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Archive for the ‘DOA’ Category

It may not be as furtive as Sen. Neil Riser’s 2014 amendment to sneak a hefty retirement raise for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson through the legislature, but something doesn’t seem quite right about a request for proposals (RFP) due to be issued by the Division of Administration by the end of the month (Thursday).

And this time the legislature has nothing to do with it; curiously, the project was initiated by Bobby Jindal and continues to be pushed by John Bel Edwards despite two separate studies that have said it is a bad deal for the state.

A request for information (RFI) for a “public-private partnership related to the State of Louisiana’s Central Chilled Water Facilities” was issued by the Division of Administration on March 17, 2015. The Jindal administration as part of its privatization push, was exploring the feasibility of entering into an agreement whereby a private entity would take over operation of the facilities which provide chilled water to air-condition state buildings in the Capitol Complex and elsewhere.

The state currently operates two such facilities, one in South Baton Rouge and the other in North Baton Rouge.

Only two companies, Bostonia Group of Boston and Bernhard Energy of Baton Rouge, submitted proposals in May 2015 but on June 23, 2015, Glenn Frazier, director of the Office of State Buildings, issued a letter which said in part, “After thorough review of the two proposals by an evaluation committee, Bostonia Group’s proposal was rejected and Bernhard Energy was asked to present an oral presentation. After hearing Bernhard Energy’s oral presentation and reviewing there (sic) subsequent follow up information, the committee has determined that due to the exceptionally high cost, it is clearly not in the state’s best interest to enter into a public-private partnership with Bernhard for the proposed services.” OSB Review Team Report

Apparently not satisfied with that recommendation, the Jindal administration then entered into a $25,000 contract with Assaf, Simoneaux, Tauzin & Associates (AST) Engineering Consultants of Baton Rouge on October 20, 2015, for the “Evaluation and Feasibility Study” of Bernhard’s proposal.

The state currently owns all the equipment and piping for both plants. Bernhard proposed extending the piping to other non-state entities and to market the chilled water with 38 percent of the sales being credited to the state.

AST, in a June 29, 2016, letter to Bill Wilson of the Office of State Buildings (OSB), said the proposed 38 percent credit to the state “appears to be low given the fact that the state currently owns all the equipment and is producing and distributing the chilled water.”

Despite acknowledging that Bernhard had “tweaked” its initial offer to come up with a more attractive proposal, AST said the “adoption of this agreement would not be advantageous for the State of Louisiana in its current form.”

AST called the revised formula submitted by Bernhard “cumbersome,” adding that “Based on our assessment and analysis, we recommend the current response to the RFI not be accepted by the State of Louisiana as a final proposal/contract.” AST Review Team Report

Bernhard submitted four options: one calling for a 20-year contract, two for 30-year durations and the fourth for 99 years. Under terms of its proposal, Bernhard would pay the state cash up front, depending upon which option was agreed upon. Under Option One, the state would receive $9.1 million for the 20-year agreement. The state would receive $12 million under Option Two and $12 million under Option Three, each for a 30-year contract. For the 99-year agreement, the state would receive $14.5 million up front.

Bernhard would invest some $13 million in expanding the piping system in order to serve private entities in downtown Baton Rouge. The state, in turn, would purchase its chilled water from Bernhard Energy. Additionally, the state would continue to own all piping and equipment but would “retain the obligation to operate, maintain, repair, renew, and replace the Central Chilled Water Facilities (CCWF) including any improvements or new equipment installed by Bernhard.”

In an email exchange with the state, Bernhard was told, “The concept of having a State entity, i.e., Office of State Buildings contract with Bernhard Energy and then have the state pay for the services back to Bernhard Energy does not appear to be logical from the State’s perspective. This would additionally place a state entity (Office of State Buildings) serving both a private contractor at the same time as providing services to its State tenants. Doing so could would likely result in not providing the expected service levels to the agencies we serve and it (could) direct (sic) conflict with achieving the agency mission.” StateofLACCWF.BernhardResponses.12.19.15[1852].docx.0001

Bernhard’s response was immediate and significant in that the wording of the company’s response hinted that the entire RFP process may have been rigged to benefit Bernhard:

“Bernhard is confused by the response of the State on this item. During a meeting with Bernhard representatives on September 29, 2015, the State indicated that it could operate the facilities cheaper than Bernhard. To decrease the rates under the Thermal Services Agreement, Bernhard agreed to offer a proposal whereby it subcontracted the operation and maintenance of the facilities back to the State. If the State does not wish to have the operation and maintenance of the facilities subcontracted back to it, Bernhard can retain the operation and maintenance and the costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the facilities would be recovered through the rate structure previously proposed.

