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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

 

An interesting civil trial is transpiring at the 19th Judicial District Court. Though estimates vary, if the plaintiffs prevail, about one taxpayer in five in the Greater Baton Rouge area may eventually wind up with a surprise check in the mail.

The trial involves a group of taxpayers, now represented as a class, who have sued the Amite River Basin Commission (ARBC) over what they claim are vastly overpaid property taxes covering construction of the Comite River Diversion Canal. The project was originally envisioned after the massive 1983 flood which resulted in significant backwater flooding long after rains had stopped. The concept behind the project involves providing a sort of relief valve (the Canal) to divert water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River. By lowering the water level of the Comite River, water levels would also be lowered in the Amite River basin in flood-prone areas such as Port Vincent and French Settlement.

What is in dispute is the amount of funding for which the ARBC (through local property owners) is responsible. The original estimate of the project’s construction costs was approximately $120 million (the current estimate is $199 million). Of that $120 million, the Army Corps of Engineers (through the Federal government) was to be responsible for 70% of the construction costs, or $84 million. The remaining $36 million cost was originally designated to be $30 million to the State of Louisiana, and $6 million to the ARBC.

A sidebar to the whole affair is how a Baton Rouge lawyer is legally or ethically able to represent ARBC when he also served as the plaintiff attorney in litigation against the state that could ultimately cost the state from $60 million to $70 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that $6 million was the full extent of the construction costs for which the ARBC was responsible. To date, by way of a 3-mill property tax approved by voters in the District in 2000, combined with a renewal (at 2.65 mills) of that tax in 2010, plaintiff attorneys say about $24.5 million has been collected to date. The suit seeks a refund of the alleged $18.5 million overpayment.

At various stages in the trial, plaintiff attorneys have accused ARBC Executive Director Deitmar Rietschier of financial mismanagement and voter deception in order to “keep a project alive that is on life support.”

The attorneys have argued that Rietschier has an ulterior motive for over-collecting on the tax in order to fund his own $93,000+ annual salary along with his executive secretary’s $38,000 salary.  The board’s executive secretary, Toni Guitrau, also happens to be the Mayor of the Livingston Parish Village of French Settlement.

So, basically, the trial boils down to the claim that taxpayers of the district have been tricked into paying around $1.1 million in salaries for Rietschier and Guitrau during a period for which no funding has been appropriated for the project’s continued construction.

Plaintiff attorney Steve Irving argued that it is virtually impossible to accurately estimate the final cost of the project or if, it may even be completed.

Defense attorney Larry Bankston says there never was any intent to cap the ARBC’s contribution to construction costs at $6 million. He argues that the Canal project remains viable and is fully ongoing. He indicated that he has eight more witnesses to call.

Bankston’s roles as both plaintiff and defense attorney in cases involving the state would appear to pose a conflict of interests. Currently, he is:

  • Legal counsel to the State Auctioneer Licensing Board under a $25,000 contract;
  • Defense attorney for ARBC in its ongoing litigation over the overpayment of taxes to that board;
  • Plaintiff attorney in ongoing litigation against the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, and the state’s Rice Promotion Board and Rice Research Board over claims of excessive assessments against the state’s rice farmers.

Employing the doctrine that “the state is the state is the state,” it would appear that Bankston may have a conflict of interests under the code of ethics which governs attorney representation.

But as we discovered years ago, nothing is ever cut and dried in the legal world. And it’s obvious those in charge of attorney ethics or either ignorant of the subject or protective of their peers—or both.

And so it is with this question. We contacted a number of organizations, including the Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, and the State Bar Ethics Council and each one punted. Eric K. Barefield of the State Bar Association’s Ethics Council did finally respond to our email question about the propriety of working both sides of Litigation Street but his answer did little to shed light on the issue:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service is designed to provide eligible Louisiana-licensed lawyers with informal, non-binding advice regarding their own prospective conduct and/or ethical dilemmas under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct (the “LRPC”).  According to limitations set by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, we are not permitted to evaluate contemplated disciplinary complaints, to serve as the catalyst for potential complaints or even to comment on the conduct of lawyers other than that of the requesting lawyer. 

“As such, regrettably, we are not permitted to help you evaluate whether the lawyer in your scenario has or may be violating the LRPC nor are we permitted to give you legal advice on matters such as those contained in your e-mail. 

