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By guest columnist James D. Kirylo

It is said that education is the great equalizer.  Yet, we know when it comes to resources, opportunity, and the quality of a teacher, not all educational experiences are equal.  Then we react with a bevy of voices coming from a variety of corners on how to better equalize the great equalizer.  To be sure, when making sense of gray matter, complexity, and multi-layered challenges inherent in education, the solutions are not easy.

Yet, when it comes to navigating through this entangled web, a leading thread to direct that charge ought to have the name “teacher” at its pinpoint.  There are few absolutes when it comes to education.  And of those few, one is this: There is positive correlation between a high quality teacher and student success.

It is, therefore, logical that if we want to move toward educational transformation, we need to ensure that teacher education is right up there on the priority list.  It is no coincidence that high achieving countries, like Singapore, South Korea, and Finland are quite selective as to who teaches their youth, how they prepare those who are to teach their youth, and how they maintain ongoing development while teaching their youth.

That a common thread in high-achieving countries is an elevated priority on teacher education ought to raise our collective sensibilities, stirring movement toward embracing that model right here in Louisiana.  To that end, the following summarizes what we need to qualitatively do in our backyard if we expect to move toward long-lasting transformative educational change:

  • Entrance requirements and processes into teacher education programs need to be more rigorous and more selective.
  • Those who are accepted into teacher education programs should be provided tuition waivers, grants, and other incentivizing initiatives.
  • Teacher education programs across the state must be creatively innovative, systematic, and unified in which not only content knowledge is emphasized, but also concepts, practices, and theories related to human development, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning are thoroughly explored in light of the diverse country in which we live.
  • Field experiences and rich mentorships are emphasized that works to connect the thoughtful relationship between theory and practice.
  • Upon graduation, teacher candidates leave their programs with great expertise, expectation, and adulation as they move into the teaching profession.
  • Once in the classroom, teachers regularly engage in ongoing and meaningful professional development, with them at the center of facilitating that endeavor.
  • The school curriculum in which teachers teach is wide-ranging, with an inclusive priority on the various arts, physical education, and foreign language.
  • When it comes to curricula, assessment, and evaluation decisions at the school setting, teachers are integral members at the table.
  • At the school setting, a test-centric focus has to be abandoned and replaced with a learning-centric focus that is energizing, inspiring, and imaginative.
  • Students, teachers, and schools are not in competition with one another, but work to cooperate, collaborate, and lift each other up.
  • All schools, regardless of location and economic demographic have equal access to quality resources, material, and high quality teachers.
  • The teaching profession is viewed with great respect, indicative of the competitive salaries, the working conditions in which teachers are placed, and how teachers are professionally viewed, treated, and honored.
  • A top-down hierarchal structure needs to be replaced with a teacher leadership empowerment structure.
  • “Fast-track” teacher training programs, such as TFA and LRCE, are not acceptable routes to teach our youth.
  • The waiving of requirements for those going into administrative type roles are not acceptable routes to work in leadership positions in our schools, systems, and state.
  • Only well-prepared, qualified, and certified teachers from high quality teacher education programs must teach our youth.

While there are certainly some examples of good efforts occurring in teacher education programs in our state, we are not doing nearly enough. Without doubt, if we are to move toward educational transformation in Louisiana, the systematic prioritization of teacher education is a must, the fostering of the professionalization of teaching is vital, and ultimately education must be viewed as an investment in which the entire state can be richly furthered.  Indeed, our international friends have provided us with an outstanding model.

(James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at jkirylo@yahoo.com)

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Some things never change when it comes to doing business with the State of Louisiana.

Several business owners have, over the past couple of years, told LouisianaVoice they would never bid on a state contract because, they said, the bid process and contracts are rigged, or at least weighted, heavily in favor of pre-selected vendors.

Now, three separate sources have come forward to offer specifics that support that claim as it regards a request for proposals (RFP) for renewal of an existing $75 million contract.

One of our very first stories under the LouisianaVoice banner was the manner in which Gov. Bobby Jindal went about privatizing his very first state agency, the Office of Risk Management (ORM), throwing nearly 100 employees out of work in the process.

Now we learn the story of F.A. Richard & Associates (FARA), the Mandeville company the state initially paid $68 million to take over as third party administrator (TPA) of ORM has taken yet another interesting twist.

Well, make that two interesting twists—including a third violation of the original contract between the Division of Administration (DOA) and FARA and now it seems there may be a strong case made for bid manipulation on the part of the state.

The reason we said the state initially paid $68 million is because eight months after that 2011 takeover, FARA was back asking—and getting—an amendment to its contract which boosted the contract amount by exactly 10 percent, or $6.8 million, bringing the total cost to just a tad under $75 million. An obscure state regulation allowed a one-time amendment to contracts for up to (drum roll, please)…10 percent.

Then, less than a month after the contract was amended by that $6.8 million, FARA sold its state contract to Avizent, an Ohio company, which kept the contract for about four months before it sold out to York Risk Services Group of Parsippany, New Jersey.

Last month, it was announced that Onex Corp., a Toronto-based private equity firm, had finalized a deal to acquire York for $1.325 billion.

In each case, the name FARA was retained “for branding purposes,” according to one former FARA employee, but there was no getting around the fact that the state’s contract was—and is—being shifted from one company to another until the latest deal that placed in the possession of a foreign corporation.

The original contract with FARA stipulates that the contract may not be sold, transferred or re-assigned without “prior written authority” from DOA.

LouisianaVoice, of course, made the appropriate public records request for that “prior written authority” right after it was sold the first time—to Avizent. After the usual delays in responding, DOA finally sent us an email which said no such document existed.

So, now we a contract the very specific terms of which have openly violated not once, not twice, but three times and the state has remained silent on this point.

Jindal, in case you need a reminder, is the same Louisiana governor who only last Friday criticized President Obama of “flaunting the law” in his executive action granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.

