problems piling up on his desk.

Meanwhile, Jindal, laser focused on becoming the leader laughingstock of the free world, offered up one of his most confusing diatribes yet while on his 99-county tour of Iowa, offering conflicting comments that any reporter worth his press credentials should be salivating over about now.

As the infamous north Louisiana hospital deals, complete with a contract containing 50 blank pages, begins its inevitable collapse (predicted by just about anyone with an IQ higher than a cluster of wet Spanish moss), complete with litigation and a backdoor public relations campaign by the current operator of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway in Monroe, yet another lawsuit has been slipped under the door.

The first court hearing for a lawsuit against the state Office of Group Benefits (OGB), the Office of the Governor and the state Division of Administration will be conducted July 27 in Baton Rouge District Court before Judge Janice Clark. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m.

And guess who the state’s defense attorney will be? Yep, you got it. Jimmy Faircloth who has enjoyed about as much courtroom success as Wiley E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive roadrunner. The only thing missing from Faircloth’s courtroom misadventures are anvils and dynamite. In representing the state in the OGB litigation, Faircloth will be adding to more than the $1.5 million he has already received in other representations. It’s not all Faircloth’s fault of course; he has been given some dogs to defend by this hapless administration.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of state employees, teachers and retirees, who are asking the court to overturn changes to OGB’s health plans that took effect March 1—premium increases and reduced coverage that were predicted by LouisianaVoice way back when the privatization of OGB was first proposed by the Jindal administration.

Representing the plaintiffs is J. Arthur Smith III of the Smith Law Firm of Baton Rouge.

The plaintiffs are claiming that changes forced on them by OGB were not enacted legally and they were denied a reasonable opportunity, as required by the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act, to comment on the proposed changes. The plaintiffs further maintain that the OGB and the administration violated due process, the contracts clause of the Louisiana Constitution and their fiduciary duties to plan participants. The plaintiffs also say that increased costs and decreased benefits pose a financial hardship that limits their access to healthcare services and needed medicines.

An association formed to fund the lawsuit, LA VERITE’ 2015, is registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State. LA VERITE’ is French for TRUTH, and stands for Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity. There are no dues and membership is open to any active or retired state employee, teacher, or other interested individual.

Plaintiff Marilee Cash, a retiree, said the goal of the lawsuit is to protect approximately 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents who have health insurance through the Office of Group Benefits. “Large increases in out-of-pocket expenses, combined with withheld pay increases for active employees and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, pose a financial hardship for many people covered by OGB,” she said. “Our compensation has not kept up with inflation during Gov. Jindal’s administration, due to mismanagement of state funds and poor fiscal decisions. Before March 1, our healthcare costs and insurance premiums were manageable. Now these increased costs have put healthcare services out of reach for many dedicated public servants and retirees.”

The administration claims the changes were made to preserve the Group Benefits reserve, which has been drastically reduced as OGB reduced premium revenue while paying out increasing medical claims expenses. The fund, created by the premiums paid by those who are insured, stood at about $500 million just two years ago. Less than half that amount remains. The Jindal administration drew down the reserve by reducing employer contributions in order to balance the state budget and then using money saved from reduced employer contributions to patch holes in the state budget.

In Iowa, Jindal took what might be considered an ill-advised swipe at President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court (you know, the court he said several days ago should be abolished) at the Family Leadership Summit over the weekend.

At issue was the court’s ruling on the court’s recent same-sex marriage decision that prohibits discrimination against gays by businesses.

“The next president should do what we did in Louisiana,” he said: “issue an executive order saying the federal government will not discriminate or take action against any individual or business that has a traditional view of marriage.”

But wait. Isn’t the ACLU suing Jindal over his May 19 executive order that he issued after the legislature shot down a bill by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) to pass the Marriage and Conscience Act?

And wait again. Didn’t Jindal recently go a little ballistic over executive orders issued by President Obama?

Yep. As a matter of fact, after calling on the next president to issue an executive order like his, he turned right around and said…Wait. We want to make that a separate paragraph:

            “We’ve got a president who has made it a consistent practice to ignore the Constitution, ignore the laws, issue executive orders,” Jindal said as he promised that if he is elected president, he would immediately rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders.

So, on the one hand, he wants to rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders while proposing that the next president (presumably himself) to issue an illegal executive order identical to his own “Marriage and Conscience” order—illegal because the governor may issue executive orders pertaining to the executive branch of government only and not on matters that affect private sector action of any kind, according to ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman.

But hey. Once again LouisianaVoice implores you to remember that it was a Jindal operative who told Division of Administration employees in a meeting, “Let’s not be bound by the law.” If that’s not downright Nixonian, then up is down, down is up, and Brenda Lee was acid rock.

Any bets as to who will be representing the state on the ACLU litigation?

We’re reminded of the joke that (and we’re paraphrasing to fit the situation here) Jindal is a lot like a slinky: Not really good for anything but they still bring a smile when you push them down a flight of stairs.

Except Jindal’s not a slinky. He’s more like a train wreck and the damage inflicted when he went off the rails was widespread and massive—and it impacted every one of us.

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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


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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It’s curious how a judge can look directly at a clear violation of a law, yet somehow concoct a ruling favorable to the violator and completely disregard the rights of more than 4 million citizens of Louisiana.

That, in our humble (but admittedly biased) opinion was what occurred in the Baton Rouge courtroom of 19th Judicial District Judge Mike Caldwell on Monday.

At the risk of sounding like Bobby Jindal in calling a ruling that went against him “wrong-headed,” we will at least attempt to lay out the details of the case along with the reasons for Caldwell’s ruling so you may decide for yourself if justice was done.

