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Archive for the ‘Privatization’ 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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Anyone who still wonders why Gov. Bobby Jindal trots around the country uttering his venom-laced attacks on Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular should understand something. It’s all about politics; he is simply pandering to what he perceives as his base which is, at best, an illusion.

His foaming at the mouth courtship with his invisible support group is something like playing with an imaginary friend. In Jindal’s case, we have it on pretty good authority that he had two imaginary friends as a child but they would go to the other end of the playground and never let him join them. You will notice he never shows up in any of the lists of potential major GOP presidential candidates. That’s because the Republican Party just doesn’t want to play with him.

We have to give Jindal credit for one thing, however; he backs his rhetoric with action.

In his steadfast resistance to anything Washington, we have seen him:

  • Reject $300 million in federal funding for a Baton Rouge to New Orleans high speed passenger rail connection because he doesn’t want federal control;
  • Pretend to reject $98 million in federal stimulus funds for recovery from the 2008 recession while quietly taking the funds and handing out checks to municipalities during his highly-publicized visits to Protestant churches in north Louisiana;
  • Reject $80 million in federal funding to expand broadband internet service into rural areas of the state, primarily in north Louisiana;
  • Reject $15.7 billion in federal Medicaid expansion funds because he incorrectly claimed it would cost Louisiana taxpayers up to $1.7 billion over 10 years. He provided no figures to back that claim but did defiantly say Obama “won’t bully Louisiana.” Meanwhile, more than 200,000 low-income Louisiana residents are still without medical insurance.
  • Reject the Common Core State Standards Initiative after previously voicing his wholehearted support for the standards, again saying, “We won’t let the federal government take over Louisiana’s education standards.”
  • Prevail upon the legislature to reject an increase in the minimum wage, to reject tightening regulation of payday loan companies, to ban discrimination against gays, and to reject support of equal pay for women—most probably because all such proposals have the ugly thumbprints of Washington all over them.

So, taking into account his polarizing negativity against Washington, it’s pretty easy to see that things might have been different if we’d never had this little demagogue as governor.

But then we got to wondering how Louisiana might have fared down through the years if we had always been saddled with a Jindal on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. We would probably have beaten South Carolina in being the first state to secede from the Union.

But for the sake of simplicity, let’s just go back to Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. That’s pretty fair because U.S. Sen. Huey Long (whom Jindal often seems to be trying to emulate) was about as anti-New Deal then as Jindal is anti-everything federal is today. Moreover, the nation was reeling from the Great Depression, thanks to Wall Street’s greed, just as America was suffering from the Recession of 2008, thanks in large part to Wall Street again gone amok.

Works Progress Administration projects:

  • Big Charity Hospital in New Orleans where many Louisiana physicians received their training for decades (including Congressmen Bill Cassidy and Charles Boustany, Jr.);
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) which brought electric power to Louisiana’s most rural farm communities (and without which, to paraphrase the late comic Brother Dave Gardner, they’d all be watching TV by candlelight);
  • State Capitol Annex across Third Street from the State Capitol;
  • More courthouses were constructed under the program from 1936 to 1940 than in any other period in state history. They include courthouses in the parishes of St. Bernard, Natchitoches, Iberia Parish, Caldwell, Cameron, East Carroll, Jackson, Madison, Rapides, St. Landry and Terrebonne.
  • Mumford Stadium, Bradford Hall and Grandison Hall at Southern University;
  • Himes Hall, the faculty club, and the geology building at LSU;
  • Two buildings at what is now the University of Louisiana Monroe, three on the McNeese campus, seven each at Southeastern Louisiana University and Louisiana Tech, a water tower at Grambling State University, eight additions at Northwestern State University and 12 at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, all of which significantly extended the reach of higher education in the state.
  • Scores of new elementary and high schools (including this writer’s Alma Mater, Ruston High School), as well as high school science labs, gymnasium-auditoriums, home economics cottages, athletic fields, music rooms and vocational education shops;
  • New buildings for the Hansen’s Disease Center at Carville;
  • The Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans;
  • Extensive improvements and updates to the French Market in New Orleans;
  • Expansion of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans;
  • Paving of 40 miles of roadway on Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City as well as the clearing of 15 miles of bayous and drainage canals and the rehabilitation of 43 wooden bridges on the base;
  • Improvements to the 1,300-acre City Park in New Orleans;
  • The Louisiana State Museum in Shreveport;
  • Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans;
  • The old City Hall in Denham Springs;
  • Construction of the Louisiana State School for the Deaf (now housing an administration building for the Baton Rouge Police Department);
  • Post offices in Hammond, Plaquemine, Arabi; Arcadia, Bunkie, Donaldsonville, Eunice, Haynesville, Jeanerette, Leesville, Oakdale, Rayville, and Monroe;
  • Conversion of a Baton Rouge swamp into the University Lakes around which many LSU professors, former U.S. Congressman Henson Moore and current Congressman Bill Cassidy now reside;
  • Eradication program to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes near the New Orleans lakefront.

