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It was bad enough Friday when Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that career politician and former national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council Noble Ellington as his legislative director.

But at the same time, he announced the appointment of Marketa Garner Walters as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) at $129,000 per year.

Ellington, besides serving as national chairman of ALEC, was twice named Legislator of the Year. He left the legislature to take a cozy $150,000-a-year job as Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Insurance in 2012 even though he had no background in the insurance industry.

And it was during his tenure as ALEC’s national chairman that Bobby Jindal was presented the organization’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award (you may want to check with the descendants of Sally Heming on that freedom part). http://www.alec.org/press-release/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s beginning to look a lot like business as usual for the new administration. Like pro football and major league baseball, Louisiana’s elected leaders seem to keep recycling the same old familiar faces in and out of various state offices. The problem is, they are the ones who helped create the problems. So what makes anyone think they have the solutions now?

Take Garner Walters, for example, who served as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Services within DSS (DCFS) from January 2004 until November 2008, when she went by the name Marketa Garner Gautreau.

“A national leader in the field of children and family services, Marketa Garner Walters has worked for more than 20 years to improve the lives of children,” the governor’s announcement said. “As a public servant, a national consultant, and an advocate with deep roots in her home state of Louisiana, Walters has been able to create meaningful change in the lives of family and children over the years.”

So what’s so wrong with that?

Well, not much. Unless one considers her explanation for an incident in which a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy in a group home during the time she served as assistant secretary for the Office of Community Services.

“Retarded people have sex—it’s what they do,” she said, sounding more like a GEICO commercial than someone responsible for children’s welfare. That bit of wisdom was imparted during her testimony before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission in 2008.

The Office of Community Services is a sub-office of the Department of Children and Family Services, formerly the Department of Social Services (DSS).

A former employee of the Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), then the Office of Youth Development, witnessed Gautreau’s testimony.

“In late 2008, DSS and OJJ were called before the Juvenile Justice Implementation Commission about a situation at a Baton Rouge group home housing both OJJ and DSS youth (and) where a 17-year-old mentally challenged boy raped a 12-year-old boy,” the former OJJ employee said.

“OJJ removed our youth from the group home at once and put a moratorium on placement there. DSS, the licensing agency for group homes, left their kids there,” she said.

When questioned by JJIC members, including (then) Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and (then) Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Kitty Kimball, Garner Gautreau offered a bizarre explanation. She said it was really not rape because the youths were of similar mental capacity.

When asked why there was not better staff security to keep the children from roaming around and molesting others, she replied, “Retarded people have sex. It’s what they do.”

The former OJJ employee was aghast. “I told my colleagues I’d wring their necks if they ever made statements like that in public hearings.

“We figured that (Gautreau’s testimony) was a career-limiting speech and we were not surprised when Ms. Garner Gautreau was shortly looking for another job,” the former OJJ employee said.

She added that OJJ stopped placing children in the same facilities as DCFS children.

There was “a consistent pattern of DSS failing to properly monitor and supervise group home operations and looking the other way when deficiencies were noted,” the former OJJ employee said. “Group homes were even re-licensed when still deficient and corrective actions plans were not being followed.

“The DSS review committee was a joke – the agency’s monitors looked the other way and ignored problems at the group homes, even when OJJ removed kids and notified DSS of deficiencies,” she said.

The intent is for private group homes to provide a safe, homelike setting for abused and neglected children who have been removed from their families. But the safety factor appears to have come up far short. Four rapes were reported over a 15-month period at two Baton Rouge group homes.

The Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization, released a 41-page REPORT ON GROUP HOMES in early 2008 that described filthy conditions and neglect of children’s education and medical needs at many facilities. Additionally, a 2007 report by the legislative auditor found that 90 percent of the group homes had deficiencies when their licenses were renewed.

Garner Gautreau, however, told the Baton Rouge Advocate that she had “a high level of comfort” in the knowledge that 80 percent of homes scored at an acceptable level.

Its report included problems that staff members observed themselves but also cited violations found in previous inspection reports filed by the state from 2004 to August 2007. Those include failure to assure proper medical care at 53 percent of the facilities and failure to assure proper physical environment in 69 percent of homes.

