Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Boards’ Category

A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

Read Full Post »

It’s no wonder the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) decided to give the boot to Leon “Bucky” Millet and three other retired members of LSTA. It seems that the retirees, particularly Millet, have been asking questions that are making the LSTA and the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) members extremely uncomfortable.

And their questions are a helluva lot more intelligent than the answers the commission has offered.

Oddly enough, all the questions Millet has peppered the commission with over the past several months seem to leave LSPC legal counsel Taylor Townsend especially oblivious—even as the meter keeps ticking on his legal fees for attending meetings while contributing nothing of substance.

But one commission member, Lloyd Grafton of Ruston, has zeroed in on the problem even if his colleagues have not and in doing so, broached a subject the others would apparently rather not discuss—apparent misleading testimony at last August’s meeting from State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has come in possession of a recording of a meeting of an affiliate troop meeting at which LSTA Executive Director David Young received a much tougher grilling than he did from commission members. Throughout the 16-minute recording, Young is questioned as to how the checks were written and who authorized the budgeting of money for contributions before anyone even knew who the candidates would be in any given race. At one point, Young was advised to have an audit conducted of LSTA expenditures. The questioning of Young, it appeared from the tone of the voices on the recording, was anything but friendly.

Millet, of Lake Arthur, has regularly appeared at monthly meetings of the commission to challenge the association’s political contributions and the commission for its failure, on advice of Townsend, to act on the contributions.

Millet has repeatedly said the contributions, decided on by the LSTA board, each of whom are state troopers, are a violation of commission rules prohibiting political activity by troopers.

The commission—and Townsend—just as consistently, has responded by saying LSTA is a private entity and David Young is not a state trooper, meaning the commission has no jurisdiction over the association.

Never mind that the contributions were made by Young with checks drawn from Young’s personal account and he in turn would be reimbursed by the association for “expenses.”

And never mind that the decisions of who to support and to whom checks would be contributed were made by LSTA board members, each of whom is a state trooper.

Millet again raised that issue at the commission’s November meeting. “This commission allowed mike Edmonson and command staff to get out of control,” he said. “The citizens of Louisiana deserve better. The agency I was so proud of has deteriorated to such a point that the LSTA has voted to excommunicate four members (retirees), including yours truly. There is no criteria for termination of membership. Most members who voted weren’t born when I retired from LSP.”

Commission Chairman T.J. Doss interrupted Millet to say, “There’s nothing pending before the commission that we can address. If you think something, please let us know.”

That’s when Grafton waded into the fray.

“We have no authority over LSTA but we do have authority over individual troopers who are being paid by the State of Louisiana. Troopers are prohibited from political activity. I know what our counsel said about LSTA. State troopers are not supposed to be giving political contributions to politicians.

“What I see in this whole process is a corrupting policy that is going on and is guaranteed that this association of state troopers is going to become more corrupt as time goes on as they invest money and continue to wallow in politics. That’s why we have a civil service for state troopers.”

Doss again attempted to interrupt. “Correct me if I’m wrong; we not discussing political contributions….”

“Let me finish,” Grafton shot back. “Any time you give money to politicians, you allow yourself to become corrupt. You cannot have protection of civil service and give money to politicians because you have given up that protection at that point in time. That’s why civil service was created. In Louisiana, we want to have it both ways: ‘Oh, I’m protected by civil service. I get equal protection under law.’ But you can’t because you’ve already made a choice. That is corruption and that’s where we are today.

“People who come to us, and I’m talking about the top administration of state police and they say, ‘Approve this lieutenant colonel position. It won’t cost you a dime more.’ Then I turn around and (the new lieutenant colonel slot) has gone from $125,000 to $150,000. Somebody is not being honest. This commission is a stepchild. That’s not our role. Our role is oversight, not undersight. We are to look and decide if something is fair or not. When it’s not, we say it’s not.

Commission member Jared J. Caruso-Riecke said, “My colleague’s rant notwithstanding, we have two lawyers here and another (Monica J. Manzella) who sits on this commission, but she’s new so I won’t put any pressure on her (apparently forgetting that commission member Eulis Simien, Jr. also is an attorney), so tell me, do we have jurisdiction over LSTA?

When told the commission did not, he then tried to compare LSTA to the Knights of Columbus. “If we’re being asked to go after the Knights of Columbus, I’m not gonna do it. I’m not gonna open up this commission to a civil lawsuit.”

Millet reminded Caruso-Riecke that while both the Knights of Columbus and LSTA are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, the Knights of Columbus membership is made up of a cross section of the population while the LSTA membership is comprised exclusively of state troopers and retired troopers. Nor did Caruso-Riecke acknowledge that the LSTA board of directors is made up of only state troopers who made the decision to make the political contributions.

