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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

What began as an 18-month $350 million contract with a San Diego firm with ties to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has morphed into a 15-month $500 million agreement with the Office of Group Benefits OGB to administer the state’s prescription drug program for more than 220,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

But details have emerged that raise questions about a possible conflict of interests involving a consulting firm retained by a teachers benefits program in Alabama and OGB in Louisiana which ultimately recommended awarding contracts to the same company by both states.

OGB’s contract with MedImpact was originally for $350 million and was to run from Jan. 1, 2014 through June 30 of this year but has been amended to $500 million and the terms shortened to March 31, which equates to an increase of about 74 percent.

Gingrich launched the Center for Health Transformation as part of an ambitious consulting and communications conglomerate to let consumers, not health maintenance organizations (HMOs), choose their doctors, medical treatments and hospitals. http://hl-isy.com/Products-and-Services/Pharmacy-Benefit-Evaluator/PBE-Abstracts/2012/MedImpact

But Gingrich failed to reveal that his idea would be financially beneficial to drug manufacturers, health insurers and other health care professionals who paid up to $200,000 annually to participate in the center’s operations.

MedImpact was one of those companies.

Gingrich’s taking money from organizations and then using the weight of his name to advance their interests was described as “a massive financial conflict of interest” by Sid Wolfe, director of health research for the watchdog group Public Citizen. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/10/AR2007061000484.html

Even former Congressman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana has entered the picture as co-chair of Medicine Access and Compliance Coalition (MACC), an assortment of health care providers who advocate lower drug prices through the federal 340B Program. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/13/billy-tauzin-drugs_n_3719468.html

Section 340B of the Public Health Service Act requires pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in the Medicaid drug rebate program to provide outpatient drugs at discounted prices to taxpayer-supported health care facilities that provide care for uninsured and low-income people. http://www.aha.org/content/13/fs-340b.pdf

Despite the magnitude of the MedImpact contract, it is the company’s connections to Buck Consultants, hired by the state to select the winner from among four proposals for that contract, which appears more than a little questionable.

OGB’s Notice of Intent to Contract for the Pharmacy Benefits Management (PBM) service, obtained from the Division of Administration (DOA) nearly four months after requested by LouisianaVoice—and then only after we filed a lawsuit against DOA—says, “Representatives of Buck Consultants, OGB’s actuarial consulting firm, provided assistance to the (selection) committee throughout the review and evaluation process.”

Buck Consultants, readers may remember, figured prominently in the controversy over DOA’s mishandling of OGB and the dissipation of more than half of OGB’s $500 million reserve fund.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told a legislative committee that Buck Consultants had recommended that the state lower premiums for members of OGB, a move that led directly to the evaporation of the reserve fund. Communications between Buck and DOA obtained by LouisianaVoice, however, refuted Nichols’ claim.

Four firms submitted proposals to administer the prescription drug program for OGB. They were CVS Caremark, Express Scripts, Catamaran and MedImpact. CVS was disqualified because of sanctions imposed on the company in January of 2013 by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Catamaran was the previous contractor but the company and the state have been involved in extended litigation which is expected to continue at least through June 30 of this year.

“As indicated in the Buck report, the proposal submitted by MedImpact has been determined to be the most advantageous to the state…,” said the Notice of Intent to Contract. “Accordingly, the committee recommends that the contract …be awarded to MedImpact.”

The connections between MedImpact and Buck, a global human resource benefit consulting firm that is part of the Xerox conglomerate, however raise conflict of interests issue—a relationship that LouisianaVoice traced back to the awarding of a contract to MedImpact in 2010 to administer the pharmaceutical benefits program for Alabama public school teachers, retirees and dependents through the state’s retirement system.

The Alabama Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) board members, lacking pharmacy specialty training, retained Buck Consultants in late 2009 and early 2010 to handle the entire process, including writing the request for proposals (RFP), receiving and scoring the RFPs and making a recommendation for a contract.

Buck handled the entire process and gave the board the choice of contracting with MedImpact which was named by Buck primary contact person Michael Jacobs as having the best of several proposals submitted. The entire recommendation to the board took up a single paragraph in the board minutes.

The employee for the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) who negotiated and signed the contract between the state and MedImpact later admitted in deposition that he had been involved in a relationship with a female representative of MedImpact.

But it was the relationship between Buck, Jacobs and MedImpact that warrants a closer look.

