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Archive for the ‘GOHSEP’ Category

Even as Gov. Bobby is busy handing out pink slips to state employees (a new round of layoffs is anticipated momentarily), LouisianaVoice has learned of a couple of unusual hiring practices—one involving yet another retire-rehire, this time by the Department of Public Safety, and a possible case of nepotism that has since quietly been resolved in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LADHH) with the timely transfer of the mother of a LADHH administrator to another agency.

DHH Deputy Secretary Courtney Phillips has accepted the position of Secretary of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHH) and will begin her duties there on April 1, according to a press release from LADHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert.

Courtney Phillips has been employed by LADHH since 2003 when she began as a management intern. She was appointed Deputy Secretary on May 10, 2013, at a salary of $145,000, according to information obtained by LouisianaVoice from LADHH.

Her mother, Sheila Phillips was initially hired by LADHH on June 19, 2012, as an Administrative Coordinator at a salary of $37,500.

“At no point in time did Courtney Phillips serve in a supervisory role over Sheila Phillips,” said LADHH spokesperson Olivia Watkins in an email Thursday to LouisianaVoice. “Regarding her time as deputy secretary, Courtney Phillips did not officially begin her tenure as deputy secretary until May 10, 2013. Sheila Phillips ended her employment with DHH on May 9, 2013, and is currently an employee with the Department of Environmental Quality.

Civil Service records reflect that Sheila Phillips actually resigned on May 8, 2013, two days before her daughter’s promotion, and began working on May 9, 2013, for the Department of Environmental Quality as an Administrative Assistant 4 and currently makes $40,560 per year.

And while Courtney Phillips did not begin as deputy secretary until two days after her mother left the agency, her curriculum vitae that she submitted to the State of Nebraska notes that she served as Chief of Staff at LADHH from September of 2011 until her promotion to deputy director—which was during the time when her mother was hired.

State statute, according to Watkins, specifically says that “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.”

The statute defines “agency head” as chief executive or administrative officer of an agency or any member of a board or commission who exercises supervision over the agency, Watkins said.

“Based on consultation with Civil Service, agency head would not include the chief of staff position, precluding any violation of the state nepotism law during her tenure in that role. Furthermore, as chief of staff, Courtney Phillips did not have legal appointing authority or supervise any DHH program office, including the Office of Public Health where Sheila Phillips worked from 06/09/2012 through 05/09/2013.

“Given that definition and the facts of the employment of Courtney Phillips and Sheila Phillips, nepotism was not a concern,” Watkins said.

Her resumé, however, says her Chief of Staff duties involved the planning and direction of “all administrative, financial, and operational activities for the department’s Secretary, Deputy Secretary, and Undersecretary” and that she acted “as a point of contact between top management and employees, as well as developing, overseeing and maintaining the budget for the executive office. She also said in her resumé that she served as a “key member of the executive management team responsible for the central coordination of activities and ensuring timely flow of information to and from the executive office.”

Moreover, on various LADHH organizational charts obtained by LouisianaVoice, Courtney Phillips served directly under the position of agency undersecretary during the tenures of both Bruce Greenstein, who resigned in March of 2013, and Kliebert.

As a “key member of the executive management team,” she was also a member of and regularly voted on matters coming before the LADHH Statewide Governance Board and signed off on letters to top legislators dealing with LADHH policy.

Meanwhile, an Information Technology (IT) Director 4 who retired from his $140,500 a year job at the Division of Administration (DOA) on Oct. 31, 2014, began working on Dec. 8, just over a month later, for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) as a technology consultant at $70 per hour, Civil Service records show. Jeya Selvaratnam

SELVARATNAM GOHSEP

Prior to his four-month stint with DOA, which began on June 23, 2014, and ran through Oct. 31 (he was retired for little more than a month, from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7), Jeya Selvaratnam worked first as an IT Deputy Director 2 for the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Office of Management and Finance from Sept. 25, 2006 through Aug. 27, 2008 at which time he was promoted to IT Director 4 for the same office. He remained at that post until June 22, 2014, when he moved over to DOA.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics prohibits former state employees from working for the same agency within two years of their retirements. The statute (R.S. 42:1111-1121) says, “During the two year period following the termination of public service as a public employee, these individuals may not assist another for compensation, in a transaction, or in an appearance in connection with a transaction involving the agency in which the former public employee participated while employed by the agency nor may the former public employee provide on a contractual basis to his former public employer, any service he provided while employed there.”

GOHSEP spokesperson Christina Dayries, however, said when retirees are rehired by state agencies, they are allowed to earn half of what they collect in state retirement. He was earning $140,500 per year and with more than 30 years of service, qualifies for at least 75 percent of his base salary in retirement. That computes to more than $105,000 in retirement, plus 50 percent of that amount as a re-hire up to $158,000—nearly $18,000 more than he made full time.

The project on which Selvaratnam now works as a part time capacity is the DPS FirstNet National Public Safety Broadband Network.

