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Jacob Colby Perry has been CRAPPed (Crazed Reaction Against Public Participation), BLAPPed, (Blowhard Letter Against Public Participation) and SLAPPed (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) as reward for his efforts to obtain answers from the Welsh City Council, particularly as those answers pertain to expenditures of the Welsh Police Department which consistently (as in every month) exceeds the department’s budget.

And he’s a member of the town’s board of aldermen, whose job it is to oversee the town’s various budgets, including that of the Police Department.

Welsh, for those who may not know, is a small town situated on I-10 in the middle of Jefferson Davis Parish. Jeff Davis Parish is located between Acadia Parish on the east and Calcasieu Parish on the west and sits immediately north of the easternmost part of Cameron Parish.

The town has 3,200 residents.

And 18 police cars (one for every officer to take home from work). The budget for those patrol cars, which are not all purchased in the same fiscal year, is $169,000.

Other line items in the police department’s budget include:

  • Police Chief—$100,990 (of which amount, $76,120 is for the Chief Marcus Crochet: $55,000 salary, $4,207.50 in Social Security payments, and $16,912.50 for his retirement);
  • Police Patrol—$593,077 ($32,948 per vehicle);
  • Police Training—$8,000;
  • Police Communications—$295,342 ($16,400 per officer);
  • Police Station and Buildings—$52,300.

BUDGET

All that for a town of 3,200.

From June 2016 through February 2017, the monthly expenditures and monthly overages (in parenthesis) for the police department were:

  • June 2016: $105,681.35 ($24,345.77);
  • July 2016: $79,595.23 ($1,840.35);
  • August 2016: $71,348.81 ($10,085.77);
  • September 2016: $132,857.05 ($51,421.47);
  • October 2016: $78,881.21; ($2,554.37);
  • November 2016: $108,732.82 ($24,297.24);
  • December 2016: $77,098.58 ($4,337.00)
  • January 2017: $79,945.66 ($1,489.92);
  • February 2017: $84,139.83 ($2,704.25)

TOTAL: $818,280.54 ($82,360.32).

That’s a nine-month average expenditure of $90,920.06, or an average monthly overage of $9,484.48.

Projected out for the entire fiscal year, the police department’s expenditures would be $1,091,040.72 or a projected fiscal year overage of $113,813.72.

OVERAGES

Did I mention that Welsh is a town of 3,200 living souls?

It’s no wonder then, that Alderman Jacob Colby Perry, a mere stripling of 24, along with a couple of other aldermen have questions about Crochet’s budget, particular when it was learned that funds generated from traffic enforcement on I-10 is deposited in an account named “Welsh Police Department Equipment & Maintenance.”

An attorney general opinion directed to Crochet and dated Dec. 18, 2015, makes it clear that “a police department is not permitted to establish a separate fund for the deposit of money generated from traffic tickets.” Louisiana R.S. 33:422 “requires that the fines collected from tickets issued by a police officer in a Lawrason Act municipality (which Welsh is) be deposited into the municipal treasury and, thus, within the control of the mayor, clerk, and treasurer.”

The balance in that account is more than $178,000. That’s over and above all the line items in the police department’s budget cited earlier. And he never tapped those funds to cover his overages, instead calling on the board of aldermen to cover his expenditures.

“The mayor (Carolyn Louviere), along with her staff and the town clerk, knew months prior that the chief of police was over-budget and would continue to exceed his budget,” Perry said. “They did nothing.”

Instead, she and the board acquiesced to Crochet’s request of a 37.5 percent increase in his base pay (from $40,000 to $55,000) and his total compensation, including salary and benefits, of $76,120.

SALARIES

Perry said that after he and three other aldermen addressed the matter of the police department’s budget in a meeting at which Crochet was not in attendance, “the town clerk and the mayor immediately followed up by informing the chief of police. In the next meeting, he (Crochet) entered with an entourage consisting of at least 10 police officers in uniform, a neighboring municipality’s chief of police and financial adviser, and his wife. We were yelled at and intimidated.