“In addition to the foregoing, if you are concerned about protecting and/or asserting your rights and interests in this matter, perhaps you should strongly consider consulting another lawyer as soon as possible with regard to getting an evaluation of your facts and a legal opinion about your rights, interests and options.  Regrettably, no one on the staff at the LSBA is permitted to offer legal assistance and/or legal advice.”

That rendition of the Bureaucratic Shuffle would easily get a “10″ rating on Dancing with the Stars.

Bankston, you may remember, is a former staff attorney for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, was assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and a member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission before his 1987 election to the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1994, while serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bankston met in his law office with Fred Goodson, owner of a Slidell video poker truck stop. The FBI later said Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to manipulate the legislative process in order to protect the interests of video poker companies in exchange for providing key legislators secret financial interests in video poker truck stops.

Bankston was subsequently indicted and convicted on two racketeering counts, one of which was a scheme whereby Goodson would pay Bankston “rent” of $1,555 per month for “non-use” of Bankston’s beachfront condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama—a bribe, according to prosecutors.

Bankston was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 1997 and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Released on Nov. 6, 2000, Bankston was subsequently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Mar. 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but was re-admitted to practice law on Feb. 5, 2004.

So, now he represents two state boards and is suing two others and a state agency.

And there apparently is no one who can—or will—call a foul in this game.

 

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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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Two months ago, when the Federal Communications Commission allotted $8 million to expand broadband Internet access in rural Louisiana areas, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to praise, perhaps a bit prematurely, the “investment” while Gov. Bobby Jindal remained uncharacteristically silent.

Despite Landrieu’s laudatory claim that the funds would “upgrade the digital infrastructure in rural communities,” the $8 million represented only 10 percent of an $80 million grant for Louisiana that was rescinded in October of 2011 because of Jindal’s aversion to what then Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater deemed a “top-down, government-heavy approach that would compete with and undermine, rather than partner with the private sector…”

What Rainwater—and through him, his boss, Jindal—did not acknowledge is that the Jindal administration’s obsession with protecting the private sector at the expense of broadband Internet service to customers in the rural areas of the central and northeastern parts of the state was part of the 12-year-old official position staked out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August of 2002. http://alecexposed.org/w/images/6/6f/9A15-Municipal_Telecommunications_Private_Industry_Safeguards_Act_Exposed.pdf

Also ignored by the Jindal administration—and ALEC—is that broadband service in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when compared with countries like South Korea, Japan and even Portugal and Italy. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/competition-and-the-internet/

And it’s even worse in the country’s rural areas. http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/broadband-service-rural-areas-promise-still-exceeds-reality

No doubt you’ve seen those cute AT&T commercials featuring the man sitting at a table with children. He asks a question and gets feedback from the kids and the commercial ends with, “It’s not complicated.”

Indeed it is not. In 2008, Jindal’s very first year as governor, he signed SB-807 into law as Act 433 over the objections of the Louisiana Municipal and State Police Jury associations. The bill, the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was authored by then-Sen. Ann Duplessis (D-New Orleans). It passed the Senate by a 34-1 vote with only Dale Erdy (R-Livingston) voting no. Absent and not voting were Sens. Robert Adley (R-Benton), Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) and Sheri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville).

AT&T, which contributed $10,000 to Jindal’s campaign since 2007, supported the bill. AT&T also contributed $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.

It’s not complicated.

It also passed overwhelmingly in the House by a 94-9 vote. The only members casting no-votes were Reps. James Armes (D-Leesville), Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport), Greg Cromer (R-Slidell), Jean Doerge (D-Minden), Ricky Hardy (D-Lafayette), Lowell Hazel (R-Pineville), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Sam Jones (D-Franklin), and Chris Roy (D-Alexandria). Rep. James Morris (R-Oil City) was absent and did not vote.

The only ALEC member to go against the official doctrine was Carmody. He attended ALEC’s 2010 annual meeting in San Diego at which the organization’s Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force passed an official resolution in potential opposition to private telephone and cable companies by public bodies such as city councils and parish governments. http://louisianavoice.com/2012/05/09/could-loss-of-that-80-6-million-broadband-internet-federal-grant-last-fall-have-been-deliberately-orchestrated-by-alec/

Other members of the Louisiana Legislature who attended that meeting included Reps. John LaBruzzo (R-Metairie), Robert Johnson (D-Marksville), Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), State Chairman Joe Harrison (R-Gray), Bernard LeBas (D-Ville Platte) and Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge).

