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Archive for February, 2016

No sooner than I post one story about State Police these days than another one pops up that demands our attention. Having said that, please read my disclaimer at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that Department of Public Safety Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux’s last day will be this Friday (March 4), on orders from Gov. John Bel Edwards who said she must go.

Edwards, you see, unlike his predecessor who could not be embarrassed, does not like to be embarrassed and Boudreaux had become an embarrassment to the administration.

Boudreaux, as reported previously by LouisianaVoice, had gamed the system nearly six years ago (April 2010) when she took advantage of an incentive payment of some $59,000 (including 300 hours of unused leave time) for early retirement of her $92,000 a year job as deputy undersecretary but then was rehired the very next day—at a promotion to undersecretary (with a raise in pay, of course). https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

She was subsequently instructed by then-Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis to repay the $59,000. But then Davis retired and was succeeded by Paul Rainwater whose daughter was given a job at LSP and Boudreaux’s problem seemingly went away but for the fact that those obstinate folks at LouisianaVoice just wouldn’t let it go.

Still, she hung around for another six years at about $100,000 per year. But that was easy, given Bobby Jindal’s propensity to look the other way when it came to any breach of ethics in state government.

But Edwards, who had already demonstrated his discomfort over the $10,500 in campaign contributions of the Louisiana State Police Association, refunded the money when it became apparent that campaign ethics might have been brought into question by LSTA’s funneling the money through its executive director and then reimbursing him for “expenses.”

To reiterate the difference between the two, Bobby Jindal, who received a like amount ($10,250) from LSTA during his campaigns for governor, has not returned his contributions from LSTA.

And so came the word from the fourth floor that Boudreaux must go.

DISCLAIMER:

All of our recent posts might lead many to believe that we actually do have a personal vendetta against LSP. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my 60 years of driving, I have had precisely three traffic tickets issued to me by state police. One was for speeding and the other two were for coming to only a rolling stop at a stop sign. In one of the latter, I contested the ticket in court—and won. In all three cases, I would hasten to add, the individual troopers involved were the epitome of professionalism and courtesy.

I would hope they could say the same for me.

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The recent broadside by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) directed at LouisianaVoice for what LSTA described as our “abysmal lack of journalistic ethics” was apparently an open declaration of war against anyone, including retired state troopers who are members of LSTA, who would dare question actions by the association.

The not-so-subtle attack on both the retirees and LouisianaVoice, when taken in context with an article from LSTA Magazine a couple of years back, is laced with more than a little irony—and hypocrisy.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson introduced the piece in his From the Superintendent comments on page 13 of the publication: MESSAGE FROM EDMONSON

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

“Ethical behavior and personal integrity serves as the foundation of our core values,” he wrote, adding that those traits “mean everything to me.”

He went on to write:

  • We must encourage and develop good leadership in every officer at every level.
  • Ethics in general and integrity in particular are critical components of high performing police organizations. Collectively they form the organic core of LSP.
  • The public trusts us to conduct our business in appropriate, legal and morally acceptable ways.
  • Personal responsibility is essential and expected.
  • Integrity, if not practices or used as a guiding principle every day, is of no value to this organization.
  • The bottom line is that this job demands absolute integrity and it starts with me.

Edmonson cited a second article under the heading of Guest Commentary in the same issue, one written by his then confidential assistant Ronnie Jones (now chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board) which began on page 25.

INTEGRITY 1

INTEGRITY 2

(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE)

In his article, which was two pages long but spread over three pages, Jones said LSP had become “a standard by which other state law enforcement agencies are judged.” Not to question Jones’s “integrity” in truth in reporting, but we would like to see that declaration quantified. Just who is it who judges other state law enforcement agencies by LSP standards? (Just asking.)

“Ethics in general and integrity in particular are critical components of high performing police organizations,” he wrote. “Collectively they form the organic core of our very organizational being.”

Wait. What? Go back up to the second bullet point that Edmonson supposedly write in his From the Superintendent message. Did Jones plagiarize his boss or did Edmonson pull a fast one with his message by having Jones ghost write it for him?

“They trust us to conduct our business in appropriate, legal and morally acceptable ways,” Jones wrote. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan in his debate with President Jimmy Carter, Well, there it is again (see bullet point three above). Integrity would seem to dictate that someone come clean here and clarify who wrote what. Honesty should demand it.

