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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Before you accept the state’s Shelter at Home program, you may want to consider the quality of workmanship—or lack thereof—that some 2016 flood victims who have participated are experiencing. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_3116e8b6-7abb-11e6-91c5-d3139b79d965.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

While you should beware of shoddy work by contractors, you should also consider that all work done will likely need to be re-done and makeshift (inferior) plumbing will have to be replaced at your cost.

If that is not enough to convince you, you may wish to follow an important trial scheduled to begin in the 19th Judicial District courtroom of District Judge Tim Kelly on October 3.

The upcoming trial is over the foreclosure on rental property owned by Metairie resident Tony Pelicano and his company, L&T Development. Pelicano also has legal action pending against defendants the State of Louisiana through the Office of Community Development, The Shaw Group, Inc., Woodrow Wilson Construction Co., both of Baton Rouge, and Western Surety Co. of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Pelicano purchased a rental house on Turnbull Street in Metairie on April 28, 2005, just in time for it to be heavily damaged four months and one day later when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29.

Pelicano, like victims of the flood almost exactly 11 years later (Aug. 11-14), was solicited by the state to take part in a state-sponsored recovery program.

In the case of Katrina, it was the Office of Community Development (OCD) that oversaw the Post-Katrina Disaster Housing Assistance and Household Transition Program. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_research_041913.html

With the floods of 2016, it is the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) that took over the Shelter at Home Program.

http://gov.louisiana.gov/page/shelter-at-home-program

The Shelter at Home Program provides up to $15,000 to make a flood-damaged home habitable while the dwelling is being repaired. But the homeowner has no say in the choosing of a contractor to do the work. Nor does the homeowner receive any of that $15,000; all monies paid out go to the contractor.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s déjà vu all over again.

Despite the fact that Tony Pelicano is himself a contractor, he was told that not only could he not select his contractor for the Rental Assistance Program, but he could not even do the work himself. Nor did he receive funds to pay the contractor; that was paid by the State Office of Community Development directly to the contractor.

In both cases, the homeowner has no say about the quality of work, is unable to withhold payment should the contractor, who was not of his choosing, should do substandard work. http://www.wafb.com/story/33133888/video-raises-questions-about-shelter-at-home-program

http://www.wbrz.com/news/shelter-at-home-program-leaves-mess-in-st-amant-home/

And that is precisely why Pelicano is headed for trial the first week in October.

At the outset, a community block grant was awarded in the amount of $75,000 with the additional $14,595 in costs to be paid by Pelicano at closing.

OCD then selected Woodrow Wilson Construction Co. to serve as contractor. When Pelicano requested the ability to select his own contractor, “OCD advised him he was not entitled to have any say nor (sic) input with respect to the employment of Woodrow Wilson for the rehabilitation and reconstruction project,” one of Pelicano’s court filings says.

In September, 2009, Pelicano was personally solicited by the State of Louisiana, through Mark Maier, Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD and a principal of Maier Consulting, to submit an application to become the first test applicant with the Small Rental Program through the State Office of Community Development, Pelicano says in a sworn affidavit.

“This Program administers federal funds to small rental property owners in order to facilitate the reconstruction of small rental properties in order to return them to commerce, post-Katrina, and provide affordable housing for Katrina victims,” he said. “This is accomplished through a forgivable loan of $75,000.00 and we personally put up the additional sum of $14,595.00 from our own personal funds.

In May 2012, Pelicano said he attended a meeting in Baton Rouge attended by Maier, OCD Supervisor for the Small Rental Program Brad Swayze and Dan Rees, also of OCD. When Pelicano protested that construction change orders were made without his knowledge or consent, he says he was threatened and told he had no rights to his own property. Pelicano claims he was told if he contacted the media, his bank note would be accelerated and that a lawsuit would be filed against him—“threats that OCD fulfilled,” he says.

Those change orders included, among others:

  • Substituting non-pressure treated lumber instead of the pressure treated lumber called for in the building specifications;
  • Sloppy fittings of windows which allowed moisture to invade the structure;
  • Relocating the hot water heater to a location that could pose a threat of fire, and
  • Cutting a hole in the door in order to make the hot water tank fit.

Pelicano subsequently hired a professional engineering and inspection firm, Gurtler Brothers of New Orleans, to evaluate the reconstruction efforts. He presented copies of the firm’s photos-and-report and asked that immediate action be taken to remedy the conditions of the property.

