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State Treasurer John Kennedy has forwarded a two-page letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) that itemizes 13 questions Kennedy said need to be addressed concerning the $55,000 per year pension increase awarded State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the closing minutes of the recent legislative session.

An amendment to Senate Bill 294, quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, allowed Edmonson and one other state trooper to revoke their decision made at lower ranks to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). In Edmonson’s case, he entered DROP as a captain, which effectively froze his retirement calculated on his salary at that time.

He was subsequently promoted to Superintendent of State Police which carried with it a substantial pay increase that made the DROP decision a bad one—like many other state employees who made similar moves and were later promoted.

The amendment was inserted into an unrelated bill dealing with disciplinary actions to be taken with law enforcement officers under investigation by a six-member conference committee, none of whom will claim credit—or blame—for the action.

Even worse than the furtive action, most probably taken at the direction of Gov. Bobby Jindal, five of the six conference committee members appear to be unwilling to man up and discuss their actions.

Kennedy, who by virtue of his office is a member of LSPRS, wrote to Executive Director Irwin Felps:

“In furtherance of our board meeting, other discussions regarding this matter and our fiduciary obligations to all of the people the system serves, I wanted to set forth in writing, as a board member and the State Treasurer, the issues that I think must be fully investigated and answered by you, our counsel and other staff, for the board so that it can make the necessary decisions and take appropriate actions, if any, to meet its fiduciary duties. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and there may be others to be included from other members, you, counsel and others, which should be answered too and which I welcome.”

Kennedy then listed the following 13 questions which he said needed answers:

  • How many people does the act benefit?
  • Who are the people it benefits, so that they can be invited to address these issues and their involvement with our board?
  • What are all of the costs of the act to the system and its members?
  • Is it true the actuarial note setting forth the cost of the act was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would be the costs to give the same retirement benefit increase resulting from the act to all troopers and their dependents that are similarly situated?
  • What is the opinion of the act of the Governor’s Executive Counsel who reviewed the bill before the Governor’s signature approving it?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting conference committee amendment, so that they can be invited to address why it was offered with our board?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment in question meet the legal requirement of “germaneness” (relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment in question violate the state constitutional prohibition against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligations of contracts?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the state constitutional requirement of equal protection of the law?
  • Does the process by which the amendment in question was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules or procedures?
  • What are the board’s legal options?

Copies of Kennedy’s letter were sent to State Treasury Executive Counsel Jim Napper and board members of LSPRS, Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System (LSERS).

Records denied LouisianaVoice by House, Senate

The six conference committee members who met to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of SB 294, to which the controversial amendment was added, include Sens. Jean-Paul Morrell (who authored the original bill), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

We attempted to obtain records of emails between conference committee members, Edmonson, the governor’s office and the Division of Administration but the wagons were quickly circled and we got the standard runaround from both the House and Senate.

It seems by some convoluted logic that communications of legislators about legislative business that affects taxpayers is not public record.

This is the response we received from both the House and Senate:

“You request: ‘all emails, text messages and/or any other communications between Col. Mike Edmonson and members of his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser and/or any of his staff members, any other legislator and/or members of their staff, specifically Reps. Jeff Arnold, Walt Leger and Bryan Adams (and Morrell, Riser and Walsworth) and between either of these (six) members and Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or any of his staff members, including but not limited to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and/or any members of her staff, concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.’

“Any communication by or with or on behalf of a Legislator ‘concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System’ falls under the ‘speech’ protected by LA con. art. III, § 8, clause 2: ‘No member shall be questioned elsewhere for any speech in either house.’ Our appellate courts have held that ‘the speech privilege extends to freedom of speech in the legislative forum; when members are acting within the “legitimate legislative sphere,’ the privilege is an absolute bar to interference. The courts have further held that conduct which falls within this ‘sphere’ of privilege is ‘anything generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.’ Copsey v. Baer, No. CA 91 0912, 593 So.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir. Dec. 27, 1991), Writ Denied 594 So.2d 876, (La., Feb. 14, 1992).

“Your request to review records concerning retirement legislation falls directly within the ‘sphere’ protected against disclosure by the Louisiana constitution. All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination.”

So there you go, folks. You have no right to pry into the business of the State of Louisiana if it’s discussed by a legislator. How’s that for the gold standard of ethics and for accountable and transparent government?

Only Walsworth responds to LouisianaVoice email

LouisianaVoice also sent each of the six an identical email on Wednesday that said:

“Because there has been nothing but deafening silence from the six members of the conference committee that approved the egregious retirement increase for Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, I thought I would contact each of you individually to give you the opportunity to explain your thought process in enacting this legislation to benefit only two people to the exclusion of all the others who opted for DROP but would now like to revoke that decision.

“To that end, I have several questions that I respectfully ask you as honorable men with nothing to hide to answer. Your continued silence will leave me no alternative but to believe you are not honorable men and that this action was taken in the session’s dying hours in a deliberate attempt to do an end around the public’s right to know what transpires in Baton Rouge.”

Here are the questions I posed to each man:

  • Did you introduce, or do you know who introduced, the amendment to SB 294? (If each of you denies any knowledge of this, the implication is simple: you take issue with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s contention that the amendment did not “fall from the heavens.”)
  • Did you have any contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff prior to the amendment’s being added to SB 294?
  • At what point during the session just ended did the matter of Col. Edmonson’s retirements first arise?
  • Why was the full House and Senate not made aware of the wording of the amendment to SB 294?
  • Was it your intent that no one should know the real intent of amendment to SB 294?
  • Edmonson, on Jim Engster’s radio show, indicated it came up several weeks before the end of the session. If that is true, why was there a delay until the last day of the session to tack the amendment onto SB 294?
  • Did you have any contact relative to the amendment from Gov. Jindal’s office or the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols?
  • If you did have contact with Mike Edmonson and/or any of his staff members, the governor’s office or Kristy Nichol’s office, would you willingly release the contents of those communications?
  • Finally, do you think it fair to do this for only two people while excluding hundreds, perhaps thousands of retirees who made similar decisions to enter DROP only to regret their decisions?

With the exception of Walsworth who responded on Thursday, the response has been a continued embarrassing silence.

Here is Walsworth’s response:

“I did not introduce the amendment.  I can only answer for myself, not others.

“I had no contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff concerning this amendment.

“I believe I heard about the problems with the amendment like everyone else, through the media a couple of weeks ago.

“The last day of the session is usually very hectic.  My recollection of the events of that day was that the report came to my desk by a staffer.  I saw the amendment and asked if it effected (sic) more than one more person.

“The staffer said yes. I knew that in the past we had given this provision to several retirement systems. So I signed the report. Sen. Jody Amedee’s child was in the hospital and as Vice Chair of Senate Gov. Affairs Committee, I was in charge of the Senate going into Executive Session to handle appointments. To be honest, I do not recall what the author said when he presented SB 294 on the floor.

“I had no contact from anyone in Gov. Jindal’s office or Kristy Nichols’ office.

“It has been many years since I was on the retirement committee.  I have always been an advocate that retirees should have more choices. They should have more control of their retirement. I am sorry that this effected (sic) just these 2 individuals. I thought it would effect (sic) more.”

But the sorriest, most pathetic, most despicable thing about this entire sordid mess is that members of that conference committee are perfectly willing to throw a female staff attorney under the bus to protect their own pitiful hides.

Laura Gail Sullivan is the legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee her name is at the top of the page of the conference committee report.

Given the fact that Sen. Neil Riser was on that conference committee and, as Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with a pretty good guess as to who instructed Sullivan to insert the amendment.

But the fact is that with the exception of Walsworth—if he is to be believed—not one of the committee members came to Sullivan’s defense. They choose instead to let a subordinate who was following orders take the heat.

Their action, or more accurately, inaction, is the very definition of hiding behind a skirt.

These are men who will run for cover and let a staff member take the heat for their actions. And the fact that not one of them has the backbone to come forward, makes them, in our opinion, the lowest form of humanity to dare call themselves public servants.

It is our fervent hope that in 2015 they will draw formidable opponents who will be more than happy to let voters know the gutless wonders these cowards turned out to be and who will rat them out for the rodents they are.

