- 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/
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
- 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.