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One of LouisianaVoice’s readers cautioned me not to back off coverage of political miscreants now that we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Not to worry. The only restriction on non-profits is a prohibition against political endorsements or political partisanship.

That is not to say, however, that we can’t continue to report political corruption, ethics violations, abuse of power, or any other type of misbehavior on the part of our elected and appointed officials.

And we most assuredly will.

In fact, there are a couple of major political stories in the hopper as I write this. I deliberately waited until after the state elections so that I could not be accused of political favoritism.

One of the stories involves a statewide elected official and we will have more on that in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, we are still conducting our Fall Fundraiser and we need your help. Please contribute what you feel comfortable giving to support solid investigative reporting that other media do not cover, for whatever reason.

LouisianaVoice has had several significant exclusive stories: The attempted corner of the potable water market in Florida by a state appointed official; mismanagement at the State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office, lax management at Louisiana State Police, stories about prisoner work-release program that profit private prisons and sheriffs; corruption in four separate parish sheriffs’ offices in Louisiana; shenanigans by Superintendent of Education John White, the effects of draconian budget cuts by Bobby Jindal, lawsuits by public officials in attempts to discourage requests for public information, and the list goes on. In all, more than 2,100 posts totaling more than 2 million words in nine years.

Help us continue to do what we do best: expose wrongdoing at every level of government.

You may contribute by credit care by clicking on the yellow oval button in the column to the right of this post. It looks like this:

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Remember: those who contribute $100 or more will received a free signed copy of my latest book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

As always, thanks for your continued support.

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The titles of their hits are familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Southern Rock:

GIMME THREE STEPS

SIMPLE MAN

CALL ME THE BREEZE

DON’T ASK ME NO QUESTIONS

FREE BIRD

And their biggest hit of all: SWEET HOME ALABAMA.

Of course, I’m referencing one of the greatest Southern Rock Bands of them all: Lynyrd Skynyrd, so named in honor (sort of) of a P.E. teacher, (real name: Leonard Skinner) at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida, the hometown of band leader Ronnie Van Zant.

Three members of the band, including Van Zant, were killed 42 years yesterday October 20) when their plane went down near Gillsburg, Mississippi, which abuts the Louisiana-Mississippi line, a few miles north of Greensburg, Louisiana. The pilot, co-pilot and sister of one of the band members were also killed.

The band was on its way from a show in Greenville, South Carolina en route to an engagement at LSU in Baton Rouge.

The crash and death of Van Zant did not generate the headlines it should because the nations was still in a state of disbelief over the death of Elvis Presley just two months earlier but its hard-core fans were stunned at the news.

Yesterday, several hundred people gathered for the unveiling of a large MONUMENT honoring members of the group.

Judy Van Zant, widow of Lynyrd Skynyrd band leader Ronnie Van Zant,  reads the inscription on a monument Sunday commemorating the 42nd anniversary  of the plane crash that killed six people, including Van Zant and two other members of the band. (Photos and coverage by James Minton)

Van Zant’s widow, Judy Van Zant, and other relatives of the group’s  members, participated in the unveiling of the three laser-etched black granite panels that tell the story of the band, the crash and the effort by Amite County, Miss., rescuers to locate the crash site and get medical help to the crash survivors.

Several of the crash survivors attended the ceremony and a Saturday night concert by the tribute band, Nuthin’ Fancy, at Southwest Mississippi Community College in Summit, Miss.

The project was the brainchild of Bobby McDaniel and other area residents who responded to the report of the crash. McDaniel said the group raised $65,000 to design and erect the monument, which is on private property on Easley Road, off Miss. Hwy. 568. The monument is open to the public without charge.

Ironically, the band Aerosmith had been considering purchasing the same plane, a 30-year-old Convair CV-240, that Lynyrd Skynyrd was leasing for the tour to promote its fifth album, Street Survivors, released just three days before the crash, but passed on it over safety concerns. Band drummer would later say they were flying in a plane “that looked like it belonged to the Clampett family.”

The right engine sputtered throughout the flight and finally died. Before the pilot could turn back toward the McComb-Pike County Airport in nearby McComb, Mississippi, 17 miles behind them, the left engine died and all the band could hear as the plane went into a free-fall at 4,500 feet, was an eerie silence, broken only by the wind. Band members began praying silently.

Attempts at a soft landing vanished as the plane began striking pine trees at 90 miles-per-hour, ripping apart as it did so. The cockpit and tail were torn away and the rest of the cabin was buckled into an L-shape. Even though everyone was wearing seat belts, the seats themselves were ripped from the floor, hurtling everyone forward into the wall panels.

Van Zant, suffering blunt force trauma to the head, died instantly. Two passengers, both alive, found themselves ten feet above the wreckage, stuck in a tree.

Souvenir hunters converged on the crash scene, stealing anything they could: wallets, jewelry, purses, suitcases, band merchandise, airplane seats, seat belt, pillows, cash, and pieces of debris from the plane itself. Band security chief Gene Odom said, “They took my watch, my wallet, my ring and my money as I lay bleeding on the ground.”