Huey Long did everything in his power to throw up roadblocks to FDR. His reasons? He planned to run for President in 1936 and he needed to incite opposition to Roosevelt and Washington in order to build a national political base. In fact, before his death in September of 1935, Long was quite effective as fewer than three dozen PWA projects were fully authorized for the state.

Sound familiar?

Following Long’s death and with his obstructionist policy abandoned by his successors, FDR funneled $80 million into Louisiana for roads, bridges, water and sewerage systems, parks, playgrounds, public housing, library and bookmobile programs and literacy drives. That’s $80 million in 1930s dollars. About what it would take to fund that proposed broadband internet expansion for rural north Louisiana today.

So, let’s ask Jindal to hop into our time machine and travel back to September 1935 where he will run and be elected governor just in time to revive the Kingfish’s anti-Roosevelt rhetoric.

Big Charity Hospital? Who needs it? But wait. Jindal wouldn’t have that facility today to give away in his privatization plan yet to be approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). And without Big Charity, there probably never would have been similar state hospitals in Houma, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport or Monroe to close or privatize.

All those courthouses? Shoot, just drop them in the Capital Outlay bill and sell some more state bonds. We can always raise the state’s debt ceiling.

As for all those buildings on the university campuses across the state, hasn’t anyone been paying attention? We’re cutting funding for all that. Who needs public colleges anyway? Let the students get a student loan and go to ITI Technical College.

And Ruston High School? We’ll just turn that into a charter and issue vouchers to the white kids—the smart rich ones.

All those New Deal programs created jobs for Louisianians? Well, so what? There probably wouldn’t have been an unemployment problem in the first place if the workers weren’t so greedy back then and would’ve agreed to work for 15 cents an hour. That’s what happens when you raise the minimum wage.

Fast Forward 30 years

And lest we forget, we probably need to include a couple of programs President Lyndon B. Johnson rammed through Congress.

The Civil Rights Bill opened the door of opportunity for African Americans as nothing since the Emancipation Proclamation had done. And of course there was bitter opposition right down to passage—and beyond. There are those, some in elective office, who would repeal the act today, given the opportunity. The irony is that LBJ had opposed every Civil Rights measure in Congress when he was a senator but when he ascended to the presidency upon JFK’s assassination, he told one supporter, “I’m everybody’s president now.”

And, of course, there is the precursor to the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.

Of course, that would be that radical Social Security Amendment of 1965 which created Medicare and Medicaid.

There was rabid opposition to Medicare by Republicans and the American Medical Association which insisted there was no need for the federal government to intervene in the relationship between patient and physician. Today, if any politician ever tried to terminate Medicare services, he would have a blue-haired riot on his hands and rightly so.

Medicare now provides medical insurance to 50 million elderly Americans and Medicaid does the same for another 51 million low-income or disabled Americans.

Perhaps someone should ask Republican Congressmen Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge (6th District and a candidate for U.S. Senate against incumbent Mary Landrieu) and John Fleming of Minden (4th District), and Charles Boustany, Jr. (3rd District) each of whom is a physician and each of whom opposes Obamacare, what percentage of their income as practicing physicians walked in the door as Medicare or Medicaid patients?

Then check with Jindal to see how that squares with his opposition to the welfare state and such socialistic practices.

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To probably no one’s surprise except a clueless Gov. Bobby Jindal, the takeover of the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits (OGB) by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana 18 months ago has failed to produce the $20 million per year in savings to the state.

Quite the contrary, in fact. The OGB fund balance, which was a robust $500 million when BCBS took over as third party administrators (TPA) of the Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in January of 2013, only 18 months later stands at slightly less than half that amount and could plummet as low as an anemic $5 million a year from now, according to figures provided by the Legislative Fiscal Office.

OGB is one of the main topics to be taken up at today’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) when it convenes at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol.

OGB is currently spending about $16 million per month more than it is collecting in revenue, said Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter.

