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I received a very official-looking envelope in the mail last week. Inside was a return envelope stamped, “Process Immediately, Congressional District Census Enclosed. Along with the envelope was a questionnaire to be completed and returned.

My first thought was, “Oh, census. This is important governmental business.” Then it occurred to me that the official U.S. census isn’t until next year, so I took a closer look.

That’s when I saw it was not “census” information at all, but a push poll “Commissioned by the Republican Party.”

They must not know me very well. I haven’t been a Republican since midway through Bobby Jindal’s first term. Maybe they were going by the previous 30 years.

Anyway, here’s what they said:

“Mr. Aswell: Your Participation is Urgently Needed.” (bold faced and capitalizing inappropriate words, just like Donald Trump in his tweets.)

Trust me, they don’t really want my responses. Their poll questions phrased in such a way as to “push” the respondent not toward what he/she would like to say, but what the party wants to hear so they can trumpet the “overwhelming support for Donald Trump” shown by the party’s poll.

I won’t bore you with all the questions, but here are a few (with my observations in parentheses):

  • Do you think the Democrat Party as a whole is promoting a Socialist agenda for America? (as opposed to the Republican Party promoting a fascist agenda, a choice not provided? You mean all those god-awful socialist programs like social security and Medicare, minimum wage, federal highways, police and fire protection? That socialist agenda?);
  • Do you think that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat-controlled House will work with President Trump to address the critical issues facing our nation? (as opposed to asking if Trump would work with Pelosi and the Democrats—I mean, cooperation is supposed to be a two-way street. Trump and a Republican-controlled House and Senate, after all, have already given us an additional $1 trillion federal deficit.);
  • Do you currently trust the federal government bureaucracy to act in the best interest of the citizens of our nation? (as opposed to the days of tainted meat, child sweat shop labor, runaway Wall Street speculators throwing the country into depression, unsafe vehicles, unregulated food and drugs, pre-social security and Medicare, unsafe working conditions, unclean air and water, no minimum wage, 60-hour work weeks with no vacation, no sick leave, no health care or retirement benefits?);
  • Do you believe the national media has (sic) a strong bias against all things Donald Trump and Republican and fails to tell America’s voters the real facts about Republican policies, principles, goals, and accomplishments? (Well first of all, media is plural and should take the verb “have.”) (second, you mean like the reality of the tax reform bill that only benefited the wealthy while creating an additional trillion-dollar federal deficit cited in my response to question two above? The abolishing of net neutrality? Trump’s attempt to deny aid to the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico? Like the repeated attempts to strip poor Americans of health care? );
  • Do you support canceling all federal funding to sanctuary cities that fail to enforce U.S. immigration laws? (I would refer you to question number three above);
  • Do you support President Trump in his determination to appoint judges who will adhere to strict Constitutional principles and not use the court to advance their personal ideologies? (Oh boy, I damned near choked on that one. Didn’t know these Republicans had such a sense of humor.);
  • Do you think race relations in America are getting better or worse? (Seriously? You really want an answer to that question after you, the Republican Party, has done everything in its power to strip African-Americans of the right to vote, the right to work, the right to do about anything other than get shot with impunity—all while encouraging a resurgence of white supremacy activity?);
  • Do you believe more federal laws that impede individuals’ Second Amendment rights are the proper response to gun violence in our nation? (C’mon guys, you already have Russians as members in good standing of the NRA, Russians who funneled $500,000 into Trump’s campaign through the NRA and you don’t want any discussion of ways to keep assault weapons out of the hands of mentally deranged people. Why would we want any additional pesky laws that might impede your fine work on behalf of the mass slaughter of school kids?);
  • Under President Trump’s leadership, improvements have been made to ensure that our nation’s Veterans (there you go with the capital letters again) receive the quality of care and services they deserve (Oh, gawd, surely you jest). Yet much remains to be done. Do you agree that Republicans should push for additional legislation to be passed that will address problems still confronting the Department of Veterans Affairs? (Why do you need my opinion on that? Didn’t Trump already turn over the VA to some local hacks at Mar-a-Lago, hacks who don’t even work for the government but are just members of Mar-a-Lago?);
  • Do you support rebuilding our nation’s military by expanding our military investment? (By “rebuilding,” you mean spending even more than the current 57 percent of the federal budget already devoted to military spending? Hell, why not 100 percent? Maybe they could find a cure for stone bruises.);
  • Do you agree with President Trump that fixing our nation’s inner cities and working to rebuild our crumbling highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals must be a top federal priority in the next few years? (First of all, I agree with the concept but to say that that is Trump’s “top priority” is something of a reach, since all I’ve heard his first 27 months in office is “wall, wall, wall, wall, wall, wall….” To tell the truth, I haven’t heard much serious discussion about the nation’s infrastructure from either the Republicans or what’s-his-name.);
  • Do you have any interest in serving as a volunteer to help at your local Trump Victory Headquarters or to assist a Republican candidate in your area? (only if I can do so in the same manner as the late Dick Tuck. If you don’t know who he was, google him.);
  • Do you plan on supporting Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential election? (Haw! Snort, giggle, chortle!)
  • Can the RNC count on your help to re-elect President Trump as we fight to Make America Great Again? (Same response as above, but add a guffaw.);

