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co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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“Why are you going into executive session?”

—My question to the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) after it voted to go into closed session.

 

“We don’t have to give a reason.”

—LSPC legal counsel and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches, who is under a $75,000 contract to the commission to provide legal advice.

 

“Yes, you do. It’s the law.”

—My response to attorney Townsend.

 

“To discuss personnel matters.”

— Townsend (did I mention he’s an attorney?), after a moment’s reflection on my citing law to him. Below is the statute:

 

RS 42:16

  • 16.  Executive Sessions

A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by R.S. 42:17; however, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.  Nothing in this Section or R.S. 42:17 shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of this Chapter. (Emphasis added.)

 

 

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Like the proverbial farmer who hit his mule in the head with a two-by-four to get his attention, Leon “Bucky” Millet got the attention of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) at its monthly meeting on Thursday (Aug. 11).

Millet, a retired State Police lieutenant, didn’t use a club; his weapon of choice was a tersely-worded, three-paragraph statement he read into the record in the meeting’s opening moments—a statement that called into question the very constitutionality of the board itself and the legality of any actions it has taken in recent months.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson also appeared before the commission to seek a promotion for Maj. Jason Starnes in order to legitimize Edmonson’s earlier appointment of Starnes as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance.

In another sticky matter, the board once again voted to kick the can down the road on the issue of the proposed 3 percent longevity raise for state police officers. That can was kicked down the road 30 days at the LSPC’s July meeting but this time they delayed action for 60 days.

That’s so they can continue to lobby Gov. John Bel Edwards to affix his signature to a revision to General Circular 180 of the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Uniform Pay and Classification Plan.

Bobby Jindal attempted to lock state troopers into an automatic longevity pay plan on his way out the door last November as part of his exit strategy but never signed the new plan as required by law.

But on June 1, Cathy Derbonne, LSPC Executive Director, published TRANSMITTAL SHEET NO. 58  on the LSPC Web page that pointed out that Article X, Section 48(C) of the Louisiana Constitution mandates that “any rule determination affecting wages or hours shall have the effect of law and become effective only after approval by the governor and subject to appropriation of sufficient funds by the Legislature (emphasis Derbonne’s).

“As of June 1, 2016, an approval by the Governor has not been received and there is currently insufficient funding to implement the revisions,” she wrote.

“The Revision of State Police Commission Rule Chapter 6 Uniform Pay and Classification Plan is hereby rescinded in its entirety,” she wrote (emphasis Derbonne’s). The pay plan approved by the LSPC last November is contained in GENERAL CIRCULAR 180

The proposed longevity pay plan would have given troopers raises of 3 percent per year for the last two years, or slightly more than 6 percent.

LSP currently has 18 majors and lieutenant colonels making at least $140,000 per year, or about $2.5 million. That $140,000 was up from $93,000 before the last pay raise of July 2015.

LSP payroll is currently more than $80 million. An across the board 6 percent pay raise would cost about an additional $5 million, plus retirement, medical and related benefits

at a time when state civil service employees are in their sixth year of no pay raises and at a time the state is anticipating yet another budgetary shortfall. Here is a copy of the State Police Pay Grid.

Millet’s statement that he read, which was in the form of a formal complaint, read:

Please accept this correspondence as a formal request pursuant to State Police Commission Rule Chapter 16, Investigations. I am asking for an investigation regarding the violation of the Louisiana State Constitution, Title 10, Section 43.

            Apparently the commission members, with the exception of one, were appointed in violation of the intent as well as the letter of the law in Title 10, Section 43.

            This would bring into question, what constitutional authority does this commission have to act in any official capacity, including any official acts taken at the July 14 (2016) commission meeting?

In his complaint, Millet was reference Article X, Part IV, Section 43(C) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 which stipulates the following:

  • The presidents of Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans, after giving consideration to representation of all groups, each shall nominate three persons. The governor shall appoint one member of the commission from the three persons nominated by each president. One member of the commission shall be elected by the classified state police officers of the state from their number as provided by law. A vacancy for any cause shall be filled by appointment or election in accordance with the procedure or law governing the original appointment or election, and from the same source. Within thirty days after a vacancy occurs, the president concerned shall submit the required nominations. Within thirty days thereafter, the governor shall make his appointment. If the governor fails to appoint within thirty days, the nominee whose name is first on the list of nominees automatically shall become a member of the commission. If any nominating authority fails to submit nominees in the time required, or if one of the named institutions ceases to exist, the governor shall make the appointment to the commission.

