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Archive for the ‘ORM, Office of Risk Management’ Category

The Jindal administration has announced plans to jettison 24 more positions at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) as a cost cutting measure for the cash-strapped agency but is retaining the top two positions and an administrator hired only a month ago.

The effective date of the layoffs is Aug. 15.

The latest cuts will leave only 47 employees when the agency is relocated to the Claiborne Building basement to share office space with the Office of Risk Management. The Claiborne Building also houses the Civil Service Department, the Board of Regents, the Department of Education, the State Land Office and the Division of Administration.

The layoff plan submitted to the Department of Civil Service on June 14, said there was insufficient work to justify all 71 positions.

Affected by layoffs are eight Benefits Analyst positions, three Group Benefits Supervisory spots, one Group Benefits Administrator, seven Administrative Coordinators, an Administrative Assist, two Administrative Supervisors, one IT Application Programmer/Analyst and one Training Development Specialist.

OBG Chief Executive Officer Susan West, one of those being retained, will be making a physical move back into her old offices. She previously worked for ORM before that agency was gutted by Jindal’s grand privatization scheme and she moved over to OGB.

West, who makes $170,000, and Interim Chief Operating Officer Charles Guerra ($107,000) are not affected by the layoff nor is Elis Williams Cazes ($106,000)) was appointed as Group Benefits Administrator on June 23.

Cazes was previously employed by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana which serves as the third party administrator of the OGB Preferred Provider Operation at a cost to the state of $5.50 per month per enrollee, which computes to an amount a little north of $70 million per year.

Her position was created—and the requirements reportedly written especially to her qualifications—as the Medical/Pharmacy Administrator responsible for benefit plan management and vendor performance with the primary responsibility to “continuously monitor medical and pharmacy benefit plans to seek out modification of plans or implementation of new plans that reduce claims costs and provide efficiencies for the state and plan participants,” according to the justification given for retaining her position.

Well, we can certainly see where her position is as indispensable as West’s and Guerra’s.

All this takes place at a time whe OGB’s reserve fund has dwindled from $500 million at the time of the agency’s privatization in January 2013 to about half that amount today. Even more significant, the reserve fund is expected to dip as low as $5 million by 2016, just about the time Jindal leaves town for good.

Completing the trifecta of good news, we also have learned that health benefits for some 200,000 state employees, retirees and dependents will be slashed this year even as premiums increase.

In June, West broke the news to the OGB employees. She erroneously said the 47 remaining employees would be reassigned other duties and some might see pay reductions and that those with seniority could bump junior employees in desired positions. The Civil Service Department, however, said salaries could not be cut and bumping is no longer allowed.

Isn’t it nice to know your agency director knows the procedures?

Employees were told that letters would go out between July 1 and July 15 to those who were being laid off. On July 7, they were told the letters would be delivered by hand on Friday, July 11. None came. On the following Monday (July 14) confusion of the order of the day as Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson sent emails to those affected and instructed them to attend a noon meeting in the OGB board room. Upon entering the board room, each person was handed a packet that informed them that Civil Service had not approved the layoffs.

During the meeting, according to one who was there, West kept repeating, “I get this. I’ve been where you are. I get this. However, there are worse things. It’s not like losing a child. I get this.”

Way to soften the blow, Susan. You might have reminded them that the fighting between Israel and Palestine isn’t so bad because there’s also an Ebola outbreak in Africa or that while you’re losing your home to a hurricane storm surge, some people are having to endure heavy wind damage. Or better yet, take them all to a showing of The Fault in Our Stars. That’ll cheer them up.

“It was the ‘I get this’ and comparison of losing a job to losing a child that infuriated the OGB state employees,” the employee said. “This is the worst thing in their lives right  now, some are battling cancer and working; some have children and grandchildren to feed; some live paycheck to paycheck; some are taking care of the elderly and family; all have bills, rents/mortgages, school tuition, etc.”

But you really can’t blame Susan. She previously worked for ORM and was among those present when ORM Director Bud Thompson broke the privatization news to his employees by standing before them, grinning, as he said, “I still have my job.”

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The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session—and, conveniently for the administration, too late for critical feedback from lawmakers.

http://doa.louisiana.gov/doa/PressReleases/LA_GEMS_FINAL_REPORT.pdf

So, what makes this one any different than the others, given the fact that the A&M report acknowledges that Louisiana “has a long history of performance reviews, dating back to one performed by the Treen administration in the early 1980s?” Well, for one, the punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors contained in the report indicate that it was thrown together rather hastily to satisfy a state-imposed deadline for completion.

Of course the report was cranked out by “experts,” and as an old friend so accurately reminded us, an expert is someone with a briefcase from out of town.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year), the substance of the report was sufficiently ambiguous to render the document as just so much:

(a)    Useless trendy jargon and snappy catch phrases like synergy, stakeholders, and core analytics to give the report the appearance of a pseudo-academic tome;

(b)   Eyewash;

(c)    Window dressing;

(d)   Regurgitation of previous studies by previous administrations that are now gathering dust on a shelf somewhere;

(e)    All of the above.

Three things were immediately evident with only a cursory review of the report:

  • Two offices that have been privatized by the administration as a means of savings and efficiency—the Office of Risk Management and the Office of Group Benefits—were subjected to rather close scrutiny by A&M which identified a host of ideas to make both offices more cost efficient. And we thought all along the administration had assured us of great cost savings and efficiency as its reasons for privatization in the first place. Yet A&M, in its report, claims its recommendations can save OGB another $1.05 billion while ORM can save an additional $128 million through implementation of recommendations contained in the report.
  • While A&M met extensively with and took suggestions from state employees who were tasked by the administration with coming up with savings ideas as far back as last September, not one word of acknowledgement is given to those employees in the report, prompting one employee to wonder, “Why the hell can these New Yorkers take my ideas and work and resell them to the state?” Of course the report did give a tip of the hat to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols for her assistance in overseeing “all aspects of the state’s participation.” We suppose that will have to suffice.
  • Though virtually every office operating under the auspices of the Division of Administration came under the watchful eye of the A&M suits, not a single recommendation for increased efficiency and/or cost savings was offered up for the Governor’s Office itself. The closest A&M got to the governor’s office was the Office of General Counsel, the legal office of the Division of Administration. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from that is that the Governor’s Office is already operating at peak efficiency and minimum waste.