The drastic turnaround is predicated on two factors which LouisianaVoice warned about two years ago when the privatization plan was being considered by the administration:

  • Jindal lowered premiums for state employees and retirees. That move was nothing more than a smokescreen, we said at the time, to ease the state’s share of the premium burden as a method to help Jindal balance the state budget. Because the state pays a percentage of the employee/retiree premiums, a rate reduction would also reduce the amount owed by the state, thus freeing up the savings to patch gaping holes in the budget.
  • Because BCBS is a private company, it must return a profit whereas when OGB claims were processed by state employees, profits were not a factor. To realize that profit, premiums must increase or benefits decrease. Since Jindal had already decreased premiums, BCBS necessarily found it necessary to reduce benefits.

That, however, still was not enough and the negative income eroded the fund balance to its present level and now legislators are facing a severe fiscal crisis at OGB.

And make no mistake: this is a man-made crisis and the man is Bobby Jindal.

In a span of only 18 months we have watched his grandiose plans for OGB and the agency’s fund balance dissolve into a sea of red ink like those $250 million sand berms washing away in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the disastrous BP spill.

There is no tactful way to say it. This Jindal’s baby; he’s married to it. He was hell bent on privatizing OGB and putting 144 employees on the street for the sake of some hair-brained scheme that managed to go south before he could leave town for whatever future he has planned for himself that almost surely does not, thank goodness, include Louisiana.

So ill-advised and so uninformed was Jindal that he rushed into his privatization plan and now has found it necessary to have the consulting firm Alvarez and Marcel, as part of their $5 million contract to find state savings, to poke around OGB to try and pull the governor’s hand out of the fiscal fire. We can only speculate as to why that was necessary; Jindal, after all, had assured us up front that the privatization would save $20 million a year but now cannot make good on that promise.

In the real world, the elected officials are supposed to be the pros who know that they’re talking about while those of us on the sidelines are mere amateurs who can only complain and criticize. Well, we may be the political novices here, but the results at OGB pretty much speak for themselves and we can rightfully say, “We told you so.”

Are we happy or smug? Hell, no. We have to continue to live here and raise our children here while Jindal will be taking a job with some conservative think tank somewhere inside the D.C. Beltway (he certainly will not be the Republican candidate for president; he isn’t even a blip on the radar and one former state official now residing in Colorado recently said, “No one out here has ever even heard of him.”)

In a five-page letter to JLCB Chairman Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro), Carpenter illustrated the rate history of OGB going back to Fiscal Year 2008 when premiums were increased by 6 percent. The increase the following year was 3.7 percent and the remained flat in FY-10. In FY-11, premiums increased 5.6 percent, then 8.1 percent in FY-12 when the system switched from a fiscal year to calendar year. but in FY-13, the year BCBS assumed administrative duties, premiums dropped 7 percent as Jindal attempted to save money from the state’s contributions to plug budget holes. For the current year, premiums decreased 1.8 percent and in FY-15 are scheduled to increase by 5 percent.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Carpenter said that since FY 13, when BCBS took over the administration of OGB PPO claims, OGB’s administrative costs began to shift to more third party administrator (TPA) costs as the state began paying BCBS $23.50 per OGB member per month. That rate today is $24.50 and will increase to $25.50 in January of 2015, the last year of the BCBS contract.

That computes to more than $60 million per year that the state is paying BCBS to run the agency more efficiently than state employees who were largely responsible for the half-billion-dollar fund balance.

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Did the Jindal administration get the cart ahead of the horse when it announced the layoff of more than 100 state employees at a state hospital in central Louisiana?

As if Gov. Bobby Jindal did not have enough on his plate with his attempts to gain approval form the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for his hospital privatization plan, now the battle over the closure of one hospital has moved into the courts.

Brad Ott of New Orleans and Ed Parker of East Feliciana Parish have named the Louisiana State Senate, the State of Louisiana and the LSU Board of Supervisors in their lawsuit filed in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.

Their petition claims that the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare violated the state’s open meetings law in approving the closure of Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.

Moreover, the petition says that while more than 100 classified employees are due to receive layoff notices effective June 30, the State Civil Service Commission is not scheduled to consider the LSU layoff plan until early July.

Wait. What?

Did the LSU Board of Stuporvisors really notify 100-plus employees that they no longer had jobs—before getting formal approval of the layoff plan from Civil Service?

Surely not.

The Rules of Order of the Senate, Rule 13.73, entitled “Notice of committee meetings during session,” provides in part: “Such notices shall be posted for each meeting as soon as practicable, but not later than 1 p.m. of the day preceding the meeting day.”

