By Robert Burns
Following up our recent post regarding shill bidding and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) turning a blind eye to the illegal practice, I’ll now shift to another alarming aspect: racism. To get the true tone and tenor of that racism, I would encourage readers to click on the audio links supplied in this post and merely listen to (or watch) what is said.
As mentioned in our first installment, Rev. Freddie Phillips was appointed to the LALB in early 2008. He is the first and, to date, only African American auctioneer in Louisiana’s history. Rev. Phillips attended the 2008 National Auctioneer’s Association (NAA) convention soon after he joined the LALB. He wasn’t aware that, as an LALB Member, he was entitled to have his trip paid for by the LALB. Upon his return and learning that fact, he applied for reimbursement. His request, however, became engulfed in an ocean of technicalities (most notably reimbursement being sought after the closeout of a fiscal year), so Rev. Phillips ultimately ceased pursuit of the reimbursement. Instead, he informed me that he would seek approval to attend the 2010 NAA Convention as an LALB representative instead.
Accordingly, at the May, 2010 LALB meeting, Rev. Phillips made what he thought would be a simple request to attend the Convention. He quickly got a surprise, however, when I was the only other LALB member voting to approve his request. He thus became the first LALB member to be denied the privilege of attending as a Board representative. Many board members, in explaining why they opted not to approve his attendance, were rude and mean-spirited in their assessment of Rev. Phillips. Those assessments included former long-time LALB chairman Delmar “Buster” Gay’s saying that Rev. Phillips may be an embarrassment at the convention. Then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Tessa Steinkamp also said that she wouldn’t want Rev. Phillips to represent the LALB.
Frustrated in his efforts, Rev. Phillips began seeking historical LALB travel records, only to face demands by then-Chairman James Comer and former long-time Chairman Gay as to why he wanted the records. (Editor’s note: Louisiana’s public records laws expressly prohibit any inquiry into why a citizen would want to see any public record.) The badgering reached an apex when Comer told Rev. Phillips to get an attorney and sue the LALB. As evidenced by the preceding audio clip, Comer also indicated that Rev. Phillips and I may end up “by theirselves (sic),” implying that Gov. Jindal may soon remove one or both of us from the LALB (a prophetic statement as I was subsequently terminated). Rev. Phillips finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t have to take this.” Others also spoke up in his behalf. First, I defended him. Also, audience member (and then-auctioneer) Nell Stuart expressed her displeasure with comments made regarding Rev. Phillips. Finally, Rev. Phillips’ then-Representative, Rep. Regina Barrow, whom Rev. Phillips and I invited so she could witness first-hand the relentless attacks, voiced her own observations of “underlying issues” that she’d witnessed.
All of the audios in the preceding paragraph transpired at one meeting (which would turn out to be my last): August 2, 2010. I sent all of these audios clips (and others) to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office and relayed my sentiments that the kind of conduct being exhibited by Chairman Comer, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay, then-Vice Chairman (now Chairman) Steinkamp, and others was completely unacceptable and that I expected either changes or that other more professional board members would be recruited to serve. I also made it clear to the Jindal administration that I intended to provide these audio clips to anyone who requested them or may have interest in them. I was given my walking papers (I believe the term is teagued) by Gov. Jindal 39 days later. What Gov. Jindal nor the Board counted on was that my ouster would leave me free me video subsequent meetings.
The August 2, 2010, LALB meeting prompted Rep. Barrow to address board and commission appointments in general at a special meeting of the Joint Committee on Governmental Affairs on November 17, 2010. She requested that a representative from the LALB attend to answer any questions the panel may pose but only Rev. Phillips and Ms. Steinkamp attended.
Rev. Phillips never received a check for his attendance at that legislative hearing even though the LALB had no qualms about issuing Ms. Steinkamp a check for her $97 per diem for her attendance. When Rev. Phillips inquired why he didn’t receive a per diem payment, Executive Director, Sandy Edmonds, said that since Rev. Phillips was “suing the board” (Rev. Phillips filed a Writ of Mandamus to obtain travel records which Chairman Comer was refusing to provide), he “should not be a representative of the board.”
Following is a list of a few of the events involving Rev. Phillips that have transpired since my ouster from the LALB:
1. 1/10/11: Rev. Phillips repeatedly threatened with lawsuits for questioning the fact the LALB didn’t vote to approve its attorney charging for time attending an NAA Convention (the same one he was denied being able to attend). The threats begin at the 3:09 mark of this video. The lawsuit treat was followed up in writing soon thereafter. (Note: By the time of that meeting, former long-time Chairman Buster Gay’s LALB membership had been severed. Also the 1/10/11 meeting turned out to be Chairman Comer’s last meeting as his membership was severed days after the meeting).
2. 7/17/11: Rev. Phillips’ license is threatened for attempting to bring up issues at New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG), which filed bankruptcy on 4/1/11 and employed LALB Chairman Steinkamp as its “Vice President, Director, and Treasurer.” Chairman Steinkamp begins her threat at the 1:33 mark of this video. At the time of bankruptcy, NOAG had over $600,000 in unpaid consignors and had been paying company operating expenses with consignor escrowed funds, yet Chairman Steinkamp, her position with NOAG notwithstanding, never alerted the LALB to any problems at NOAG and the LALB instead learned of them via the bankruptcy filing.
3. 9/17/11: Rev. Phillips is asked four times within a two-minute span if he is “carrying a weapon.” There’s no way to know if there’s a correlation, but Board Attorney Anna Dow sent then-Chairman Comer this letter dated July 25, 2010 relaying that the females feel a need for security in light of “events over the last few years.” From the August 2, 2010 meeting on, the LALB has employed an EBRP Deputy (Ronald Landry) at all its meeting at a cost of $160/meeting. Rev. Phillips told me that the “are you carrying a weapon” inquiry was the proverbial “last straw” and that he informed Gov. Jindal’s administration hat he would not agree to serve another concurrent term and that Jindal needed to begin searching for a replacement for his second term. Gov. Jindal did appoint a replacement days after he began serving his second term.
4. 11/05/12: At the first LALB meeting that Phillips missed in more than four years, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims and Consumer Member Greg Bordelon respond to the roll call with “I’s here.” Rev. Phillips requested that I submit that audio clip to Gov. Jindal’s Office, so I did. Accordingly, knowing that an article in The Advocate was pending about the incident, Gov. Jindal’s office requested that the Inspector General’s Office investigate the matter. The IG’s Office issued this report in which Sims attributed his response to his “diabetes and dentures.” Bordelon, meanwhile, denied answering the roll call in that manner in the Advocate article but ultimately admitted he did make the roll call response but said he was “merely mocking Sims, a North Louisiana redneck.” Shortly after release of the IG report, The Advocate published this article of the report’s findings. Bordelon’s LALB membership was severed about three months later. Mr. Sims continues to serve as LALB Vice Chairman.
Rev. Phillips decided that it would be a good idea for the LAPA website to have an “embarrassment index” which was alphabetized by board member or affiliate. It was an excellent suggestion, and here’s that alphabetized link of embarrassments for anyone who’d like to see it. Perhaps future LALB meetings will provide additional material.