Perry said he felt Crochet’s demeanor at that meeting may have served its purpose in that the board of aldermen amended the police department budget by $253,000, pushing the department’s budget to more than $1.2 million. “The Town of Welsh is in disrepair,” Perry said.

For his trouble, several things have happened with Perry, none of them good:

  • A recall petition was started against him;
  • Postcards were mailed to Welsh residents that depicted Perry and Andrea King, also a member of the Board of Aldermen, as “terrorists” (See story HERE) and that Perry violated campaign finance laws by failing to report income from a strip club in Texas of which he was said to be part owner and which allegedly was under federal investigation for prostitution, money laundering and drug trafficking (See story HERE);
  • He was removed from the Town of Welsh’s FACEBOOK page;
  • He has been named defendant in not one, not two, not three, but four separate SLAPP lawsuits.

Those filing the suits were Mayor Louviere; her daughter, Nancy Cormier; her son, William Johnson, and, of course, Police Chief Crochet. All four SLAPPs were filed by the same attorney, one Ronald C. Richard of Lake Charles. Can you say collusion?

Each of the nuisance suits say essentially the same thing: that Perry besmirched the reputations of her honor the mayor, both of her children, and the bastion of law enforcement and fiscal prudence, Chief Crochet.

The reason I call them nuisance suits is because Perry, as a member of the board of aldermen, is immune from libel and slander suits under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute.

As the crowning touch, the recall petition was initiated while Perry was in Japan on military orders, serving his annual two-week training.

But the plaintiffs, while trying to shut Perry up, have their own dirty laundry.

It has already been shown that the police chief is not the most fiscally responsible person to be handling a million-dollar budget. Eighteen police cars in a town of 3,200? Seriously? More than $76,000 in salary and benefits—not counting the additional $6,000 he receives in state supplemental pay? Consistently busting his department’s budget? Keeping traffic fine income in a separate account when it should go in to the town’s general fund?

And Mayor Louviere, who inexplicably wants to build a new city hall when the town is flat broke, is currently under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics, according to the Lake Charles American Press AMERICAN PRESS. She also wants to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

And her son, William Joseph Johnson, who Perry says used his mother’s office in an attempt to shut the bar down, has a story all his own.

Johnson, back in 2011, was sentenced in federal court to serve as the guest of the federal prison system for charges related to a $77,000 fraud he perpetrated against a hotel chain in Natchitoches between October 2006 and January 2007. And that wasn’t his first time to run afoul of the law.

At the time of his sentencing for the Louisiana theft, he was still wanted on several felony charges in Spokane County, Washington, after being accused of being hired as financial controller for the Davenport Hotel of Spokane under a stolen identity, giving him access to the hotel’s financial operations and then stealing from the hotel.

The only thing preventing Spokane authorities from extraditing him to Washington, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith said, was that “we just don’t have the funds to bring him back.” The Spokane Review, quoting court documents, said, “Police believe Johnson is a longtime con artist who has swindled expensive hotels across the country.” (Click HERE for that story.)

“William Joseph Johnson, Jr. remains on federal probation,” Perry said. “He has yet to pay back all of the restitution that he owes.

In his lawsuit against Perry, Johnson says he “has a long-standing positive reputation in his community and parish” and that he (Johnson) suffered “harm to reputation (and) mental anguish.”

So we have Perry, a student at McNeese State University, being BLAPPed (Blowhard Letters Against Public Participation) with the postcard campaign; CRAPPed (Crazed Retaliation Against Public Participation) with Crochet’s appearance with 10 uniformed officers to berate Perry at a board of aldermen meeting and an incident in which Perry said Johnson confronted him in an aggressive manner following a board meeting, and SLAPPed (Strategic Legal Action Against Public Participation) with the four lawsuits.

All this in a town of 3,200.

Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill had no idea how accurate he was when he said, “All politics is local.”

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High school civics classes taught us about the checks and balances of government. You know, the three branches: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative, each of which is supposed to serve as a safeguard against abuses by the other two.