Act 433 well may even have been written by AT&T, which is a member of ALEC and a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. AT&T chipped in $50,000 to the ALEC cause in 2010 and was a member of the Louisiana Host Committee for ALEC’s 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Jindal was the recipient of ALEC’s Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award at that 2012 meeting. http://www.alec.org/hundreds-of-state-legislators/

It’s not complicated.

And lest one think that Louisiana’s loss of the $80 million broadband grant in 2011 was the exception, consider this:

  • Early this year, the Kansas Legislature undertook Campaign Stop Google Fiber—and any cities that may wish to invest in broadband network technologies. Included in legislation introduced in the legislature were stipulations that except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not themselves offer to provide or lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of allowing a private entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/01/30/1273848/-Kansas-moves-to-Stop-Broadband-Internet-to-residents?detail=email
  • In February of 2011, the Minnesota Cable Communications Association (MCCA) initiated a public battle with National Public Broadband (NPB) by inundating Lake County with a flurry of public records request designed to slow NPB’s efforts to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of Lake County.

While MCCA correctly asserts that Lake County should act transparently, the barrage of requests submitted by the association makes its intent to protect its own financial interests over those of rural residents of the county is quite apparent. Its monopoly is, after all, being threatened and those cable services that are overpriced and which provide as little speed as possible are fighting back.

Certainly it’s only coincidental that AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Excel Communications, Fair Point Communications, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and Cox Communications are members of ALEC. All but Excel and Fair Point serve on ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ALEC_Corporations.

It’s not complicated.

So, given Jindal’s cozy relationship with ALEC and given ALEC’s opposition to public participation in expanding broadband Internet service to rural areas in competition with ALEC members, it’s perfectly understandable why Jindal eschewed that “top-down” management of the $80 million grant.

It’s not complicated.

And it is equally apparent that the monopolistic advantage enjoyed by private sector providers be protected at all cost—even at the cost of creating some 900 miles of cable over 21 rural parishes that would support several Louisiana universities with expanded optical fiber networking capacity.

It’s not complicated.

Top-down management apparently is good only when it originates from the fourth floor of the State Capitol. Just ask any legislator, former state employee, or board or commission member who has dared to contradict him on any issue.

It’s not complicated.

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What do Louisiana and New Jersey have in common besides having governors who yearn to be president and who share the character traits of a bully who will seek vengeance against perceived opponents and throw subordinates under the bus?

No, it’s not that the governors are the back-to-back chairmen of the Republican Governors Association or that neither one looks very good in a suit, though those would be good guesses.

Try what the Wall Street Journal calls cronyism and contract abuse.

Accounts of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s questionable contracts and nefarious deals are fast approaching the status of legendary, from the giveaway of LSU hospitals, to the CNSI debacle; from Magellan to Alvarez and Marsal; from the SAS Institute contract by the director of the Office of Workers Compensation three weeks before his resignation and the subsequent hiring of that same director by SAS to several contracts with IT firms that have experienced major problems in other states and in some cases, had those contracts cancelled after repeated delays and cost overruns. There are others but the list quickly becomes tedious.

And now both MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims. http://www.state.nj.us/treasury/purchase/noa/contracts/g8043_13-r-23132.shtml

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.  http://www.njdems.org/cronyism_exposed_in_christie_contracts

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

One must wonder just how long that Road Home is, how long will it take to disperse federal funds to begin recovery from a hurricane that occurred more than eight years ago, in 2005. Or will the program continue to languish so that firms contracted to oversee the federal grant money can extract as much money for themselves as possible?

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

In Louisiana HGI eschewed the middle man and contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Two New Jersey Democratic congressmen on Wednesday called upon the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan to investigate New Jersey’s dealing with HGI. In a Jan. 29 letter to Donovan, Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. and Frank Pallone said, “We respectfully request that your department investigate the circumstances surrounding the termination of this contract and appoint an official within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to independently monitor New Jersey’s usage of (Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery) funds.”