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Editor’s note:

The following is a guest column offered by Baton Rouge teacher Fred Aldrich who, along with thousands of others, listened Monday as Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson appeared on the Jim Engster Show to defend the amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill on the final day of the legislative session which will give Edmonson an additional $55,000 (not $30,000 as first reported—we’ll explain at the end of Aldrich’s guest column) upon his retirement—a nice bonus unique to Edmonson and one other state trooper.

 

I am a long-time listener to NPR station WRKF, and I listen to the Jim Engster show whenever possible. I don’t always agree with Jim or his guests, but I usually don’t find my disagreements worthy of a response. Today was an exception.

The comments of Jim’s guests are not the opinions of Jim or WRKF, but unfortunately those comments may be spin and/or misinformation which listeners will take as truth.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was on the show this morning. I have great respect for the state police, and I have considered Edmonson one of the good guys in the Jindal administration. This morning’s interview, however, was problematical for me in several ways.

Engster congratulated Edmonson for having the fortitude to come on the program at a time when the superintendent is facing a lot of heat statewide. His performance suggested that he has paid attention during the years he has also served as a prop for the governor. He sounded earnest, sounded passionate, and sounded determined to serve his troopers and the people of the state. So far, so good, but that’s not why he’s on the hot seat. No one questions his dedication.

As a teacher with 38 years of experience in Louisiana and one who participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) about the same time as he did, my understanding and experience with the program are much different from what Edmonson expressed on the program. He wanted to dispel “inaccuracies” with “facts,” but in my estimation he mostly promulgated misinformation, to wit:

  • The retirement systems which offer DROP are not “different” retirement systems than they were at the time he or anyone else went into DROP. DROP was simply a program within these retirement systems which was offered to employees for a few years, theoretically to provide valued employees an opportunity to continue working while putting three years of retirement checks in an interest-earning escrow account that could not be accessed until the employee finally retires, as which time federal laws regarding taxes and withdrawals apply. Though officially retired, the employee continued to draw his regular pay while payments were made into his DROP account. These three years do not count as service credit toward figuring eventual retirement benefits.
  • Despite Col. Edmonson’s casual use of the word, no one was “forced” into DROP. It was a choice for anyone with 30 years of service, or 25 years of service for those 55 years old or older. Those who chose to not enter DROP simply continued to work, with the three years counted as regular service credit, and allowed the employee to draw the retirement benefits he/she accrued upon final retirement. Had Col. Edmonson, and myself, and others, chosen to not participate, his, and our, retirement benefit would have been what it took him a specious legislative effort to attain.
  • The form that each DROP participant had to sign made the options and possible outcomes very clear. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the employee understands that his basic retirement benefit is frozen at that time, that the decision is irrevocable, that service credit past the exit from DROP is calculated in a different manner, and that DROP may not be the best option, depending on future circumstances. It urges employees to consider their decision carefully and seek financial counsel before they choose to enter the program.
  • The articles I’ve read and the radio program in particular fail to mention the three years of retirement pay in Col. Edmonson’s DROP account plus the accrued interest and whether he plans to return that money to the system if he gets his new benefit. In my case, and I was in DROP at the same time as Edmonson, my account balance has nearly doubled in ten years. (And my eventual retirement benefit will be approximately 65% of what it would have been had I not chosen to go into DROP.)
  • Col. Edmonson misstated the application of the $30,000 yearly bump that has been mentioned. No one I know of has claimed that this is a bonus on top of his new yearly retirement benefit. It is the difference between the benefit that he is entitled to as the result of his voluntary participation in DROP and his new benefit, courtesy of a friendly conference committee.
  • Blaming the confusion at the end of the legislative session for the “misunderstanding” is ridiculous. It’s beyond obvious that he and his allies (which could range from the governor down to legislative staffers) gamed the system and took advantage of this dysfunctional process for his benefit, then blamed the process for a misunderstanding.
  • As for the integrity in which Col. Edmonson bathed himself and the commiseration he offered a caller who found herself in a similar retirement situation, he could have demonstrated his concern by including all DROP participants in his legislation. I, and several of my colleagues, (and apparently many others) have tried to lobby for the same remedy that Col. Edmonson and his allies sneaked through (Let’s call it what it is.) We have met the runaround
  • from every source we’ve approached, and we’ve accepted that most of us will have been long dead before anything actually could be done.

Unfortunately, we’re not in the governor’s loop and teachers with 35-50 years of experience who make less than half the salary of Col. Edmonson don’t have the same voice. His assertion that everyone should get the same consideration that he does begs the fact that all troopers, state workers, and teachers don’t have the same political connections and the same willingness to go through this foul-smelling process to enrich themselves.

This is my understanding based on my experiences with DROP and my following of Edmonson’s gift from the conference committee. If anything is factually incorrect, I will readily stand corrected. As a reaction to what happened, I remain convinced that the whole action smells. There are many hard-working, conscientious, productive people in state government, law enforcement and education, who don’t get special treatment through a disgusting legislative process.

            In addition to Mr. Aldrich’s comments, we have some comments and additional information of our own to add:

During his appearance on the Jim Engster Show, Edmonson who last week said he never asked for the legislation and did not know about it, acknowledged that an unidentified” staff member” brought the matter to his attention and he authorized the effort to go forward. He also told Engster that the issue of the special legislation actually arose several weeks before the end of the session.

That being the case, why was it necessary to wait until the last day of the session, when the pace becomes hectic and confusing, to insert the amendment into a benign bill completely unrelated to retirement (the bill, Senate Bill 294, dealt with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers under investigation)? That tactic alone smacks of covert intent designed to keep the measure from the prying eyes of the media and public.

Edmonson, during his interview, acknowledged that when he voluntarily (and the word voluntarily should be emphasized here) entered DROP, he was a captain earning $79,000 per year in salary. By entering DROP, his retirement was frozen and would be calculated on that salary. The trade-off was that he earned a higher salary.

But he probably did not foresee his advancement to Superintendent of State Police at a salary of $134,000.

Based on a formula multiplying his salary by the number of years of service by 3.33 percent), he would have retired at 100 percent of that $79,000 salary instead of 100 percent of his higher salary of $134,000 after 30 years.

Until the passage of the secretive-shrouded amendment to SB 294, that is. The amendment will mean an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson during his retirement years—$134,000 (100 percent of his current salary).

Should Edmonson live for 30 years after retirement, that’s an extra $1.14 million in retirement benefits.

The amendment prompted one retired state trooper, Jerry Patrick, to express his embarrassment “that one of our troopers was so selfish that he would tarnish the badge that I and so many others worked and sacrificed to honor.”

Patrick said that it was “no stretch to believe that the governor’s office was directly involved in requesting this for a member of the governor’s cabinet.”

To that end, LouisianaVoice has made three separate public records requests. The first was to the Louisiana State Police communications director (which was handed off to the agency’s legal team) requesting the opportunity to review “all emails, text messages and/or other communications” between Edmonson, his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser, his staff, and the governor’s office pertaining to any discussion of DROP and/or retirement benefits for Edmonson and any discussion of retirement legislation that might affect Edmonson.

We made similar requests of both the House and Senate for any similar communications between members of the conference committee that approved the special amendment, Edmonson, the governor’s office and Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Riser is chairman of that committee and was on the conference committee that inserted the amendment for Edmonson.

Through the grapevine, we have learned that Sullivan has already invoked the sacred attorney-client privilege to prevent releasing any of her emails. But that objection is questionable at best inasmuch as Edmonson is not her client. Neither is the governor. Nor is, for that matter, Riser.

Of course, she will probably include Riser by extension by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee for which she works but Riser, should he have nothing to hide, could always waive the attorney-client privilege.

If he does not, and if Sullivan does resist releasing the contents of her emails, we can only assume the obvious: there is something contained in those messages that the principals would rather we not know.

And to quote my favorite poet and playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare of Denham-on-Amite from my favorite play, Hamlet Bob: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

But we are confident they would never try to hide anything from the public. This administration, after all, is the gold standard of ethics, openness and transparency. Gov. Jindal himself has said so on countless occasions in his many out-of-state appearances.

Oh, but wait. We also learned on Tuesday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for a full investigation of the secretive amendment. Kleckley said that because it was a Senate bill to which the amendment was attached, it becomes a matter for the Senate to investigate. Apparently, Kleckley neglected to note that three members of the conference committee that approved the amendment were House members.

