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Over the years, I have taken Troy Hebert to task over his tenure as head of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). I even had to give a deposition in a lawsuit filed against Hebert by one of the agents he fired.

But I would be remiss if I did not now point out that we are in complete agreement on at least three issue: the failure of both political parties to represent Americans, lobbyists, and campaign finance.

On August 27, Hebert appeared along with Melissa Flournoy on the Jim Engster Show on Louisiana Public Radio. Both served in the Louisiana Legislature and Engster had them on together to present their viewpoints from the left (Flournoy) and the right (Hebert).

Flournoy correctly pointed out that gubernatorial candidates Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham are placing far too much emphasis on their being in lockstep with Donald Trump, who has proven that anyone can indeed become president—even the mentally deranged.

“I’m a little surprised (they) have embraced the President so much. I’m ready for them to talk about their vision for Louisiana and the kind of leadership they can provide,” she said. “I don’t think liking the President is good enough reason to be governor. I’m ready for the governor’s race to pivot to the real issues in Louisiana—education, health care, infrastructure and making Louisiana better.

“People don’t want to talk about solutions. We stand on different sides of the street and shriek at each other when we really ought to be focusing on solutions where we can work together.”

Hebert, a staunch Trump supporter. As a former legislator and member of the Jindal administration, nailed it when he said, “Neither party is getting done what needs to be done in this country.”

Hebert would seem qualified to speak to that issue, having been a member of each party but who now calls himself a “conservative independent. I served on both (parties) and just couldn’t take either one of them.”

He then fired a broadside at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). “As somebody who was in the legislature for 16 years as both a senator and a representative, I think big business owns the legislature and owns many officials.

“The little man is either dead or on life support in the legislature,” he said. “Why don’t you just pull up the campaign finance reports and find out who gives to these candidates.” LABI, he said, is “so blatant that they hinge their support on … a report card they give every year. And you have to score a certain percentage in order to receive funding from LABI when you run for re-election.

“I can’t tell you how many times I approached legislators with a bill I thought was a good idea to help the little guy and they said, “… This is a really good bill but the problem is LABI is against it and if I vote for it, they’re going ding me on their report card and I’m not gonna get money.”

Flournoy agreed, saying that LABI and the Chemical Association control and big corporations “… control and influence every decision made in Louisiana. They’re looking out for their interest and not for the people of Louisiana.”

Hebert, while agreeing with Flournoy, took his argument a step further by attacking the emphasis on money politics and how it even affects the media.

“The media judges a candidate’s ability by how much month they have in the bank. If you look at every report when the news comes on, when they talk about this governor’s race, they don’t talk about their ideas or what their policies are. They talk about how much money they’ve raised.

“When I ran for the U.S. Senate (in 2016), they had a debate put on by LPB (Louisiana Public Broadcasting) and you had to have a million dollars in order to be on the debate stage. So, the media also is responsible and is guilty for bringing money into play.

“The regular working guy who would want to run for office, the media won’t even let them in.”

Turning to the 2020 presidential campaign, Hebert said Joe Biden is probably the only Democrat in a crowded field who could give Trump a decent run but because he’s more moderate. “But watch the Democrats cannibalize Joe Biden. He’s going to be eaten by his own. The people in charge of the Democratic Party will not allow Joe Biden to be the nominee.”

Flournoy, while agreeing that the Democratic Party is moving too far to the left, said she does not believe we have seen the candidate who will end up running against Trump. “There’re going to be some late entries,” she said.

If I were a TV news analyst, I would sum up that appearance by pointing out that Melissa Flournoy and Troy Hebert are in agreement on more issues than those on which they disagree and that the common culprit is the influence of LABI and its big business membership on the Louisiana Legislature to the detriment of the citizens of Louisiana.

But the really unique aspect of Hebert’s diatribe against the influence of big money and big business on politics is that as he spoke, I found myself nodding in full agreement with someone about whom I had written many negative stories.

 

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Granted, it was half-a-century ago when I attended Louisiana Tech, but still, to see the difference between the cost of a college education then and now is mind-boggling—and not a little depressing.

When I was at Tech, gasoline was 30 cents a gallon. Today, it hovers around $2 and has on occasion exceeded $3. My new 1969 Chevy Malibu was, if I recall correctly, in the neighborhood of $2,500-$3.000. (My first car, a ’64 VW Beetle, was a whopping $1,600, right off the showroom floor.) I don remember the prices of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread then but suffice it to say it was considerably less than what we pay today. My first house, a nice brick home on an acre lot in a nice neighborhood in Ruston was around $11,000-$12,000.