“Ethics is about following the rules and integrity is about doing the right thing regardless of the rules,” Jones pontificated. (See our post from Sunday, Feb. 28.) https://louisianavoice.com/2016/02/28/state-troopers-association-issues-letter-to-its-membership-attacking-louisianavoice-and-others-who-question-activities/

Jones then waxed philosophical when he quoted physicist Albert Einstein: “Einstein once said, ‘Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.’ When it comes to integrity, we either have it or we don’t. We are either truthful or we aren’t.” https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/11/generous-retirement-benefit-boost-slipped-into-bill-for-state-police-col-mike-edmonson-on-last-day-of-legislative-session/

“This job demands absolute integrity,” he wrote.

“Keeping a dishonest officer among our ranks subjects us all to unfair doubt and skepticism,” he continued. “Dishonesty in this profession is a cancer which if left unattended, will metastasize. When discovered it must be excised. To do otherwise weakens the entire body of state police service.” https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/08/state-police-lt-sneaked-underage-woman-into-mississippi-casino-in-2010-subsequently-named-commander-of-troop-f/

Come to think of it, the writing styles of Jones and whoever penned that letter to the LSTA membership certainly are similar.

We’re just sayin’…

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The Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) has apparently declared war against LouisianaVoice and two of its own retirees who dared voice their objections to campaign contributions by the association that amounts to little more than money laundering.

On Saturday (Feb. 27) we received a copy of a LETTER TO LSTA MEMBERS which, among other things accuses me of “an abysmal lack of journalistic ethics. (I have redacted the names of the two retirees in order to prevent undue pressure on one in his current employment.) While it was not my intention to get into a verbal exchange with LSTA, I feel I must address certain issues raised in the letter.

First of all, and this is important: I did not choose to re-open the subject of training for Trooper Steven Vincent. Nor was it I who initially raised the issue, but a retired state trooper in a letter to Louisiana State Police (LSP) headquarters. I unwisely wrote about the letter but took down the post at the family’s request. Now it appears that LSTA wants to keep the issue alive which raises the question of just who is the insensitive party here. If LSTA wishes to continue the debate over that story, it will have to do so alone. Out of respect for the family’s wishes, I refuse to be drawn into any further discussion of the subject.

As for any “agenda” the LSTA claims I may have, I can only deduce the association is attempting to deflect attention away from its own actions via the time-worn ploy of going after the messenger. For the record, in 40 years of news reporting for several major daily newspapers, I have enjoyed a healthy and professional working relationship with Louisiana State Police—until July 2014. That seems to be when things started going south.

For those who may not remember, that was when Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Secretary and State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, through his friend State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), attempted to sneak through an amendment to an otherwise benign bill on the last day of the legislative session that would have given Edmonson a retirement income boost of about $55,000, something no other state employee has been allowed to do (except for a lone state trooper in Houma who coincidentally fell under the same qualifications as Edmonson). The bill passed and Edmonson seemed well on his way to enhanced retirement riches despite his having made an “irrevocable” decision years earlier to enter into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at his then-rank of captain.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/11/generous-retirement-benefit-boost-slipped-into-bill-for-state-police-col-mike-edmonson-on-last-day-of-legislative-session/

But a sharp-eyed observer tipped off LouisianaVoice to the deception and we broke the story which was quickly picked up by state and national news publications. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/16/law-change-boosts-pension-for-state-police-leader/

The letter, most likely written at the direction of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, goes after two retired state troopers who had the audacity to request board minutes, checks, receipts, budgets and tax documents. Edmonson is not on the LSTA board but he nevertheless is closely involved in its activities through board members who work for him.

It is interesting to note that no one person signed off on the letter. It closes with “Respectfully, the LSTA Board of Directors.” So, presumably, every member of the board is a party to the letter which said the board respects the right of members “to question LSTA policies and practices.” At the same time, the letter admitted that the board “voted unanimously not to provide any further information” to the two.

It also said it has not seen a groundswell of support from LSTA membership for the two.

That should seem obvious to anyone who has not been in a coma for the past six months. There has been ample evidence on this blog that LSP administration, rather than addressing serious problems within its organization, has chosen to go after whistleblowers, even to the extent of conducting an audit of state-issued cell phones to determine who has been talking to LouisianaVoice. No active trooper in his right mind would lend vocal support to anyone who questioned activities of LSP or LSTA for fear of reprisals.

