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Archive for the ‘Finances’ Category

It’s a plaintiff attorney’s and a legislator’s nightmare.

As an illustration of just how bad the state’s fiscal condition really is, one need only examine the 40 court judgments stemming from litigation against the state in 2016 that have yet to be paid.

As former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill once said, all politics is local and when a constituent wins or settles a lawsuit against the state, that person’s legislator is usually prompt in filing a bill in the House to appropriate funds for pay the judgment. That’s important to legislators. The state, after all, has denied classified employees pay raises for the better part of a decade but never missed paying a judgment other than the Jean Boudreaux case—until now.

It’s also a good indication of just how dire the state’s fiscal condition really is.

In all judgments of road hazard cases—cases involving auto accidents where the state is found at fault for inadequate signage, poor road maintenance or improper construction—as well as certain other claims like general liability or medical malpractice, funds must be appropriated via a bill submitted by a legislator.

In past years, with the exception of one major judgment, that has not been a problem. Only the $91.8 million class action judgment resulting from the 1983 flood in Tangipahoa Parish was never paid. In that case, lead plaintiff Jean Boudreaux claimed that construction of Interstate 12 impeded the natural flow of the Tangipahoa River, causing unnecessary flooding of homes and businesses north of I-12.

But in 2016, Rep. Steve Pugh of Ponchatoula submitted a bill to appropriate funds to pay the judgment. He did the same in 2017. It still remains unpaid, along with 36 other judgments totaling another $9.5 million for which bills were approved.

That puts the overall total judgments, including the 34-year-old Boudreaux case at more than $101 million.

And that doesn’t count the cost of attorney fees, expert fees, or court reporter fees, amounts practically impossible to calculate without reviewing the complete payment files on a case-by-case basis.

Twenty-four of the cases had two or more plaintiffs who were awarded money.

In 19 cases, awards were for $100,000 or more and three of those were for more than a million dollars—if indeed the money is ever paid.

In the meantime, judicial interest is still running on some of those judgments, which could run the tab even higher.

A list of those who were either awarded or settled cases in excess of $100,000 that remain unpaid and their parishes include:

  • Michael and Mary Aleshire, Calcasieu Parish: $104,380.82;
  • Kayla Schexnayder and Emily Legarde, Assumption Parish: $1,068,004;
  • Debra Stutes, Calcasieu Parish: $850,000;
  • Peter Mueller, Orleans Parish: $245,000;
  • Steve Brengettsy and Elro McQuarter, West Feliciana: $205,000;
  • Jeffrey and Lillie Christopher, Iberville Parish: $175,000;
  • Donald Ragusa and Tina Cristina, East Baton Rouge: $175,000;
  • Stephanie Landry and Tommie Varnado, Orleans Parish: $135,000;
  • Jennie Lynn Badeaux Russ, Lafourche Parish: $1.5 million;
  • Adermon and Gloria Rideaux and Brian Brooks, Calcasieu Parish: $1.375 million;
  • Theresa Melancon and DHH Medicaid Program, Rapides Parish: $750,000;
  • Rebecca, Kevin and Cheryl Cole and Travelers Insurance, East Baton Rouge: $400,000;
  • Samuel and Susan Weaver, Lafourche Parish: $240,000;
  • Henry Clark, Denise Ramsey and Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Lafayette Parish: $326,000;
  • Anya and Abigail Falcon and Landon and Nikki Hanchett, Iberville Parish, $946,732.53;
  • Adam Moore and James Herrington, East Carroll Parish: $150,000;
  • Traci Newsom, Gerald Blow, DHH Medicaid and Ameril-Health Caritas, Tangipahoa Parish: $150,000;
  • Michael Villavaso, Orleans Parish: $443,352.51.

Lawsuits against all state agencies are handled by the Office of Risk Management (ORM), which Bobby Jindal privatized in 2011 in order to save the state money.

The privatization didn’t realize the savings Jindal had anticipated but now, at least, it looks as though the Division of Administration has found another way to save money on litigation costs:

Don’t pay the judgments.

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LouisianaVoice has received confirmation that the Legislative Auditor’s office has served subpoenas on the New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel in connection with its ongoing investigation of Louisiana State Police (LSP) management practices under former Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

Confirmation was received first from one of the principals of the historic, 116-year-old hotel and subsequently from Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, who declined to provide any specifics as to what investigators were looking for.

But it’s not difficult to figure out.

Considering an Oct. 11 LouisianaVoice STORY about complimentary hotel rooms given Edmonson and other LSP command personnel and State Fire Marshal personnel by two other New Orleans hotels, a good bet would be that auditors are looking at one of two possibilities:

  • Were state police given complimentary rooms at the Roosevelt Hotel in violation of state ethics laws that prohibit state employees from accepting anything of value as a gift, or
  • In cases where the state may have paid for the rooms during events like Mardi Gras, did anyone other than LSP personnel stay in the rooms?