So, based on the price of those items, gasoline and automobiles have increased about tenfold. Homes a shade more than that and while I can’t say for certain, I would assume milk and bread have increased along those same lines.

Not a college education, though. Oh, no.

When I was at Tech, it cost me anywhere from $100 to $200 per quarter, excluding books. That’s because as a resident of Ruston, I lived off campus.

My grandson, who attends Tech and who also lives off-campus in my late mother-in-law’s home in nearby Simsboro, just forked over $3,529.20 to attend the fall quarter.

It would be about half that amount but for a laundry list of obscure fees tacked onto the tuition, which was a more modest $1.851.

And it might well be considerably less than that but for one Bobby Jindal who during his eight disastrous years as governor, managed to slash about 75 percent of state funding from Louisiana’s colleges and universities. Don’t for a moment think that I’ve forgotten that.

[Of course, Eddie Rispone, with his promise of a rollback of taxes, would likely continue down that same reckless path.]

But I digress. The fees. Oh, yes, the fees. I would love for someone to come forward and explain, item-by-item what those fees are for. Here’s the list:

  • Building Use Fee: $44.50 (okay, I get that, sort of. But many of those buildings have been “in use” for a long time—and they already have a dormitory fee for those living on campus).
  • Academic Enhancement Fee: $16.67. Say what?
  • Academic Excellence Fee: $80. What’s the difference between “enhancement” and “excellence’? Someone please enlighten me—and why does “excellence” cost nearly five times as much as “enhancement”?
  • Operational Fee: $46. And how is that different than the Building Use fee?
  • General Fee: $95.39. I guess they couldn’t come up with a creative name for that one.
  • University Support Fee: $594.04. Okay, you have a Building Use fee and an Operational fee. What, pray tell is this for?
  • Student Self-Assessed Fee: $327.90. As I remember from my student days, part of this was for the student newspaper—which now is online and not even printed—and for the Tech yearbook, The Lagniappe. Does anyone even get a yearbook anymore?
  • Technology Fee: $45. What technology? Wi-fi perhaps? Seems a little high when you multiply that by several thousand students.
  • Energy Surcharge: $80. Again, multiplying that by thousands of students…

The amounts given above were applicable to number of hours my grandson is taking. Some of the fees are even greater for students taking more hours.

And there are also parking permit fees for students bringing cars onto the campus, dorm fees for those living on campus, meal ticket fees for students eating in the campus cafeteria, and out-of-state fees for, well, out-of-state students.

And I thought reading all the charges on my cellphone bill was complicated.

 

 

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: here they go again.

The expenditure of public funds, under the law, is supposed to be just that: public.

But trying to pry an accounting of legal costs associated with the state’s defense of 4th Judicial District law clerk Allyson Campbell has proved to be somewhat problematic, to say the least, for a north Louisiana publication.

The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe is the only newspaper willing to take on the powers that be and so far, it has encountered a huge stone wall.

[The unwillingness of the Monroe News-Star to involve itself in the fight for the public’s right to know may be attributed to two factors: (1) it’s a Gannett publication which in and of itself, lends itself to mediocrity, and (2) Campbell once worked part time as something of a gossip columnist for the paper. Of course, it didn’t hurt that her father was an executive with Regions Bank and is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles, or that Campbell is the sister of Catherine Creed of the prominent Monroe law firm of Creed and Creed. Got all that? If not, here’s a LINK to one of our earlier stories about Campbell.]

But back to the latest developments in this ongoing saga. The Citizen made a by-the-books public records REQUEST of the Division of Administration (DOA) in which it sought an accounting of legal costs in defending Campbell in a lawsuit brought against her by Stanley Palowsky, III, for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against a former business partner.

It seems that some 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year only to be found in Campbell’s office where, incredibly and inexplicably, she was using them as an end table in her office.

So, how DOA respond to the Citizen’s request? Basically, it said attorney’s bills for legal services were exempt from production under an exception pertaining to pending claims.

That’s debatable. Yes, in ongoing litigation, communications between attorney and client are definitely privileged. But a simple accounting of expenditures for legal representation has nothing to legal strategy or negotiations. It’s an expenditure, pure and simple, and should be available as a public record.

The Citizen, in its story, pointed out that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed’s husband and law partner, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s campaign in November 2015.

But more significantly, LouisianaVoice combed through campaign reports and found that Christian Creed, Catherine Creed, and the Creed Law Firm were quite active in their support of other candidates.