The bureaucratic shuffle was a perfect example of officials talking circle logic in an effort to avoid confronting the real issue. Except they weren’t very good at it, thanks to the anemic efforts of Chairman Doss.

“If what has happened doesn’t alarm you as commissioners, I don’t know what will,” Millet said.

Grafton then asked, “Do we have any authority over salaries? Did I hear Col. Edmonson say (in August) if we approve this new position (the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to lieutenant colonel and bestowing the title of deputy superintendent and chief accounting officer upon him), it won’t cost any more money? I understood him to say it won’t cost any more money. That means no raise. Yet my understanding is, he got a $25,000 raise. We did not approve any raise. It looks to me as if the administration doing as it pleases and we’ll get the word in some point in time. What part am I saying that is absolutely wrong? Did he say he wouldn’t get a raise? I don’t see a board member here who heard that.”

Simeon said, “That’s not an accurate reflection of what was said.”

“I know what I heard,” Grafton said.

At that point, members around the table suggested pulling up the recording of that August meeting and if what Grafton said was accurate, to get Edmonson back before the commission to explain the pay increase.

Commission Executive Director Cathy Derbonne told commissioners that Edmonson did indeed testify that the newly-created position would not cost State Police any additional funds.

In an effort to recover the high ground, Doss said, “We govern classified positions and we create unclassified positions but don’t govern them.

Derbonne said, “We create and we can take away. How can we create an unclassified position and not have control?”

“We have no authority over unclassified positions.”

Derbonne said, “We have jurisdiction only over classified positions that fall within pay grid. We cannot pay someone outside pay grid unless they come before the commission for approval.”

When LouisianaVoice reviewed a recording of that August, the revelations were damning to Doss and other supporters of Edmonson and showed that at least one commissioner, Grafton, was paying attention and not simply going through the motions.

In his appearance before the commission to request creation of the new position, Edmonson quite plainly said that he proposed moving Starnes into the position formerly held by JILL BOUDREAUX, but in a newly-created unclassified position. “We’re not creating any additional funding issues, no additional money,” Edmonson said. “He will be the CAO. No new funds will be needed. It is not my intention to even ask for that.”

It doesn’t get much plainer than that, campers.

At least Grafton was listening when it mattered.

Now let’s see how long he’s allowed to remain on the commission.

Read Full Post »

In the parlance of the criminal justice system, money laundering is sometimes called “washing” or “scrubbing.”

But dirty money is always dirty money, no matter what efforts are taken to make it appear legitimate.

The same is true of politics. Having just gone through a gut-wrench senatorial campaign, we’ve seen up close and personal how political ads come in all manner of misleading half-truths and outright lies. Case in point: the absurd promises of State Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who ran ads during his recent unsuccessful campaign for Mayor-President of Baton Rouge about how he was going to improve schools, cut the dropout rate, and attract better teachers.

The problem? Neither City Hall nor the mayor have squat to do with public education; that’s the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s turf. What’s more, White was fully aware of this, so his ads amounted to nothing more than pure B.S., or, to be more blunt: bald face lies.

And now, thanks to Stephen Winham, our human Early Warning System who often tips us off to interesting stories, we have the laundering of Bobby Jindal’s image by some groupie/writer for the National Review named Dan McLaughlin.

The scrubbing, however, comes a tad early; even in Louisiana, the citizens aren’t likely to forget the carnage wreaked by Jindal so quickly.

McLaughlin, it seems, is an attorney who practices securities and commercial litigation in New York City. He also is a contributing columnist at National Review Online (Go figure). He is a former contributing editor of RedState (No surprise there), a columnist at the Federalist and the New Ledger. During his spare time he is a baseball blogger at BaseballCrank.com.

McLaughlin has written at least a dozen or so insipid pro-Jindal pabulum-laden claptrap-filled columns, all of which could just as easily have been written by Timmy Teepell.

In his most recent contribution to National Review (the entire story is not contained at this link because I’m too cheap to subscribe), McLaughlin WRITES that “Jindal took on the enormous challenge of cutting government in a state that is culturally deep-red but economically populist, and he paid a great political cost for his efforts.”

Apparent, he wrote that garbage with a straight face.

There’s more from McLaughlin who wrote in an earlier column for RedState that Jindal was the BEST CANDIDATE for the Republican presidential nomination and that (get this) Jindal ruled in one of the presidential debates (never mind Jindal never got past the undercard debates in which all participants were weak also-runs).

McLaughlin wrote that Jindal’s low approval ratings “and the desperate wails of his Democratic successor over the condition of the state’s budget seem to support” the view that Jindal left the state in financial disarray.

Seriously? McLaughlin conveniently overlooks the fact that the “view” that Jindal’s leaving the state in disastrous shape took shape long before John Bel Edwards and long before Jindal abandoned his post for his delusional pursuit of the presidency.