“In contrast, if the State does not wish to have Bernhard operate and maintain the facilities, which was, in large part the basis of the RFP, and it is unknown why the State would have issued the RFP, and allowed Bernhard and other respondents to expend substantial sums in pursuit of this project if the State had no intention of having a third party operate and maintain the facilities.”

But if you thought the project was dead, think again.

LouisianaVoice has obtained an email from Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne dated April 19 of this year in which it was made evident that the governor’s office wants the public-private partnership to become reality.

Here is that email:

I have assured the Gov that we will have the RFP on the street no later than May 31. My understanding, which I communicated to him, is that we anticipate that the statewide proposal (including Capitol Park and the DOA controlled properties across the state) will probably be the first one out of the chute based on the delays created by defects in the Southern proposal which has been sent back to the school. I want to make sure that we meet or beat the May 31 deadline. I know that everyone’s focus has been on the SFO (solicitation for offers) for the PM (prescription marijuana) (properly so) but this now needs to be a top priority. Please make sure your folks understand. Thanks. Jay (emphasis ours).

Just in case you don’t believe us: DARDENNE MEMO

Jim Bernhard, who heads up Bernhard Energy, previously served as Chairman of the State Democratic Party and was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2007. He built and headed the Shaw Group before it was sold to Chicago Brick & Iron (CB&I) a few years ago for $3 billion.

He and his assortment of companies have been major players in the state’s political field, contributing more than $85,000 to Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2015 and 2016 and $56,000 to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003. By contrast, campaign finance records show that he and his companies gave only $3,000 to Jindal in 2003 ($1,000) and 2007 ($2,000).

But his generosity to Blanco apparently paid huge dividends in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Shaw Group was contracted to place tarpaulins over damaged roofs at a rate of $175 per square (one hundred square feet per square). That’s $175 for draping a ten-foot-by-ten-foot square blue tarpaulin over a damaged roof. Shaw in turn sub-contracted the work to a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 a square. A-1 in turn subbed the work to Westcon Construction at $30 a square. Westcon eventually lined up the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square.

Thus, the Shaw Group realized a net profit of $100 a square, A-1 made $45 dollars per square, and Westcon netted $28 dollars a square – all without ever placing the first sheet of tarpaulin. Between them, the three companies reaped profits of $173 per square after paying a paltry $2 per square. The real irony in the entire scenario was that the first three contractors – Shaw, A-1, and Westcon – didn’t even own the equipment necessary to perform tarping or debris hauling. By the time public outrage, spurred by media revelations of the fiasco, forced public bidding on tarping, forcing tarping prices down from the $3,000-plus range to $1,000, Shaw and friends had already pocketed some $300 million dollars.

The state threatened prosecution of those who it felt overcharged for a gallon of gasoline in Katrina’s aftermath but apparently looked the other way for more influential profiteers.

Any odds on who gets the contract for the water chiller?

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Perhaps it’s time to direct some hard questions to Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, after all, is technically Mike Edmonson’s boss. Besides holding the title of Superintendent of State Police, Edmonson is also Deputy Secretary of DPSC.

LeBlanc only recently came through an intensive investigation into the Corrections, also under the DPSC umbrella. That investigation cost Angola Warden Burl Cain and several of his family members their jobs.

And yet DPSC general counsel Kathy Williams notified retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet by letter dated last Thursday (March 2) that DPS would not consider his complaint against the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association because Louisiana State Police (LSP) “considers the matter closed.”

She may wish to revisit that decision.

Today, FBI agents fanned out across the state to simultaneously serve federal grand jury subpoenas on 18 State Troopers, LouisianaVoice has learned. Included among those served were officers and directors of that very same LSTA that DPSC refuses to investigate.

One report indicated that the LSTA board of directors was in its monthly meeting Wednesday when federal agents walked in and served each board member with his subpoena.

LouisianaVoice has not learned the date of the grand jury nor was the specific subject readily available. But because troopers from across the state were served, it would seem reasonable to assume that the thrust of the federal investigation is the laundering of campaign contributions by the LSTA through the association’s executive director David Young, a story LouisianaVoice broke more than a year ago.

It was not immediately known if Young was one of those served on Wednesday.