In addition to those, at the state level at least, we have the Office of Inspector General, the Legislative Auditor, and the Attorney General—except that the Constitutional Convention of 1974, thanks to the muscle-flexing of the district attorneys, hamstrung the attorney general from intruding on the turf of the DA’s unless specifically invited to do so.

Another little-known fact about the attorney general is that the office is set up to defend, not prosecute, state agency heads who run afoul of the law. That’s why you see enormous expenditures on the part of the Louisiana Office of Risk Management when an agency head is sued for, say, failure to provide public records when requested or even when an agency head is accused of criminal wrongdoing. ORM, the state’s insurance agency, pays defense attorneys who are contracted by the attorney general’s office. Thus, as long as someone else is footing the bill, the incentive is for the public official to duke it out in court.

So, with all these safeguards in place, how is it that a quiet amendment was sneaked through the legislature 11 years ago that gives legislators control over the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars most folks, including the Legislative Auditor’s Office and those whose job it was to draft bill amendments, didn’t even know existed?

Well, we gave you the answer when we said “sneaked.” These types of bills are done very quietly, with zero fanfare but with laser-like efficiency.

Here’s the wording of that amendment:

R.S. 24:39(D) is amended and reenacted to expand the uses of the monies in the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund to include supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the Legislative Budgetary Control Council. This provision is effective June 7, 2012.” (Emphasis ours.)

The Legislative Capitol WHAT fund?!!!?

Legislative Budgetary Control Council?!!?

What is the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and who are the members of this Legislative Budgetary Control Council?

The members of the Budgetary Control Council are:

  • Sen. John Alario, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Taylor Barras, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Michael Danahay;
  • Rep. Cameron Henry;
  • Rep. Walt Leger, III;
  • Rep. Gregory Miller;
  • Sen. Eric LaFleur;
  • Sen. Gerald Long;
  • Sen. Karen Carter Peterson;
  • Sen. Gregory Tarver.

We also found the 2008 act that created the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund which gives legislators a helluva lot of discretion over funds no one knew existed—especially with the slipping in of that 2012 amendment that gives them carte blanche control over a helluva lot of money.

Here is the wording of R.S. 24:39, including the key Section D:

RS 24:39     

Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund

  1.  There is hereby created in the state treasury, as a special fund, the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund, hereinafter referred to as the “fund”.
  2.  The state treasurer is hereby authorized and directed to transfer ten million dollars from the state general fund to the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund on June 30, 2008, and on July first of each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2009.  The legislature may appropriate, allocate, or transfer additional monies to the fund if it deems necessary to accomplish the purposes of the fund.
  3.  Monies in the fund shall be invested by the treasurer in the same manner as monies in the state general fund and any interest earned on the investment of monies in the fund shall be credited to the fund.  All unexpended and unencumbered monies in the fund at the end of the fiscal year shall remain in the fund.
  4.  Monies in the fund shall be available for appropriation to and use by the Legislative Budgetary Control Council, hereinafter referred to as the “council”.  Such appropriations shall be used by the council solely to fund construction, improvements, maintenance, renovations, repairs, and necessary additions to the House chamber, Senate chamber, legislative committee meeting rooms, and other legislative rooms, offices, and areas in the Capitol Complex for audio-visual upgrades and technology enhancements and for supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the council.

In 2010, Clifford Williams, who said he worked as a legislative staffer in the Legislature’s Amendment Room where his job was to draft amendments to bills, said, “I was not even aware of this provision until I was asked to do an amendment involving this provision one day.”

He said a legislator came in that day and requested the transfer of $5 million to some other long-forgotten project. “To tell the truth, I not only don’t remember what he said he wanted the money for, I don’t even recall the legislator’s name. But this was the first time I ever heard of this fund, which is nothing more than a slush fund for legislators’ use with virtually no oversight. It’s money that exists outside the regular legislative budget,” he said.