“OCD refused,” he says, “and instead, contacted another construction company, Lago Construction Co. (which is not an engineering nor a qualified inspection firm) to conduct an ‘impartial’ inspection.”

Lago then issued a report passing off defects “as either minor or simply not in need of fixing,” Pelicano says.

Incredibly, Pelicano later learned that Lago was a business partner with Maier Consulting, headed by that same Mark Maier who simultaneously served as Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD. http://images.bimedia.net/documents/Lago+-+SRPP+Labor+Analysis+10-25-12.pdf

No conflict of interest there, right?

Oh, wait. It gets better.

The head of Lago, Praveen Kailas, whose family poured more than $23,000 into Bobby Jindal’s campaigns in 2003, 2007 and 2011, pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges of fraudulent billing in the…(wait for it)….Louisiana Road Home’s Small Rental Property Program. http://www.claimsjournal.com/news/southcentral/2013/08/22/235416.htm

Jindal’s office said it launched an internal investigation but dropped the probe when Mark Maier, the consultant (and, did we mention, coincidentally, Program Director of the Small Rental Property Program for OCD?) wrote a note absolving Lago of any wrongdoing.

He wrote a note, folks, clearing his business partner of wrongdoing but relied on that same business partner to block recovery by a man ripped off by the very program he headed.

Perhaps someone should have written a note for Richard Nixon, or John Wayne Gacy, or Mark David Chapman, or John Hinckley, Jr., or former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, or former Federal Judge Thomas Porteous.

We could go on but you get the idea: He wrote a damned note to clear his partner but that same tainted relationship played a major role in events that today see the state trying to foreclose on Tony Pelicano.

What could possibly be wrong with this picture?

What could possibly go wrong with the Shelter at Home Program?

And did Jindal return any of that $23,000 from the third (at a minimum) convicted felon who contributed big bucks to his campaigns?

Or did he write a note on their behalf?

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This is a story that Troy Hebert asked us to write.

It is also a story with much ado about formers.

Former Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Director and current candidate for U.S. Senator Troy Hebert emailed LouisianaVoice earlier this week with a copy of a news story from the New Orleans CityBusiness Report, which quoted from a Baton Rouge Advocate story that Hebert had been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with alleged preferential treatment of certain applicants for liquor licenses from ATC. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/2016/09/19/fbi-clears-former-atc-commissioner-troy-hebert/90714008/

With all the third-person reporting swirling around FBI agent Maurice Hattier Jr., former liquor lobbyist Chris Young, his brother, former Jefferson Parish President and former candidate for Lieutenant Governor John Young, and former State Sen. Julie Quinn, it’s rather difficult to stay focused on the actual legal proceedings in which Chris Young was asking Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge to formally dismiss child pornography charges against him.

Okay, that’s formal, not former, but you get the drift.

Chris Young, you will remember, was indicted on child porn charges after he forwarded a text containing a video of an underage boy having sex with a donkey (this sounds more and more like a Farrelly Brothers comedy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrelly_brothers).

Hattier allegedly tried (rather crudely, if true) to lean on Chris Young to give up Hebert in order to grease the skids on his investigation of Hebert.

(Putting Hebert’s guilt or innocence aside, it is disconcerting to note that the FBI more and more relies on strong-arm tactics and witness intimidation to produce the desired results in its efforts to obtain indictments and convictions instead of traditional, less tainted methods.)

The sister of John and Chris Young was hired by Hebert for the New Orleans ATC office and sources told LouisianaVoice that anyone desiring a liquor permit from the state was referred to Chris Young for legal representation. Those same sources said that Chris Young rarely, if ever, actually appeared before an ATC hearing. Instead, sources said, all the details were worked out by Chris Young and Hebert behind closed doors.

The CityBusiness story said Hattier testified that the FBI had closed its investigation of claims of public corruption on Hebert’s part.

But things got really weird.

While correctly citing a joint effort by LouisianaVoice and Lee Zurick of WVUE-TV in New Orleans as the original source of the FBI investigation, CityBusiness then veered far off course when it reported, “Speculation centered on New Orleans attorney Julie Quinn as the source” of our story.

While CityBusiness is correct in saying we relied upon anonymous sources (because the sources feared retaliation if their identities were revealed) we can say with absolute certainty that Julie Quinn was not—repeat, was not—one of our sources.