LouisianaVoice had earlier made a public records requests for any such letters of nominations from the university presidents. Only a single letter from Centenary College President Kenneth Schwab to then-Gov. Mike Foster dated Jan. 15, 2003, was provided.

Upon hearing Millet read his complaint, Taylor Townsend, the Natchitoches attorney and former State Senator under contract to the commission to conduct the investigation into the LSTA funneling campaign money through its executive director to several political candidates in violation of state law, said, “We need to go into executive session.”

Commission member Jared J Caruso-Riecke immediately the motion and the commission voted unanimously to go into closed session. At that point, I asked the reason for the executive session.

“We don’t have to give a reason,” replied Townsend.

“Yes, you do, it’s the law,” I said, referencing Louisiana Revised Statute 42:16 which says, in part: “…the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.”

Townsend hesitated for a moment and then said, “It’s to discuss personnel matters.”

That seemed rather odd in that the only “personnel matters” to have come before the board was Millet’s complaint about the legality of the board itself. Apparently, they went behind closed doors to talk about themselves.

Edmonson’s appearance before the commission was to correct his promotion of Starnes to Interim Undersecretary in violation of state police regulations. As a classified employee, Starnes was ineligible for promotion to a non-state police service position. By promoting him to lieutenant colonel, he moves into an unclassified position where he will be in direct supervision of his ex-wife, Tammy, an Audit Manager for LSP.

Starnes, who has no degree and who has no experience in accounting, will sign off on all expenditures in Management and Finance and was promoted into that position over Deputy Undersecretary Erin Bielkiewicz who is a CPA.

He succeeds Jill Boudreaux to the position. Boudreaux retired (again) in February after her faux-retirement-rehire in April 2010 in order to take advantage of a retirement buyout incentive offered by the state. She was able to pocket about $59,000 and return to work two days after her first “retirement.” She was ordered to repay the money, but never did. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

By putting Starnes into the position over the more qualified Bielkiewicz, Edmonson further shores up his fiefdom by placing his most trusted personnel in key positions within the State Police hierarchy.

Just another routine day for LouisianaVoice while sniffing around LSP headquarters.

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Seriously, Gov. Edwards, it’s time you pulled your head out of the sand and took a long, hard look at the Department of Public Safety (DPS), notably the Louisiana State Police (LSP), beginning at the top.

The longer you wait to take action to rein in this runaway agency, the more certain it becomes you are going to be embarrassed at some point in the future.

Take tomorrow’s (Aug. 11) meeting AGENDA, for example.

Even as Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was warning earlier this week that we can expect another budgetary shortfall, Item 5 on tomorrow’s commission agenda is to rescind a general circular relative to the revision of the Uniform Pay and Classification Plan. This is so that state police, already the recipients of two major pay increases totaling 50 about percent last year, may get yet another raise. It’s worth noting that state classified employees have gone without pay raises of any description for six years now.

Then there is Item 7 which calls for the creation of an additional unclassified position of Lieutenant Colonel as Deputy Superintendent, Chief Administrative Officer especially to accommodate Maj. Jason Starnes—the same Jason Starnes who briefly was allowed to live rent-free in the State Police Training Academy barracks when he separated from his wife.

That would bring to something around one and one-half Lieutenant Colonel positions but more significantly, this is a thinly-veiled attempt by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to consolidate his power at LSP.

This is a move to circumvent a complaint filed in May over Edmonson’s promotion of Starnes as Interim Undersecretary of Management and Finance, even going so far as to post his “new” position on the State Police Web page.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, was transferred by Edmonson to the unclassified non-state police service position. That move, the complaint said, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

The proposed creation of the new unclassified position will place Starnes in direct supervision of his estranged wife, Tammy, Audit Manager for LSP.