In 2012, just four short years after the initial $10 million appropriation, the fund had a balance of more than $32 million. Here is an analysis of the fund for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012:

FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS

The Council’s net assets increased by $20,161,763. This resulted primarily from significant increases in appropriations in the current year for the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and the State Capitol HVAC Replacement and Renovations project, as well as decreases in expenditures due to the completion of various projects.

 The general revenues of the Council were $32,749,917, which is an increase of $16,741,476 from the prior year. The significant increase is a result of additional appropriations received in the current year for projects and renovations. Prior year revenues did not include appropriations for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations.

The total expenditures/expenses of the Council were $11,577,183, which is a decrease of $7,173,036 from the prior year. The decrease is a result of capital outlay expenditures for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations decreasing due to project completions in the current year.

The other financing uses of the Council were $1,010,971, which is an increase of $283,007.

So, as the state struggles with budgetary shortfalls, looming deficits and near-certain budget cutbacks, it’s comforting to know the Legislature has solidified its financial future through legislation sneaked through the process with such skill that even Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera was caught unaware Monday when asked about the fund.

Just another way, folks, that your legislators continue to look out for their own interests (parties, fine dining, campaign cash) while leaving you and your concerns choking in the dust.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would’ve said, you can’t make this stuff up.

And the party goes on.

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By Stephen Winham

Guest Columnist

The 2017-18 budget was enacted in a ball of confusion that allowed an escalation of the blame game.  There was less back-slapping than usual when the latest unnecessary special legislative session ended, but perhaps more back-stabbing.

I heard Gov. Edwards on the radio blaming the legislature for not using recommendations of the latest blue-ribbon committee (Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy) to formulate a plan for resolving the “fiscal cliff” facing us in 2018-19?  I was surprised nobody asked him, “Well, governor, why didn’t you?”

Surely the governor does not believe we have already forgotten that the centerpiece of his tax reform proposal was the previously unheard of and dead on arrival Commercial Activity Tax?  While his proposal did incorporate some of the task force proposals, his brand-new Commercial Activity Tax constituted $832 million of his $1.3 billion proposal.

When Gov. Edwards first talked about the Commercial Activity Tax I thought, “Oh, no, here we go again with another sham like the one Jindal put up in his his one and only stab at tax reform in 2013.”  Then, when Gov. Edwards put his CAT proposal in writing and balanced it with things that made sense, I thought he was proposing something he seriously thought would work.  By the time the CAT was introduced, however, it had already been severely watered down and it was subsequently amended beyond worth before the whole package was withdrawn – In other words, just like Jindal’s ersatz proposal, it never got out of the starting gate – And I came full circle to my original take on it.

Then Representatives Cameron Henry and Lance Harris began the drumbeat we have heard now for many years – “We don’t have a revenue problem.  We have a spending problem.”  That premise was picked up by legislators representing constituencies that believe it to be true (in the absence of a credible contrary argument), and the focus shifted to cuts.  Or did it?

Most of the things everybody considered critical, like full TOPS funding, higher education, and critical needs at corrections seem to have been funded, based on press reports.  State employees were even given a modest pay increase.  Yet no taxes were raised.  Since the Governor proposed an Executive Budget that left $440 million in what he considered priority needs unfunded, how is this possible?  I am still trying to find the answer to that seemingly simple question.

As you already know, state law requires the governor to submit an Executive Budget proposal balanced to the official forecast of revenues.  The legislature is also required to pass a balanced budget.  Although the original appropriations bills are based on the governor’s proposal, the legislature is under no obligation to pass a budget that matches what the governor has proposed.  In fact, there are states where the legislature pretty much ignores the governor’s proposal and starts and ends with its own ideas.  We must never forget that the legislature holds the power to appropriate and enact the budget, not the governor.  Our governor has veto power, including the power to veto line-items, but he does not make the law.  He is responsible for administering the enacted budget in accordance with law.

So, who really is to blame for the abysmal mess in which we find ourselves: the governor, or the legislature?  That’s an easy one – both.

Although the process has become significantly perverted, there should be only one way to balance our state budget on a continuing basis – match projected recurring revenue with projected expenses.  It is possible to do this and to do it in a way that is clearly understood.  At the end of the budget process we deserve a budget we can understand and live with – I am unconvinced we have either.

