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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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A 26-year Louisiana State Police (LSP) veteran from North Louisiana has been named by Gov. John Bel Edwards as the interim Superintendent of State Police to succeed Col. Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent, the governor’s office announced on Tuesday.

But the inside word received by LouisianaVoice is that the interim part of Maj. Kevin Reeves’ new title may be short-lived as Edwards is expected to name him the permanent superintendent in time for confirmation by the State Senate in June. State law requires the Louisiana State Police superintendent to be a trooper from within the agency’s ranks.

Reeves, a native of Baton Rouge, is a 1990 graduate of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston and currently resides in Jonesboro.

He began his career at the LSP in 1990 when he was assigned to motorcycle patrols with Troop A in Baton Rouge. His career took him to Troop F in Monroe in 1993, where he served as a squad leader for the mobile field force and as a case agent and undercover agent on narcotics investigations and operations for the Bureau of Investigations.

In 2008, he became the Troop Commander of Troop F before assuming the role of Command Inspector of Patrol Operations and Commander of Statewide Mobile Field Force Team in 2013. Major Reeves is married to Kristi Hall Reeves and they have three children – Kaleb, Kyle and Klayton. He currently makes $150,000 per year.

Reeves is scheduled to meet with Edwards on Thursday to discuss the transition in LSP administration.

His most pressing objective will be to shore up morale among the state’s 1,500 rank and file State Troopers who, despite generous pay raises, have continued to express dismay in the way in which the Baton Rouge headquarters, under its current leadership, had taken on the appearance of a frat house instead of a professional organization.

LouisianaVoice has learned that one of Edmonson’s inner circle, Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, though bitter at not being named Edmonson’s successor, will nevertheless be retained as Reeves’ Chief of Staff.

“That’s bad,” said one retired state trooper.

It was not immediately known if Reeves had the backing of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and if so, if the retention of Dupuy was a trade-off for that support. The sheriffs were said to have been lobbying hard for Dupuy.

A veteran State Trooper described Reeves as “common sense, ethical, respected, respectable, and just as good as or better than any other choice as a permanent replacement for Edmonson. He makes good, solid decisions in the face of complicated issues when everyone else cannot. Essentially, he is polar opposite of Mike Edmonson.”

Reeves, for his part, said, “I would like to establish an atmosphere where we’re inclusive of our personnel and we encourage them to come forth with their concerns,” he said. “I am going to try to reach out to all of our employees and take that message to them.”

He said he welcomes inquiries that are ongoing by the FBI and auditors from the Division of Administration as investigations into State Police travel records and campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) continue. “We need to be transparent,” he said.

LouisianaVoice also received reports, confirmed by the Legislative Auditor’s office that representatives from the that office have been in place at LSP for more than a week to carry out an audit requested by State Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath). An unconfirmed report also said that the FBI appeared Tuesday at the State Police Office of Management and Finance, currently overseen by Lt. Col. Jason Starnes who was promoted and placed in that position just last August.

State Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera reached out to LouisianaVoice in an effort at full disclosure Tuesday to say that the wife of Mike Edmonson’s  brother, State Police Maj. Paul Edmonson, is an auditor in his office but will take no part on the audit. “She brought it up in a meeting in our office,” Purpera said. “Our office, of course, has fire walls to separate any of our people from sensitive situations such as this.”

Edmonson, meanwhile, will host a farewell breakfast in the LSP cafeteria Friday from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. as he concludes 36 years with LSP, the last nine as superintendent.

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“No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Karma’s a bitch.”

“What goes around comes around.”

No matter how you say it, good intentions sometimes bring unjust punishment and sometimes those good intentions result in very bad results.

Just ask Donald Broussard of New Iberia.

Last July 8, Broussard was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler and was killed.

Yet it was Broussard who was indicted by a Lafayette Parish grand jury last week for NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE.

You are probably thinking about now that there has to be more to this story—and you’re right, there is more to it.