Moreover, Quinn, a former state senator and former fiancé of John Young, was also described by CityBusiness as having competed with Chris Young for alcohol clients and having had “a rocky relationship with Chris Young while dating John Young.

“Quinn’s legal clients have run into ATC trouble with various permit issues and a strip club sting (Operation Trick or Treat was a statewide sting joint operation of ATC and Louisiana State Police last October) that involved drugs and prostitution.

Quinn on Monday told LouisianaVoice she had never represented a client before ATC. “I don’t do liquor licenses and I have never in my career represented a single client in a liquor permit matter,” she said.

Here is a copy of the email we received on Monday from Troy Hebert:

From: Troy Hebert [mailto:troyhebert@yahoo.com]

Sent: Monday, September 19, 2016 10:03 AM

To: Subject: Fw: Press Release: FBI clears former ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert

All,

Please see the following article from the New Orleans Business Report. I respectfully ask that your media outlet give this story the same coverage/space/time to clear my good name as when/if your media outlet first reported the story. 

Sincerely,

Troy Hebert

U.S. Senate Candidate

No problem, Troy. Perhaps this will jump start your campaign and get your poll numbers up to 1 percent.

Top of Form

 

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You may have seen one or more of a series of http://www.vote-4-energy.org/ television ads by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that have been running on a more regular basis than lawyer commercials recently.

Intended to give us a warm fuzzy feeling about Big Oil, it’s no coincidence they’re airing in an election year.

The primary trade association of the oil and gas industry, API boasts nearly 400 members. http://www.polluterwatch.com/american-petroleum-institute

Though it spent only about $200,000 on the 2012 election, it literally pours money into other programs—$33 million on lobbying between 2008 and 2012—and was instrumental in funding a $27 million anti-science “scientific” study to refute research linking benzene to cancer.

API was also not above embellishing job creation claims, touting 20,000 new jobs as opposed to the 6,000 estimated by the U.S. State Department and Cornell University.

API also donated money to the National Science Teachers Association for distributing a short film promoting the petroleum industry. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/American_Petroleum_Institute#Concerns_about_API-funded_research

If there remains any doubt to the underlying intent of the recent glut of ads, a leaked memo written by API CEO Jack Gerard in August 2009 revealed that a number of trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, coordinated “Energy Citizens’ rallies in key Congressional districts in an effort to ramp up political opposition to climate and energy legislation.

Directly funded and organized by API and member companies, the “rallies” were coordinated by oil lobbyists and API member Chevron even bused it employees to events.

API also contributed $25,000 to Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party organization founded and chaired by billionaire oilman David Koch. http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/03/energy-industry-trade-groups/

Which brings up Koch Industries, headed by David and brother Charles, both major players in the American political arena.

In just one state for example, Texas, the Kochs are proving our repeated position that money has supplanted the importance of voters in influencing election outcomes by dumping money into the campaigns of 66 candidates—15 for the U.S. House of Representatives, three for the Texas Supreme Court, 31 for the Texas House of Representatives, 16 for the State Senate and one for the State Railroad Commission (the Texas equivalent to the Louisiana Public Service Commission).

Here is a complete state-by-state listing of Koch-supported candidates (Note: only legally-required reported contributions are listed but Koch, in addition to monetary contributions has been known to exert pressure on its employees as to which candidates they should support.

And it’s not as if the Kochs are alone, nor is this an effort to say that only Republicans are beneficiaries of the avalanche of campaign funds that has occurred since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the spigot of campaign cash.

Politics has become a game played by any billionaire with an agenda—to the overall detriment of the average citizen, whose numbers comprise 99.9 percent of the nation’s population. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/superpac-donors-2016/

So just how much Super PAC money, so-called outside spending (which does not include individual contributions to thousands of candidates in federal, state and local elections), was lavished on behalf of or in opposition to candidates in the 2012 elections?

The 1,310 super PACs raised $828.2 million for the 2012 election cycle, which was just two years after Citizens United, and spent $609.4 million. https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2012&chrt=V&type=S

This year, in the Presidential, and Congressional elections alone, spending has already surpassed $1.8 billion. Of that amount, more than $248 million has come from PACs. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-1

Before all is said and done, it is expected that more than $5 billion will be spent on the Presidential election. That figure includes money to be spent by candidates, political parties and outside groups (PACs), and includes money spent on presidential primaries—more than double the cost of the 2012 campaign.