But as bad as the contract shuffling might be, ongoing efforts to rig the bidding process for a renewal of the five-year contract in FARA’s favor would appear to be far more serious.

Three separate sources—one employed by DOA and the other two former employees of first ORM and, after ORM was privatized, FARA, said that FARA had been requested to assist in drafting a new RFP in such a way as to guarantee that FARA would retain the contract.

Both former FARA employees, interviewed separately, said a staff meeting of FARA employees was held in Lafayette last April and again in May. On both occasions, they said, FARA management assured them that the company had been asked to assist ORM in drafting the RFP and that FARA was certain to win renewal of the contract, which expires next July 1.

“We were all told to update our resumés so they could be used in beefing up FARA’s proposal,” said one of the former employees.

If true, that would constitute bid rigging in almost any law book and should prompt an immediate investigation. This would be an ideal opportunity for someone to awaken East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore to see if he is up to performing his duties.

Wasn’t that, after all, the basis for the investigation of Bruce Greenstein and the $189 million contract to his former employer, CNSI? That was the investigation that led to his nine-count indictment for perjury.

Having said that, if there are any other business owners who have had unpleasant experiences in bidding on state contracts, or who feel they have been shut out of the process through favoritism we would love to hear from you. Our email address is: louisianavoice@yahoo.com or louisianavoice@cox.net

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If anything at all can be taken from the 100-plus pages of grand jury testimony of Bruce Greenstein, it’s that Greenstein’s memory lapses and his reluctance to adequately answer repeated questions about his role in the awarding of a major contract to his former bosses taxed the patience of members of the grand jury who were forced to listen to his verbal sparring with prosecutors for hours on end.

But in the end, there was no smoking gun, although Greenstein, former Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) Secretary, on several occasions during his testimony said an agency-wide memorandum cautioning DHH employees to avoid contact with bidders on the $189 million contract during the selection process did not apply to him.

Though grand jury testimony is normally secret, several perjury counts returned against Greenstein in the nine-count indictment were based on his grand jury testimony so it would be subject to discovery in order for Greenstein to prepare his legal defense and therefore would be public.

Greenstein also admitted he initiated what has come to be known as “Addendum No. 2,” which was crucial in allowing his former employer, CNSI, to qualify to submit proposals for the contract, which it ultimately won in mid-2011. The contract was cancelled in March of 2013 when it became known than the FBI had been investigating the contract since January of that year.

During his testimony, it was revealed that Greenstein had maintained constant contact with a friend at CNSI, Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll and that the frequency of those contacts increased dramatically during Greenstein’s interviewing for the Louisiana job and during the formulation of Addendum No. 2.

In the first five months of 2010, for example, there eight total contacts consisting of texts and phone calls between the two men. In June of, however, just before he began the interview process for the DHH position, there were 75 contacts. From July through January, there were 864 contacts, including 227 in January of 2011 alone, when “the whole Addendum 2 stuff was going down,” according to Assistant Attorney General Butch Wilson. “Before you take office,” Wilson said, “we have not even a dozen contacts with Mr. Carroll. And after you take office, we have a total…of 2,882 communications. How do you explain that?”

“He is a prolific texter,” Greenstein replied.

Further into the questioning, Wilson was still trying to reconcile Greenstein’s testimony before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in which he claimed he had no contact with CNSI officials during the bidding process and the facts to the contrary as revealed by the thousands of text messages and telephone calls between Greenstein and CNSI.

“…Four months after a very important conversation with your friend and former employer, Mr. (CNSI co-founder and President Adnan) Ahmed, and you tell Sen. (Karen Carter) Peterson (D-New Orleans) there were no vendor conversations regarding the RFP (request for proposals) after it was released,” Wilson said. “And you admitted a minute ago that that conversation with Mr. Ahmed definitely involved the RFP. So that was not an accurate statement, was it?”

“I did not make it at the time thinking it was an inaccurate statement,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein’s memory appeared to grow progressively worse as the questions became more pointed.

“Do you recall a meeting with DHH officials and DOA (Division of Administration) people, specifically (then-Commissioner of Administration) Paul Rainwater and (DHH Assistant Secretary) J.T. Lane…where you had a meeting regarding the emails that had been found? Do you remember that meeting?”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t remember that meeting with Mr. Lane and Mr. Rainwater and several other people in between your testimonies before the Senate?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Do you recall being explicitly asked by folks at the meeting from both DHH and DOA, ‘Is this all there is?”

“No.”

“I’m going to ask you again,” said Wilson. “Are you sure?”

“I don’t remember having a meeting with Paul Rainwater about these emails.”

At one point during Greenstein’s testimony, it was revealed by Wilson that Greenstein supposedly agreed to a letter of recommendation on behalf of CNSI to his counterpart in Arkansas. He cited a Feb. 5, 2013 email from Carroll to DHH executive counsel Steve Russo which said, “As you know, B.G.—which I believe probably means Bruce Greenstein—has agreed to a letter of recommendation…to the Arkansas Department of Human Services on behalf of the CNSI, which was also trying to get a contract for a (sic) MMIS (Medicaid Management Information Systems) system in Arkansas, correct?”

The letter subsequently went out over Undersecretary Jerry Phillips’ signature, Wilson noted, asking “Whose idea was that?”

“I can’t remember who wanted to sign it,” Greenstein said. “I know that I didn’t want to sign that.”

“Then why does Creighton say, ‘As you know, B.G. has recommended a letter of recommendation’?”

“I probably said that when asked about a recommendation,” Greenstein said.

“Your friend asked you to help his company…get more business and you said, ‘I will do that,’ right?”

“I didn’t say I will do that.”

“Well, if you said yes, why is Jerry Phillips sending out a letter?”

“Well, it’s not Bruce Greenstein on the letter.”

“I’m going to ask you pointblank. True or false: this letter that was rewritten and signed by Jerry Phillips, you directed him to do that?”

“I do not remember that,” Greenstein said.

“How could you not remember that?”

“Because I don’t remember that.”