Rule 13.75, entitled “Meetings prohibited without notice,” provides in part: “No meeting of a committee, regularly scheduled or otherwise, shall be held unless there is full compliance with the requirements of Louisiana Senate Rule 13.73…”

The lawsuit says the notice for the April 2, 2014, meeting of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare was revised on April 1 at 4:04 p.m. to add the consideration of SCR 48 by Sen. Gerald Long (R-Natchitoches).

SCR 48 was the Senate Concurrent Resolution that called for the closure of Huey P. Long. The resolution passed in the House Health and Welfare Committee by a 10-8 vote after nearly three hours of debate. By contrast, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee took only 10 minutes for unanimous passage.

Both petitioners say they had planned to testify in opposition to the resolution before the committee but that they were not notified that the committee would be taking up SCR 48 on April 2 because of the last minute revision to the notice of the meeting. “Consequently, both of the petitioners were effectively prevented from observing the deliberations…and expressing their concerns,” the petition said.

Wait. What?

Would a Louisiana Senate committee really do an end run around opponents to a controversial resolution in violation of the open meetings law in order to slip the resolution through?

Surely not.

But with the administration desperate to ram its hospital privatization through despite questionable funding methods, anything is possible. Jindal, in fact, has clearly demonstrated that he will go to any length to move his agenda along.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Adrienne Rachel are seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief subject to the state’s open meetings law, an injunction prohibiting the state from implementing provision of SCR 48, monetary damages for violations of the state’s open meetings law, and attorney’s fees.

Smith is a relative newcomer in litigation against the state but he has sent out notice that the old ways of doing business may be changing. He has already won one battle with the Department of Education over the department’s reluctance to comply with the state’s public records laws and currently has other suits pending against the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

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“…My purpose is to dismantle the dismantlers. As such, my words are not kind. My words expose, and that exposure is harsh. The individuals and organizations profiled in this book have declared war on my profession, and I take that personally.”

 

—Mercedes Schneider, writing in the introduction to her book A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.

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A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of America’s Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 404 pages) is a new book by St. Tammany Parish high school English teacher Mercedes Schneider that should be required reading by both proponents and opponents of the current drift in education from public to private, from non-profit availability to all students to for-profit institutions available to the select few.

Before we get too far into our review of this book, there are two things you should know about Mercedes Schneider:

  • The emphasis is on the first syllable of Mer’ Ce-deez; she’s not a car, nor was she named for one.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake of trying to schmooze her with B.S., especially when it comes to issues involving public education. She will call you out the same way she called out an ill-prepared Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President (BESE) Chas Roemer following his debate with Diane Ravitch in March of 2013. Ravitch had already run circles around Roemer in their debate and he was simply no match for Schneider in the question-and-answer session that followed. It would have been comical had it not been for the position of such serious responsibility conferred upon Roemer by voters in his BESE district.

And when she does call you out, that caustic and at the same time, delightful St. Bernard Parish accent comes shining through like a lighthouse beacon slicing through a foggy night.

The publisher of an education online blog called At the Chalk Fence, She has moved her debate from her ongoing fight with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White to a national forum and is now calling out such self-proclaimed education experts as former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein, whom she calls “the viral host of the corporate reform agenda,” Teach for America (TFA) founder Wendy Kopp, disgraced Washington, D.C. school chancellor and later founder of StudentsFirst Michelle Rhee, vagabond school reformer and former Superintendent of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) Paul Vallas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the “Big Three Foundations: Gates, Walton and Broad.”

A thorn in the side of Jindal, White, and Roemer of long-standing, she turns her attention to the national educational debate in Chronicle. With an appropriate nod to Ravitch as her mentor and the one who was always available when needed for advice, Schneider peppers her targets with a barrage of statistics that refute the unrealistic theories advanced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and TFA who insist meaningful education reform can be accomplished with inexperienced teachers and administrators, for-profit charters, vouchers, and the idea that throwing money at a problem is not the answer (despite their propensity to pour billions of dollars into their own idealistic agendas—at best, a philosophical oxymoron).

A product of the St. Bernard Parish public schools (P.G.T. Beauregard High School), Schneider’s attempt to drop out of school at age 15 somehow morphed into a B.S. in secondary education (English and German), a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the State University of West Georgia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Northern Colorado.

She taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University. It was at Ball State that she first took on the task of challenging the issues related to No Child Left Behind, teaching students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.”

In July 2007, only months before the election of Jindal as governor, she returned home and began a new job teaching high school English in St. Tammany parish.