State inspectors cited 18 facilities for failing to have sufficient staff and found cases where homes failed to provide criminal background checks and in some cases knowingly hired people with criminal records, the Advocacy Center report noted.

“In some cases, we found evidence that the Bureau of Licensing had identified the same problems and cited the same facility over and over again. However, nothing changed,” said Stephanie Patrick, who oversees visits to homes for the Advocacy Center.

“I started following DSS failures when our staff consistently documented problems that DSS ignored,” the former OJJ employee said.

“Louisiana’s licensing statute for these facilities fails to provide an adequate framework for assuring the health, safety, and welfare of children in these facilities,” the Advocate Center report said.

What?!!

The state doesn’t assure the safety and welfare of children it is charged with protecting?

Among the deficiencies of the statute, the report said were:

  • That it grants final authority over residential facility licensing regulations and standards to two committees, none of whose members is required to be an expert in child residential care and treatment, and many of whose members are providers.
  • That it allows the issuance of licenses without full regulatory compliance.
  • That it requires the Department to seek the approval of the relevant committee before denying or revoking a facility’s license, and gives the committee veto power over such action.
  • That it does not permit DSS to assess civil fines and penalties when facilities violate minimum standards.

The Advocacy Center requested DSS’s Bureau of Licensing reports for the years 2004-2006 and up to August 2007. “A review of these reports shows that a shocking number of the facilities had serious violations of minimum licensing standards, including:

  • 38% of the facilities had violations relating to staff criminal background checks;
  • 62% of the facilities were found to violate minimum standards regarding children’s medications;
  • 53% of the facilities failed to assure that children received proper medical and/or dental care;
  • 33% of the facilities were cited for not following proper procedures or violating procedures pertaining to abuse/neglect;
  • 62% of the facilities were cited for not assuring their staff received all required annual training;
  • 69% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that children were living in a proper physical environment;
  • 36% of the facilities were cited for not having appropriate treatment plans or for inappropriate execution of children’s treatment plans;
  • 33% of the facilities were cited for not assuring that sufficient qualified direct service staff was present with the children as necessary to ensure the health, safety and well- being of children.

“Many facilities were found to be in violation of minimum standards on inspection after inspection,” the report added.

LouisianaVoice has been receiving unsettling reports of inadequate inspections of foster homes by unqualified DCFS employees. Those reports are currently being investigated by us and will be reported in future posts should they be substantiated.

Meanwhile, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Marketa Garner Walters nee Gautreau will be watching out for the children as the new secretary of DCFS.

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When LouisianaVoice was first contacted about Troy Hebert back in December, one of the things our anonymous source said was that the former Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was positioning himself for a congressional run.

While everything the source told us was verified in a month-long investigation, we simply could not bring ourselves to believe that Hebert would seriously believe he could be a serious candidate for Congress.

After all, the Jeanerette native had enough baggage to justify an extra train car on any such expedition to Washington.

For openers, the veteran legislator cum ATC commissioner had, while serving as a state representative, managed to finagle a state contract for debris cleanup following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That alone was a flagrant conflict of interest but because he was apparently close to Bobby Jindal, the State Board of Ethics chose to look the other way.

Then there is his tenure at ATC, marked by constant battles with his agents. Rumors of racism on his part persisted and he required his agents to rise and chirp, “Good morning, commissioner” whenever he entered the room. At hearings on alcohol permit revocations and other penalties, he insisted on being called “judge,” though he was merely an administrative officer.

So we discounted out of hand the report that he might make a run for a congressional seat. We assumed he was taking aim of the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany who has made his intentions known that he plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter.

Nah, we said. The source is simply wrong.

But wait.

Politics necessarily dictate sizable egos and apparently there is none bigger than Hebert’s.

And there it was, when we googled “Hebert announces for U.S. Senate.” Up popped this link: http://www.katc.com/story/31082873/troy-hebert-to-run-for-senate?clienttype=mobile

That’s the web site of Lafayette television station KATC. We clicked on the link and this story appeared on our screen:

Troy Hebert, a former state senator and former commissioner of the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office, says he plans to run for the U.S. Senate this fall. 

