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Archive for the ‘Coastal Erosion’ Category

co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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I have been accused of “intellectual laziness” by one of our readers.

That comment came after I posted my last story about Billy Nungesser’s negating 18 writs of mandamus filed over his failure to take certain actions and to produce public documents requested by the Plaquemines Parish Council in 2010 during the time he served as Parish President. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/26/insight-into-nungesser-disregard-for-laws-revealed-in-his-blatant-disregard-for-public-records-demands-other-actions/

“Must be a slow news week,” said the writer, who identified himself only as “Who Cares.” He went on to say, “Reporting on topics six years old is intellectual laziness.”

Well, Who Cares, or whatever your real name is (probably a political ally or even Nungesser himself), it really wasn’t intellectual laziness, but an effort to let readers know the type individual who now holds the second-highest elective office in state government.

The point of that story was to illustrate the past may well be prologue (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest…or was it that 1967 episode of Ironside?), i.e. if he was capable of such abuse of office then, who’s to say he won’t attempt the same type shenanigans as lieutenant governor?

Oops, sorry. We almost forgot: he already has. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/12/louisiana-has-a-new-clown-prince-but-its-egg-not-a-pie-all-over-lt-gov-nungessers-face-after-succession-of-blunders/

So, Who Cares, there was a relevance to the post and if you thought that was old news, read on.

Precisely five years ago today (April 28, 2011) Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell sent quite a testy letter to Nungesser who at the time was ramping up his first run for lieutenant governor barely six months after his October 2010 re-election as Parish President.

And lest anyone think our rehashing of Campbell’s five-year-old letter is an endorsement for his election to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, it’s not. We have not and do not intend to make an endorsement in that race.

But Campbell took Nungesser to task for his political exploitation of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and for his failure to take the lead in coastal restoration prior to that disaster.

Here is Campbell’s letter in its entirety:

            I received your letter on your thoughts of running for Lieutenant Governor. You wrote that you have been busy helping Plaquemines Parish and our state to recover from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. You described “struggles with federal bureaucrats” and your amazement that a foreign company (British Petroleum) would be put in charge of cleaning up the spill.

            You’ve concluded that you can do the most good for Louisiana by leading the effort to rebuild our image as Lieutenant Governor. You asked for my opinion, so here it is:

            I wrote to you and all Louisiana elected officials after watching you and Gov. Jindal on national television following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well. You and the governor were taking every media opportunity to express your anger at BP and the federal government.

            My question then, and now as well, was: Where have you been?

            You have been leader since 2007 of the parish that is Ground Zero for coastal erosion, and yet, I have heard not a word from you about the part played by other “foreign” and multinational oil companies in damaging Louisiana’s coast.

            Louisiana political leaders have known for years that oil and gas production has contributed heavily to the destruction of our marshes. It is also well-established that the force of Katrina which ravaged Plaquemines Parish and southeast Louisiana, was heightened by the loss of our barrier islands to erosion.

            The silence of you, Gov. Jindal and other elected officials from coastal Louisiana is deafening when it comes to asking major oil companies to pay for the damage they’ve caused. Your later father (William Nungesser), who (sic) I knew well, worked for the only statewide politician to make such a demand, Gov. Dave Treen. He was absolutely right.

            As destructive as it has been, the BP oil spill is minor compared to the devastation of coastal erosion which costs Louisiana a football field of land every hour. Maybe it is easier to go on CNN and rant about BP and a federal government perceived as unpopular in Louisiana than to stand up to powerful corporations doing harm to our coastline.

            I have written to you, Mr. Jindal, Mr. Vitter, Ms. (U.S. Sen. Mary) Landrieu, Mr. (U.S. Rep. Steve) Scalise, and others on this issue and I never get a reply. Maybe when you run for Lieutenant Governor, you can tell the rest of the story. I would welcome a frank discussion with you on Katrina, BP, coastal erosion and the oil industry. Let’s ask Tulane to host an event in New Orleans. Let’s determine who owes who (sic) for what. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Foster Campbell

Public Service Commissioner

 C: Louisiana Elected Officials

     Prof. Oliver Houck (Tulane University Law School)

No further comment seems necessary.