Even as he was contracted by RSA to issue, receive and evaluate the RFPs, it turns out that Buck, unbeknownst to Alabama officials, was simultaneously under a $50,000 contract to MedImpact. BUCK DEAL WITH MEDIMPACT

Jacobs, in a Dec. 23, 2009, letter to MedImpact Vice President of Business Development Bryan Boda, noted that the term of the contract was from Dec. 24, 2009, through Feb. 28, 2010, but upon written notice, “will be extended for an additional term, as mutually agreed to by both parties.”

Attached to that letter was a description of the scope of services to be provided by Buck which, among other things called for Buck to:

  • Provide MedImpact with marketplace information without disclosing anything to identify MedImpact’s proposal;
  • Collect competitor information, utilizing the internal proprietary Buck database of vendor information and drawing upon Buck’s “extensive data base” on PBM industry practices as well as outside public sources;
  • Develop a competitive employer marketplace analysis;
  • Present its final report during a final meeting with MedImpact at its (MedImpact’s) corporate headquarters.

It should pointed out that attorneys for three Alabama pharmacies excluded from participation in the prescription drug program for the teachers found it necessary to obtain the letter of agreement between Buck and MedImpact from Buck after MedImpact refused to provide the information.

The discovery of the contract between Buck and MedImpact during the time Alabama was in the process of selecting a prescription drug administrator for PEEHIP immediately raises the question of whether a similar arrangement existed between the two during the time Louisiana was selecting an administrator for OGB’s prescription drug benefits program.

An email to Buck Consultants posing that question was not answered.

MedImpact also refused to divulge what it was paying for prescription drugs, revealing only what it was charging Alabama. In one case, attorneys for the three pharmaceutical companies did obtain a document showing that MedImpact paid about $26 for an amoxicillin prescription but charged the state $96.

That, of course, also raises the question of how the billing is done by MedImpact for OGB. Does MedImpact pass along a 300 percent mark-up to OGB at a time when the state is, for all practical purposes, broke? MedImpact calls itself a transparent company but like our “transparent” governor, it has not been forthcoming thus far with details about what it pays for prescription drugs or about its contract with Buck Consultants.

And at the other end of the spectrum, it appears that not nearly enough hard questions have been asked by officials—either in Alabama or Louisiana.

After all, how can it be considered an acceptable practice for Buck Consultants to contract with a state to issue an RFP, evaluate the proposals and make a recommendation to award the state contract to a firm already contracted with Buck Consultants for Buck to collect competitor information?

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Senator Daniel R. Martiny's Picture

STATE SEN. DAN MARTINY

C.B. Forgotston may have opened a can of worms…with the unwitting help of State Sen. Dan Martiny (R-Metairie)—and much to Martiny’s chagrin.

Forgotston, you see, is an independent old cuss who used to work for the legislature and he has been serving for a number of years now as an unofficial overseer of all things state government and few events escape his skeptical critique of the actions and motives of elected officials, particularly legislators, or as he calls them, leges.

Called “King of Subversive Bloggers” by no less an expert on cynicism than Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill, Forgotston is beholden to no one and any leges who crosses swords with him does so at his own peril.

Martiny may have found out the hard way when he sent this email to Forgotston Sunday around 4:16 p.m. informing C.B. that his emails to the good senator were no longer welcomed:

From: “Martiny, Sen. (Chamber Laptop)” <dmartiny@legis.la.gov>

To: “C.B. Forgotston” Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2015 16:16:34 -0600 Subject:

Re: Where’s Buddy?

Take me off your list until u do something positive about anyone.

Martiny was responding to Forgotston’s “Where’s Buddy” post in which he took Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to task for the AG’s reluctance to do his job in telling the Caddo Parish Commissioners they are in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution by virtue of their illegal participation in the Caddo Parish retirement system.

Forgotston noted that Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has done his job in saying commissioners’ participation in the retirement system is illegal but Caldwell, as has been his M.O. since taking office, has been strangely quiet on public corruption.

And while there is certainly nothing wrong in going after free-lance pharmaceutical salesmen (drug dealers), child pornographers and the like, Caldwell has displayed an obvious dislike for making waves in the political waters and has steadfastly run from public corruption cases.