“That’s hard to believe, Mr. Greenstein,” Wilson said. “I mean, this reference is clearly a discussion that you had with Creighton Carroll regarding this letter that he sends to your department that he, or someone from CNSI, wrote that is then minimally changed and signed by not you, but your under-secretary.

“Jerry Phillips didn’t show you this letter before he sent it out?” Wilson asked.

“I can’t remember seeing…I don’t remember seeing it.”

“It just looks to me like between Creighton’s comment here about ‘B.G. has agreed to a letter of recommendation’—and that was on Feb. 5th and the letter was issued on Feb. 14th, nine days later—this was almost sounds like cold feet. The former letter he sends is for your signature, but in nine days, now it’s got Mr. Phillips’ …signature on it.”

[The Arkansas Department of Human Services, in July of that year, disqualified CNSI from participating in the bidding on its system as a result of the Louisiana investigation and resignation of Greenstein.]

Wilson also questioned the propriety of allowing CNSI to bid on the contract to process Medicaid claims for DHH. Brandishing a letter dated Dec. 7, 2010, from the Charlotte, N.C., law firm McGuire-Woods, he said the firm was representing CNSI in a major financial default case that threatened to bankrupt the company—a full six months before the CNSI contract was signed.

“Were you ever aware of the fact that they were basically in receivership with BOA (Bank of America) at the time they were bidding? Were you ever informed of that? Were you ever told that, as a matter of fact, their line of credit had been restricted by Bank of America to the extend they could not spend money unless they got prior approval from BOA? Did Mr. Carroll and Mr. Ahmed ever tell you about the troubles, the clear financial troubles that the company was having at the time they were trying to get this money from this bid?

“Should that have been disclosed to DHH?” Wilson asked.

“That’s a good question,” replied Greenstein.

Further into Greenstein’s testimony, he was asked if he was told to resign or be fired.

“I was told to resign,” he said.

“Were you specifically told by the administration officials that you had lied to them?”

“No.”

“They just said, ‘Get out’?”

“Actually, it was Paul Rainwater—when he was in the Chief of Staff’s office.

“And did Paul ever say, ‘Bruce, you lied to us’?”

“No.”

“You are sure about that?”

“I don’t remember it.”

“You tried not to tell the Senate that CNSI had won (the contract),” Wilson said. “You didn’t tell the Senate about communications with CNSI regarding Addendum No. 2. You didn’t tell the Senate about hundreds of communications with Carroll. You did not tell DHH and DOA officials about communications with Carroll after they asked you if there was anything else, although you say you don’t recall that meeting.”

At one point in the questioning, this time from Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, it appeared there would be a link established between the events surrounding the contract and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office, but the line of questioning ended almost as abruptly as it started.

Referencing the date of Jan. 10, 2011, Caldwell said, “I see some calls from Bruce Greenstein’s work cell back and forth between you and Timmy Teepell. What did Timmy have to do with…was he was with Division of Administration or the governor’s office at that time?”

“At that time I think he was with the Chief of Staff for the governor,” Greenstein said. [Teepell never worked for DOA].

“Do you recall what he was talking to you about?” Caldwell asked.\

“I have no idea,” replied Greenstein.

“Was he talking to you about that amendment [Addendum No. 2] of this particular contract?”

“Probably not.”

“What involvement did Mr. Teepell have in this process? What information did he have about the DHH contracts? Because I think that maybe even Mr. Ahmad said in the paper that he had gone over to the governor’s mansion to talk to him, right? I’m just trying to get a sense as to how much involvement people within the governor’s office might have had.”

Caldwell also singled out a series of communications between Greenstein and Alton Ashy, who was the lobbyist for CNSI. “Was he trying to push this amendment for CNSI, this Addendum No. 2?”

“Yeah, I mean, he should have been… but he had a lot of other business at DHH as well.”

Caldwell later noted that Greenstein at one point had asked DHH Chief of Staff Calder Lynch specific questions about Ashy, saying, “A company I know wants to hire him” and that Lynch had responded, “Not that it’s terribly helpful or relevant, but we can speak offline.” Offline could, for example, mean speaking by phone rather than leaving a paper trail of emails.

“How did you come to get involved with recommending a lobbyist on CNSI’s behalf? I don’t understand how all that went down.”

Caldwell also grilled Greenstein on his intervention on behalf of CNSI when it became apparent that CNSI was unable to make good on its required bond for the contract. “Did you have discussion with (DHH executive Counsel) Steve Russo in which it was discussed whether you could wait until the contract was signed to call for the bond to be posted?”

“I don’t remember a conversation like that.”

Greenstein and Caldwell sparred over the refusal to allow Greenstein to communicate with Russo after the investigation was initiated. “DHH wouldn’t allow me to talk with my own attorney,” Greenstein complained.

“Is he your personal lawyer?” Caldwell asked.

“He represented the secretary in many proceedings…he reiterated many, many times…that he was my attorney and we have attorney-client privilege.”

“Let me explain to you why he doesn’t want to talk to you,” Caldwell said. “There’s all these things in your deposition where you have said that people said something or they didn’t say something—and I will tell you right now, it is directly contradicted by what those people have said. [Caldwell hinted at but never actually said that Russo was—and is—paid by the State of Louisiana and represents DHH but not any DHH personnel once they come under investigation for or charged by the state with wrongdoing].

Later, Caldwell brought up boasts by CNSI officials that they had political influence with Greenstein’s office. “Are you aware that they constantly threw it around that they had influence on the ninth floor and this is how they were going to get the contract?”

“No,” Greenstein replied.

Even though Greenstein maintained that he pushed for Addendum No. 2 as a means of opening up the bidding process to more vendors in the hopes of obtaining the best deal possible for the state, Caldwell noted that when another bidder, ACS, requested an extension of the proposal deadline, “Bruce said no,” according to an internal DHH email.