 

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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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The numbers just don’t add up.

  • $130,000: The annual salary for the Louisiana governor;
  • 48,014: The number of broadcast TV ads for the four major candidates for governor through Nov. 16, 2015;
  • 24,007: The number of minutes of TV ads we were subjected to through Nov. 16 (at an average length of 30 seconds per ad);
  • 400: The total number of hours of TV ads for governor through Nov. 16;
  • 16.67: The number of days it would have taken you to watch every single ad through Nov. 16;
  • $17,333,920: The total cost of the 48,014 TV ads for the four major gubernatorial candidates (No wonder that Baton Rouge TV station fired the reporter who dared ask Vitter about his prostitution scandal; the station stood to lose lucrative ad revenue from the Vitter camp);
  • 13,654: The number ads purchased directly by David Vitter’s campaign (6,827 minutes, 113.8 hours, 4.7 full days of ads;
  • $3,816,660: Total cost of TV ads purchased by Vitter’s campaign;
  • 6,771: Number of ads purchased by Fund for Louisiana’s Future on behalf of Vitter (and make no mistake, while super PACs are prohibited from planning strategy or even consulting with a candidate, they can trash opponents freely and FLF trashed everyone but Vitter—3,385 minutes, 56 hours, 2.4 days);
  • $3,185,640: The cost of TV ads purchased by FLF through Nov. 16;
  • 9,259: Number of ads purchased by John Bel Edwards campaign (4,629 minutes, 77 hours, 3.2 days)
  • $2,675,600: Cost of TV ads purchased by John Bel Edwards;
  • 2,315: Number of TV ads purchased by Gumbo PAC on behalf of Edwards (1,157 minutes, 19.3 hours, .8 days)
  • $1,204,010: Cost of TV ads purchased by Gumbo PAC, the bulk of which was purchased after the Oct. 24 open primary;
  • 4,679: Number of TV ads purchased by Scott Angelle through Oct. 24 (2,340 minutes, 39 hours, 1.6 days)
  • $1,528,340: Cost of TV ads purchased by Scott Angelle;
  • 3,968: Number of TV ads purchased by Jay Dardenne through Oct. 24 (1,984 minutes, 33 hours, 1.4 days)
  • $1,285,380: Total cost of TV ads purchased by Jay Dardenne;
  • 7,368: Total number of TV ads purchased by smaller PACs (3,684 minutes, 61.4 hours, 2.6 days)
  • 0: The number of ads, the minutes, hours and days and the cost of TV ads in which any of the four candidates actually discussed their plans for resolving the multitude of problems facing Louisiana in public education, higher education, health care, prison reform, employment, coastal restoration and preservation, the environment, the economy, the state budget, or infrastructure.

And therein lies the real shame of the 2015 gubernatorial election.

With so much at stake for the state and with more than 16 full days of TV ad time in which to address our problems, not a word was said by any candidate about what he intended to do to turn this state around after eight years of the amateurish experimental governance of one Bobby Jindal that has brought us to the brink of ruin.

I repeat. Not a single word.

Instead, we were treated to a never-ending barrage of:

  • David Vitter is a snake for his tryst(s) with one or more hookers and is not only despised in the U.S. Senate but is largely an ineffective senator;
  • David Vitter betrayed his family 15 years ago but has been forgiven by his wife and has fought valiantly in the U.S. Senate on behalf of Louisiana’s citizens;
  • John Bel Edwards is joined at the hip with President Obama and desires to turn 5,500 hardened Angola convicts loose to prey on our citizenry;
  • John Bell Edwards has an unblemished record of achievement as evidenced by his graduation from West Point and his subsequent leadership role in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne and has fought Bobby Jindal’s disastrous programs for eight years.