It was also learned that the FBI has already interviewed some of those slapped with subpoenas today.

The LSTA board is comprised of trooper representatives from each of the eight state police troops. The individual troop headquarters are located in Baton Rouge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Kenner in Jefferson Parish, Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish, Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Lafayette in Lafayette Parish, Monroe in Ouachita Parish, Bossier City in Bossier Parish and Gray in Terrebonne Parish.

Neither Edmonson, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy nor Director of Management and Finance Lt. Col. Jason Starnes were among those handed subpoenas. Only LSTA officers, directors and former officers and directors were served.

Regardless, reports out of State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge say command personnel have been in “full panic mode” all afternoon as they hunkered down in meetings. As my grandfather used to say, you probably couldn’t pull a needle out of their butts with a John Deere tractor. A federal grand jury subpoena, after all, is less welcome than an IRS audit letter—and who knows? That might not be far behind.

LSTA general counsel Floyd Falcon cannot represent any of those served if their legal interests should conflict with those of the association, as they quite likely will. That means that each of those served will have to retain his own legal counsel.

With that many having been served subpoenas, it’s likely that at least one, maybe several, will roll over and give the feds information they’re looking for in order to cut a deal. The scramble will be to see who can give up whom first because that’s will will likely get the best deal. What’s not likely is for any of them to lie because we’re sure they are all keenly aware that lying to the FBI, even if not under oath, can get a quick trip to a federal facility where one can work in the laundry for 20 cents per hour.

One thing you can expect out of all of this: there will be no united front. Targets are almost certain to turn on each other as the cannibalization begins in earnest. Edmonson already has thrown the four men who drove the expedition to California—and his secretary—under the bus.

And make no mistake: the clock is ticking on Gov. John Bel Edwards. Mike Edmonson, Charles Dupuy and Jason Starnes represent baggage he simply cannot afford to carry into his campaign for reelection. That campaign cranks up in less than two years.

Edmonson needs to go and he needs to take LeBlanc with him.

Back to you, Kathy Williams.

 

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A couple of reports, unconfirmed to this point, have been swirling about concerning the ongoing investigation into that San Diego trip taken by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and 16 or so subordinates, including the four who went by state vehicle via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Altogether, the jaunt cost Louisiana taxpayers more than $73,000.

But there also are confirmed developments that might have raised some concern on the part of those who want to see an unbiased investigation that will lead to appropriate action on the part of Gov. John Bel Edwards. It seems, however, that initial concern has been defused.

First, the unsubstantiated reports that, while lacking official confirmation, come from those close to the investigation who are considered reliable.

  • Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is said to have begun an investigation on its own, separate and apart from that of the governor’s office. A spokesperson for the AG said that could be neither confirmed nor denied. “Our office has a policy of not commenting on such matters so as not to compromise any investigation it may be conducting,” she said.
  • Another well-placed source said the FBI is also conducting an investigation of Edmonson and LSP, though Edmonson earlier denied any such investigation. Our source of that story said he initially provided information to the FBI but now that the agency’s investigation is underway, he has not been involved in further dialog with agents.

Conspicuously absent is any report that the Office of Inspector General, that fiercely independent investigative agency, has undertaken any effort to look into possible criminal wrongdoing at LSP. That could, of course, be because OIG isn’t as independent of the governor’s office as it likes to claim.

It likewise would be reassuring if East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore initiated a grand jury investigation or at least weighed in if for no other reason than to say he was taking a wait and see approach to the governor’s investigation. After all, any crime committed in the East Baton Rouge Parish falls under his jurisdiction.

The two unconfirmed reports aside, LouisianaVoice has learned that Mark Falcon, an attorney for the Division of Administration (DOA), is assisting DOA auditors in their investigation of LSP. Richard Carbo, communications director for the governor’s office, said, “He is not the lead investigator; he is assisting the auditors in their work.”

Mark Falcon did, however, assauge concerns when he offered full disclosure in informing Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne that he is the brother of Floyd Falcon, legal counsel for the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA), the lobbying arm of LSP.

It was LouisianaVoice’s story about the LSTA’s practice of laundering illegal campaign contributions through the personal bank account of its executive director David Young more than a year ago that prompted Floyd Falcon to refer to me as “a chronic complainer,” a characterization that has likely only intensified in his mind, given the manner in which the LSP saga has played out thus far.

But Mark Falcon’s voluntary disclosure of his relationship with Floyd Falcon and the manner in which he presented it is encouraging and provides optimism that the DOA investigation will be complete and above-board.