We first announced the proposed appointment of Starnes by Edmonson in May https://louisianavoice.com/2016/05/16/mike-edmonsons-appointment-not-official-yet-senate-committee-set-to-consider-his-confirmation-on-tuesday/ and in June we announced that Edmonson had pulled the promotion following filing of the complaint. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

LouisianaVoice was first to report two years ago that Edmonson had orchestrated an attempt to tack an amendment onto a House bill on the final day of the 2014 legislative session which would have given him an additional $55,000 per year in retirement pay in contravention of an irrevocable option he had exercised years before that froze his retirement at a lower level. 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/

More recently, the executive director of the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) was found to have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to political campaigns on behalf of LSTA. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

While individual state troopers, like their civil service counterparts in state government, are prohibited from taking part in political campaigns, including making campaign contributions, LSTA Executive Director David Young made the contributions in his name and was reimbursed by the association. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

An attorney and former state legislator, Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches, was given a $75,000 contract to conduct an investigation of the money laundering scheme. But true to form for ethics investigations in Louisiana (an ethics complaint against LSP has been pending for months with no indication of a ruling forthcoming any time in the foreseeable future), Taylor made a 10-minute presentation at last month’s meeting in which he recommended that no action be taken. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/14/expectations-of-state-police-commission-report-on-lsta-campaign-contribution-probe-dies-with-a-pitiful-whimper/

A recording of the Troop I Chapter of LSTA was made available to Townsend but he has refused to release a copy of that recording in which it was admitted that the LSTA was in violation of state law in making the contributions. Taylor’s refusal to release the recording was based on his assertion that the tape “was never entered into evidence,” an explanation that makes no sense whatsoever in terms of conducting a thorough investigation.

Moreover, Townsend, in additional attempts to prevent his “findings” from being made public, did not prepare a written report to the board on which to base his recommendation of no action.

Which brings up a little problem regarding Commission Rule 16:18 regarding LSPC investigations. That rule says the following:

So for $75,000, we have a so-called “investigation,” but no written report, no written decision, nothing apparently submitted into evidence, and a recommendation of no action.

Really? I could have done that for $10,000 and given the commission change back.

There is only one person in the entire state who could have neutered that investigation in such a manner.

And we thought Bobby Jindal was underhanded and secretive.

John Bel Edwards is a man who confided in me of his intentions to run before he officially announced for governor. For whatever reason, he wanted my feedback. He then ran on the West Point Honor Code. He even told me he had no intentions one way or another as to the reappointment of Edmonson. Obviously, he was being less than truthful.

Now, it seems, he cares little for others’ opinions—unless they are members of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association. His West Point Honor Code has somehow morphed into a code of political expediency, expedience dictated by the sheriffs’ association.

Edwards needs to turn his attention from the sheriffs’ association’s whispers in his ear and direct his focus more on appointees who are working surreptitiously to build an impenetrable wall around their fiefdoms designed to enhance their own power bases.

Beginning with that abortive pension increase amendment and continuing through the personnel debacles in Lake Charles, to administering little or no discipline in cases of troopers having sex in their patrol cars while on duty, to sneaking underage women into a casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to allowing the LSTA to make campaign contributions (do you really think the LSTA would do something like that without his blessings?), Edmonson has brought a succession of embarrassments down upon the LSP.

The question now becomes: How much more is Edwards willing to tolerate?

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Earlier this week, we posted our story about growing frustration over the fact that time after time, when official corruption and wrongdoing are exposed, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/25/in-a-state-where-graft-and-corruption-abound-honesty-and-law-enforcement-have-taken-a-permanent-leave-of-absence/

And it isn’t just the wrongdoing or questionable activities exposed by LouisianaVoice that feeds our exasperation. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a member of the media or a state agency, the fact is the vast majority of the cases are quietly ignored until they go away. Ignored, that is unless it’s some hapless inner city resident caught with a couple of joints or a civil servant fudging her timesheets because her agency’s budget has been cut to the bone, forcing shortcuts on her so she can maintain an overburdened caseload.

In those cases, justice is swift and severe.

But for those in positions of power and influence, it’s quite another story.