You see, Broussard did the unpardonable: On July 1, a week before the auto accident, Broussard was the impetus behind a RECALL of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Broussard was one of the organizers of the Justice for VICTOR WHITE III Foundation which filed a petition last July 1 to force a recall election.

White, you may recall, was the 22-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in the back seat of a sheriff deputy’s patrol car in March 2014. The official report said the gunshot was self-inflicted. The coroner’s report said he was shot in the front with the bullet entering his right chest and exiting under his left armpit. White’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time.

Ackal, of course, skated on that issue and was later indicted, tried and acquitted on federal charges involving beating prisoners and turning dogs loose on prisoners, proving beyond any lingering doubts that he is a force to be reckoned with. But when you’ve got retired federal judge and family member FRED HAIK helping with the defense, you tend to land on your feet.

All of which brings us to the latest woes to beset Broussard.

The story in Sunday’s Daily Iberian reads, “A New Iberia man who was instrumental in the drive to recall Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal last year has been indicted for manslaughter in the aftermath of an alleged road rage incident that left a Bossier City man deal in July.”

Here’s the chronology of events:

Moments before the fatal crash, Rakeem Blakes, 24, rear-ended a Cadillac driven by Broussard at the corner of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and U.S. 90 in Lafayette Parish which is just up the road apiece from Iberia Parish.

Broussard said he followed Blakes after Blakes fled the scene when Broussard approached his car but denied that he chased Blakes. “The guy hit me,” Broussard said. “I got within 20 feet of him so I could get his license plate number. I gave it (the license number) to the (911) dispatcher and they told me to fall back, so I fell back.” Broussard said reports that he had a gun were ridiculous. “I don’t even own a gun, he said. “I told the State Police they could search my car. They just handed me my license and let me go on my way.”

Broussard said Blakes was driving erratically, causing a hazard for other drivers.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé said the case involving Broussard was turned over to his office for review in November following completion of the LSP investigation.

In what has to be one of the most convoluted reviews of any investigation, Assistant District Attorney Janet Perrodin presented the case and the grand jury last Friday returned a true bill indicting Broussard for manslaughter and “aggravated obstruction of a highway,” which led to Blakes’ death.

Unexplained in this bizarre episode was how Broussard created an “aggravated obstruction” when it was Blakes who rear-ended him and subsequently fled the scene. Duhé, in some pretty fancy verbal footwork, said state law allows a manslaughter charge to be brought when an offender “is engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person. Aggravated obstruction of a highway is the performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered,” he said.

That’s one helluva stretch, Mr. DA. It’s also one of vaguest laws ever cited in bringing an indictment against someone. I mean, go back and read it.

Manslaughter: when one is “engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person.”

Aggravated obstruction of a highway: the “performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered.”

And we know that a district attorney can make a grand jury dance a ballet in a septic tank if he so desires. It’s all in what information is provided the grand jury and what is withheld. By those definitions, any one of us could be arrested, jailed, tried and convicted at just about any time for any perceived offense.

But we won’t be. This was tailored just for Mr. Broussard who had the temerity to take on a powerful sheriff who has shown his proclivity to exact revenge against those who would dare stand up to his authority.

Broussard’s bond on the manslaughter charge was set at $75,000 and bond for the aggravated obstruction charge was set at $10,000.

Given any semblance of justice, there’s not a chance in hell of a conviction.

But whoever said there was a semblance of justice in this ludicrous drama being played out in the heart of Acadiana?

Only the most naïve of the naïve would discount a good-ol’-boy, back scratchin’ network between two adjoining parishes and judicial districts, especially if it benefits a powerful sheriff bent on revenge.

The recall effort eventually failed for a lack of sufficient signatures but that doesn’t mean that Ackal doesn’t have a long memory and the propensity to call in favors from friends in the right places.

And even if the charges are dropped or if Broussard is acquitted, it’s going to cost him plenty in legal fees.