After the attorneys took their shots, individual members of the grand jury had their turn at asking questions of Greenstein and the mood of the grand jury was best summed up by one member near the close of testimony who said:

“Sir, I just have two questions. How are you being transparent when you can’t recall anything and secondly, when you sit down with your children and you explain your part in Louisiana history, what will you tell them?”

For those with lots of time on your hands, here is a link to the full transcript of the grand jury testimony: http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Bruce_Greenstein_Grand_Jury_Testimony.pdf

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By Robert Burns

A recent Advocate article revealed that an LSP member of Gov. Jindal’s family-security team, Sgt. Damiem Dyson, Sr., was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving. Dyson rear-ended a vehicle in front of him, causing it to crash into several trees but, thankfully, the driver of the vehicle was not injured. Meanwhile, Dyson continued on to the next exit, where he pulled over and authorities apprehended him. He registered 0.175% blood-alcohol content, which is more than twice the legal limit for drunk driving in Louisiana. He was apprehended, placed in jail, placed on paid administrative leave, and an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division of LSP ensued.

Col. Edmonson weighed in on the incident: “As law enforcement professionals, we have not only legal responsibilities but also high standards of integrity that must be upheld at all times while serving the citizens of Louisiana,” he said. “Following a thorough criminal and administrative investigation, the department will review all findings in this matter and take swift steps to ensure an impartial and appropriate course of action.”

That sounds proactive and procedurally prudent until we take a peek at Edmonson’s own driving habits at LSP. In 1983, Edmonson was issued a letter of reprimand for an overly-aggressive effort to assist Denham Springs Police during which he crossed the medium and struck a light pole. Then-LSP Col. J. C. Willie said, “I recommend that in the future you take all precaution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.”  Granted, Edmonson was a young trooper at the time, and that incident may well be attributed to an overly-zealous desire to protect the safety of Louisiana citizens. LouisianaVoice readers may recall that when Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor in January of 2008, he proclaimed that a new day in Louisiana governmental transparency had arrived.  Further, he repeatedly invoked the refrain, “We have zero tolerance for corruption.” Now, as we approach the end of Jindal’s eight-year tenure as Louisiana’s absentee chief executive, the jury has clearly returned with the verdict that his initial pronouncements were all nothing more than good old garden variety horse manure.

Edmonson managed to avoid further disciplinary action until 1988. That was the year of a Papal visit to New Orleans.  Although Edmonson was accused of other wrongdoing which was overturned on appeal, Edmonson was suspended for 10 days for working 13 hours of security detail on that visit without obtaining proper approval and for failure to evidence the security detail having been worked by submitting a copy of his check for payment as well as another document required by LSP protocol.

Three years later, in 1991, he received another letter of reprimand for careless vehicle operation. While attempting to park, Edmonson apparently was distracted by a horn being blown by a vehicle behind him. When he looked to his rear, he struck the left front bumper of the parked vehicle. Edmonson was deemed “at fault” and admonished to “exercise care and caution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.”

Then, in 1994, Edmonson was suspended for 40 hours due to “insufficient attentiveness for the demands of the situation.”  At 1:25 a.m. on April 1, 1994, Edmonson “left the Eastbound lane of I-12,” after which he “collided with a concrete piling of an overpass.” The report includes hand-written instructions for an official named Eddie to “verify LWOP” (leave without pay).  The report indicates that Edmonson “suffered serious injuries” and that the vehicle “was extensively damaged to the point that it is considered a total loss.”  The report also indicates that driving at high speeds on an interstate requires “constant vigilance” and further relays, “It is apparent from your statement that you were aware that your degree of attentiveness was insufficient for the demands required by the situation.”  The report then says that, as an LSP trooper, Edmonson should have recognized “your condition” and “taken the initiative to recommit yourself to your driving obligations.” LSP is “extremely fortunate that you were not more seriously injured and perhaps even more fortunate that innocent persons were not involved,” the report concluded

The retired LSP trooper who’d initiated the contact to suggest that Edmonson’s personnel file be examined said of the wording of the reprimand, “That’s a flowery way for the department to say he was drunk.” He also said he and several of his colleagues had been lied to. He said, “We were told that Edmonson was a passenger in the vehicle and another trooper was driving. This is the first I’ve heard of Edmonson being the one doing the driving.”  A second law enforcement officer indicated that while he knew Edmonson was the driver, there was a concerted effort on the part of LSP to “cover the whole incident up.”  The retired trooper source also said, “Our jaws just dropped when we learned Gov. Jindal was appointing Edmonson as LSP Colonel.”

Edmonson was suspended for another 16 hours.  This suspension again resulted from careless operation of his vehicle. It seems that while waiting at a drive-thru teller line at Whitney Bank on Government Street—with an unauthorized passenger in his LSP vehicle (Edmonson’s 12-year-old son)—at 1:30 p.m. on August 18, 1995, Edmonson “reached down to retrieve a check from the front seat.” When he did so, his foot slipped off the brake pedal, thus resulting in the vehicle moving forward. In attempting to stop, Edmonson apparently went to apply the brake, but instead at least partially hit the accelerator and smashed into the vehicle in front of him. Both passengers in the vehicle Edmonson hit complained of minor injuries.

Tyler Bridges, in his excellent book Bad Bet on the Bayou, noted that state police superintendent is one of the most important appointments a Louisiana governor makes. Bridges describes the position as historically an “enforcement arm” of any Louisiana governor’s policies and agenda.

Jindal appointed Mike Edmonson as his LSP Colonel and for more than six years, most people had little reason to question Edmonson’s integrity or the way he operated his department. That all changed, however when news of the “Edmonson Amendment” broke on July 11. The stealth amendment attempted to cram through a $55,000 per year boost to Edmonson’s retirement pension.

Before the episode was fully rectified (via a lawsuit filed by Sen. Dan Claitor to have the law declared unconstitutional), considerable collateral fallout transpired. The fallout arose from the fact that, upon the LouisianaVoice post, numerous retired LSP troopers began providing insight into Edmonson’s managerial style.