Governor Edwards did present a balanced budget proposal.  But was it clear and honest in its portrayal of our needs?  The Executive Budget presentation showed a general fund (tax-funded) need of $9.910 billion versus and official revenue forecast of $9.470 billion, leaving a gap of $440 million in unfunded needs.  All constitutional requirements were fully funded.  Here’s how the Governor said he balanced the budget:

  • Carrying forward most of the cuts made in FY 2016-2007 ($120 million)
  • Cutting general fund to the Department of Health ($184 million)
  • Across-the-board cuts in general fund of 2% ($48 million)
  • No funding for inflation
  • Funding TOPS at 70%
  • No funding of deferred maintenance and other infrastructure

If we got additional revenue, the governor proposed restoration of the cuts in hospitals and the across-the-board cuts.  In addition, he recommended full funding of TOPS, pay raises for state employees, technology enhancements, additional funding for prison contracts, match funding for DOTD, a 2.75% increase in the MFP for elementary and secondary schools, and other enhancements.

Fast forward to the budget ultimately enacted last week.  No additional revenue was raised.  TOPS is fully funded.  State employee pay raises are there.  Nobody is publicly claiming devastating cuts have occurred and the governor says he is happy with the budget.  We mullets (as the late C. B. Forgotston called us) are left to scratch our heads over how this is possible.  How is it possible to go from needing $440 million in additional money for a minimally adequate budget to needing ZERO while making most people happy?  What got cut?  How will the cuts affect people and businesses?  Until somebody answers these questions, we mullet mushrooms are left in the dark – and that is apparently where our “leaders” would as soon we stay.

We deserve better – all of us.  None of the following are unrealistic demands.  We need to start making them of our elected officials:

  1. An Executive Budget proposal that the governor truly believes in and is willing to fully defend. If, for example, 100% funding TOPS is not a high enough priority to be included in his base recommendations, then he should stand behind continuing the FY2016-2017 level of 70%.
  2. An Executive Budget proposal and an enacted budget that avoid across-the-board cuts. Across-the-board cuts only make sense if all programs are of equal value.  That is certainly not the case.  Further, after successive years of across-the-board cuts, the result can only be greater mediocrity and ineffectiveness.
  3. An Executive Budget proposal and enacted budget that make clear, concrete cuts anybody can understand with clear explanations of exactly how services are going to be reduced or eliminated.
  4. A progressive tax system that matches recurring revenue with recurring needs after all cuts possible have been made.
  5. Elected officials willing to hold their appointees to the highest standards possible with zero tolerance for the waste and abuses reported almost daily.
  6. Elected officials willing to put partisan politics aside in furtherance of the greater good.

Governor Bobby Jindal portrayed himself on the national stage as a budget-cutter par excellence.  If he was, why did he rely on tricks to “balance” annual budgets and leave Governor Edwards (and us) with a huge budget hole?

Why has Gov. Edwards not yet offered up a balanced budget he is willing to stand behind?  Why has the legislature not enacted a budget that makes sense and is sustainable in the future?  Is it a lack of courage, or is it an unwillingness to face reality?  It must be both, plus the partisanship that has recently made a political game of everything.

The governor and the legislature have competent staffs who have clearly defined our problems for many years.  A series of blue-ribbon panels and well-paid private contractors have studied the problem and recommended solutions for decades.  It is difficult to find evidence either individuals or businesses are overtaxed in Louisiana.  It is very easy to find low rankings of our state on infrastructure and quality of life issues important to both individuals and businesses.

We are mere pawns in the blame game – but we don’t have to be.   Let’s let our elected officials know we will no longer accept being held hostage to an incompetent and unresponsive government.  We want solutions, not the cop-outs and excuses we have been getting for way too many years.

Stephen Winham spent 21 years in the Louisiana State Budget Office, the last 12 as Director. He lives in St. Francisville.

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Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s travails (largely of his own making) continue with the filing of yet another in a series of legal actions, this one a federal LAWSUIT filed by a former female deputy.

