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Archive for June, 2013

Mark Twain is generally credited with saying, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

State Superintendent of Education John White could take a lesson from that great writer because he appears to have trouble remembering what he said to whom these days.

Take, for instance, the AP story by reporter Melinda Deslatte that ran last Thursday (June 20).

The story was an account of a meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) which focused on the controversial attempt by White to enter into a contract to provide sensitive student information to a non-profit data-storage company called inBloom.

inBloom, the brainchild of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and controversial New York education executive Joel Klein, is funded primarily by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and seeks to create a national database of student information.

The Department of Education (DOE) entered into a memorandum of understand (MOU) on Jan. 15 for the state to provide personal student data ranging from addresses and test scores to medical history and information about learning disabilities. White has assured BESE that the information was protected in secure servers and behind computer firewalls.

inBloom, however, said that while it would do its best to protect the data there was no guarantee that the information would not be compromised by hackers.

But buried deep in Deslatte’s story, White apparently becomes confused about what he has told various people.

In response to former DOE employee Jason France who said the contract was still in force, White said he would send a certified letter to inBloom. But then he added that he had already sent several letters notifying the organization that Louisiana’s data-sharing agreement was terminated.

But wait.

On April 22, LouisianaVoice sent the following public records request to White and DOE legal counsel Joan Hunt:

• “Please provide me with the opportunity to review the official letter or email that you sent to inBloom to cancel the data storage agreement as per the lead paragraph from the Monroe News-Star.”

A copy of the News-Star story was attached to our request.

On May 9, we received a response in the form of a letter from DOE attorney Troy Humphrey which said:

• “Our public information office has requested that I inform you that the Department is not in possession of any public record(s) responsive to the above-written request.”

Wait. What?

Is White really trying to make us believe that between May 10 and June 20, he sent “several letters” of cancellation to inBloom but as of May 9, there was no such letter?

Quite frankly, we have a lot of trouble accepting that scenario.

You may remember we were forced to sue White and DOE a couple of months ago over his refusal to provide public records in a timely manner. We settled for $100 per day per request that DOE was late providing. The final tab was $3,500, plus court costs and attorney fees.

Well, as of today (Monday, June 24), it’s been 45 working days since our request for the letter(s) of cancellation.

The state public records law says that any request for public records must be honored immediately unless the record is in use and unavailable. In such case, the custodian of the record(s) must immediately respond in writing to the requestor as to when the record(s) will be ready for inspection within the next three working days.

At $100 per day, White has already run up a $4,500 tab on just that one request—and the meter’s running.

But there are others that also are pending.

For example, on May 20, we made a follow-up request:

• “…In the public records you provided my attorney, J. Arthur Smith, you included photocopies of several checks to the Louisiana Department of Education from David Lefkowith but you neglected to provide photocopies of the backs of the checks that would indicate whether or not the checks were actually negotiated or deposited. Please provide copies of the backs of those checks.”

Call us jaded or skeptical, but we believe the checks may have been written and never deposited—a clever ruse to satisfy public records requests and hope there was no follow up as to the checks’ final disposition.

Sorry, but like Elvis, we have suspicious minds.

On May 22, Humphrey wrote us that “the Department will identify and locate any public records in its possession that are responsive to the above written request. After any responsive items have been identified, the Department will segregate and set aside those public records that are available for your inspection.”

To date, we have heard nothing further even though DOE had already located the checks and photocopied the fronts of the checks.

Let’s see, that request was made on May 20. Discounting weekends and Memorial Day, that is 25 days—and counting: $2,500.

And then there’s that other May 20 letter in which we made six separate requests:

• Any communications in any form or contracts relative to the “shared Learning Collaborative” or SLC, a project of the Gates Foundation;

• Information regarding Louisiana’s participating in Phase I of the above project;

• Any communications with or information relevant to Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of News Corporation;

• Any communications with or information relevant to Louisiana’s association or business conduct with any corporation or entity owned, led or associated with Iwan Streichenberger;

• Any communication or discussion relevant to the sharing of confidential student information for the purpose of developing and marketing “learning products” or for any other purpose;

• All communication and/or contracts relevant to current or future association with Gates Foundation or its subsidiaries.

