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Archive for the ‘Civil Service’ Category

In continuing to examine the methods and motives of unknown individuals in the ongoing attempt to discredit and embarrass Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) member Calvin Braxton, Sr., several things are worth noting.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned that six of the seven members of the LSPC, including Braxton, may be serving on the commission illegally and others before them may not have been legitimate appointees, as well.

It’s not enough that LouisianaVoice was sent anonymous letters by someone with a bent for getting Braxton thrown off the commission, but it also appears from the timing of a report critical of Braxton’s behavior following his daughter’s DWI arrest that the report’s author may well have been coerced into filing the report.

There is also the question of how did the legal counsel for the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) wind up with an internal report? The LSTA is a private organization connected to the Louisiana State Police (LSP) only by virtue that its membership is comprised of active and retired state troopers. The LSTA has no input, or at least should have no involvement in LSP internal investigations other than disciplinary matters involving state troopers.

To recap briefly, Braxton’s daughter was arrested for DWI, speeding, improper lane usage and open container violation on Dec. 5, 2015. According to an official report filed by Troop E Commander, Capt. Jay D. Oliphant, Jr., Braxton subsequently demanded that Oliphant transfer the trooper, Jayson Linebaugh, to New Orleans for 60-90 days to “get his mind right.”

Oliphant explained the only reason a trooper would be assigned to New Orleans would be to supplement the New Orleans Police Department in an ongoing criminal enforcement detail. Assignment to New Orleans would be done only in such event, “certainly not as punishment for arresting his daughter,” the report said.

But the timing of the report, as well as all three anonymous “tips” about the matter received by LouisianaVoice, is terribly suspect.

In February, Braxton objected to the adoption of the commissions January meeting minutes as written because the proposed minutes did not fully summarize key points raised in the January meeting about campaign contributions made by LSTA through its director, David Young.

In a matter of weeks, the “tips” began arriving in the email box as well as the post office box of LouisianaVoice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/26/determined-effort-to-discredit-lspc-members-reveals-self-righteous-hypocrisy-vindictiveness-of-state-police-association/

Then, on July 15, the commission chose active trooper Thomas J. “TJ” Doss, the LSP representative on the commission as its President. Braxton, however, nominated then-Interim President Lloyd Grafton of Ruston and subsequently cast the only vote for Grafton. Grafton refused to vote for himself and cast his vote for Doss, who did not reciprocate the courtesy when he voted for himself.

All of which evokes the question of timing in the glut of anonymous “tips” as well as a not-so-anonymous letter by LSTA legal counsel Floyd Falcon to Gov. John Bel Edwards requesting Braxton’s removal from LSPC.

That letter was dated July 11, just three days before the LSPC’s July 14 meeting. Falcon’s letter also asked Edwards to bar Braxton from participating in or voting on commission matters.

Not only is the timing of Falcon’s letter, as well as his very possession of Oliphant’s report, more than a little suspicious, but the date of Oliphant’s report, as well, raises eyebrows.

And that should be key issue.

Oliphant, like Braxton, is from Natchitoches and he is said to be on friendly terms with both Braxton and Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones. Oliphant’s report quoted Braxton as claiming that Sheriff Jones had experienced problems with Trooper Linebaugh and also wanted the trooper removed from Natchitoches Parish after Linebaugh had also arrested Jones’s son for DWI in August 2015. Jones, Oliphant said in his report, denied having any problems with Linebaugh.

Oliphant’s report was DATED JUNE 2, 2016. All contact between Oliphant and Braxton occurred between the Dec. 5, 2015, date of his daughter’s arrest and Dec. 14, 2015—more than six months after the arrest of Braxton’s daughter and nearly six months after the last communication between Oliphant and Braxton.

So why the six-month wait before writing a report?

There are several questions that should be asked of everyone concerned:

  • Was Oliphant coerced to write the report about his friend?
  • Was he deliberately placed in a precarious position between friends Braxton and Sheriff Jones?

Most important of all, however, is this:

  • Why the six-month wait before writing a report?
  • Why is there no report from Linebaugh himself?
  • How is that Falcon came to be in possession of the June 2 report in so short a time as to be able to pen his letter (with the report attached) only nine days later? (Perhaps he has the same “anonymous” sources as LouisianaVoice.)