As is usually the case, no matter how the trial (or settlement, which is more likely) eventually turns out, the real winners will be the attorneys who will have managed to drag out legal proceedings for a minimum of 18 months, barring any further delays in the trial tentatively set for June 4, 2018.

If the case follows the all-too-common trend, however, there is almost certain to be unforeseen delays and continuances that will push that date back even further as attorneys (and there is a gaggle of those) continue to rack up billable hours.

Candace Rayburn, a deputy sheriff for more than five years, claims she was unceremoniously and summarily terminated after she spoke up in the defense of a female co-worker filed an EEOC sexual harassment charge against a male deputy.

Rayburn’s is another in a string of lawsuits filed against Ackal, who was recently acquitted in Shreveport federal court of criminal charges of abusing black prisoners of his jail. Those charges included beatings of prisoners and turning a police dog on a helpless prisoner, a gruesome scene that was captured on video and posted by LouisianaVoice earlier.

Ackal is also being sued for wrongful termination by another former deputy and by the family of a prisoner who died of a gunshot wound while handcuffed and in the custody of Iberia Parish Sheriff’s deputies. The official coroner’s ruling was that the prisoner, Victor White, died of a self-inflicted wound.

The sheriff is also indirectly involved in the manslaughter arrest of a man instrumental in starting a recall of Ackal over the White shooting. https://louisianavoice.com/2017/03/21/man-indicted-for-manslaughter-after-he-is-rear-ended-by-man-later-killed-in-separate-accident-his-sin-was-recall-of-sheriff/

Rayburn initially named both Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office as defendants but recently amended her petition to include Ackal as the only defendant.

Ackal, who paid premium fees in his criminal defense, in a classic case of fiscal overkill, has opened up the parish bank in hiring not one, not two, not three, not four, but five defense attorneys, all from the same law firm.

That’s right. Because he’s being sued in his official capacity as sheriff, Iberia Parish taxpayers will pick up the tab for his legal bills—all of them.

Rayburn, who was employed as a Sheriff’s Deputy for IPSO from July 21, 2008 to November

15, 2013, says she received “overwhelmingly positive reviews from her Supervisors” and was even named “Employee of the Year” in 2012.

But when Deputy Laura Segura filed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Deputy Bert Berry, she voiced her support of Segura. Within two weeks, she says, she was brought before the department’s disciplinary board which recommended a one-year probationary period and that she be offered remedial training. Instead, she claims in her suit, Ackal fired her for “multiple (uncited) policy violations,” actions she claims were committed “with malice.”

Rayburn is claiming loss of pay, loss of benefits, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

She is seeking reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

To say Ackal has lawyered up would be an understatement. He has retained half the Lafayette law firm of Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais: Allison McDade Ackal, Homer Edward Barousse, III, Kyle Nicholas Choate, Joy C Rabalais, and Taylor Reppond Stover.

Rayburn is represented by Justin Roy Mueller, also of Lafayette.

The calendar, rules, and SCHEDULE set forth by the court are simply mind-boggling and serve to illustrate why our courts are so backed up—and why justice is only for those who can afford it.

The court, invoking something called Rule 30(a)(2)(A), placed a limit of 10 on the number of depositions that may be taken in the case, limiting each to one seven-hour day—absent written stipulation of parties to the suit or of a court order.

Should the parties participate in the maximum 10 depositions with each one running the full seven hours allowed, that’s 70 hours of legal fees for which the parish must stand good.

Applying an arbitrary rate of $200 per hour (which most likely is considerably less than the hourly rate the parish paid his attorney in his criminal trial), that comes to $14,000—and that doesn’t count the costs of court reporters, expert fees, filing fees and countless other hours the five attorneys will be billing the parish for, or the Segura settlement which reportedly cost the parish in the ballpark of $400,000.

All in all, with all the legal expenses incurred by Ackal and his deputies in all the lawsuits and criminal charges, the folks in Iberia Parish must be asking themselves about now if they can really afford to keep such a financial liability in office.

