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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

 

From our anonymous cartoonist (with our eternal gratitude)

From our anonymous cartoonist…(Click on image to enlarge).

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Just when you thought the news coming from this administration couldn’t possibly get any more dysfunctional…it does.

In fact, whatever semblance of logic this administration had remaining is fast circling the drain even as our governor attempts to push his agenda onto a national stage while leaving it to high-priced consultants and amateurs like Kristy Nichols to find solutions to mounting problems at home.

This is the same governor, Bobby Jindal, who recently told the graduating class at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University that the entertainment industry’s intolerance is eroding the very foundation of America’s freedom—even as his Department of Economic Development continues to give away the store in the form of hefty tax incentives to….that very same entertainment industry.

As the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live would say, “Well now, isn’t that special?”

Earl Long might say it another way. He well may have been describing Jindal’s flexibility in spewing his political rhetoric to play to the views of his audience when he told Ruston Daily Leader fledgling reporter Wiley Hilburn in July of 1959 (only a couple of months before Long’s death) that Hilburn’s uncle, former Lt. Gov. C.E. “Cap” Barham, could “talk out of both sides of his mouth and whistle out of the middle at the same time.”

But bizarre as Jindal’s performance has been over the past six-plus years, he would be hard-pressed to surpass the downright preposterous laundry list of proposed cuts in spending rolled out on Monday by Nichols, serving as his proxy while he campaigns to be the Second Coming of Alfred E. Neuman.

All that was missing from Nichols’ theater of the absurd were the orange wig, red nose, big shoes and a seltzer bottle.

To say this administration is delusional is to be overly kind.

To refresh, you will remember that back in January, the administration signed a $4.2 million contract (quickly amended to $5 million in violation of state law requiring legislative concurrence on initial amendments greater than 10 percent) with the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal, charging the firm with finding $500 million in savings by April. Well, April has come and gone and now Nichols says the firm’s report will be a month late, now expected at the end of May.

Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), to further refresh the old memory banks, is the same firm that offered up the sage advice to the Orleans Parish School Board in December of 2005, only months after Hurricane Katrina, to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

That little bit of economic wisdom may wind up costing the state $1.5 billion following a court decision in favor of the teachers who filed suit after being summarily fired.

A&M also is the same firm that recommended the privatizing of the LSU Medical Center in New Orleans (formerly Big Charity Hospital) in the voluminous Streamlining Commission report initiated during Jindal’s second year in office, thus sowing the seeds of Jindal’s ambitious privatization plan for LSU’s statewide system of hospitals.

And we all know how well that fared, don’t we?

According to friend and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston, the preliminary report submitted by A&M last Thursday (May 8) was a whopping two and one-half pages in length ($2 million per page—by comparison, this post alone should be worth $10 million) and contained recommendations for only $74 million of the $500 million goal.

And now Nichols has come before the Senate Finance Committee to inform senators that “Every (cabinet) secretary signed off on the savings.”

Well, DUH! Of course they signed off on the proposals. They may be sycophants but they ain’t stupid. We know what happens to anyone in the state employ who might dare adopt a viewpoint at odds with Jindal. Obviously, these people who could never command comparable salaries in the private sector want to cling to their jobs like so many ticks in a hound dog’s ear.

But enough of the ancient history; let’s allow Jindal and A&M to demonstrate in their own words just how inane the future leader of the free world can be. Among the innovative ideas for saving the taxpayers $74 million are these jewels of pure brilliance:

  • Cutting back the hours of operation of the Cameron Parish ferry;
  • Circling employment ads for prison inmates;
  • Decreasing the thickness of asphalt on roadways;
  • Requiring pregnant women on Medicaid to use midwives or doulas for delivery;
  • Treating the partners of pregnant women in government health care programs for STDs.

Oh, we get it. Very funny. Kristy, you’re quite the card.

What? You’re serious?!!!?? No way! C’mon, guys; a joke’s a joke but now you’re starting to scare us. We’d rather hear something a little less scary—like finding the hook from the one-armed killer in the car’s door handle or about the water skier falling into a nest of water moccasins.

Okay, now sit back, Kristy, and take a reality check here. Where’s the proposal to prohibit offering six-figure salaries to washed-up politicians so they can occupy a desk for a few year to fatten their state pensions? We mean, even with motion sensor lighting, these guys are so useless that they inhabit darkened offices.

You want to cut the hours of operation of the Cameron Ferry from 24 to 16 or 18 hours and you want to cut the thickness of asphalt overlay in half—from two inches to one-inch? You say the two would save the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) $10.9 million?

Have you ignored the fact that the only detour along Highway 82 in Cameron Parish would require a drive of 120 miles?

You say Texas has already adopted a new material that allows that state to overlay roadways with one-inch-thick asphalt? Wonderful. Have you taken into account that the soil composition and consistency in Louisiana, particularly South Louisiana, is vastly different than that of Texas? To implement this foolish proposal would place an added onus on already over-burdened DOTD maintenance units when the thinner asphalt produces thousands of potholes that are certain to occur as the base beneath the asphalt deteriorates. If DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas did agree to this idiocy as Nichols claims, she is grossly unqualified to head up the agency responsible for the construction and maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.

Circling employment ads for prisoners? Gawd. For this, we’re paying A&M $5 million. We could have suggested that for a buck-fifty.