Her introduction contains a brilliant metaphor for the corporate destruction of public education: she describes what she calls a “detailed image” of an abandoned building being imploded and collapsing upon itself. She envisions the building (public education), “not ornate, not without need for repairs, but sturdy,” as men in yellow hard hats (corporate reformers, we are told) watch, knowing what is about to transpire “because they have orchestrated it from the inside.” She describes the men as “responsible for the impending structural failure” and “who have planned the failure but are removed from its consequences.”

In her blog, she recently launched a withering attack on White’s embargo of the LEAP summary public report, saying the state superintendent had “apparently found himself in an unfamiliar fix regarding his characteristic ‘water muddying.’” She accused White of “collapsing” categories within the LEAP grading system in order to conceal variation through report “groupings” that she said concealed the precision of the standard five levels of LEAP achievement (unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced).

“Collapsing ‘basic,’ ‘mastery,’ and ‘advanced’ into a single, generic ‘passed’ serves to conceal achievement nuances that might make Louisiana Miracle RSD appear to be ‘less than’ locally-run districts—the ones operated by those pesky, traditional local school boards,” she said.

“After all, a test-score-deficient ‘miracle’ is harder to sell,” she said. “If the data reflect poorly on privatization, then the troubled corporate reformer could alter the data, or alter the reporting, or alter access to the reporting, or employ some combination of the three. Gotta love corporate reform ‘transparency.’”

Jindal, White and Roemer may heave a collective sigh of relief that they have been spared the glare of the spotlight in Chronicle as she concentrates her argument on the glaring weaknesses of the major education reform movers and shakers at the national level.

But perhaps they should not be too comfortable at being spared just yet.

After all, certain matter, they say, flows downhill.

A Chronicle of Echoes is a must read for anyone who is or ever claimed to be concerned about the perpetual political tampering with public education in America—by those least qualified to do so.

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That citation of Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive. The amended version of the bill has since been approved by both the full House and Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Following are a few of the issues in which Dove and his company, Vacco Marine, have been involved:

  • May 12, 1989: DEQ, Office of Water Resources, Water Pollution Control Division inspection found evidence that various substances, including diesel and sludge, were being buried and that the practice had been ongoing “for a while.”

 

  • April 28, 1994: Same office found “several areas of limestone and ground contaminated with oil” and that a ditch which drained into Bayou Grand Caillou was “contaminated with hydrocarbons.” Dove was ordered to remove contaminated sediment, remove all contaminated ground in proximity of spills and to prevent future spillage.

 

  • Sept. 12, 1996: Vacco Marine was issued a compliance order by DEQ’s Hazardous Waste Division after an inspection in December of 1995 resulted in three separate violations relating to solid waste.

 

  • Oct. 6, 2004: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a complaint and consent agreement pursuant to the EPA’s compliance evaluation inspection of Sept. 23, 2003. Vacco Marine paid $6,593 in civil penalties to EPA on Jan. 14, 2005, for unspecified violations. The agreement also noted that Vacco would be subject to further enforcement action and additional penalties of up to $32,500 per day for continued noncompliance. The agreement also stipulated that Vacco could be enjoined from further generation, transportation, storage of disposal of hazardous waste if violations persisted.

 

  • Feb. 24, 2010: A DEQ inspection found 10 separate violations including incorrect logging of mercury, cut electrical and air lines, failure to log wastes received at the facility, and a lack of a Stormwater Water Pollution Prevention plan, among others. The 177-page inspection report included numerous photographs of conditions at Vacco Marine. Those included photos of open ditches that contained effluent and which drained into the Houma Navigational Canal.

 

  • April 11, 2012: DEQ compliance order and notice of potential penalty issued on the basis of DEQ finding that Vacco Marine had failed to develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan as ordered in 2010. The DEQ order further noted that Vacco Marine had neglected to comply with other requirements, including the filing of required reports and permit applications. Vacco Marine also was found in violation of the requirement to record flow from its facility and, in fact, the flow meter was inoperable. Even when in service, the flow meter was found to have been installed incorrectly so that it could not accurate record flow rates. Other violations noted included failure to submit a noncompliance report, exceeding effluent limitations, incorrect reporting of Butyl Benzyl Phthalate outfall.

 

Even though Dove’s company was ordered to come into compliance with DEQ regulations, no penalties were imposed on Vacco Marine.

Could this have been because of his powerful position as chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment?

Could it be that he received special consideration because of his position as a legislator?

That, of course, is difficult to say. But it certainly should not be hard to see the potential danger of placing an individual as chairman of a legislative committee that oversees the very agency that regulates his business—especially when that individual has such a spotted record of compliance as Rep. Gordon Dove.