Gov. John Bel Edwards was the beneficiary of $25,000 in contributions from both Catherine and Christian Creed over the three-year period of 2015-2107, and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne received $2,000 in contributions from Christian Creed in 2013 and 2014.

Attorney Scott Sternberg of New Orleans is representing the Citizen and by letter dated August 27, gave DOA until today (August 30) to comply with the request.

In Chapter 26 of my book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption,

Louisiana's Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption

I described how St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain circumvented state ethics laws by setting the son and daughter of two of his deputies up as straw owners of a private entity formed to run the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department’s prisoner work release program under a no-bid contract.

Unfortunately, when I wrote the Strain chapter, I didn’t have all the sordid details that went along with the agreement, which included kickbacks to Strain and hundreds of thousands of dollars that went to his two deputies, David Hanson and Clifford “Skip” Keen.

On Thursday (August 29) those details were made public in the form of a federal INDICTMENT of Strain—details that revealed how the scheme worked, how kickbacks were paid to Strain and how federal funds were used to pay American Express Gold Card charges for expensive family vacations to Hawaii, the Bahamas, Destin, Florida, a hunting trip to Illinois, a $2,000 down payment on a Dodge Durango truck, $2,770 for a jewelry purchase from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers, other personal purchases and a $2.500 contribution to Strain’s re-election campaign.

The single-count indictment, in 22 pages, laid out the method by which Strain, Hanson and Keen set up two separate prisoner work release programs and awarded a no-bid contract to St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, LLC, to operate the programs.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans, said that Hanson supervised the sheriff’s department’s Canine Division and Keen was over the Maintenance Department.

Strain, the indictment said, wanted to transfer operations of the work release programs to a private entity run by Hanson and Keen but for them to do so would have necessitated their resignations from the sheriff’s office, thus forfeiting medical and retirement benefits.

As a solution, Hanson’s daughter, Brandy Hanson, and Keen’s son, Jarret Cole Keen were set up as operators of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions, with each holding 45 percent ownership. To sidestep state ethics laws, which were already virtually meaningless, Allen Tingle was given 10 percent ownership and was paid $30,000 per year to run the work release program.

Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen received more than 100 payments each totaling nearly $1.2 million between them from 2013 and 2017. The kickbacks to Strain, David Hanson and Skip Keen, the charges claim, were accomplished by arranging for Brandy Hanson and Jarret Keen to serve as “straw owners” of St. Tammany Workforce Solutions.

David Hanson and Skip Keen entered guilty pleas last February to funneling kickbacks to Strains from profits they received through the work release program.

Tingle is never identified in the indictment and is referred to only as “Person 2.” But the indictment named Person 2 as the registered agent for St. Tammany Workforce Solutions and the Secretary of State’s corporate RECORDS show the registered agent as Allen Tingle.

Thursday’s indictment said that Tingle was required to make payments to Brandy Hanson and Jarrett Keen.

Among the expenditures paid on Hanson’s American Express Cold Card were payments of $4,041; $4,770; $2,205, and $4,660.

Payments were also made to American Express in the amounts of:

  • $4,000 for Hanson’s Hawaiian vacation;
  • $4,000 for Hanson’s trip to the Bahamas;
  • $2,770 to pay for jewelry from Boudreaux’s Fine Jewelers;
  • $2,000 for a down payment on a new Dodge Durango;
  • $4,360 for another vacation in the Bahamas;
  • A check for $16,000 made payable to Big River Outfitters for a hunting lease in Illinois to be used by Keen and Hanson;
  • A debit card charge of $2,241 to Destin West for a Keen family vacation, and
  • A check for $2,500 drawn on the Skip Keen account and made payable to the Jack Strain Campaign.

Last month, Strain, who was defeated for re-election in 2015, was indicted by a St. Tammany Parish grand jury on two counts each of aggravated rape and aggravated incest and single counts of sexual battery and indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Two of his alleged victims were under the age of 12 and the alleged incidents date back as far as 1975, to when Strain himself was as young as 12, according to 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery. One of his victims claimed he was only six when Strain anally raped him.

At least four persons came forward to claim they were molested by Strain, one of whom said he was raped as late as June 2004. Strain, 56, was first elected sheriff in 1995, serving until his defeat by current Sheriff Randy Smith.

Strain was arrested at his home by state police and booked into his former jail where he was held in lieu of posting $400,000 bail. He faced the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

Move along, folks. Nothing to see here. Just another ho-hum day in Louisiana politics.

 

 

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