And we know that while the 1974 State Constitution took much of the prosecutorial duties from the attorney general, the AG is still the legal adviser for all state agencies and if nothing else, Caldwell should step forward and whisper in officials’ ears when they are seen skirting the edge of the law. (Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ open violation of the state’s public records law comes immediately to mind. So does Auctioneer Board attorney Larry Bankston’s advice to the board to actually refuse to release public records.)

But we digress.

If you notice, Martiny’s message for C.B. to delete future mailings to him was written on his Senate chamber laptop, which some might interpret as an unwillingness on his part to hear from citizens on matters that concern them.

“My periodic mailings address issues of concern to me primarily about state and local government,” Forgotston said on Monday.

“The mailings are sent to each lege via a public server owned by taxpayers. The address to which it is sent is also provided by the taxpayers.”

Forgotston said that after a “gentle reminder,” Martiny, an attorney, relented and acknowledged the provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Other leges may not be as familiar with the First Amendment as is Martiny,” he said. “As a public service, here is some background on the First Amendment which leges might find useful in dealing with members of the public.

“The First Amendment states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’” (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

The right to freedom of speech, he says, “allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts (litigation) or other governmental action. (Emphasis Forgotston’s)

“Not only do we have a right to contact the leges regarding matters of government, they are prohibited from interfering with our exercise of that right,” Forgotston said. “That includes the blocking of emails as some leges have done in the past.

“Any lege not wishing to receive my communications, please forward me a copy of your letter of resignation from the lege and you will be promptly removed from all future mailings.”

Now, just to give you a little background on Sen. Martiny, who:

  • Fought a bill by State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) which would have prevent legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure jobs in order to boost their state retirement. It’s worth noting that several legislators had been appointed to cushy state jobs by the Gov. Bobby administration. Noble Ellington of Winnsboro was named second in command at the Louisiana State Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year; Jane Smith of Bossier City was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Department of Revenue ($107,500), though she admitted she knew nothing about taxes or revenue; Troy Hebert of Jeanerette was named Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board ($107,500); Kay Katz of Monroe, named to the Louisiana Tax Commission ($56,000); former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis named Director of Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness ($165,000), and former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro was appointed Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery ($150,000).
  • Pushed through an amendment that gutted Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), a bill originally designed to protect vulnerable borrowers from predatory payday lenders. Nevers sought to cap payday loan annual interest rates at 36 percent which was an effective way to rein in those lenders who were charging annual percentage rates of up to 700 percent. Martiny’s amendment removed the APR cap and instead simply limited borrowers to 10 short-term loans each year.
  • Pushed through a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which prohibited state contractors from entering into agreements with labor unions, prohibited public entities from remaining neutral toward any labor organization, and prohibited the payment of predetermined or prevailing wages.
  • Introduced a bill that was subsequently signed by Gov. Bobby which re-created 17 state boards, offices and commissions. Louisiana already has far more boards and commissions than any other state but apparently no one saw a need for reducing the number.
  • Introduced a bill subsequently signed into law by Gov. Bobby that gave judges on state district courts, courts of appeal and the Louisiana Supreme court pay raises ranging from 3.7 percent to 5.5 percent—even as Louisiana civil service employees were forced to go without a pay raise for the third straight year.
  • Introduced but later withdrew a bill that would have allowed the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (DED) the authority to offer air carriers a rebate of up to $500 annually for each incremental international passenger flying to or from a state airport for a period of up to five years.
  • Introduced a bill allowing DED to offer tax credits refundable against corporate income and corporate franchise taxes for businesses agreeing to undertake activities to increase the number of visitors to the state by at least 100,000 per year. (We’re beginning to see the problem with the state’s economic incentive tax breaks here).
  • Introduced a bill to provide tax credits for solar energy systems of up to 50 percent of all costs.
  • Introduced a bill that would have allowed the Commissioner of Insurance to fire the Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Advocacy without cause.

Let’s examine that very last one again. Louisiana law provides for the appointment of a deputy commissioner of consumer advocacy by the Commissioner of Insurance.

This is important, provided that person is wholly independent of Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon who gets the bulk of his campaign finances from insurance companies he is supposed to regulate.

Donelon, obviously, cannot be expected to ride herd over his benefactors. That’s just not the way politics works in Louisiana. So a consumer advocate in the department is critical—especially after all those stories about Allstate and State Farm denying legitimate claims from Hurricane Katrina and other tactics such as the Delay, Deny, Defend strategy as taught the insurance companies by Gov. Bobby’s former employer, McKinsey & Co.