Hebert, who is from Jeanerette and lives in Baton Rouge, served in the Louisiana state Senate as a Democrat, but later switched to Independent. He was Alcohol & Tobacco Control Commissioner for the past five years and resigned at the end of December. 

Hebert said he plans to run as an Independent.

“Given the number of voters that are fed up with both parties, the large number of registered Independents and the swollen number of republican candidates, simple math shows a great opportunity for voters to elect their first truly conservative Independent United States Senator,” Hebert said. “This realization has some people in high places, with a lot to lose, already trying to keep me out the race. They think I kicked their asses before, just think what I could do as a U.S. Senator.” 

Hebert joins three other Louisiana politicians who have announced they are vying for U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s Senate seat. Vitter announced he would not seek re-election after losing the governor’s race last fall.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, and state Treasurer John Kennedy, also a Republican, have said they are running.

So it’s not the House but the Senate that Hebert is running for. Seems our source was pretty much spot on with this opening line back on Dec. 18, 2015:

“I have watched all of Mr. Herbert’s actions in the last year with amazement. His latest attempts to go around the State to get name recognition for what I hear will be a Congressional run has led me from watching from the sidelines to sending you this information.”

“Herbert also has been holding town hall type meetings across the State after he announced his resignation at end of year so he can get name recognition for his run for Congress,” she said.

Okay, it’s not the House, but that and other information provided us was accurate enough for us to see that our source is up in the middle of Troy Hebert’s business—and he has no idea who it is.

Stand by folks. If you thought last fall’s governor’s race was nasty, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As C.B. would say if he were still with us: You can’t make this stuff up.

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God knows, I’m no financial wizard. My bank account balance clearly illustrates that. Nor am I a political strategist qualified to critique an administration less than a month into its term of office. After all, it took three years of Bobby Jindal blunders for me to become cynical enough to launch LouisianaVoice.

Moreover, my advice is worth precisely what I charge for it: zero.

Still, there are developments in the John Bel Edwards administration that are already prompting questions and causing my spider senses to tingle a bit.

Obviously, the reappointment of Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent heads that list. Likewise, the reappointment of Jimmy LeBlanc over the Department of Corrections raised more than a few eyebrows given the ongoing investigation into the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the myriad of problems documented there.

But I am aware of political reality and the reality is the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association wanted both reappointed. Edmonson because of what he can do for the sheriffs, i.e. jobs to sheriffs’ relatives; LeBlanc because of the convenient arrangement that has local jails housing state prisoners at a nice profit to the sheriffs.

Edmonson and LeBlanc aside, there are other appointments and salary structures that should raise a few eyebrows.

Take Thomas Enright, for example. Bobby Jindal’s former executive counsel, Enright repeatedly found ways to block legitimate public records requests by throwing up the “deliberative process” defense. And don’t forget, it was apparently on his advice that Jindal signed the infamous “Edmonson Amendment” in 2014 that would have given Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement. That was the last-minute amendment tacked onto an otherwise benign bill by State Sen. Neil Riser of Columbia which was ruled unconstitutional by a Baton Rouge district judge pursuant to a lawsuit filed by State Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge.

So Enright was shown the door, right?

Not exactly. While he is no longer the governor’s executive counsel and while he is no longer earning $165,000 per year, he was kept on the payroll by Edwards. Shunted off to the Department of Veterans Affairs where he will serve as executive counsel to that agency, his salary was reduced to $120,000 per year, a 27 percent cut in pay.

Meanwhile, Edwards has announced staff and cabinet appointments with combined salaries of $2.4 million.

Several months ago, when it first appeared that he had a real chance to win the governor’s race, I offered up some of that free advice I alluded to earlier.

In an email to Edwards, I offered up what I thought at the time was a bold but sensible suggestion: appoint retired executives to key cabinet positions and pay them $1 per year. I even offered up the name of the retired president of my alma mater, Louisiana Tech, Dan Reneau. I didn’t know of Dr. Reneau would accept a job, but I used his name as an example of someone with expertise who was financially secure and not political ambitious.