As a result, considerable evidence of payroll cronyism and nepotism within LSP became known. C. B. Forgotston revealed the existence of a 49-5 club of retired LSP troopers deemed to be in the “Edmonson clique” who were rehired at annual salaries of $49,500 each (though payroll records reveal no one making that precise salary) to perform menial tasks like making coffee, running errands for the purchase of donuts for the “breakfast crew,” etc.  Now as most Louisiana Voice readers have just read in the news, Jindal is about to be forced to make $171 million in mid-year budget cuts due to revenue shortfalls.  The cuts are necessary notwithstanding Jindal’s phantom “surplus” found by Kristy Nichols despite contradictory claims by folks like State Treasurer John Kennedy. Isn’t it a tad bit galling to know $171 million in cuts is being required, yet the state has plenty of money to rehire troopers whose only tasks are to simply hang around the office?

Perhaps Edmonson’s own perfection of the art of deception and misdirection explains why he has endured—and very nearly prospered monetarily—while others who at least seemed to possess the attributes Jindal espoused were told to take a hike. At any rate, as we see the upcoming commercials and warnings from LSP to please drive safely during the upcoming holiday season, let’s hope that they’re instilling the same friendly warnings to their own ranks, including at the highest level.

 

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The good people of Alabama need not fear the corruptive influence of former Gov. Donald Siegelman. Women and children may emerge from hiding, confident they are now safe and no longer must be protected from his treachery.

Siegelman is securely incarcerated at Oakdale’s federal lockup, the same facility that once housed another former governor—Louisiana’s very own Edwin W. Edwards—and from all accounts Sweet Home Alabama is the better for his prolonged absence.

The man, after all, took a $500,000 contribution from a member of the state board for hospital oversight, one Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth.

But wait. The half-million bucks didn’t go to Siegelman, after all. The money was contributed by Scrushy instead to help underwrite a campaign to convince the voters of Alabama to vote in favor of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state colleges for free.

The referendum was controversial in that owners of the Indian casinos next door in Mississippi were somewhat skittish about Alabamans spending their gambling money at home to fund, of all things, education—not to mention that free college sounds a bit socialistic.

Suddenly, major players entered the picture—players like Karl Rove and notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who would soon face his own legal problems. No matter. Abramoff led the fight, pouring money into the campaign to oppose the referendum which ultimately lost.

And what did Scrushy get in return? Siegelman reappointed him to the Certificates of Need Review Board where he had been serving without pay for the previous 12 years.

The prosecution of Siegelman has been heavily criticized by legal experts and columnists across the nation. https://madmimi.com/p/940b05?fe=1&pact=23974859063

Even the award-winning CBS news magazine 60 Minutes weighed in on the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/

Siegelman, a Democrat with Jewish and Catholic roots, had won every state office in Alabama by 1998, including attorney general and lieutenant governor. In 2002, having already served one term as governor, he was heavily favored to win election over incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, the man who had defeated him four years earlier. But then the state’s top Republican operative, Bill Canary, contacted the nation’s top Republican operative, Rove, and the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman—led by Canary’s wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary—was launched.

With rumors swirling about alleged wrongdoing, Siegelman suddenly found himself in a tight race with Riley. On election night, Siegelman went to bed after having been declared the winner only to awake the next morning with Riley claiming victory.

Overnight, an unexpected redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County, which includes the city of Daphne and part of Mobile Bay, reduced Siegelman’s total votes by 3,000, giving Republican Riley the governorship. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots. No votes for any of the other offices being contested were changed. (Can you say hanging chads?)

And who was running Riley’s re-election campaign? That would be Bill Canary, husband of federal prosecutor Leura Canary. Well, no conflict of interest there.

Canary’s first efforts, carried out by assistant U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, were unsuccessful. Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw out the indictment for lack of evidence, saying the prosecution “was completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.”

Canary was successful on her second try, however, obtaining a conviction on one of the 23 counts on which Siegelman was indicted. Presiding over that trial was Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who omitted a key legal requirement when giving the jury its instructions before it retired to deliberate: the need for an explicit promise of understanding in accepting the $500,000 from Scrushy.

Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush, would later have his own legal problems as well. In August of this year, he was arrested for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/federal_judge_mark_fuller_a_ti.html but unlike Siegelman, was able to get the record expunged. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/don-siegelman-trial-judge-weasels-out

So what has all this to with the price of eggs in Louisiana?

Well, we just thought it would be interesting to compare the single transgression that got Siegelman a ticket to Oakdale with certain activities in Louisiana—and to ask somewhat rhetorically why no investigative agency is taking a closer look at some of the tactics of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Take, for example, the case of Richard Blossman, Jr., of Lacombe and his Central Progressive Bank.

Blossman, while CEO of Central Progressive, “gave” each of his 11 board members a $5,000 bonus. The reality is (to borrow a favorite Jindal phrase), however, none of the $5,000 bonus payments ever went to the board members, according to Raphael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. Instead, immediately after the bonuses were “announced” by Blossman, 11 individual checks of $5,000 each were sent to Jindal’s 2007 campaign in the names of the individual—and oblivious—board members.

“The defendant (Blossman) well knew the ‘bonus’ was to funnel illegal political contributions and was not a bonus, as he caused to be inscribed in the board minutes,” prosecutors said in June of 2012.

“That is a felony,” Goyeneche added.

This revelation came on the heels of word from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in May of 2012 that Jindal received $40,000 in campaign contributions from landfill company River Birch, Inc. of Metairie when the company formed six “straw man entities” to launder illegal donations to Jindal.

So, did Jindal’s campaign return the $95,000 in ill-gotten gains?

Well….no. “We accept every contribution in good faith and in accordance with the law,” said Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal’s 2007 campaign. Asked if Blossman received anything in exchange for his contributions, Teepell sniffed, “Absolutely not. Everyone who donates to our campaign gets the same thing and that is good government.”