If any public official attempts to bring pressure on a law enforcement official in retribution for the arrest of a family member, that should be reported immediately—as in the same day, not six months down the road when memories may begin to cloud about details. And there should be a report from the trooper directly involved in the incident.

By everything LouisianaVoice has been able to learn about Oliphant, he is a super straight cop who goes strictly by the book. One former law enforcement official who knows both Oliphant and Sheriff Jones said Oliphant was “honest and completely above-board, a poster child for what law enforcement should be. If he wrote and signed the report, it most likely happened just the way he said.”

But even the strongest can be subjected to pressure when it’s applied in the right place (like a subtle, even unspoken threat to job security or promotions) by the right people in the right position of authority.

That in turn raises these questions:

  • Who is in a position to apply such pressure?
  • And who would have the most to lose from a rogue commission member who refused to go along to protect wrongdoing?

For the time being, those questions will be left to conjecture. But the answer can most probably be found in a very small cadre of players.

Meanwhile, there is another minor controversy brewing over the legitimacy of six of the seven board members (Doss, we assume, is elected by a vote of classified state police officers, according to the Louisiana State Constitution).

The remaining six members, one from each Congressional District, are appointed by the governor.

Article X, Part IV, Sec. 43(c) of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution says of nominations for APPOINTMENT TO LSPC:

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.

Of course we made the requisite public records request of LSPC to learn if such nominations were received. The request was for such nominations dating back to January 2003. But the LSPC RESPONSE went even further, back to Aug. 7, 2002 with its letter seeking three nominations from Dr. Kenneth Schwab, President of Centenary College in Shreveport.

Schwab responded on Jan. 15, 2003, with only one nomination, that of Joseph Cage, Jr.

There were other four other letters to Dr. Scott Cowen, President of Tulane University in New Orleans, on June 4, 2003; to Dr. Norman Francis, President of Xavier University in New Orleans on June 8, 2004 and again on Oct. 6, 2005, and to Dr. Joe Aguillard, President of Louisiana College in Pineville, also on Oct. 6, 2005, but none after that date. There were no responses to those letters.

So, at least for the past 13 years, only one of the six university presidents has made even a single nomination for one vacancy on the commission.

Members serve staggered terms of six years per term but are prohibited from serving more than two and one-half terms, or 15 years.

With at least four governors, including Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal and now John Bel Edwards never having received the constitutionally-required three nominees for each vacancy—and the LSPC has experienced considerable turnover in membership during that period—none of the present membership with the exception of Doss is legally serving.

The question now is what can—or will—be done about it? Does this quirk make all actions of the commission, including the hiring of special legal counsel Taylor Townsend, null and void? What about all the trooper appeals of disciplinary matters that have come before the commission down through the years? Some of those who were disciplined and appealed a decade or more ago have probably retired by now. What about per diem paid all those illegitimate commission members for attending meetings over at least the past 13 years?

That requirement of the State Constitution was put in there for a reason and should have been followed to the letter.

Obviously, that was not the case.

 

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It’s really interesting—and disappointing—to see how the very ones charged with enforcing our laws can be so condescendingly smug about getting away with actions they have to know—but can’t bring themselves to admit—are wrong from a legal, moral and ethical standpoint.

To no one’s surprise, the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) is both capitalizing on what it terms as “civil unrest” and crowing about the outcome of Thursday’s meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC).

But the association’s braggadocio was careful to cloak an ongoing effort for yet another pay raise (the third in just over a year) in a carefully worded, three-sentence explanation.

And the election of a new commission president could present a whole set of new problems.

To bring you up to date, the LSPC accepted the recommendation that no action be taken in any investigation of wrongdoing by state troopers responsible for (a) making the decision to actively support political candidates with campaign contributions and (b) laundering the money through the bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/14/expectations-of-state-police-commission-report-on-lsta-campaign-contribution-probe-dies-with-a-pitiful-whimper/

The Code of Governmental Ethics, Section VIII of R.S. 18:1505.2 (B) lists the making of contributions or loans “through or in the name of another” as a prohibited practice. http://ethics.la.gov/Pub/Laws/cfdasum.pdf

That’s pretty specific and clear-cut. And that prohibition is equally applicable to boty civil service employees and state police, even though the two answer to different boards—state employees to the State Civil Service Commission and state troopers to the LSPC.

