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There are certain procedures that must be followed in submitting public records requests to public agencies and with many agencies, if the procedure is not followed to the letter, you will find cooperation nonexistent.

Such is the case with Dr. Arnold Feldman, a pain management physician whose license was suspended by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners which, just to be sure that he has been silenced, imposed a half-million dollar fine against him.

Dr. Feldman is unfamiliar with the proper method of making public records requests, as evidenced by a number of his requests that LouisianaVoice has obtained. For example, he has on occasion asked for general information instead of requesting specific documents.

In such cases the board, like many state agencies, is unforgiving, responding that his request is “overly broad” without explaining how—or by not responding at all.

It helps if you preface your request with: “Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the opportunity to review the following information:

Then you may wish to quote certain passages from the state’s public records statute, i.e. the penalties that non-compliance with the request carry. That puts officials on notice that you are knowledgeable about the public records statute.

And even though Dr. Feldman’s request did not follow these procedures, there are those occasions where the official response is so absurd that the official efforts to deny information becomes obvious.

For example, Dr. Feldman made one request that granted, did not follow protocol when he inquired as to whether or not Hammond attorney George M. Papale had ever been elected as a judge (he has not).

And while the request itself did not specifically ask for a public record, the board’s response in a JULY 9 LETTER by Dr. Vincent Culotta, executive director of the board, was laughable—and incorrect:

“…responses to public records requests are sometimes done with the assistance of counsel and we object to producing such information such information for your request on grounds of attorney-client and work product privileges.”

That is pure B.S. and Culotta knows it. And if he doesn’t, he should be fired because it’s part of his job to know.

Virtually every state agency, upon receiving any request for public records, runs that request by its legal counsel—meaning that practically all public records requests are done “with the assistance of counsel.”

By that line of reasoning, all public records requests could be refused.

A week earlier, in a JULY 2 LETTER, Dr. Culotta responded to Dr. Feldman:

“Specifically, you requested: ‘Has George Papale, who has been paid by this board, ever been an elected judge? Please provide me with a copy of his complete file.’

“I outline for you the objections of the Board to the scope of your request and specifically assert these objections to the production of any of the materials listed therein, if any exists, for the following, non-exhaustive reasons:”

One of the reasons given cited a state statute which provides that the “records and documents in the possession of any agency or any officer or employee thereof, including any written conclusions therefrom, which are deemed confidential and privileged shall not be subject to subpoena by any person or other state or federal agency.”

The key here is the phrase “which are deemed confidential and privileged.”

In the case of all public employees, from the governor on down, certain information is considered public information. This includes job titles, dates of hire and termination, salaries, official travel records, and expense vouchers (hotels, meals, mileage) and payments. In the cases of contract employees, copies of such contracts, terms of payment, job duties, invoices and payments are all considered public records.

How do I know this? I have made similar requests—and received documents—from many state agencies, one of the most frequent being the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

In cases of denial of a valid request, the requester may file a lawsuit against the agency and the person making the decision to deny the records. If the requester prevails, the agency or individual making the decision can be fined up to $100 per day, plus court costs and attorney fees, for denial of each request.

How do I know this? I have been successful in three of four lawsuits over public records or illegal executive sessions of a public body.

As with the State Board of Dentistry, the Board of Medical Examiners is flexing its enforcement muscle against those who do not have the expertise or the financial resources to fight back. A half-million-dollar fine is overkill in every possible consideration. Doctors and dentists have been broken and their careers left in tatters because of similar oppressive, dictatorial actions and it’s long past the time they should be reined in.

And for the record, attorney George Papale is still under contract to the Board of Medical Examiners even after his—and his daughter’s—employment was TERMINATED by another regulatory board, the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board.

The two attorneys had their contracts terminated following widespread complaints about the board’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.

The board was ripped by lawmakers after it was learned it had failed to revoke licenses after physical therapists settled claims of sexual misconduct with patients.

