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

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

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

The town has 3,200 residents.

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

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

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

BUDGET

All that for a town of 3,200.

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

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

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

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

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

OVERAGES

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

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

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

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

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

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

SALARIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All this in a town of 3,200.

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

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In the evolving efforts by public officials (mostly elected and appointed political toadies) to prevent you from having unfettered access to public records, three tactics have emerged:

  • CRAPP (Crazed Retaliation Against Public Participation).

This is the strategy employed by Sheriff Jerry Larpenter of Terrebonne Parish.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/08/30/louisiana-sheriff-jerry-larpenter-illegally-uses-criminal-libel-law-to-unmask-a-critic/?utm_term=.e2a1770cf5a0

When a local blogger posted critical stories about him and his political cronies, the good sheriff of Terror-Bonne got a friendly judge (who must’ve received his law degree from eBay) to sign off on a search warrant whereby Larpenter could conduct a raid on the blogger’s home.

All the offending blogger, who obviously was a dangerous criminal on a par with John Dillinger, Willie Sutton, and Bonnie and Clyde, had done was illustrate how the family tree of Terror-Bonne elected officials has no branches—that it’s all just one main trunk, sucking the life out of everything around it.

Deputies seized his laptops and about anything else they could lay their hands on in an attempt to discourage him from writing further disparaging comments about the fine public servants of Terror-Bonne, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding.

Of course, a federal judge quickly ruled the raid unconstitutional and gave Larpenter a stern lecture on Civics—not that it did any good.

And then there’s the second approach:

  • BLAPP (Blowhard’s Letter Against Public Participation).

With this method, a public body like, say, the Gravity Drainage District 8 of Calcasieu Parish, has an attorney, say Russell Stutes, Jr., to write a nasty letter to a citizen, say, Billy Broussard, who had performed extensive work for the drainage district for which he was not paid following Hurricane Rita, threatening Broussard with jail time if he persisted in making public records requests. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/12/05/hurricane-cleanup-contractor-threatened-by-attorney-over-requests-for-public-records-from-calcasieu-drainage-district/

Stutes wrote that all Calcasieu Parish employees “have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands from you associated with the project,” neglecting for the moment that any citizen has a right to request any public record and that it is patently illegal for a public official, i.e., the custodian of the records, to ignore a legal request.

“Accordingly, the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges,” Stutes continued. “A rule for contempt of court will be filed, and we will request injunctive relief from Judge (David) Ritchie. Given Judge Ritchie’s outrage at your frivolous claims last year, you and I both know the next time you are brought before him regarding the project, it will likely result in you serving time for deliberately disregarding his rulings.”

Stutes ended his asinine communiqué by writing, “Consider this your final warning, Mr. Broussard. The harassment of Calcasieu Parish employees must completely and immediately cease. Otherwise, we are prepared to follow through with all remedies allowed by law.”

I wrote then and I’ll say it again: What a crock.

  • SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)

This is the preferred ploy being employed these days to shut down criticism—or inquiries—from the nosy citizenry.

The first two (CRAPP and BLAPP) are the acronyms created in the not-so-fertile mind of yours truly, although the events are very real as are SLAPP actions that are more and more often employed. The most recent cases involve two such lawsuits right here in Louisiana.

In the 3rd Judicial District (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes), judges, of all people, filed a lawsuit against a newspaper, The Ouachita Citizen, for seeking public records, even while admitting the records being sought were indeed public documents. https://lincolnparishnewsonline.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/judges-admit-dox-are-public-records-in-suit-against-newspaper/

More recently, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White filed a SLAPP lawsuit against a citizen, James Finney, who was seeking information related to school enrollments and statistical calculations. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mercedes-schneider/la-superintendent-john-wh_b_10216700.html

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit association dedicated to assisting journalists created in 1970, says SLAPPs “have become an all-to-common tool for intimidating and silencing critics of businesses, often for environmental and local land development issues.”

https://www.rcfp.org/browse-media-law-resources/digital-journalists-legal-guide/anti-slapp-laws-0

The California Anti-SLAPP Project (CASP), a law firm specializing in fighting SLAPPs and in protecting the First Amendment, says protected speech and expression on issues of public interest that may be targeted by SLAPPs include:

  • Posting a review on the internet;
  • Writing a letter to the editor
  • Circulating a petition;
  • Calling or writing a public official;
  • Reporting police misconduct;
  • Erecting a sign or displaying a banner on one’s own property;
  • Making comments to school officials;
  • Speaking a public meeting;
  • Filing a public interest lawsuit;
  • Testifying before Congress, the state legislature, or a city council.

SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials and entities against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues and typically claim defamation (libel or slander), malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage. https://www.casp.net/sued-for-freedom-of-speech-california/what-is-a-first-amendment-slapp/

CASP says that while most SLAPPs are legally meritless, “they can effectively achieve their principal purpose (which is) to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and thus diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.”

In 1993, Florida Attorney General Robert A. Butterworth released a Survey and Report on SLAPPs in that state. Five years later, in urging the Florida Legislature to enact a strong anti-SLAPP statute, the Attorney General wrote: “The right to participate in the democratic process is a cherished part of our traditions and heritage. Unfortunately, the ability of many Floridians to speak out on issues that affect them is threatened by the growing use of a legal tactic called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP. A SLAPP lawsuit is filed against citizens in order to silence them. The theory is that a citizen who speaks out against a proposal and is sued for thousands of dollars for alleged interference, conspiracy, slander or libel will cease speaking out. And, as demonstrated in a report prepared by this office on SLAPPs in 1993, the tactic is successful. Even though the SLAPP filers rarely prevailed in court in their lawsuits, they achieved the desired aim—they shut down the opposition.” http://news.caloosahatchee.org/docs/SLAPP_2.pdf

Fortunately, there are options for those who are victimized by SLAPP lawsuits.

The Public Participation Project and the Media Law Resource Center grade each state on the basis of existing or absence of anti-SLAPP laws.

Whereas only five states (Texas, California, Oregon, Nevada and Oklahoma) and the District of Columbia have what are considered as excellent anti-SLAPP state laws with grades of “A,” Louisiana is one of seven states (Georgia, Vermont, Rhode Island, Indiana, Illinois, and Kansas are the others) which have what are considered to be good anti-SLAPP laws on the books. These seven states were given a grade of “B.”

Sixteen states, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, North and South Carolina, Ohio, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, have no such laws and are rated “F.”

A key feature of anti-SLAPP statutes is immunity from civil liability for citizens or organizations participating in the processes of government, including:

  • Any written or oral statement made before a legislative, executive, or judicial body or in any other official proceeding authorized by law;
  • Any written or oral statement made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body or in any other official proceeding authorized by law;
  • Any written or oral statement made in a place open to the public or in a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; and
  • Any other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue.

When a citizen or organization is sued for protected activities, anti-SLAPP statutes provide for expedited hearing of a special motion to dismiss the SLAPP suit. The burden is placed on the plaintiff to prove that the defendants had no reasonable factual or legal grounds for exercising their constitutional rights and that there was actual injury suffered by the plaintiff as a result of the defendants’ actions. No action can be taken in furtherance of a SLAPP suit unless the plaintiff first demonstrates to the court that there is a “probability” of success. Attorneys’ fees and court costs are awarded to SLAPP defendants who win dismissal.

TOMORROW: A look at how one city council member’s questions produced not one, but four separate SLAPP lawsuits in a coordinated effort shut him up.

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Title 44 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes is designed to guarantee citizens the right to examine copies of public documents at no cost and, if they wish, the right to purchase copies of documents at a “reasonable” cost, generally not to exceed 25 cents per page.

All that sounds well and good but for the unsuspecting activist or muckraker venturing off into these uncharted waters, there are undercurrents and unseen obstacles that can quickly throw you off course.

When perusing Title 44 and you scroll down to 44.4, you begin to see the subtle way lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, managed to protect bureaucrats—and themselves—from the prying eyes of those who would hold them accountable.

R.S. 44.4 begins somewhat ominously in saying, “This Chapter shall not apply:”

There follows page upon page of exceptions.

We would expect information containing addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, medical information, student information, pending litigation and proprietary information to be off limits. It’s easy enough, after all, for scammers to obtain that information for the purposes of identity theft, without opening the doors for them.

But we did not expect to see exempted:

  • All risk-based capital reports filed with the Department of Insurance;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice medicine or midwifery;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a registered nurse; however, any action taken by the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a registered nurse shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a dentist or as a dental hygienist; however, any final determination made by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive or continue to hold a license to practice as a dentist or a dental hygienist shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a veterinarian; however, any final determination made by the Louisiana Board of Veterinary Medicine, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive or continue to hold a license to practice as a veterinarian shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a chiropractic; however, any final determination made by the Louisiana Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive or continue to hold a license to practice chiropractic shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice social work; however, any final determination made by the Louisiana Board of Social Work Examiners, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive or continue to hold a license to practice social work shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a medical psychologist; however, any final determination made by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive or continue to hold a license to practice as a psychologist shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a practical nurse; however, any action taken by the Louisiana State Board of Practical Nurse Examiners, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice as a practical nurse shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice or assist in the practice of pharmacy; however, any action taken by the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy, and any legal grounds upon which such action is based, relative to the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice or assist in the practice of pharmacy shall be a public record;
  • Any documents concerning the fitness of any person to receive, or continue to hold, a license to practice optometry; However, any final determination made by the board after an adjudication hearing, other than by consent order, agreement, or other informal disposition shall be a public record.
  • Any records, writings, accounts, letters, letter books, photographs, actual working papers, or copies thereof, any of which is in the custody or control of any officer, employee, or agent of the Louisiana Cemetery Board and which pertains to an investigation of the business of a cemetery authority that is under investigation; however any such record shall be public record and subject to the provisions of this Chapter when introduced as evidence before an administrative or other judicial tribunal or when the investigation is complete.

You will notice that in the cases of the practice of medicine or midwifery, there is no provision to open records once any action is taken on a complaint. Those records are closed regardless of the outcome of any complaints lodged against a doctor of midwife.

As for the Department of Insurance, it would seem in the public’s interest that we be able to examine these risk-based capital reports. After all, quite a few Louisiana policyholders were left high and dry when companies have gone under in the past because someone obviously wasn’t minding the store. Risk-Based Capital is merely a method whereby the minimum amount of capital appropriate to support a company’s business operations is determined so as to protect it from insolvency.

Just as it is important to parse any public information request precisely as to the record you wish to examine because state agencies will not assist you by opening up their records carte blanche, it is also important to notice that the various boards’ complaint records are public if—and only if—formal action is taken. That means if there are scores of complaints against, say, a pharmacist or a dentist, or a nurse, you don’t get to see the complaints unless action is taken. So: no action, no public record. The door is closed. Please go away and don’t bother us.

Unless the complaint is against a cemetery authority. In such cases, the records become public at the moment they are introduced as evidence.

That can mean only one thing: The Cemetery Board has a weak lobby.

As for the rest of them and your right to know what’s going on, fuggedaboutit.

And if you persist, there is always the growing trend toward SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) actions which LouisianaVoice will be examining tomorrow.

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The most recent audit (August 2017) of the Foster Care Program of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) found that:

  • DCFS did not conduct proper criminal background checks on non-certified foster care providers;
  • DCFS allowed nine certified providers with prior cases of abuse or neglect to care for foster children during fiscal years 2012-2016 without obtaining required waivers.
  • DCFS does not have a formal process to ensure that caseworkers actually assessed the safety of children placed with 68 non-certified providers.
  • DCFS did not always ensure that children in foster care received services to address physical and behavioral health needs.
  • State regulations require DCFS to expunge certain cases of abuse or neglect from the State Central Registry, which means those records are not available for caseworkers to consider prior to placing children with providers.

(See the DCFS audit summary HERE.)

So, the question now is this: What steps will the state take to protect these children now that the Legislative Auditor has pointed out these serious deficiencies?

If the results of a 2012 audit of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s Enterprise Zone Program is any indication, then the answer is nothing.

Under state statute, Louisiana’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) program is designed to award incentives to businesses and industries that locate in areas of high unemployment as a means of encouraging job growth. (The summary of that audit can be viewed HERE.)

That audit found that:

  • Approximately 68 percent of the 930 businesses that received EZ program incentives from the state were located outside of a designated enterprise zone. These businesses received nearly $124 million (61 percent) of the $203 million in total EZ program incentives during calendar years 2008 through 2010.
  • Approximately $3.9 billion (60 percent) of the $6.5 billion in capital investment by businesses receiving EZ incentives was located outside a designated enterprise zone.
  • Approximately 12,570 (75 percent) of the 16,760 net new jobs created by businesses granted EZ incentives were located outside an enterprise zone.
  • Four other states with which Louisiana was compared exclude retail businesses from EZ incentives. Louisiana does not, allowing such businesses as Walmart to take advantage of the incentives.
  • None of the four neighboring states allows businesses to count part-time employees among the new jobs created. Louisiana does.
  • Louisiana state law prohibits disclosure of the amount of incentives received by businesses.

Little, if anything, has been done to rectify these deficiencies in the oversight of the EZ program.

There has been precious little reaction from this year’s audit of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which found that thousands of dollars in equipment had been stolen, a story LouisianaVoice called attention to last year. Go HERE for a summary of that audit report or HERE for our story.

Some remedial steps have been made in addressing a multitude of problems exposed in a 2016 audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs (See audit summary HERE).