Wow. Perhaps Earl Long was correct when he once said, One of these days, the folks in Louisiana will get good government “and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Jindal’s campaign and his Believe in Louisiana organization also accepted $158,500 in contributions from Iowa, LA., businessman Lee Mallet, his family members and several of his companies. Jindal then appointed Mallett, a college dropout, to the LSU Board of Supervisors and also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

ATS LETTER

No quid pro quo there, right?

Mallett and his son were major contributors to other Republican candidates and the National Republican Party as well.

Carl Shetler of Lake Charles also received an appointment from Jindal—to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors—after contributing $42,000 to Jindal’s campaign. Shetler, a Lake Charles car dealer, some years before had singlehandedly gotten McNeese State University placed on athletic probation by the NCAA when it was learned that he’d paid money to McNeese basketball players.

In fact, Jindal’s campaign received $1.8 million in contributions from people he has appointed to state boards and commissions, some of whom delivered their checks only days or weeks after their appointments, according to Nola.com. Virtually the entire memberships of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Commission) and the LSU Board of Supervisors are comprised of major contributors to Jindal political campaigns.

In 2008, Jindal accepted $30,000 from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, his law firm and his wife. Rothstein was later disbarred after his conviction for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in Florida history.

Jindal also accepted $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration.

Jindal took $11,000 from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA). The LHBPA board president, Sean Alfortish, was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

And then there is Tony Rudy.

Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds, Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, DuPont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).

Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and Abramoff, became known.

Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.

One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.

Abramoff also received $32 million from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to help promote and protect their gambling interests. The legal counsel for the Coushattas was one Jimmy Faircloth who once served as Jindal’s executive counsel and who has pulled in well over $1 million in representing Jindal in lost causes in various courts in Louisiana. Faircloth advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales.

And most recently, courtesy of Manuel Torres of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Lee Zurik of WVUE-TV in New Orleans, we have learned that Jindal has spent more than $152,000 of state campaign funds on trips that bear a suspicious resemblance to federal campaign activity. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_gov_bobby_jindals_tr.html

State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state’s campaign finance law grants considerable latitude as to how money may be spent but that the law prohibits the expenditure of funds on the office of president or vice president of the U.S. and Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

“When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race and the money you raise can be used only for (a state) campaign or for exercise of that office,” Allen told Torres and Zurik.

There are other activities of the Jindal administration which have little to do with campaign contributions or appointments but which are nonetheless are questionable as to their motives:

  • Efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.
  • Major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years.
  • Generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year even as repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year.
  • Widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board.
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury.
  • Attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News.
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration.
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).
  • Efforts by Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee.
  • The subsequent revelation that a document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to.

And while all this goes on unabated in Louisiana, the former governor of Alabama, who did nothing more than accept a contribution to fund a referendum to benefit education, remains in Oakdale, victim of a prosecution with far more questions about the participants and their surreptitious activities than answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-l-gershman/bribery-cases-_b_1590284.html

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By Guest Columnist Robert Burns

Tom recently posted that Louisiana Sen. Rick Gallot may have used his influence to expedite and circumvent safety standards for a private school.  Another Louisiana Senator, Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) may have well had his son, Brant, utilize his dad’s status to obtain fair and equitable treatment from the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB).  He was fully entitled to such fair and equitable treatment, but it begs the question as to why other Louisiana citizens, especially elderly widow auction victims, are given the shaft.

In early 2012, Brant Thompson allegedly consigned merchandise to auctioneer Bruce Miller.  I use the word “allegedly” because, at a May 6, 2014 hearing, LALB investigator Jim Steele, as evidenced by this 4-second video clip, said, “There’s no indication that Mr. Thompson was a consignor at this auction whatsoever.”  Nobody knows what may have happened to Mr. Thompson’s items, and auctioneer Bruce Miller died of a massive heart attack two days after his last auction.  Mr. Thompson never received a dime for his items, nor did he ever even see his merchandise again.  Understandably, Mr. Thompson got upset and justifiably filed a complaint with the LALB.  Like so many other complainants, Mr. Thompson was frustrated when he received this brief letter from LALB attorney Anna Dow dated 1/16/14 indicating that, because the LALB could not ascertain if a violation had occurred, it was “closing the investigation……No further action will be taken.”

Thompson, like many other aggrieved complainants, wasn’t happy, so he drafted this terse two-page response dated 2/3/14.  He indicated that he “takes exception” to the finding and states that “The system designed to protect me failed.”  He emphasized that he was aware auctioneers carry a bond, and he relayed that he expected that bond to cover his alleged losses.  Mr. Thompson is correct in his assessment that the LALB failed him, but it has done the same for a litany of other complainants.  Mr. Thompson, however, was shrewd enough to copy Ms. Holly Robinson, Gov. Jindal’s then-Heard of Boards and Commissions.  Obviously, Ms. Robinson would be very familiar with the fact Brant is Francis’ son.  What transpired upon Robinson’s receipt of the letter?  Who knows, but we do know this:  in lightening-fast speed, the LALB, in an unprecedented move, not only “reopened” a closed investigation, but it actually conducted a full-blown hearing (on a deceased auctioneer) on 5/6/14.  Remember Mr. Thompson’s goal of collecting on Miller’s bond.  Now, watch this brief one-minute video clip excerpt from the hearing.  Notice how Mr. Thompson is gently guided regarding the bond’s parameters (that it’s for $10,000 and has a 3-year filing period in which the LALB can file for him).  Mr. Thompson, who speaks in a smooth and cavalier manner, is spoken to in turn by LALB members and its attorney in an almost reverent-like manner.  The LALB not only filed the bond for Mr. Thompson, but in breakneck speed, he received a $3,500 check from the bonding company in early October of 2014 even though the company said the itemized list it was provided depicted ordinary household items that were “virtually worthless.”