Finally, under the section set aside for my pledge of $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000, or “Other $_______, was this:

“I cannot send a donation at that level right now. But I am enclosing $15 to help pay for the cost of processing my Census Document.”

Well, there’s two thing you can’t accuse them of having: pride and integrity.

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St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz told LouisianaVoice today that former deputy Billy McCauley was not arrested at the time of his firing because while the department’s internal investigation was complete, the criminal investigation was not.

Since then, he said, the criminal investigation has been completed without sufficient evidence to place McCauley under arrest because of refusal by an informant to wear a wire to gather further evidence.

“I don’t like to investigate my own people for obvious reasons of conflict of interest,” Sheriff Guidroz said. “I tried to get Louisiana State Police and the Attorney General’s office to conduct investigations. Unfortunately, each declined.

“It’s not that I won’t investigate and arrest my employees. I have. In fact, over the years I’ve arrested 51 employees, mostly at the parish jail.”

Guidroz said a local drug dealer, “Goldmouth” Johnson, told deputies that McCauley was on his payroll for $500 a month. His job was to provide internal information to Johnson, the sheriff said. “We tried to get Goldmouth to wear a wire to gather additional evidence against McCauley, but he refused.

“But we seized McCauley’s wife’s cell phone and found evidence of the $500 monthly fee and of attempts to purchase drugs,” he said. “McCauley was using his wife’s phone in attempts to buy marijuana for her.”

Guidroz also addressed the clothing found at Eunice High School that included some of McCauley’s sheriff’s deputy uniform. “As I understand it, McCauley lost his house and he was getting rid of stuff and that included uniform trousers, a departmental vest, a badge, and other items, along with other personal property. Because he did not turn his departmental-issue property in when he was fired, we withheld payment for the items from his last paycheck.”

Guidroz said that while he was unable to have McCauley arrested, “I wanted to make sure he wasn’t able to go to work for another law enforcement agency by simply allowing him to resign. By firing him, he should not be able to get another job in law enforcement.”

Guidroz said he didn’t know where the copy of the letter of McCauley’s dismissal was obtained by LouisianaVoice, “but I would assume I have leaks internally.”

McCauley, in a partial Facebook message to LouisianaVoice, proclaimed his innocence and even though we offered to speak with him, he has not made contact again. His Facebook page blocked LouisianaVoice from responding.

 

The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office has been rocked by two embarrassing incidents within a matter of two weeks, one of which involved the quiet firing of a deputy reportedly on the take from drug dealers in the parish.

While Holden Matthews, 21, arrested in connection with the ARSON of three African-American churches in St. Landry, was not an actual employee of the sheriff’s office, his father, Roy Matthews, is a deputy.

Though the arrest of Holden Matthews does not constitute a black eye for the department—his father and the department cannot reasonable be held responsible for his actions—an April 3 letter by Sheriff Bobby Guidroz is another matter.

In that letter, Guidroz informed former deputy William Davis “Billy” McCauley that he was being terminated for malfeasance in office, “effective immediately.”

