Feeds:
Posts
Comments

LouisianaVoice has been informed that State Fire Marshal Butch Browning has been summoned to a meeting in the governor’s office next week.

There was no immediate indication what that meeting will be about but if the report is accurate, there are a couple of items the administration may wish to ask Browning about:

  • Why did the office of State Fire Marshal (SFM) spend $4,649 in May 2015 to “up fit” the office’s special food service trailer for the purpose of supporting “events and emergencies with equipment for field food services when necessary,” but when the August 2016 flood struck South Louisiana, SFM agents say they had to fend for themselves because that food service trailer was nowhere to be found?
  • Why did the SFM spend $4,900 in May 2015 as a deposit for LR3 Consulting of Baton Rouge to create a website for Louisiana Firefighter Proud when Louisiana Firefighter Proud is a private entity not affiliated with any state agency?
  • Why is it that the SFM claims to have no record of purchasing drones for $7,500 each from a New York vendor when SFM agents insist they were purchased and training records for at least one SFM deputy lists an eight-hour course in drone training and safety compliance?

LouisianaVoice has attempted—unsuccessfully—to obtain answers to these questions.

When I inquired into the 10 washers and 10 dryers and the drones, I received the following response from the SFM’s legal department:

From: (Name redacted by LouisianaVoice)
Sent: Thursday, August 17, 2017 9:11 AM
To: Tom Aswell <azspeak@cox.net>
Subject: PRR: Louisiana Voice Request dated 8/8/17

Mr. Tom Aswell

PRR: Louisiana Voice Request dated 8/8/17

SFN: 00000-77

Dear Mr. Aswell:

With regard to the email below, your request to view ten clothes washers and dryers, the Office of State Fire Marshal has no washers and/or dryers at 8181 Independence Blvd., Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  

Additionally, in your request you asked for receipts for four drones from B&H of New York at approximately $7,500 each. No such documents exist.   

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.   

Best Regards,  

(Name redacted by LouisianaVoice)

Office of State Fire Marshal

8181 Independence Blvd.

Baton Rouge, LA 70809

So, if those washers and dryers are not at 8181 Independence Blvd. (SFM headquarters), where exactly are they and why can’t I be allowed to view them?

I posed that follow up question to the SFM’s office but have yet to receive a response.

It took a former employee of the SFM to clear up that little mystery. The washers and dryers, he explained, were not purchased but leased from Broad Base Service and Rentals in Harvey for $4,999.99, one cent below the minimum purchase amount that requires quotes from vendors. They were rented, he said, to wash the uniforms of deputies working the August 2016 flood of South Louisiana. The September 6 transaction date would seem to substantiate that explanation.

That same individual said he, too, had heard that Browning had been notified to appear at the governor’s office next week.

He also said no one at SFM is minding the store as concerns purchases on the state credit card. “You’re on the right track in checking those credit care purchases. There is absolutely no control over the expenditures in that office.”

I did receive a response to some of other public records requests, namely training certificates for four deputy fire marshals.

Without naming the individuals, I can say that some of the training courses appear to have little to do with inspections of amusement rides, boilers, nursing homes, hospitals, jails, or mobile homes, all of which are part of the SFM’s responsibilities.

In other states, each of those areas would be assigned to deputies specifically trained in those respective areas but in Louisiana, deputies under Browning are “cross-trained,” meaning they are expected to be proficient—and certified—in all inspection disciplines.

In examining the record of one deputy, I found a certificate for an eight-hour course in “Law Enforcement Chaplaincy” from an organization identified on his certificate as Compassion Ministries.

While this is by no means meant to disparage a deputy’s faith, there appears to be little connection between that certificate and building, ride, boiler or fire inspections or investigations.

I also found certificates for all four for such courses as ethics, preventing sexual harassment and defensive driving. As one who has taken each of these courses during my 20 years with the state, I can attest to their absolute uselessness—with the possible exception of the ethics course, which is only slightly more comprehensive. Still, those courses appear to be of little benefit to a SFM deputy working in the field, investigating fires, inspecting buildings, rides, and boilers.

Conversely, there were courses listed in that make it appear that Browning is attempting to turn the fire marshal’s office into a full-blown police force on a par with State Police:

  • Drug enforcement training (16 hours);
  • Narcotics investigations (48 hours);
  • Hostage negotiation (four hours);
  • Military police training (a five-month course);
  • Traffic radar operation (four hours);
  • Advanced criminal patrol tactics (eight hours);
  • Chemical weapons familiarization (four hours);
  • Use and handling of stringer spike strip systems (one hour);
  • Shotgun familiarization (four hours);
  • Drugged driver detection (four hours)
  • Chemical testing for intoxication (16 hours);
  • Police driving (24 hours);
  • Taser certification (four hours);
  • Unspecified FEMA training;
  • Introduction to cultural diversity.