And if the LSPC cratered to pressure from the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, with the office of Gov. John Bel Edwards serving as the official conduit, there are other ongoing investigations and one of those investigating agencies, the FBI, is not likely to succumb to pressure from the sheriffs or Edwards.

The State Ethics Board also has been asked to look into the contributions laundered by LSTA to a number of statewide political candidates since 2003, including Bobby Jindal and Edwards, both of whom received $10,000 from the association. Edwards has since returned his contributions to LSTA.

Here’s the text of an email from LSTA President Jay O’Quinn that went out Friday morning, the day after the LSPC unanimously accepted the recommendation of commission attorney Taylor Townsend that no action be taken on the investigation:

From: Hillary Moses <hmoses@latroopers.org>
Date: July 15, 2016 at 10:53:37 AM CDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: A Message from LSTA President Jay O’Quinn

Members, 

During this time of civil unrest, please remain vigilant in keeping yourselves and your families safe.  I only wanted to take a few moments to inform you of a few details regarding yesterday’s Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting.  Most of you are aware that, many months ago, certain individuals alleged that LSTA members and David Young were guilty of misconduct related to political activity.  The LSPC began an investigation into the LSTA based on these allegations and assigned attorney Taylor Townsend to conduct the investigation.  The LSTA cooperated fully, and Mr. Townsend acknowledged his appreciation of our cooperation when he released his findings in yesterday’s public meeting.  Mr. Townsend stated that the LSPC has no authority over the LSTA or its Executive Director, facts that were previously acknowledged.  Mr. Townsend further declared that no individual trooper was guilty of misconduct. The commission then voted unanimously to take no action and announced the matter closed.  

In regard to the proposed rule changes affecting the Louisiana State Police pay plan, Rodney Hyatt testified on behalf of the department.   After some debate, Rodney and TJ Doss, our representative on the Commission, successfully persuaded the Commission to table this matter until the next LSPC meeting.  This was done to allow the department time to ascertain the effects of the rule change and make any necessary adjustments to protect the pay plan.    

Lastly, by vote of the six Commission members, TJ Doss was elected as Chairman of the LSPC.  Please join me in congratulating TJ.  He has proven to have the motivation and ability to lead the LSPC.  To have the other Commission members recognize his ability and leadership is an enormous, well-deserved compliment.  Thanks to all members who took time to attend yesterday’s meeting, and thank you to those who continue to support the LSTA.  The many phone calls, messages, and words of encouragement mean more than you know.  Please feel free to share this information with members who may not have an e-mail address separate from the department. Thank you, and stay safe. 

Jay 

Way to go, guys. You pulled a fast one. It’s not enough to get away with it, but you have to top it off with bombast and swagger—just to show you can. Real class. But you might do well to remember two applicable quotes: It ain’t over ’til it’s over (Yogi Berra) and Pride goeth before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

If you read O’Quinn’s email carefully, you may have noticed two other things worth reexamination.

The e-mail skimmed over (we think deliberately) the testimony of State Trooper Rodney Hyatt with the two sentence explanation that Hyatt and commission member Thomas J. Doss, himself a state trooper, persuaded the commission to table an unspecified matter for 30 days to allow times to ascertain effects of a new rule change and to make “any necessary adjustments to protect the pay plan.”

That unspecified matter was a pay plan, adopted last November giving troopers an automatic yearly 4 percent pay hike but rescinded last month because any rule that affects wages or hours can go into effect only upon the governor’s signature—and that signature has never been provided. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

It was Doss who insisted that a new rule eliminating the longevity pay plan be tabled for 30 days. His motion was a transparent effort to send signals to the LSTA to step up its lobbying efforts with the governor’s office to get Edwards’ signature on last November’s pay plan, effectively killing the substitute plan. Eight months apparently was not sufficient for Doss and Hyatt; they need another 30 days, it seems.

Even as state civil service employees have gone without pay increases for five years or longer, state police have already received pay raises over the past 18 months totaling as much as 50 percent for some troopers.

The proposed longevity pay plan, which gives automatic yearly pay raises (that other state employees have been denied) aside from any merit increases, could give the impression that state police under its present leadership are just a tad greedy.

Obviously that’s not applicable to all state police officers—just those at the top who are attempting this as a means of consolidating power by buying the loyalty of the rank and file troopers. It was no accident that Thursday’s LSPC meeting was attended by nearly two dozen troopers from headquarters.