Yet, we can’t help but wonder where the oversight was before a critical audit necessitated changes. Among those findings:

  • Payment of $44,000 to a company for improperly documented work without the required contract.
  • The use of $27,500 in federal funds specifically earmarked for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell for the purchase of a Ford Expedition for the exclusive use of headquarters staff.
  • The failure to disclose information of potential crimes involving veteran residents at several War Veteran homes.
  • The possible falsifying of former Secretary David Alan LaCerte’s military service as posted on the LDVA website.
  • LaCerte’s engaging in questionable organizational, hiring, and pay practices that led in turn to a lack of accountability.

Likewise, some positive steps have been taken in shaping up the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) trusty oversight programs but that resulted as much from a thorough investigative report by Baton Rouge Advocate reporters as a 2016 audit (see HERE) that found:

Because the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola’s trusty policy, 1,547 (an astounding 91 percent) trusties at Angola were not eligible for the program and even after the policy was revised, 400 (24 percent) of 1705 trusties were ineligible. All 400 were considered by DOC to be eligible as a result of having an undocumented, implicit waiver for a sex offense or time served less than 10 years.

Equally troubling, the audit found that 14 of 151 (9 percent) of trusties assigned to work in state buildings in Baton Rouge were not eligible because of crimes of violence, including aggravated battery, manslaughter, and aggravated assault with a firearm. The report further found that if those 151 were required to comply with the requirements in place for Level 1 trusties, 49 (32 percent) would be ineligible.

Indicative of the monumental waste brought about by the proliferation of boards and commissions in state government, a 2017 audit (see HERE) of “Boards, Commissions, and Like Entities) noted that the number of boards and commissions had been reduced from the 492 in 2012 to “only” 458 in 2016. Texas, by comparison, has 173, Mississippi about 200. The appointment of members of those boards and commissions take up a lot of time as the governor’s office supposedly vets each new member.

Four boards did not respond to the auditor’s request for data in 2017 and 2016.

There were 11 inactive boards which were not fulfilling established functions, five of which were also inactive the previous year.

Some of these boards, as illustrated on numerous occasions by LouisianaVoice, often go rogue and there seems to be no one to rein them in. These include the Louisiana State Police Commission, The Louisiana Board of Dentistry, the Auctioneer Licensing Board, the State Board of Cosmetology, and the State Board of Medical Examiners, to name but a few.

Take, for example, the 2016 audit of the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission (see HERE):

  • The commission did not have adequate controls over financial reporting to ensure accuracy.
  • The commission did not comply with state procurement laws requiring contracts for personal, professional and consulting services, failing to obtain approval for contracts for two vendors totaling $80,000.

The point of this exercise is to call attention to the one office in state government which, with little fanfare and even less credit, goes about its job each day in attempting to maintain some semblance of order in the manner in which the myriad of state agencies protects the public fisc.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office, headed by Daryl Purpera, performs a Herculean, but thankless job of poring over receipts, contracts, bids, and everything related to expenditures to ensure that the agencies are toeing the line and are in accordance with established requirements and laws regarding the expenditure of public funds.

Thousands of audits have been performed. We pulled up only a few random examples: there are others, like the Recovery School District, the Department of Education, Grambling State University (only because it has so many audits with repeated findings), levee districts and local school boards and parish governments. Untold numbers of irregularities have been uncovered—only to be largely ignored by those in positions to take action against agency heads, who, because of political ambitions, allow attention to be diverted from their responsibilities of running a tight ship.

In cases of egregious findings, the media will jump on the story, only to allow it to fade away and things soon return to normal with no disciplinary action taken against those responsible.

If all elected officials and members of the governor’s cabinet were held accountable for their sloppy work or the outright dishonesty of their agency heads, it would send a message throughout state government and this state might well save hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted expenditures and theft.

It calls to mind the lyrics of a 1958 Johnny Cash song, Big River, recorded when he was still with Sun Records:

“She raised a few eyebrows

And then she went on down alone”

Through it all, Purpera and his staff trudge ever-onward, raising a few eyebrows and then continuing (alone) to do their jobs even as those above them do not.

They—and the taxpayers of Louisiana—deserve better.

 

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When Monica Manzella showed up for her first meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) last November, she received a warm greeting and a hug from State Police Lieutenant Rodney Hyatt.

We were curious how they knew each other so well. It was, after all, her first meeting.

Hyatt, other than his state trooper duties, also was—and still is—President of the Headquarters Chapter of the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA). Click HERE. He is also one of the four troopers who drove a state vehicle to San Diego via the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas last October to cheer on and party with their boss, then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson as he received a national award.