Some might even call him high maintenance.

Others might call him a genuine physical threat.

By anyone’s definition, though, he is a loose cannon.

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By Steve Winham, guest columnist

I have a regular monthly breakfast with venerable politician and retired state fire marshal, V. J. Bella.  As a legislator, V. J.  never shied away from taking bold actions (think cabbages inside motorcycle helmets hit with baseball bats) and his background and devotion to the cause made him uniquely qualified as fire marshal.  He is also a good friend.

Among other topics, we always have lengthy discussions about Gov. Edwards.  At our most recent breakfast last week, V. J. said he believes Gov. Edwards is running for re-election too early.  He may have a strong point and, based on recent press reports, the game is already afoot to discredit him every way possible by at least one Republican PAC (America Rising). It has already launched a website to gather negatives about Edwards.  The plan, of course, is to stress his failures, including those dealing with our budget, economy, infrastructure, education, etc.

If the governor attempts to please as many people as possible over the remainder of this term in hope of being re-elected, how can he possibly recommend the very difficult and unpopular solutions necessary to begin to move us up from dead last among the states by most measures.  In an ideal world, making those hard choices would endear him to the public and ensure his re-election.  Unfortunately, the real world is not the political world.

If, in my dreams, I was Gov. Edwards, I would announce today that I am not running for re-election as governor, nor running for anything else.  I would then make dramatic changes unilaterally and push a legislative agenda that would move our state forward without a care for my personal political future.

As a bonus, taking bold, but politically unpopular actions would allow legislators to blame everything their constituents didn’t like on me.  That worked well for legislators even in the good times, so it could work even better now  –  “I put that rodeo arena in the capital outlay bill, but the governor vetoed it.  Vote for me and I’ll get it in there when we get rid of him next election.”

There is no question our budget is seriously broken.  Nor is there any question that is our major problem.  Our infrastructure is crumbling.  Our educational system continues to decline – Both strongly contribute to our stagnant economy and enhance a basic distrust of our government.  Businesses cannot reasonably plan because they have no idea how they will be taxed over time.  People dependent on state services have no assurances for the future.

All state services not completely protected continue a steady march toward total breakdown.  At the same time, we see almost daily news reports of waste, fraud, and corruption within government.  The public has lost faith in the ability of government to do anything right.

The first thing I would do is call my cabinet together and tell them I am tired of seeing news reports about things they should have been paying enough attention to catch and fix.  It’s not that hard to get a handle on these things.  It is a simple matter of working down the chain of command and holding people accountable at every level.   More on this later.

I would use the excellent January 2017 report of the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy and other information to put together a firm proposal of both expenditure cuts and revenue measures to permanently fix the gap of $1.2 billion that will result from expiration of sales taxes in July 2018.  Further cuts are unlikely to be popular, but they will be much more popular than additional taxes.

Since people are fed up with government, and because I believe it is needed now more than ever, I would do something I recommended in 1990.  I would take existing staff from the budget and accounting sections of the Division of Administration to create a small entity called the Office of Effectiveness and Efficiency.  I would send this team to every department, beginning with the most troublesome one and working down. They would take a common-sense look at how things are being done and recommend changes to make them better.  I would expect full cooperation from my cabinet secretaries.

Restoring the public’s faith in government is a daunting task, but it should be of highest priority.  Until people begin to have this faith, they will never believe anybody in government cares about waste or providing the best services possible and they will certainly not enthusiastically support sacrifices to support such a system.  It is simply not possible to begin to restore faith in government if political commitments override all other concerns.

We desperately need stability to achieve anything in this state.  Pandering to popular beliefs not supported by facts to win elections clearly does not work for the greater good.  An objective look at what has happened since our most recent presidential election should tell you that.

So, I would challenge Gov. Edwards to take the bold step of not seeking re-election and to announce it immediately so he can be free to fight the battles necessary to set us straight.  If he did, he might just find people begging him to change his mind and run again after all – And, if that happened, it would put a whole new, and ironic, spin on V. J.’s view.

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