Obviously, such an appointee would have to be someone who didn’t need the money and it would be imperative that such a person would not want to use the position as a springboard to political office.

And it’s not like mine was an original idea. The precedent has been set already—many times. Perhaps the most famous dollar-a-year men are President John F. Kennedy, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-dollar_salary

http://www.businessinsider.com/ceos-who-take-1-dollar-salary-or-less-2015-8

Others include former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to name only a few.

Some of those of course took healthy stock options in lieu of salary, but not all did. Jobs, Iacocca, Kennedy, Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg and Riordan did not. Nor does John Mackey (Whole Foods), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), David Filo (Yahoo), Jeremy Stoppelman (Yelp), Edward Lampert (Sears), or Richard Hayne (Urban Outfitters).

Obviously there are few other than Tom Benson that are in the same league with these gazillionaires and even his fortune pales in comparison to Zuckerberg’s $46 billion. But there are certainly a sufficient number adequately well off to give of their time to fill a dozen or so crucial spots in state government. Their expertise, after all, could be invaluable in addressing the state’s dire fiscal woes head-on. The absence of a political agenda on their part could only be an added plus.

Edwards’ response to my suggestion?

“I’ll think about it.”

Apparently he didn’t think too long about it. Like his predecessor, he has loaded down his administration with top-heavy salaries and has even raised the salaries of six appointees.

Joey Strickland got $134,351, a $4,351 raise over what David Lecerte was earning as Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Jay Dardenne’s salary as Commissioner of Administration is $237,500 compared to Jindal’s last commissioner Stafford Palmieri’s $204,400.

New DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson is making $176,900, an increase of $6,900 over the previous secretary, Sherri LeBas. Former State Rep. Karen St. Germain will make $125,000 as Motor Vehicles Commissioner, compared to former commissioner Stephen Campbell’s $103,614.

Press secretary Richard Carbo is being paid $110,000. Jindal press secretary Mike Reed made $93,600 and General Counsel Matthew Block pulls down $180,000 compared to Enright’s $165,000.

Granted, the $2.4 million outlay for cabinet and staff members (so far) is not a lot when one considers a looming budget deficit of $700 million for the remainder of this fiscal year and a whopping $1.9 billion (and counting) for the next fiscal year which begins July 1.

But placing retired executives with the appropriate expertise in key positions would have been a symbolic—and productive—gesture that would have sent a positive message to voters that Edwards is serious about solving the state’s fiscal mess. Such a move would have marshaled the state’s brain trust into a united effort never before seen in this state—probably in any state. It would have said to a few good men and women who still have much to offer: “Hey, we’re all in this together. Come help us.”

Instead, it was a missed opportunity. For one who said he would “not be a business-as-usual” governor, this looks, sounds, and smells a lot like business as usual. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/john_bel_edwards_emphasizes_un.html

I hope I’m wrong.

 

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Just as there are many deserving nominees for Boob of the Year, so are there those who deserve to be recognized for their work to bring the actions of those boobs to public light. Their efforts have helped to expose corruption in lieu of an ineffective State Ethics Board that Jindal gutted as his first action upon becoming governor.

And for those who think we’re too negative, here is our chance to put some positive spin on state politics. Unlike our Boob of the Year nominees, few of our nominees for the John Copes Beacon of Light award are public officials, though it would be unfair to say that no elected official is worthy.

Copes, a Louisiana Tech graduate, was one of the very first political bloggers in Louisiana, launching his website The Deduct Box in 1999. A resident of Mandeville, he died in October of 2006 at a time when his blog was getting about 10,000 hits per day.

Because any such list is subjective, some deserving candidates will be left out by oversight as occurred with our Boob of the Year nominees. Accordingly, you are free to make your own nominations.