To date, DOE has responded only to the first request on this list. That leaves five requests that have been outstanding now for 25 days. Five outstanding requests times 25 days times $100 per day comes to $12,500.

That brings the total for all outstanding requests to $19,500 as of today. Add attorney fees and costs of court and suddenly DOE is knocking on the door of $25,000.

We have already instructed attorney Smith to file suit—again—but that this time he seek sanctions against White and monetary damages over and above the $100 per day for his making it impossible for our sister company, Capitol News Service, to file stories to our client newspapers (about a dozen publications) in a timely manner.

These are unnecessary expenditures—all because White either doesn’t care about the public’s right to know or, as with the case of the letter(s) of cancellation to inBloom, he’s simply a liar.

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“Regarding these six men, there has been only one change from the report filed on June 15, 1992. The change is that Mr. Carl Shetler was appointed to the Board of Trustees for Colleges and Universities for the State of Louisiana for a period of six years, effective Jan. 1, 1993.”

—Letter from McNeese State University Athletic Director Robert Hayes to Greg Sankey of the Southland Conference dated June 29—barely two weeks after Hayes identified six Lake Charles area businessmen, including Shetler, who were to be disassociated with the university for illegal financial payments to McNeese athletes.

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Carl Shetler is a survivor and now he serves on the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors after having helped place one of the universities he now helps govern on NCAA probation a quarter-century ago.

For three years, in 1971-1974, Shetler served as an assistant coach and main recruiter for the McNeese State University (MSU) basketball team during his tenure.

You’d think he would know better than to openly flaunt NCAA rules but it was learned that others took ACT tests for two prospective basketball players.

Edmond Lawrence, who first said he would sign with the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL—now the University of Louisiana Lafayette), changed his mind after he was promised money if he would sign with McNeese.

Shetler and then head basketball coach Bill Reigel were fired in 1974 but in 1986 Shetler, who by then owned an automobile dealership, was among a group of Lake Charles businessmen who provided illegal jobs, money and cars to McNeese basketball players.

The other businessmen, as identified in a June 15, 1992 letter from McNeese Athletic Director Robert Hayes to SLC Commissioner Bill Belknap, included Henry Carter, owner of a local Popeye’s Chicken franchise; Johnny Abraham, owner of a Lakes Charles grocery story; local attorney William Baggett, former construction company owner Bobby Nicholson and Bob Keyes, whom Hayes said he did not know.

Joe Dumars, who would go on to star with the Detroit Pistons, was one of those who received money from the boosters.

Another player, Mike Marshall who transferred from the University of Kansas to McNeese, said he was paid “thousands of dollars” by Cowboy boosters when he played for McNeese.

The NCAA and Southland Conference (SLC) Commissioner Dick Oliver placed McNeese on two years’ probation in 1987 and the SLC forced McNeese to disassociate itself from Shetler and the other businessmen.

McNeese was also forced to forfeit rights to all revenue generated by SLC members during the 1986-87 and 1987-88 academic years in men’s basketball and its number of scholarships was reduced to 11 for both years.

The NCAA further instructed the university:

• For each of the “disassociated boosters,” please indicate what steps were taken by the institution to advise them of the conference penalty. Please include with your response the dates such action occurred and all relevant written material including, but not limited to copies of correspondence to the disassociated boosters, internal memorandum and news releases;

• For each of the “disassociated boosters,” please indicate what ongoing efforts were made by the institution to ensure that the university’s relationship with these individuals remained severed. Please include all copies of all relevant written materials;

• For each of the “disassociated boosters,” please indicate each and every contribution, whether monetary or otherwise, made by them to the McNeese athletics department, an athletics booster organization of McNeese, or any other non-profit association affiliated with McNeese. In connection with this request, please provide a list for the years 1986-97, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1990-91 of all individuals making contributions, whether monetary or otherwise, the McNeese athletics departments, an athletics booster organization of McNeese, or any other non-profit association affiliated with McNeese;

• For each of the “disassociated boosters,” please indicate whether they have employed McNeese student-athletes. In connection with this response, please provide a list of all those employed and (the) dates of employment;

• For each of the “disassociated boosters,” please indicate whether they have been involved in the promotion of McNeese athletics in any way including, but not limited to, membership in booster organizations, associations with coaching staff members, attendance at booster functions, advertising in McNeese publications, signage at McNeese facilities or the sponsorship of radio/television programming involving McNeese or any staff member of McNeese.