Let’s contrast Mr. Thompson’s revered status as a Louisiana senator’s son with the tone and attitude taken with complainant Judy Fasola.  In late 2012, Ms. Fasola contracted with notoriously-problematic auctioneer Ken Buhler for the disposition of her terminally-ill, 93-year-old mother’s estate.  Ms. Fasola asserted at her hearing, which was in March of 2013, that Mr. Buhler adamantly refused to place reserves on her marque items and instead, over time, just kept defiantly selling them at pennies on the dollar (Fasola relayed she later learned Buhler sold many marque items to his own mother, mother-in-law, and other Buhler relatives) against her express desire and instructions.  When she threatened an LALB complaint, he finally returned what few items he hadn’t sold in defiance of her instructions, and Fasola relayed he did so in a fit of anger, slamming her items on her floor and breaking most items in the process.  Fasola filed an LALB complaint, and the LALB fined his father, Mac, who is not an auctioneer but was deemed the responsible party for Ken’s company, Estate Auction Services, $500 for “sloppy recordkeeping.”  Due to Ken’s license being revoked from 2005-2010 (due to massive consignor losses), the LALB insisted that Mac oversee all negotiations and communication with customers.  Ken had defied that restriction in negotiating with Ms. Fasola, but she was unaware of the LALB restrictions on Ken’s license.  Ms. Fasola, like Brant, repeatedly asked the LALB to file a bond claim for her, but the LALB has steadfastly refused to do so.  When Ms. Fasola learned of Mr. Thompson’s ease of obtaining a bond payment, she was understandably upset and requested to be heard on the matter at the 11/5/14 meeting to air her frustrations.  Let’s examine, mainly through video excerpts of the meeting, just how she got treated.

Fasola began by giving an introductory statement relaying how she, like Brant, felt the system had failed her, and she asked if she may have been treated more fairly “if I were the daughter of a Louisiana State Senator?”  LALB Vice Chairman James Sims tersely denied any knowledge that Brant was the son of a Louisiana senator until “seven days after the hearing.”  There simply is no way to adequately place in words the hostility shown toward Ms. Fasola (and me, for that matter) at the meeting, so I ask readers’ indulgence in watching a 9-minute video clip of the highlights of Ms. Fasola’s presentation, along with captions wherein Ms. Fasola catches board members, attorneys, and the executive director in one contradiction and falsehood after another (proven by video clips merged into this 9-minute video clip which I strongly encourage readers to watch).  In watching the video, it becomes apparent why I videotape these meetings because these board members flat-out misrepresent what they’ve said and done in prior meetings.

Now, in the above 9-minute video clip, considerable focus was placed on the above-mentioned restrictions on Ken Buhler’s license.  When Estate Auction Services (Mac Buhler) was fined $500 and found guilty in March of 2013, the bonding company immediately canceled its bond.  As mentioned above, Ken, pursuant to the restrictions on his license, was totally dependent upon his dad to remain in business; however, his dad could no longer operate due to lack of a bond.  How did the LALB solve Ken’s problem in that regard?  They simply convened another “hearing” on May 20, 2013 for the sole purpose of removing all restrictions on Ken’s license.  Nevertheless, as evidenced by the video clip, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims kept insisting (incorrectly, on no less that three occasions) that the restrictions were lifted prior to Fasola’s auction.  In reality, the restrictions were lifted after and as a result of Fasola’s auction.  Hence, as Fasola pointed out, Buhler was actually rewarded for his victimizing of her!  Also, although LALB Chairman Tessa Steinkamp literally blew a gasket at the 6:27 mark of the video when Fasola referenced concerns for her personal safety when dealing with Ken Buhler, Ms. Fasola had genuine reason for concern.  Even as she was dealing with him, he was arrested and criminally charged for domestic abuse against his wife (the latest court date is Monday, 11/10/14).  Additionally, Mr. Buhler was also found to have civil liability for the fraudulent use of interstate commerce instrumentalities in Federal Court in mid-2011.  The LALB was notified of that fact, but they were completely indifferent to the fact it transpired, notwithstanding the fact that his liability entailed securities fraud directly related to his auction business.

As evidenced by the preceding video clip, the LALB basically continued to tell Ms. Fasola to “go to hell” regarding its filing her bond claim for her.  Quite a contrast to the reverent tone taken with Brant Thompson, son of State Sen. Francis Thompson, huh?  What’s alarming is the sheer number of elderly victims of auctioneers.  Let me provide the following table of four such instances that readily come to mind:

Auction Victim’s Name Reason for Auction Auctioneer and Appx. Date
Ms. Linda Williams Liquidating 91-year-old mother’s belongings days before her death.  Click here to listen to an impassioned plea by Ms. Williams for the LALB to NOT reinstate Ken Buhler’s license in 2010. Ken Buhler. Months prior to his auction license being revoked in 2005.
Mr. David Swift Liquidating the belongings of his 80-something father soon after his death. Gary & Randy Hayes (business applicants like Mac Buhler), two guys who, to their credit, told the LALB at their 1/14 hearing, “We never should have been granted a license.”   They went on to relay they’d lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings and would NEVER be in the auction business again.
Ms. Judy Fasola Liquidating 93-year-old terminally-ill mother’s belongings months before her imminent death. Ken Buhler. September, 2012.
Ms. Betty Story Liquidating her belongings (and two homes) in order to move into an assisted living facility in Alexandria, LA.  LA Voice readers may recall this 9/27/14 post on what a disaster her auction was.  I’m happy to report that Ms. Story, serving as a pro se litigant (at 84 years old!!), scored a major victory in 36th JDC on 10/29/14 when Judge Martha O’Neal stopped the trial after Ms. Story presented only her second witness, with Judge O’Neal saying, “I’ve heard all I need to hear.”  When auctioneer Schmidt asked if he’d be permitted to put on his defense and call witnesses, O’Neal said, “Yes, but you’re not going to be able to undo the damage you’ve already done on this witness stand in answering my questions,” (Story had him on the witness stand under direct examination).  Click here if you’d like to watch a post-trial interview with Ms. Story.  Her LALB litigation remains ongoing. Marlo Schmidt. November   17, 2012.