McLaughlin made no mention of Jindal’s administration coming up with a contract to give away two of the state’s learning hospitals that contained 50 blank pages.

He ignores the matter of how Jindal doled out plum board and commission positions to big contributors to his campaign, how he rolled over anyone who disagreed with him by either firing or demoting them, how he took tainted campaign contributions from felons and refused to return the money, or how he gutted the reserve fund of the Office of Group Benefits in order to try to close gaping budget deficits that occurred every single year of his governorship.

“The path to smaller government requires persistence, backbone, and a willingness to accept compromises and a lot of defeats,” he wrote.

Correction, Mr. McLaughlin: the path to Bobby Jindal’s version of smaller government requires ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and unparalleled selfishness.

While one might justifiably think that Jindal’s political career is dead and buried, is it even remotely possible that he might be plotting a comeback?

Already, there are the first rumblings that Jindal is eying the 2019 gubernatorial campaign.

Just in case, perhaps someone should send McLaughlin a copy of my book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Not that he would change his mind, but at least he would have no excuse for not knowing.

And just in case you’ve not ordered your copy yet, click on the image of the book at upper right and place your order immediately.

Read Full Post »

Billy Broussard of Breaux Bridge has been fighting a lonely battle for a decade. He has lost in court against a stacked deck and before a judge who appeared predisposed to rule against him at every turn and to verbally berate him in the process.

And now, LouisianaVoice has learned that someone who calls himself an attorney is doing all he can to add threat to injury. When you read the letter from a Lake Charles attorney—actually written nearly a year ago but which only recently came into our possession—you have to wonder where he got his law degree.

Briefly, Broussard’s story started after Hurricane Rita hit Calcasieu Parish back in 2005, just a few weeks behind Katrina.

Broussard was contracted by Calcasieu officials to clean debris from the storm. But, he said, officials started adding work assigned in the original contract. Debris which was in Indian Bayou and Little Indian Bayou before the storm were ordered cleared. The bayou was in close proximity to a high-ranking parish official, Broussard says.

The problem arose when FEMA refused to approve payment for removal of pre-existing debris and Calcasieu Parish refused to make up the difference of something a little north of $1 million.

It didn’t much matter to FEMA that Mike Higdon, the man responsible for making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project, is a half-brother to John Reon, superintendent of Gravity Drainage District 8, for whom Broussard performed his cleanup work.

making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project (Mike Higdon) where he acknowledges that he is a brother of the superintendent of GDD8 John Reon.

Broussard sued and lost but he persisted in seeking public records that would support his position so that he could turn the information over to the media, LouisianaVoice included.

And those efforts to obtain public records led to a threatening letter-from-attorney-russell-stutes-jr which instead of harassment on Broussard’s part, would appear to border on harassment by someone attempting to use his position as an attorney to intimidate Broussard.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous complaints by Calcasieu Parish officials regarding your repetitive public records requests…with respect to the Indian Bayou/Little Indian Bayou project,” Stutes’s letter begins and quickly went downhill from there.

Following more verbiage from Stutes, he incredulously wrote, “…all Calcasieu Parish employees have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands from you associated with the project.”

As to underscore his bullying tactic, Stutes also wrote later in the letter, “Accordingly, the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges. A rule for contempt of court will be filed, and we will request injunctive relief from Judge (David) Ritchie. Given Judge Ritchie’s outrage at your frivolous claims last year, you and I both know the next time you are brought before him regarding the project, it will likely result in you serving time for deliberately disregarding his rulings.”

Say WHAT?! Who the hell does Stutes think he is, the judges from the Fourth Judicial District in Monroe who filed SUIT against the Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe because the publication requested public records? Or Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, who SUED two educators when they sought public records? (Note to Stutes: White lost that little gambit decisively in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.)

If Mr. Stutes would bother to take the time to read Louisiana Revised Statute 44.1 (et seq.) R.S. 44.1 (et seq.) which states unequivocally that any citizen 18 years or older has an unfettered right to review (and purchase copies of) any public record in the possession of any public body from the smallest hamlet in the state right on up to the office of the governor.

There is nothing in that statutes that says one can be prohibited from obtaining public documents simply because he came out on the short end of the stick in a court of law.

Likewise, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:4.1 (et seq.) R.S. 42:4.1 (et seq.), specifically R.S. 42:4.4(c) clearly states that all public bodies “shall provide” and opportunity for comments from citizens.

“Consider this your final warning, Mr. Broussard,” Stutes wrote. The harassment of Calcasieu Parish employees must completely and immediately cease. Otherwise, we are prepared to follow through with all remedies allowed by law.”