So, with that in mind, here we go:

  • Former State Sen. Butch Gautreaux: All he did was to bust a gut in trying to save the Office of Group Benefits from certain corruption and mismanagement. He failed, of course, because Bobby Jindal wanted to privatize the agency and indirectly raid OGB’s reserve fund. Now the fund has been depleted, premiums have risen and benefits have been cut and Sen. Gautreaux has been proven correct.
  • State Sen. Dan Claitor: Claitor filed a lawsuit to nullify the illegal retirement increase of some $50,000 for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson. He won that suit and then filed a bill to make certain there were no more backdoor deals for Edmonson. He also objected to the administration’s less than ethical ruse to delay payment of Medicaid claims by two months, thus kicking the final two months’ problems into the next fiscal year—long after Jindal and his fraudulent cohorts will be gone. Sadly, Claitor’s objections to the move were ignored by the administration—and his fellow legislators who once again, allowed Jindal to have his way with them.
  • Lame duck BESE members Carolyn Hill and Lottie Beebe: Both stood up to State Superintendent of Education John White and both paid the price. Out of state money poured in for their opponents and both Hill and Beebe were defeated for re-election.
  • John Bel Edwards: It may be too early to call him a Beacon of Light. That will depend on what he does as governor. But he did fight Bobby Jindal for eight years and overcame mind boggling odds against a Democrat with little name recognition outside Tangipahoa Parish upsetting powerful (as in $10 million worth of power) U.S. Sen. David Vitter. While Jindal held onto his congressional salary right up to the time he took the oath as governor, Edwards has resigned from the Louisiana Legislature.
  • Tommy and Melody Teague: She was fired from her job (but won it back on appeal) for daring to testify before Jindal’s governmental streamlining committee; he for the audacity of taking over an agency (OGB) with a deficit of some $200 million and take it to a surplus of $500 million and then not falling all over himself to support Jindal’s proposed privatization of OGB. Jindal prevailed of course, and the surplus (reserve fund) was depleted, premiums increased, benefits reduced and many retirees now living out of state have lost their medical benefits altogether. At least Tommy Teague saw the danger way before the smartest man in the room.
  • Murphy Painter: As director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), he refused to allow FOB (friends of Bobby) short circuit the regulations for an alcohol permit for Champion’s Square across from the Superdome. For insisting that the applicant comply with ATC regulations, he was fired and indicted on made up criminal charges. Rather than bene over and grease up, he fought back, was acquitted at trial and stuck the state with his legal bills of nearly $300,000.
  • Whistleblower Jeff Mercer: The Mangham, Louisiana contractor was harassed, coerced and intimidated when he refused to comply with a DOTD inspector’s demand that he give the inspector money and/or equipment (a generator). When he complained about the extortion attempt, more pressure was applied in the form of harsh inspections, delayed and denied payments for work performed. He went bankrupt as a result of the DOTD actions but determined to fight back, he sued and won a $20 million judgment from the state. A pity since the governor’s office was made aware of the inspector’s actions but chose to do nothing to avert the eventual courtroom battle.
  • Whistleblower Dan Collins: The Baton Rouge professional landman complained about things he observed in the Atchafalaya Basin Program and promptly got frozen out of future state contracts. Undaunted, he and his one attorney went up against the Department of Natural Resources and its four corporate attorneys and on Friday (Dec. 11, 2015) won treble damages totaling $750,000—all after complaints to the governor’s office had been ignored, leaving us with the unavoidable conclusion that the Jindalites would rather pay hefty lawsuit judgments than correct obvious problems early on. To paraphrase the title of Hilary Clinton’s book, sometimes It Takes a Pissed off Citizen….