 

I recently made a public records request of the LALB seeking all bond claims it has ever filed.  They could produce only two:  Mr. Thompson and Mr. Swift.  It’s interesting to note that these two claims were likely filed (beyond Thompson’s status as a Louisiana Senator’s son) because there would be no auctioneer pushback in either case.  Mr. Miller is dead, so he won’t get upset.  Gary and Randy Hayes, as evidenced by the brief video clip above, readily stated they’ll never be in the auction business again (hence no pushback from them).  In sharp contrast, Ken Buhler and Marlo Schmidt are active auctioneers who would be very upset with LALB members if claims were filed against their bonds!

I’d like to conclude this Louisiana Voice post by expressing gratitude to Tom because I’ve presented the above cases to MSM outlets in Baton Rouge.  While an Advocate reporter has expressed strong interest in publishing LALB elderly victimizations, his editors have said, “It’s a small board and nobody will read the article.”  Further, 13 months ago, Ms. Linda Williams, the first victim listed above, suggested that I contact Chris Nakamoto of Channel 2 here in Baton Rouge.  I still maintain a computer folder of numerous emails back-and-forth between Mr. Nakamoto and myself regarding a television investigative report on elderly abuse by auctioneers.  He did qualify any such potential report, however, with the fact that, like the Advocate reporter, his editors too had to give the “thumbs up.”  All I can tell Louisiana Voice readers is that, days prior to New Year’s Day of 2014, Mr. Nakamoto ceased all communication with me without even so much as a courtesy explanation of why he’d gone from responding to my emails within hours (often minutes) to suddenly no response at all.

In closing, if you or anyone you know is considering hiring an auctioneer, you owe it to yourself to visit Consumer Option # 2 on LAPA’s website, which is an alphabetical index of auctioneer issues since LAPA’s archive began in 2010 and also Consumer Option # 3 on LAPA’s website, which is guidance on conducting auctioneer due diligence.  If it’s not conducted, the results, as illustrated above, can be devastating.

Lastly, anyone knowing of an elderly person (or the caretaker of such an individual) who is considering hiring an auctioneer, please bookmark this post and forward it to them.  Why?  Because auctioneers exist out there who view such elderly prospective clients just like lambs headed for slaughter.

Regrettably, we have a Governor and his LALB appointees who are only too happy to help with hoisting the guillotine.

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Two legislative committees charged with oversight of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) are expected to demand that OGB roll back dramatic increases in health care co-payments and deductibles the agency is attempting to impose on hundreds of thousands of state employees to make up for the Jindal administration’s mismanagement of the agency when they meet in tandem on Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will meet at 10 a.m. on Friday but will not take testimony from the public.

The two committees are expected to instruct Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West to slash the increases in deductibles—some couples’ deductibles increased from $300 to $3,000 under the new plan being proposed by OGB–and co-pays.

OGB has already announced a two-month delay in the implementation of steep increases in prescription drug costs and will refund about $4.5 million in overcharges to state employees.

The Jindal administration is attempting to impose the co-pay and deductible increases as a way to recover hundreds of millions of dollars the administration managed to squander as a cost-savings to the state’s own contributions to employees’ premiums as a means to cover huge gaps in Jindal’s state budget.

The entire scenario reads like the script from an old I Love Lucy sitcom as everything the administration had done with OGB has blown up in its face in an improbable comedy of errors. How more insulting to legislators could it get than for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols to provide false testimony to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Sept. 25 shortly before abruptly leaving the JLCB meeting to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans?

When asked point blank by State Rep. John Bel Edwards at that Sept. 25 hearing–before heading out to the Smoothie King Arena to settle into the governor’s luxury box seats for the concert—which actuary recommended that OGB reduce premiums by nearly 9 percent, she testified that Buck Consultants made the recommendation.

But Buck reportedly responded by email within days that it never made any such recommendation and that Nichols’ testimony was in direct contradiction to its recommendations.

A July report from Buck reinforces its claim that it never made any such recommendation. “We did not recommend a decrease of 7% effective August 1, 2012, or an additional decrease of 1.77% effective August 1, 2013. Further, we were not asked to provide any recommended rate adjustments for any fiscal years beyond what we provided for Fiscal Year 2012/2013,” the report says.

When witnesses sign cards prior to speaking before a legislative committee, they are certifying that they understand that their testimony is considered as being given under oath.

Edwards also asked at the hearing that Nichols or West provide him with a copy of that recommendation but he said on Wednesday (Nov. 5) that he still had not received that information. “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” he told LouisianaVoice. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

If someone were to set out to demonstrate how incompetent an administration could be, he would be hard pressed to find a better example than the manner in which it has handled the Office of Group Benefits—from firing an effective CEO who built up a $500 million reserve fund in favor of a revolving door approach to subsequent CEOs, to firing experience claims handlers with whom OGB members were comfortable, to hiring a California firm with no knowledge of Louisiana’s medical coverage program to handle telephone inquiries because experienced OGB staff were also fired, to attempting to implement emergency rules to enact the cost increases in co-pays and deductibles without the legally required public hearings, to having to refund $4.5 million in prescription drug overcharges for the same violation of the emergency rules procedures, to first claiming that it was not necessary to invoke the emergency rule and then deciding to do just that, to lying to legislators about actuarial recommendations of premium reductions.

The FUBARs and SNAFUs of OGB are so many and so irreversible that they should give pause to anyone who would entertain even the fleeting notion that Gov. Bobby Jindal is capable of leading the free world when, through his inept surrogates, he has, in less than two years, destroyed a relatively small but viable, efficient state agency.

Jindal and Nichols, of course, have a ready explanation for the OGB financial woes: medical costs have risen and it’s all Obamacare’s fault—never Jindal’s.

It’s the same arrogance level as that was demonstrated by Nichols in another appearance before a legislative committee when, trying to explain budget figures, she said somewhat condescendingly, “Let me dumb it down for you.”

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