Their letter said there had been a “lack of transparency” with the selection criteria and distribution process of CDBG-DR funded programs administered by HGI.

http://www.ahherald.com/newsbrief/monmouth-news/16943-pascrell,-pallone-call-for-federal-investigation-into-handling-of-sandy-recovery-funds

In Louisiana, no one has requested a federal investigation…yet, but the Legislative Auditor’s review of 24 loans to property owners through the state’s Small Rental Property Program has indicated that the state could be on the hook for at least $116 million and possibly as much as $600 million in improperly received or misspent disaster aid following Katrina and Rita. http://app1.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/830C07388A1CA59886257B49006AE5FE/$FILE/00031C15.pdf

So perhaps John McCain was correct in hyping a ticket of Christie-Jindal to head the GOP presidential ticket in 2016. The way each has managed federal hurricane recovery funds makes them perfect for the Republican Party.

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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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© 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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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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From time to time at LouisianaVoice, someone will ask us how we get the information we use for our stories.

The answer is quite simple, really.

Instead of listening to what elected officials, political appointees and attorneys are saying, we listen to what they’re not saying.

And then we find out where the appropriate public records are and we go get them, sometimes finding it necessary to take legal action to obtain what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Louisiana. Our driving obsession is that public records are not the exclusive domain of whomever happens to be holding office at any given time.

The public’s right to know should be uppermost in any government—unless that government or a particular politician or bureaucrat has something to hide and we feel that having something to hide is the only reason for not releasing public records, deliberative process be damned.

And so, we choose to ask one more question. We know the politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers are going to put the best possible spin on any issue, so we must ask one more question and if we’re not satisfied with the answer, there are always the public records.

That’s the beautiful thing about a democracy; there’s always a paper trail when the politicians and their lawyers quit talking—or when they talk and we hear what they don’t say loud and clear.

And so it was when Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson fired off that six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy in which she chose to attack Kennedy for his political aspirations as much as to defend her client, State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge), that we listened.

Dorsey, in 2007, pushed through the legislature a $300,000 appropriation for the Colomb Foundation in Lafayette which Kennedy in July of this year listed as one of three dozen non-government organizations (NGOs) that owed the state some $4.5 million for non-compliance in reporting on how their grant money was spent.

The Colomb Foundation received its funding to design and build a community center in Lafayette Parish.

The Colomb Foundation is run by Sterling Colomb who is married to Sen. Dorsey.

Pierson, however, went for Kennedy’s jugular when she dropped her bombshell in her letter: Dorsey and Colomb were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant, she said.

It was one of those “aha” moments that attorneys love. A “gotcha,” as it were, the implication being that there could be no conflict if Dorsey was not married to Colomb at the time.

Advantage, Dorsey.

But wait.

There was something in Pierson’s declaration about their marriage date that was not said—like how long had they known each other or how long had they been in a relationship? Could Dorsey have used her position to funnel $300,000 in state funds to her future husband?

We listened but all we could hear was crickets chirping. So, we embarked on a little paper chase that took only a few minutes and a couple of clicks of a computer mouse. And what do you suppose we found?

On Jan. 5, 2007, one Sterling Colomb contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, according to records obtained from the Louisiana Ethics Commission. And while the $300,000 grant to the Colomb Foundation was indeed approved three years before their marriage, the campaign contribution from her future husband came approximately four months before the opening of the 2007 legislative session during which the grant to his foundation was approved—a little more than three years prior to their marriage.

Aha.

Your move, counsellor.

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The heretofore one-person debate over state funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been ramped up a notch with Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson’s six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy that challenged Kennedy’s contentions that the Colomb Foundation owes a refund in lieu of an additional accounting of how it spent a $300,000 grant awarded the foundation in 2007.

The Colomb Foundation in Lafayette, run by Sterling Colomb, received its “public purpose” grant to “design and build a much needed community center that will house social services activities and programs that will be directed toward improving the quality of life through advocacy in crime prevention, distribution of health information and in an effort to decrease mortality rates among the at-risk population, and enhancing youth education through reading,” Pierson quoted from the foundation’s grant application.

Colomb is the husband of State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton rouge) but Pierson noted the two were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant.

The Colomb Foundation is one of three dozen NGOs that Kennedy said in July owed the state more than $4.5 million because of non-compliance in reporting how grant money is spent.

Several of the recipient NGOs no longer exist and the whereabouts of many of the NGO officers and representatives are unknown.

