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This artist is obviously a state employee or surely he would come forward and take credit for his brilliant work! Perhaps someday, after he retires, he can make his identity known so that we may pay him proper homage.

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Unlike the Jindal administration, we are not transparent when it comes to identifying either our sources or those who support us financially.

Oh, we do report all income to the IRS, but because we are not a non-profit, we are not required to reveal our funding sources—and we won’t, for obvious reasons.

Many of our contributors are state employees and the last thing they need is for a vindictive Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Florida, R-Anywhere by Louisiana) to learn their names. Can you say teagued?

Our fund raiser continues and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing stories the other media continue to ignore. Just as the identities sources for news tips and leads are protected as priority one, so too do we protect the names of donors.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

 

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Unlike the Jindal administration, we don’t claim to have a mysteriously appearing surplus in our budget here at LouisianaVoice.

In fact, our financial resources are stretched quite thin in our efforts to keep our readers current on events in Baton Rouge that affect their lives every day.

Like many of our readers, I am a retired state employee who is on a fixed income. I established LouisianaVoice as a means of keeping the citizens informed of what really goes on with your state government and the ones you elect to represent you.

Our fund raiser continues and we still need the assistance of our regular readers to help us offset the cost of pursuing stories the other media continue to ignore.

Many of you have responded but we still have a considerable ways to go in order to keep up with our mounting expenses that include gasoline burned traveling this state to meet with confidential sources, to pay for copies of records and for legal costs when they are incurred as we are sometimes forced to call on the courts to help us enforce compliance with the state’s public records laws.

We have had one contribution made in the memory of the late John Hays of Ruston, one of the premier investigative reporters in the history of Louisiana journalism. Another was made in honor of my late journalism professor at Louisiana Tech, Wiley Hilburn. To say I was moved by those gestures would be an understatement.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

 

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If you like what we do, please help us do a better job by contributing whatever you feel you can afford to underwrite our efforts to report stories no one else will cover.

When we began, our efforts were limited to the immediate Baton Rouge area and there were few issues with which we dealt.

Today, we travel the state, from New Orleans to Shreveport, from Slidell to Lake Charles, from Morgan City to Monroe and the number of issues we’ve tried to address has continued to grow as evidenced by the greater assortment of coverage we provide.

While not every lead or tip that we follow produces a story, we still devote considerable time, energy and expenses in an effort to determine if there is a story. Even though there may be no initial story, we file away the information and often that information surfaces at a later date to fill in gaps in subsequent stories.

Some contributors in our last fund raising effort gave $50, $100 and even more. We’re not asking everyone to do that because we know many of you cannot afford these types of expenditures. We only ask that you please give what you can, even if it’s only $5 or $10.

You may contribute by credit card by clicking on the yellow Donate icon on the right hand side of this page. Then click on Continue immediately above the display of credit card logos. There is an option for you to make an automatic monthly donation, if you so desire.

Some of our readers have complained that the Donate button does not appear on their page. If you are experiencing that problem, click on this link and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction (and many people don’t like paying online), you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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At the risk of sounding like a televangelist, we are launching our second ever solicitation of financial support from our readers.

In more than four years of our existence, we have done this exactly once before, in June, and the response was both heartening and humbling—heartening that you would respond in such a positive way and humbling to think that there are so many out there who were willing to help us in such a generous manner.

Still, like everyone else, we have growing expenses. When we began LouisianaVoice, our efforts were limited to the immediate Baton Rouge area and there were few issues with which we dealt.

Today, we travel the state, from New Orleans to Shreveport, from Slidell to Lake Charles, from Morgan City to Monroe and it seems that the number of issues we’ve tried to address has grown exponentially.

Because of this, we are again asking our readers to assist us in our efforts to report the stories no one else appears willing to report.

While not every lead or tip that we follow produces a story, we still devote considerable time, energy and expenses in an effort to determine if there is a story. Even though there may be no initial story, we file away the information and often that information surfaces at a later date to fill in gaps in subsequent stories.