By contrast there were courses that seemed to be a bit more relevant, though the four deputies whose records we reviewed did all not seem to have the advantage of taking the same courses:

  • Effective Investigation and Testimony (three hours);
  • Investigating Fatal Fires (four hours);
  • Commercial Building Code Fundamentals;
  • Hazardous Materials Awareness (four hours);
  • Firestop Seminar (three hours);
  • Sprinkler Seminar (three hours)
  • National Electrical Code Seminar (16 hours);
  • Scientific Method of Fire and Explosion Investigation (three hours);
  • Electrical Safety (three hours);
  • Residential Electrical Investigation for the Fire Investigator (24 hours);
  • Post Blast Investigators School (40 hours);
  • Critical Thinking Solves Cases (four hours);
  • Investigating Natural Gas Systems (three hours);
  • Investigation of Commercial Kitchen Fires (eight hours);
  • Residential Natural Gas Systems (three hours).

While there were records of only four deputies to review, it seemed odd that for a department stressing cross-training as does the SFM, there were no courses listed in boiler inspections, amusement ride inspections, nursing home or hospital inspections, or mobile home inspections for any of the individuals.

Both the chair and co-chair positions on the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) are now vacant with the resignations of the seventh and eighth members from the commission in the past 12 months.

Commission co-chair Monica Manzella is the latest to step down from the commission. There has been no official announcement but both her name and that of former chairman, State Trooper T.J. Doss, have been removed from the names of commissioners listed on the LSPC Internet home page.

LouisianaVoice also has learned that Doss may have claimed he was working during the time he was in a movie and later in a Baton Rouge hotel with Manzella.

Doss resigned last Friday after being called into the office of State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves after he and Manzella were observed emerging from a movie while he was on the clock. When they exited the theater, Doss was carrying two mugs which the theater gives to patrons when they purchase beer. Soft drinks are sold in plastic cups.

Doss and Manzella were recorded on video and still camera last Thursday as they first exited Baton Rouge’s Movie Tavern and less than an hour later as they checked into front desk of the Watermark Hotel in downtown Baton Rouge. Manzella was filmed putting her arm around Doss as they checked into the hotel and then the pair immediately got on an elevator, presumably to their room.

https://louisianavoice.com/2017/08/10/chair-co-chair-of-state-police-commission-apparently-share-more-than-a-professional-relationship-check-into-br-hotel/

Although neither is married, the fact that both served on the commission that hears trooper disciplinary appeals and which approves the Louisiana State Police (LSP) pay grid, could pose as problematic because of their potential influence on each other’s votes on those and other issues that come before the commission.

Doss’s time sheet, obtained by LouisianaVoice via a public records request, indicates he claimed to be in last Thursday’s (August 10) LSPC meeting for five hours, from 7 a.m. to noon, when in fact, the meeting, which did not begin until 9 a.m., lasted less than an hour. Those five hours were listed on his time sheet as “shift differential pay hours.”

Additionally, he claimed 10 hours, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday. During at least part of that time, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m., he and Manzella were in Movie Tavern and from there, were in the hotel until almost 7 p.m.

T.J. DOSS TIME SHEET

Photos taken by LouisianaVoice document that the last photo, of Doss’s state vehicle parked in a city police parking space curbside opposite the hotel entrance, was taken at 6:29 p.m., which means he was on the clock and being paid while he was with Manzella from 3 p.m. until at least 6:30 p.m.

His time sheet indicates that he was traveling from Baton Rouge to Shreveport, where he lives, from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m.

After publication of the photos of the two leaving the theater and later checking into the hotel, he was called back to Baton Rouge and met with Reeves from noon on Friday until 2:30 p.m. and submitted his resignation from the LSPC shortly thereafter.

 

While LouisianaVoice is on Facebook, I know nothing about social media. Furthermore, I don’t care to know. It’s all I can do to log on and off my LouisianaVoice page to post stories.

I was doing just fine with technology until they switched from Beta to VHS. I’ve been lost since then.

So if there’s a story you want me to look into, please DO NOT try to contact me through Facebook. It won’t work. I can see the message but have no idea how to respond.

To the person who contacted LouisianaVoice via Facebook about the Terrebonne sports complex—and anyone else who wants me to look into something, email me at:

louisianavoice@cox.net

 

Since our publication of those Crimson Tide pictures on a Terror-Bonne sheriff’s patrol vehicle, we have gotten all manner of pushback from supporters—and one apparent relative—of Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, one even suggesting we had libeled the good sheriff (we have not, by any definition of the term “libel”).

If those good people think we have been a little tough on Sheriff Larpenter, we have a few more surprises that are certain to get their blood boiling.

This is the sheriff, you recall, who had a search warrant executed against a blogger who had the temerity to criticize the man who holds what is arguably the most powerful elected office in the parish. The blogger’s home was raided in the early morning hours and his computers seized only to be sheepishly returned after a federal judge read the sheriff the riot act about a person’s First Amendment rights.

One who commented on our story said, “You guys do realize those letters are photo-shopped into that picture, right?”

Um, no.

Another well-meaning writer who works in graphic arts assured us she had no dog in the hunt but after examining the photos, she, too, was of the opinion they were photo-shopped.