Baton Rouge physical therapist Philippe Veeters was charged with sexual battery and accused of assaulting nine patients but instead of revoking his license, the board merely suspended his license for nine months, prompting State Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) to call the action a “slap on the wrist.”

Dr. Feldman should re-phrase his requests and if unsuccessful, seek a legal solution.

That’s not legal advice; it’s advice from one who has been down the same road on many occasions.

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State Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) has been kind enough to offer LouisianaVoice a clarification of Monday’s STORY about House Bill 346 which would have given civil service fire and police personnel the right to actively participate in and contribute to political campaigns to the exclusion of all other civil service personnel.

While Seabaugh was in agreement to our assessment that HB 346 was a bad bill, he pointed out that it was in fact the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that actually debated the merits of the bill and passed it unanimously to send it to the House floor.

LouisianaVoice said it was sent to the floor by the unanimous vote of the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee.

In fact, the Civil Law and Procedure Committee was only voting on the ballot language as all constitutional amendments are required to go to that committee for approval of ballot language.

The gist of our story was that seven of the nine Civil Law and Procedure Committee members either changed their votes to vote against the bill or did not vote when it got to the House floor.

That point didn’t change appreciably, however, confirming our initial position that approving the bill in committee and then changing votes on the House floor sends the wrong signals about legislators’ real motives and the courage of their convictions.

While all 13 members of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the full House, six of those still changed their votes to no when it came to a full House vote, which failed, 29-84.

Representatives voting for the bill in committee but switching to no in the full House vote were committee Chairman Gregory Miller (R-Norco), Vice Chair Stephen Pugh (R-Ponchatoula), Ryan Bourriaque (R-Abbeville), Jimmy Harris (D-New Orleans), Dorothy Hill (D-Dry Creek), and Ed Larvadain, III (D-Alexandria).

Voting yes in both committee and on the full House vote were Reps. Roy Daryl Adams (I-Jackson), Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), Dodie Horton (R-Haughton), Barry Ivey (R-Baton Rouge), Sam Jenkins (D-Shreveport), John “Jay” Morris (R-Monroe), and Mark Wright (R-Covington).

Here is the full text of Rep. Seabaugh’s email:

From: Seabaugh, Rep. (Chamber Laptop) <aseabaugh@legis.la.gov>
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 6:35 AM
To: louisianavoice@outlook.com
Subject: Dodie Horton’s HB 346

I would like to start by telling you that I completely agree with your analysis of the bill. However, the portion of your article that references the actions of the Civil Law and Procedure committee is slightly inaccurate. The bill was originally referred to the House and Governmental Affairs committee who were the ones that the debated the substance of the bill and decided whether to send it on to the House floor for a full vote. It came out of that committee unanimously. I’m sure some of those members also voted against the bill on the floor so you could make the same point with respect to the Members of that committee. However, the House Civil Law committee was only voting on the ballot language. All constitutional amendments must to go to the Civil Law committee for approval of the ballot language. The committee does not have the authority to amend the bill or to kill the bill. All the committee can do is change or approve the language which will appear on the ballot when the measure is placed before the voters in the fall.

If you will go watch the video of the committee hearing, you will see that I handled the bill for representative Horton and explained that I was not for the bill and that I did not support the measure but that I was merely handling it for her to get the ballot language approved. Therefore, the unanimous vote by the Civil Law committee was not an approval of the substance of the bill. It was only a vote affirming that the ballot language fairly and accurately explained the substance of the bill.

 

Alan Seabaugh

Louisiana State Representative, District 5

401 Market Street, Suite 1120

Shreveport, LA  71101

Office (318) 676-7990

Fax (318) 221-0656

Aseabaugh@legis.la.gov

 

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Prussian Prime Minister and German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said that the man who wished to keep his respect for sausages and laws should not see how either is made.

HOUSE BILL 346 Rep. Dotie Horton (R-Haughton) is a perfect example.