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

The report acknowledged that Louisiana already has the highest Medicaid recovery rate in the nation with $124 million in improper payments recovered but nevertheless listed as one of its recommendations that the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) “reduce improper payment in the Medicaid program.”

Seriously? Who would’ve thought that might be a way to save money?

Other suggestions included in the study by agency and projected savings (in parentheses):

DHH ($234.1 million)

  • Establish more cost-effective pediatric day health care programs and services;
  • Maximize intermediate care facility (ICF) bed occupancy rates;
  • Shift the administrative management of uninsured population from state management organization to local governing entities (Municipal and parish governments better take a long, hard look at that recommendation);
  • Improve the process and rate of transition of individuals with age-related and developmental disabilities from nursing facilities and hospitals. (So just where are those age-related and those with developmental disabled individuals being transitioned to? Are they to be removed from state facilities as a cost-saving move? And they accused Obama of creating death panels with the Affordable Care Act?)

Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) ($99 million)

  • Expand advertising revenue for roads, bridges and rest stops;
  • Reduce the construction equipment fleet;
  • Convert some of vehicle fleet to natural gas (for this we needed a consultant?)
  • Reduce cost overruns with quality assurance/quality control engineering firm (another consulting contract);
  • Utilize one-inch thin asphalt overlay (and after reducing the construction equipment fleet we can change the names of our state routes from highways to obstacle courses).

Department of Corrections: ($105.3 million)

  • Expand certified treatment and rehabilitation program;
  • Expand re-entry program;
  • Increase use of self-reporting.

Department of Revenue and Taxation ($333.4 million)

  • Re-build audit staff positions depleted because of retirements and hiring freezes;
  • Increase compliance efficiency and reduce backlog of litigated cases

Department of Public Safety ($45.4 million)

  • Centralize state police patrol communications
  • Consolidate state police patrol command position;
  • Optimize state police patrol shifts
  • Expand Department of Public Safety span of control.

Office of Juvenile Justice ($44.2 million)

  • Increase probation and parole officers’ caseloads (Seriously? Do these clowns have even a remote idea of what these officers’ job is like? The caseloads have increased steadily and there have been no pay raises for what, five years now? For even suggesting that, those A&M suits should be horse whipped with a horse.);
  • Relocate youth from Jetson Center to other Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) facilities (so, just how out of touch was A&M to have not known the Jetson Center was closed in January?);
  • Increase OJJ span of control.

Department of Children and Family Services ($2 million)

  • Continue to implement innovative strategies intended to reduce;
  • Safely decrease the time children spend in state custody.

Louisiana Economic Development ($142.9 million);

  • Adjust fees for inflation;
  • Enhance review process for Motion Picture Tax Credits;
  • Enterprise Zone benefits and audit review process;
  • Consolidate Louisiana Economic Development (LED) offices into one government-owned facility (What? No privatization?).

Human Capital Management ($65.9 million)

  • Creation of agency workforce and succession plans;
  • Redesign of job families through creation of a competency model;
  • Improve the administration of Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) across agencies;
  • Review overtime policies;
  • Increase span of control for agency supervisors.

Office of General Counsel ($3.825 million)

A&M noted that the Office of the General Counsel (that would be the in-house legal counsel—they hate being called that—for the Division of Administration) “is responsible for ensuring that the commissioner’s statutory duty to respond to public record requests in a timely and legal manner is carried out.”

This was a favorite part of the entire report for us. The DOA Office of the General Counsel has historically delayed responding to public record requests of LouisianaVoice far beyond any reasonable—or legal—time limits. Louisiana’s public records statutes require an immediate access to public records unless they are unavailable in which case the custodian of the record must, according to law, respond in writing as to when they will be available within three working days. It is not at all unusual for the Office of the General Counsel to drag his feet for weeks on end before producing requested records.

But A&M has solved that knotty little problem by pointing out that as the custodian of the DOA’s public records, “it is the commissioner’s (Kristy Nichols) responsibility to receive and process public records.”

A&M’s recommendation that the Office of the General Counsel can generate its five-year cost savings simply by:

Increasing the organization efficiency of the office, ($1.975 million) and

Increasing the efficiency of document review process and reducing internal and external attorney costs ($1.85 million).

That, of course, raises the burning question of what will happen to Jimmy Faircloth?

Other suggested savings came under:

  • Procurement ($234.8 million);
  • Facilities Management and Real Estate ($70.9 million), and
  • Provider Management ($2.2 million).

“I am so proud of this report,” gushed Nichols. “These are real, common sense solutions that will not only save money for the people of Louisiana, but will improve the way we operate.”

Question, Kristy: If they are such “real, common sense solutions,” why has this administration in six-plus years experienced this epiphany before now?

Another question: If these suggestions, which you say were “thoroughly vetted,” are going to save money for us and make our lives better through better operations, where has Jindal, his cabinet secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy secretaries department heads, managers and great legal minds been all this time? Wasn’t it their job to give us the biggest bang for the buck? (Oops, that’s three questions.)

Oh, well, let’s go for broke here. Fourth question: Who “vetted” these wonderful ideas? If the vetting was done by those already on the state payroll, why didn’t those employees perform the task in the first place instead of blowing $5 million on this report that a second year economic major at LSU could have written?

Fifth question: Does the administration—and by extension, A&M—hold employee morale in such low regard that it was not considered as a factor in facilitating more efficient job performance across the board? Improved employee morale would seem to be conducive to cost savings, yet it was never addressed even once in the entire 425-page document. That omission speaks volumes.

And finally, if you are “so proud of this report,” why was it that you reportedly tossed an A&M representative out of your office with the admonishment that he’d better find something after he initially reported to you that his consulting firm was having trouble coming up the $500 million savings?

Could this explain why some of the “savings” appear to have been plucked out of thin air?

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Did Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols violate state law when she approved an amendment to the Alvarez & Marsal (A&M)?

In May of 2011, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) sharply criticized the Division of Administration (DOA) for DOA’s approval of a $6.8 million contract amendment for F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA), the firm that initially took over the operations of the Office of Risk Management.

Fannin and other members of the committee were upset that DOA did not seek approval of the contract amendment from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB).

Things got tense as Fannin tore into Assistant Commissioner of Administration Steven Procopio. “All I’m seeing here is where FARA had a $68.2 million contract that somehow went to $74.9 without anyone’s coming to the … Committee … for approval,” Fannin said.

The JLCB was the committee that approved the original $68.2 million contract the year before. “Isn’t a contract a contract?” Fannin asked.

“It is until it’s amended,” Procopio said in typical administration double-speak. “Then it’s another contract.”

It was at that point that Patti Gonzales, Assistant Risk Director for ORM stepped up to the plate to rescue Procopio before he could do any further damage.

“We are allowed one amendment up to 10 percent (of the original contract amount) without legislative approval,” she said, adding that the Office of Contractual Review approved the amendment.

Suffice it to say committee members weren’t very happy to learn that under state law, the Office of Contractual Review may approve contract amendments of up to 10 percent one time without legislative concurrence.

Fast forward to January 2014.

Nichols announced last week that the $4.2 million contract with A&M had been amended by $800,000 to a nice round $5 million.

That’s the controversial contract under which A&M is charged with finding $500 million in state savings. If the firm’s initial report is any indication, the contract is going to go pretty much the way everything else this administration has done—that is to say, bad.

But wait. An $800,000 amendment to a $4.2 million contract?

Really?

Excuse us for questioning the validity of the amendment, but according to our math, that’s a 19 percent amendment. Of course we went to public schools in Louisiana, so Jindal may be able to discredit our figures.

But wouldn’t the approval of a 19 percent amendment without concurrence from the JLCB be in violation of that obscure law?

Well, the Office of Contractual Review is required to give its stamp of approval to the amendment.

But wait. The Office of Contractual Review is part of DOA and as such, takes its marching orders from Nichols who takes her marching orders from Jindal who takes his marching orders from…Timmy/Taylor Teepell? ALEC? Bobby Brady? Pick one.

But it was clearly stated back in 2011 that the law allows a one-time 10 percent amendment to contracts without JLCB concurrence.

To paraphrase Rep. Fannin, isn’t 10 percent 10 percent?

Isn’t the law still the law?

Well, that depends.

Remember that whiteboard sign in one of the DOA offices we alluded to on Jan. 23? That’s the one that says, “Do not ask about the law. Do not research the law.” (If there is a functioning brain cell left in this administration, assuming there ever was one, that message most probably has been erased by now.)

And then there was the consultant a few years back who told DOA officials, according to sources present at the meeting, to not let the law stand in the way of the administration’s objectives.

So, what are a few percentage points among friends?

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Cue Queen and crank up Another One Bites the Dust.

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are leaving the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

But not to worry. In one of the administration’s now routine Friday press releases (so that the impact of the story is lost over the weekend when newspaper readership is down), Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols announced that (drum roll, please) Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) will be working with West in efforts to “continue the transformation and redesign of OGB.”

Bear in mind that OGB was one of those state agencies that was doing quite well in paying health care benefits to some 250,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. That included building up that half-billion dollar reserve fund while paying claims in a timely manner (average turnaround of three days) that kept both claimants and providers happy. But somehow, the administration deemed it in need of “transformation and redesign” and now health care providers are being asked to wait longer for payment of claims and BCBS is asking the state to waive the service level agreements and performance guarantees in place for Claims Timeliness and to not impose financial penalties for payments made later than 30 days during January and February.

http://theadvocate.com/home/8151593-125/state-insurance-claims-payments-delayed

But back to Alvarez and Marsal. That’s the company Jindal recently hired for $4.2 million to find presumed savings of $500 million in state expenditures by April—except it turns out there was nothing in the contract alluding to any $500 million savings; it was in the cover letter but not the contract. After being caught with her knickers down, Nichols, who initially assured legislators that the contract did indeed call for the $500 million savings, has said the contract will be amended to contain the language. Good for her. Oh, wait. It turns out that amendment also added another $800,000 to the contract, boosting it to $5 million. Yipee.

Alvarez and Marsal, you may remember from a previous LouisianaVoice post, was the firm that advised the state to fire 7,500 public school teachers in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/17/firms-advice-to-fire-orleans-teachers-after-katrina-may-cost-taxpayers-1-5b-hired-for-4m-by-jindal-to-save-state-money/

When those teachers were not called back and instead were replaced by new teachers, they sued and won and now the state is on the hook for about $1.5 billion, give or take a couple of dollars.

So now this firm is awarded a $4.2 million contract to do what the brilliant minds of all those Jindal appointees apparently could not do. Alvarez and Marsal is going to send its suits to Baton Rouge to figure out what the Legislative Fiscal Office cannot. If the fiasco in New Orleans is indicative of its work, will the last one out of Baton Rouge please turn out the lights? On second thought, never mind; Entergy will have already disconnected the meter.

On April 15, 2011, Tommy Teague, the man responsible for OGB’s accumulating that $500 million reserve fund and who, by all accounts, ran a highly efficient agency known for its rapid turnaround on claims payments and satisfied claimants, was summarily fired when he did not jump on board the Jindal privatization train. Within six weeks, his replacement, Scott Kipper resigned in frustration or disgust—or both—and was replaced with Calvi. So now OGB CEO Charles Calvi and his $170,000 salary and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Powers ($107,000) are leaving voluntarily, headed to Metairie to work for Teague and the Louisiana Health Care Exchange.

West, the fourth person to head OGB in three years, previously as ORM’s administrator for loss prevention, underwriting and statistics where she was responsible for policy development, risk financing and premium development and allocation. Before that, she served as a claims manager for multiple lines of insurance provided by ORM, the agency that insures all state agencies.

Oddly enough, in her announcement of West as the Interim CEO, Nichols never once alluded to the departure of Calvi or Powers. LouisianaVoice learned of their leaving through other sources. Calvi’s leaving, whether voluntary or involuntary, was not difficult to figure out after West was announced as his replacement, albeit without benefit of an accompanying announcement of his exodus. http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/PressReleases/New_OGB_Interim_CEO_Susan_West.htm

It was certainly a ham-handed way of announcing West’s appointment with no explanation of Calvi or Power’s leaving. Nothing would surprise us though, given the manner in which this administration tends to handle such matters with all the subtlety of Larry, Moe and Curly trying to administer a cold buttermilk enema to a feral cat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This might be considered a break from state politics and in a way, it is. At the same time, however, there is a tenuous link—a tongue-in-cheek link, to be sure, but a link nonetheless.

It is a somewhat convoluted story centered around a former co-worker. Harley Purvis (not his real name) worked with me for about 10 years as a claims adjuster for the Louisiana Office of Risk Management (ORM). A legend in his own mind, he retired about a decade before I managed to make a less than graceful exit to watching the mail for my monthly pension check.

Harley was a hoot. He was never shy about boasting of his self-anointed title of political kingmaker (or king-breaker, depending upon which politician was the subject of the day’s conversation) during coffee breaks in the old Department of Education building.

We so looked forward to those breaks because we knew ol’ Harley would regale us with tales of his epic exploits which approached reality only in his vivid imagination. All other conversation would cease whenever he began with his obligatory “I’ll tell you one damned thing…,” because we knew he was about to bestow his unique version of the truth upon us.

He claimed to be president of the board of a country club in a neighboring parish but a single phone call by yours truly confirmed that he was neither president nor even a member of the club’s board of directors. A club member, yes. But President? you can check that box “no.”

There were normally up to a dozen—maybe even more—present at many of the breaks at which he generally held court. No one at those breaks ever challenged his claims—mostly because no one wanted to interrupt his wildly imaginative flights of fancy.

When Edwin Edwards defeated Buddy Roemer in the 1993 governor’s election, Harley spread the word that he was in line to be the next commissioner of administration.

Of course, it didn’t happen. Weeks later, after Edwards mysteriously passed over Harley in favor of another, I asked him at break what happened to his appointment. Without missing a beat, Harley simply informed us that “They didn’t get the money right.” This at a time when claims adjusters for ORM topped out at somewhere around $30,000.

When Harley’s high school class scheduled its reunion (there was no word which reunion it was, but it must have been at least his 35th or 40th), he immediately began his preparations for the big event by dying his hair jet black—with liquid shoe polish.

Predictably, the polish soon began running down the back of his neck, soaking into his shirt collar. ORM’s claims officer walked past his cubicle and, seeing the streaking shoe polish oozing down his neck, asked, “Harley, what the hell happened to you?”

He once ran for the state civil service board and after taking time off to campaign throughout the state, finished last.

Anytime anyone at break mentioned any prominent resident of the parish where his country club was located, Harley would always twist his first two fingers together, hold them up and proclaim, “We’re just like this. He always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

After about the 20th time hearing this (about 20 different “tight friends”), I asked, “Harley, how many tables do you wait on at these country club functions?” That was probably the angriest I ever saw him but everyone else got a good laugh.

He once spotted an attractive lady who worked for another agency in our building. Unaware that I knew her, he confided in me that he had a date with her for the coming weekend. Intent on giving her a heads up about his misplaced narcissism, I quietly made my way to her and asked her if she knew Harley. “Who?” she said. I pointed him out and informed her that he said he had a date with her. “Oh, God, no!” she blurted. “I don’t have a date with him this weekend or ever. I have to stop this.”

I never learned what she said to him but when I later asked him how his date went, Harley said, “I cancelled it. I found out she’s married.”

She wasn’t.

For the then-approaching 1997 elections, he boasted that he had to start lining up his campaign contributions because “You have to know where to put your money. That’s how I keep my political power.”

“But isn’t it illegal for civil service employees to contribute to political campaigns?” I asked.

“Hell, I’m not stupid. I give the money to my mother and she passes out the contributions.”

“So, in other words, your mama has political influence and you’ve got squat.”

That was the second time I made him angry. “I don’t know why I even talk to you,” he muttered, walking away.

Never one to be discouraged, he nevertheless did continue talking to me, later telling me his girlfriend was moving back to Louisiana from Houston. Hooking his thumbs in his belt buckle, he drawled, “I guess I’m gonna have to call Edwin (Gov. Edwards, whom he apparently knew on a first-name basis) and get her a job at (an area university).”

A couple of hours afterward, I walked into the copy room and found a female co-worker already at the copier. As I waited my turn, I related that conversation to her in full Harley Purvis mode—right down to the thumbs in the buckle. As I embellished his drawl, I noticed her eyes widening and her mouth trying to form words.

“He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” I asked, still imitating his distinctive cadence and inflection.

She could only nod in silent assent.

I turned and said, “Hello, Harley” and retreated to my cubicle. Nothing else one can do when busted like that.

As his retirement date approached, Harley became bolder and even more boastful with his fellow adjusters.

“When I retire, I’m gonna work as an investigator for a plaintiff attorney and I’m gonna bring this agency to its knees,” he said more than once.

Fast forward a few years and ORM becomes the first state agency to be privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal—at a cost to the state of nearly $75 million. It was $68 million at first but the company that took over ORM, F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) of Mandeville came back in only about eight months for a 10 percent ($6.8 million) amendment to its contract.

Then, less than a month after getting that amendment approved, FARA sold its contract to another company from Ohio which only a few months later, sold out to a New York firm—despite a clause in the state contract that strictly forbade transfer of the contract without prior written approval. No prior written approval was ever given.

Meanwhile, word coming out of ORM indicates that workers comp claims payments are about $10 million more than before privatization. So instead of the privatization saving the projected $20 million, the state now is in a $10 million hole and will now have to see a savings of $30 million to reach that $20 million estimate—and it doesn’t seem likely that those savings will ever be realized.

With a third company now serving as ORM’s third party administrator, accountability and transparency are out the window insofar as the agency is concerned.

So in retrospect, perhaps Harley was right. Maybe he was behind the privatization movement. Maybe he helped to run up the excess claims payments.

It may have taken 10 or more years, but hey, who’s to say ol’ Harley wasn’t sandbagging us all those years?

Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that he wasn’t instrumental in “bringing this agency to its knees?”

Who knew?

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As analogies go, something called the Leadership Academy, offered to state employees by the Division of Administration (DOA), could best be described as Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Did we say offered? Of course, we meant to say mandated, as in employees had no choice but to attend. And what they got was reminiscent of motivational courses offered a few years back to employees of the late Office of Risk Management. In those ORM classes, motivational speaker Ron Jackson of Baton Rouge offered employees the opportunity to build structures out of plastic drinking straws as some kind of motivational exercise.

And for his trouble, Jackson was awarded a $49,000 contract by ORM. In another of Jackson’s sessions, employees were asked to draw an energy-efficient automobile.

It is not known if Toyota, Kia, Nissan, GM, Ford or any other carmaker has moved to incorporate any of the revolutionary automotive designs that came out of that little exercise. And to our knowledge, no architectural firms have inquired about plastic straw building designs.

Jackson did hold one-on-one sessions with ORM employees to receive “confidential” thoughts, suggestions and complaints but few employees placed their full trust in the word “confidential,” and thus did not participate.

One reason for that lack of trust was the name of one of board members of his company, LEAD Training Resources Group. Before the contact information was removed, the LEAD website contained the name of a board member who, coincidentally, just happened to be an employee of DOA. And as if that were not enough, her contact information contained her state email address.

So now DOA is following that example by offering its Leadership Academy, complete with handouts of a book entitled Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

The list price of the book is $24.95 but it’s likely that DOA got a steep volume discount. Total cost for all copies of the book was only $448.80, which computes to only about 18 copies at full price and considerably more copies than that were passed out.

Another $565.45 was spent by DOA on the reproduction of handouts and binders, bringing the total cost of leadership to $1,014.25 for the undetermined number of DOA employees assigned to attend the academy. Of course, the time spent by employees away from their duties to attend the lectures was not computed into the equation so that cost is undetermined.

And while no one was asked to construct a building of plastic straws or to design an energy-efficient car, attendees were given a list of six pairs of choices, or preferences, printed on a sheet of paper. That list is as follows:

• Beach or Mountains;
• Hamburger or Hot dog;
• Hotel or Camping;
• Fiction or Non-fiction;
• Pie or Cake, and
• Movie Theater or DVD.

Participants were asked to circle one preference on each line and then to visit other employees in attendance to compare lists to see who came closest to their choice of preferences—to what end we’re not entirely sure. Perhaps it was a test of compatibility for some new type of dating service.

The academy consists of five sessions. The first was held on Feb. 13 and the final session for the last group of employees is scheduled for next Wednesday (March 6), according to the itinerary provided employees.

We’re also not certain what happened last Wednesday but following that session, Vincent Miholic, Ph.D., training and development program manager for DOA, sent a somewhat curious email in which he apologized to attendees.

“My apologies, again, for miscalculating and running out of time,” he wrote. “Was really looking for a robust discussion, rather than the failed timing. Thought I could ‘power’ through it…very dangerous, drag-racing without enough pavement. Hope you’ll let me chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure.”

“…chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure”?

Can someone please tell us what that means?

The handbook contained a letter to attendees from DOA Chief Staff Steven Procopio, Ph.D. ($122,000 a year).

“On behalf of the Office of the Commissioner, (Commissioner Kristy Nichols ($162,700), thank you for your attendance in this valuable professional development activity,” Procopio wrote. “Your participation is an investment in professional growth and evidence of a strong commitment to the mission of the Division.”

Excuse us, Dr. Procopio, just how is required attendance indicative of a “strong commitment” to anything?

And as for the “mission” of the division, that’s a little difficult to quantify considering the mission of the governor’s office seems to be a little vague these days. It’s virtually impossible to discern any mission when Gonenor Jindal never seems to be around to look in on little things like an ever-expanding sinkhole in Assumption Parish that just happens to be leaking toxic gases.

It’s hard to define a mission when efforts to overhaul retirement and schemes to pay for school vouchers are shot down either by the Legislature or the courts.

Where’s the mission when an agency like the Department of Health and Hospitals, which has more than $650 million in assets and more than $7 billion in annual revenue is allowed to decimate its audit section in favor of a single contract auditor (who subsequently walked away from that contract) only to see an employee misappropriate some $800,000 in state funds before being caught?

Sorry, but having sat through a few of them ourselves, we really do not see the value of these touchy-feely sessions that may be intended to spread a warm fuzzy message throughout an agency but which accomplish little more than provoke derisive ridicule from the very ones the sessions are intended to benefit.

Where’s the mission in a campaign hell-bent on gutting higher education, handing out lucrative contracts to political supporters as public education is offered up as a sacrifice to the god of charters and vouchers and systematically dismantling the state’s public health programs?

From our perspective, this “Leadership Academy” is nothing more than meaningless lip service and an empty gesture designed solely to convince employees that someone up the food chain actually cares about them.

Sadly, the reality is nothing could be further from the truth.

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Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama on Tuesday may have provided the perfect opportunity for Gov. Piyush Jindal and de facto governor Timmy Teepell (or so they must certainly be thinking right about now).

Sure, Jindal did the dutiful thing and ran around the country like the proverbial chicken with its head chopped off, talking to throngs of avid Romney supporters that sometimes numbered as many as a dozen or so.

And sure, he said all the right things at those massive gatherings.

But deep down, you have to know that Jindal and Teepell are smirking just a little right now and have already begun their drive to the White House for 2016.

Jindal is an impatient man as witnessed by his rush to push through a radical education agenda and his attempt to completely revamp the state retirement system even though his plan would have cut some state employees’ pensions by as much as 85 percent (and the vast majority of state employees do not qualify for social security because they have never worked in the private sector and state employees don’t pay into the system).

Nor will the vast majority of state employees qualify for Medicare for the same reason. But that fact did nothing to stop him from slashing Medicaid.

Jindal also rushed through his plan to privatize state government, beginning with the ill-fated takeover of the Office of Risk Management by F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) of Mandeville at an initial contract cost of $68 million to the state. Eight months into its contract, FARA was requesting a $6.8 million amendment to its contract. That was precisely 10 percent of the original contract amount. There is an obscure regulation that allows a one-time amendment to contracts for up to—you guessed it—10 percent.

But wait! There’s more! Less than a month after the contract was bumped up to nearly $75 million, FARA upped and sold the contract to an Ohio company who kept it for about four months before selling it to a New York company.

There was a hitch in all those transactions but again, did it slow Jindal down? Not a bit. That hitch was a clause in the FARA contract that supposedly prohibited the transfer of the contract without prior written approval of the Division of Administration (DOA). When asked for a copy of that prior written approval, DOA responded without a shred of concern and even less of an explanation that no such document existed.

Jindal has plowed headlong into a policy of closing state hospitals with little or no concern of the effects it has to area residents who rely on the hospitals for treatment of injuries, disease and mental illness.

He has been similarly reckless in his closures of state prisons, throwing hundreds of state employees out of work. In both the hospital and prison closures, he has neglected to give area legislators a heads-up before taking the action to close the facilities, an oversight over which lawmakers continue to seethe.

He has attempted with equal urgency to enter into a contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) as a third party administrator (TPA) for the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) medical coverage for about 62,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Facing certain defeat of the proposed contract at the hands of the House Appropriations Committee last week, Jindal’s new Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols abruptly pulled the proposal from the agenda of the joint meeting between the Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

It was a less than auspicious coming out party for his new commissioner of administration. A smashing debut for Nichols it was not.

But the administration is back for another attempt this Friday at 8:30 a.m. The makeup of the Appropriations Committee will be slightly different, however, after last week’s Black Friday purge of the committee by Jindal.

And make no mistake, while it was House Speaker Chuck “Genuflecting Gelding” Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) who announced the removal of Reps. Cameron Henry of Metairie and Joseph Harrison of Gray, the word came from Jindal—or Teepell. Both Henry and Harrison are Republicans but both also violated the cardinal rule against questioning anything put before them by Pontiff Piyush.

Harrison said as much when he revealed that the administration historically provides questions to committee members that they are allowed to ask. At the same time, he said, they are instructed not to deviate from the list by asking any questions other than those on the list.

So now Jindal is making one final push to get his contract with BCBS approved.

It’s doubtful he will make a personal appearance; he almost always sends his flunkies to carry the water for him.

It’s also doubtful if Nichols will repeat last week’s faux pas of tell committee members she would “dumb down” her explanation of the proposed contract for the benefit of lawmakers. It’s one thing to close a hospital or prison without informing the legislators in the area. It’s quite another to sit before them and call them dumb to their faces.

The point of all this is this: don’t look for Piyush in Baton Rouge in the remaining three-plus years of his term of office. He’s not likely to be spending much time in his fourth floor office.

A quick drive through on Wednesday revealed that Teepell’s Jeep was parked—as always—in the back parking lot of the State Capitol. This is a former Jindal staff member who resigned more than a year ago to run the Southern office of OnMessage, a Maryland political consulting firm. OnMessage has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by Jindal’s campaign fund over recent years but more than a year after Teepell opened that Baton Rouge office, there still is no local address or telephone number for the firm.

If Teepell is doing anything at all for OnMessage, he is doing it—as a private citizen—from the State Capitol’s fourth floor governor’s office. We have mentioned this on at least two other occasions but still the attorney general and the inspector general’s offices have done nothing to bring the misuse of the public office for private purposes to an end.

But the boy wonder we know as Piyush is about to hit the road in a fundraising blitz that will, in all likelihood, dwarf that of his re-election fundraising efforts of a year ago.

He is going to be running full time for president and he is an impatient man. He did not want to wait eight years wasting his valuable time in some obscure federally appointed position in the Romney administration (though doubtless he would have taken a higher profile position if it could keep his name in the forefront). He will serve next year as head of the National Republican Governor’s Association. That will keep his name out there while he ramps up his fundraising efforts.

Now, though, he can hold to the office (in theory if not in reality) of governor of Louisiana for three years while keeping his travel itinerary full. His term will end in January, 2016—just in time for him to become a full time candidate.

Even as he does so, however, there is a significant lesson to be learned from Tuesday’s results—a lesson quite likely overlooked by JindalTeepell.

The Democrats learned from the Reagan landslides that it was going to have to move from the far left more towards the center in order to gain the acceptance and trust of the American electorate. It did and the result was Bill Clinton.

Likewise, to gain the trust of the American people, the Republican Party is going to have shed itself of the stigma it now carries as a refuge for the Tea Partiers. Simply put, the GOP is going to have to shift away from the right right, becoming less a haven for the extremists with more appeal to the centrists.

Unfortunately for Piyush (and perhaps fortunately for the rest of us), he seems incapable of making such a shift. He has shown himself to be stubborn, obstinate and convinced of his own infallability. He is simply unwilling to compromise and that, in the end, will be his undoing.

In the meantime, don’t look for him in Baton Rouge during the next three years.

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Editor’s note: The information contained in this story was received via printouts from the Louisiana Department of Civil Service of those earning $100,000 or more for the years 2009 through 2012. Each year was listed separately. Accordingly, when the name of Patti Gonzalez of the Office of Risk Management did not appear until the 2012 printout, the indication was she had received a pay increase. This was not the case and there was no explanation as to why she did not appear in prior years but Ms. Gonzalez says she has not received an increase since March of 2010.

Likewise, no state elected officials received pay increases as their salaries are set in statute. Civil Service printouts did indicate pay increases for all but two statewide elected officials but this apparently was in error.

Rank and file state civil service employees have gone without pay increases, merit or otherwise, since 2009 but at least 104 managers, directors, supervisors and five statewide elected officials already making in excess of $100,000 a year have received increases over the past three years.