All of which raises a moral question: if political donors are so civic-minded (as most insist they are) as opposed to an eagerness to promote a personal agenda (as most will go to great lengths to deny), why don’t they put their money to use for an even greater good?

Has it ever crossed the minds of the Kochs or any of the other members of the mega-rich influence-purchasers what even a small portion of that kind of money would mean to St. Jude or other children’s hospitals?

Have they ever considered underwriting cancer research on such a scale? What about feeding the hungry or even helping restore the country’s crumbling infrastructure? After all, they use the same highways, rely on the same water and sewer services, depend on the same police and fire protection.

So much good could be accomplished with the billions of dollars that are wasted on the campaigns whose promises are as empty and meaningless as the hopes and dreams of the poorest of our poor?

Yes, the Kochs give millions to charities but then spearhead coalitions of businesses and industries that pour hundreds of millions into efforts to pass anti-environmental legislation or they endow chairs at schools like Florida State University on condition that they get the final say in the hiring of faculty members who will teach their political and economic philosophy.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/spreading-the-free-market-gospel/413239/

But we as a nation have somehow seen a trend away from using our wealth to accomplish the greater good for all our citizens. Instead, we’re seeing the wealthiest using their monetary buying power to purchase influence so they can accumulate even more wealth.

And we wonder why there is an ever-widening disconnect from the American political process.

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On August 13, Eliska Lynch and husband Bill lost their Denham Springs home to devastating floods that cause billions of dollars in damages in Southeast Louisiana.

On August 31, she was notified—by mail—that she had lost her job as a bookkeeper for the Parochial Employees’ Retirement System (PERS). http://www.persla.org/

PERS is a public defined benefit pension plan which provides retirement benefits pursuant to Act 205 of 1952.

The system provides for two separate retirement plans—one designed for employers not participating in Social Security and one for those who remained in Social Security, according to the RERS Web page. http://www.persla.org/history.htm

The system provides benefits to all Louisiana parishes except Orleans, East Baton Rouge and Lafourche. Additionally, agencies who are wholly or partially funded with parish funds may participate in PERS.

Apparently, according to the two-page notifying her of her termination, Lynch did not perform sufficiently at her new position of bookkeeper, a position into which she had been moved when the former bookkeeper retired.

According to Lynch, however, she was fired because she wanted to return to her former position of benefits analyst but that job had been filled by Cari Hill, the daughter of PERS Assistant Director Becky Fontenot.

Lynch said when she complained of nepotism, she subsequently received the letter from PERS Administrative Director Dainna Tully informing her of her termination.

In her letter—and in an interview with LouisianaVoice, Tully indicated that Lynch had voluntarily accepted the bookkeeping position. In her letter to Lynch—provided to LouisianaVoice by Lynch—Tully said Sullivan trained Lynch for three weeks before conducting her first interview for a benefits analyst to fill Lynch’s former position. In all, she said, Sullivan worked six weeks with her. She also said the PERS audit team worked with Lynch for three days in an unsuccessful effort to provide “additional training tutelage” for her new position.

Lynch, however, said she never encountered any criticism of her job performance until she broached the nepotism issue of Hill’s being supervised by her mother, which Lynch says constitutes nepotism. http://employeeissues.com/nepotism.htm

Not so, said Tully. “She (Hill) answers directly to me. All employees answer to me.”

That may well be. Many agency heads are micro-managers. That, theoretically, at least would make all employees equal in the agency head’s eyes. But in the words of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are more equal than others.

And in most agency organizational charts, Hill would certainly be under the direct supervision of Fontenot, her mother, a clear violation of Louisiana’s ethics laws governing nepotism.

  • 1119. Nepotism
  1. No member of the immediate family of an agency head shall be employed in his agency.

B.(1) No member of the immediate family of a member of a governing authority or the chief executive of a governmental entity shall be employed by the governmental entity.

Who may be held liable for a violation of §1119?:

In addition to the agency head and the agency head’s immediate family member(s) hired in violation of §1119, the following persons may also be held liable for a willful violation of the nepotism restrictions:

Member of the governing authority (Hill);

Public employee having the authority to hire and fire the employee (Tully);

Immediate supervisor of the employee (Fontenot).