The state Capital Outlay Bill (Act 24) is peppered with local NGO projects that consume tens of millions of dollars of state taxpayer funds at a time when the state faces repeated annual budgetary shortfalls and while the number and amounts of NGO funding projects has diminished, their presence is still felt. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=858547&n=HB2 Act

Included in this year’s construction spending bill were such items as:

  • $200,000 for a sports complex in Princeton in Bossier Parish;
  • $500,000 for a water system in Bienville Parish;
  • $245,000 for planning and construction of a community and recreational center in Ascension Parish;
  • $380,000 for the purchase of the Lamar Dixon Development in Ascension Parish;
  • $450,000 for planning and construction of a multipurpose community center in Avoyelles Parish;
  • $300,000 for an airport industrial park in De Soto Parish;
  • $1 million for development of an industrial site in East Carroll Parish;
  • $500,000 for a new industrial facility in Evangeline Parish;
  • $1.3 million for an activity center in Franklin Parish;
  • $185,000 in first year expenditures for a recreational complex in Iberia Parish;
  • $3 million for a new hospital in Iberville Parish;
  • $2 million for a community center in Iberville Parish;
  • $300,000 for street lighting and security upgrades for the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority;
  • $5.2 million for recreation and achievement center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $3.5 million for construction of Parc des Familles in Jefferson Parish;
  • $735,000 for the Woodmere Community Center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $400,000 for the Avondale Booster Club and Playground upgrades in Jefferson Parish;
  • $17 million for a new hospital in St. Bernard Parish;
  • $220,000 for civic center planning and construction in St. Martin Parish;
  • $300,000 for recreational improvements at Kemper Williams Park in St. Mary Parish;
  • $125,000 for the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission;
  • $980,000 for a community health center and livestock facility addition in St. Tammany Parish;
  • $400,000 for a multipurpose livestock and agricultural facility in Tangipahoa Parish;
  • $180,000 for a recreation complex in Vernon Parish;
  • $180,000 for improvements to rodeo arena in Vernon Parish;

Also funded were various local court houses, jails, water and sewer systems, local airports, fire districts, parish road improvements, councils on aging, and municipal projects too numerous to list here.

For a list of 2013 NGO funding requests, go here: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/NGO/NgoSearch.aspx

A spokesperson for Sen. Dorsey has contended all along that the organization is in compliance but Pierson’s letter of Wednesday, Nov. 20, was the first time that an attorney has weighed in on the issue.

An addition to her letter which she said she was sending to news outlets (LouisianaVoice was not among those to whom she sent copies of her letter—and yes, we feel slighted—although she did include a couple of long-retired reporters in her list of 24 media contacts) “because of all the fanfare you (Kennedy) have caused and the press coverage you demanded through your press releases, Pierson attached 10 exhibits—just like a lawyer in a real trial—which contained another 61 pages of receipts, emails and letters.

Among the exhibits were receipts from retail outlets for supplies, emails from the Legislative Auditor’s office indicating that office had found no irregularities, and even emails and letters from Kennedy’s office indicating its satisfaction with documents provided by the foundation.

“I suspect that the compliance by the foundation does not fit into your apparent political agenda for re-election or, even better, a campaign for governor,” Pierson wrote.

“On behalf of the Colomb Foundation, I demand it be deemed in compliance and that this matter be closed…and a letter be sent to Mr. Colomb ‘notifying him of the closure,’” her letter said.

“Failing the closure of the matter by your office on or before noon on Dec. 2, 2013, I have advised Mr. Colomb and the Foundation that a suit for mandamus may be filed, directed to you to compel you to perform the only remaining ministerial duty of closing the file because there is no further accounting to be done for any legitimate purpose,” she said.

And of course, her letter contained the requisite threat to sue for damages: “In addition, your prior actions, performed under the color of state law, have caused substantial damage to the Foundation and Mr. Colomb, if the matter cannot be amicably resolved by that date a claim for said damages will also be filed.”

kennedy letter

kennedy letter EXHIBITS

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The election in the hotly contested 5th District congressional race between State Sen. Neil Riser and Vance McAllister is less than 36 hours away and as Riser ramps up his negative campaigning, LouisianaVoice has come up with a bit more history on Riser the public servant.

We have already seen how he loves to spend campaign funds for personal expenses but his betrayal of landowners in his district and a list of campaign contributors to his previous state senate campaigns reveals a lot about Riser the man.