Only in Louisiana would a sheriff under federal indictment for beating defenseless prisoners and turning vicious dogs on them and who even threatened a federal prosecutor have the gall to petition the courts to give him his gun back. (Well, perhaps Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be so brazen, but we digress.)

http://addictinginfo.org/2016/07/20/violent-sheriff-who-threatened-federal-prosecutor-wants-gun-back-because-hes-scared-video/

Nowhere is Louisiana’s chronic case of legal periodontitis more evident than with the state’s “gold standard of ethics” presented to us way back in 1984. Because of his gutting state ethics laws, the Louisiana Ethics Commissions by all appearances is unable to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties it has assessed against 248 political candidates. These candidates run the gamut—from sheriffs to current and former legislators and a member of the Board of Elementary and secondary Education.

Thank you, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s ethics reform was of such a high “gold standard” that it removed all enforcement powers of the Ethics Board and handed those duties to an administrative judge appointed by the governor—in this case, Jindal. The reform had the effect of making ethics enforcement just another political animal controlled by the governor in the same fashion as the Office of Inspector General, neither of which now have any real powers.

Ten of the 11 Ethics Board members immediately resigned in protest.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but just 10 days after taking office—and before Jindal introduced his ethics reform bill—he was himself hit with a $2,500 ethics fine after failing to report that the Republican Party of Louisiana spent $118,265 on direct mail to promote his successful 2007 candidacy.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/jindal_to_pay_ethics_fine.html

Jindal spokesperson at the time, Melissa Sellers, said Jindal would pay the fine to avoid a public hearing. The only trouble was, she said his campaign would pay the fine, an ethics violation in itself. Ethics Commission regulations prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including ethics fines.

Political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport remembers the backroom dealings in drafting the ethics reform of 2008. “By way of my pro bono consulting for the old Ethics Board, I knew details of what House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), Rep. (later Senator) Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, and Ann Wise were concocting,” he would later write.

The new laws bestowed upon Wise, an unclassified employee serving at the pleasure of the governor, the responsibility of selecting administrative law judges who would hear and rule on future ethics cases. “She was, in fact, working with Tucker, Gallot, Kostelka, and one Jindal insider identified her as one of the first people Tucker brought aboard their operation,” Stonecipher said. “At the time all of this was going on, Bobby refused to meet with Hank Perret, Chairman of the Ethics Board, with whom I was working. Under pressure, Jindal finally agreed to a half-hour meeting but would not meet without Teepell there and (Jindal) ultimately used the thirty minutes to command the discussion—never allowing it to approach what Hank was there to tell him,” he said.

“The top players and designers (Tucker, Gallot, and Kostelka) had (at the time discussions were ongoing) active and serious ethics charges against them winding through the system,” Stonecipher said (emphasis added). “Tucker had two charges and Gallot had seven. When the smoke cleared after the new laws took effect, each of them beat the rap in all cases.” Stonecipher said the top political reporters in Louisiana were informed all those details. “None of them ever wrote a story,” he said. “My articles which went to them were never acknowledged.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/09/rep_rick_gallots_ethics_charge.html

http://www.thegramblinite.com/news/view.php/396049/Appeals-court-upholds-Gallot-ruling

So Gallot, Chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee and a key Jindal ally in pushing for changes in the state’s ethics laws, was the subject of seven conflict-of-interest charges involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on which his mother was simultaneously serving.

Ethics Board Chairman at that time Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge (he was not re-appointed by Jindal when his term expired) called the Gallot case the first real test of state ethics laws since the Jindal reforms went into effect.

Another case pending at the time was that of Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. He was charged with a conflict of interest because he was part-owner of Smart Start of Louisiana. He was accused of using his office for financial gain by selling ignition interlock devices to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.

It’s interesting to note that neither Webre nor Gallot denied the facts laid out in the charges. Instead, each invoking a statute of limitations in claiming that the board had only one year to file the charges while ethics board attorneys said the time limit for prescription was two years.

In November 2009, a panel of three administrative judges dismissed the charges against Webre.

So, to recap:

  • Jindal’s campaign paid his fine for him.
  • Webre was exonerated.
  • Kostelka, Tucker and Gallot all “beat the rap.”

Tucker was chosen Speaker of the House during Jindal’s first term.

And Gallot?