It was also Doss who was chosen as the new President of LSPC. The only dissenting vote was cast by Calvin Braxton of Natchitoches who nominated and voted for Interim President Lloyd Grafton of Ruston.

With the killing of the LSTC money laundering investigation and the 30-day delay on adopting a substitute to the proposed longevity pay plan in order for the LSTA to gets its ducks (read: politicians) lined up, the election of Doss as the new president was the perfect trifecta for Mike Edmonson.

The commission’s Web page contains the traditional mission statement:

Our mission is to provide a separate merit system for the commissioned officers of Louisiana State Police. In accomplishing this mission, the program administers entry level law enforcement examinations and promotional examinations; process personnel actions; issue certificates of eligibles; schedule appeal hearings on disciplinary matters on a monthly basis and pay hearings when necessary. Review, develop and implement State Police Commission rules, perform investigations, review contracts, review and accept or denies performance appraisal programs, and issues general circulars and transmittals. To enable the Office of State Police to meet the staffing needs in a timely fashion by hiring and promoting the best qualified applicants. 

So now the following questions must be asked:

  • Could there be a conflict of interest in his serving as president of the commission that is charged with performing investigations of wrongdoing and ruling on appeals of disciplinary matters?
  • What will happen should State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson come under investigation by the commission?
  • What will be Trooper Doss’s position should one of his fellow troopers—a close friend—come under investigation for some transgression?
  • How will Doss handle appeals from trooper friends disciplined by Edmonson? Will he support his friends or go against his commander?

These are serious questions that someone should put to the State Board of Ethics.

In the seven years that Doss has served as a full-time trooper, he has received pay increases totaling 36.5 percent—from $37,500 to $59,000.

But never fear. If past is indeed prologue (William Shakespeare: The Tempest), his seat on the commission is the fast track to lucrative promotions.

We have already begun a dangerous descent on a slippery slope and that slide must be reversed. Too often and for too long we have benignly looked the other way when we are confronted with unethical, immoral and illegal behavior by our public officials.

It is no longer sufficient to simply smile and say, “Well, that’s just Louisiana politics as usual.”

It may well be politics as usual, but it’s time for the citizens of this state to unite and demand one simple thing of our public officials:

Do the right thing. Not because we say so, but because it IS the right thing. Better yet, do it when no one is looking. You’ll be surprised how good it feels.

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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

–Alexander Pope

The so-called “investigation” by the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) into the laundering of campaign money by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) through the association’s executive director turned into a major sham that only served to reinforce the old adage that crap flows downhill.

But the good news is state civil service employees may now pursue a method whereby they can make their own heretofore verboten political campaign contributions.

Hyped for two weeks as an investigation that would “name respondents” for the association’s deliberate circumvention of state regulations prohibiting political activity on the part of individual state troopers, the “report” of Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend, hired to conduct the investigation and to make recommendations back to the commission, was a major dud in every respect.

His recommendation at Thursday’s (July 14) meeting: Do nothing. Punt. Abdicate the commission’s responsibility.

The term “deliberate” is not used lightly here. It was, after all, LSTA Executive Director David Young, in whose name more than $45,000 was contributed to various political candidates, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, who told the commission that the campaign contributions were made through him in order that “there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution.” Young said he wrote the checks, dating back to 2003 and the association would reimburse him. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/01/15/louisianavoice-exclusive-at-long-last-it-can-be-disclosed-that-the-reason-for-all-the-problems-at-state-police-is-us/

For two weeks, word has circulated that Townsend’s report would name names and would be sharply critical of the association’s practice.

There is even word of an audio tape at a contentious meeting of association members from Troop I in Lafayette at which it was disclosed by association representatives that LSTA officers made the decision as to whom would receive campaign contributions.

That tape was never mentioned in Townsend’s brief “report” on Thursday (July 14). Nor were any names given as those directly responsible for the decision to contribute campaign money to candidates.

Instead, Townsend said the commission has no jurisdiction over the association or over Young. While that was an accurate assessment openly acknowledged before Townsend was ever brought on board, it was also acknowledged prior to his being hired that the association did have investigative and disciplinary powers over individual state troopers found in violation of state law. And while Townsend was quick to absolve the commission of any responsibility for Young and the association, he conveniently neglected to bring up the commission’s responsibility for enforcement of laws and regulations when individual state trooper actions are involved.