But even that crackdown didn’t last. Shetler, through former athletic director Sonny Watkins and MSU President Robert Hebert, was soon calling the shots again.

His presence was so obvious that MSU soon began to mean Mr. Shetler’s University, one reporter wrote at the time. Coaches and athletic directors came and went—all while Shetler called the shots from his auto dealership on LA. 14. Another joke emerged as Northeast Louisiana University and USL were changing their names to the University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) and University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULL), the same reporter wrote: McNeese, the line went, would become the University of Louisiana at Highway 14.

Shetler even prevailed upon Hebert to hire Kirby Bruchhaus as head football coach. Bruchhaus resigned after only one season when it was revealed that he regularly bet on professional and college football games, a major NCAA violation.

So how is it that Shetler, who has displayed little concern for rules, came to be appointed not once, but twice, to the University of Louisiana System Board?

He was first appointed by former Gov. Edwin Edwards in June of 1992, less than two weeks after Hayes’ letter to the SLC that identified the businessmen who paid McNeese players. His appointment took effect on Jan. 1, 1993. Shetler even served as board chairman and chairman of the athletic committee where he was in charge of overseeing the very rules he so openly violated.

Parenthetically, in case you think the names Edwards and Shetler ring a bell, they do. Shetler’s son, Ricky Shetler was a casino consultant and close friend of Edwards’ son, Stephen Edwards and when the cheese got binding in his 1998 federal grail, the younger Shetler turned on his friend, cutting a deal with prosecutors to testify against Stephen in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Carl Shetler was again appointed to the board in July of 2008, this time by Jindal.

That raises the obvious question: did anyone in Jindal’s camp make even a token effort to vet this appointment?

The same question could be asked of Edwards.

The difference, of course, is Edwards never hid behind a façade of wholesomeness and all things good. He was a rogue and didn’t care who knew it. It was that candor that endeared him to voters.

Jindal, on the other hand, tries to project an aura of respectability and goodness, a “gold standard” of ethics, if you will.

So where was the application of that “gold standard” in this case?

For that answer, as always, follow the money.

Shetler, besides lavishing money on athletes at McNeese, is not above tossing a little cabbage in the direction of Jindal.

Shetler, Rosier Shetler (same address), Shetler Rental Service, Shetler Rental Properties and McDrig’s, Inc. (same post office box as Shetler Rental Properties) all combined to pour some $48,000 into Jindal’s gubernatorial campaigns of 2003, 2007 and 2011.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal loves to travel across the country telling anyone who will listen about the “gold standard” of ethics reform he singlehandedly passed to strengthen Louisiana’s ethics laws as one of his first acts upon taking office in 2008.

Except it simply isn’t so.

There are more than 981,000 reasons that indicate Jindal’s boasts are just so much hot air, devoid of any substance.

More than 300 candidates for local, state and national offices, many of them attorneys (and more than a few disbarred attorneys) owe more than $891,500 in fines for filing campaign finance reports late or not at all.

Moreover, 25 political action committees (PACs) owe an additional $90,000, according to figures provided by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

So, just how is it that so many fines and such a large amount—at least four candidates had accrued penalties in excess of $25,000 each—have managed to go uncollected for so long (some dating as far back as 1999)?

For the answer to that, we have to go all the way back to January, 2008, Jindal’s first month in office. One of his first acts was to call a special session of the legislature to pass his “ethics reform” package that effectively gutted the State Board of Ethics. Ten of the board’s 11 members resigned in protest—seven of those because the “reform” legislation transferred ethics enforcement power from the state ethics board to administrative law judges, a move that rendered the board useless.