The law provides that the consumer advocate may be terminated only for cause.

But Martiny wanted to change that and though the bill did not pass, one has to wonder about his motives.

To learn that, you’d probably have to email him at dmartiny@legis.la.gov

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Even as Gov. Bobby is busy handing out pink slips to state employees (a new round of layoffs is anticipated momentarily), LouisianaVoice has learned of a couple of unusual hiring practices—one involving yet another retire-rehire, this time by the Department of Public Safety, and a possible case of nepotism that has since quietly been resolved in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LADHH) with the timely transfer of the mother of a LADHH administrator to another agency.

DHH Deputy Secretary Courtney Phillips has accepted the position of Secretary of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHH) and will begin her duties there on April 1, according to a press release from LADHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

Courtney Phillips has been employed by LADHH since 2003 when she began as a management intern. She was appointed Deputy Secretary on May 10, 2013, at a salary of $145,000, according to information obtained by LouisianaVoice from LADHH.

Her mother, Sheila Phillips was initially hired by LADHH on June 19, 2012, as an Administrative Coordinator at a salary of $37,500.

“At no point in time did Courtney Phillips serve in a supervisory role over Sheila Phillips,” said LADHH spokesperson Olivia Watkins in an email Thursday to LouisianaVoice. “Regarding her time as deputy secretary, Courtney Phillips did not officially begin her tenure as deputy secretary until May 10, 2013. Sheila Phillips ended her employment with DHH on May 9, 2013, and is currently an employee with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Civil Service records reflect that Sheila Phillips actually resigned on May 8, 2013, two days before her daughter’s promotion, and began working on May 9, 2013, for the Department of Environmental Quality as an Administrative Assistant 4 and currently makes $40,560 per year.

And while Courtney Phillips did not begin as deputy secretary until two days after her mother left the agency, her curriculum vitae that she submitted to the State of Nebraska notes that she served as Chief of Staff at LADHH from September of 2011 until her promotion to deputy director—which was during the time when her mother was hired.

State statute, according to Watkins, specifically says that “no member of the immediate family of a member of a governing authority or the chief executive of a governmental entity shall be employed by the governmental entity.”

The statute defines “agency head” as chief executive or administrative officer of an agency or any member of a board or commission who exercises supervision over the agency, Watkins said.

“Based on consultation with Civil Service, agency head would not include the chief of staff position, precluding any violation of the state nepotism law during her tenure in that role. Furthermore, as chief of staff, Courtney Phillips did not have legal appointing authority or supervise any DHH program office, including the Office of Public Health where Sheila Phillips worked from 06/09/2012 through 05/09/2013.

“Given that definition and the facts of the employment of Courtney Phillips and Sheila Phillips, nepotism was not a concern,” Watkins said.

Her resumé, however, says her Chief of Staff duties involved the planning and direction of “all administrative, financial, and operational activities for the department’s Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Undersecretary” and that she acted “as a point of contact between top management and employees, as well as developing, overseeing and maintaining the budget for the executive office. She also said in her resumé that she served as a “key member of the executive management team responsible for the central coordination of activities and ensuring timely flow of information to and from the executive office.”

Moreover, on various LADHH organizational charts obtained by LouisianaVoice, Courtney Phillips served directly under the position of agency undersecretary during the tenures of both Bruce Greenstein, who resigned in March of 2013, and Kliebert.

As a “key member of the executive management team,” she was also a member of and regularly voted on matters coming before the LADHH Statewide Governance Board and signed off on letters to top legislators dealing with LADHH policy.

Meanwhile, an Information Technology (IT) Director 4 who retired from his $140,500 a year job at the Division of Administration (DOA) on Oct. 31, 2014, began working on Dec. 8, just over a month later, for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) as a technology consultant at $70 per hour, Civil Service records show. Jeya Selvaratnam

SELVARATNAM GOHSEP

Prior to his four-month stint with DOA, which began on June 23, 2014, and ran through Oct. 31 (he was retired for little more than a month, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7), Jeya Selvaratnam worked first as an IT Deputy Director 2 for the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Office of Management and Finance from Sept. 25, 2006 through Aug. 27, 2008 at which time he was promoted to IT Director 4 for the same office. He remained at that post until June 22, 2014, when he moved over to DOA.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics prohibits former state employees from working for the same agency within two years of their retirements. The statute (R.S. 42:1111-1121) says, “During the two year period following the termination of public service as a public employee, these individuals may not assist another for compensation, in a transaction, or in an appearance in connection with a transaction involving the agency in which the former public employee participated while employed by the agency nor may the former public employee provide on a contractual basis to his former public employer, any service he provided while employed there.”