Manzella, appointed to the LSPC last October, was an assistant city attorney for the City of New Orleans and had, as part of her duties, signed off on Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) contracts between the City of New Orleans and Louisiana State Police (LSP). Under LACE, state police are paid by the local district attorney to help beef up traffic enforcement. Some characterized her work on the contracts and her appointment to the commission as a possible conflict of interest but she dismissed that concern out of hand.

Other than his position as headquarters chapter president of LSTA and her signing off on LACE contracts, there was no apparent connection or any obvious reason why the two would be on such friendly terms at her very first meeting.

But thanks to the wife of retired state trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet of Lake Arthur, a connection that appears a little more than casual has been discovered.

Bucky Millet first set the stage a year ago at the LSPC meeting of August 11, 2016, when he filed a formal complaint about the manner in which LSPC members were supposed to be appointed and the manner in which those requirements were being ignored.

[Please keep in mind that LSPC is the Louisiana State Police Commission, which rules on appeals of troopers subjected to discipline and LSTA is the private, non-profit association comprised of active and (some) retired state troopers as members. Some retirees have been expelled from the LSTA for questioning certain activities. The two, LSPC and LSTA, are completely separate entities.]

In his complaint, Millet referenced Article X, Part IV, Section 43(C) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 which stipulates the following:

  • 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. One member of the commission shall be elected by the classified state police officers of the state from their number as provided by law. A vacancy for any cause shall be filled by appointment or election in accordance with the procedure or law governing the original appointment or election, and from the same source. Within thirty days after a vacancy occurs, the president concerned shall submit the required nominations. Within thirty days thereafter, the governor shall make his appointment. If the governor fails to appoint within thirty days, the nominee whose name is first on the list of nominees automatically shall become a member of the commission. If any nominating authority fails to submit nominees in the time required, or if one of the named institutions ceases to exist, the governor shall make the appointment to the commission.

LouisianaVoice had earlier made a public records requests for any such letters of nominations from the university presidents. Only a single letter from Centenary College President Kenneth Schwab to then-Gov. Mike Foster dated Jan. 15, 2003, was provided.

For the full story of just how dysfunctional the LSPC was at that meeting, click HERE.

So, when Manzella was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards two months later, was that procedure finally followed? Well, yes and most probably not so much.

Thanks to Vivian Millet’s extensive Internet search, we now know that Lt. Hyatt and Manzella had their own history, dating back to March of 2016.

It seems that both Hyatt and Manzella were among 28 attendees from across the U.S. who earned their security Master of Arts degrees in Security Studies at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) in Monterey, California, on March 25.

The CHDS curriculum is an 18-month master’s degree program in homeland security.

Click HERE to see the press release and to see a class photo of the proud graduates. It’s a rather small photo, so here’s a little help with the identities: Hyatt is on the far right in the front row in complete Louisiana State Police uniform and Manzella is behind him and to his right, in the red top.

Which brings us to the question of how she got her appointment to LSPC.

She obtained her J.D. in Law from Loyola University of New Orleans in 2005 (click HERE). Loyola could have been expected to nominate one of its alumni—if it had been asked to do so.

That certainly makes sense. But it didn’t go down that way and with Hyatt in a key position with the LSTA and with LSTA the subject of what the LSPC attempted to pass off as an ongoing “investigation” of its illegal campaign contributions funneled through the personal bank account of the LSTA executive director, the stage was certainly set for a little politicking on her behalf. LSTA needed desperately to stack the commission with members friendly to the LSTA who would lend comfort and support to LSPC Chairman, State Trooper T.J. Doss and other like-minded members.

So, did Hyatt and the LSTA exert a little friendly persuasion to secure a seat on the commission for Manzella? Did they engage in a little back channel diplomacy in order to wrangle the appointment of a member guaranteed to be friendly to the LSTA?

Given the outcome of that investigation by Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend, who still has yet to provide a written report of his findings as required by his $75,000 contract and despite repeated demands that he do so, it would seem the Manzella—and subsequent—appointments have paid off handsomely for the LSTA. She has been everything LSTA could want—and more, as she moved from new member to vice chairman of the commission in a matter of just a few months while voting the LSTA line.

Which only underscores the necessity of at most, abolishing the LSPC and to put a constitutional amendment before voters to bring LSP under State Civil Service as it once was or at least, wiping the slate clean and beginning anew with all new members, unaffiliated with any political faction or with any organization and with the common goal of cleaning up the image of State Police and the troubled LSPC.

Failing either of those options, the term “Tarnished Badge” will soon refer to something other than just the nom de plume of a frequent commenter to LouisianaVoice posts.

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