Recently, we filed a public records suit against the Division of Administration (DOA) over its slowness to respond to our request. DOA, we believe purposely, drags out its compliance to our requests simply because they can. After we filed our lawsuit, the records were magically made available and while we truly felt that the judge desired to award damages and legal fees and to impose fines against DOA, he said the letter of the law prevented him from doing so. Accordingly, we were forced to pay our own legal costs in obtaining the records.

We want to continue to provide stories like the one that we were first in the state to break regarding the efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.

Other stories we were the first to break include:

  • Efforts by Gov. Bobby Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee;
  • The subsequent revelation that the document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to;
  • A story about problems encountered by OGB members in getting prescription coverage approved by MedImpact, Inc., a San Diego company that holds a $360 million contract with OGB and which has political ties to Newt Gingrich;
  • A recent story about major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years;
  • Stories about generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year and how repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year;
  • Stories about widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and its contract investigator who, despite being a private contractor, was provided office space by the state;
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury;
  • The story about attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News;
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration;
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).

Some contributors in our last fund raising effort gave $50 and $100. We’re not asking everyone to do that because we know many of you cannot afford these types of expenditures. We only ask that you please give what you can, even if it’s only $5 or $10.

You may contribute by credit card by clicking on the yellow Donate icon on the right hand side of this page. Then click on Continue immediately above the display of credit card logos. There is an option for you to make an automatic monthly donation, if you so desire.

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction (and many people don’t like paying online), you may mail a check payable to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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The underhanded attempt to rip off the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSRPS) on behalf of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson (aka “Precious”) through a shady back door amendment steered through the Legislature by State Sen. Neil Riser wasn’t the first time that the agency charged with protecting Louisiana citizens has illicitly commandeered state funds on behalf of one of its own.

And, it seems, the more deeply we venture down the rabbit hole that is the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the uglier and scarier the unfolding picture becomes.

In April of 2010, the Jindal administration, in an offer to implement across the board savings, made a one-time incentive package offer to various state agencies as a means to encourage state employees to take early retirement.

Handled properly, it appeared at the time—and still does appear—to have been an economical and compassionate way to nudge employees who wanted out but who could not afford to retire, into making the decision to walk away, thus reducing the number of state employees which in turn translated to long-term savings in salaries and benefits paid by the state.

On April 23 of that year, DPS Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux sent an email to all personnel informing them that the Department of Civil Service and the Louisiana State Police Commission had approved the retirement incentive as a “Layoff Avoidance Plan.”

In legal-speak, under the incentive eligible applicants would receive a payment of 50 percent of the savings realized by DPS for one year from the effective date of the employee’s retirement.

In simpler language, the incentive was simply 50 percent of the employee’s annual salary. If an employee making $50,000 per year, for example, was approved for the incentive, he or she would walk away with $25,000 in up-front payments, plus his or her regular retirement and the agency would save one-half of her salary from the date of retirement to the end of the fiscal year. The higher the salary, the higher the potential savings.

The program, offered to the first 20 DPS employees to sign up via an internet link on a specific date, was designed to save the state many times that amount over the long haul. If, for example, 20 employees, each making $50,000 a year, took advantage of the incentive, DPS theoretically would realize a savings of $1 million per year thereafter following the initial retirement year.

That formula, repeated in multiple agencies, could produce a savings of several million—not that much in terms of a $25 billion state budget, but a savings nonetheless.

The policy did come with one major caveat from the Department of Civil Service, however. Agencies were cautioned not to circumvent the program through the state’s obscure retire-rehire policy whereby several administrative personnel, the most notable being former Secretary of Higher Education Sally Clausen, have “retired,” only to be “rehired” a day or so later in order to reap a monetary windfall.

“We strongly recommend that agencies exercise caution in re-hiring an employee who has received a retirement incentive payment within the same budget unit until it can be clearly demonstrated that the projected savings have been realized,” the Civil Service communique said.