And that’s how you spell revenge when you are a ruthless sheriff who can tweak the so-called justice system to do your bidding.

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As I listened to testimony on Public Radio during Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearings on efforts by Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, I was struck by a number of things, all of which precipitated thoughts that were something akin to, for lack of a better term, free-association.

I’m not into psychoanalysis or Freud, but it was borderline eerie how the testimony carried me back through this country’s darkest moments, culminating with the traumatic years of Watergate and Richard Nixon.

Three similarities struck me all at once, similarities that are not so much striking as chilling.

First, the indignant shock of having an adversary interfere with our elections is nothing more than what the old folks back in Ruston used to call the chickens coming home to roost.

This is in no way meant to apologize for Donald Trump because, quite frankly, he scares me to death. Nor am I justifying meddling in our electoral process by Vladimir Putin. If he did corrupt our democratic process—and all evidence certainly points to that—it is reprehensible on his part and treasonous on the part of any American, including Trump, who might have had a hand in that scheme.

But I would suggest it might be a bit disingenuous to beat our breasts about interference in free elections when one considers our own track record in that dark little chapter of American history that they don’t teach in schools.

Political scientist DOV LEVIN, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, has conducted independent research that shows that the U.S. attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries at least 81 times between 1946 and 2000. Those efforts, often covert in their execution, included everything from CIA operatives running successful presidential campaigns in the Philippines during the 1950s to leaking damaging information on Marxist Sandinistas in order to sway Nicaraguan voters in 1990. Altogether, the U.S. likely targeted elections in 45 sovereign nations around the world during this period.

The second thing that struck me was the concern over leaks expressed by committee members during the questioning of FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Administration Director Admiral Michael S. Rogers. Some seemed far more concerned with leaks of classified information about surveillance of American citizens than with the accuracy of what has been going on with the Trump administration and its close ties with Russia. U.S. Rep. Trey GOWDY (R-S.C.) used most of his time trying to establish that there was no exception for reporters who published classified material. He hinted that those reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information.

He’s a poor student of history—and of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech and a free press via the First Amendment.

He also must have a short memory, or perhaps he’s just a lot younger than I.

In the dustup to Watergate, the Nixon administration in 1971 did its dead-level best to squelch the publication by The New York Times of a highly classified document that came to be known as THE PENTAGON PAPERS.

Officially entitled United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, it was a U.S. Department of Defense history of the U.S. political-military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.

So dull was most of its narrative that it could have served as a cure for insomnia. But other parts literally crackled with insights into how Lyndon Johnson “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress,” wrote The Times. The papers also revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scale of the war by bombing nearby Cambodia and Laos and conducted coastal raids on North Vietnam, none of which were reported in the mainstream media.

The papers were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study.

And before there was a Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters on June 17, 1972, there was the September 1971 break-in of the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist by Nixon’s White House Plumbers, so called because of their attempts to stop leaks.

Now, nearly half-a-century later, Trump advisor Stephen Bannon says the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and admonishes them to “keep its (sic) mouth shut and just listen for a while.” He is followed by Rep. Gowdy who suggested on Monday that reporters should be prosecuted for publishing classified information.

Well, looking back some 46 years, the publishing of the Pentagon Papers was probably the best thing that ever happened to this country because it revealed just how duplicitous our Vietnam policy was and just how badly—and often—our leaders lied to us. So I can’t help but wonder if the leaks of classified information today may be yet another informational breakthrough that will ultimately expose even more lies and deceit.

Which brings me to my third point.

So, perhaps Gowdy and his colleagues should not wax so indignant about leaks. Perhaps they should tone down their rhetoric a bit because there were some other stories, editorials and essays which appeared in The Nation magazine over a period of six decades as layer after layer was peeled off the rotting onion that was Watergate—and beyond—which turned out to be eerily prophetic in their characterization of Nixon and what might follow if we as a responsible electorate did not remain vigilant and informed.