First, the bill would have given municipal civil service firefighters and policemen the right no other civil servant in Louisiana currently enjoys, namely:

  • To assist in voter registration drives when off-duty;
  • To make political contributions;
  • To attend political rallies, meetings and fundraisers while off-duty;
  • To join political groups (other than just political parties);
  • To sign nominating petitions;
  • To participate in political campaigns when off-duty.

The reason this was a bad bill, besides that it specifically excludes all civil service employees other than firefighters and police, is that it opens the door for incumbent office-holders to exert pressure on employees under his or her supervision to participate in fund-raising and voter drives on his or her behalf against the employee’s will.

The fact that Horton’s bill contained language that strictly forbade such action or reprisals against employees who supported the wrong candidate, there are obviously ways to retaliate against an employee considered politically disloyal:

  • Assignment to menial work;
  • Unfavorable employee performance reviews, adversely affecting merit pay raises;
  • Refusals to promote employees.

Anyone who truly believes Horton’s proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting disciplinary action or coercion of a public employee would actually work has his head in the sand. There are just too many subtle ways to make an employee’s life miserable without adding political patronage to the list.

And the real story here isn’t that the bill garnered only an anemic 29 VOTES on the floor of the House on Monday against 64 nay votes and 12 absences. That’s actually 29 more than it deserved.

Can’t you see the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association, if the bill had passed and been approved by voters, cranking up its legal team for the discrimination lawsuit that would almost certainly have followed to have state police included?

Again, that’s not the story.

The story would be how the House CIVIL LAW AND PROCEDURE COMMITTEE voted on the bill to get it to the House floor and how its nine members voted afterward.

The committee voted unanimously to move the bill forward. That’s 9-0 in favor. That’s Reps. Raymond Garofalo (R-Chalmette), Randal Gaines (D-LaPlace), Robby Carter (D-Amite), Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City), Mary DuBuisson (R-Slidell), Sam Jenkins (D-Shreveport), Mike Johnson (R-Pineville), Tanner Magee (R-Houma) and Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) all voting yes.

Yet, when it came to the floor vote, there were six defections and another just took a powder.

Only Jenkins and Magee voted yes. Crews, DuBuisson, Gaines, Garofalo, Mike Johnson, and Seabaugh all voted thumbs down. Robbie Carter was no where to be found when the vote was taken.

Obviously, the committee members didn’t want the onus on them, so they passed the buck to get the bill to the full House, knowing, perhaps, it never stood a chance.

So, because the committee members couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do their jobs (or at least vote their true convictions), they punted to the full House so it could waste time on the bill.

Maybe that’s what old Otto was talking about.

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There are those like a certain former governor who see no good in any state employee. Perhaps that is why efforts were exerted to privatize every state government agency in sight and even to the extent of destroying one of the better teaching hospital systems in the country.

And gutting higher education’s budget only brought higher tuition costs, putting a college education out of reach of thousands of Louisiana students.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons Louisiana is the SEVENTH-FASTEST shrinking state in the nation, according to 24/7 Wall Street, a research organization that routinely publishes lists of the best and worst in a wide array of subjects.

Of course, another reason steeped in Louisiana tradition is the sordid history of CORRUPTION that has permeated the political culture of this state for longer than anyone reading this has lived.

And when you have a state legislature that ignores the well-being of the state’s citizens in favor of the corporate interests of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the oil and gas industry get first consideration, it’s no wonder that folks are a tad jaded.

Yet, thousands of state employees report to work each day to do jobs that go largely unnoticed—until something goes awry. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose. A civil servant gets fined for receiving an unsolicited Christmas ham from a vendor (that really happened), but another employee, an administrator, gets caught claiming time on the job while actually on vacation and nothing gets done.

Let a few rank and file state troopers drive across country for a conference at the direction of the State Police Superintendent and they are punished while the superintendent is allowed to retire—with full benefits.