GOHSEP spokesperson Christina Dayries, however, said when retirees are rehired by state agencies, they are allowed to earn half of what they collect in state retirement. He was earning $140,500 per year and with more than 30 years of service, qualifies for at least 75 percent of his base salary in retirement. That computes to more than $105,000 in retirement, plus 50 percent of that amount as a re-hire up to $158,000—nearly $18,000 more than he made full time.

The project on which Selvaratnam now works as a part time capacity is the DPS FirstNet National Public Safety Broadband Network.

The project calls for the expenditure of up to $135 million of a State and Local Implementation Grant (SLIGP) provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide emergency responders with their first nationwide, high-speed broadband network dedicated to public safety, according to a Power Point presentation given on Jan. 21 and 22 of this year to provide an overview of the program created under the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

The $135 million 80-20 federal-state grant is only for the planning of the project. Implementation of the nationwide network is expected to cost $7 billion with funding expected to come from spectrum auction. By law, the network is to be self-sustaining upon expending the $7 billion.

There are 10 regional teams set up to implement the program on a nationwide basis. Louisiana is a member of Team 6, along with New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The program’s staffing chart shows Selvaratnam serving under the supervision of Program Manager Allison McLeary.

While at DPS, he represented the department as a member of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) SIEC which is responsible for the ability of emergency service agencies to communicate across disciplines and jurisdictions, particularly during times of emergency. SIEC membership is composed of all appropriate first responder and support organizations and has “full authority to design, construct, administer and maintain a statewide interoperable communications system…in support of full response to any emergency event,” according to GOHSEP’s web page. http://www.gohsep.la.gov/interop.aspx

As the DPS representative on the SIEC, he also served as chairman of the SIEC Broadband Subcommittee. Accordingly, he had duties and responsibilities for the SLIGP program during that time and is again providing those same services.

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, for whom Selvaratnam worked at DPS, is the “State Point of Contact” for the FirstNet project, according to the Power Point presentation, with the Office of State Police listed as the SLIGP grant recipient and GOHSEP as the grant administrator.

A law meant to bring retirees back for short-term help was used by almost 200 current, full-time employees in the Department of Corrections. An oversight in the writing of the law even allowed “retired” employees to continue accruing money into their pension plans, according to a story on Governing, a web-based site on state and local government. http://www.governing.com/topics/public-workforce/Double-Dip-Dilemma.html

The issue of retire-rehire sparked considerable debate in 2010 when Higher Education Commissioner Sally Clausen resigned and rehired herself two days later, a move that netted her a $90,000 payout for unused sick leave and vacation time and entitled her to $146,400 in retirement pay. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/06/higher_education_commissioner.html

 

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By Robert Burns

Special to LouisianaVoice

As many Louisiana Voice readers are aware, I am a former auctioneer and was appointed by Gov. Jindal to the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) during the early months of his first term. What I encountered was corruption both on the board itself and among auctioneers in the industry. I sent regular emails to the head of boards and commissions routinely expressing my shock and dismay. In less than two years, Jindal terminated my services, providing no other explanation other than, “things just aren’t working out.”

The next meeting after my termination, I began videotaping auctioneer meetings and have continued to do so to this day. I also have made occasional public records requests to view auctioneer files. My purpose in reviewing those files is that often times consumer complaints are filed and LALB attorney Anna Dow works with the complainant and the auctioneer to work the complaint out.  These solutions, however, are never even referenced to the board itself and even board members themselves are in the dark as to their existence.  Basically, Dow keeps the board members on a “needs to know basis,” and it was my experience as a board member that she deemed me to “need to know” very little. Hence, the only way anyone (board member or member of the public) can know of these complaints and other auctioneer issues is to examine the auctioneers’ files.