Questions are pretty much limited to those two options.

Of course, “anyone” could simply refer to wives or other family members, which would be a violation in itself, or it could be other “guests.”

Rumors have circulated for months that officials of both LSP and the State Fire Marshal’s office loved to party hearty in New Orleans and female companionship and booze often were parts of the equation.

One source, when LouisianaVoice only asked if the wives and girlfriends of fire marshal personnel were also allowed to stay at the hotels free of charge, volunteered, “Oh, yes. Wives, girlfriends and other female guests.” (Emphasis his.)

Because Purpera could not go into detail as to what his investigators were looking for, he naturally also declined to speculate as to who, if anyone, else may have stayed in rooms assigned to LSP personnel.

Nor would he offer any insight as to whether he was trying to make a determination as to identities of hotel guests or attempting to learn if LSP personnel simply accepted free rooms from the hotel.

On one hand, state employees may have been accepting free rooms, a clear ethics violation. On the other, the state may have paid for rooms for state employees who were on temporary duty in New Orleans but who then allowed others to share the rooms—on the state dime.

From our vantage point, there doesn’t appear to be much distinction between the two insofar as flouting the ethics rules for public employees is concerned.

Such was the attitude that was allowed to permeate LSP during Edmonson’s nine years as Louisiana’s top cop.

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Only in Louisiana.

A lawsuit filed in 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish challenging the legality of the proposed approval of $450 million in industrial tax exemptions raises two immediate questions:

  • What are Projects Magnolia, Zinnia, Bagel and Sunflower/Sunflower Seed?
  • Why is the Ascension Parish Council being so secretive about the true identities?
  • Why did the Ascension Parish Council’s Finance Committee not follow the law in considering the proposed tax exemptions?
  • Most important of all, what is the Ascension Parish Council trying to hide?

These are all questions to which plaintiffs Dr. Henrynne Louden, George Armstrong and Lana Williams are seeking answers in their petition filed last Friday.

On Sept. 12, the council’s Finance Committee, which in truth is comprised of all 11 council members, met and added to its agenda for the full council meeting of Sept. 21 Item 7, calling for the consideration of “resolutions to award industrial tax exemption at levels recommended by the Ascension Economic Development board for the following projects:

  • Project Magnolia;
  • Project Zinnia;
  • Project Bagel;
  • Project Sunflower/Sunflower Seed.

Altogether, the four projects would cost Ascension Parish $55.6 million—for a grand total of 32 new jobs, or $1.7 million per job.

To see the lawsuit in its entirety, click HERE.

Ascension_code_names.PNG

“The identity of the projects on the agenda for the meeting of the council held on September 21, 2017, are fictitious,” the lawsuit says, adding that neither the plaintiffs “nor any other member of the public could determine, from a review of the consent agenda:

  • The identity of the company (or companies) seeking the benefit of an industrial tax exemption;
  • The amount of the exemption sought for each project;
  • The cost of granting each of the exemptions;
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of the Louisiana State Constitution, or
  • Whether any of the projects comply with requirements of Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73.

“There are two things at issue in this suit,” said a spokesperson for an organization calling itself Together Louisiana: “Whether public subsidies can be approved by a public body without disclosing the identity of the entity receiving the subsidies, and whether reasonably specific public notices must be provided regarding approval of such subsidies.”

Article 7, Section 21(F) of the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 spells out the requirements for approval of the ad valorem tax exemptions for new manufacturing facilities.

“After being elected,” the lawsuit says, Gov. John Bel Edwards determined that the Board of Commerce and Industry “…had approved industrial tax exemptions contracts ultimately resulting in an average of $1.4 billion in foregone ad valorem tax revenue each year for the next five years for parishes, municipalities, school districts and other political subdivisions of the state that directly provide law enforcement, water and sewage, infrastructure, and educational opportunities to Louisiana citizens.”

On Oct. 21, 2016, Gov. Edwards issued Executive Order Number JBE 2016-73 entitled “Amended and Restated Conditions for Participation in the Industrial Tax Exemption.”

The executive order requires that the governor and Board of Commerce and Industry be provided with a resolution adopted by, among others, “the relevant governing parish council, signifying, “whether it is in favor of the project,” the lawsuit says.

The executive order further says that contracts for industrial tax exemptions which do not include a resolution by the relevant local governing authority “will not be approved by the governor.”