After leave time was applied, Tully said in her letter, Lynch’s official date of termination was Sept. 14—one month and a day after floodwater swept through her home and reducing her household belongings and two vehicles to a mound of worthless debris at the edge of the street.

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It seems that the folks at Louisiana State Police (LSP) headquarters over at Independence Park rather pompously refer to Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers as Gray Shirts because DPS uniform shirts are gray as opposed to the blue worn by State Troopers (and we thought the Blue-Gray business ended 151 years ago. Not true. We’re told that a State Trooper will not obey a direct order from a DPS captain. Can’t you just imagine an Army private ignoring an order from a Marine captain? And they say the FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA don’t cooperate.).

In the wake of significant pay raises for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and his inner circle and revelations of the glaring disparity in the salaries of (LSP) and (DPS) officers, it’s interesting to go back a couple of years and review an email Edmonson sent to DPS personnel. Our interpretations are inserted in bold face parentheses:

 

From: Mike Edmonson Sent: Friday, June 27, 2014 5:19 PM

To: _DPS_Commissioned Personnel_DPSPolice Subject: Personal Note

As you likely noticed, several e-mails have been sent to all commissioned personnel over the last few weeks discussing HB 872 and how that piece of legislation impacts troopers. Apparently those e-mails have fueled concerns and in some cases discontent within the ranks of DPS police. Let me reassure all of you that you remain a very important part of the DPS family (“But don’t any of you DPS lieutenants or captains try giving orders to my troopers.”) and while HB 872 does not specifically affect you (“It doesn’t affect you, so just keep your mouths shut”), my staff and I are well aware of the deficiencies within your current pay ranges. (“Guess what? Those deficiencies are about to become even greater.”)

The “fix” for that problem is somewhat more complicated than the “fix” for State Police because DPS personnel are part of the Civil Service classified service while troopers are part of the State Police classified service. Adjustments to State Police salaries may be made independent of Civil Service and thus do not affect the parity of all other employees who are part of that classified service, typically a major impediment to salary adjustments. We are however undeterred by the challenges of operating within the current structure of Civil Service. (“We at LSP are getting ours.”) and I have directed the staff of Operational Development to begin evaluating and analyzing the current pay levels for DPS police officers. (“It takes two-plus years to do this evaluation? Funny it didn’t take that long to get your $43,000 raise.”) In particular we want to identify which other Civil Service positions are similar in minimum qualifications and duties and thereafter evaluate the salary schedules of those positions in comparison to ours.

It should be noted that all eligible DPS officers received their 4% merit adjustments last year and will receive another this year amounting to an 8% total salary increase. (“Meanwhile, State Troopers will be getting 30 percent bumps and I’m gonna get a 32percent raise.”) Troopers, on the other hand, received anywhere from 0-3% merit adjustments. Moreover, the approval of HB 872 by the legislature is only the preliminary step in implementing a new pay grid for troopers. The new fund established to achieve that goal has a current balance of zero. We fully anticipate that sufficient monies will be accumulated over time to make the new grid a reality, but like the study and adjustment of DPS salaries, it will take time. (“Don’t hold your breath, Gray Shirts.”)

I understand the financial urgency that some of you feel at being improperly compensated and the frustration with the required process. But it has been disheartening to me that some within the ranks of DPS have seen fit to anonymously complain to legislators, the media and others outside our organization about feeling neglected and mistreated. (“That’s because if I ever learn who you are, you will be punished.”) Such communications are counterproductive to our efforts and can actually undermine our attempts to make adjustments to DPS salaries by drawing unnecessary attention to our plans. (“We have to keep our plans secret.”) Please understand that such communications put at risk the success of our efforts on your behalf. (“Strike that ‘on your behalf’ part.)

The study by Operational Development is the first step in what can sometimes be a laborious process but we will move as quickly as possible at finding an appropriate solution. Once our recommendations are finalized we will work with Civil Service in an effort to address the compensation issues. I will personally appear on your behalf before the Commission to make the case for pay adjustments (“What part of ‘Don’t hold your breath, Gray Shirts’ do you not understand?”). I pledge to keep you informed of our progress (So why has it been more than two years since we’ve heard from you?) and I would ask that you be patient during this process and have faith in me and my staff as I do in each of you. (We’ve seen what faith in you and your staff got us…nothing.) Be safe and may God continue to bless our families and guide each one of us. I will be visiting your sections soon.

Colonel Michael D. Edmonson

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