Not included in the tabulation were doctors, nurses, pharmacists, higher education professors or, with one exception, those who were promoted from one job to another and got raises.

Altogether, more than 3,200 state employees earning more than $100,000 per year accounted for an annual payroll of approximately $432 million—an average of about $135,000 each.

The average pay of a state civil service employee is approximately $39,600.

In most cases—but not all—the pay increases were 4 percent increases. A 4 percent increase for one making $100,000 would be $4,000. That would fund four such increases for workers earning only $25,000 a year.

There were those, however, who did better. Much better.

Michael Diresto went from $103,792 in 2011 to $118,792 this year, a $15,000 (14.5 percent) bump. He was listed by the Department of Civil Service as a “director” in the Division of Administration (DOA) for both years. On the DOA web page, he is identified as an assistant commissioner for policy and communications.

Bruce Unangst, executive director of the Real Estate Commission, also saw his annual salary balloon from $109,000 in 2011 to $125,000 this year, a 14.7 percent increase.

In the governor’s office itself, Executive Counsel Elizabeth Murrill did extremely well for herself. Her 2011 salary of $110,000 grew to $165,000 this year—before her transfer to DOA where presumably, it will remain the same. Her one-year pay hike was a whopping 50 percent, according to Civil Service records.

In the Department of Insurance, 14 employees earning $100,000 or more received 4 percent increases from 2011 to 2012 while four others, including an attorney supervisor, did not. Insurance Commissioner James Donelon this year also hired former state legislator Noble Ellington, who had no experience in insurance, as deputy commissioner at a salary of $149,900.

Five of 14 employees of the Port of New Orleans Port Commission who earn $100,000 or more were awarded pay raises ranging from 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent.

At the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), several employees received pay increases from 2011 to 2012 despite the pay freeze. They included Executive Director Robert Marier, who went from $196,102 to $205,899 (5 percent); Associate Director Cecilia Mouton, from $185,640 to $194m916 (5.1 percent); Executive Director John Liggio, from $119,044 to $125,068 (5 percent), and Executive Director Lisa Schilling, from $107,702 to $134,638 (25 percent).

None of the four changed job classifications, according to the Civil Service report. One who did change classifications got a 14.8 percent increase, a lower percentage than Schilling. Courtney Phillips was promoted from a Medicaid Program Manager 4 at $102,814 per year to Chief of Staff at $118,019.

One other executive director, six DHH attorneys, a deputy director, a deputy secretary, a budget administrator, an economist and a program director received no salary increases from 2011 to 2012.

Debra Schum, listed as an executive officer in the Department of Education (DOE), got a 20 percent pay raise, from $110,000 in 2011 to $132,000 this year while Kerry Lester, also an executive officer with DOE, got a $5,000 increase, from $150,000 to $155,000 during the same time frame.

But what is particularly interesting about the DOE payroll is the seemingly inordinate number of new hires of people at six-figure salaries, especially in the Recovery School District.

State Superintendent of Education John White has brought in no fewer than 10 new employees at salaries in excess of $100,000 this year alone—and that’s not even counting Deirdre Finn, a part time contract employee who will be paid $144,000 a year to work as communications manager for the department—from her home in Florida.

The idea of hiring a commuting employee, apparently borrowed from DHH and Carol Steckel, who is being paid $148,500 a year as a “confidential assistant” to DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein to commute back and forth from her home in Alabama, seems to be catching on.

David “Lefty” Lefkowith is being paid $146,000 to commute back and forth from Los Angeles to work at DOE as a “director,” according to Civil Service records. He describes himself in a DOE video, however, as a “deputy superintendent.”

Other new, six-figure employees added by DOE this year include:

• Gary Jones, Executive Officer, $145,000;

• Melissa Stilley, Liaison Officer, $135,000;

• Michael Rounds, Deputy Superintendent, $170,000;

• Hannah Dietsch, Assistant Superintendent, $130,000;

• Francis Touchet, Liaison Officer, $130,000;

• Stephen Osborn, Assistant Superintendent, $125,000;

• Sandy Michelet, Executive Director, $120,000;

• Kenneth Bradford, Director, $110,000;

• Heather Cope, Executive Director of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, $125,000.

For the Recovery School District (RSD), both the high turnover and six-figure salaries are significant. That’s because there is substantial turnover despite the high salaries and that turnover has stymied any progress the already troubled RSD might have realized.

No fewer than 20 employees earning six figures have left the RSD since 2009, records show.

For the three years from 2010 to 2012, there was a turnover rate among those earning $100,000 or more ranging from 29 to 44 percent from the previous year Civil Service records indicate.

Of 24 RSD employees earning six figures for the current year, 15, or 62.5 percent, are new hires, records show. These include:

• Stacy Green, School Nurse, $145,000;

• James D. Ford, Administrative Superintendent, $145,000;

• Dana Peterson, Administrative Superintendent, $125,000;

• Adam Hawf, Administrator, $120,000;

• Mark Comanducci, Executive Director, $115,000;

• Helen Molpus, Administrative Chief, Officers, $115,000;

• Kizzy Payton, Administrative, Business Office, $110,000;

• Hua Liang, Administrative Chief, Officers, $110,000;

• Nicole Diamantes, Administrative, Other Special Programs, $105,000;

• Isaac Pollack, Administrative, Principal, $105,000;

• Desmond Moore, Administrative, Principal, $105,000;

• Betty Robertson, Other Business Services, $105,000;

• Robert Webb, Administrator, Other Special Programs, $105,000;

• Sametta Brown, Administrator, Regular Programs, $100,800;

• Ericka Jones, Administrative, Principal, $100,000;

• Eric Richard, Administrative, Principal, $100,000.

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This is about arrogance. More specifically, it is about the arrogance of two men, both from Louisiana and each elected to represent his constituents to the best of his ability.

And to that end, each has failed miserably while taking his individual insolence to new levels—in very different ways. One we have written about extensively in the past. The other, not so much, though perhaps he may well warrant closer attention in the future.