The biggest concern to the retirees who have challenged LSTA for its endorsement of John Bel Edwards for governor (the first such endorsement in LSTA’s history), Edmonson’s unsuccessful efforts to get LSTA to write a letter to Edwards after his election pushing for the Edmonson’s reappointment (Edwards did reappoint Edmonson to another term as superintendent, most likely at the urging of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association which endorsed him), and the funneling of more than $45,000 in political campaign contributions to several political candidates through LSTA Executive Director David T. Young, who wrote the checks for the contributions on his personal checking account and was later reimbursed by LSTA. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Of the more than $45,000 doled out to candidates, $10,500 went to Edwards in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Another $10,250 went to Bobby Jindal in 2003, 2007 and 2011. Edwards has since returned his contributions after his campaign deemed them inappropriate. Jindal has not returned his contributions.

And while the LSTA letter attempts to paint me as lacking in journalistic ethics and while I, as publisher of LouisianaVoice, did report on irregularities within LSP and LSTA, it is important to remember these points:

  • I am not the one who tried to manipulate an illegal increase in my retirement income by having an obscure amendment tacked onto a bill in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session.
  • I am not the one who secretly laundered campaign contributions through the LSTA executive director’s personal checking account only to “reimburse” him for expenses at a later date.
  • I am not the one who denied an accounting of those activities to LSTA members.
  • I am not the one who promoted a lieutenant to captain and commander of Troop F after that lieutenant sneaked an underage woman into a casino in Vicksburg and then tried to use his position as a state trooper to bargain his way out of trouble (it didn’t work; he was fined $600 by the Mississippi Gaming Commission).
  • I am not the one who chose to mete out only token punishment to a state trooper who was found to have twice had sex with a woman while on duty—once in the rear seat of his patrol car.
  • I am not the one who again handed out only a slap on the wrist and then promoted an LSP lieutenant to captain and named him commander of Troop D—after the lieutenant was found to be abusing prescription drugs while on duty and who admitted to flushing extra pills when he learned there was an active investigation into his addiction.
  • I am not the one who lied about the Troop D commander’s refusal to take a complaint about one of his troopers from a citizen; I merely posted a recording of his denial after LSP Internal Affairs exonerated the commander following an intensive “investigation.”
  • I am not the one who asked LSTA to write a letter of recommendation to Gov.-elect Edwards recommending that Edmonson be reappointed.
  • I am not the future State Police superintendent who was disciplined for padding his overtime expenses during a visit to New Orleans by the Pope.
  • I am not the one who refused to provide radio logs of a state trooper in LSP Troop D that revealed he was being paid for working when he was, in fact, asleep at home (I received the radio logs from an independent source but again, the records speak for themselves).
  • I am not the one who took an early retirement buyout of about $59,000 only to return to work for LSP the very next day—with a promotion.
  • Nor am I the one who ignored a directive from then-Commissioner of Administration Angéle Davis to repay the money, only to have the problem mysteriously go away when the daughter of Paul Rainwater, Davis’s successor, was given a job at LSP.
  • I am not the one who is responsible for that same retire/rehire having her son-in-law on LSP payroll as an employee of the State Police Oil Spill Commission—at the very time he was working offshore for a private firm.
  • I am not the one who hired Senate President John Alario’s wife who somehow manages to supervise LSP personnel in Baton Rouge—from her home in Westwego—at $56,300 per year.
  • Nor am I the one who hired Alario’s son, John W. Alario, as director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission at $95,000 per year.

No, I am not the one responsible for any of these things; I merely reported them. But the LSTA board must possess sufficient intelligence to understand that each of these things is a matter of public record and that I could never have carried out any vendetta, perceived or otherwise, against LSP unless what I wrote was accurate.

LSTA, in its letter to its membership, accuses me of taking “uncorroborated information at face value, never question the motivation of the source, and offer it for public consumption without ever seeking to determine its truthfulness.” They know better.

I invite the LSTA board to cite a single instance of my reporting anything that was “uncorroborated” either by public records or by interviews with multiple sources.

I also invite the actual author if the LSTA letter to come forward and identify himself and not hide behind the anonymous sobriquet of “LSTA Board of Directors.”

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On Thursday (Feb. 25), we posted a story that contained several news developments. Those included the approval of the one-cent sales tax, Moody’s downgrade of the state’s credit and the announcement of Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell’s entry into the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Sen. David Vitter.

Also mentioned in passing was the call we received from someone conducting a so-called “independent poll” about the upcoming Senate race.

We bracketed the term “independent poll” with quotation marks because it took only a few questions from the “pollster” to realize the questions were quite obviously written on behalf of—and possibly even by—U.S. Rep. John Fleming, the good doctor/UPS store/Subway sandwich shop/payday loan entrepreneur from Minden.

