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Archive for the ‘Retirement’ Category

The Baton Rouge Advocate had a superb story today (Sunday, Feb. 22) that revealed that Gov. Bobby was out of state 45 percent of the time during 2014 at a direct cost of $314,144 to taxpayers in travel, lodging, meals and rental vehicles for state police security details. You can add another $58,500 (45 percent of his $130,000 per year salary) in additional costs for which taxpayers got no return while he was chasing the pipe dream of becoming president. http://theadvocate.com/news/education/11626690-63/frequent-flier

What you are about to read, though, is not about that. We’ve written about his travels before and The Advocate’s story thoroughly documents the actual costs of his travel to the extent that it would be redundant for us to beat that drum here.

Instead, this story, while much shorter than my usual posts, is simply about a Smart Phone.

And it says volumes about just how casually this administration takes its responsibility for the looming $1.6 billion state budget deficit.

It also says a lot about how certain people are not above helping themselves as they prepare to head out the door even as the institutions they are sworn to protect are swallowed by the expanding financial crisis—non unlike the captain abandoning a sinking ship with passengers still on board. We can only hope they remember to turn off the lights as they leave.

It speaks to the disdain contempt these people have for moral codes and legal constraints which require that they put the welfare of the state first and their own interests last.

And it practically shouts the double standard, the hypocrisy, and the lack of character ingrained in the makeup of the very people entrusted with running the state in the most economical, most responsible and yes, the most principled, manner possible—and their willingness to take ethical shortcuts even as they create and then walk away from a huge fiscal mess for someone else to clean up.

All this fuss over a Smart Phone?

Yes, because the entire affair is symptomatic of a much greater illness—official callousness, obliviousness and indifference—character flaws this state can ill afford in its leaders.

All over a Smart Phone.

You see, Commissioner of Administration recently decided she wanted a new Smart Phone.

Not a state-owned Smart Phone, one that would remain for her successor when she leaves office, but a Smart Phone for her very own personal use, owned by her.

And she wanted the State of Louisiana (taxpayers) to pay for it, according to our source inside the Division of Administration.

And she wasn’t shy about asking the Office of Telecommunications Management (OTM) to purchase one for her.

But OTM said no.

Nichols persisted.

OTM continued to say no.

Nichols finally relented.

But it was the very act of trying to get the state to pony up the money for a Smart Phone for her personal use that rubs salt into the state’s festering fiscal wound and calls into serious question the very integrity of the entire administration of Gov. Bobby.

It Nichols’ apparent disregard for well-defined rules and regulations disallowing just such actions that leaves the authenticity of everything she says and does subject to scrutiny and justifiable skepticism.

She should never have made such a request…and she knows it.

Her attempt at compromising her office and that of OTM, however, was only an extension of an attitude that runs throughout the upper levels of state government.

From the purchase of the luxury Eddie Bauer and Harley-Davidson trucks by former Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, to long-term Enterprise auto rentals for State Department of Education employees, to legislators who use campaign funds for LSU, Saints and Pelican tickets and for expensive meals, to last year’s unconstitutional attempt to bolster State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by $55,000 a year, to Deputy Commissioner of Administration Ruth Johnson’s ordering of two desktop computers, a laptop and expensive furniture for her office, there is an attitude of entitlement that permeates the offices of those who impose a completely different set of standards on the rest of us.

And it’s an attitude that flows from the top down.

And the real tragedy is nobody will do a damned thing about it.

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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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Friday traditionally is a slow news day around the State Capitol and observers know that most controversial announcements or bad news releases by the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal will be issued late on Fridays in the hope that most reporters have gone home for the day.

The timing of the mundane and not-so-good news releases also is such that people just don’t follow events as closely over the weekend.

Accordingly, LouisianaVoice has pulled together some of the stories that are not likely to make the local six o’clock news or cause much stir in the state’s daily newspapers. But they are, nevertheless, stories that we feel deserve at least some attention, so here we go:

Mike Edmonson Retirement Redux

Regular readers will remember our story of last July 11 which launched the major controversy coming out of last year’s legislative session. That was the story about Senate Bill 294 (SB 294) by State Sen. Neil Riser that was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859 which gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmondson that otherwise illegal hefty retirement boost of about $55,000.

The LouisianaVoice story created quite an uproar and culminated with a judicial ruling on a lawsuit by State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) that the requirement increase was unconstitutional, which seemed at the time to end the matter.