And, to again quote our favorite redneck playwright from Denham on Amite, Billy Wayne Shakespeare from his greatest play, Hamlet Bob, “Aye, that’s the rub.” (often misquoted as “Therein lies the rub.”)

Basically, to realize a savings under the early retirement incentive payout, an agency would have had to wait at least a year before rehiring an employee who had retired under the program.

Boudreaux, by what many in DPS feel was more than mere happenstance, managed to be the first person to sign up on the date the internet link opened up for applications.

In Boudreaux’s case, her incentive payment was based on an annual salary of about $92,000 so her incentive payment was around $46,000. In addition, she was also entitled to payment of up to 300 hours of unused annual leave which came to another $13,000 or so for a total of about $59,000 in walk-around money.

Her retirement date was April 28 but the day before, on April 27, she double encumbered herself into the classified (Civil Service) Deputy Undersecretary position because another employee was promoted into her old position on April 26.

A double incumbency is when an employee is appointed to a position that is already occupied by an incumbent, in this case, Boudreaux’s successor. Double incumbencies are mostly used for smooth succession planning initiatives when the incumbent of a position (Boudreaux, in this case) is planning to retire, according to the Louisiana Department of Civil Service.

http://www.civilservice.louisiana.gov/files/HRHandbook/JobAid/5-Double%20Incumbency.pdf

Here’s the kicker: agencies are not required to report double incumbencies to the Civil Service Department if the separation or retirement will last for fewer than 30 days. And because State Civil Service is not required to fund double incumbencies, everything is conveniently kept in-house and away from public scrutiny.

On April 30, under the little-known retire-rehire policy, Boudreaux was rehired two days after her “retirement,” but this time at the higher paying position of Undersecretary, an unclassified, or appointive position.

What’s more, though she “retired” as Deputy Undersecretary on April 28, her “retirement” was inexplicably calculated based on the higher Undersecretary position’s salary, a position she did not assume until April 30—two days after her “retirement,” sources inside DPS told LouisianaVoice.

Following her maneuver, then-Commissioner of Administration Angelé Davis apparently saw through the ruse and reportedly ordered Boudreaux to repay her incentive payment as well as the payment for her 300 hours of annual leave, according to those same DPS sources.

It was about this time, however, that Davis left Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to take a position in the private sector. Paul Rainwater, Jindal’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, was named to succeed Davis on June 24, 2010, and the matter of Boudreaux’s payment quickly slipped through the cracks and was never repaid.

This occurred, it should be noted, at a time when state employees, including state police, (except for a few of Edmonson’s top aides, who we plan to discuss in future posts) were already into a period of five or six years of going without pay raises because of the state’s financial condition which has deteriorated in each year of Jindal’s administration.

Meanwhile, Jill Boudreaux continues in her position of Undersecretary of the Department of Public Safety at her present salary of $118,600 per year.

Now that we have shone a little light on her retire-rehire ploy, the question becomes this: Will anyone in the Jindal administration look into this matter and demand that she repay the money—with interest?

Or will the governor, who insisted as Candidate Jindal that “it is time we declare war on the incompetence and corruption” https://www.nrapvf.org/articles/20070720/nra-pvf-endorses-congressman-bobby-jindal-for-governor-of-louisiana

and that incompetence and corruption “will not be tolerated,” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15503722

and that he has “zero tolerance for wrongdoing,” http://theadvocate.com/home/5500946-125/federal-grand-jury-looks-at

continue to ignore problems at home as he racks up frequent flyer miles in quest of the presidency that is far beyond his grasp?

Governor, the ball is now in your court.

Put up or shut up.

 

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I knew it was bad news as soon as I heard her voice on the phone Sunday evening.

I was right.

Ruston friend and author Judith Howard was calling and the tone of her voice gave her away immediately. “John Hays died this morning,” she said.