Unfortunately, that is the way virtually all polls commissioned by candidates are conducted: loaded questions intended to steer the respondent’s answers in a certain direction so as to enable the candidate to release the “results” that put him or her in a favorable light.

With Fleming, however, it is more than a little difficult to put him in a favorable light. He is just that repulsive and his candidacy for Senate could well be a blessing in disguise. Should he lose—and at the moment, State Treasurer John Kennedy would appear to be the clear favorite—then the state will be rid of what one blogger called “today’s most hateful Republican stooge.”

http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2009/09/todays-most-hateful-republican-stooge.html

Should Kennedy or any of the other half-dozen or so candidates win, then Fleming can go back to selling foot-longs.

It’s bad enough that Fleming pulled down more than $5 million in 2008 the year he was first elected, but he did so while refusing to contribute to the health care of most of his 500 employees. The precious few who did qualify were forced to pay a $3,300 deductible.

A couple of years ago, Fleming was critical of LouisianaVoice for what he perceived as our position of favoring “redistribution of wealth.” We responded that the only “redistribution of wealth we were able to document was the upward flow of wealth to Wall Street, pharmaceutical companies and big oil and gas. It was at that point that Fleming did what he does best: he blocked us from further correspondence on Facebook. So much for public discourse and accountability to the electorate (yes, we are aware we don’t vote in his district, but he habitually does the same thing to his constituents).

We also wrote about his payday loan company. Payday loan companies, which, by the way, our wonderful legislature has refused to rein in, feed on low-income, unsophisticated citizens by charging impossibly high interest rates that only perpetuate the problem of recurring, increasingly high debt for those struggling to survive. (That same legislature has exacerbated the problem by repeatedly refusing to increase the minimum wage in Louisiana.)

It was at that point that his mouthpiece, aka public relations flak, contacted us, asking if we would print a retraction to the story about his payday loan company, which the mouthpiece claimed was a corporation set up solely for Fleming’s employees (that’s nice, pay low salaries and then take the money back via high interest loans).

Our response was that we would be happy to print a retraction if (a) he could prove the story was untrue and (b) he would reveal to us how many medical malpractice lawsuits had been filed against Fleming’s medical practice.

We never heard from him again.

But back to that poll:

The questions were couched in such a way as to make every other candidate (except for Campbell who at the time, had not announced as a candidate) look like some type of evil predator bent on devouring the livers of the electorate. For instance, were aware that John Kennedy was a Democrat who supported John Kerry for President (in 2004) but later switched to Republican?

Wow! That’s a real killer.

How do you feel about John Fleming, who despite humble beginnings, brought himself up by his bootstraps to become a successful businessman who founded several businesses and who was a successful physician?

Short answer: “He’s an idiot.”

And “even though there has never been a Supreme Court Justice appointed in an election year…..”

Whoa. Hold it right there, lady. That’s a lie.

Nonplussed, she soldiered on: “President Obama intends to fill the vacancy…”

Not true. There have been six Supreme Court justices confirmed during a presidential election year since 1900—two by Nixon, one each by Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. http://www.vox.com/2016/2/15/10998836/supreme-court-nomination-election-year

Okay, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist were actually confirmed in December of 1971—a couple of weeks shy of the actual calendar election year, but well within the 12 months leading up to the election. Same for the confirmation of Ford’s nominee John Paul Stevens (December 1975). But Anthony Kennedy, Reagan’s nominee, was confirmed in February of 1988.

Going back a tad further, Franklin Roosevelt nominated Frank Murphy who was confirmed in January of 1940 and Herbert Hoover nominated Benjamin Cardozo who was confirmed in February of 1932.

Let me ask you a question, Ms. Pollster: How do you feel about Fleming’s apparent willingness to tell an outright whopper just for the purpose of obtaining a favorable (to him) answer to a poll question?

For that matter, how do you feel about Fleming’s consistently voting against working families even though he represents a district where the median income is only about $35,000 per year?

  • He opposed a bill whereby small businesses with 25 employees or fewer with wages of less than $40,000 would qualify for tax credits of up to 50 percent of the costs of providing health insurance. (Of course, he favored tax credits for the wealthy and for big corporations).
  • He opposed help for seniors with drug costs in the Part D donut hole that would have cut the costs of brand name drugs by 50 percent and which would have eventually eliminated the donut hole altogether.
  • One of his first votes in Congress was to oppose SCHIP, the proposal to provide medical insurance to 11 million needy children. (Fortunately, that bill passed by a huge margin of 290-135.