That is particularly important because two of those who took that trip to San Diego had their travel and lodging expenses on the trip picked up by the LSTA. Only the meals for Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky, a native of San Diego, and Lt. Stephen Lafargue were paid for by the state. Several others who made the trip are also LSTA members but had their expenses paid by the state.

In another development, LouisianaVoice received a rather dubious response to a public records requests regarding other trips Edmonson took to receive various awards.

Here is a copy of our request:

From: Tom Aswell
Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 3:55 PM
To: ‘Michele Giroir’; ‘Doug Cain’
Subject: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

Pursuant to LA. R.S. 44.1 (et seq.), I hereby submit my formal request for the opportunity to review all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the presentation of any and all of the below awards bestowed upon Col. Mike Edmonson:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009;
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013;
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute—Top Cop Award, 2013
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Martha Irwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Highway Safety, 2014
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015.

 Also, please provide me with the opportunity to review:

  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association annual conventions/conferences in Destin/Sandestin, Florida for the years 2008 through 2016;
  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the Washington (D.C.) Mardi Gras festivities for the years 2008 through 2017;
  • all travel records, including airfare, other travel, lodging, meals, registration fees and any and all other expenses incurred by all personnel (by name) who attended the New Orleans Mardi Gras festivities for the years 2008 through 2016 (exclusive of security details assigned to the event).

Here is the response I received yesterday (Monday, March 6):

From: Michele Giroir
Sent: Monday, March 6, 2017 8:12 AM
To: Tom Aswell
Cc: Doug Cain; JB Slaton; Faye Morrison
Subject: RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS

Mr. Aswell, in partial response to your below public records request, I have been advised that LSP does not maintain any records relating to travel expenses, etc., for attendance at the presentation of the following awards bestowed upon Col. Mike Edmonson:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009;
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013;
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute –Top Cop Award, 2013
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015

 The remaining requests are still being handling and further responses will be forthcoming.

Any questions that you may have should be addressed to Major Doug Cain.

With kindest professional regards, I am,

Sincerely,

Michele M. Giroir

Attorney Supervisor

 Not complete sold on that explanation, I emailed Cain:

“Doug, I find it inconceivable that LSP has no record of expenses for these trips. Is it the position that LSP keeps no such records or are you saying no expenses were incurred?”

His response? “No expenses.”

“Not even for those who went with him?” I wrote back (because we know by now he rarely travels alone).

“No sir,” he responded.

So the bottom line is we are being asked to believe that Edmonson, who packed 15 of his people off to San Diego, all of whom combined to run up expenses of more than $73,000, including salaries and travel, lodging and meal expenses, either took no one with him on the other trips and he didn’t consume any meals on his trips or perhaps he took traveling companions, none of whom spent a dime of state funds.

Either scenario requires a leap of faith to believe.

(To be incredulously continued.)

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 By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”

Juvenal [circa 100 AD], Satire 10.77–81

“Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative“… The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.

—Wikipedia

 

Have these words of a Roman poet, written 1900 years ago, ever been more relevant to our country and state?  And, this is hardly satire.  In Louisiana’s government, we still get the circuses (the just-ended special legislative session, for example), but they are not nearly so much fun as they were in the past. They also no longer provide the level of distraction our elected officials expect.  Our leaders still provide the bread, too, though too many are left with the heels – and we are not always sure even they are distributed equitably.

Just as our country is clearly divided, our state is becoming increasingly partisan. Confronted with precisely the same problems, the two sides view them as if they exist in alternate realities.  The factions do not seek to find common ground.  They might compromise, but that is hardly the same thing.

In the most recent session of the legislature a purported compromise on how to best patch the state’s budget for the remainder of this year resulted from an agreement by the administration to accept the effect of a very questionable House Concurrent Resolution that will, if we believe the proponents, be a great “reform” and will magically free up almost a hundred million dollars in state general fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 – money, mind you, that was always there for the taking, just never captured.  Sound just a little suspicious?

How does this magic work and how does it differ from past gimmicks, you might well ask?  Well, unlike some of those, it really does free up general fund, but it also cuts other constitutional and statutorily dedicated funding, notably including the Transportation Trust Fund.  The Transportation Trust Fund has already been criticized for not being used more on roads and bridges desperately in need of repair – and now we are going to take another $15-$18 million of it to pay part of our General Obligation (not highway) Debt service?  And, lest we forget, TTF funds match Federal Highway funds so the potential impact is greater than the amount diverted. Is this your concept of “reform?”  It certainly is not mine.