Those essays, editorials and stories have been compiled into a fascinating book entitled Smoking Gun: The Nation on Watergate, 1952-2010. Following are excerpts from that book.

Robbins Burling, on Dec. 10, 1973, wrote an article headlined “Impeachment—or Else: The Future of the Presidency.” Here are a few highlights from that article:

  • “Our most serious danger is not the tyranny of the next few years. It is that if we fail to root out the tendencies toward tyranny shown by the present (Nixon) administration, we shall set precedents that will lead inexorably to more vicious tyrannies in the future. How do we prevent, not just in the years but in the decades to come, a repetition of the horrors that we have recently endured?”
  • “Would-be tyrants will always aspire to the Presidency, and an occasional rascal is certain to gain the office. What we need is to remake the Presidency so that such men cannot do irreparable damage.”
  • “If the President escapes punishment this time, every future President will know himself to be immune from punishment. It will not be long before another man with tyrannical inclinations turns his own band of henchmen loose upon the nation. The next time we may not have a Congress controlled by the opposition party. The next group of burglars may be less clumsy than the bunch that bungled the Watergate job. If future Presidents know they are safe from punishment, we can be certain that they will abuse their powers. They will subvert the system that put then into office.”

Nearly nine months later and only three weeks after Nixon’s Aug. 8, 1974, resignation, Mark Harris on Aug. 31 wrote a scathing article entitled “Nixon: A Type to Remember.” In it, he listed some of Nixon’s characteristic traits:

  • He asserts that poor people are dishonest (“welfare chiselers”) but he lines his own pockets.
  • He prefers capital punishment, prisons and other forms of punishment to rehabilitation and education.
  • He favors legislation assisting the rich, the powerful, the corporate and the military.
  • He is always discussing himself, even when he hopes you will think he is talking about, say, international relations.
  • He suddenly reverses himself.
  • He denies that he will reverse himself.
  • He presents himself as a “manly” man.
  • He commands young men to go to war, but he does not wish to pay his taxes.
  • He employs the media to publicize himself; he condemns the media when they displease him.
  • He calls for “unity” while dividing.
  • He advocates economy but he spends lavishly, especially for such products as military machinery.
  • He speaks often of bargaining from strength (but) when he traveled to Russia his situation was weaker than any President’s had ever been.

But it was Gene Marine, writing “What’s Wrong With Nixon?: Public Life of a Cardboard Hero” way back on the Aug. 18, 1956, when Nixon was still Eisenhower’s Vice President, who said it best:

  • “Among Nixon’s critics the idea is widespread that he is quite without convictions (and) that the cardboard figure he presents is in fact all there is to him: the face turned ever toward personal gain, the back turned always on scruple or principle—no more to him than that.”

And now, as the House Intelligence Committee plows through information on leaked documents—then and now—interference in democratic elections—then and now—and shadowy deals by a paranoid, self-absorbed, President—then and now—does any of this bring on a faint sense of déjà vu?

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If there is one thing we’ve learned in the six-year existence of LouisianaVoice, it’s that if there is a political rumor floating around out there, there is generally at least a grain of truth to it.

That’s why there was no great surprise at the faint rumblings that the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association might be making a quiet push for the appointment of Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy to succeed Mike Edmonson as Superintendent of State Police.

Never mind that in Wednesday’s meeting during which Edmonson told his staff he was stepping down, he is said to have accused Dupuy of undermining him in the aftermath of that ill-fated trip to San Diego that ultimately proved to be Edmonson’s undoing.

(Incidentally, that schmaltzy six-paragraph formal statement issued by Edmonson on Wednesday as he announced his retirement was written not by Edmonson, but by Ronnie Jones, Chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board. Apparently, Edmonson was more comfortable with a ghost writer than in formulating his own, heartfelt statement.)

But back to the appointment of a successor to Edmonson.