Because the LSTA is a 501(c) non-profit charitable organization, it is free, under certain restrictions, to make political contributions. So, by having Young make personal contributions in his name and then filing an expense report, the LSTA conveniently bypasses state law by funneling money to political candidates through Young.

Carrying his verbal report to its obvious conclusion, state civil service employees may need no longer worry about a similar prohibition against their making campaign contributions. All they have to do is form an association and get IRS approval of their status as a 501(c).

Of course, while state police have received two recent pay increases totaling 50 percent in some cases (and, by the way, they still want more), state civil service workers have been routinely denied even their paltry 4 percent annual merit increases for more than five years now, so they, unlike their fortunate state trooper counterparts, could hardly be expected to afford to make token campaign contributions.

So, the question is how is it that an investigation which only a couple of weeks ago seemed almost certain to result at least in suspensions for identical infractions that forced three of the LPSC members to resign since April was suddenly rendered impotent? https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

To find the answer to that, one must go right to the top—the man who ran on the strength of his West Point Code of Honor.

It was John Bel Edwards who reappointed State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, most likely solely on the strength of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association insistence.

Asked by LouisianaVoice on Oct. 27, 2015, at 10:57 a.m. (before he took the oath of office) what his intentions were regarding the reappointment of Edmonson Edwards professed he had no intentions either way:

Please tell me your intentions as to the re-appointment of Mike Edmonson.

 

Tom Aswell

LouisianaVoice

 

From: John Bel Edwards

Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:50 PM

To: Tom Aswell  

Subject: Re: QUESTION

 

I don’t intend one way or the other

Being as charitable as possible, we now are forced to speculate that Edwards was being less than truthful at the time.

Edmonson was Bobby Jindal’s boy so why would Edwards feel obligated to keep him on? The LSTA even drew the line and said no to Edmonson’s request to have the association write a letter to Edwards recommending his reappointment.

Well, before he was Bobby Jindal’s boy, he was the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s boy. The Sheriffs’ Association wanted him to stay around because he is easily controlled and manipulated by the sheriffs.

The Sheriffs’ Association endorsed Edwards when the outcome of his runoff election against U.S. Sen. David Vitter was still in doubt. He needed that endorsement and the condition that went with the endorsement was that Edwards would keep their boy on. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/16/lsp-unable-to-locate-sergeants-critical-letter-warning-of-danger-edmonson-is-reappointed-by-gov-elect-edwards/

And don’t forget that Daniel Edwards is Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish—and an influential member of the Sheriff’s Association—and probably has more than a little influence with his brother, the governor.

Consequently, anything that might implicate—or even embarrass—Edmonson would, by extension, embarrass Gov. Edwards and the Sheriffs’ Association. Accordingly, the report by former State Sen. Taylor Townsend had to be watered down or even killed.

In short, everyone simply circled the wagons.

And that’s now what we were led to expect from one who espouses the West Point Code of Honor.

(Note to self: Stop expecting.)

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You just have to love Louisiana politics.

It’s kind of like having someone pee down your back while telling you it’s raining.

Or maybe trying to run a marathon with a rock in your shoe.

And to no one’s real surprise, it doesn’t seem to matter much which political party is in power.

Take Thomas Harris, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for example.

On Feb. 19, not quite two weeks ago, Secretary Harris testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget. In his testimony, Harris, who spent about a dozen years at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before his Jan. 26 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, lamented the fact that his agency was so strapped for funding that up to 66 employees face layoffs come July 1.

While it may difficult for some to feel much compassion for DNR, given the historically cozy relationship between the oil and gas industry and the agency’s top brass. It was DNR and DEQ, after all, which conveniently looked the other way all these years as our coastal marshlands were raped by the industry that curtailed the so-called legacy lawsuits filed against oil companies that neglected to clean up after themselves. http://theadvocate.com/home/9183574-125/house-oks-legacy-lawsuit-legislation

http://legacy.wwltv.com/story/news/2014/12/10/tainted-legacy-legislatures-fixes-create-obstacles-to-oil-and-gas-cleanup/17671639/

Harris gave his testimony during the afternoon session of the Appropriations Committee that met during the recent special legislative session called to address major budget shortfalls.