We are talking about Gov. Piyush Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

The first, Jindal, has repeatedly displayed his cowardice, his spinelessness, by taking actions to close state facilities without bothering to notify affected legislators of his plans in advance. He has consistently ignored the plight of hundreds of state employees he forced into unemployment by cutting services and corporate taxes, further exacerbating the state’s budgetary crisis.

Vitter’s vote on a Senate bill last week can only described as despicable and hypocritical.

We will get to him presently.

It was not enough that Jindal announced the closure of Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville and C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in Dequincy without extending the courtesy of a heads up to the legislative delegation in southeast and southwest Louisiana, the two areas affected.

But in doing so, he appeared to give little regard to or concern for the hundreds of employees at the two facilities who will be adversely impacted by layoffs or, in a few cases, transfers.

Then, on the heels of the announcement of the C. Paul Phelps closure The Baton Rouge League of Women Voters held a panel discussion to discuss Jindal’s continued privatization of state agencies, including the Office of Risk Management, the Office of Group Benefits, charter schools, educational vouchers, state hospital privatization and Medicaid cutbacks.

Invited to attend were representatives of the Jindal administration and proponents of privatization as well as four opponents, including an education coalition representative and Dr. Fred Cerise, former head of the LSU Health Care System.

One end of the head table was fully represented. On the other end, not a single person appeared on behalf of the administration. Cowardice. If an administration cannot publicly defend its actions—and make no mistake, Jindal never does—then that can only be described as cowardly.

Oh, they all had excuses. Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said he had to attend a State Bond Commission meeting. But that meeting was over before the panel forum began across town. Bottom line, no one from the administration could—or would—find the time to defend the governor’s program.

Of course, Jindal had plenty time to attend a Republican unity breakfast in New Hampshire a week before and agreed to participate in a Sept. 26 Leaders of Iowans for Freedom “No Wiggins” bus tour—a rally in opposition to the re-election of Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins who voted with the majority to rule the state’s one-man, one-woman marriage law unconstitutional.

We have to wonder how our governor, who, metaphorically speaking, has more snakes than he can kill right here at home, can find time to involve himself in a supreme court race in Iowa. Does the state Medicaid budget’s gaping budget hole not keep him sufficiently occupied without his having to traipse off to Iowa? Isn’t the fiscal plight of the state’s colleges and universities of enough concern to deter him from having breakfast in New Hampshire?

Or could it be more than mere coincidence that the first presidential primary and party caucus will be in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively, in about three years? Could Jindal be that brazen, that disturbingly obvious? Well, yes. Could he really be that delusional, fooling himself into thinking he has a prayer? Yes again.

Piyush would be wise to awaken to the realization that Timmy Teepell is no Karl Rove.

LouisianaVoice has submitted a public records request to determine the cost of Jindal’s two trips including costs not only for Jindal, but for his security detail and any staff members who went along, including travel, lodging, meals and salaries—and including Jindal’s pro-rated salary for the days he is out of state.

Just for argument’s sake, let us say he made each trip in a single day. Giving his annual salary of $130,000, that would mean he should rebate the state a minimum $712 in salary while he was out of state attending to non-governor-type business—plus all the other expenses incurred on the trip for him and his entourage.

Now let’s talk about Vitter.

There was a bill up for a vote in the Senate last week. The Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 would have made it easier for veterans in the future to transition to civilian life.

With veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experiencing unemployment rates 3 percent higher than the general population, the bill would have put a lot of those veterans to work.

A majority (58-40) voted for the bill but that was two votes short of the three-fifths majority needed to overcome a budgetary point of order thrown up by Republicans.

Republicans said the bill violated the Budget Control Act by adding a program that would increase the deficit. Only five Republicans voted for the bill.

Vitter was one of 40 Republicans who voted no.

That’s correct. U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), given a chance to vote up or down on a measure to help veterans, chose to vote down.

We’re talking about a $16 trillion deficit and the Republicans were quibbling over a budget item of $200 million per year over five years.

Given the propensity of Republicans to consistently vote for larger and larger appropriations for the Pentagon and military contractors and given Republicans’ support of two wars that have cost this country more than $4 trillion, a $1 billion appropriation to help our veterans re-enter the work force should not seem so unreasonable.

Given that most of these Republican chicken hawks have never experienced military service, it certainly is curious that they are so reluctant to lend a hand once these military personnel have sacrificed so much to defend the rhetoric of the pompous congressmen who while beating their collective breasts, are so quick, yea eager, to send them off to war.

It is heartless enough that military personnel with traumatic head injuries are unable to obtain adequate or timely medical treatment once they are no longer useful as fighters and as unwitting enablers of military contractors who milk the Pentagon budget of untold billions of dollars in unchecked cost overruns and outright fraud.

But when it came time to put his money where his patriotic, flag-waving mouth is, Vitter, rather than reaching out to the veterans, turns his back on them. What a coward.

And we thought his frequenting New Orleans prostitutes and cavorting with the D.C. Madam after all of his preaching about family values was hypocritical. That was child’s play, a victimless crime, as they say. His vote on the Veterans Jobs Corps Act dwarfed that transgression. There were thousands of victims of that callous action.

To demonstrate the Republican stance on American exceptionalism and righteous wars, one need look no further than to a statement made by Andrew Card, President George W. Bush’s chief of staff who, when asked about the timing of the March 2003 Iraqi invasion, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

There you have it. A half-century ago President Eisenhower said, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Despite that admonition, war—and the influence of that military-industrial complex—has become a marketing concept, a product to be introduced with the appropriately hyped mixture of patriotism, mom and apple pie, along with the oft-repeated need to defeat the newest threat to the American Way of Life, whatever that is.

And Vitter is right there with his fellow Republicans—until it’s time to help those who supported that policy—the men and women in uniform.

In 2003, he voted in favor of HR 1559, the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act. In 2008, he voted in favor of HR 2642 to approve funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan War—funding that has now exceeded the $4 trillion mark.

But in 2012, he and 39 other Republicans just could not bring themselves to waste a five-year, billion dollar expenditure to help military veterans return to the workforce.

We should be so very proud of our junior senator.

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