But not so fast. Claitor, not altogether trusting the system to prevail, has pre-filed a bill which he hopes will tie up any remaining loose ends.

Senate Bill 2 (SB 2) by Sens. Claitor and Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) have pre-filed the bill which “repeals provisions for payment to certain DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Plan) participants of a retirement benefit calculated as if the person had not participated in DROP.”

The very title of the bill puts Edmonson—along with one other state trooper who by sheer coincidence qualified for the increase under the Riser bill amendment that was snuck through an unsuspecting legislature on the last day of the 2014 session—squarely in the crosshairs of the Claitor-Peacock bill.

The Riser amendment created one of the uglier moments of the entire legislative session as slowly details leaked out of how Riser, acting on the directions of Gov. Bobby Jindal, attached the amendment to the bill that ostensibly dealt with police disciplinary procedures and once passed, was quickly signed into law by Jindal.

Had the amendment gone undetected, it would have bumped Edmonson’s retirement from $79,000 per year to $134,000 yearly.

Here is the link to the Claitor-Peacock bill by title, followed by a link to the actual bill:

https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/BillInfo.aspx?i=226443

STATE POLICE BILL

Exceptional Jindal profile by Tyler Bridges

And speaking of Jindal, it appears that the national media are beginning to catch on to the Jindal Traveling Road Show, prompted it seems, by his hysterical claim of Islamic enclaves of “no-go” zones in Europe, followed in quick fashion by a silly response to the mention by blogger Lamar White that the governor’s official portrait in his fourth floor office gives the appearance of something like 50 shades of white. It turns out that portrait is a loaner and not the “official” portrait. The “official” portrait gives of a decidedly pinkish hue, making it appear that the white one got a bit too much sun.

Be that as it may, Tyler Bridges, a New Orleans writer, has penned an excellent piece on Jindal’s failed fiscal policies (much more important in the long run than his skin tones) for Politico, a Washington, D.C. news service widely read by political junkies—especially in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Jindal hopes (almost to the point of desperation, it seems) to make early headway in his clumsy efforts to grab the GOP presidential nomination. Here is the link to that superb piece by Bridges:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/02/bobby-jindal-campaigning-114948.html?ml=m_t1_2h#.VNTyL005Ccy

LR3 Contract with Economic Development

Last February we dissected the events surrounding the awarding of a $717,000 no-bid contract awarded to LR3 Consulting LLC of Baton Rouge by the Louisiana Office of Economic Development (LED).

That contract, which runs through Sept. 30 of this year, calls for the “development, establishment and/or delivery of a database of potential trainees for continued pre-hire training using a customized assessment instrument to determine skills proficiencies based on individual company requirements.”

We are not altogether sure why a $717,000 contract needed to be awarded to a firm to perform the same duties already being done by the Louisiana Workforce Commission but hey, who are we to question good government?

The contract was broken down into three yearly amounts—$169,999 for the first year (Oct. 12, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013) and $249,999 for each of the ensuing two years. This was done, according to an LED spokesman, so as to avoid the necessity of issuing a request for proposals (RFP) and thus avoid “competitive bidding or competitive negotiation.”

The issuing of service contracts is permissible so long as the “total contract amount is less than $250,000 per twelve-month period,” according to Title 39, Section 1494.1 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes which then goes on to say, “Service requirements shall not be artificially divided so as to exempt contracts from the request for proposal process.” Hmmm. Seems to us a real proponent of good government would want competitive bidding.

Nevertheless, it has come to our attention that LR3 may well not be a viable entity and thus, ineligible to contract with the state.

A check of the Secretary of State’s corporate web page reveals that LR3 Consulting LLC is “not in good standing for failure to file (an) annual report.”

With nearly eight months left on the LR3 contract, the loss of standing with the Secretary of State should be a concern to Lionel Rainey, III, the agent and sole officer of LR3:

The term “not in good standing” means that a limited liability company is delinquent in filing the annual report required by R.S. 12:1308.1.

The statute goes on to say that each limited liability company which is not in good standing “shall be prohibited from engaging in commercial business operations with the state or its boards, agencies, departments, or commissions.  Any contract between the state or its boards, agencies, departments, or commissions and a limited liability company which is not in good standing may be declared null and void by the board, agency, department, commission, or the division of administration.”

Here is the link to the Secretary of State’s corporate records page which shows that LR3 is not in good standing:

https://coraweb.sos.la.gov/CommercialSearch/CommercialSearchDetails.aspx?CharterID=1001456_F5D52

Our favorite news blog, too?