As the voters of this state who have to make a decision tomorrow (Saturday, Nov. 21), we are tired—tired of the negative campaigning, tired of the distortions of records and outright lies about opposing candidates, tired of the endless succession of robocalls that give us not a live person with whom we can debate issues, but a recording that pitches one candidate’s positives over another’s negatives. (It’s just not the same when we curse and scream our frustrations at a recording.) We deserved better from all the candidates. We got a campaign long on accusations, name-calling and finger-pointing and one woefully short on solutions.

And lest readers think I am directing all of my disdain at the gubernatorial candidates, let me assure you I am not. I have equal contempt for the legislature, PACs and corporate power brokers.

Consider for a moment how approximately $31 million (that’s the total cost of this year’s governor’s race when all media advertising—radio, newspaper, robocalls and mail-outs, along with campaign staff and assorted expenses—are factored in) could have been put to better use. http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/13971699-123/louisiana-governor-race-spending-close

True, $31 million isn’t much when the state is looking at yet another $500 million budgetary shortfall, but every little bit helps. These donors, so concerned about the governor’s race, could, for example, feed a lot of homeless people or purchase quite a few text books for our schools. I’m just sayin’….

Most of that money, of course, is from PACs, the single worst plague ever visited upon a democratic society. PACs, with their unrestricted advertising expenditures, along with large corporate donors who also manage to circumvent the campaign contribution ceilings, remove the small contributors and the average citizen from the representation equation.

And why do they pour money into these campaigns? For benevolence, for the advancement of good, clean, honest government.

You can check that box no. It’s for the same reason they pay millions of dollars to lobbyists.

If you really want to know their motivation, just take a look at the list of state contracts http://wwwprd.doa.louisiana.gov/latrac/contracts/contractSearch.cfm or the impressive list of appointments to state boards and commissions.

Our thanks to the Center for Public Integrity for providing us with the television advertising cost breakdowns for the candidates and the various PACs. http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/10/01/18101/2015-state-ad-wars-tracker

 

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           As 2014 winds down, we decided that everyone else does a year-end wrap-up of the year’s significant events, so why not us?

            Accordingly, here is our review of the first six months of LouisianaVoice installments. The last six months will appear on Wednesday (Dec. 31).

JANUARY

IT Contractor linked to Obamacare, other problems:

A company holding two contracts with the State of Louisiana worth $32.8 million was the lead IT contractor of the ill-fated Affordable Health Care enrollment web page rolled out late last year.

CGI Technologies and Solutions, headquartered in Quebec, has experienced problems with other contracts in Canada and the U.S. even before the Obamacare debacle.

CGI Technologies and Solutions was awarded a $32.5 million contract with the Office of Community Development’s (OCD) Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU) on March 2, 2012 to provide computer software hosting, support and training for OCD’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), small rental programs.

That contract is scheduled to run out on March 1, 2015.

CGI executives have been involved with at least 20 other troubled government IT projects, including one contract to automate retirements for millions of federal employees that went $60 million over budget and despite $2.3 billion in contracts with two dozen federal agencies, the company was rejected by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) because of “performance issues” in carrying out an earlier contract.

HGI ties to Jindal, Christie:

MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal have begun focusing attention on a Louisiana firm with more than $200 million in contracts with both the Chris Christie and Jindal administrations for federally-funded relief to hurricane victims.

Hammerman & Gainer, Inc., or HGI, of Lutcher, was awarded a $68 million contract in May of 2013 to oversee two programs distributing $780 million in federal money to Sandy victims. That contract was cancelled only six months later, on Dec. 6, 2013, because of mounting complaints about delays in processing claims.

New Jersey homeowners say they have been unable to get answers, paperwork has been misplaced and HGI employees, most of whom are temporary employees, could not be reached by phone and that the company’s recovery centers change rules midstream and that no reconstruction program grants to thousands of applicants already approved have yet been awarded.