The news, for the second time this year, slammed me in the gut like a sledge hammer. The first time was Jan. 16 when I learned that Wiley Hilburn, longtime friend and retired head of the Louisiana Tech Journalism Department had died. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/16/the-passing-of-wiley-hilburn-like-ripping-out-a-part-of-us-even-as-it-reminds-us-of-our-foibles-and-our-own-mortality/

Now it was John Hays. Two men, both a little older than I, but each close enough in age to be called contemporaries. The two men were as different as night and day but somehow strangely alike.

Hilburn was the consummate, professional journalist with a Master’s Degree from LSU to prove it. Hays, by contrast was a contractor by trade, no college degree to hang on his wall, but every bit the professional journalist by anyone’s comparison. Night and day but yet seemingly cut from the same cloth.

Both men died of complications from years of fighting cancer and both men were very much a part of my professional and personal life. Hilburn was both my friend and journalism professor at Louisiana Tech and Hays was first my nemesis when we labored for competing newspapers in Ruston (more about that in a bit) and later one of my closest friends (and certainly my best friend in my writing profession).

Whenever I was in Ruston, you could always find the three of us crowded into a booth in the Huddle House drinking coffee and chowing down on ham and eggs—anything packed with cholesterol.

In the early Huddle House sessions when I was still a disciple of Reaganomics, we rarely agreed on anything (Hays was a Yellow Dawg Democrat) and that’s what made our conversations so memorable—and enjoyable. Hays and I would argue while Hilburn would sit off to the side laughing at both of us. Despite all the heated debates, our friendship never faltered.

Sometimes we were joined by others like my lifelong friend Gene Smith and later John Sachs and occasionally Huddie Johnson. The cast of characters (and characters is the appropriate word) rotated in and out but the one constant was John, Wiley and me.

Now they’re both gone and Ruston—and the Huddle House—are suddenly much emptier.

Hays started his weekly publication, dubbed simply enough, The Morning Paper, on his kitchen table in 1976 with an IBM Selectric typewriter as the result of an ongoing dispute with his cousin, Ruston Mayor Johnny Perritt, himself one of those people you feel lucky to have known.

Assisted by wife Susan, John took on the staid Ruston establishment which, to that point, was not accustomed to being questioned, let alone challenged outright. He scoffed at the wisdom of Ruston’s owning its own electric generating power plant and fought the local hospital governing board. The early editions of The Morning Paper were a laughingstock among Rustonites, what with its hard to read typeface from his typewriter. The publication was amateurish in every respect but the price was right: it was free and it was thrown in every driveway in Ruston.

Eventually, he purchased computers and found an area newspaper that would print his paper, giving it a more professional appearance and gradually the tabloid grew to 36 pages each week and soon it was distributed in the neighboring parishes of Union, Bienville and Jackson to some 60,000 households. He also pioneered another concept, the publication of a garage sale map each week and if you don’t understand the significance of that, you don’t understand the attraction of garage sales in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The paper took off and before too long, Hays was able to purchase his own printing press and he began breaking stories no one else would touch.

He broke one story about Louisiana Tech football players who were being paid by coaches for making outstanding plays. Ironically, the loudest howls of protest came from the father of a player who was the inadvertent source of the story; Hays had overheard the player boasting about the payments in a local store. Because he never revealed the player’s name, the indignant father never knew his son was the story’s source. The upshot was the head football coach was fired and Tech self-reported the infraction and got a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.

He did a story in 1980 about the 1938 lynching of a black man in Lincoln Parish—a hugely controversial story because some of the witnesses were still alive at the time. The Ruston High School principal observed the day after the story was published that “every black kid at Ruston High had a copy of that paper sticking out of his back pocket.”