And speaking of corporate records, one of our favorite political web blogs also turns up as “inactive,” according to the Secretary of State.

We particularly enjoy The Hayride, a Jindal support group blog run by Scott McKay for the off the wall advertisements that are featured daily on his blog. Recently, we’ve seen ads for products that feature a cure baldness almost immediately, a cure for cancer through a Biblical verse, a cure for Alzheimer’s, and even tips on how to invest in gold “form the former director of the U.S. mint,” for a military grade “steroid alternative,” and of course, secret weight loss measures.

But alas, the Secretary of State now tells us that Hayride Media, LLC is no longer active as a corporate entity.

That won’t change the flow of wonderful material coming from the blog, but it does remove any legal protection from litigation that might be lurking in the bushes, ready to pounce on any actual error by The Hayride. We’re just sayin’…

Here is The Hayride’s corporate record entry on the Secretary of State’s web page:

https://coraweb.sos.la.gov/CommercialSearch/CommercialSearchDetails.aspx?CharterID=878951_J6D52

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In our lowlights review for the first six months of 2014, we were reminded by State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard (I-Thibodaux) that we had omitted a major low point in Louisiana politics.

Accordingly, we will preface our second half with the June veto by Gov. Bobby Jindal of HB 142 by Richard and Sens. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) and Mack “Bodi” White (R-Central) which was pass unanimously by both the House (84-0) and Senate (37-0).

Called by Richard as the only “piece of legislation that would’ve done anything in the form of reform,” HB142 called for a reduction in consulting contracts. Richard said the bill also “would’ve provided transparency in the way the state hands out contracts” and would have provided savings that would have been dedicated to higher education.

“It just made too much sense to Bobby,” Richard said.

Jindal, on the other hand, said the bill would “hinder the state’s efforts to continue to provide its citizens with timely, high-quality services.”

Such high-quality services as paying $94,000 to a firm to assistant students to learn to play during recess; paying consulting fees to Hop 2 It Music Co. or to the Smile and Happiness Foundation.

Jindal also said the bill would “cause significant delays and introduce uncertainty to executing a contract” and would “discourage businesses from seeking opportunities to provide services to the people of Louisiana.”

Which now brings us to the second half of political news that could only occur in Louisiana.

JULY

Troy Hebert back in the news:

Three former ATC supervisors, all black, have filed a federal lawsuit in the Baton Rouge’s Middle District claiming a multitude of actions they say Hebert took in a deliberate attempt to force the three to resign or take early retirement and in fact, conducted a purge of virtually all black employees of ATC.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimian T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The lawsuit said that all three plaintiffs have received the requisite “right to sue” notice from the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.

So, where are all those savings we were promised?

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

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

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

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

We can save, but we have to let you go…

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

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

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

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

Neil Riser helps Edmonson revoke the irrevocable:

One of the single biggest state political stories of the year was the surreptitious attempt of State Sen. Neil Riser to slip an amendment into an otherwise nondescript bill ostensibly addressing procedures in handling claims against police officers that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an illegal $55,000 per year retirement boost.

Events quickly began to spin out of control after Riser first denied, then admitted his part in the ruse and as retired state police opposed the move and public opinion mounted against the move, Edmonson, after first claiming he was entitled to the raise, finally relented and said he would not accept the increase.

Meanwhile, Jindal, who signed the bill, was eerily quiet on the issue despite speculation he was behind the attempt to slip the increase into the bill.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, just to make sure Edmonson didn’t go back on his word, filed suit to block the raise and a Baton Rouge judge agreed that the bill was unconstitutional.

The bill, which quickly became known as the Edmonson Amendment, along with the Office of Group Benefits fiasco, constituted the most embarrassing moments for a governor who wants desperately to run for president.

AUGUST

Selective—and hypocritical—moral judgments

Gov. Bobby Jindal weighed in early on the kissing congressman scandal up in Monroe. When rookie U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister was revealed on video exchanging amorous smooches with a female aide, Jindal was all over him like white on rice, calling for his immediate resignation.

Jindal’s judgmental tone was dictated more by the philosophical differences between the two (McAllister wanted the state to expand Medicaid, Jindal most assuredly did not) than any real issues based on morals as Jindal’s silence on the philandering of U.S. Sen. David Vitter who did a tad more than exchange affectionate kisses.