HGI also just happens to hold a $60 million contract with the Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit to administer the state’s Road Home Program. That contract began on March 20, 2012, and ends on March 19, 2015. Prior to that contract, HGI had a similar contract for $83.3 million which ran from March 20, 2009 to March 19, 2012. The $83.3 million contract replaced a $912 million contract with ICF Emergency Management Services of Baton Rouge.

In New Jersey, HGI hired Glenn Paulsen, former chief of the Burlington County Republicans, as its legal counsel when it submitted its bid to run the two Sandy relief programs. Paulsen’s law firm Capehart Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association which Christie now heads.

HGI contributed $15,000 to Jindal in three equal contributions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The company also gave $7,500 to Robert Wooley ($2,500 in 2003 and $5,000 in 2002), $5,000 to the Republican Party of Louisiana, $5,000 in 2011, to New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin in March of 2006, only months after Hurricane Katrina, and $7,500 to his successor Mitch Landrieu in equal contributions of $2,500 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. In addition, HGI President Larry Oney gave $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign in 2008.

Alvarez & Marsal gets fat at state trough:

Jindal also awarded a four-month contract to Alvarez & Marsal for a tad more than $5 million that called for the firm to deliver $500 million in savings to the state.

A & M’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal. In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the consulting firm.

The resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006.

Then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find a $500,000 savings.

Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the first 51 pages of a 2009 report calling for the privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. Alvarez & Marsal performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30.

The firm also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken.

The obvious next step for Jindal was to

Problems continue at OGB:

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are out at the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

FEBRUARY

Adley’s not-so-hidden agenda:

State Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) filed Senate Bill 79 which was designed to give Jindal even more power by giving him greater freedom in appointing members of a levee board, specifically the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities of both the east and west banks.

The bill was a counteroffensive to attempts by the east bank authority to push for a historic lawsuit that would hold oil and gas companies responsible for damages to coastal wetlands.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) was attempting to force the oil and gas companies to pay for the state’s coastal restoration efforts.

The lawsuit claimed that the companies destroyed the state’s coastal wetlands by dredging canals that contributed to erosion. The marshes had served as a natural buffer that mitigated storm surge. The suit, if successful, could cost the companies billions of dollars.

Adley’s bill should come as no surprise, given his opposition to the lawsuit but some might question why Adley would oppose the legal action against the companies in the first place.

One consideration could be that he has owned pelican Gas Management Co. since 1993, was president of ABCO Petroleum from 1972 to 1993, is affiliated with the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and has been the recipient of more than $150,000 in campaign contributions over the years from companies, political action committees, and individuals affiliated with or controlled by oil and gas interests.

Adley’s bill was assigned to the Senate Transportation, Highways & Public Works Committee. The chairman of Transportation, Highways & Public Works?

Robert Adley.

Jindal tantrum goes national:

Jindal’s outburst upon exiting a meeting between the nation’s governors and President Barack Obama Monday was a petulant display of immaturity that only served to underscore his disgraceful scorn for Louisiana’s working poor in favor of pandering to the mega-rich Koch brothers in the apparent hope that some of their Americans for Prosperity (AFP) money might find its way into his campaign coffers.

His shameless promotion of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project coupled with his criticism of Obama’s push for a minimum wage increase comes on the heels of word that Jindal is literally stealing from the blind in drawing down more than half of a trust fund established to assist blind vendors in state buildings to purchase equipment, to pay for repairs and to pay medical bills.

That trust fund shrank from $1.6 million to about $700,000, apparently because of yet another lawsuit the administration found itself embroiled in over the delivery of food services at Fort Polk in Leesville that sucked up $365,000 just for the state’s 21 percent share of attorney fees.

Jindal said of Obama’s push for an increase in the minimum wage that the president “seems to be waving the white flag of surrender” and that Obama’s economy “is now the minimum wage economy.”

CIA kidnap accomplice locates in Bossier City

A photo in the Shreveport Times shows a grinning Gov. Bobby Jindal shaking hands with David Zolet, executive vice president and general manager of the North American Sector of Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as the two jointly announced that the company plans to open a technology center at CSC’s national Cyber Research Park in Bossier City.