That makes about as much sense as allowing him to chair that same committee and allowing him to vote on SB 469 after he received nearly $29,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

It makes about as much sense as Gov. Jindal’s apparent belief that the state ethics laws are meant to apply to some but not others as he signed into law a bill to allow former State Sen. Francis Heitmeier to lobby the Legislature despite the fact that his brother, David Heitmeier, is currently a state senator—in open violation of the state ethics law that prohibits members of lawmakers’ families from lobbying the legislature.

It makes about as much sense as allowing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to enter into a contract with a company run by an LSU Board member to operate two LSU hospitals in north Louisiana.

It makes about as much sense as allowing Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer to vote on charter school issues despite the fact that his sister is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

It makes about as much sense as allowing BESE and the Louisiana Department of Education to enter into multi-million contracts with Teach For America (TFA) even as Kira Orange Jones sits as a member of BESE and serves as executive director of TFA Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta.

Where I grew up in north Louisiana, we called that letting the fox guard the henhouse.

In Baton Rouge, apparently it’s just called Jindaltics.

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Bobby Jindal the Petulant Paranoid has teagued yet another high-ranking state official, LouisianaVoice has learned.

This time the victim is said to have been only a few months from retirement.

The governor who publicly advocates openness, accountability and transparency everywhere in the U.S. except Louisiana, has shown on repeated occasions that he cannot stomach any difference of opinion among state employees at any level, classified or unclassified—or even from legislators.

His paranoia rose (or sank, depending upon one’s preferred descriptive verb) to a new level on Thursday, however, when he fired Gary Crockett, former administrator at Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville just two days after the House Health and Welfare Committee voted 10-8 to close the facility.

Crockett last year tried to keep administration-ordered layoffs at the hospital to a minimum but was forced to make deep cuts in personnel.

The irony of Jindal’s ongoing purge, aka dissident cleansing is that Crockett had already left his $144,650-a-year position at Huey P. Long because of his differences with the administration. He took a position at another state medical facility where he thought—incorrectly, it turns out—he could ride out the rest of his career..

Word out of the State Capitol is that Jindal felt that Crockett may have been providing information to legislators opposed to the closure of the hospital as part of Jindal’s flawed state hospital privatization plan that less than a week ago was shot down by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because of the creative but prohibited method of financing the privatization plans.

The federal action threw the state budget into chaos literally only days before the budget was to go to the House for debate on Thursday (today, May 8) because of a $400 million hole it blew in the state spending document.

Without going into specific names, suffice it to say that heads roll whenever a discouraging word is heard in Jindal’s presence and now the latest is what is becoming a very long line of teagueites, so named in honor of former Office of Group Benefits Director Tommy Teague, fired on April 15, 2011, and his wife Melody, fired about six months earlier as a grants reviewer but later reinstated.

One recent Teagueite, a friend of Crockett who must remain nameless, said of Jindal’s latest action, “There’s no other way to say it except to say the man is evil.”

Attempts by LouisianaVoice to reach Crockett Thursday for comment were unsuccessful.

 

 

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Looking back on the LSU Hospital privatization fiasco, it becomes easy to point the finger of blame in several directions.

And to a lesser extent, though by no means blameless, is the Louisiana Legislature.

The legislature has been complicit in many of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s other misadventures, most notably the unorthodox—and, it turned out, unconstitutional—method of funding the governor’s school voucher program. Lawmakers fell all over themselves in 2012 in approving that little scheme that eventually blew up in everyone’s faces when the courts rejected the manner in which Act 2 diverted money from local school districts to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition.

In fact, Jindal’s entire education reform package, passed in such haste in 2012, quickly grew to more resemble a train wreck than legitimate reform.

But the legislature, even though it never drew a line in the dust even as it capitulated to Jindal at every turn, in the final analysis, had little say-so about nor any recourse in preventing the wholesale giveaway—disguised as privatization—of the six hospitals, a maneuver that imploded Friday with the decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to reject the deals that would have turned over to private operators the LSU medical centers in Shreveport, Monroe, Lafayette, Houma, Lake Charles and New Orleans.

Even as Jindal’s rubber stamp LSU Board of Stuporvisers was rubber-stamping a contract containing 50 blank pages in the infamous conflict-of-interest deal handing over University Medical Center of Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center of Monroe to the Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF), legislators were voicing concerns over the warp speed at which the administration was moving to ram the agreement down the throats of an unsuspecting public.

In fact, a resolution passed unanimously in the Louisiana Senate at the urging of Sen. Ed Murray (D-New Orleans) called for the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to agree on the privatization plans before any details were to be finalized. A similar resolution was also passed in the House.