I was a reporter for the Baton Rouge State-Times when Hays started his publication and my former employer, Ruston Daily Leader Publisher Tom Kelly (another of those people who have had a profound influence on my writing career) brought me back in 1976 as managing editor in an attempt to counter the impact Hays’ upstart start-up paper was beginning to have on the community. But the times they were a-changing (apologies to Bob Dylan) and thanks to Watergate, there was a new awareness of—and respect for—journalism and locally, Hays was riding the crest of the wave. Our efforts to counter his aggressive reporting proved fruitless—and frustrating.

That’s where the adversarial relationship began. It was my first introduction to Hays and though my hiring at the Daily Leader had not been announced (I was still working out my two weeks’ notice at the State-Times), Hays somehow found out about the new hire and called me in Baton Rouge to interview me. Thinking the announcement had been made, I gave the interview and Hays ended up scooping the Daily Leader on its own story.

Hays had an inside source—a mole—at the Daily Leader and he knew every move we made which drove us to such a state of paranoia that we started holding staff meetings in the parking lot to get away from the offices we thought were bugged. Still the leaks prevailed, much to Hays’s delight and to our growing consternation.

But more than a mere antagonist (though he certainly was that), Hays had the true instincts of an investigative reporter and it paid huge dividends.

When, because of his illness, he shut down publication just over a year ago after 37 years of poking a stick at the establishment, the Monroe News-Star, in an editorial appropriately written by Hilburn, compared him to legendary writer H.L. Mencken (the ultimate compliment for a writer) and called him “a born iconoclast.” http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20130721/OPINION02/307210007/A-modern-day-Mencken-in-Lincoln-Parish

Along the way, he attracted national attention with his stories that revealed various swindles and massive Ponzi schemes. One of those was a $5.5 million scam dubbed by Hays as the Pine Tree Caper that was rolling along nicely until it attracted Hays’ attention in 1990. Another was the $55 million ALIC investment scam. The biggest was the $550 million Towers Financial Ponzi scheme. The unrelenting glare of The Morning Paper’s light on that one attracted the attention of federal prosecutors and resulted in prison time for the perpetrator and produced a two-page story about Hays and The Morning Paper in 1993 in the nation’s premier publication, the New York Times. His investigative skills were also lauded in Forbes magazine and the Atlanta Constitution. Not bad for a country publisher with no formal journalistic training.

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/07/06/its-a-30-for-rustons-morning-paper-sadly-tough-minded-independent-publishers-like-john-hays-the-exception-today/

His one error in judgment, in my and Hilburn’s opinion, was the decision to go to paid circulation. He did so with the intent of bidding on lucrative legal advertisements from local governmental agencies—city councils, the school board and the police jury. He won the legal ads but saw the size of The Morning Paper shrink to eight pages and his circulation dwindle even more. Without the circulation, his display, or commercial advertisement likewise dried up. He closed his office, laid off staff, sold his press and moved back to his kitchen. For those closest to him, it was a sad transition to watch. It even seemed to adversely affect his heretofore bulldog tenacity as a dogged investigative reporter as the groundbreaking stories seemed to grind to a halt though he remained a thorn in the establishment’s side.

He was awarded the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for his investigative reporting and later joked that the check he received as his prize was eaten up by travel and lodging expenses incurred on his trip to California to pick up the award.

Perhaps it’s somehow fitting that John’s passing would come so soon after the death of actor James Garner. After all, two of Garner’s movies, Support Your Local Gunfighter and Support Your Local Sheriff, were among John’s favorites.

But for those of who believe that reporting is more than reprinting press releases and that there is always—always—more to a story than what an elected official says in a press conference, we will not soon see another of the likes of John Martin Hays.

Rather than paying lip service to transparency the way certain Louisiana officials like to do these days, John Hays created his own transparency by his sheer stubbornness and determination, establishment line be damned, and gave us a living, breathing example of how good newspaper reporting should be done—degree or no degree.

You fought cancer for eight long years and you will be missed, my friend. More than you could ever know.

Visitation will be Tuesday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Redeemer Episcopal Church Fellowship Hall on Tech Drive in Ruston.

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