Next question: What’s so wrong with turning enforcement power over to administrative law judges? Well, for starters, the administrative law judges are selected by an appointee of the governor, hardly a hands-off, arms-length, non-political approach to ethics. In fact, Elliot Stonecipher, a Shreveport demographer and political analyst, observed the Jindal package created a situation in which “we could have people with a relationship with the governor (enforcing ethics laws).”

For decades the ethics commission had full authority to bring charges, hear cases and impose penalties on public officials accused of wrongdoing. No more.

Former Ethics Chairman Frank Simoneaux, who has been critical of the manner in which the ethics board and the administrative judges have interacted on issues, said he agrees that the responsibility for investigating and deciding ethics cases should be split but that administrative judges are not the method that should be employed.

Oh, and there’s this: Jindal proposed the legislation while he was under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The timing of his “reform” measures has to be considered at least somewhat suspect, given that the ethics commission cited Jindal’s campaign for campaign finance disclosure violation just before Jindal pushed through his package.

Examples of outstanding ethics fines for late campaign finance reports include:

• Richard C. Bates, a 2006 candidate for 24th Judicial District Judge (Jefferson Parish) who has since been disbarred: $2,600;

• Michael Bell, former legislative assistant to former Sen. Wilson Fields (now a district judge) and himself an unsuccessful 2011 candidate for the state senate: $3,260;

• District Judge Wilson Fields, unsuccessful 2010 campaign for First Circuit Court of Appeal: $1,000;

• William Bowman: unsuccessful 1997 candidate for St. Helena Parish Clerk of Court: $2,720;

• Raymond Brown: unsuccessful 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish Sheriff: $9,500;

• Douglas Castro: unsuccessful 2005 candidate for Orleans Parish Clerk of Court: $10,420;

• Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards, 2003 unsuccessful candidate for Secretary of State: $39,500;

• James Fahrenholtz: 2000 and 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $41,000;

• Sandra Hester: unsuccessful 2004 candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660;

• Percy J. Marchand: unsuccessful 2007 candidate for Orleans Parish state representative: $26,600;

• Robert Murray: unsuccessful 2003 and 2007 candidate for state representative: $16,900;

• Donald Ray Pryor: unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar: $36,200;

• Gary Wainwright: unsuccessful 2007 candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,700;

The Ethics Commission is so weakened by Jindal’s 2008 ethics revamp that it is not only unable to collect outstanding fines but it is even powerless to prevent those with unpaid fines from running in subsequent political races.

Enforcement is just as ineffective with political action committees.

The United Democratic Ballot, Inc., for example, owes $14,000 in unpaid fines dating back to 2002.

Others include:

• The Westbank Independent Coalition (Jefferson Parish): $8,000 in 2003;

• The African American Voters League: $9,000 in 2002;

• Baton Rouge Youth Movement: $8,000 in 2011 and 2012;

• Home Builders Association of Central Louisiana: $8,000 in 2010;

• Independent Rx PAC: $3,500 in 2010;

• Shreveport Committee on Political Education: $4,400 in 2006 and 2010;

As a reward for his comments critical of Jindal’s ethics reform package, Simoneaux was not re-nominated to another five-year term on the board—effectively fired—by the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs in April of 2012.

Ethics, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. Put another way: those who have the gold are making the rules.

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“Claims for federal matching funds cannot be based upon estimates or projects. Please add language that describes the actual historical utilization and trend factors utilized in the calculation.”

“Are the (private) hospitals required to provide a specific amount of health care service to low income and needy patients?”

—Questions posed to the state in a Jan. 30 letter to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals by Bill Brooks, Associate Regional Administrator, Division of Medicaid and Children’s Health Operations in Dallas.

“If we were to deny these contracts, we will not be able to provide these services to the citizens. I believe the hospitals would close.”

—Louisiana Civil Service Commission member Scott Hughes of Shreveport, commenting on his switching his vote from opposed to the privatization contracts for hospitals in New Orleans Houma, Lake Charles, and Lafayette to a vote in favor. At the same time, Hughes said he still had concerns over whether federal officials (CMS) would approve Medicaid financing necessary to bring the Jindal budget into balance. His concerns centered around questions about some of the financial data provided by the administration.

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