What a crock.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Stutes. I understand you are contracted by Calcasieu Parish officials, be it the police jury or the gravity drainage district. It doesn’t matter which one, but should I (and I am not Mr. Broussard’s “representative”) decide I wish to obtain public records from either of these bodies, woe be unto anyone who attempts to harass me with a letter like the one you wrote to Mr. Broussard.

It is I who shall follow through with all remedies allowed by law, including fines of up to $500 per day and possible jail time for non-compliance.

Do yourself a favor and read the public records and public meeting laws of the Gret Stet of Looziana.

They’re quite enlightening.

Read Full Post »

The Republican governor of Nevada has done what Bobby Jindal for eight interminable years refused to do and what Gov. John Bel Edwards should have already done.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, saying, “There’s something not right here and it needs to be fixed,” ordered Nevada’s state dental board on Nov.8 to address—and fix—problems of corruption, bullying and extortion rampant in the board’s patient-complaint/resolution process.

A STORY in the Las Vegas Review-Journal sounded eerily familiar to a number of LouisianaVoice stories dating back to March 2014 about abuses perpetrated by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry through harassment, intimidation, and exorbitant penalties—including ruined careers—for minor infractions and sometimes none at all.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/07/state-board-employs-intimidation-harassment-to-generate-funds-to-pay-for-lucrative-contracts-worth-millions-of-dollars/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/18/like-dental-board-louisiana-board-of-medical-examiners-survives-on-fines-and-incentive-to-punish/

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/23/appeal-court-slams-lsdb-tactics-in-reversing-kangaroo-court-license-revocation-board-attorney-rules-on-his-own-objection/

And should Edwards take it upon himself to rein in the rogue dental board, he may well also wish to take a long hard look at a few other boards that have gone off the reservation over the years.

  • Here are just a few that warrant a closer look:
  • The State Board of Cosmetology;
  • The Auctioneers Licensing Board;
  • The State Board of Medical Examiners;
  • The State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

Each of these boards has been the subject of considerable controversy over the manner in which they investigate complaints and assess penalties without giving their targets the benefit of the same due process to which accused criminals are entitled under 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Several dentists and dental hygienists protested a $500,000 increase in the contract for the Nevada dental board’s outside legal counsel, John Hunt and their testimony quickly escalated to shouting a crying by those who said Hunt coerced them to acknowledge wrongdoing and to pay money to the dental board.

Several of them accused Hunt of benefitting from money collected by the board.

As we said earlier, eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/11/16/dentistry-board-facing-difficult-future-because-of-policies-contracts-with-attorney-private-investigator-are-cancelled/

At least in Nevada, complaints by victims of the dental board led to action.

A legislative audit of the board concluded that the board imposed excessive penalties on those it was investigating and also took issue with the board’s handling of Hunt’s contract. The board’s handling of patient complaints, it said, left targets of investigations with the belief that they either had to accept a settlement agreement or risk steeper punishment if found guilty in a final board hearing.

“That’s where the allegation of extortion comes in,” State Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, a member of the subcommittee that conducted the audit, said in June. “Either pay me now or we’ll look into it deeper and you’ll pay me more.”

Again…eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/18/case-of-slidell-dentist-illustrates-unbridled-power-of-dentistry-board-to-destroy-careers-for-sake-of-money/

Sandoval appoints the members of the dental board. He said the time has come for the 11-member board to address the problem. Citing his experience with other state boards during his political career, he said, “I’ve never seen …people as upset as they are.”

The board, following Sandoval’s scolding, postponed action on Hunt’s contract amendment.

1980 U.S. Supreme Court specifically addressed the issue of excessive penalties in the case of U.S. Secretary of Labor v. Jerrico, Inc.

In that case, the Supreme Court reduced a $103,000 penalty to $18,000 in that the higher penalty constituted an unconstitutional risk of bringing “impermissible factors into the prosecutorial decision.”

In an earlier, even more pointed decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that “board members’ pecuniary interest disqualified them from passing on issues.”

In citing an Alabama case in which the Board of Optometry revoked the licenses of all optometrists employed by corporations such as Lee Optical, the court said, “Because the Board of Optometry was composed solely of optometrists in private practice for their own account, the District Court concluded that success in the board’s efforts would possibly (contribute) to the personal benefit of members of the board, sufficiently so that in the opinion of the District Court, the Board was disqualified from hearing the charges filed against the appellees.

“It is sufficiently clear from our cases,” the court continued, “that those with substantial pecuniary interest in legal proceedings should not adjudicate these disputes.”

As simple to understand as that ruling is, one must wonder why, 43 years later, the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and other licensing boards in the State of Louisiana are still allowed to operate their own respective fiefdoms with carte blanche.

Are their legal counsels not able to read and understand the law?

Is there not a single board member among them with the decency to say, “This isn’t right”?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »