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Editor’s note: The following first-person account was submitted to LouisianaVoice for publication. The writer’s name is being withheld because she is still employed at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal and she fears for her job, her safety and that of her family. Several employees of the fire marshal’s office have already been fired or forced to resign because management suspected them of talking to LouisianaVoice. This post is certain to prompt a new round of interrogations and intimidation tactics to ferret out the new mole. But Fire Marshal Butch Browning may want to be very careful: if he finds and punishes or fires this individual, she will have no compunction about going public and naming names. She’s very angry and this is a bit more serious than decorating your uniform with military medals you never earned.

To her story, we would only add this question of Gov. John Bel Edwards: What are you going to do about this situation that this woman says is even now occurring on your watch?

I want to get right into my discussion, as recent news from around the country and world has allowed me the opportunity to tell my story.

I am a female employee at the Office of State Fire Marshal, Baton Rouge/Headquarters Office.

Over the past several years, upper management and the high-ranking deputies of this agency have sexually harassed me on numerous occasions—making inappropriate comments and sexual advances towards me. I have witnessed first-hand these advances being made towards others, as well.

I started my career with DPS a number of years ago and have been the victim of several comments and suggestions and subject to jokes about homosexuality and bestiality.

Several years ago, I was approached by a top supervisor about a special project to handle. While in his presence, he made it quite known that to “advance” in the agency, I would have to subject myself to him. I did not file a complaint, as I heard this was common amongst his bosses at Louisiana State Police.

I rejected those advances and went about my business. A few weeks later, another individual in my capacity told me about a similar situation she was involved in with another supervisor. The advances were brushed off and I continued to work at SFM. Several months later, a new employee with ties to the DPS compound (relative to higher-ups) was brought in the agency to handle similar clerical type jobs. I witnessed her being subjected to advances from several upper management heads until her abrupt departure shortly after. I was told she was just a temporary assignment anyway, and I moved on.

About two years ago, I was approached by the newest member of the executive staff. I heard from several sources in his previous agency that he was a man who knew what he wanted and just how to get it. It didn’t matter what kind of car he drove or uniform he wore, but he did things his own way. I was told that to move up in this agency, I was to kiss the feet of the new “Prince” himself. He was, in fact, related to a powerful politician. I soon recognized that this wasn’t just a made for TV movie about a corrupt southern town where the boss gets what he wants because he was related to the power brokers; I was actually living in a nightmare in real time.

Sure enough, the “Prince” approached me. It was just the two of us in the room, and he made his move. It began innocently enough about work. Then came the jokes about our personal lives. Then sexually suggestive comments that made me quite uncomfortable. I excused myself and we didn’t speak of it for the rest of the day. Sure enough, it returned. When I was again alone with him in the office, the story repeated itself. As a married mother, I brushed it off and changed the topic. But predictably, he brought the conversation around to just how well my career could/would be advanced had I given him what he wanted—ME. I was a young, dumb clerk who decided my family was important, and more important than me.

I decided to play his games.

When he made comments about my breasts, I joked and flirted back. When he said my rear end looked good, I joked and made suggestive comments again. Surely enough, he was falling for it. That’s when I decided to use this to my advantage and work myself to a better/higher position in this agency.

I asked him for favors and filed training requests to attend certain courses where I would be out of the office more. I asked to be assigned to another division where my work load would be decreased. I asked for a certain vehicle, and sure enough, it was mine—just like everyone said it would be.

It ended there. I made sure that it he knew that after I got what I wanted (and he got what he wanted), that was it. He was told that this would end it, and it did.

I am ashamed of what I did, but it was for my family and my career.

This man sexually harassed me, forcing me in uncomfortable situations to further my career.

Butch Browning knew about this but never did a thing about it.

Several, if not all upper management at SFM know about this, but are afraid to speak of it because of the fear they have for upper management and the highly-placed politicians who protect them.

I remain anonymous because I am still an employee with this agency, but I am very well aware of LouisianaVoice‘s articles about this office.

I am a proud mother and wife and I am truly ashamed for allowing myself to be harassed, but I know this story must be shared—now more than ever. This hasn’t ended. This happens every day, yet claims aren’t filed because of the fear of this man. Complaints can’t be made for fear of having them fall on deaf ears at the top—and for fear of the reprisals that would certainly follow.

To this day, I hear jokes about homosexuality and bestiality being made by upper management—comments about homosexual employees and our SFM K-9 dogs. To this day, I hear a joke about a woman’s vagina or a man’s penis size. To this day, I hear about management’s sexual conquests with deputies’ wives. To this day, I am told stories about affairs being carried on by upper management with clerks and deputies. To this day, I am truly embarrassed for what I put myself through. But I need to tell my story.

This is my story.

And I want it told.

It took incredible courage for this woman to come forward. Any other employee(s) with similar stories of sexual or racial discrimination at the State Fire Marshal’s Office is/are encouraged to come forward. Your identity will be protected above all else.

—Tom Aswell, publisher

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Earl Long, Jimmie Davis, John McKeithen, Edwin Edwards, Dave Treen, Bubby Roemer, Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal, John Bel Edwards.

Each of these governors has left his or her mark on Louisiana. Some have been good, some bad, and some, for lack of a better term, indifferent.

Earl Long, for example, gave Louisiana school children hot lunches. His brother Huey gave them free text books.

Davis gave the state a civil service system that, while not perfect, was designed to protect workers from a political spoils system.

But what none has been able to do is to lift the state out of the quagmire that defines Louisiana as one of the worst places to live in terms of quality of life, income, job growth, education, and overall health.

It’ll be left up to the historians to determine if that is the fault of the governor, the legislature, or the general political climate that has been allowed to permeate the system, leaving the state’s citizens with a mass feeling of resignation to the prospect that that’s just the way it is.

If it’s the latter, then we have allowed our state to move into a downward spiral from which becomes increasingly difficult to recover. Only those with the power and resources which, when combined, produce political influence, may prosper in such a climate.

When we become so complacent and inured to low expectations and even lower achievements, only those who are unscrupulous, devious, and manipulative will see a path to riches—to the detriment of those of us who allow it to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be satisfied with the status quo where we keep electing the same political opportunists who belly up to the trough to get first shot at the goodies, leaving the scraps for the rest of us.

Those people never seem to go away and whose fault is that?

I’m beginning to have serious doubts, for example, about the state’s Restore Louisiana program created to help victims of the 2016 floods. How many homeowners have actually been helped so far as opposed to those who find endless obstacles created by bureaucratic red tape—all while employees of the program continue to collect paychecks? How much of that recovery money is being eaten away by salaries of those who are supposed to be helping flood victims?

The governor says the hurricanes that struck Texas and Puerto Rico may slow the recovery process in Louisiana.

Why is that? Hasn’t the money already been appropriated for Louisiana? Why should the recovery process be slowed by those events if the money is already in place to help?

Perhaps it’s all just a part of the overall attitude of our politics as usual which has the state ranked as the third worst state in which to live, according to 24/7 Wall Street, the service which produces some 30 news releases per day on such things as state rankings, college rankings, the economy, and other issues.

LSU football has dropped out of the top 25 rankings. Louisiana has never been in it—except perhaps in the rankings of corruption, graft and ineptitude.

It’s latest ranking, released today, shows that Louisiana 10-year population growth of 6.4 percent is the 13th lowest. Could that be because our unemployment rate of 6.3 percent, according to the service, is third highest in the nation, or that our poverty rate of 19.6 percent (that’s about one of every five people in the state) is also third highest, or that our life expectancy at birth of 75.4 years is the fourth lowest?

What have our leaders done to address these issues?

  • They have fought increasing the minimum wage;
  • They have rejected efforts to ensure that women are paid the same as men for performing the same work;
  • They have robbed our colleges and universities of funding, forcing them to raise tuition which, in turn, is putting a college education out of reach for many;
  • They have decimated our medical teaching universities by giving away our state hospitals;

They have consistently looked the other way as the bad news mounts up but have proved themselves to be most diligent in:

  • Protecting the right to bear semi-automatic weapons;
  • Giving away the state treasury to business and industry in the form of general tax breaks that have to be made up by the rest of us;
  • Enacting tougher and tougher penalties for minor crimes that have produced a state with the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world;
  • Allowing our infrastructure (including more than a billion dollars in maintenance backlogs at our colleges and universities) to crumble beneath us with no solution in sight because of a lack of funding;
  • Protecting young girls by dictating a minimum age for exotic dancers while allowing the state to become a feeding ground for predators calling themselves adoption agencies that in reality, are little more than baby brokers;
  • Enacting legislation for faith-based charter schools and then raising holy hell when one of those applicants turns out to be an Islamic school.

Sure, we can stick out our chests and proclaim that at least we aren’t Mississippi which has the fifth-highest unemployment rate at 5.9 percent, the highest poverty rate (22.0 percent), and the lowest life expectancy at birth (74.5 years).

But in the final analysis, that’s really grabbing at straws.

Arkansas and Alabama rank ahead of Louisiana (fourth and fifth worst states in which to live, respectively).

Arkansas’s poverty rate is fourth-highest at 19.1 percent and its life expectancy at birth is seventh-lowest at 75.8 years.

Alabama has an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent (seventh-highest), a poverty rate of 18.5 percent (fifth-highest), and the second-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.2 percent).

Well, who, you might ask, is lodged between Louisiana and Mississippi for second-worst state in which to live?

That would be West Virginia, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate (6.0 percent), the seventh-highest poverty rate (17.9 percent), and the third-lowest life expectancy at birth (75.4 years).

Do you find it interesting that these same five states are always clustered at the bottom of all the rankings?

Know what else is interesting?

They’re all red states.

Isn’t it time we changed the mentality in Louisiana?

Isn’t it long past the time when we should be breaking out of the pack?

Shouldn’t we be asking really hard questions of our elected officials—from governor all the way down to the courthouse?

And the really soul-searching question:

Shouldn’t we turn off Dancing with the Stars and football and become involved in the recovery of a rotting state?

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When Department of Public Safety (DPS) Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux took that early incentive retirement buyout and then returned after a one-day “retirement,” and after having promoted herself to Undersecretary, she not only pocketed $59,000 to which she was not entitled, but knocked a New Orleans State Trooper out of tens of thousands of dollars by denying his retirement request.

LouisianaVoice first published the story in April 2014 of how Boudreaux gamed the system (Click HERE for that story) back in April 2010 but only recently learned of how in doing so, she deprived a 28-year veteran of the opportunity to take advantage of the special incentive buyout offered at the time by the Jindal administration.

Here is a copy of the email Boudreaux distributed to DPS employees: EARLY RETIREMENT INCENTIVE NOTICE

The email, dated April 21, spelled out the formula for calculating the buyout, based on salary and accrued leave time and offered the incentive plan to up to 20 applicants with participation being on a first come, first serve basis.

The problem for State Police Sgt. Troy McConnell was that he, unaware of the buyout plan, had submitted his retirement notice at 4 p.m. the previous day (April 20) in order to take a job as a member of newly-elected New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s security detail.

Some might say that the rules are the rules, but upon learning of the incentive the following day and knowing that it was virtually impossible for the state to process his retirement papers in one day’s time, he quickly contacted his superiors at Louisiana State Police (LSP) headquarters in Baton Rouge about rescinding and re-submitting his application with an April 21 date so that he would be eligible for the buyout.

His request was referred to LSP Human Resources (HR) and on up the chain to Boudreaux who indicated there were already about 20 letters of intent in HR at the time the memorandum was distributed and that most of those applicants had also called. She advised that once applications had been received by HR, they could not be withdrawn or cancelled.

Boudreaux’s position does not agree with that of a source with long time experience at LSP who said he was aware of more than one potential retiree withdrawing a request to retire. “The rule had generally been so long as the retirement board had not acted on the application, the potential retiree could select another date without prejudice,” he said.

“It was not unusual for a trooper to file a letter of intent to retire and then withdraw it for one reason or another and ask to set a new date” he said.

“But then none of those prior requests for changes would have negatively impacted Jill Boudreaux’s retirement and prompt return to service,” he added, “so this was an easy call for her to make.”

Nor did it correspond to information provided by the State Office of Civil Service.

While State Civil Services does not regulate retirement, here are the Civil Service Rules that deal with resignations:

12.11 Resignations

(a) An employee’s oral or written resignation becomes effective on the date and time specified by the employee. An oral resignation must be documented by the person receiving it.

(b) An employee may not withdraw or modify the resignation after the appointing authority accepts it, unless the appointing authority agrees (emphasis added).

The appointing authority in this case would have been LSP. Because less than 24 hours had elapsed when McConnell made his request to rescind his application, the State Police Retirement Board obviously had not had time to formally accept it. Accordingly, McConnell’s retirement application could easily have been withdrawn and re-submitted, Boudreaux’s claim to the contrary notwithstanding.

“That is consistent with what I’ve seen over the years,” the LSP source said.

And yes, the rules are the rules. No one, including McConnell questions that—except the rules did not prohibit his withdrawing his application for later submission as Boudreaux claimed. “It is what it is,” McConnell told LouisianaVoice by telephone today.

But that didn’t stop Boudreaux from grabbing one of the 20 incentives for herself, pocketing $59,000 and returning to work the very next day—with a promotion. You gotta love her chutzpah.

Boudreaux was subsequently directed by then-Commissioner of Administration Angelle Davis to return the money she had received but she never did. She retired for good six years later, on March 4, 2016, reportedly at the direction of Gov. John Bel Edwards. (See that story HERE).

Despite Boudreaux’s having elbowed her way to the front of the line—she reportedly was the very first to submit her application for the early retirement package—McConnell harbors no resentment today.

“Yeah, I was a little bitter at the time because I felt I should have been able to withdraw my application and re-submit,” he said. “But overall, I have been blessed to have been able to work for State Police all those years. I’m satisfied.”

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As a recovering Republican, I feel I am in a unique position to suggest that all political party labels be abandoned in favor of candidates representing constituents as opposed to clinging stubbornly to the blind loyalty of some group of adherents referring to themselves as Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.

Civilized countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have no legal political parties (although the media sometimes mistakenly refer to opposition groups as “parties”). If it’s good enough for them, it should suffice for us.

For once, I’d like to see a politician who is defined not by some label but by his own core beliefs and principles, formed independently and absent the dictates of a so-called “party” which is supported by special interests who dictate the philosophy of its labeled and packaged candidates.

I would much prefer to vote for someone because of he or she actually stands for something rather than putting party loyalty above all else. President Teddy Roosevelt had the political courage to stand up to his own Republican Party and demand corporate health regulations and to fight monopolistic trusts. Somehow, that courage has evaporated in the interest of party unity which, of course, encourages a more reliable flow of campaign contributions from the vested interests.

I don’t say this as a way of placing my intellect above that of my contemporaries (God knows that would be a foolish assumption on my part) but the two major parties in this country—all the way down to our petulant legislature—long ago arrived at loggerheads with each other to the detriment of those who put them in office.

It’s more than a little sickening to watch. Besides, we already have The Jerry Springer Show.

In a recent discussion with an old friend and long-time political observer, he noted that Democrats as a group refuse to accept anything proposed by Republicans and Republicans as a group counter in kind. Can anyone really wonder that Congress has a lower approval rating than porta-potty cleaner-uppers? (Coincidentally, it might be worth mentioning that the longer Congress is in session, the greater the demand for porta-potty cleaner-uppers.)

My friend, who spent his career in state government, confided in me that he promised himself long ago that if he ever became jaded with his job, he would retire. He is now retired.

So, why don’t we just be honest with ourselves and admit that our political system no longer functions as a two-party, give-and-take forum? When you had someone like Sam Rayburn as Speaker of the House, things got done in Congress even though there was Republican opposition. That’s because while there was opposition, the two sides left room for compromise. With Newt Gingrich, we instead got a governmental shutdown. (Rayburn, the longest-serving House speaker in history, by the way, died broke while our own Bobby Jindal, by contrast, became a multi-millionaire during his three years in Congress.)

Elected office is no longer considered a public service; it is instead, an avocation in and of itself, a stepping stone to the next move up. Witness the shameless pursuit of the presidency by Jindal and the equally self-serving ambition of Attorney General Jeff Landry, U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to oust John Bel Edwards as governor. Accordingly, you will not hear the first utterance by Landry, Graves or Kennedy in support of anything proposed by Edwards.

Likewise, should Donald Trump ever say or propose anything with a scintilla of original thought or meaningful purpose, you will never hear Nancy Pelosi or any other Democrat speak out in support. That just isn’t done any more. There’s no civility in politics, no room for compromise.

Witness the banal, hackneyed behavior of the Louisiana Legislature, particularly over the past 10, 20, 30 years.

Because the state has systematically failed to pay its mandated share into the state retirement system, we’re now saddled with an insurmountable unfunded liability in each of the state retirement systems.

For decades, taxpayers of Livingston, Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes have been paying a millage to construct the Comite River Diversion Canal project to prevent flooding. The project is no nearer completion today than it was 25 years ago and we have the delays to thank, at least in part, for that horrendous flood of last August. And now guess what? After pissing away the monies that were supposed to have gone to flood control with those millage collections, some legislators, in their collective buffoonery, now want to snatch nearly $200 million from federal monies intended for flood victims to use instead for flood control.

It’s almost like gasoline taxes that were supposed to have gone to repair our roads and bridges and the revenue from gaming that was supposed to fund public education. Of course, as soon as those gaming funds were approved, the legislature jerked an identical amount from other funding, the Support Education in Louisiana First Fund, and the result for public education was another version of the old shell game. Now you see it, not you don’t.

Fast forward to the Jindal years when state employees suddenly found themselves going six years on end without a pay raise. Now those Jindal years have spilled over into the Edwards years and those same legislators are still playing a game called kick the financial can down the road and state employees are still falling further and further behind the inflationary curve. Prices are up, health insurance is up, but salaries remain stagnant—with the exception of State Police (not to be confused with Department of Public Safety officers who undergo the same training but have not enjoyed the 30 percent pay raise received by State Troopers).