Guidroz said in his letter that “information was obtained from an individual arrested on narcotics charges by the sheriff’s office in reference to you being paid a monthly fee for information from the sheriff’s office.

“An internal investigation was initiated and you were placed on administrative leave without pay on March 20, 2019, pending the outcome of the investigation.

“The investigation revealed that you committed malfeasance in office.”

Additional information obtained by LouisianaVoice indicated the department was first alerted following an arrest on February 19 of a drug dealer known locally as “Goldmouth,” who revealed that McCauley was a paid informant of his.

McCauley, sheriff’s detectives learned, would provide confidential departmental information to Goldmouth in exchange for drugs and/or money.

Recently, LouisianaVoice was told, a bag of clothing which included McCauley’s sheriff’s deputy uniforms was found discarded on the Eunice High School campus. McCauley was said to have no children of high school age or family attending the school as a possible source of the uniforms.

Speculation is the uniforms were given to Goldmouth to use and once McCauley was fired, he had no further use of the uniforms.

There has been no indication of any criminal charges filed against McCauley—only his dismissal from the department.

Efforts to contact Guidroz were unsuccessful because of the Good Friday holiday.

 

It turns out that Southern University is indeed a public body.

And so are any of its committees assigned to carry out or to recommend university policy, according to a ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Richard Moore, III, denying Southern’s Exception of No Cause of Action.

A no-brainer, right?

Well, not if you accept the argument of attorneys representing the university in a pending lawsuit over the decision by the university’s system-wide Grievance Committee to enter into an executive session without benefit of an official motion or vote by the committee members and despite the request of the four Southern employees that the meeting be open to the public.

Southern’s motion was filed as a result of a lawsuit by Dr. Christy Moland, Dr. Elaine Lewnau, Dr. Terrilynn Gillis and Dr. Marilyn Seibert, four university professors either fired, demoted or reduced in pay, and LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell after the plaintiffs claimed that a CLOSED-DOOR MEETING by the grievance committee on March 18 was illegal.

In Monday’s hearing on the motion, Southern’s attorneys put up a rosy argument, saying that according to what Arthur Smith, III, attorney for the four professors, was saying, anytime an individual is assigned by the administration to carry out any function, their actions would constitute a public body.

Had Southern prevailed, then any public body, from the governor’s office down to the smallest town council, could hide behind that maneuver in order to keep the public uninformed of its actions.

But the grievance committee is not an individual. In fact, it is comprised of more than a dozen “individuals” who sit as a committee to hear grievances and to make recommendations to the university administration.

As such, the committee’s recommendations constitute official actions designed to set policy or official actions for the university to carry out.

At the March 18 hearing, all four professors requested that the hearing be conducted in an open forum but then, without a motion or vote to do so, Dickerson called an executive session, saying the hearing was not a public meeting and the committee was not a public body even though any decision it may make is clearly defined as an official action by a public body under state law. Dickerson’s saying otherwise does not change that.

Louisiana Revised Statute 42;4.1 THROUGH 42.13, the state’s Open Meetings Law, clearly defines a “Public Body,” and then goes on to say “A committee formed by the public body is considered a public body, e.g., an executive committee.”

Having established that point, the next issue would be the state’s OPEN MEETINGS LAW, which says, “In order for a public body to enter into an executive session, a vote of 2/3 of members present at an open meeting, for which proper notice was given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, is necessary — along with an accompanying statement of the reason for entering into the executive session. The vote of each member on the motion to enter into executive session along with the reason for entering the executive session must be recorded and entered into the minutes. (emphasis added)

So, the “Grievance Committee” violated the state’s open meetings statutes which require public hearings of grievances should those filing grievances request a public hearing, which all four in fact, did request.

The same section says:

Further, the public body may not enter into executive session for the purposes of this discussion, if the individual requests that the matter be discussed in an open meeting. (emphasis added).