To save you some time, open the link HERE and move to the 41-minute mark. That’s where Harris begins his address to committee members, most of whom were talking among themselves (as is the norm) and not really paying attention.

So just why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s no big secret, after all, that budgetary cuts are hitting just about every agency and employees are going to have to be laid off. It’s a fact of life for anyone working for the state these days.

Unless you happen to be named David Boulet or Ashlee McNeely

Harris hired Boulet as Assistant Secretary of DNR, effective March 10 (last Thursday), less than three weeks after his calamitous testimony about projected layoffs.

But get this: Ashlee McNeely, wife of our old friend Chance McNeely (we’ll get to him presently), worked in Bobby Jindal’s office from Feb. 3, 2014, until last Oct. 22 as a legislative analyst at $78,000. On Oct. 23, she was promoted to Director of Legislative Services at the same salary (someone please tell us why Jindal needed a director of legislative services when he had less than three months to go in his term—and with no legislative session on the immediate horizon). Of course, come Jan. 11, the date of John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, she was quietly terminated along with the rest of Jindal’s staff.

But wait. Harris decided he needed a “Confidential Assistant.” And just what is a “confidential assistant,” anyway? Well, we’re told that the term is loosely translated to “legislative liaison.” No matter. Harris did the only logical thing: he brought Ashlee McNeely on board on Feb. 10, just nine days before his cataclysmic budgetary predictions. What’s more, he bumped her salary up by eight thou a year, to $86,000.

But back to our friend Boulet: His salary is a cool $107,600—to fill a position that has been vacant for more than five years. So what was the urgency of filling a long-vacated slot that obviously is little more than window dressing for an agency unable to fill mission-critical classified positions?

Had Harris chosen instead to allocate the combined $193,000 the two are getting, he could have hired four classified employees at $46,750 each. Not the greatest salary, but certainly not bad if you’re out of work and trying to feed a family. And still higher than the state’s family median income

So, what, exactly are the qualifications of Boulet? Well, for openers, he’s the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and that’s of no small consequence. In fact, that was probably enough.

In fact, it’s not the first time he has landed a cushy position that took on the appearances of having all the right connections. We take you back to 2001, when Blanco was Lieutenant Governor and Boulet was hired as the $120,000-a-year Director of Oil & Gas Cluster Development for the Louisiana Office of Economic Development, a move that did not sit well with the scribes at the Thibodaux Comet: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20011108/NEWS/111080313?tc=ar

And then there’s our old friend Chance McNeely, another holdover from the Jindal disaster. McNeely, all of 27, has seen his star rise in meteoric fashion after obtaining a degree in agricultural business and working four years as a legislative assistant for the U.S House of Representatives. From there, he found his way into Jindal’s inner circle as an analyst at $68,000. He remained there less than a year (March 6, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015) before moving over to DEQ where the special position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance (in circumvention of Jindal’s hiring freeze in place at the time and despite having no qualifications for the position)—complete with a $37,000 raise to $102,000. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

He held onto that job recisely a year, exiting the same day as his wife got her pink slip, on Jan. 11 of this year. Unlike Ashlee, who remained unemployed for just over three months, Chance was out of work for exactly eight days before being named Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Development, albeit at a slight drop in salary, to $99,000.

But by combining his and his wife’s salaries, the $177,000 isn’t too shabby for a state with a median income of $42,406 per household, according to 2014 data. And how many 27-year-olds do you know who pull down $99,000 per year? http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

So, Secretary Harris, as you struggle with balancing the high pay of your political appointees with cutbacks of the ones who do the real work, please know that we understand fully that we live in Louisiana where, no matter the rhetoric, things never change.

You will head an agency that will protect big oil from those of us with ruined pastureland and briny water. DNR will continue to shield big oil from those who would do whatever necessary to preserve our wetlands. And as those oil companies continue to fight back with whatever legal chicanery they can craft—including the buying of legislators.

And the merry-go-round of appointments to those with the right political connections will continue unabated—no matter what self-righteous rhetoric of freedom and justice for all is spewed by the pompous ass clowns we continue to elect.

Now ask me how I really feel.

 

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On Feb. 15, an arrest warrant was issued for a north Louisiana employee of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) following an investigation of more than two months by the Office of Inspector General.

Kimberly D. Lee, 49, of Calhoun in Ouachita Parish, subsequently surrendered to authorities and was subjected to the indignity of being booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Feb. 17 after being accused of filing false reports about mandatory monthly in-home visits with children in foster care.