Louisiana Association of Professional Auctioneer (LAPA)’s founder and President, Rev. Freddie Lee Phillips, and I have been concerned about the sheer number of such complaints and some troubling details of these “workouts.”  Examples include:  One auctioneer, William Jones,  deceiving the LALB for eight years about his state of residency; National Auctioneer Association (NAA) Hall-of-Famer Keith Babb threatening a complainant against pursuing a complaint against him, and complainant Robert Kite alleging collusion and shill bidding entailing NAA Hall-of-Famer Marvin Henderson and NAA Past-President Joe Wilson. None of this type of information is available anywhere but in auctioneer files. Accordingly, we decided the best thing for us to do is conduct an audit of all auctioneer files. Because the LALB is a one-person office (with the individual almost never actually working in the office but rather working from home), we knew this should be a project extended out over a 2-3 year timeframe so as not to impose too great of a burden on the office.  Accordingly, I made this simple public records request of 12/4/14 for the first 10 files. Material gleaned from the files is incorporated into this indexed webpage of auctioneers having issues with the LALB.

The one-person executive director of the LALB, Sandy Edmonds, balked at the public records requests associated with the project.  Edmonds is the same one who has been cited by the Inspector General’s Office for payroll fraud and lying about it to investigators. Specifically, she reported both to the LALB and the Interior Design Board that she was “on the clock” even though she actually was on vacation. They subpoenaed her cell phone records, after which she refused to answer any more of their questions.

Edmonds is paid $32.67/hour, or $25, 480 for the LALB and $25/hour, or $32,500 for the Interior Design Board ($57,980 total). She received numerous pay raises which Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera characterized as illegal.

In a meeting on January 3, 2013, Inspector General Lead Investigator Tom Boulton said, “There is no such thing as a performance-based employee.  It’s illegal.” Both he and Inspector General Investigator Rob Chadwick said that they found it inconceivable that the office for both boards (it’s a shared office) is almost never occupied, and both men wanted to know how much rent was being paid for an essentially-unoccupied building.

Purpera, whose office also investigated the work setup, issued this damning report, and referred the whole matter to East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore for possible prosecution of Edmonds for payroll fraud. When Vice Chairman James Sims asked what the LALB should do about the Legislative Auditor report, Board Attorney Anna Dow relayed “nothing,” and Edmonds added, “Welcome to politics,” and indicated that Jindal himself said they were not to worry about it and that the board “cannot” recover funds which Edmonds had been overpaid. Board Chairman Tessa Steinkamp said, “We have to follow the Governor.”

Why re-hash old news?  Well, at the LALB meeting of Tuesday, January 15, 2015, Board Attorney (and convicted felon) Larry S. Bankston asked the Board to deny future requests from me and to seek “legal instruction from the court.” Notice how vague he is about the timeframe of the project (i.e. he neglects to inform the board that this is a 2-3 year project.

The board did not respond to Bankston’s request for it to resist my public records requests, but in light of Edmonds’ past employment reports issued by the Inspector General’s Office and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, we feel the public has a right to full disclosure about auctioneer problems, and clearly this is a legal requirement Edmunds has no intention of meeting.  She has even insisted that public records requests be subcontracted out to the Attorney General’s Office, which charges $50 per hour for that service.

Just another episode of typical Louisiana political chicanery.

 

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One day in early December, I received one of countless telephone calls pertaining to the upcoming Dec. 6 election. Normally, the calls are pre-recorded, or “robocalls” appealing for my vote for this or this candidate or telling me how horrible the opposing candidate would be for Mom, apple pie and America.

This one, however, was a live call from a woman claiming to be calling on behalf of AFA. Never having heard of the organization up to that point, I interrupted her spiel to ask who AFA was.

“American Family Association,” she said and without even pausing to take a breath, she launched into her pitch. “We’re not calling on behalf of any particular candidate,” she assured me. “We just want to remind you to be sure to vote for candidates who represent our Christian heritage and the Christian principles on which America was founded.”

(Well, first of all, America was not founded on Christianity—or by Christians. The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, Deists. Chief among the founders was one Thomas Jefferson, the man who re-wrote the Bible. Jefferson’s Bible omitted all references to miracles by Jesus, the Resurrection and other miracles as well as passages indicating Jesus was divine. Our very own Gov. Bobby Jindal, by the way, was named recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at ALEC’s national meeting in New Orleans in 2011.)

When I heard that, I simply said, “I’m Jewish.” (Actually, I’m Methodist.)

End of conversation.