So there. Take your little poll and stick it in the same place where Fleming’s head resides.

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Thursday (Feb. 25) was an unusually big day in politics, even by Louisiana standards.

The big news in Baton Rouge on Thursday was House passage of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ one-cent sales tax (minus the assessment on manufacturing) but the action was quickly overshadowed by a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating

The state also received a “negative outlook” from Moody’s, meaning the state could be downgraded again.

Coupled with the sales passage, which must now go to the Senate for a vote, was additional cuts of $100 million in state spending and the taking of $128 million from the rainy day fund. With the $60 million already cut by the Edwards administration, Thursday’s action will make up about $700 million of the $900 million needed by the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

The downgrade was the first for the state since Hurricane Katrina and the lower rating means when borrowing money, the state will have to pay higher interest rates.

And just to add a touch of spice to an already politically volatile state, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell announced on the Jim Engster Show on Thursday that he will be a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. David Vitter. http://www.jimengster.com/

Campbell, an outspoken PSC member and a former state senator, is the second Democrat to enter the already crowded field of senatorial hopefuls. So far, U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany, Jr. of the state’s 3rd Congressional District and John Fleming of the 4th District, State Treasurer John Kennedy and U.S. Air Force veteran Rob Maness, all Republicans, a second Democrat, New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard, and, of course, the former director of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the inimitable Troy Hebert, an Independent.

A debate between all the candidates could be reminiscent of the early debates between the 17 original candidates for the Republican president nomination—but without the charm, sparkle and depth of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, a lot less fun.

Maness was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate seat won by Bill Cassidy in 2014 and Fayard was defeated in a special election for lieutenant governor in 2010 by Jay Dardenne.

Campbell, something of a throwback to the populist candidates of another era, is outspoken on issues, particularly with utility companies and the oil and gas industry, and while in the State Senate, he crossed party lines to lend strong support to then-Gov. Dave Treen’s proposed Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy (CWEL), a $450 million tax on petroleum and natural gas. Campbell today says had CWEL passed, the state would not be in the financial bind in which it now finds itself. But strong opposition by LABI and the oil and gas lobby defeated the proposal.

In a related but relative minor matter, LouisianaVoice received one of those “independent political polls” that was so obviously commissioned by Rep. Fleming that it may as well have been conducted by the good congressman himself.

The questions were prefaced by glowing stories of Fleming’s humble background and how he pulled himself by the bootstraps to not only become a doctor but to establish “numerous businesses,” one of which just happened to be a payday loan company that preys on low-income citizens, hooking them for exorbitant interest rates.

At the same time, the pollster, a woman, set up other questions about the other candidates with disparaging background stories on Boustany, Fayard and Kennedy (Maness was omitted, possibly in deference to his military service) that stopped just short of labeling them as subversives. Also omitted from the verbal flogging was Campbell, obviously only because he was not a declared candidate at the time Fleming wrote the questions for the poll.

Louisiana’s credit rating was not changed by Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, the other two major financial rating agencies.

But Moody’s move, dropping the state from Aa2 to Aa3 leaves Louisiana with better credit ratings than just two other states, New Jersey and Illinois. The downgrade will be applied to the state’s general obligation bonds and gas and fuel tax bonds. That means in turn that when the state issues bonds to finance construction projects such as roads and public buildings, it will have to pay higher interest rates on the borrowed money.

The move came as a surprise as most observers, including Kennedy, though Moody’s would wait until the Legislature completed the current special session, which is scheduled to end March 9.

Kennedy used the downgrade to take shots at both Bobby Jindal and Gov. Edwards. “You can’t spend more taxpayer money than you take in for seven years in a row and not expect a downgrade to your credit rating,” Kennedy said. “You also can’t make public statements about suspending TOPS, ending LSU football, closing Nicholls State University and closing five prisons without scaring the daylights out of the credit rating agencies that grade our debt and the institutional investors that buy our debt. What we tell our children is true: Acts have consequences.” http://theadvocate.com/news/14993547-79/moodys-downgrades-louisianas-credit-rating#comments

Edwards, meanwhile, blamed the downgrade on the seven years of patchwork budgeting by the Jindal administration, calling it “a disappointing development, particularly since we believed that Moody’s would wait until the conclusion of the special session to make any decision on our rating. Unfortunately, the downgrade confirms what we’ve been saying about the structural imbalance of our budget. The overuse and abuses of one-time money and fund sweeps by the Jindal Administration were a major factor in this decision.”

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