The Bond Security and Redemption Fund ensures our general obligation debt service will always get paid first. It is the subject of HCR1 of the special session.  Money constantly (and somewhat theoretically) flows through it on the way to the general fund from which we have typically paid general debt service. I consider the fund a practical fiction because it would only have actual effect if somebody ever pressed the “stop” button and froze it to draw the necessary amount for debt service. However, its existence enhances our bond ratings. There is a legitimate concern that messing with it in any way can jeopardize our ratings, not because it places the payment of debt service in danger, but simply because we have started messing with it at all. The fact we have recently had to borrow short-term to meet current obligations is further evidence we should leave the BSRF alone. To the extent confidence in our fiscal status is eroded, and our ratings decline, we must pay more to service our debt.

House Speaker Barras, the author of the concurrent resolution that directs this miracle reform is a banker.  He certainly knows all these things.  Let’s put the best face possible on the resolution and assume he wanted its passage to ensure the special session did not close with absolutely no action toward addressing our long-range problems – which would have been the case in its absence.  This proposal had been made before and rejected by the administration for the reasons above and others – reasons I consider valid.

Could using the resolution as a bargaining chip have been a power play more than anything else?  Barras was not JBE’s pick for Speaker of the House.  The Republicans in the house are flexing their muscles in a faint attempt to emulate the partisanship of their national counterparts. Did they rally around the speaker to get in JBE’s face with this one?  Could this distraction have also been the center ring performance in this special session – a small act in a small session with bigger acts like those in past sessions to come when the Greatest Show on Earth returns to Baton Rouge in April?

Let’s face it.  Nobody has done anything that comes close to solving our overall budget problem.  Our roads and other infrastructure are crumbling, our state services are becoming increasingly mediocre and, in the case of some life-and-death situations, dangerously ineffective.  Worse, most everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that we face a $1.2 billion (gee, why does that number sound so familiar?) gap in Fiscal Year 2018-2019 when the temporary sales taxes used to bandage the budget the last time we hit the wall expire.

The latest of literally dozens of past blue ribbon groups tasked with providing options for fixing the state’s fiscal problems, the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, issued its final report, to little fanfare, on January 27, 2017.  Some of the best minds in our state participated in this study and it provides solid recommendations based on current information.  Our leaders need only choose among them.  I commend its reading to you.  Why has this report not become part of the circus yet – Is it too dull to have entertainment value?  Do our leaders believe we cannot be convinced by (or even understand) facts?  Do they believe illusion, misdirection and confusion are always better and that we are easily fooled?

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was a key participant in the task force.  When the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 executive budget was presented, the governor and Commissioner Dardenne declined to say what they might ultimately suggest as the solution to our problem.  They also said, as they have in the past, this is not the budget they want to see implemented.  Well, if it isn’t, what is?

If the cuts presented in the governor’s proposed budget, most notably to TOPS, are not realistic – not something we can all live with – what cuts are?  We don’t know because, despite protestations to the contrary, we have not seen a truly honest budget in many years – one that says, “Okay, Louisiana, you don’t want to pay more taxes, here are the things we are going to permanently cut and we are going to stand behind them to the end.”  This is very different from: “Well, shucks, here’s some things that will balance the budget, but we don’t want to do them and neither do you, so what have you got to offer as an alternative?”

Representative John Schroder has taken the position the governor should present a realistic plan he is willing to stand behind to provide the legislature with a realistic starting point.  The governor seems to be saying no such plan exists.  So, if the governor doesn’t have a plan and neither does the legislature, where does that leave us?

Our governor has greater control over the budget than is the case in some other states.  Representative Schroder has a point, but the simple fact is the legislature, not the governor, holds the power of appropriation and many, including me, consider it to be its greatest power. The governor can recommend things all day long, but he cannot enact appropriations or taxes.

Speaking of taxes, why are so many of our citizens convinced they already pay too much in taxes for what they get from the government?  Look no further than LouisianaVoice, The ADVOCATE, nola.com, almost any television or radio station and what do you read, see, and hear?

Every day we are bombarded with tales of waste, corruption, theft, etc. in our state departments.  Are you going to tell me nothing can be done about this?  Am I to believe lightening would strike JBE and our other elected officials dead if they dared expect the people they appoint to run these programs as effectively and efficiently as possible and to demand accountability for their failures?  I’m not talking about the simple act of firing those who are doing a poor job.  That doesn’t accomplish anything if the replacement continues the practices of the predecessor. I am talking about expecting officials to have integrity and to know enough about the operations of their departments to stop these things from happening in the first place.