The agenda for the Sept. 12 Finance Committee meeting, the plaintiffs say in their petition, “failed to indicate that (it) would be considering whether or not to approve a resolution signifying that the council was in favor of one or more industrial tax exemption.” Despite failing to include the item on its agenda, the Finance Committee did, in fact, recommend approval by the council of such a resolution, placing the committee, the lawsuit says, in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

“Not only are meetings of the public bodies to be open,” the lawsuit says, (but) “citizens have the right to know—in advance—the subject matter upon which governing bodies will deliberate and vote.”

The state’s open meeting laws require posting written notices of the agenda of all meetings “no later than 24 hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the meeting” and “shall include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting.”

The committee’s violation of the open meeting laws, the plaintiff say, deprived the public of the right to:

  • Know what was being considered by the Finance Committee;
  • Directly participate in the deliberations of the Finance Committee;
  • Protect themselves from secret decisions made without any opportunity for public input.

The lawsuit is asking the court to declare actions of both the Finance Committee and the full council void as provided by law.

The plaintiffs and their attorneys, Brian Blackwell and Charles Patin of Baton Rouge are, in all probability, correct in their interpretation of the state’s open meeting laws (Article XIL, Section 3 of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution and Louisiana Revised Statute 42:19).

But this is Louisiana and it has been the experience of LouisianaVoice and other members of the media that the law is whatever some judge says it is. Judges apparently have wide discretion in concocting their own interpretations of the law to accommodate whomever the judges wish to accommodate—usually campaign donors.

The three plaintiffs in this case have the full moral support of LouisianaVoice but the reality is there is usually negligible correlation between law and justice once you walk through those courtroom doors.

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If you really want to know what’s wrong with our political system and the people we elect to office, it can be summed up in the current race for State Treasurer.

Here are the Duties of that office:

According to Article IV, Section 9 of the Louisiana Constitution, the treasurer is head of the Department of the Treasury and “shall be responsible for the custody, investment and disbursement of the public funds of the state.” The Treasury Department website outlines the treasurer’s duties:

  • receive and safely keep all the monies of this state, not expressly required by law to be received and kept by some other person;
  • disburse the public money upon warrants drawn upon him according to law, and not otherwise;
  • keep a true, just, and comprehensive account of all public money received and disbursed, in books to be kept for that purpose, in which he shall state from whom monies have been received, and on what account; and to whom and on what account disbursed;
  • keep a true and just account of each head of appropriations made by law, and the disbursements under them;
  • give information in writing to either house of the Legislature when required, upon any subject connected with the Treasury, or touching any duty of his office;
  • perform all other duties required of him by law.
  • advise the State Bond Commission, the Governor, the Legislature and other public officials with respect to the issuance of bonds and all other related matters;
  • organize and administer, within the office of the State Treasurer a state debt management section

https://www.treasury.state.la.us/Home%20Pages/TreasurerDuties.aspx

Nowhere in al that does it even once say or even imply that the job has once scintilla to do with:

  • standing with President Trump to create new jobs or to cut wasteful spending, as former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis would have us believe in her TV ads;
  • fighting to make drainage and infrastructure top priorities in the state budget, as State Sen. Neil Riser insists in his TV ads;
  • having the guts to say “No! No to bigger government, no to wasteful spending and to raising your taxes,” as former State Rep. John Schroder proclaims in his TV ads, or
  • stopping cuts to education, healthcare and wasteful government spending, as the TV ads of Derrick Edwards insist.

http://www.wafb.com/story/36425632/la-treasurer-candidates-launch-tv-ads-analyst-calls-them-flimsy-on-duties-of-office

So, why do they insist on campaigning on issues in no way related to the actual duties of the position they are seeking?

For the same reason candidates for Baton Rouge mayor (former Mayor Kip Holden and State Sen. Bodie White, who ran unsuccessfully for the job, come to mind) consistently campaign every four years on improving schools and reducing the number of school dropouts when the mayor’s office has zilch to do with the school board:

They consider the average voter to be unsophisticated, ignorant fools who don’t know any better. Or they’re so stupid they don’t know any better themselves. Those are only two choices.

Period.

Their campaign ads clearly illustrate the complete and total disdain the treasury candidates have for Louisiana voters. They obviously think they can throw up (ahem) fake news and pseudo issues that leave voters in complete darkness about each candidate’s relative qualifications to hold the job.

And by so doing, they send a loud message that neither is qualified for—or deserving of—the job.

When John Kennedy, who had previously served as Secretary of Revenue, an appointive position, ran for treasurer in 1995, he ran a somewhat relevant ad that said, “When I was Secretary of the Department of Revenue, I reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent.”

That ad carried a message that actually resonated with small business owners drowning in paperwork and which at least sounded germane to the office of state treasurer—never mind that it was physically impossible to reduce anything by 150 percent. Once you reduce something by 100 percent, you’re at zero.