Less than a year ago, a group of unhappy landowners approached State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) for assistance with a problem involving the fencing of 55,000 acres of land in the parishes of Winn, LaSalle and Caldwell.

The eight-foot fence, the landowners complained, essentially barred them of their hunting rights because an obscure law making it illegal to hunt on any land area of less than 300 acres that is surrounded by a game fence. The fence erected by former Wildlife and Fisheries Commission Chairman Bill Busbice surrounds the landowner’s homes and provides only ingress and egress to their property. They also claim that the local eco system has been damaged.

The land purchase and fence erection were financed by an $87.86 million federal grant contained in former Gov. Mike Foster’s executive budget during his final year in office

“We contacted Neil Riser to see if there was anything that could be done,” said Gary Hatten of Olla. He said Riser researched and printed a number of laws he told them Busbice had violated and promised to help. “After a while, he (Riser) stopped taking our calls and no longer returned our calls.”

Riser likewise never returned calls by LouisianaVoice.

Today, Riser’s congressional campaign flyers adorn the fences around the 55,000 acres.

“How can we as sportsmen trust Neil Riser to represent us in Washington when he can’t and won’t represent us here?” Hatten asked.

Now let’s take a look at some of his campaign contributions during his two state senate campaign, the last of which he ran unopposed.

Between 2009 and 2012, Riser received nearly 100 political action committee (PAC) contributions from more than 70 PACs (some were credited with multiple contributions).

And we all know that PACs only contribute to campaigns in the interest of good, honest government with no quid pro quo expected, right?

Among the PACs ponying up money for Riser’s campaign:

Louisiana Bankers Association PAC, Hospital Political Committee, Louisiana Nursing Home PAC, AGRIPAC, Louisiana Medical PAC, Louisiana Homebuilders Association PAC, Louisiana Manufacturers PAC, Louisiana Optometry PAC, LSIPP (Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain Physicians) Pain Pac, CRPPA (Crescent River Port Pilots Association) PAC, International Paper PAC, Ryan Texas PAC, Louisiana Dealers Election Action Committee, Louisiana Orthopaedic PAC, ENPAC (Entergy) Louisiana, Spectra Energy Corp. DCP PAC, TINPAC & Committee for Responsible Government, Future PAC, Log PAC, Political Action Committee, Louisiana Realtors PAC, Louisiana Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ PAC, Sugar PAC, Baker Donelson Louisiana PAC, United Employees PAC, Adams & Reese Political Action Committee, Louisiana CPA Political Action Committee, NORPAC, NORTHPAC North, KB PAC, Common Sense Now PAC, ABC Pelican PAC, Louisiana Dental Political Action Committee, Louisiana Life & Health Insurance PAC, Louisiana Oil & Gas PAC, Louisiana Oil Marketers Association PAC, Louisiana Association of Wholesalers PAC, Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association PAC, Energy Transfer Partners Texas PAC, LASFAA PAC, Wal*PAC (Walmart), KCS Rail PAC, Louisiana LUPAC PAC, Health Agents PAC, AT&T Louisiana PAC, Allstate Insurance PAC, Delta PAC, IIA of Louisiana PAC, American Electric Power PAC.

Whew! That’s a pretty impressive list of special interests.

But wait! There’s more.

Also kicking in were such noteworthy patrons as Bobby Jindal (oh, wow, what a coincidence—the man who pulled all the strings, a maneuver intended to allow Riser to inherit Rodney Alexander’s old job until McAllister threw a monkey wrench into the works), Rodney Alexander (oh, wow again), Bill Cassidy, Jimmy Faircloth (starting to sound like a modern day version of the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club), PHRMA, Pfizer, Chesapeake Energy Corp. (can you say “fracking”?), Corrections Corp. of America (thar’s money in them thar private prisons), Check Into Cash of Louisiana, Inc. and Advance America (think backbreaking interest payday loans), and the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Alliance (you know, that outfit that 1) is prohibited by law from contributing to political campaigns because it is a public, non-profit organization even though it also gave Jindal $11,000, and 2) had its former president sentenced to 46 months in prison for rigging an association election).

The only question left unanswered is whether Riser, with his NRA membership in hand, has been granted hunting privileges on that 55,000-acre game preserve by Busbice for all that assistance he gave the disgruntled adjacent landowners.

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