Nope. Afraid not. It turns out they are produced specifically for Alabama fans. Subsequent photos put up by LouisianaVoice revealed that the tires had been turned around since our store so as to not be visible to the public.

But then the dealer who sold the tires to Larpenter’s department weighed in, saying that the tires cost no more than any other tire because they were on state contract and actually cost less than what they cost the dealer.

Okay, we concede that point but if the good sheriff had nothing to hide, why was he so quick in flipping them so that the lettering faced the undercarriage of the vehicle? Perhaps he did so to escape the wrath of LSU fans who can be every bit as rabid as ‘Bama faithful.

One writer, who identified himself as Joseph Larpenter, wrote, “If that’s all you people are bitching about is tires, then you are stupid. I know the reason behind the tires and it’s a great idea. I’m not saying this because of who I am. I’m not stupid to this approach. If you don’t get it, then you are stupid as well.”

He later emailed us to say, “Because of a set of tires really.” The lack of punctuation marks in the appropriate places sort of diluted his message, but we get it. He doesn’t like us and he thinks we’re picking on the sheriff as did the person who commented that we were treading dangerously close to libel. Our only response to that is that he’s obviously not an attorney.

Well, today we received a little tip about deputy overtime pay and, considering the financial plight of the sheriff’s department where employee benefits have been cut back to help the sheriff overcome a huge budgetary deficit, the numbers ain’t pretty.

Take Maj. Tommy Odom, for example.

Maj. Odom apparently is a workhorse of unlimited energy and a capacity for long hours.

Copies of time sheets from nine randomly selected two-week pay periods indicate Odom’s income may well surpass that Larpenter himself working as he does an average of 21 hours per week in overtime.

The man is dedicated, working Saturdays and Sundays and hardly, it seems, even taking time to go home for lunch, taking as he does only half-hour lunch breaks.

Why, in a single two-week pay period, he logged 88.5 hours over and above his regular 80 hours, good for an extra $5,100 in overtime in addition to his regular pay of $4,080. From September 15, 2014 through September 28, he worked 13 consecutive days, logging as many as 15 hour on several of those days, according to the time sheets obtained by LouisianaVoiceCLICK HER FOR TIME SHEETS

Using the nine pay periods as a base, it showed he worked an average of 21 hours per week overtime. At his base rate of $51 per hour, his regular salary is about $2,040, or around $106,000 per year. At the legal time and one-half overtime rate, he made $76.50 per hour for his overtime work, which, at an average of 21 hours per week, would be about $83,500 in addition to his regular salary.

These figures aren’t photo-shopped. They’re real. And it leads one to wonder just what it was that Odom did during all those overtime hours—or why he was allowed such latitude.

Odom, our source said, is the only one of his rank who is allowed to work overtime. In fact, our source said, “No one else at Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office at the rank of captain or above is allowed to work overtime.” Only Odom, who also is charge of purchasing. When he previously worked patrol, our source says, “he used to dictate his reports to his wife and she would write his reports for him.”

So, while we had a little fun with our tire story, the manner in which Larpenter runs his office is serious business and remains a sticking point with many residents of Terrebonne Parish.

So, in response to Mr. Joseph Larpenter, who obviously has skin (or at least kindred blood) in the game: No, bitching about tires is not all we have to bitch about is tires—not by a long shot. And LouisianaVoice will keep poking and probing and prodding for answers and we will report our findings.

Well, folks, LouisianaVoice got bamboozled by those whip-smart folks in Terrebonne Parish and we’re big enough to admit it.

That Crimson Tide tire photo we ran on Monday, one reader suggested in his comment, was photo-shopped, or at least the “University of Alabama Crimson Tide” lettering was.

A well-meaning graphic artist with no skin in the game also weighed in with the opinion that she, too, felt that the image was photo-shopped.

Stubbornly, we held our ground, insisting the photo was authentic. After all, we had other photos taken from different angles and distances that showed the same image.

Still, to at least two or our readers, we were taken in. Fooled. Duped. Outsmarted.

Well, we admit it. A third set of photos turned up late Tuesday that confirmed our worst fears. The outside of the tire, the side that faces out from the vehicle, showed no signs of any lettering.

The inside of the tire, however, had the lettering clear as day. Only part of the tire was visible but “Crimson Tide” was right there for all to see should they go to the trouble to bend over for a little to looky-look under the vehicle.

That could mean only one thing: someone photo-shopped the inside part of the tire, too.

Imagine our chagrin.

Jeepers, why would someone do such a diabolical thing?

Quite simple, really: to make it appear that the sheriff’s department, embarrassed at our photo yesterday, had flipped the tires so as to hide the Crimson Tide lettering.

And we know, of course, that Jerry Larpenter, the good sheriff of Terror-Bonne Parish would never stoop so low as to attempt to deceive the voting public—especially with the department staring down the barrel of a major budgetary deficit and the sheriff cutting employee benefits.

So, Sheriff Larpenter, please accept our apology for ever calling your fiscal responsibilities into question.

Someone must dislike you a lot to photo-shop both sides of your tires to make you look bad.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This entire post was photo-shopped to make LouisianaVoice look bad.)