Nichols explained that the state intends to implement the program whereby low-risk prisoners in Orleans and Jefferson parishes would earn their keep by working by serving the latter portions of their sentences in minimum-security facilities such as parish prisons run by sheriffs and giving part of their paychecks to the prison operators to help pay for their room and board. She said that would save the state $9.4 million. How do you propose to keep the sheriffs honest in reporting actual salaries against what they report to the state? Just a thought.

Midwives and doulas for deliveries for pregnant women on Medicaid? Interesting concept. Has anyone thought of bringing back leeches? How about electric shock for mental illness? And willow bark for treating fever? And now, simply because they are on Medicaid, we propose to deny these expectant mothers the same childbirth facilities to which people like Kristy Nichols or Sherri LeBas or Kathy Kliebert might be privy?

And you propose to treat the sexual partners of pregnant women for STDs after the fact?

Beautiful, just bleeping beautiful.

This aberration of an administration, as we (borrowing a line from Three-and-a-Half Men) have said before, has all the emotional stability of a sack full of rats in a burning meth lab.

Even sadder is the fact that the legislature, in allowing this spoiled brat of a child Jindal to get away with his shenanigans, for failing so miserably to hold him accountable, isn’t far behind.

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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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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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Twitter apparently is the new eight-party line.

Growing up in Ruston when it truly was a rural community (the two taxi services were the One-Four (green Chevrolets) and the Twelve Hundred (black Fords) taxi companies because their respective telephone numbers were 14 and 1200. (One could go just about anywhere in Ruston for a quarter and the cabbie kept his money in a cigar box—and tipping was unheard of.) The local furniture store was 1. Apparently they had the first telephone ever installed in Ruston.

Much like Barney Fife and Andy in The Andy Griffith Show, we had to pick up the receiver and wait for the operator to come on the line and we would give her the number we wanted to call.

This was, of course, long before the first dial system came to Ruston and our number was changed from first 122-J and then 1190-M (the letters J and M told the switchboard operator which way to move the lever—push forward and pull back were the options—to ring the proper number on a two-party line. Four- and eight-party lines had ring codes like a long, a short and another long, etc.) to Alpine 5-0177, later AL5-0177 and then simply to 255-0177 and still later to 255-5276 because the telephone company didn’t want the last four digits starting with a zero. (And we thought things were simpler back then.)

But even with the dial system, we remained on a two-party line with our neighbor, the Williamsons. To my knowledge, neither of us listened to the others’ conversations because we were friends and respected each other.

Out in the country, it was a different story. The best way to get news back then was to listen in on those eight-party lines—mainly because with eight households sharing a line, it was impossible to know who was eavesdropping.

Ah, nostalgia. It’s not what it used to be.

Twitter, it seems, can be just as fun.

Take the recent exchange between Gov. Bobby Jindal’s alter-ego Timmy Teepell and Robert Mann, political historian, holder of the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU, and who formerly worked for three U.S. Senators and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

The topic of conversation was the recent report by the Louisiana Inspector General which noted that the Jindal administration paid the equivalent of $28 a bag for 10-pound bags of ice following Hurricane Isaac last year only to pay another $312,000 restocking fee to the ice vendor and then allow the ice to melt in an unrefrigerated storage building at a total cost of more than $7.1 million.

Occasionally others listening in on the 21st Century party line would chime in.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the entire string of comments, but we have enough to know that Teepell got a little thin-skinned about the whole matter and attempted to toss the issue back into the lap of Blanco by alluding to events that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Following are a few of the choice comments:

  • Mann: “Jindal’s response to Ice Capade is that too much is not enough. If only he took same approach to higher ed and health care funding.”
  • Teepell to Mann and Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project: “Remember when (Mann) worked for Blanco and that hurricane hit and people didn’t have enough ice. That sucked.”
  • Mann to Teepell and Moller: “Waiting days and days for the ice, buses and troops that Bush and FEMA promised. That really sucked.”
  • Teepell to Mann: “Do u remember working for Blanco? Should I post links to the TV footage? When people need food, ice and water…u get it 4 them.”
  • Mann to Teepell: “You seriously want to talk about people ‘suffering’ under a governor’s watch?? Your irony meter needs adjusting.”
  • Teepell to Mann: “We got ice to everyone who needed it…but under your watch (Mann was working for Blanco at the time of Katrina), these folks were left to suffer.”
  • Mann to Teepell: “I recognize those people. They’re the same ones to whom you now refuse health insurance. They love Jindal.”
  • Teepell to Mann (attaching photo of a throng outside the New Orleans Convention Center after Katrina): “Do you recognize these people, too?”
  • At this point someone named Calvin Lester Jr. offered his two cents worth to Teepell and Mann: “Those are the people you (Republicans) made sure never came back so your guy could win.”
  • Another participant, Jenny Barber Valois, to Teepell and Mann: “I applaud having ordered ice. The amount and waste are unacceptable. Melting for a month, why not offer to public?”
  • Third party line member, identified only as Baudenski, to Teepell and Mann: “So happy that the nation’s most desperate can be used to prop up Jindalite’s rhetoric.”

That certainly beats the local news from the old eight-party lines where the most titillating news item was when it was learned that Mrs. Brewster just got back from Houston where she had a wart removed from her nose only to learn that Mr. Brewster had supper of squash, collard greens and cornbread with the widow Johnson while she was gone.

But I’d still rather hear about the wart on Mrs. Brewster’s nose any day than listen to Timmy Teepell whine.

Somehow, trying to prop this administration up by attacking someone who has been out of office for more than five years just doesn’t seem to be much of a defense for such monumental waste.

I guess as much as anything else, it’s his cavalier attitude that is so reflective of the entire Jindal administration that I find offensive.

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