And now, House Bill 302 by House majority leader Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) would assess parolees an additional $37 fee per month (from $63 to $100), the money to be used to fund a pay increase for parole officers. As has become almost a ritual, the vote was split along party lines.

It’s really a beautiful thing to watch these guys cherry pick their personal little projects—like Harris’s fee assessment. I’m sure the rest of Louisiana’s civil service employees are applauding his magnanimous gesture toward the beleaguered parole officers.

Not to diminish the seriousness of their plight, but parole officers aren’t the only state civil service employees who are hurting. And Harris is not the only member of the legislature who is completely out of touch with the daily struggles of state employees, many of whom were victims of last year’s floods.

This is serious business and Harris and his colleagues should get together and try to figure out how the state’s fiscal problems can be addressed without the same old tired political rhetoric spouted along party lines. It’s time for compromise and hard decisions and the legislature, as a body, is not showing any inclination of making those hard decisions.

The governor’s plan is not perfect—far from it. But neither is the continued petty bickering of the legislature getting anything done. You’re not being paid to come to Baton Rouge to participate in some kind of elementary school blame game. You were sent here to solve problems and put this state back on sound financial footing.

Instead, you plaster an “R” or a “D” to your respective foreheads and start squawking like a couple of tomcats in a dark alley—even as you hold out your hands for political contributions from the special interests who pay you to just keep squawking like you always have.

A hint: We can see you and we can hear you and you’re not impressing anyone.

Drop the party labels and declare yourselves not as Republican or Democrat but as Louisianans.

Do the right thing. Do your jobs.

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The Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) must really be hurting financially.

First, there was the flak about the illegal campaign contributions LSTA’s board decided to launder through the private bank account of its Executive Director David Young that brought unwanted attention to the association.

Then there was the persistent objections to that decision by several retired state troopers who are members of the association but, like the rest of the LSTA membership, were never consulted on the decision to involve the group in partisan politics.

Their objections became such an annoyance that four of the retirees, men who dedicated their entire working life to protecting the public and trying to make our highways safer, were voted out of the association. Just booted out. No thank-you, no going away party. Nothing except a letter saying they were no longer welcome as members of the brotherhood.

Eventually, the State Ethics Commission investigated the illegal contributions—illegal because state classified employees are forbidden from participating in partisan politics or for contributing to political campaigns—and levied a $5,000 fine against the association.

On the heels of that action the FBI served subpoenas on 18 members of the association, directing them to appear before a federal grand jury investigating association activities. That grand jury convenes on April 13.

As all this was going on, many State Troopers were victims of the floods that plagued Louisiana during 2016 and the LSTA generously pledged $1,000 to members who were adversely affected by the floods.

Included on its WEB PAGE is the following statement:

“We are committed to improved pay and benefits; to assure a better working environment; to provide support when needed; and to increase the quality of life for our members. We also strive to improve the public services provided by our members to our community.”

Somehow, though, the retiree members, those who likely needed help the most, were overlooked when those $1,000 checks went out. Several retirees have contacted LouisianaVoice to say they never received any help from the association.

Obviously, LSTA is short of funds. Why else would it, instead of helping out those retirees who were flooded (among them excommunicated member Leon “Bucky” Millet), reach out to them instead for contributions?

That’s right. Millet, a retiree who was booted out for protesting too much and who had his home flooded, recently received a solicitation letter from LSTA.

The letter which went out over LSTA President James O’Quinn’s signature, noted that the association uses contributions “to persuade government (apparently through campaign contributions) to provide better and safer conditions for our troopers. We use it to support community oriented programs that serve to enhance positive relationships between troopers and the communities they serve.”

The letter contained no mention of how contributions are also used for elaborate parties and to pay for travel all over the country for members to attend such work-related events as the Washington Mardi Gras.

“Because we’re grateful to those who are grateful for us, we like to recognize our donors with gifts. For our spring fundraising campaign, we have our much-requested official LSTA Field Cap. We also have our new 2017 window stickers, our wonderful spring vacation drawing and special recognition for our high-end donors.”

We’re pretty sure that a long-standing member who was expelled for asking legitimate questions would love to affix that sticker to his windshield and cruise on down the road wearing his official LSTA Field Cap.

Ending its solicitation on a personal note, the letter said, “Please consider a donation, Mr. Millet. We could use it.”

Yes. No doubt, the association may even use some of those contributions for legal fees.

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