As is often the case, however, there is much more to this story.

A month earlier, on Jan. 10, LouisianaVoice received a confidential email from a retired DCFS supervisor who revealed an alarming trend in her former agency:

“I served in most programs within the agency, foster care, investigations, and adoptions,” she wrote. “Over my career I witnessed the eight years of (Bobby) Jindal’s ‘improvements.’

“Those ‘improvements’ endanger children’s lives daily. The blight is spread from the Secretary to the lowliest clerical worker in the agency. People are overworked and underpaid but it’s not just that. People are so distraught from the unrelenting stress that children are in danger. Add to that the inexperience of most front line workers and their supervisors’ inability to properly train new staff.”

She then dropped a bombshell that should serve as a wake-up call to everyone who cares or pretends to care about the welfare of children—from Gov. John Bel Edwards down to the most obscure freshman legislator:

“In the Shreveport Region, the regional administrator (recently) told workers that they may make ‘drive-by’ visits to foster homes, which means talking to the foster parents in their driveway. Policy says that workers will see both the child and the foster parent in the home, interviewing each separately (emphasis added). A lot of abuse goes on in foster homes. Some foster families are truly doing the best they can but they need counseling and guidance from their workers. The regional administrator’s answer to that one? Have the foster parent call their home development worker—another person who can’t get her job done now.”

She wrote that she had heard of two separate incidents “where a child new to foster care was taken to a foster home and left without paperwork, without contact information for the person in charge of the case and without knowing even the child’s name.”

Moreover, she said, vehicles used in the Shreveport Region “are old, run-down, and repairs are not allowed. The last time new tires were bought was in 2014. When one (of the vehicles) breaks down, they just tow it away. No replacement is ordered.”

Could those factors have pushed Lee to fudge on her reports? Did the actions attributed to her constitute payroll fraud or did budgetary cuts force her into cutting corners in order to keep up with an ever-increasing caseload? Lee says yes to the latter, that she was told by supervisors to get things done, “no matter what.” Child welfare experts said her actions and arrest shone a needed light on problems at DCFS: low morale, high turnover, fewer workers handing greater numbers of caseloads, and increasing numbers of children entering foster care.

http://theadvocate.com/news/14909284-31/louisianas-child-protection-system-understaffed-and-overburdened-after-years-of-cuts-child-advocates

To find our own answers, LouisianaVoice turned to a document published on Jan. 5 of this year by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group of Montgomery, Alabama.

The 77-page report, entitled A Review of Child Welfare, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, points to:

  • A growing turnover rate for DCFS over the past three years from 19.32 percent in calendar year 2012 to 24.26 percent in 2014;
  • A 33 percent reduction in the number of agency employees to respond to abuse reports;
  • A 27 percent cut in funding since fiscal 2009, Bobby Jindal’s first year in office;
  • An increase in the number of foster homes of 5 percent;
  • An increase of 120.5 percent in the number of valid substance exposed newborns, from 557 to 1,330;
  • A trend beginning in 2011 that shows 4,077 children entered foster care but only 3,767 exited in 2015;
  • A 19 percent decrease in the number of child welfare staff positions filled statewide from 1,389 in 2009 to 1,125 in 2015.
  • Of the 764 caseworkers, 291, or 38 percent had two years’ experience or less and 444 (58 percent) had five years or less experience.

Moreover, figures provided by the Department of Civil Service showed that of the agency’s 3,400 employees, 44.5 percent made less than $40,000 a year and 19 percent earned less than $30,000.

In 2014 (the latest year for which figures are available), the median income for Louisiana for a single-person household was $42,406, fourth-lowest in the nation, as compared to the national single-person median income of $53,657.

http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

“The stresses within the system are at risk of causing poorer outcomes for some children and families,” the report says in its executive summary. “…Recent falling outcome trends in some of the areas that have been an agency strength in the past are early warnings of future challengers.”

Despite years of budgetary cuts under the Jindal administration, Louisiana has maintained “a high level of performance in achieving permanency for children in past years and currently is ranked first among states in adoption performance,” the report said.

The budget cuts, however, “have negatively affected the work force, service providers, organizational capacity and increasingly risk significantly affecting child and family outcomes” which has produced a front-line workforce environment “constrained by high caseload, much of which is caused by high turnover and increasing administrative duties and barriers that compromise time spent with children and families.”