Kleckley’s dancing around the issue, folks, is what is known as the Bureaucratic Shuffle.

 

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There’s a new fight brewing between Gov. Bobby Jindal and Chas Roemer over the simmering Common Core standoff between the governor’s office and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

And if it were done right, it would be a memorable encounter. Sadly, it shapes up to be just another faceoff between lawyers.

BESE will consider retaining a special legal counsel in its efforts move forward with the Common Core test plans, according to BESE’s revised agenda released on Friday.

http://theadvocate.com/home/9577083-125/possible-legal-action-on-revised

Such a legal battle would pit BESE against the governor’s office after Jindal issued an executive order to discontinue Common Core tests being prepared by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Jindal, in his best imitation of John Kerry, was for Common Core before he was against it and now sniffs he will never let that big bully, aka Washington, D.C., dictate to Louisiana which, by golly, will devise and administer its own tests. That prompted former State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek (before he was shoved out the door by Jindal who wanted current Superintendent John White who he now opposes on the Common Core issue) to rebuke his former boss when he proclaimed that the feds have nothing to do with setting Common Core standards. That point remains debatable.

Got that? Didn’t think so. Neither do we.

Jindal ordered BESE (an independently elected, autonomous board, by the way) to initiate a competitive bid process for a new assessment process so the state can come up with its own academic standards. He also suspended a contract between the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and PARCC.

In a real test of wills, Jindal’s office also has demanded that DOE produce volumes of test-related documents by Monday.

We at LouisianaVoice can offer our own experience with that seemingly innocuous request for public records.

On Monday, June 23, I submitted a request for “all itemized invoices and records of payments” to a DOE vendor. What I got in return was simply a list of payments. No invoices at all, let alone itemized invoices.

My patience already stretched to the breaking point with recurring delays by DOE on other public records requests, I snapped. I sent White a second demand which said, in part:

“The information you provided me is insufficient. I specifically requested itemized invoices from (vendor name). The vendor history you provided me does not list what the charges were for nor the dates incurred.

“I want every specific invoice submitted with itemized listing of what each and every expenditure was for, i.e. supplies, utilities, rent, salaries, travel, etc.

“John White, I don’t know what kind of game you are playing but I know you possess (or at least should possess) sufficient intelligence to know what I asked for and that what your office provided does not come close to a sufficient response. What do you think the term “itemized invoice” below (highlighted) implies? What part of “itemized invoice” don’t you understand?

“If you want to play games, we will let a judge be the referee. I am weary of your stalling, delaying, and playing ignorant. You have until noon Friday or you will be served with a lawsuit Monday. Itemized invoices, John,….ITEMIZED.

I received a call around noon Friday informing me the requested documents were ready for our inspection.

The revised agenda released by BESE includes an executive session but Roemer says that may not be necessary. “I anticipate there may be given potential legal questions and that is why the executive session must be on the agenda,” he said.

It could be Jimmy Faircloth vs. ATBA (attorney to be announced) if it comes down to a fight between proxies—as it probably would.

But wouldn’t it be better if we just put Jindal and Roemer in a ring together and let them duke it out?

That would be an epic battle worthy of Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory vs. Niles of Frasier.

Forget about the Rumble in the Jungle (Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman) or the Thrilla in Manila (Ali vs. Joe Frazier). Those were just preliminary bouts for what would truly be a battle of the ages.

Jindal vs. Roemer. Sheldon vs. Niles. Collision in the Classroom. Clown Clash. Common Core Conflagration. Capital City Smack Down. Brouhaha in Baton Rouge. Call it what you will, that’s something Louisianians would pay top dollar to watch.

No matter what you would call it, if it could be arranged, I would take whatever steps necessary to obtain the legal rights to telecast the bout over statewide closed circuit television or Pay Per View.

We’ll hype it as Brawl on the Bayou.

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On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction. https://www.discoveryeducation.com/aboutus/newsArticle.cfm?news_id=663

Thanks to a sharp-eyed researcher, Sissy West, who writes a blog opposing the Common Core curriculum, we have learned that on Nov. 30, seven days before the deal between the state and Discovery Education was made public, State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock, according to financial disclosure records filed with the State Ethics Board. http://nomorecommoncorelouisiana.blogspot.com/2014/03/crisis-of-confidence.html

Appel is a major proponent of education reform in Louisiana, including the controversial Common Core curriculum.

He also is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as well as the company’s agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

The Discovery Education Techbook is touted as a “Core Interactive Text” (CIT) that “separates static text from a fully digital resource.” http://www.discoveryeducation.com/administrators/curricular-resources/techbook/K-8-Science-digital-textbook/index.cfm

Appel’s financial disclosure form indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was between $5,000 and $24,999. APPEL REPORT PDF

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and the days following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s profit over a little more than three years, on paper, was in excess of 100 percent. Put another way, he doubled his investment in three years. The stock closed on Thursday (March 27) at $75.72, still an overall gain of 85 percent Appel.

The most significant thing about Appel’s Nov. 30, 2010, purchase of the Discovery Communications stock is the volume of shares traded on that date. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded that day, more than double the next highest single day volume of 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in a monthly review from December 2010 through March of this year. http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=DISCA&a=10&b=30&c=2010&d=02&e=28&f=2014&g=m

While there is no way to know with any certainty, it is possible that the Discovery Education’s Techbook deals contributed to the surge of trading activity on Nov. 30.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session. MICROSOFT

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

And while no one is suggesting that Appel is involved in any type of illicit behavior or insider trading, the timing of his stock purchases might raise a few eyebrows. It could appear to some as more than coincidental—and ill-advised—that such transactions and official state actions would occur in so close a timeframe not once, but twice, and would involve a single individual who promoted Common Core legislation and who served as chairman of a key legislative committee that dealt with education issues.

Perception, as they say, is everything.

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Suppose for a moment that you work as a technician for a large computer company and in the course of your duties, you discover the company is knowingly marketing computers with faulty hard drives destined to crash within a few months.

Imagine now that when you call the defect to the attention of your company CEO, you are fired, ostracized by your industry and unable to find employment because the word is on the street that you are disloyal and suddenly unreliable despite a stellar work record.

Taking this scenario a step further, you suddenly find yourself prosecuted—and persecuted—by your former company’s board of directors on vague charges of fraud and malfeasance. The board, you learn, will go to any length to defend its CEO—including the destruction of your career. Making matters worse, your accuser is also the prosecutor, the judge and the jury in your trial.

Even worse, when you walk into the courtroom, you are informed that you have already been convicted—without benefit of a trial—of unspecified crimes and that if you pay a fine of $25,000 and sign a consent decree, the matter will go away.

You are innocent of any wrongdoing, so of course you tell your accusers to take a long walk off a short pier.

They in turn inform you that there are other charges that haven’t even been mentioned yet and if you refuse to sign the consent decree and decide to stand and fight, your fine will increase to $100,000 or more—plus the fees of your own attorney and those of the prosecuting attorney—and the costs incurred by the “investigator” who discovered your crimes, costs which also could exceed $100,000.

Finally, you are told by one of the board members that you will never be allowed to work again in your field because of a difference in religious beliefs between you and the board.

Now give that company a name like say, the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, change the product from a computer hard drive to a dental implant and you have a pretty good idea of the plight of Dr. Randall Schaffer.

Schaffer, a 1982 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry with a Doctor of Dental Surgery, went on to two residencies at Charity Hospital and Louisiana State University Dental and Medical Center in New Orleans. Certified in General Dentistry in 1984 and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in 1988, he entered into private practice in oral and maxillofacial surgery in 1988 in Marrero and in Corinth, Mississippi.

More than a decade earlier, Dr. John (Jack) Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, developed a joint replacement device for temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) sufferers. Kent subsequently entered into an agreement with a Houston company, Vitek, and the company’s principal shareholders, Drs. Charles and Ann Homsy, to manufacture and market the Proplast implant.

It proved to be a lucrative arrangement for Kent who was given stock in Vitek and earned royalties of 2 percent to 4 percent on the sale of Vitek products. He also received monetary compensation for giving written and verbal presentations to oral and maxillofacial surgeons throughout the world, according to a lawsuit filed by Schaffer against Kent, LSU, members of the Dental Board, attorney Brian Begue and board investigator Camp Morrison.