Committee chairperson Marla Dickerson, in calling the closed session, ejected not only LouisianaVoice, but also the four professors and their legal counsel (Smith) as well as the legal counsel for the university itself (Winston Decuir), thus preventing legal counsel for each side from hearing any testimony by witnesses.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said, “…the Grievance Committee…is making recommendations to the President-Chancellor as to whether employment should be maintained and, if so, the amount of compensation. The…type of committee action is too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members know what factors are being considered. The actions taken by the Grievance Committee served to slam the door on…(the) Louisiana Constitution and our democratic process. For all these reasons and considerations, the exception of no cause of action filed by Southern University is overruled.”

 

If you are a school teacher in Louisiana or if you have a teacher in your family, here are nine names you should remember next October when voters march to the polls to elect a governor, 39 state senators and 105 state representatives:

These are the nine members of the House Education Committee who yanked $39 million from local school districts—money that could have gone to supplement an already insulting pay raise for teachers, provide classroom supplies and help absorb increases in health insurance premiums.

Oh, and just in case you’d like to thank them, here are the five who voted to keep the $39 million in the Minimum Foundation Plan as adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE):

The $101 million for teacher pay raises (safe, for the moment) and the $39 million for local school districts were pat of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ plan to move Louisiana back to the Southern Regional Average.

Instead, the nine Republicans, led by committee chairperson Landry voted to send the MFP back to BESE with a request to cut the $39 million for local school districts.

Landry, who has been less than a friend to public education throughout her legislative career, was steadfast, stating from the start she was going to make the recommendation to send the MFP plan back to BESE.

Edmonds, in an attempt to give credence to Landry’s position, raised the point that Louisiana spends $12,153 per student which he said was $3,000 more than Texas and $2,000 more than Florida. He managed to get Superintendent of Education John White to acknowledge that the state ranks 46th in efficiency of funds spent on students.

And while saying there will likely be no new funds for early childhood education, Edmonds somehow managed to overlook the fact that Texas pays its state legislators $7,200 per year, less than ONE-THIRD of the $22,800 for Louisiana legislators.

That’s right: Louisiana spends $10,000 more per year on legislators to come to Baton Rouge to hobnob with lobbyists, to enjoy sumptuous meals at Sullivan’s and Ruth’s Chris than it does to education our children.

Let that sink in: $22,800 per legislator for a part-time job (and if they have to travel to Baton Rouge or anywhere else on state business, they get $164 per diem, plus travel expenses).

At the same time, we spend $12,153 per student.

It’d be pretty interesting to find a ranking of the state’s “efficiency of funds spent” on legislators.

Louisiana’s students are the second-poorest in the nation, White said, ahead of only Mississippi.

But what’s important is the tons of additional REVENUE many legislators earn as attorneys, accountants, etc., representing state and local governments. There are literally more hidden perks to being a legislator than could be listed here—and I have unlimited space.

But I digress. Landry, in order to bolster her disdain for public education in general and Gov. Edwards in particular, even called on Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) to address her committee on the $39 million proposal.

In case you might not be aware, if Henry had an alias, it would be: “Dedicated political enemy of John Bel Edwards, no matter what Edwards might propose.”

So, what it all boiled down to was the Republicans in the legislator led by Henry and Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), unable to block the pay raises of $1,000 per year for teachers and $500 per year for support staff, were damn sure going to throw up as many roadblocks as they could for any additional funding for teachers—even at the cost of depriving local school districts desperately needed funds for resources and salaries.

At a press conference at the conclusion of Tuesday’s committee meeting, the Louisiana Public School Coalition urged BESE to stand firm on its MFP proposal and to push legislators approve it as is.

White showed how political loyalties can shift, even at full throttle. First appointed by Bobby Jindal and reappointed during the Edwards administration, he said, “The previous administration swung and missed badly” at early childhood education.

Even more revealing that the fate of the $39 million was sealed well in advance was the participation—or lack thereof—of committee members. Each of the five Democrats asked several relevant questions and made valid points while fewer than half of the nine Republicans had a word to say during discussion of a pretty important piece of legislation. And those who did speak, like Edmonds, did so only as a means of supporting Landry’s motion.

The others were strangely mute—almost as if they already had their marching orders from Landry, Henry and Barras.

And that’s how democracy in the gret stet of Looziana works.