Now comes word that AFA is sponsoring Gov. Bobby Jindal’s prayer rally at the Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus Jan. 24.

So, what’s the big deal? The Gaithers have held gospel concerts in the same facility (I’ve attended two of them and they were great) and the Pope held a service at the University of New Orleans. Besides, the Prayer Rally will be strictly faith-based and will not be a forum for political discourse—because they say so. http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/2014/12/19/prayer-rally-organizers-distance-event-from-afas-positions/

Yeah, right. With Jindal taking part, the absence of right-wing political rhetoric is about as likely as…well, as likely as a general denial of evolution or climate change at the event. After all, one of his political operatives, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister (former Jindal campaign treasurer and later appointed by Jindal to the LSU Board of Supervisors), smoothed the way for securing the center for the event through…you guessed it, political channels. http://theadvocate.com/features/faith/11119534-123/documents-reveal-behind-the-scenes-details-of

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists AFA as a hate group, just as it does the Westboro Baptist Church, probably because both spew venom instead of the Christian tolerance taught by Christ when it comes to groups that think and act contrary to their rigid set of self-imposed standards of morality, namely gays.

Remember the story from the Bible when the woman was about to be stoned for adultery. Didn’t that quote, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone” (John 8:7) come from the mouth of Jesus?

And then there was: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40). I can’t help but wonder if the fine Christians from Westboro Baptist Church and AFA have ever read those words or if so, did they gave even a passing thought to their meaning.

And no claim can be made that those quotes were lifted out of context; their meaning could not be plainer.

As might be expected, Jindal critics (and they’re growing in number with each passing day) have leveled criticism of the governor for participating in the event, which skeptics insist will  have political overtones. http://www.bayoubuzz.com/buzz/item/803216-lost-faith-in-lsu-prayer-rally-and-in-bobby-jindal

But the most interesting barrage was leveled by one Taylor Huckaby of Los Angeles, former Deputy Communications Director for the Louisiana Republican Party, a volunteer in Jindal’s election campaign and later, Jindal’s New Media Director.

Huckaby penned the following for LouisianaVoice:

Never have I been more embarrassed to be an alumnus of Louisiana State University. Yesterday, the LSU powers-that-be finally broke their silence on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ostentatious prayer/politically pandering rally. “Rental of an LSU facility does not imply any endorsement,” wheedled director of media relations Eddie Ballard to the New Orleans Advocate.

I wonder if he said that before, or after he accepted the $18,500 from the American Family Association, agreeing to not only entertain them for a day but also to provide a baldly political platform from which Jindal intends to pander to his ultraconservative electorate.

I wonder if he knew extent to which Jindal-appointee to the LSU Board of Supervisors, Rolfe McCollister, prodded the University to give up the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for such use.

I wonder if he realizes that while technically correct and certainly legal, in practice people all over the country will now associate LSU with happily playing host to an organization that blames the Holocaust and the existence of the Nazi Party on gay people.  Yes, you read that correctly. From AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer in a web post from 2010 (and this is indeed a representative sample, so don’t you worry):

“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”

Yes, this is the very same guy around whom Bobby Jindal has voluntarily decided to drape his arms around come January 24th.

Also appearing in the New Orleans Advocate story was a certain Clay Tufts, the current LSU student body president, who claims the AFA is “not reflective on the university in any way or its students.” Then, immediately after staking that claim, he goes on to explain how no action can possibly be taken on the issue via student government because, well, too many LSU students agree with the AFA’s positions.

“I’m sure a large group of students will go to the event.” Tufts said, “Student government itself won’t be going either way on anything.” 

Apparently condemning an organization that blames the Holocaust on gay people is a bridge too far. Such controversy!

Is this really the best LSU can do? Accept the AFA’s blood money and turn a blind eye? Proclaim that the university community supports its LGBT students while also simultaneously admitting helplessness in the face of so many anti-LGBT sentiments on campus? It seems to me that LSU’s “commitment” to LGBT people is less representative of a fighting tiger and more akin to the paper variety.

How incredibly embarrassing it is that LSU allows itself to be such a willing pawn in this political game, and how incredibly sad it is that the Louisiana LGBT community has to again endure false and patently ridiculous accusations of Nazism, child recruitment, equivocations to bestiality, and perversion. Why would anyone want to send their son or daughter to a university that so blithely resigns itself to such bigotry? I certainly wouldn’t.

 

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