  • Lamar White: This Alexandria native, along with Bob Mann, has been a persistent thorn in the side of our absentee governor, a couple of congressmen, and anyone else he sees tampering with governmental ethics. But more than merely badgering, Lamar thoroughly documents everything he writes. If any official has anything to hide, he will be outed by Lamar. He is the one who dug up the story about U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise’s close connections to David Duke. That story, said Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Billy Gunn, “exemplifies the power of the pen and its ability to challenge the mighty.” High praise for someone another blogger once ridiculed for his cerebral palsy affliction which makes it difficult for him to walk. “But there’s nothing wrong with his mind,” Gunn said. “He writes on subjects ranging from the rights of the disabled to racial inequity.” Walter Pierce, editor of the Lafayette news site The Ind.com, said, “He has a sort of selfless bravery.”
  • Bob Mann: Journalist/author/political historian Bob Mann holds the Manship Chair in journalism at LSU and has unflinchingly taken on the powers that be, including his bosses on the LSU Board of Supervisors. Mann, who writes a column for Nola.com and Salon.com, has become such an irritant that one LSU Board member, Rolfe McCollister, has even advocated Mann’s firing for his saying that the LSU Board was more loyal to Jindal than to the students at LSU. This is the same Rolfe McCollister, by the way, who publishes the Baton Rouge Business Report. So much for his defense of the First Amendment. McCollister quoted a “former seasoned journalist” as saying “Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary.” So much for his defense of the First Amendment. But Rolfe, how about “ethically” serving higher education that your boss has tried to starve to death with repeated budgetary cuts that resulted in higher and higher tuition for students? How is that you’re able to “ethically” look out for the interests of students and faculty of LSU while giving $17,000 to Jindal’s campaign, serving as treasurer of his campaign, and treasurer of Believe Again, the Super PAC created to promote Jindal’s presidential campaign. I guess the question really comes down to who has the higher ethical standard, you or Bob Mann. We go with the Mann. Every time.
  • C.B. Forgotston: What can we say about this former legal counsel for the Louisiana House? C.B. has a political blog but he doesn’t post often. And when he does post, the dispatches are usually short. But what he lacks in verbiage, he more than makes up with impact. He is terse, to the point, and quite often vicious in his critique of anyone he sees in office who he believes is wasting time or state dollars. Most people who know him would rather be on the receiving end of volumes of criticism from Jindal and his minions than a single sentence of disapproval from C.B.
  • Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne: for having the courage to cross party lines and endorse Democrat John Bel Edwards over Diaper Boy Dave Vitter. Dardenne took a lot of heat for that but who could blame him after Vitter’s carpet bombing of him and fellow Republican Scott Angelle in the first primary? Some will say his appointment as incoming Commissioner of Administration was the payoff. Perhaps so, but if anyone can come up with a better person for the job, we’re listening.
  • State Treasurer John Kennedy: His ill-advised endorsement of Vitter aside, Kennedy has been tenacious in his guarding of the state treasury, taking on Jindal and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols time after time when they tried to play funny with the money. He would have easily walked in as Attorney General after the first primary had he chosen to run for that seat, which we encouraged him to do. Instead, he has chosen to remain as Treasurer—at least for the time being. Remember there is Vitter’s U.S. Senate seat that opens up next year and Kennedy would like that job. Whatever his motives for endorsing Vitter (many speculate had Vitter won, he would have appointed Kennedy to fill the remaining year, thus giving him the advantage of incumbency), no one can deny that he has been a splendid foil for the Jindalites for eight years.
  • Louisiana Trooper Underground: This unknown author or authors undoubtedly has/have reliable links deep within the upper echelons of the Louisiana State Police command in Baton Rouge. A relatively new entry into social media, this a Facebook page that posts the latest developments in the unfolding saga involving various troop commands and LSP headquarters itself.
  • Finally, all the others who have been Teagued: Tommy and Melody were the inspiration for the term but they are in good company with a long list of those who attempted to do the right thing and were either fired or demoted by a vengeful Jindal. Despite the obvious reprisals that lay ahead, each of them stood up for what was right and paid the price. They’re the silent heroes.