Edmonson Amendment spawns other state police stories:

LouisianaVoice, in its continuing investigation of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), learned that a number of DPS employees enjoy convenient political connections.

  • Dionne Alario, Senate President John Alario’s daughter-in-law, is a DPS Administrative Program Manager;
  • Alario’s son, John W. Alario, serves as a $95,000 per year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission.
  • DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux retired on April 28 from her $92,000 per year salary but the day before, she double encumbered herself into the position and reported to work on April 30 in the higher position of Undersecretary. Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis ordered her to repay the 300 hours of annual leave (about $46,000) for which she had been paid on her “retirement,” but Davis resigned shortly afterward and the matter was never pursued.
  • DPS issued a pair of contracts, hired the contractor as a state employee, paid her $437,000 to improve the Division of Motor Vehicles and ponied up $13,000 in airfare for trips to and from her home in South Carolina. The contractor, Kathleen Sill, heads up a company called CTQ but the company’s web page lists Sill as its only employee.
  • Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie was simultaneously employed in an offshore job and was on the payroll for seven months of the State Police Oil Spill Commission.
  • Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was employed as a “specialist” for State Police.
  • Tammy Starnes was hired from another agency at a salary of $92,900 as an Audit Manager. Not only was her salary $11,700 more than state trooper Jason Starnes, but she is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

Thanks, retirees; here’s your bill for medical coverage:

LouisianaVoice was first to break the news that the Jindal administration was planning to force retirees out of the Office of Group Benefits by raising premiums astronomically and slashing benefits.

The news sparked waves of protests from employees and retirees alike, prompted legislative hearings at which Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols looked more than foolish in their attempts to defend the ill-conceived plan.

The entire fiasco was the result of the Jindal administrations foolish decision to cut premiums, which allowed the state to be on the hook for lower contributions as well. The money the state saved on matching premiums went to help patch those recurring holes in the state budget. Meanwhile, because of the lower premiums, the $500 million OGB reserve fund shrank to about half that amount as OGB spent $15 million per month more than it received in premiums.

All this occurred just three years after then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, in a letter on the eve of the privatization of OGB, promised the continuation of quality service, rates that would be “unaffected” with any increases to be “reflective of medical market rates.” More importantly, he emphatically promised that benefits “will NOT change.”

HHS_2013_SNPS_35_Day

OCTOBER

What premium decrease?

Contrary to the testimony of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that Buck Consultants recommended that the Office of Group Benefits reduce premiums for members, emails from Buck Consults said exactly the opposite. State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) had asked Nichols during legislative committee hearings who recommended the decrease and she replied that the recommendation came from Buck. All witnesses before legislative committees are under oath when they testify.

Surplus, deficit, tomato, to-mah-to:

Nichols “discovered” a previously unknown “surplus” of $320 million in mystery money that set off a running dispute between her office and State Treasurer John Kennedy—an argument that eventually made its way before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

With a tip of our hat to cartoonist Bud Grace, we are able to show you how that surplus was discovered:

JINDAL SURPLUS SECRET

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Murphy Painter vindicated, Jindal humiliated:

Jindal’s attempted prosecution persecution of fired Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter blew up in the governor’s face when Painter was first acquitted of criminal charges, costing the state nearly half a million dollars in reimbursement of Painter’s legal fees, but Painter subsequently won a defamation suit against his accuser.

Secret survey no longer a secret but “no one” more popular than Jindal:

A survey to measure state employee satisfaction in the Division of Administration (DOA) should be an eye opener for Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols and agency heads within DOA.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana) received some exciting news this week when a new poll revealed that no one was more popular among Republican contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.

The excitement was short-lived, however, when the actual meaning of the numbers was revealed.

It turns out that in a CNN poll of New Hampshire voters, Jindal tied with Rick Santorum with 3 percent, while “No one” polled 4 percent, prompting Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert to joke that Jindal should adopt the slogan “Jindal 2016: No one is more popular.”

To shred or not to shred:

The controversy surrounding the sweeping changes being proposed for the Office of Group Benefits just got a little dicier with new information obtained by LouisianaVoice about the departure of Division of Administration executive counsel Liz Murrill and the possibly illegal destruction of public records from the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and the involvement of at least two other state agencies.

While it was not immediately clear which OGB records were involved, information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicate that Murrill refused to sign off on written authorization to destroy documents from OGB.

We first reported her departure on Oct. 14 and then on Oct. 22, we followed up with a report that Murrill had confided to associates that she could no longer legally carry out some of the duties assigned to her as the DOA attorney.