I honestly and truly believe people are willing to pay for things from which they see benefits and that they believe are providing maximum value – the marketplace proves this.  Every effort must be made to instill confidence in our government’s ability to manage our resources in the best way possible.  Sure, its goals are different – government exists to provide services, not make a profit, but that is no excuse for not performing to the highest standards possible.

I don’t know about you, but I am finding the circus less than entertaining and I can provide my own bread for the most part.  Others have given up on the circus, but need help from its owners.  It is past time those owners accept their responsibilities – and it is up to us to lean on them to do so every chance we get – beginning right now and continuing in earnest during the next legislative session.  Our leaders need to all look at what is happening to the real Ringling Brothers Circus and realize it could happen to them – and, much worse, to us.

 

 

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Could it be that Gov. John Bel Edwards has finally seen and heard enough about the shenanigans of Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent Mike Edmonson?

Has he been embarrassed one too many times by the state’s top cop who was foisted on him by the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police?

If the tone of this NOLA.com STORY by Julia O’Donoghue Wednesday (Feb. 22) is any indication, Edmonson’s days at LSP may indeed be numbered.

Edwards earlier this week ordered auditors from the Division of Administration (DOA) to conduct an investigation into a trip taken by a gaggle of LSP personnel and hangers-on to witness Edmonson receive an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at its conference in San Diego.

Of particular interest to Edwards was the expenditure of thousands of dollars in salaries, overtime, fuel, lodging and meals for four State Troopers who drove an unmarked State Police vehicle assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command to the event. That trek included a side trip to and overnight stays in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Three of the four combined to claim 105 hours of overtime on the trip to and from San Diego, figures that appear far out of line with the distances traveled.

For example, each of the four claimed 12 hours to travel from the Grand Canyon resort city of Tusayan, Arizona, to Las Vegas, a distance of only 270 miles, a torrid pace of 22.5 mph. They also claimed 12 hours to drive from Las Vegas to San Diego, a trip of only 290 miles. For that leg of the journey, they put the petal to the metal, averaging a scorching 24 mph.

Can you say payroll fraud?

Maj. Derrell Williams did not claim overtime hours because those of the rank of captain or above are prohibited from claiming overtime. He did, however, claim compensatory leave time for the same hours.

While investigators’ focus will apparently be on the overtime charged by the four and the reasons for their side trip, there are several other aspects of the entire San Diego affair that should be considered:

  • Why was the original award nomination of Maj. Carl Saizan, a former State Trooper of the Year, pulled in favor of Edmonson?
  • Why was it necessary for so many State Police personnel to accompany Edmonson on this trip?
  • Why was Michelle Hyatt, the wife of Lt. Rodney Hyatt and a civilian non-LSP employee, allowed to accompany her husband in the State Police Ford Expedition on that cross-country trip? (The Expedition, by the way, is permanently assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy.
  • Why was part-time student worker Brandon Blackburn paid 53.5 hours for attending the conference? And why was Brandon Blackburn, the son of the late Frank Blackburn, formerly the LSP legal counsel, allowed to travel to the conference on his father’s ticket?
  • Finally, since each of the 15 LSP personnel who accompanied Edmonson on the trip, were on the clock and were paid for attending the conference, how many of those personnel actually attended conference sessions for which they charged the state?

LouisianaVoice made inquiry of IACP for attendance lists for the various sessions but we received the expected response: “We do not provide attendance records or make any information about our attendees publicly available.”

Of course, the DOA investigation is barely underway so it’ll be some time yet before any determination is made regarding Edmonson’s future.

One LouisianaVoice reader made an interesting observation when he said in an email to us this morning that the LSP superintendent’s position “is a job needing turnover every so often to avoid a J. Edgar Hoover situation.”

But should the governor decide that Edmonson has embarrassed his administration one too many times and that he must go, it’s crucial that he make the correct choice in selecting a successor—and not listen to the sheriffs and chiefs of police. He—and this is critical—must be his own man in making that decision.

If he simply drops down the chain of command a notch and names Dupuy, Lt. Col. Jason Starnes, or Maj. Beckett Breaux, nothing will have changed and LouisianaVoice will be guaranteed an uninterrupted flow of stories from Independence Boulevard.

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