All of this rant about the four candidates for treasurer and the lame campaign rhetoric of candidates for Baton Rouge mayor—and just about any other political office you can name—just illustrates to what lengths politicians will go to cloud the real issues and to shy away from discussing matters they can actually address when in office.

How many times have you heard a candidate for U.S. Representative or U.S. Senate implore you to send him to Washington so that he can “make a difference”?

It’s disingenuous at best, fraud at worst.

So, on Oct. 14, be sure to go to the polls and cast your vote for one of the four frauds running for treasurer.

It’s the Louisiana way.

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The fallout from last October’s cross-country drive to San Diego via the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas in a state police vehicle has resulted in the demotion of two state troopers who took part in the drive.

Lt. Rodney Hyatt was demoted to sergeant, and Capt. Derrell Williams was bumped down to lieutenant. Both troopers received corresponding reductions in pay along with their demotions.

Both men have the option of appealing their respective disciplinary actions.

But they didn’t go down without a fight and without throwing former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who was forced into retirement over the trip that also included a dozen other state police personnel, under the bus. It all comes down to “who do you believe?”

And Hyatt, so sure was he that he was blameless in the circuitous route taken by the four, recently applied for promotion to captain despite his pending demotion.

Moreover, Williams was cited for receiving a semi-nude photograph from a female friend on his state police email account via his state-issue cell phone and for transmitting a suggestive photo of himself to that same female friend on his state email account.

Both men fired off lengthy letters defending their actions to the State Police Internal Affairs Section that Williams once headed. In Hyatt’s case, his letter was 12 pages in length while Williams’s letter was 10 pages.

Hyatt, in particular, attempted to shift the blame for driving the state vehicle (which was assigned to then-Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy, for overstating his overtime, for staying in expensive hotels, and for visiting Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam along the way, to Edmonson.

Williams, for his part, said simply that “None of the (other) officers in the state vehicle were in my chain of command,” and that upon his return to Baton Rouge, Edmonson “signed off on my state credit card expenditures showing the prices and places where we stayed.”

The disciplinary letters from State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves to Hyatt and Williams were each 10 pages in length but the letter to Hyatt appeared to pack the most punch and its entire 10 pages were summed up in a single sentence:

“Your response merely attempts to shift responsibility for your actions to others,” Reeves said.

Still, it’s difficult to imagine that the four would have gone off on a sightseeing trip in a state vehicle without Edmonson’s knowledge and blessing.

Reeves also said that Hyatt not only submitted padded time sheets for hours not worked but that he forwarded copies of his time sheet to Troopers Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky, who also made the trip in the state vehicle, “to show them how to claim their time for the travel and training.”

Hyatt, in his letter said he was initially asked by Edmonson if he wanted to attend the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference that was held in conjunction with the State and Provincial Police Planning Officers Section (SPPPOS) meeting. Hyatt said he told Edmonson he did wish to attend both conferences at which point Edmonson said, “If you go, you have to drive.” He said Edmonson then said, “Take your wife and have a good time.”

“I have never taken my wife in my entire 20-year career to any work-related conference,” Hyatt said. “Had Edmonson not told me to, I would not have brought her. However, being a paramilitary organization, I took his order to mean that I am going to the conferences in San Diego, California with my wife, and we were to have a good time and drive there. Additionally, I followed his order because I did not want to violate Louisiana State Police Policy and Procedure, which states that I shall obey and execute all lawful orders of a superior officer.”

Moreover, Hyatt said it was Edmonson who suggested that the four troopers and Hyatt’s wife take the “northern route” because there was “nothing but desert along I-10.” That was the route that included the side trips to the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Vegas.

Edmonson was quoted earlier this year when news of the trip first became public that he did not sign off on the side trip but Williams backed Hyatt’s version of events by saying he had “no doubt” that Edmonson knew the whereabouts of the four “at all times” during the trip.

On telling part of Hyatt’s letter as well as Reeves’s letter of demotion to Williams was the issue of text messages and emails on state cell phones.

LouisianaVoice requested copies of all such messages and photos, particularly those between the four troopers in the state vehicle and Edmonson months ago but was told by State Police Legal Affairs that no such messages existed.

Yet Hyatt, in his 12-page response alluded to emails, text messages and photographs sent by Hyatt’s wife to Edmonson throughout the trip.

And Reeves, in his letter, cited the sexually explicit photo sent to Williams’s state email account by a female friend and received on his cell phone and Williams’s photo of him straddling a cactus that he texted to that same lady friend.

Because the disciplinary letters and the responses are so lengthy, it has been decided that rather than try to relate what they said, it would be better to simply publish the links to the respective documents.

So here is the disciplinary letter to RODNEY HYATT, along with his response.

And here is the disciplinary letter to DERRELL WILLIAMS, followed by his response.

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