Our lawsuit against the Division of Administration (DOA) and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was based on four separate public records requests with which DOA took its sweet time in complying—and, in the case of the most egregious violation, did not comply for three full months and then only after we filed our lawsuit.

Caldwell did throw us a bone which, to our satisfaction, had a little meat on it. He held in our favor on one of the four requests, assessed $800 in fines plus court costs and (best of all) held Nichols personally liable.

So, unless there is an appeal, Nichols, and not the state, will be required to write a personal check and the money will not come out of the taxpayers’ pockets (of course the salary of DOA’s staff attorney is picked up by John Q. Public).

But back to the one that sticks in our craw and leaves us perplexed and angry at the manner in which Caldwell bent over backwards to let the state off the hook for the most flagrant violation, one that had he ruled differently, could have cost Nichols thousands more in fines.

In that case, we submitted a rather detailed request for public records on Oct. 14, 2014 relative to the state’s $500 million contract with a California outfit called MedImpact, which is contracted to administer the Office of Group Benefits’ pharmaceutical program.

At the same time, we had a legislator to make a nearly identical though somewhat less detailed request through the House Legislative Services Office (HLSO).

HLSO received an email at 3:15 p.m. on Oct 23 to the effect its records were already downloaded to a CD and would be delivered by DOA. Here is the content of that email:

“You requested the MedImpact contract, Notice of Intent to Contract, ratings, and recommendations for awarding the contract. Please note the contract contains some proprietary and/or confidential information that has been redacted under La. R.S. 44:3.1. We have scanned these records. They are too large to email, so I can bring a CD over. I heard you’re out of the office. Do you want me to drop it off for you or wait until you get back?”

The records were actually delivered to the House offices on Oct. 24, 2014.

For our part, we found it necessary to send a second request on Oct. 19 because DOA had failed to respond to our initial request as required by law. Here is that section of the law, courtesy of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR):

  • “If not in “active use” when requested, the record must be “immediately presented.” The custodian is required to delete the confidential portion of a record and make the remainder available. If it is unreasonably burdensome or expensive for the custodian to separate the public portion of the record from the confidential portion, the custodian must provide a written statement explaining why. If the record is in “active use,” the agency must “promptly certify this in writing” and set a day and an hour within three working days from receipt of the request when the record will be available.” http://www.parlouisiana.com/citizensrightscard.cfm#exempted


Remember that part about “unreasonably burdensome and the requirement for a written statement from the custodian of the record. We will be referring back to that part because Judge Caldwell took it upon himself to determine the unreasonableness of our request even though the state never made that argument. Thus, Judge Caldwell made the state’s argument for them.

When I made my second request, I received a response on Oct. 21 estimating the records would be available “on or before October 31, 2014.” Here is a copy of that email:

  • From: Tameika Richard
  • Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 12:21 PM To: ‘azspeak@cox.net’
  • Subject: PRR re: Pharmacy Benefit Management RFP

“Mr. Aswell,

Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you. It is estimated the records will be available on or before October 31, 2014.

Public Records Requests

Division of Administration

State of Louisiana

Email: doapublicrecords@la.gov


We still had not received the records by the time we filed our lawsuit on Jan. 16, 2015, but almost miraculously, they were delivered to our attorney’s office on Jan. 23, precisely one week after the lawsuit was filed.

So, taking DOA’s promised delivery date of Oct. 31, 2014, and projecting it out to Jan. 23, 2015, discounting about 10 holidays and several weekends (which don’t count), DOA still should have been looking at penalties of upwards of $5,000 on just that one request.

But, Caldwell mused, our request was “broad,” making it difficult for DOA to comply in a timely manner. “I’ve had experience in other cases involving voluminous requests for information where much redaction had to be done (nothing was redacted from the records we received), so I know how difficult it can be for the state to drop everything and meet your demand,” he volunteered. Accordingly, he disallowed our request for damages—again, despite the state’s never having put forward the burdensome argument. But then, why should they when an obliging judge will do it for them?

Moreover, the $800 fine he did assess against Nichols was far less than it should have been for that one violation. The records in that case (travel records for OGB personnel) were first made on October 4, 2014, and we were told the records did not exist. We re-submitted our request in December, but the records were not made available until Feb. 18, 2015.

That fine should have been in excess of $3,000, not $800.

There are several conclusion we can draw from this:

  • Judge Caldwell completely missed—or ignored—the part where DOA promised the records “on or before October 31, 2014;”
  • His honor overrated the difficulty in producing records that already existed and were in the possession of DOA;
  • The judge has little concern for the public’s right to know what its government does, nor he have any sympathy for those who work to report those actions;
  • He simply could not bring himself to impose such a heavy fine against Nichols personally despite the clear intent of the law—so he arbitrarily set a low fine for the one request and simply denied the others.

At this point, we don’t know if the state will appeal Caldwell’s judgment. We can’t imagine Nichols rolling over so easily and writing a check for $800, plus costs and attorney fees. After all, the attorneys work for the state, not her, so what does she have to lose with an appeal?

As for us, we still must meet with our attorneys to decide how to proceed with a partial victory coupled with a stinging loss.

But the question here is just what will it take to get the courts to pay attention to what the state is doing and use the power of the bench to force compliance with the law? How long will the courts simply look the other way to the detriment of the citizenry’s right to know?

We’re told that Judge Caldwell is a good judge and a fair man but we certainly don’t feel as though we received fair treatment before him.

No, we didn’t go to law school and we don’t hold a law license. But we can read and the law is quite clear on the demands placed on governmental agencies to comply with public records laws. There is no ambiguity on that point.

And one other thing: If Kristy Nichols thinks we’re going to fold our tent and skulk away, she’s in for a rude awakening. We’re not going anywhere. There will be other requests and in cases of non-compliance, there will be more litigation.

That’s a solemn promise.



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