There are our nominees. You are free to write in your own favorite’s name. It is our sincere hope that the response to this will be as gratifying as that of the Boob of the Year.

Go.

Vote.

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If you were to seek two cases that stand as glaring testimony to the way in which the Jindal administration employs a double standard in addressing legal and ethical issues, you need look no further than the cases involving Murphy Painter and Jeff Mercer.

Though the men never met and while one was a state employee and the other a private contractor, together, the two represent the composite poster child for victims of political favoritism and corruption. Both fell prey to unethical behavior and of the way political priorities have been set by the Jindal administration for the past eight years.

We have chronicled the manner in which Jindal and his henchmen made Painter a scapegoat by firing him from his post as director of the State Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). We have shown how, when he refused to knuckle under and bend the rules for the benefit of Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle, SMG (the Louisiana Superdome management company), the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) Board, and Tom Benson, Jindal not only fired Painter but even tried (unsuccessfully) to prosecute him in federal district court on bogus criminal charges of computer fraud.

Not only was Painter acquitted of all (there were 42 counts, none of which stuck) charges, but the state then was required to repay Painter’s legal costs of $474,000.

http://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/24/another-embarrassment-for-jindal-ex-atc-commissioner-murphy-painter-wins-defamation-suit-against-his-accuser/

LouisianaVoice was the first—and only—news service to suggest (correctly, it turned out) that Painter, instead of a criminal, was the victim of a political scheme intended to remove him from his position after he refused to approve an incomplete application by SMG for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Southern Eagle on Saints game days. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/06/emerging-claims-lawsuits-could-transform-murphy-painter-from-predator-to-all-too-familiar-victim-of-jindal-reprisals/

Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack, now President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), insisted—twice—that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack responded that he was far too busy to reduce his demands to writing (which would’ve left a paper trail, don’t you see).

Instead, Painter was simply fired and SMG got its permit. Of course, it was mere coincidence that the Benson family, SMG, its law firm, Southern Eagle and members of the LSED Board had combined to dump more than $207,000 into Jindal’s campaigns between 2002 and 2012.

Quick as the Jindal crowd was to administer justice (read reprisals) in the Painter case, it was painfully slow in ferreting out reports of corruption in one of the largest agencies in the state—the Department of Transportation and Development—and even slower in addressing those reports with the proper corrective measures. The fact is, nothing was ever done about reports of attempted shakedowns of a DOTD contractor and the subsequent harassment of that same contractor that eventually put him out of business.

It turned out to be an expensive oversight on the state’s part.

On Friday, a 12-person jury returned a unanimous verdict in which it awarded Jeff Mercer of Mangham $20 million, plus eight years (and counting) of judicial interest for allowing DOTD supervisors to condone demands of cash and equipment from Mercer by a DOTD inspector (we call that extortion where I come from; the inspector allegedly threatened Mercer with inspection problems with his work). Moreover, Mercer was able to prove that DOTD deliberately withheld payments for work performed by Mercer as payback for his whistleblowing, first reported by LouisianaVoice in April of 2012. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/04/09/contractor-claims-in-lawsuit-that-dotd-official-attempted-shake-down-for-cash-equipment-during-monroe-work/

http://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/05/story-of-attempted-contractor-shakedown-broken-2-years-ago-by-louisianavoice-results-in-20-million-verdict-against-state/

Mercer had even taken his complaint to the governor’s office, but nothing was ever done. No referral to the Inspector General’s office. The IG, by the way, works directly for and answers only to the governor and was prompt enough to bring charges against Painter three years ago.

So, the question must be asked: why was the governor’s office not front and center in taking appropriate action on reports of extortion, threats of federal prosecution against Mercer, and refusals to pay for work performed by him?

Why was the demand for compliance so urgent in the Painter case and the concern so lacking in the Mercer case?

To paraphrase Jindal: two words.

Campaign contributions.

Benson, SMG, and members of the LSED Board were major Jindal campaign contributors. Mercer was not.

Benson and his associates were friends of Jindal and as such, they possessed massive political power that the governor could not ignore—nor did he wish to.

Mercer was a small contractor from the small North Louisiana town of Mangham, situated about halfway between Winnsboro and Rayville—and smaller than each of those. He was not influential.

He was, they thought, an insignificant little nobody who could be ignored because he had neither the influence nor the political muscle to make himself heard over the rattle of dinner plates at the governor’s mansion or over the lofty, self-serving campaign rhetoric about Jindal’s gold standard of ethics.

The administration, it turns out, committed the worst tactical error possible in warfare and politics: it vastly underestimated the determination of a little man when he is truly pissed and it woefully underestimated the indignation and ire of a 12-person jury upon their hearing of the injustice heaped upon one of their own by an uncaring bureaucracy and of the unscrupulous actions of those within that same bureaucracy.

And boy, does it ever feel good when the underdog wins one!

 

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