CSC will be the anchor tenant of the research park and will partner with Louisiana Tech University to account for 1,600 new jobs over the next four years, thanks in part to $14 million in state funding over the next decade to expand higher education programs to increase the number of computer science graduates per year.

CSC customers, meanwhile, were being urged to boycott the company over allegations that it took part in illegal CIA rendition flights in the U.S. “war on terror.”

Court documents have linked CSC to the rendition of German citizen Khaled El-Masri who was abducted on Dec. 31, 2003, after being mistaken for a known terrorist by the CIA.

El-Masri was blindfolded, beaten, imprisoned for 23 days, stripped, sodomized, chained, drugged, flown to Afghanistan where he was again beaten and imprisoned for another four months, interrogated, threatened, denied legal representation, force fed and finally flown in a CSC-chartered plane to Albania, where he was left on a remote road in the middle of the night some 1500 kilometers from his home.

CSC was contracted for the flight as well as for other illegal CIA renditions, according to human rights charity Reprieve. CSC has so far refused a request by Reprieve to sign a pledge of “zero tolerance to torture,” and has also declined to respond to questions from Computer Weekly about the allegations.

Germany has paid the company some $405 million since 1990 and over the past five years, the country has awarded more than 100 contracts to CSC and its subsidiaries.

The story said it is “no coincidence” that the company’s various German offices are often located near U.S. military bases.

Barksdale AFB, home of the U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Bomb Wing and Global Strike Command, and Cyber Research Park are nearly adjacent in their proximity to each other, with the proposed CSC facility and Barksdale separated only by I-20.

MARCH

Jindal contributor benefits from state road work

The controversy over that 55,000 hunting lodge that straddles three central Louisiana parishes has taken a new and curious twist as the result of a $1.7 million highway resurfacing project that conveniently runs right past the entrance to the lodge that is owned by a major contributor to Gov. Bobby Jindal and to unsuccessful congressional candidate State Sen. Neil Riser.

The overlay of LA. 127, also known locally as the Olla-Sikes Highway, started on Feb. 20 at the Caldwell Parish line and run 5.5 miles east in Winn Parish to LA. 1238, according to an announcement by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

The LA. 127 project ends at the camp entrance and at the property of TV reality show Swamp People star Troy “Choot ‘em” Landry, whose campsite is located within the hunting camp.

A search of political campaign contributions show that camp owner Bill Busbice and his wife, Beth each contributed the maximum allowable $2,600 ($5,200 total) to State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign for the 5th Congressional District seat won by Vance McAllister.

Jindal also picked up $20,000 from Busbice and Alfred Lippman of Morgan City, the registered agent for Olla Productions, LLC., one of Busbice’s may business entities.

Busbice contributed $5,000 to Jindal in April of 2009 and Beth Busbice gave another $5,000 in December of that same year, while Lippman contributed $5,000 in October of 2003, $3,500 in April of 2009 and his firm, Lippman, Malfouz, Tranchina & Thorguson of Morgan City gave another $1,500 in September of 2010.

Additionally, one of Lippman’s law partners, David Thorguson and his wife contributed $1,300 to Jindal, Jindal campaign records show.

Appel’s shrewd investments:

State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock in 2010 a week before a major announcement of a partnership between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Capitol News Service has learned.

On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

Appel is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) but also of the company’s recent agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

Appel’s financial disclosure form obtained from the State Board of Ethics indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was for “between $5,000 and $24,999.”

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and on the day’s following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s on-paper profit after a little more than three years was in excess of 100 percent. The stock closed on March 27 at $75.72, still an 85 percent gain for Appel.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session.

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after a major push by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

APRIL

Deputy Sheriff dabbles in private background checks:

A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to a report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says. Robert Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 for each report. That represents an income of more than $374,000 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo.

Extortion claimed on state highway project:

A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit took a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

The $500 million savings report by Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) was finally released on Monday only minutes before adjournment of the 2014 legislative session.