Let another agency head trade sex with the manager of a restaurant in exchange for a permit to operate and nothing happens. But that same agency head dished out arbitrary punishment and fired employees for no cause and it took civil lawsuits to bring some measure of justice. And not even all of the lawsuits produced satisfactory results for the fired employees.

I write all that to say that while little seems to get done much of the time, there is one agency that has uncovered nearly $6.3 million in criminal violations, initiated investigations that have resulted in 51 criminal prosecutions that have resulted in produced 57 terminations or resignations.

A hard-charging, politically ambitious, headline-seeking prosecutor?

Nope. Just the work-a-day numbers-crunchers working for Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

From Jan. 1, 2015, through Nov. 13, 2017, Purpera’s office has submitted 108  investigative audits of local and state government agencies, boards and commissions and quasi-public entities. From those 108 investigative audits came 72 actual reports with 200 findings reported and 555 recommendations made.

summary of projects

An investigative audit, by definition, is far more serious than routine audits that agencies undergo on a regular basis. Before embarking on an investigative audit, there must be a reason for the auditor’s office to suspect some kind of wrongdoing.

The dollar amount covered in those 118 investigative audits was $148.96 million dollars with almost $6.3 million in alleged criminal violations turned up.

Some of the more high-profile investigative audits performed during the 22-month period included:

  • Misappropriation of funds by an employee of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Misapplication of funds at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches;
  • Improper payments and tickets to athletic events at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette;
  • Improper expenditure of $268,000 by the Institute for Academic Excellence in New Orleans;
  • Improper expenditure of $360,000 by the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System;
  • Nearly $800,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the 9th Judicial District Attorney in Rapides Parish;
  • Employees of the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court Office improperly paid for 51 days that they did not work;
  • Numerous violations by management at Angola State Penitentiary which resulted in the resignation of Warden Burl Cain and others;
  • Nearly $200,000 in seized cash assets was not deposited in the account of the District Attorney’s Special Asset Forfeiture Fund as required by the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office;
  • Mismanagement and missing state equipment from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries;
  • Improper use of state vehicle, hotel rooms, personnel, meals and training facilities by management personnel of Louisiana State Police;
  • Improper use of $164,000 of state funds by two employees and a student worker, unauthorized use of student identification cards, unauthorized free meals totaling more than $12,600 and improper advances of financial aid to students at Grambling State University.
  • Failure of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority in New Orleans to collect more than $600,000 in boat slip rental fees.

So, while it’s easy to criticize civil servants, it’s important to understand that while the public perception may be one of “deadheads,” they are people just like you—people with mortgages, student debt, family illnesses, and myriad other concerns (again, just like you). They are your neighbors, your friends and your relatives and they show up for work every day—just like you. And they struggle to make ends meet—just like you.

Given that, it’s a little difficult for me to understand how someone like autocrat Trump can pretend to say he relates with 800,000 federal workers who are facing the second pay period without a paycheck.

It’s puzzling also that daughter-in-law/adviser Lara Trump calls the government shutdown during which federal employees have to resort to food banks to eat, hold garage sales to pay the rent, or worse, be ordered to work without pay thus preventing them from taking part-time jobs that do pay, “a little bit of a pain.” This privileged, self-centered little rich girl has never known “a little bit of a pain.” so, how the hell can she relate?

And how can Trump economic adviser Kevin Hassett even dare to suggest that idled workers are better off because they’re benefiting from “a free vacation”? That’s unsurpassed arrogance.

But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took the prize by suggesting that federal workers simply run out to the corner bank or credit union and float a loan.

Perhaps Ross was trying to encourage them to borrow from the Bank of Cyprus that he once headed as it washed the money of Russian oligarchs.

All of this just so Trump can try to score some kind of vague point in order to say he’s a winner.

But my question to all those I’ve talked to who suddenly think a wall is of the utmost importance to the continued existence of a free and pure America is simply this:

Did you ever—even ONCE—consider the crushing need for a wall before Trump tossed the idea out as a throw-away line during a campaign stop in 2016? Did you know he was instructed to do that by his handlers only as a means of keeping him on topic?