But now we learn that the issue has spilled over into two other agencies besides OGB and DOA because of a state statute dealing with the retention of public documents for eventual delivery to State Archives, a division of Secretary of State Tom Schedler’s office.

Reports indicate that Schedler became furious when he learned of the destruction or planned destruction of the records because records should, according to R.S. 44:36, be retained for three years and then delivered to the state archivist and director of the division of Archives, records management and history.

NOVEMBER

Secret grand jury testimony of Greenstein made public:

The Louisiana Attorney General’s office, in an unprecedented move, released the 100-plus pages of testimony of Bruce Greenstein, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals but the testimony did little in revealing any smoking gun related to the state’s $180 million contract with CNSI. About the only thing to come out of his testimony was the indication of an incredible bad memory in matters related to his dealings with his former bosses at CNSI and a razor-sharp recall of other, more insignificant events.

Approval? We don’t need no stinkin’ approval:

The very first state agency privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal was the Office of Risk Management (ORM) and after the state paid F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) $68 million to take over ORM operations and then amended the contract to $75 million after only a few months, the agency was subsequently transferred three times to other firms. The only hitch was a specific clause in the original contract with FARA that no such transference was allowable without “prior written approval” from the Division of Administration. The problem? When LouisianaVoice made an FOIA request for that written approval, we were told no such document existed.

Edwards’ Last Hurrah:

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, one of the most successful, colorful and charismatic politicians in Louisiana history, lost—decisively. Republican Graves Garrett rode the Republican tide to easily hand Edwards his first political defeat, dating back to his days on the Crowley City Council. Some may remember when Buddy Roemer led the field in 1987, forcing Edwards into a runoff. Technically, though, Edwards did not lose that election because he chose not to participate in the runoff, thus allowing Roemer to become governor. But he would return in 1991 to win his unprecedented fourth term.

DECEMBER

Friends of Bobby Jindal seeking donations:

A new web page popped up seeking donations for the Friends of Bobby Jindal, raising speculations of an attempt at a higher office (president?) since Jindal can’t run for governor again.

The new web page cited a speech by Jindal at a foreign policy forum at which he called for increased military spending.

Gimme the keys to the cars:

The Public Service Commission (PSC) became the second state agency (the State Treasurer’s office was the first) to openly defy Jindal when the administration demanded that the PSC relinquish possession of 13 vehicles as part of the administration’s cost-cutting measures.

We have already examined State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard’s attempt to cut consulting contracts which was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate but vetoed by Jindal.

But there was another veto that should be mentioned in context with Jindal’s penny wise but pound (dollar) foolish fire sale approach to state finances.

Earlier this year, State Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) managed to get overwhelming passage of a bill that called for more oversight of the tax break programs by the state’s income-forecasting panel.

But Jindal, who never met a tax break he didn’t like, promptly vetoed the bill, saying it could effectively force a tax increase on businesses by limiting spending for the incentive programs.

Only he could twist the definition of removal of a tax break for business into a tax increase even while ignoring the fact that removal of those tax breaks could—and would—mean long-term relief for Louisiana citizens who are the ones shouldering the load. And for him to willingly ignore that fact borders on malfeasance.

Another (yawn) poor survey showing:

24/7 Wall Street, a financial news and opinion company, released a report which ranked Louisiana as the 11th worst-run state in America.

Louisiana, in ranking 40th in the nation, managed to fare better than New Jersey, which ranked 43rd, or eighth worst, something Jindal might use against Gov. Christ Christie if it comes down to a race between those two for the GOP nomination.

Louisiana had “one of the lowest median household incomes in the nation,” at just $44,164, the report said “and 10.7 percent of all households reported an income of less than $10,000, a higher rate than in any state except for Mississippi. Largely due to these low incomes, the poverty rate in Louisiana was nearly 20 percent (19.8 percent) and 17.2 percent of households used food stamps last year, both among the highest rates in the nation. The state’s GDP grew by 1.3 percent last year, less than the U.S. overall.

May we pray?

Meanwhile, Jindal prompted more controversy by having his favorite publisher and LSU Board of Supervisors member Rolfe McCollister run interference in securing the LSU Maravich Center for a political prayer event in January of 2015. The event will be sponsored by the controversial American Family Association and will not (wink, wink) be a political event, Jindal said.

And that, readers, is where we will leave you in 2014.

For 2015, we have an election campaign for governor to look forward to.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse.

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