And it is that threat to “compromise time spent with children and families” that brings us back to the case of Kimberly Lee and to the email LouisianaVoice received from the retired DCFS supervisor who cited the directive for caseworkers to make “drive-by” visits to foster homes, leaving children with foster homes with no paperwork, contact information or without even knowing the children’s names, and of the state vehicles in disrepair.

It’s small wonder then, in a story about how Jindal wrecked the Louisiana economy, reporter Alan Pyke quoted DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner-Walters as telling the Washington Post if lawmakers can’t resolve the current budget crisis, many Louisiana state agencies will see budget cuts of 60 percent. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2016/03/07/3757416/jindal-louisiana-budget-crisis/

As ample illustration of Bobby Jindal’s commitment to social programs for the poor and sick, remember he yanked $4.5 million from the developmentally disadvantaged in 2014 and gave it to a Indy-type racetrack in Jefferson Parish run by a member of the Chouest family, one of the richest families in Louisiana—but a generous donor to Jindal’s gubernatorial campaigns and a $1 million contributor to his super PAC for his silly presidential run.

Well, thanks to the havoc wreaked by Jindal and his Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the legislature did find it necessary to pass the Nichols’ penny tax (not original with us but the contribution of one of our readers who requested anonymity) to help offset the $900 million-plus deficit facing the state just through the end of the current fiscal year which ends on June 30.

Were legislators successful? Not if you listen to Tyler Bridges, one of the more knowledgeable reporters on the Baton Rouge Advocate staff. “Legislators were neither willing to cut spending enough, nor raise taxes enough nor eliminate the long list of tax breaks that favor one politically connected business or industry over another,” he wrote in Sunday’s Advocate (emphasis added). http://theadvocate.com/news/15167974-77/a-louisiana-legislature-that-ducked-tough-budget-decisions-during-its-special-meeting-convenes-again

As is all too typical, most of the real “legislation” was done in the flurry of activity leading up the final hectic minutes of the special session, leaving even legislators to question what they had accomplished. In military parlance, it would be called a cluster—.

But that should be understandable. After all, 43, or fully 30 percent of the current crop of legislators, had to work their legislative duties around their busy schedules that called upon them to attend no fewer than 50 campaign fundraisers (that’s right, some like Neil Riser, Katrina Jackson, and Patrick Connick had more than one), courtesy of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, the Beer Industry League, CenturyLink and a few well-placed lobbyists. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/louisiana_special_session_fund.html

It is, after all, what many of them are best at. (Seven of those were held at the once-exclusive Camelot Club on the top floor of the Chase Bank South Tower. We say “once-exclusive” because last week the Camelot announced that it was closing its doors after 49 years. Restrictions on lobbyists’ expenditures on lunches for legislators was given as one cause for the drop in club membership from 900 to 400. Not mentioned was the fact that Ruth’s Chris and Sullivan’s steak restaurants in Baton Rouge have become favorite hangouts for legislators and lobbyists during legislative sessions. One waiter told LouisianaVoice during the 2015 session that one could almost find a quorum of either chamber on any given night during the session—accompanied, of course, by lobbyists who only wanted good government.) https://www.businessreport.com/article/camelot-club-closing-afternoon-can-no-longer-viable-club-owner-says

LEGISLATORS’ FUNDRAISERS

Bridges accurately called the new taxes that will expire in 2018 “the type of short-term fix” favored by Jindal and the previous legislature “that they had vowed not to repeat.”

Can we get an Amen?

In the meantime, he observed that Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, because the legislature still left a $50 million hole in the current budget, will have to decide which state programs will be cut—again.

Emphasizing the risks to children, Garner-Walters told legislators in a committee hearing during the just-completed special session that state DCFS staff numbers 3,400, down a third from the 5,100 it had in 2008. “You can’t just not investigate child abuse,” she said.

Former Baton Rouge Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Richey, now heading up Louisiana CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), a child advocacy non-profit, has expressed her concern over the budgetary cuts that make DCFS caseworkers’ jobs so much more difficult.

“Our political leaders need to understand that while infrastructure represents a physical investment in our future, our children represent an intellectual investment in our future,” she said. “We have to protect innocent children who have no one else to stand up for them.”

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