Well, he went on to be elected to the State Senate and on Tuesday (July 26), he was unanimously chosen by the University of Louisiana System as the new President of Grambling State University. To be fair, though, at least his mother no longer sits on the board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_d8c82986-5350-11e6-b653-a7be43e9ff0c.html

Gallot even found the time to write an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he addressed his close relationship to the state’s movers and shakers and outlined his plans for Grambling. Oddly, he never got around to discussing ethics in his column.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_24c4f454-55a4-11e6-8f90-93862ea22176.html

For now, Louisiana appears to be stuck with a real albatross: A State Ethics Board that is powerless to collect more than $1 million ethics fines from those 248 candidates, some of them dating as far back as 25 years. The amount represents an average fine of $4,252 per candidate, though of that 248, there were 20 who had fines in excess of $10,000. Of that 20, six had fines of $20,000 or more; four were on the books for $30,000 or more and one was for $41,440.

Of the $1,054,487 in fines assess since 1991, only $57,665, or a scant 5 percent, has been paid, records show.

Court records show that in the majority of cases, fines assessed prior to 2015 that have gone unpaid have resulted in the filing of lawsuits by the Board of Ethics and in many of those cases, judgments against the individuals have resulted.

To be fair, the recipient of that $41,440 levy, James Fahrenholtz, has paid nearly half ($19,342) of his fine. That’s not to say Fahrenholtz, a former member of the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t have other problems. In an unrelated matter, he was arrested in April 2015 for theft of a lobbyist’s iPad tablet.

Besides Fahrenyholtz, those owing $10,000 or more include:

  • Donald Pryor, former candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar (paid $1,757 to date);
  • Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and a candidate for Secretary of State: $31,000 (paid $5,453 so far);
  • Gary Wainright, former candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,200 (paid nothing on assessment);
  • Percy Marchand, former candidate for State Representative: $26,660 (paid nothing to date);
  • Thomas Robichaux, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $20,060 (paid $800);
  • James Perry, candidate for State Representative: $18,060 (paid nothing);
  • Edward Scott, candidate for U.S. Representative: $17,380 (paid nothing);
  • Robert Murray, candidate for State Representative: $17,080 (paid $160);
  • Jason Wesley, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $16,000 (paid nothing);
  • Isaiah Marshall, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; $14,600 (paid $1,240);
  • Patrick Tovrea, candidate for Jefferson Parish School Board: $14,220 (paid nothing);
  • Joel Miller, candidate for Washington Parish Sheriff: $12,360 (paid nothing);
  • Melva Vallery, office unknown: $12,000 (paid nothing);
  • Marvin Frazier, candidate for Sabine Parish Sheriff: $11,800 (paid $4,031);
  • Myron Lee, candidate for State Representative: $10,900 (paid nothing);
  • Sandra Hester, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660 (paid nothing);
  • Remic Darden, office unknown: $10,600 (paid $350);
  • Thelma Brown, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $10,000 (paid nothing);
  • Ali Moghimi, candidate for Monroe Mayor: $10,000 (paid nothing).

Other notable personalities hit with ethics fines and the amounts paid on their fine include:

  • State Rep. John Bagneris: $4,680 (nothing paid);
  • Livingston Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff: $1,760 (nothing paid);
  • State Rep. Michael Jackson: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister: $1,260 (nothing paid);
  • Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Ernest Wooton: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kyra Orange Jones: $2,500 (nothing paid).

Here is a complete list of UNPAID fines assessed by the Board of Ethics

In January, the Ethics Board staff drafted an opinion on former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols and her job as a lobbyist for Ochsner Health System which typically, was not adopted by the full board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_22f710cd-dda5-5b79-9545-db933add8f6e.html

That opinion said state law would prohibit Nichols from advising Ochsner on any matter involving the Division of Administration (DOA) until October 2017. It also said she could not deal with legislators who handle the state budget (and that should include all 105 representatives and 39 senators because they all must vote on the state budget.

http://www.ethics.la.gov/AgendaAttachments/27389/PublicAgendaAttachment.pdf

Rather than making a definitive decision, which was—and is—its responsibility, the Louisiana Board of Ethics boldly postponed action—at the request of Ochsner—until February.

Well, February has come and gone and the Ethics Board has yet to post anything online and we are now back to our original lament: Nothing gets done.

 

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