It did not take long for the implants to begin to fail, causing disfigurement, excruciating pain and at least eight suicides, according to a July 29, 2002, story in U.S. News & World Report.

As a resident at LSU, Dr. Schaffer became aware of the negative effects to patients receiving the implants, which Schaffer described as “defective (100 percent) in all patients implanted.”

Schaffer says in his lawsuit that he informed Dr. Kent of the “disastrous results” of the implant but Kent refused to stop placement of the devices and “threatened Dr. Schaffer with dismissal should this information regarding the research and adverse results be made public.”

By 1989, Schaffer was in private practice and was assisting implant victims by offering consultation and corrective procedures at no charge. “As hundreds of cases came forward, Dr. Schaffer began assistant plaintiff attorneys in the cases against Dr. Kent, his associates, and Louisiana State University,” the lawsuit says. “Eventually 675 patients were combined as a class for discovery purposes,” leaving the state exposed to about $1 billion in liability.

In 1992, the first case, that of Mary Elizabeth Leger of Jonesboro, Arkansas, was settled for $1 million.

Today, Schaffer lives in Iowa, Vitek is bankrupt, Dr. Charles Homsy is nowhere to be found (though he did surface long enough to write a scathing indictment of “predatory trial lawyers” for the Cato Institute in September of 2001), and DuPont, which manufactured the raw ingredients used in the implants was protected by the “bulk supplier doctrine,” which is a defense to failure-to-warn claims.

When Schaffer was named as a witness and consultant in the class action cases, the Board of Dentistry immediately launched its investigation of Schaffer who says that in 1995, the board “zealously embarked upon an investigation, prosecution and adjudication of a wide variety of claims.”

On Sept. 5, 2000, a board panel consisting of Drs. H.O. Blackwood, Conrad McVea and Dennis Donald revoked Schaffer’s license and imposed “excessive penalties,” Schaffer’s petition says. “The panel members and (then-board executive director) Barry Ogden, (investigator) Camp Morrison, (board attorney) Brian Begue and Arthur Hickham conspired to deprive me of my due process rights during my hearing.”

Begue openly violated a Louisiana Supreme Court order to cease participating in the proceedings by served as both prosecutor and board general counsel, Schaffer’s petition says. While another attorney was ostensibly brought into the matter by the board following the Supreme Court’s ruling barring Begue’s participation, Begue still participated in the proceedings

Even though his revocation was not permanent, Dr. Blackwood, who acted as chairman of Schaffer’s reconsideration hearings in 2004, 2007 and 2012, said on Dec. 7, 2012 that he had promised himself “from the beginning,” that Schaffer would never get his license reinstated.

As blatant as that comment was, it paled in comparison to Dr. McVea’s declaration that because Schaffer had not received his salvation because he had not accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior he could not be expected to comply with professional standards.

Schaffer is Jewish.

Donald added that Schaffer was “a bad person who had hurt people.”

Even if Schaffer’s revocation had been reversed by the courts, in all likelihood, his case would have been remanded back to the same board and the same panel that originally pulled his license as occurred in another disciplinary matter involving a second dentist whom we shall write about in our next post. In effect, the court would have simply thrown Schaffer back to the same pack of wolves, thus making it futile to pursue his case any further before the same group of people.

He said Kent had about 2,500 malpractice lawsuits against him. “I had one, which I won, and yet the board came after me while doing nothing to Dr. Kent,” Schaffer said. “They went behind me to my patients and told them such things as I had killed a patient and that I was going to (the Louisiana State Penitentiary at) Angola. I have accounts receivable in the millions of dollars because I never turned a patient away because he could not pay,” he said.

Once the board had pulled his license, however, it still kept the pressure on Schaffer with no let up.

Schaffer, after being forced out of his practice, leased his office building to another dentist, David Gerard Millaud.

On Dec. 20, 2000, Ogden sent a two-page letter to Dr. Millaud, saying:

“It has come to our attention that you are practicing in the office of Dr. Randall Schaffer…”

Then, in perhaps an unintentional admission that investigator Morrison was continuing to conduct surveillance on Schaffer, whom the board had already broken, Ogden said, “We have also observed Dr. Schaffer’s spending a great deal of time on the office. As you know, his license has been revoked and he is prohibited from practicing dentistry in any form.

“I also wish to call your attention to (state statute) which states:

The board may refuse to issue or may suspend or revoke any license or permit, or impose probationary or other limits or restrictions on any dental license or permit issued under this chapter for any of the following reasons:

Division of fees or other remuneration or consideration with any person not licensed to practice dentistry in Louisiana or an agreement to divide and share fees received for dental services with any non-dentist in return for referral of patients to the licensed dentists, whether or not the patient or legal representative is aware of the arrangement…”

The letter prompted an immediate response from Schaffer’s attorney Michael Ellis of Metairie, who wrote board attorney Jimmy Faircloth (who substituted for Begue after Begue was forced by the Supreme Court to step aside).

“I find it incredulous that the board would write such a letter under the circumstances of this case,” Ellis said. “I know of no law which prohibits Dr. Schaffer from ‘spending a great deal of time in the office.’ The board has effectively put this man out of business and now wants to harass a young dentist to whom Dr. Schaffer is renting space.

“If the board has any evidence whatsoever that either Dr. Millaud or Dr. Schaffer was in violation of the law, I ask that you notify me immediately. If the board is not in possession of such evidence, (Ogden’s) letter must be considered nothing but a tactic of harassment calculated to prevent Dr. Schaffer from earning a living.”

Millaud, who said he was not sharing fees or paying other remuneration to Dr. Schaffer, nevertheless decided that his best interest would be served by terminating his lease arrangement with Schaffer, Ellis said.

Then-State Sen. Chris Ullo (D-Marrero), who died earlier this year, contacted Gov. Mike Foster to intervene with the board on Schaffer’s behalf but Foster declined to get involved with what some might describe as his rogue board.

Then, following Ogden’s letter to Dr. Millaud, Schaffer himself requested an audience with Foster. On Dec. 27, exactly a week following Ogden’s letter to Millaud, Chris Stelly, writing on behalf of Foster, said the board “is an independent body created and empowered” by state law and that the board had “sole jurisdiction over this matter. Therefore, this office does not have the authority to intervene.

“However, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your letter to Mr. C. Barry Ogden, executive director of the LA State Board of Dentistry, for his information.”

That, readers, is what is known as the classic bureaucratic shuffle.

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With the 2014 regular session of the legislature less than two weeks away, there have already been a couple of interesting developments that could prevent lawmakers from learning how a federal investigation of a major contract came about in the first place.

There already is speculation that two recent resignations in the Jindal administration may have something to do with avoiding testimony before legislative committees that may wish to look into the controversial $284 million contract between the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) and CNSI.

Subpoenas could be issued for Paul Rainwater, Jerry Phillips, and Bruce Greenstein but if they choose to ignore subpoenas, the legislature has options in that legislative subpoenas carry the same weight as a court subpoena provided a legislative subpoena meets certain criteria.

It is, to say the least, curious that former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater (more recently, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Chief of Staff), and DHH Undersecretary Jerry Phillips resigned only a few days apart and less than a month before the legislature convenes at noon on March 10.

Apparently timing in politics, like in comedy, is everything. Phillips, while giving no specific date for his retirement, did say he would retire “before the start of the session.”

DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert said Phillips, who has worked for DHH for 25 years, will pursue “other employment options with the state following his retirement.” She said he would be replaced by DHH Deputy Director Jeff Reynolds on (drum roll, please…) March 10.

That, or course, raises the obvious question of whether Phillips will remain conveniently retired until the session adjourns on June 2 before becoming the latest retire-rehire, a popular trend among executive level state employees these days.

Phillips, you may recall was seated next to Greenstein back in June of 2011 when the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee was considering the confirmation of Greenstein as Jindal’s choice for DHH Secretary.

It was Phillips who repeatedly advised Greenstein and defended his boss’s refusal to identify to the committee CNSI as the winner of the 10-year, $30 million-a-year contract to replace DHH’s 23-year-old computer system that adjudicates health care claims and case providers.

Greenstein has previously worked for CNSI and when he refused to identify the contract winner, then-Sen. Rob Marionneaux (D-Livonia) asked, “Are you telling me right now, today, that you’re refusing to tell this committee who’s going to receive that…contract?”

After several more exchanges between Greenstein and Marionneaux, Green said, “I’m not going to be able to say today.”

Sen. Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) then asked Greenstein, “Who made the decision not to tell us this information under oath?”

“This was from my department…”

“You are the department,” Amedee interrupted. “Who is the person above you? Who is your boss?”

“The governor,” said Greenstein.

“Can you tell me if this company you used to work for—whether or not they got the contract?”

“I can’t discuss the matter.”

“You can, you just choose not to,” Amedee said.

At one point after Greenstein and Phillips repeatedly alluded to the “process and procedure” employed by DHH in awarding contracts, Amedee, in apparent frustration, tossed his pencil over his shoulder and turned away from the witnesses.

Committee Vice-Chair Karen Carter Peterson said, “You don’t want me to know, but you know. Is this what we call transparency?”

Phillips said once the contractor’s name is made public, “it’s the equivalent of an announcement.”

“Do you make the law?” Peterson shot back.

“I interpret the law,” said Phillips, who is an attorney.

“Then you’re not doing a good job. Mr. Secretary (Greenstein), I hope you’re paying attention. How many lawyers do we have on this committee? We make law and yet you choose to follow this gentleman (Phillips).”

“It’s all part of the process,” Phillips said. “It’s (the selection process) done in conjunction with consultation and direction from the procurement folks.”

“In conjunction with whom?” asked Peterson.

“They’re part of the Division of Administration,” he said for the first time, implicating DOA—and Rainwater—in the controversy.

Committee Chairman Robert “Bob” Kostelka (R-Monroe) finally broke in to say, “I don’t know the difference between firewalling and stonewalling but this committee’s concern is whether or not to recommend to the full Senate that these people should be confirmed for the jobs for which they’ve been nominated.

“The much larger issue here is the integrity of the entire DHH. We don’t care about your procedures. We’ve got to determine if we trust the integrity of the people before us. We’re asking you to put aside your procedures and protocol and answer our questions. Knowing that, I don’t see why
you cannot make this committee aware if a former employer of this man is going to win a multi-million dollar contract from the state.”

When Phillips again attempted to invoke “respect for the statute,” Kostelka interrupted. “Again, sir, this has nothing to do with making the award. We’re asking who got the contract. It’s pretty obvious to us that they’re (CNSI) the one getting the contract.”

At that point, Phillips asked if he could confer with Greenstein. The two left the room for 16 minutes and upon their return, Greenstein, after a few more questions, said, “It is CNSI.”

Rainwater, who on Feb. 17, unexpectedly announced his resignation as Jindal’s Chief of Staff, effective Mar. 3, a week before the legislature convenes. He served as Commissioner of Administration from Aug. 9, 2010, until October 15, 2012, when he moved across the street to the governor’s office.

As chief of staff, Rainwater has been in charge of the policy advisors and strategists and supposedly enjoys a close day-to-day working relationship with Jindal—though probably not nearly as close as Timmy Teepell through whom Jindal has funneled nearly $3 million from his campaign ($1.27 million), and his non-profit organizations Believe in Louisiana ($1.22 million) and America Next. (No payments have been listed for America Next, Jindal apparently having learned his lesson when he listed contributions and payments to Believe in Louisiana.)

It’s difficult to believe that Rainwater, in overseeing Jindal’s advisors and strategists, would have been unwise enough to advise his boss to go off the way he did at the National Governor’s Conference on Monday. He is far too intelligent for such foolishness.

Even the Baton Rouge Advocate saw Jindal for what he really is—a spoiled brat who, if he can’t have his way, pouts or throws a tantrum—as depicted in one of the best editorial cartoons we’ve seen in a long time:

http://theadvocate.com/multimedia/walthandelsman/8477684-123/walt-handelsman-for-feb-26

That was plain idiotic and inappropriate and in the world of political faux pas, ranks right up there with his college exorcism and his Republican response to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address.

The suggestion of a tactic to make Jindal look that silly in front of a national television audience could only have come from someone like Teepell. Unless, of course, Jindal simply ad-libbed it which is certainly not out of the question, given his propensity of letting his alligator mouth overload his jaybird backside.

But back to the resignations of Greenstein, Phillips and Rainwater.

Greenstein announced his resignation on Mar. 29, 2013 immediately after word of a federal investigation into the CNSI contract was announced. Even then, for reasons no one has yet explained, he was allowed to remain until May. At about the same time as Greenstein’s resignation announcement was made, it was learned that a federal grand jury in Baton Rouge had subpoenaed all records dealing with the CNSI contract from the Division of Administration (DOA) as early as January of 2013.

That would mean that Jindal had to know about the investigation as much as three months before Greenstein’s resignation but said nothing about the probe and only cancelled the CNSI contract after the Baton Rouge Advocate broke the story of the four-page subpoena.

And now, only days—and in one case, only hours—before the opening of the 2014 legislative session, two other prominent figures in the CNSI story will be gone, out of reach of any curious legislative committee which might wish to question them about their knowledge of events surrounding the awarding of the contract.

Legislative committees and subcommittees have the authority under legislative rule to conduct studies, administer oaths to witnesses and to seek subpoenas and punishment for contempt although subpoenas require the approval of the Speaker of the House or President of the Senate upon the request of the committee chairman or by a majority of the standing committee members.

Louisiana Revised Statute 24:4 through 24:6 provides that a person is guilty of contempt of the legislature “if he willfully fails after subpoena to appear or produce materials.” Initiation of prosecution for criminal contempt is by certification to the district in the proper venue, in this case East Baton Rouge Parish.

The legislative subpoena and contempt provisions have been upheld in a number of court cases, most notably a 1972 case involving a state legislator who claimed to have tape recordings of an attempt to bribe him and a 1979 case against then-Insurance Commissioner Sherman Bernard and his deputy commissioner.

The two men, who appeared subject to subpoenas, interrupted committee hearings on insurance regulations and left the meeting room despite warning that their actions subjected them to being held in contempt. The two were subsequently held in contempt and fined $500 each.

 

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Whether driven by paranoia or some other motive, the Division of Administration (DOA) appears to have settled into a circle the wagons mentality in an apparent attempt to stymie two independent agencies from performing their duties in a timely fashion.

It has long been suspected that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sycophants shielded him from the political realities by whispering in his ear the things he wanted to hear, i.e. that he is viable presidential timber, that he is adored and idolized by the great unwashed. His rigid practice of holding precious few press conferences—and those with his taking no questions—has only reinforced that perception.

But now comes something official, in writing, absent of deniability, which in its unmistakable implications, is as jaw-dropping as it is unprecedented. It also should make one wonder if anything was learned from 40 years of history.

An email memorandum dated Thursday, Jan. 16, was sent out by DOA to agency and department heads to the effect that any documents sought by the Legislative Auditor or the Legislative Fiscal Officer would be required to be in the form of formal requests for public records and routed through DOA.

That message, from the DOA Office of General Counsel, said that if anyone from the Legislative Fiscal Office or Legislative Auditor’s Office calls and requests documents, the requests are to be sent to the DOA legal counsel “and the request will be handled as a Public Records request.”

A second email was sent on Tuesday of this week, this one from the DOA Internal Audit Administrator.

That message noted that a number of audits were being conducted of DOA agencies and that all personnel should notify her of any audits that are initiated. “In addition, when responding to requests for information from auditors, please send the information through me before releasing the information to the auditors. Please make sure your staff is also aware that responses to audit requests for information must be submitted through me,” she said.

While perhaps not a fair comparison to the denial of records to the Judiciary Committee four decades ago—Jindal, after all, has not been accused of breaking any laws—it is nonetheless reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of events that pushed the presidency of Richard Nixon to the brink and, ultimately, over the edge in 1974.

So the Legislative Auditor’s office and the Legislative Fiscal Office will now be required to jump through hoops to obtain public records so they can do the job they are mandated by law to do.

Each member of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council was informed of the Jan. 16 memorandum but as of late Thursday, not one had responded to requests by LouisianaVoice for comments.

Those members include Rep. Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge), chairman; Sen. Edwin Murray, (D-New Orleans), vice-chairman; Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Rep. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie), Rep. Dalton Honoré (D-Baton Rouge), Sen. Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales), Sen. John Smith (R-Leesville), Rep. Ledricka Thierry (D-Opelousas), Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)

The Legislative Fiscal Office is an independent agency created by statute to provide factual and unbiased information to both the House of Representatives and the State Senate. The office provides assistance to individual legislators, committees of the Legislature and the entire Legislature. Often times, information is needed quickly to respond to requests from lawmakers and to compile fiscal notes on pending bills.

Specific information about the Legislative Fiscal Office can be found in the Louisiana Revised Statutes, RS 24:601 through 24:608.

The Legislative Auditor’s office performs financial audits of state agencies and universities on a routine basis. In addition, information technology (IT) auditors analyze computer systems of government agencies to ensure data integrity and security. http://senate.legis.louisiana.gov/Documents/Constitution/Article3.htm

Performance audits address specific objectives regarding economy, efficiency and effectiveness of programs, functions and activities of state agencies under Louisiana Revised Statutes 24:522 to provide the legislature with evaluation and audit of state agencies. Under R.S. 24:522, the Legislative Auditor’s office is mandated to audit each of the 20 executive branch departments over a seven-year period and, if necessary, to bring audit topics to the Legislative Audit Advisory Council for approval. Additionally, the Legislature may request a performance audit on a particular agency to address given issues or problems.

Investigative audits are conducted for the purpose of gathering evidence regarding fraudulent or abusive activity affecting governmental entities. Investigative audits are designed to detect and deter any misappropriation of public assets and to reduce future fraud risks.

Each of the 20 executive branch departments hopes to receive an unqualified opinion. That means that the Legislative Auditor has no reservations as to the accuracy and authenticity of the information contained in its report.

If DOA, however, is attempting, for whatever reason, to screen data or conceal file document contents requested by the Legislative Auditor, the issuance of a qualified opinion, meaning the auditor conducting the examination is not willing to vouch for the accuracy of the report because of the absence or unavailability of certain records, would likely be issued in its stead. Thus, the Legislature itself would be thwarted in its oversight role of all state agencies, an untenable position in which the Legislature most likely would not like to find itself.

Normally, when state auditors enter an agency, such as the Office of Risk Management (ORM), for example, they compile a list of documents (lawsuits, in the case of ORM) and make specific requests for each file as the auditor moves from one to another. In other agencies, the records auditors may wish to examine could be travel documents, payment receipts, attendance records, equipment inventories, university scholarship and tuition payments or athletic program expenditures, to name but a few.

Full compliance with either email directive could unnecessarily slow the process of either agency’s performance of their mandated duties by forcing their personnel to make formal requests each time they wish to review a file or document and then to wait until DOA decides to comply.

LouisianaVoice typically must wait weeks for even an acknowledgement of our requests even though the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.) clearly says that the custodian of the record requested must comply immediately or, in cases when a file is in use or otherwise unavailable, respond immediately in writing as to when the record will be available within three working days.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, when contacted by LouisianaVoice, said he was unaware of the memorandum from DOA.

“That’s going to keep ‘em pretty busy up there because we’re in every agency in the state conducting our audits,” he said.

He said he has never encountered any major problems with DOA and that his auditors were almost always able to obtain requested documents “except in cases of deliberative process, a phrase they’ve used from time to time.”

Deliberative process comes into play when actions on matters are pending in the governor’s office and the governor wishes to keep details confidential until decisions are made but the Jindal administration has arbitrarily expanded the definition to other agencies as well.

Purpera’s predecessor, Dan Kyle, experienced problems obtaining records from the departments of Insurance and Economic Development because of the sensitivity of certain records claimed by the agencies.

Purpera expressed some bewilderment as to the motives of DOA in issuing the memorandum. “I really don’t know why they would do that,” he said.

Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter was not available for comment.

One possible motive behind the latest dictates from DOA could be that the administration wants sufficient time to review any potentially damaging documents and to take whatever steps necessary to deny unfettered access to records in order to conceal or delay their release under the deliberative process clause. Another possibility, far more unlikely (we hope) would be to give the administration an opportunity to destroy embarrassing documents.

If one thinks that would be an extreme measure even by this administration’s standards, consider this: There is a curious but seemingly unrelated message written on a whiteboard in one DOA office which directs employees: “Do not ask about the law, do not research the law.” But as an apparent disclaimer, the message also cautions that “ignorance of the law is not a defense.”

Curious indeed.

All of which, of course, only echoes the words of an administration consultant who told DOA employees a couple of years back: “Don’t let the law stand in the way” of the administration’s objectives.

History, apparently, really does repeat itself. Richard Nixon once said, when David Frost asked about the legality of the president’s actions, “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

All that’s missing now is a tape with an 18½-minute gap.

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(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)bd9cc1263b6030f8ec7e55e3fa8a691e_knpz[1]

© 2013

You’d think that John White would’ve learned from others’ mistakes.

He is, after all, the Louisiana Superintendent of Education and one of the definitions of education is the act or process of educating or being educated, according to our handy dandy Free Online Dictionary which also defines education as the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.

Education.com further defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

It was only four years ago that the news broke that Paul Vallas, White’s predecessor at the Recovery School District had taken 30 personal trips to his hometown of Chicago between 2007 and 2009 in a state-owned Dodge Durango in violation of state regulations governing use of state-owned vehicles.

He even took one of those trips to appear on a Chicago TV station to announce his intent to run for governor and while he did make the announcement, he never ran for that office. He currently is a candidate for lieutenant governor in next year’s election.

The use of the Durango for personal trips did not become public knowledge until the vehicle was involved in an accident in Chicago and the Louisiana Office of Risk Management received a claim for damages from the Department of Education (DOE). Vallas was en route to a press conference to discuss a constitutional convention for Illinois at the time of that accident.

Then-State Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, Vallas’s superior, said he was unaware that it was against regulations for Vallas to use the state vehicle for such trips, an incredulous claim at best.

Vallas subsequently moved on to Hartford, Conn., (where he would ultimately be deemed by a state judge to be unqualified and directed out of office) and was replaced by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s choice, John White. When Pastorek was booted, White was then promoted to State Superintendent.

So, the precedent was clearly there for White to see and to learn from. Certainly he was perceptive enough to avoid that particular pitfall. Pastorek, after all, had to pony up about $4,000 (an amount that also covered $946 in fuel costs) in reimbursement to the state on Vallas’s behalf though it was never made clear why Vallas himself was not held accountable for the costs.

So White would never repeat that mistake, would he? Of course not. We’re not going to catch DOE employees running all over creation in state-owned vehicles, no siree.

That’s what Enterprise Car Rental is for.

John White’s expenditures on Enterprise rental cars make Vallas look like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Remember that Vallas accounted for an estimated $4,000 in documented personal travel in a state vehicle over a period covering nearly three years, including fuel costs.

Seven current DOE unclassified employees with combined annual salaries totaling north of $1 million have tallied more than $63,700 in car rental fees in just over a year—and that does not even include fuel.

And while state regulations stipulate that only compact or intermediate vehicles may be rented by state employees at monthly fees not to exceed $680, some employees have been cruising around town in vehicles like Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, GMC Terrain, Nissan Murano, Chevrolet Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade at monthly rentals as high as $1,450.

And with the exception of a couple of skipped months, the vehicle rentals, while charged on a monthly basis, would appear to be on a permanent basis for the employees, each of whom has been on the job for less than two years.

The records could be incomplete because LouisianaVoice initially requested the records on Oct. 18 only for the months of July 1, 2012 through Oct. 18, 2013. The records were only made available on Wednesday, Dec. 11, nearly two months after they were first requested.

State law requires that public records be produced on demand unless they are unavailable. In such case, the state must respond immediately as to when the records will be available within three working days of the request.

LouisianaVoice has made a supplemental request for Enterprise car rental records for each of the seven employees for their entire tenure at DOE as well as a complete record of fuel costs for the rental vehicles.

Neither White nor his Chief of Staff Kunjan Narechania responded to an email request from LouisianaVoice asking them to justify the issuance of permanent rental cars to state employees in light of the state’s ongoing budgetary problems.

Of course no story of DOE chicanery would be complete without the participation of our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith.

He is, as might be expected, one of the Enterprise Seven.

You will remember the ubiquitous Lefty as the motivational speaker who worked with pre-collapse Enron and Jeb Bush’s administration in an ambitious but unsuccessful effort to corner the market on drinking water in the state of Florida.

He next showed up first as a contract worker for DOE and then as the head of the Office of Portfolio for the department at $146,000 per year. He currently works with the department’s course choice program which has had its own image problems.

Despite Jindal’s oft-proclaimed goal of keeping the best and brightest Louisiana citizens in Louisiana, the administration seems hell bent on going outside the state for its talent and Lefty is no exception. He has maintained his residence in Los Angeles and actually commutes from that city to his day job at DOE. He apparently works only four days a week and heads west on Fridays and returns Sunday night or Monday morning.

Of course when he is in town he needs a vehicle to get around Baton Rouge and to take him to and from New Orleans International Airport each weekend. Records show he rents his Enterprise vehicles on a weekly basis, usually for four days at a pop (Monday through Friday) with sometimes a couple of hours extra thrown in.

Incomplete records show that he has spent about $6,000 on car rental fees (not counting fuel, of course) since Oct. 14, 2012. LouisianaVoice has requested complete records dating back to his date of employment with the department and including the cost of fuel for his vehicles.

To his credit, it should be pointed out that Lefkowith generally stuck to the compact car requisite rate of $32 per day for his rentals. On those occasions when he did upgrade, it was only to $36 per day—unlike some of his co-workers who did not appear to even attempt to stay within the state-approved rate mandates.

Following is an itemized list of the remaining six employees, number of months they have driven an Enterprise rental car, the type cars and the total cost (In some cases, the make of vehicle was not provided):

  • Kerry Laster, Executive Officer ($135,000)—nine months, from Nov. 2, 2012 through Aug. 20, 2013 (no record for Feb. 9 to Mar. 4, 2013): GMC Terrain, Hyundai Tucson, Cadillac Escalade (four months), Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer (two months)—$11,205;
  • Melissa Stilley, Liaison Officer ($135,000)—12 months, from Aug. 13, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Malibu, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Compass, Dodge Journey (three months), Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Edge (four months)—$13,550;
  • Warren Drake, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 10, 2012 to Sept. 5, 2013: Honda Accord, Kia Sorento, Ford Flex, Grand Cherokee (nine months)—$8,160;
  • Gayle Sloan, Liaison Officer ($160,000)—12 months, from Sept. 4, 2012, to Sept. 30, 2013 (no record for December of 2012); Chevrolet Impala (three months), Toyota Camry, Jeep Liberty (seven months), Jeep Patriot—$9,060;
  • Francis Touchet, Liaison Officer ($130,000)—15 months, from July 11, 2012, to Sept. 16, 2013; Nissan Altima (two months), Nissan Murano (seven months)—$11,800;
  • Gary Jones, Executive Officer ($145,000)—12 months, from Sept. 17, 2012 to Sept. 13, 2013; Nissan Sentra (nine months), Ford Fusion (three months)—$7,980.

The free use of a rental car on a year-round basis could pose another problem besides the obvious criticism that might come from the Legislative Auditor.

These Enterprise rentals are not the occasional rentals for quick one- or two-day trips on departmental business; they are perks by every definition of the word—used year-round, nights and weekends, for personal use as well as the occasional business-related trip.

And perks are taxable in-kind income.

Or at least they should be…unless DOE neglected to report the in-kind payments and the employees neglected to report them on their tax returns.

If that is the case, then DOE and the seven employees could have some explaining to do to the IRS and the Louisiana Department of Revenue, that is if Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield should be inclined to pursue the matter.

But don’t count on that.

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Something’s not quite right over at the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC).

Conflicting dates of employment of an unclassified employee, the awarding of a contract to a vendor whose bid was nearly twice that of two competitors, and appearances on behalf of a state contractor at a Florida convention by a state legislator have flown under the radar until now.

Wes Hataway is Director of the Office of Workers Compensation Administration but the question is just when did he join LWC?

Department of Civil Service records and minutes of the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council simply do not match up.

Civil Service records indicate that Hataway was hired as an unclassified Assistant Attorney General on Jan. 25, 2010 at $93,600 per year and 13 months later, on Feb. 21, 2011, moved over to LWC as an unclassified Assistant Secretary to then advisory council Chairman Chris Broadwater at an annual salary of $105,000.

Here is what we received from the Department of Civil Service:

“See information below on Wes Hataway. Let me know if you have any questions or need more information.”

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Annual Pay Rate
1/25/2010 2/20/2011 Office of the Attorney   General Unclassified Asst Attorney   General 90,000.04 (begin)93,600.26 (end)
2/21/2011 Present LWC-Workforce Support &   Training Unclassified Assistant   Secretary 104,998.40

And indeed, there is a paper trail that appears to support that time frame. A two-page score sheet that evaluated proposals for a fraud detection contract with LWC dated June 22, 2010, includes the signature of Hataway and identifies him as one of the four-member team that evaluated and made recommendations for the contract. It also identifies him as representing the Attorney General’s Office—six months after he was ostensibly named as legal council for the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC).

(To enlarge, left click on image):

PTDC0124

PTDC0125

But another document dated Jan. 28, 2010, casts doubts as to Hataway’s status at LWC.

Minutes of the Jan. 28, 2010, meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council contain an entry on the fourth and final page which says, “Director Broadwater introduces newly hired AG attorney, Wes Hataway. Wes will serve as General Counsel, and also work on the prosecution of fraud cases.”

MinutesAdvisoryCouncilJan2810

Hataway has since replaced Broadwater as Director of OWC but he regularly consults with Broadwater on pending matters coming before him, according to court documents, according to legal documents.

Broadwater, a Republican from Hammond, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2011 but continues to represent workers’ comp insurance companies before the Office of Workers’ Compensation, the agency he once ran.

Broadwater also appeared in a four-minute video at an SAS Institute conference in Orlando, Florida. In that video, he praised the work of the company, which won that 2010 contract with a high bid of nearly $4.3 million.  http://www.allanalytics.com/video.asp?section_id=3427&doc_id=269491#msgs

The three-year contract, which was officially approved on Oct. 7, 2010 retroactive to Aug. 31, 2010, ended last Aug. 30.

The SAS bid was nearly double the bids of IBM and Ultix, each of whom had bids of $2.2 million.

Broadwater, Vice Chairman of the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, said in a letter to LouisianaVoice, “My service as vice chair of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee in no manner alters my duties or the constraints placed upon me under the Code of Governmental Ethics.”

And while claiming that he is prohibited from receiving compensation “from a source other than the legislature for performing my public duties,” he admitted in a legal deposition that he represented insurance clients before OWC and he even admitted that he discussed with Hataway the pending appointment of his former law partner and that he has discussed with Hataway on several occasions matters pending before OWC.

Broadwater also related that Hataway had sought his advice on whether or not he (Hataway) had the authority as director to issue a stay of pending cases without involving the judges to whom the cases were assigned. Broad said in his deposition that he was of the opinion that Hataway did have such power.

Broadwater and Hataway are friends of long standing but that does little to explain why Broadwater would introduce him to council members as a new hire a full year before Civil Service Records and the RFP evaluation and recommendation form reflect any change from his employment status at the Attorney General’s office.

Calling the conflicting dates a clerical error doesn’t fly but then again, it could be just another aspect of the current administration that defies explanation.

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One probably can understand former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater for not putting the kibosh on that ill-fated $194 million contract with CNSI in mid-2011. Rainwater was, after all, preoccupied at the time with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s priority project, that of privatizing the Office of Group Benefits (OGB).

You may remember the controversy surrounding the OGB privatization push. First, the state brought in Goldman Sachs to help write the specifications of the request for proposals (RFP) for the privatization scheme and then (drum roll please) Goldman Sachs was the only bidder at $6 million.

After Goldman Sachs subsequently withdrew in a dispute over the issue of indemnification, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana finally got the bid but in between all that, there was that $49,999.99 contract to Chaffe and Associates for a study that failed to produce the results sought by the administration—not to mention questions about the possibility of the existence of two Chaffe reports. http://louisianavoice.com/2011/06/20/was-leaked-chaffe-report-real-or-a-doa-misdirecton-ploy/

Then there was the little matter of Rainwater’s own confirmation hearings and that of a new OGB director before the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that almost certainly demanded much of Rainwater’s attention.

But the confirmation hearing for Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of Health and Hospitals by the same committee a week later should have served as a red flag and should have set off all sorts of alarms within the Jindal administration—beginning with Rainwater.

http://louisianavoice.com/2011/06/09/jindals-appointees-arrogant-bureaucrats-or-simply-a-multitude-of-misunderstood-misbehavin-miscreants/

The warnings were clear and the track record of CNSI was readily available. Apparently no one in this administration ever heard of vetting a company before awarding it the largest single contract in the state’s history.

That, it turned out, was a mistake of monumental proportions.

The details of the awarding of the contract to Greenstein’s former employer now reads like some kind of Tom Clancy espionage novel—complete with secret communications, bid-rigging, lavish entertainment of state officials, death threats, creative accounting principles, money laundering, ghost employees, payments of non-existent loans, posh homes of questionable ownership, possible tax evasion, and claims of an ancestral link between Gov. Jindal’s Indian heritage and CNSI’s Indian ownership. dt.common.streams.StreamServer

Throw in the fact that CNSI is one of the subcontractors working on the Obamacare website, and you’ve got all the makings of a real suspense story.

To say the CNSI story is complex would be to belabor the obvious which is all the more reason that Jindal and Rainwater should have taken a closer look at the qualifications of CNSI before committing to such a contract.

It turns out that every state might want to take a long, hard look at CNSI’s credentials now that the company is in position to bid on billions in new contracts with individual states that, in order to receive new grants for expanded Medicaid rolls, will be required to update outdated IT systems in order to more readily share data. Michael Volpe recently had a story that dealt with that very issue in Frontpage Mag. http://www.frontpagemag.com/2013/volpe/billionaire-swindlers-line-up-for-obamacare/

In examining CNSI, these states might wish to begin with Maryland where CNSI’s problems began as far back as 2001. In was that year that Maryland hired CNSI to develop its new web-based Main Medicaid Claims System for the processing of $1.5 billion per year in Medicaid Claims. CNSI has submitted the lower of two bids for the project. The company’s $15 million bid was exactly half the $30 million bid by the other company. Experts say the state should have known right then that the low number of bidders and the disparity between bids were red flags.

CNSI, it turned out, had zero experience in developing Medicaid claims systems. It was given 12 months to develop the system, which was finally put online in January of 2005, three years late.

Problems occurred almost immediately. The company’s costs quickly grew to $25 million but even worse for the state, there were an unusually high number of rejected claims from the outset and the number of suspended claims quickly reached 300,000—a rejection rate of about 50 percent—and by June the number had grown to 647,000, representing about $310 million in back payments to medical providers. Some facilities had to close their doors because of non-payments while others had to take out loans to keep their doors open and others simply stopped seeing Medicaid patients altogether.

In 2008, South Dakota awarded CNSI a $62.7 million contract for a new Medicaid processing system. By 2010—nearly a year before Louisiana hired CNSI—work was halted on the project after costs had grown to $80 million and the system was still two to three years from completion.

A year ago, the Southeast Michigan Health Information Exchange (SEMHIE) filed suit against CNSI over a $1.8 million contract to develop a Social Security e-Disability project for SEMHIE. One of the stipulations of that contract was that any software developed for the project would become the property of SEMHIE. The lawsuit says that SEMHIE “repeatedly, both orally and in writing,” demanded delivery of the software but that CNSI has refused to turn over the software or even to communicate with SEMHIE.

SEMHIE says it had been negotiating to provide the Michigan Health Information Network (MHIN) with the software but that CNSI’s refusal to turn it over resulted in MHIN’s termination of the agreement, thereby costing SEMHIE “substantial” revenue.

The latest twist in the CNSI saga is that the State of Arkansas has, on the basis of the FBI investigation of CNSI’s contract with Louisiana, disqualified CNSI from doing business with that state.

But the really interesting details of the CNSI contract and the company’s links to former employee Greenstein, who was DHH Secretary at the time the contract was awarded, can be found in a series of interviews conducted by the FBI in Maryland FBIReportsCNSI in which two former employees, Vice President and Corporate Counsel Matthew Hoffman and Vice President of Accounting and Finance Jeffrey Weisenborne, reported bookkeeping irregularities, falsification of asset statements to bankers, the purchase of secret homes in Maine, Michigan and Washington State which were not carried on the CNSI books, non-existent loans for which the four CNSI partners received monthly payments, the hiring of CNSI partners’ family members who did no work, bid-rigging, and threats to Hoffman that he would be killed if he disclosed company misconduct. dt.common.streams.StreamServer

The Louisiana Attorney General’s office also conducted an interview with a CNSI employ who originally was a contract employee but who was subsequently hired full time by the company. The employee, identified only as Kunego, which was said to be a pseudonym, was conducted on May 10—11, 2012.

He testified that CNSI’s bid was structured so that it could “shave off” about $40 million from its bid, thus allowing the company to win the contract after which it could get the terms of the contract changed. “In many states this alone would lead to disqualification of the CNSI proposal,” he said. Additionally, he said DHH “front-loaded” the contract, meaning CNSI got money up front because “CNSI was close to being insolvent and needed this change to keep them afloat.”

Kunego said in January of 2011 he and CNSI officials were in North Dakota to prepare their pricing for the Louisiana proposal when they were told by CNSI cofounder and CEO Bishwajeet Chatterjee that the number they had to beat was under $199 million. “This indicated that CNSI officers knew ahead of time the dollar amount that they had to propose to win the contract,” he said.

“After the contract was awarded and during the protest period, Greenstein went to DC (Washington) and was picked up by CNSI officers and entertained to dinner,” the witness said.

He said that during the Greenstein confirmation hearings, CNSI Vice President of Government Affairs Creighton Carroll “was very concerned that the Senate committee would subpoena their phone records.” Carroll told Kunego that they deleted many text messages between CNSI officers and Greenstein “to avoid them being subpoenaed.” Moreover, he said Carroll used his wife’s cell phone for most of the “off channel communications” with Greenstein.

Also during the Greenstein confirmation hearings, CNSI’s lobbyist Alton Ashy was texting Greenstein in an effort to help him with his answers to questions being asked by committee members.

Kunego said that when Greenstein worked for CNSI he lived in a CNSI-owned townhome and that he “got the impression from Chatterjee that Greenstein had ownership in CNSI.” He said 80 percent of CNSI is owned by the four founders—Chatterjee, Chief Strategic Officer Adnan Ahmed, Chief Financial Officer Jaytee Kanwal, and Chief Administrative Officer Reet Singh—while the remaining 20 percent is owned by 23 different people.

The Attorney General report quoted Kunego as saying Jindal has “an India to India ancestor-driven background and network of connectors that brought CNSI and Jindal together” (a characterization the governor’s office labeled as “insulting”) and that “Jindal’s public persona does not jive (sic) with what is going on at DHH.” LDOJ Interview Report on CNSI from 051412

Finally, we have to raise a couple of other questions here about the sequence of events that don’t exactly shine the best light on the Jindal administration.

Was the timing of the personnel change in the Division of Administration (DOA) coincidental or was it somehow tied to the pending investigation?

Rainwater was brought over to the governor’s office on Oct. 15, 2012, to serve as Jindal’s Chief of Staff and has not been heard from since while Deputy Chief of Staff Kristy Nichols left the governor’s office to move across the street to the Claiborne Building to take over Rainwater’s former duties.

In January, the FBI served a subpoena on DOA for all records pertaining to the CNSI bid and contract, including the RFP. And while Jindal certainly knew of the subpoena (and if he did not know, Nichols should be run off by a mean, biting dog for not informing her boss), the subpoena did not become public knowledge until early March. Once the news broke, Jindal acted with all deliberate speed (and yes, that’s sarcasm) to announce the termination of the contract, saying his administration would “not tolerate corruption.”

A week after that, Greenstein announced his resignation, but incredibly, was allowed to remain on the job for another month.

So, did the administration initiate the personnel change at DOA in October in anticipation of the FBI and Attorney General investigations and the subpoena that would come down in three months?

Why did the administration try to keep a lid on the news of the subpoena for some two months and cancel the CNSI contract only when the subpoena’s existence became public knowledge?

And most important: why was Greenstein allowed to remain on the job for a full month after news of the subpoena and the cancellation of the CNSI contract?

Something here just doesn’t pass the smell test.

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