Neither Trump, you, your mama, my mama, nor anyone else had ever given a wall a fleeting thought until then. Suddenly, it became the holy grail for all his followers who were unable to come up with an original thought of their own. And so, they fell in lockstep and followed, like so many sheep.

But there was another part to his promise that he has quietly dropped.

Mexico ain’t paying for it.

So, that’s my tribute to public employees, both state and federal and I hope to hell every one of them remembers our two U.S. Senators and five of our six U.S. Representatives who blindly support Trump’s every asinine utterance, tweet, and stumbling, bumbling, fumbling action.

 

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It’s no secret that LouisianaVoice has often been in disagreement with actions of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) and LSTA legal counsel Floyd Falcoln. So, to say it took the perfect storm to bring us all into accord is something of an understatement.

The Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) has inserted itself into a roiling controversy surrounding actions by a former Sterlington High School football coach and in the process, crossed swords with the Ouachita Parish School Board.

And while at first blush, it would seem inappropriate for a state agency like LSPC to engage itself in local matters, especially in the discipline of a high school coach, Robert Burns of the blog Sound Off Louisiana provides key insight into how double standards are applied at the sacred altar of high school football.

Thanks to Burns and his POST of today (Sept. 11) which was re-posted by Walter Abbott’s LINCOLN PARISH NEWS ONLINE, we have a pretty clear picture of why the LSPC, the equivalent of the state police civil service commission, got itself involved in a local matter—and we concur fully in the LSPC action.

In April 2017, when a student party ran short of beer, Sterlington football coach JACK GOODE voluntarily provided partiers with more booze, including vodka. When 16-year-old Chandler Jones resisted the hard stuff, Goode forced him to drink it until he got sick. Goode then struck the teen several times in the chest and face.

A responsible adult, upon being told by a bunch of teenagers that their party had run out of beer, would have shut the party down immediately. But Goode, by all accounts, was anything but a responsible adult on the night in question. In fact, Ouachita Parish sheriff’s deputies described him as “highly intoxicated.”

That was bad enough but it turned out that the Jones teenager was the son of state trooper Joseph Jones who, though off-duty, arrived on the scene simultaneous to the arrival of Ouachita Parish sheriff’s deputies. Jones had been contacted by a deputy who was the parent of another student at the party.

Goode was arrested and charged with battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. District Attorney Steve Tew, however, reduced charges against Goode to misdemeanor battery. Goode walked away from the incident after paying a $300 fine and stepping down as a teacher and coach at Sterlington High School.

The LSPC became indirectly involved when it upheld disciplinary action against the elder Jones for involving himself in a sheriff’s office investigation while off-duty. By a 4-2 vote, Jones was handed a 12-hour suspension while Goode was quickly hired by the Ouachita Parish School Board as a teacher at West Monroe High School.

LSPC, incensed at Goode’s being allowed to remain in the school system after such egregious behavior while Jones received a suspension for doing what any reasonable parent would do under similar circumstances, fired off a LETTER highly critical of the board’s irresponsible actions.

The letter, signed by all seven LSPC members, said that even though Trooper Jones “acted with greater restraint than many parents would have under the circumstances,” the commission nevertheless meted out what it deemed to be appropriate discipline for Jones having intervened in a sheriff’s department investigation, discipline the letter said “was in order for a violation of State Police policies.”

“Yet, despite the horrendous conduct of Mr. Goode, we understand that he is still employed by the School Board and still has access to and authority over minors in your school system.

“This Commission is appalled that this School Board continues to employ Jack Goode in such a capacity after the events that occurred in April 2017, and (that) it continues to allow Mr. Goode to work as a teacher of minor children at West Monroe High School.”

Well, someone has to be the adult in the room and it’s obvious that neither Goode nor the Ouachita Parish School Board are prepared to stake out their claims to such lofty ideals.

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