The 425-page report, produced under a $5 million contract, while projecting a savings of $2.7 billion over five years (an average of $540 million a year).

Most of the projected cost savings were based on assumptions for which A&M offered little or no supporting data other than arbitrary estimates and suppositions that could have been produced at a fraction of the report’s $11,760 per-page cost.

MAY

It pays to play I:

If there are any lingering doubts that politicians are beholden to the special interest who bankroll their campaigns, consider the money that has been spread among our state lawmakers—just from the oil and gas interests:

  • The 144 incumbent legislators have received more than $5.8 million in campaign contributions by a single special interest group—oil and gas. That comes to an average of $40,357 per legislator.
  • For the 39 current members of the Louisiana Senate, the aggregate is a little north of $2.8 million, or $51,100 each.
  • A total of $2.99 million was distributed among the 105 House members—an average of $40350 each, the figures show.

So, by obtaining a dismissal of litigation that could conceivably cost oil companies several hundred million dollars—before it ever goes to trial or even to the discovery stage—by spreading $5.8 million around represents a nice return on investment.

And make no mistake about it: campaign contributions are just that—investments.

It pays to play II:

The Senate Finance Committee on Sunday (Sen. Dan Claitor discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search of the Secretary of State’s web page to learn the identities of the NOLA Motor Club corporate officers and whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC. and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed $106,500 to Jindal.

JUNE

Legislator’s firm cited for environmental infractions:

A citation and a cease order issued to Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, Capitol News Service has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Lobbyists swarm to protect BP:

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

Blogger Lamar White, Jr. observed that former Gov. Edwin Edwards spent eight years in a federal prison for accepting payments from hopeful casino operators for his assistance in obtaining licenses—all after he left office. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was similarly convicted of using his position to steer business to a family-owned company and taking free vacations meals and cell phones from people attempting to score contracts or incentives from the city.

So what is the difference between what they did and the ton of contributions received by Adley and Jindal? To paraphrase my favorite playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare, a payoff by any other name smells just as rank.

And while big oil money flowed like liquor at the State Capitol (figuratively of course; it’s illegal to make or accept campaign contributions during the legislative session), what many may not know is that Jindal may have had an ulterior motive in going against sound legal advice to sign the bill into law, thus protecting the interests of big oil over the welfare of Louisiana citizens who have seen frightening erosion of the state’s shoreline and freshwater marshes.

The Washington, D.C., law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is one of the firms that represented BP in negotiating a $4.5 billion settlement that ended criminal charges against the company. Included in that settlement amount was a $1.26 billion criminal fine to be paid over five years.

An associate of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who has defended clients in government audit cases and in several whistleblower cases is one Nikesh Jindal.

He also is assigned to the division handling the BP case.

Nikesh Jindal is the younger brother of Gov. Piyush, aka Bobby Jindal.

Suddenly, John Barry’s words take on a little more significance: “We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

By now, most people who have followed the bill authored by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin) but inspired by Sen. Robert Adley (R-Benton) know that big oil poured money and thousands of lobbying man hours into efforts to pass the bill with it accompanying amendment that makes the prohibition against such lawsuits retroactive to ensure that the SLPFA-E effort was thwarted.

Most followers of the legislature and of the lawsuit also know that up to 70 legal scholars, along with Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, strongly advised Jindal to veto the law because of the threat to the pending BP litigation.

Altogether, the 144 current legislators received more than $5 million and Jindal himself received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests. Allain received $30,000 from the oil lobby and Adley an eye-popping $600,000.

So, when BP lobbyists began swarming around the Capitol like so many blow flies around a bloated carcass, the assumption was that BP somehow had a stake in the passage of SB 469 and that infamous amendment making the bill retroactive.

John Barry, a former SLFPA-E who was given the Jindal Teague Treatment but who stuck around to pursue the lawsuit, said, “During the last few days of the session, we were very well aware that the BP lobbyists were extraordinarily active. They were all over the place. We all assumed there was definitely something it in for them.”

Something in it for them indeed.

 

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