Resolutions are just that: resolutions, with no power of law. Jindal said—and an attorney general’s opinion supported the position—that legislative approval was not required in order for the LSU Board to agree to lease the hospitals. An attorney general’s opinion, like a legislative resolution, does not carry the weight of law, but does give the governor stronger footing.

Jindal, for his part, made it abundantly clear that he would move the privatization plan forward with or without legislative support. He said the legislature did not have the authority to vote down the proposals—in effect, saying his administration was ready to ram through the proposals without regard for even a pretense of democratic procedure.

Of course he did say that he would agree to take any advice from the legislative committees into consideration. “If they propose changes to the law, we’ll look at that legislation,” he said.

But we all know what happens to those who have the temerity to disagree with Jindal, don’t we? They’re summarily teagued, as in Tommy Teague, erstwhile Director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB), who was shown the door on April 15, 2011, when he didn’t jump on board the OGB Privatization Express quickly enough. Six months before that, it was his wife Melody was fired from her state job after she testified before the Commission for Streamlining Government. More than a dozen met the same fate, including LSU President John Lombardi and at least four legislators who found themselves suddenly removed from their committee assignments for “wrong-headed” voting.

But easily the most significant, most ill-advised, most flagrant, most unwarranted demotions were those of two respected doctors who didn’t bite when Jindal dropped his privatization bait into the water—doctors any organization would be proud to have on staff (and now, two such organizations indeed have them after in sheer frustration, they finally left Louisiana).

LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend were demoted just days apart in 2012—Cerise in late August and Townsend in early September—following a July 17 meeting at which former Secretary of health and Hospitals (DHH) Alan Levine first pitched a plan to privatize the state’s system of LSU medical centers.

Levine was at the meeting on behalf of his firm, Health Management Associates (HMA).

Also present, besides Cerise, Townsend and Levine were then-LSU President William Jenkins, DHH then-Secretary Bruce Greenstein, LSU Medical Center Shreveport Director Dr. Robert Barish, HMA CFO Kerry Curry, LSU Health Science Center Shreveport Vice Chancellor Hugh Mighty and LSU Board of Supervisors members Rolfe McCollister, Bobby Yarborough, John George (remember that name) and Scott Ballard. LSU Health Science Center New Orleans Chancellor Larry Hollier and Vice Chancellor for Clinical Affairs at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans Frank Opelka participated by teleconference.

The meeting was held in the LSU president’s conference room.

Both Cerise and Townsend expressed reservations about Levine’s proposal but several members of the LSU Board of Supervisors who were present at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a summary of the meeting prepared for Jenkins by Cerise.

Along with his two-page summation of the meeting, Cerise also submitted a third page containing a list of five concerns he had with the privatization plan pitched by Levine. It was that list of concerns which most likely got Cerise teagued as head of the LSU Health System via an email from Jenkins.

Levine, according to Cerise’s notes, recommended as an initial step that LSU sell its hospital in Shreveport (LSU Medical Center) and use the proceeds to “offset budget cuts for the rest of the LSU system.”

He suggested that the buyers would form a joint venture with LSU, invest capital into the facility and develop a strategy for LSU “to more aggressively compete in the hospital market.”

“The LSU board members present indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” Cerise’s notes said. “Greenstein stated that LSU should look to generate two years of funding to address the state funds shortfall in the system through the sale of Shreveport’s hospital.”

It was at that point that Cerise indicated his concern that such a strategy would take time to develop and that LSU would likely need to go through a competitive public procurement process and “likely legislative approvals.”

It was subsequently determined that legislative approval was not legally required; all that was required was for the legislature to be informed of the administration’s actions.

“There appeared to be agreement that LSU develop a plan that would not result in closure of hospitals,” Cerise’s notes said. “When the question was posed to the group, ‘Will LSU close hospitals,” George responded, ‘We hope not.’ The clear message was that the board members did not want LSU to proceed with any hospital closures at this point.”

Since that meeting, Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge and W.O. Moss Medical Center in Lake Charles have each closed.

“I am asking that you share this memo or at least the substance of it with the full board to ensure they are informed and that their direction to us that we delay definitive budgetary action until the end of August to better assess the likelihood of a Shreveport sale with a statewide distribution of the proceeds is clear and unambiguous,” Cerise said in his memorandum to Jenkins.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Jenkins called for the creation of a task force to include then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, Greenstein, George, Yarborough, McCollister, Ballard, Mighty, Barish, Hollier, Cerise and Townsend.