But on Sunday, the only ones to appear were devoted fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

No souvenir seekers, just well-wishers holding on to fond memories.

(Thanks to James Minton for his coverage of the event.)

A spokesman for the French Quarter Management District (FQMD) has denied that former Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent Mike Edmonson has been hired as program administrator for French Quarter security as reported by LouisianaVoice.

Christian Pendleton, chairman of the FQMD, said Edmonson has not only not been hired, but has not even applied for the job.

“We are still conducting interviews for the position and Mr. Edmonson has not been hired, nor has he applied for the position,” Pendleton said.

He said it would probably be up to another 90 days before someone is hired. “I am very deliberate and I will take my time on this,” he said.

Edmonson was LSP superintendent when a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) was negotiated whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the French Quarter after residents there passed a quarter-cent sales tax increase in 2015.

Several sources had indicated to LouisianaVoice that Edmonson had been chosen for the position.

We’re halfway through our Fall Fundraiser at LouisianaVoice and we need your support.

As much as I detest doing this, it’s become a necessity to paying the bills that keep stories that no one else is reporting coming to you.

I humbly ask that you take the advice of a critic of this service who, in disagreeing with one of our recent posts, instructed readers to “send the fool money” because he apparently found some of our posts amusing and wanted to see them continue.

I realize he was being sarcastic, but he is correct in his assessment that we need your help to keep up our research, paying for documents, gasoline, etc.

Our readers have always been more than generous in responding to our appeals for contributions and I want you to know they are sincerely appreciated.

Remember these two things: We are now a 501 (c)(3) non-profit as per the IRS, so your contributions are now fully tax deductible and all contributors of $100 or more will receive a free, signed copy of my latest book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

To contribute by credit card, simply click on the yellow oval button in the column to the right of his post. The button looks like this:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

But you can’t do it on this button; you must use the one in the right-hand column.

If you prefer to pay by check, please send contributions to:

LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

And as always, thanks so much.

Mike Edmonson, a veteran of 35 years with Louisiana State Police (LSP) and nine years as the state’s top cop, is reported to have been named Program Administrator for Police Patrol by the New Orleans French Quarter Management District (FQMD).

LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report on Tuesday that Edmonson, who retired at $128,559 per year after being forced out in March 2017, had been named to the post, advertised by the FQMD earlier this year.

An LSP spokesman said he had heard similar reports but could not confirm them.

Prior to making that request, LouisianaVoice attempted to obtain verbal confirmation from the New Orleans municipal offices but it took six calls to various offices before anyone even answered the phone.

Efforts to confirm the appointment and the salary of the position with the New Orleans mayor’s office by email met with referrals of all public records requests to an outfit called NextRequest.

NextRequest, headquartered in San Francisco, serves as a clearing house for public records requests for governmental agencies, schools, special districts, etc.

Apparently governmental agencies’ rush to privatize services now extends to responding to and complying with public records requests.

Edmonson retired from LSP in March 2017 following a San Diego conference attended by several LSP officials, including four troopers who made the trip in a state vehicle and who took a side trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in 2016.

The investigation of that trip resulted in two of the most convoluted, confusing and controversial—and conflicting—findings by the State Board of Ethics. In April 2018, the ethics board cleared—in secret—the four troopers of any wrongdoing, concluding that they were simply following orders from higher-ups and had taken the vehicle and the side trip with the approval of Edmonson.

Sixteen months later, in August of this year, that same board CLEARED EDMONSON of any wrongdoing for that same trip. Edmonson, it should be noted, was represented before the board by Baton Rouge attorney Gray Sexton who once headed the ethics board.

Sexton said at the time that other agencies investigating Edmonson were dropping their investigations, as well. It’s unclear whether or not the FBI has actually dropped its investigation of Edmonson, who was harshly criticized for his management practices in an audit by the Legislative Auditor’s office.

If reports of Edmonson’s hiring are true, he would find himself working in a familiar—and friendly—atmosphere, given his ties to Robert Watters, owner of RICK’S CABARET.

Edmonson was instrumental in negotiating a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) whereby LSP would provide patrol duties in the French Quarter to augment New Orleans police.

In 2015, French Quarter residents approved a special quarter-cent sales tax increase in the district to pay for a PERMANENT LSP PRESENCE. Thirty-two troopers from Troop N were assigned permanently to the Quarter.

When proceeds from the sales tax proved insufficient, the Louisiana Legislature appropriated an additional $2.4 million to cover the shortfall.

In December 2018, a STATE AUDIT said LSP had not provided proof that $2.4 million in state funds set aside for policing the Quarter was actually spent there, a finding with which LSP disagreed.

If Edmonson has indeed been appointed program manager for the district, he will undoubtedly have interactions with his old agency that he left under a cloud two-and-one-half years ago.

 

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