Gov. John Bel Edwards will make the appointment and if he’s adept at political hindsight, he will proceed very carefully with making this decision. He has already been publicly embarrassed by bending to the will of the sheriffs in reappointing Edmonson. He should be extremely careful about heeding the advice of the sheriffs a second time.

If Edwards chooses to listen to the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association (LSA) again without giving thorough and careful consideration to the qualifications of a number of capable, better qualified candidates, he will have proven himself as much of a political hack as anyone who has ever occupied the governor’s office.

There are several things the governor should consider before rushing in to anoint Dupuy as the next superintendent:

  • Dupuy is Edmonson’s second in command and as such, is very much a part of the overall problems of low morale now plaguing LSP—brought on by the proliferation of the good-ole-boy fraternity of upper management.
  • It was the state vehicle assigned to Dupuy—a Ford Expedition, that was driven by four troopers to that San Diego conference. That necessarily means Dupuy had to have approved the use of the vehicle for that purpose.
  • One of the occupants of that vehicle, Maj. Derrell Williams submitted expense reports that contained Dupuy’s signature of approval.

Dupuy was already a captain when Edmonson was appointed superintendent by Bobby Jindal in 2008. He was promoted to major on Jan. 28, 2010, two years after Edmonson’s appointment. Less than a year later, on Jan. 10, 2011, Dupuy was moved up to Deputy Superintendent for Operations Planning and Training.

Edmonson kept Dupuy on the career fast track, promoting him again on April 9, 2012, to Assistant Superintendent and Chief of Staff. Over that timeframe, Dupuy’s salary went from $80,000 to $161,300, an increase of 101.6 percent even as state civil service employees have been denied 3 percent cost of living increases.

Nor has that largesse been limited to Dupuy. His wife, Kelly Dupuy, was a sergeant making $59,800 when Edmonson was appointed top cop. Her acceleration through the ranks has been equally impressive. She was promoted to lieutenant on Oct. 27, 2009, just three months before her husband was promoted to major. She made captain on Oct. 25, 2014, and today makes $117,000 per year. That computes to a 95.6 percent pay increase since 2009.

Moreover, the current positions held by Kelly Dupuy and Edmonson’s brother, Maj. Paul Edmonson, did not exist before their respective promotions; their positions were created especially for them to be promoted into in the same manner in which a lieutenant colonel’s position was created last August at the specific request of Mike Edmonson on behalf of Jason Starnes.

If all that is not reason enough to give pause to Edwards in his decision on a successor to Edmonson, consider that Dupuy was Edmonson’s hatchet man when Edmonson literally tried to destroy the career of one of his troopers over a largely manufactured incident in 2010—all because the trooper had been involved in a previous confrontation with Dupuy. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/21/a-word-of-caution-to-state-troopers-dont-anger-the-powers-that-be-if-you-dont-want-legal-problems-like-case-from-2010/

So now the apparent frontrunner for Edmonson’s job is Charles Dupuy. He is being supported by the sheriffs and the sheriffs have the ear of the governor. From our vantage point, it would seem that Dupuy is positioned perfectly to move into Edmonson’s chair and to wreak havoc on those he thinks may have been our sources.

And while it’s a point of some smug satisfaction to know that the people he suspects are not our sources (he’s not even close), it concerns us that he would use his newfound power and his vindictiveness to go after innocent people who have done nothing more grievous than to try to do their jobs in an honest, straightforward manner.

And nothing will have changed. The for sale sign will still be a fixture at LSP headquarters.

So, Gov. Edwards, be very careful. You have already made two serious mistakes in listening to the LSA and by acceding to its wishes in reappointing Edmonson and Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections Jimmy LeBlanc. The situation there is every bit as much a ticking time bomb as LSP. You can ill-afford another Angola scandal and you certainly do not need to appoint someone at LSP who is just going to be a continuation of the current problems.

Without cleaning house at LSP and without making a wise appointment of a new reputable colonel with no political baggage, you will only be setting yourself up for more political problems that you don’t need and which will doubtless be exploited by those who want to see you fail.

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