But in a matter of weeks, Cerise and Townsend were removed from their respective positions and reassigned and Opelka was promoted to Cerise’s position.

Last May, only months before he resigned to take a position in Texas, Cerise was invited by Sen. Murray to testify at a meeting of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. What ensued speaks volumes about the administration’s penchant for secrecy and its intolerance for dissenting viewpoints and is illustrative of Jindal’s general arrogance and disdain for the legislative process.

The committee wanted more information about the proposed privatization of the LSU system’s hospitals and the obvious choice as the most knowledgeable witness was Dr. Fred Cerise, whose integrity is the very antithesis of Jindal’s.

So, naturally, Cerise was barred from testifying. Dissenting opinions—even intelligent, reasoned ones—are not welcomed by this governor who simply cannot bring himself to listen to the advice of others. Murray said he was told that Cerise’s request for a personal leave day to testify was denied. Murray was joined by several other senators in complaining that the denial of an information request from a lawmaker was inappropriate.

Board members, Dr. John George and Ann Duplessis, apparently with straight faces, disavowed any knowledge about Cerise’s not being able to attend the meeting and promised to look into the matter and report back to the committee.

Amazingly, lawmakers appeared to ignore that conflict of interest we alluded to earlier even as the LSU Board of Stuporvisors unanimously approved that contract. No one uttered a peep as that same Dr. John George of Shreveport, sitting as a voting member of the LSU Board, cast his vote.

The CEO of BRF, which awarded the contract for the Shreveport and Monroe medical facilities, is (trumpet fanfare) that same Dr. John George but not to worry: Jindal assured us there was no conflict of interest there.

Almost lost in all of this is the fact that more than 5,000 employees were laid off as a result of the privatizations which now have been disallowed. And for that, we look to the Louisiana Civil Service Commission as the third culprit behind Jindal and the LSU Board of Stuporvisors.

After all, you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

The Civil Service Commission, which must approve any layoff plan, first rejected the administration’s privatization by a 4-3 vote but agreed to reconsider the proposal when the administration said it would provide additional information.

The next week, the board met again and commission member D. Scott Hughes of Shreveport apparently saw the light and inexplicably switched his vote from no to yes. More importantly, two other members, Dr. Sidney Tobias of LaPlace and commission Chairman David Duplantier of Mandeville, took the easy way out: they simply did not attend the meeting and the final vote that put 5,000 employees on the street was 3-2 in favor of Jindal.

Granted, commission members don’t receive a salary for their service but if Hughes could drive in from some 250 miles away—even with his yes vote—then surely commission Chairman Duplantier and Tobias could have, should have, found a way to drive in from about 75 and 50 miles out, respectively.

On a matter of such import, their no-show was nothing less than gutless and both should resign from the commission. They agreed to serve and their votes on this issue were of extreme importance—to the administration of course, but especially to those 5,000 employees whose livelihoods depended on the whims of seven five people they’d never met.

And then there’s that almost overlooked matter that’s lost in all the frenzy—one of utmost urgency: where will the state’s poor now seek medical care?

And the fingers of blame point directly at Jindal, the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, and the Civil Service Commission.

So now, after the approval of a contract with its 50 blank pages, after the termination of all those employees, after Jindal’s flimflamming his way around the legislative process, after the demotion and eventual loss of two valuable members of the medical profession, after DHH Kathy Kliebert’s assurances (as late as last week) that everything was just peachy, another wing of Jindal’s house of cards has come tumbling down.

If this is indicative of the way he runs a state—and all the evidence says it most assuredly is—imagine how, as president, he would fare in a faceoff with Vladimir Putin—even with the help of Jimmy Faircloth.

 

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“CMS has no legal basis for this decision.”

—Gov. Bobby Jindal, commenting on the decision by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Friday to refuse to sign off on the administration’s privatization plan for six LSU System hospitals.

 

“How fitting that Jindal’s plan to be gone before his many bombs, some supposedly planted with delayed fuses, may well blow early.”

—A political observer, commenting on the sudden collapse of Jindal’s hospital privatization plan which may have blown a $300 million hole in the state budget scheduled for debate on the House floor next Thursday.

 

“People could die. The sick will get sicker. Our precious hospitals are in turmoil. The state budget is in tatters. Governor Bobby Jindal sits in the midst of this fiscal and healthcare debacle clutching his dreams of the presidency at the taxpayers’ expense.”

—State Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), commenting in a prepared statement on the CMS decision to scuttle Jindal’s hospital privatization plan.

 

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