The project calls for the expenditure of up to $135 million of a State and Local Implementation Grant (SLIGP) provided by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide emergency responders with their first nationwide, high-speed broadband network dedicated to public safety, according to a Power Point presentation given on Jan. 21 and 22 of this year to provide an overview of the program created under the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

The $135 million 80-20 federal-state grant is only for the planning of the project. Implementation of the nationwide network is expected to cost $7 billion with funding expected to come from spectrum auction. By law, the network is to be self-sustaining upon expending the $7 billion.

There are 10 regional teams set up to implement the program on a nationwide basis. Louisiana is a member of Team 6, along with New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The program’s staffing chart shows Selvaratnam serving under the supervision of Program Manager Allison McLeary.

While at DPS, he represented the department as a member of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC) SIEC which is responsible for the ability of emergency service agencies to communicate across disciplines and jurisdictions, particularly during times of emergency. SIEC membership is composed of all appropriate first responder and support organizations and has “full authority to design, construct, administer and maintain a statewide interoperable communications system…in support of full response to any emergency event,” according to GOHSEP’s web page. http://www.gohsep.la.gov/interop.aspx

As the DPS representative on the SIEC, he also served as chairman of the SIEC Broadband Subcommittee. Accordingly, he had duties and responsibilities for the SLIGP program during that time and is again providing those same services.

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson, for whom Selvaratnam worked at DPS, is the “State Point of Contact” for the FirstNet project, according to the Power Point presentation, with the Office of State Police listed as the SLIGP grant recipient and GOHSEP as the grant administrator.

A law meant to bring retirees back for short-term help was used by almost 200 current, full-time employees in the Department of Corrections. An oversight in the writing of the law even allowed “retired” employees to continue accruing money into their pension plans, according to a story on Governing, a web-based site on state and local government. http://www.governing.com/topics/public-workforce/Double-Dip-Dilemma.html

The issue of retire-rehire sparked considerable debate in 2010 when Higher Education Commissioner Sally Clausen resigned and rehired herself two days later, a move that netted her a $90,000 payout for unused sick leave and vacation time and entitled her to $146,400 in retirement pay. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/06/higher_education_commissioner.html

 

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Two audit reports released this week by Legislative Auditor Daryl Pupera’s office focus on documentation of expenses related to hurricane recovery and costs incurred by the state for vacant office space in downtown New Orleans as part of a costly incentive package to induce Saints owner Tom Benson to keep the NFL team in New Orleans

The first indicates that the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has invoices for more than $49 million in exceptions, or undocumented expenses by disaster recovery specialists in the perpetual recovery efforts of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

The other, which we first wrote about in February of 2013, smacks of the kind of political back scratching for which Louisiana has become famous: the state’s capitulation to New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson as part of a costly incentive package to induce him to keep his team in New Orleans. Part of that package included the state’s leasing of office space in his Benson Towers office building at inflated rental rates, a deal that appears to border on financial irresponsibility.

The report says that auditors evaluated 4,476 expense reimbursements totaling $711 million submitted by disaster recovery “specialists,” and found 665 “exceptions” totaling nearly $49.6 million.

Pupera explained that the questioned expenses do not necessarily indicate fraud or mismanagement but rather a need for more thorough documentation and justification for the invoices. “The money has been allocated but because it’s federal money, we want to be sure that all invoices are adequately justified before they are paid so we won’t have the feds coming back later and asking for their money back,” he said.

He said the exceptions fall into five different categories: contract work ($42.56 million), force account labor ($3.8 million), force account equipment ($1.3 million), materials ($1.8 million) and rented equipment ($88,000).

Other questionable costs included:

Expense reimbursements of $6.6 million which exceeded cost estimates;

Expense reimbursements of $22.7 million not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, time records, equipment logs, inventory records of other documentation;

Purchases and contracts totaling $11.6 million which did not comply with federal and state procurement requirements;

Expense reimbursements of $11.6 million which did not comply with federal and state procurement requirements;

Expenses of $2.1 million in work which did not comply with FEMA regulations and guidelines;

Duplicate, omitted and/or miscategorized expenses of $5.7 million.

Pupera said once issues raised by auditors are addressed by GOHSEP, most of the expenses will be properly documented for payment. “There may still be some exceptions at the end, but a large majority are expected to be justified,” he said.

Benson purchased the 26-story Dominion Tower in September of 2009 and re-named it Benson Tower. He made the purchase after entering into a generous—to Benson—agreement whereby the state gave away the store to keep the Saints from moving to San Antonio.

One of the stipulations, which expired a couple of years ago, called for visiting teams’ players, coaches, and support staff to pay state income taxes on one-sixteenth on their annual salaries (because they played one of their 16 regular season games in New Orleans, thus earning a 16th of their income in the state). Once that money was received by the Louisiana Department of Revenue, the department immediately issued a check for an identical amount payable to Benson.

Another obligates the state to pay Benson a cool $1 million whenever the NFL awards a Super Bowl to New Orleans.

Benson Tower is located across the street from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. As part of the deal struck between Benson and the state, the Jindal administration agreed to a 20-year lease of some 325,000 square feet of office space at $24 a square foot for various state agencies, some of whom were paying as little as $12 a square foot before being forced to move to Benson Tower in 2011.

At the outset, the state’s obligation was about $7 million a year, $2.4 million more than the $4.6 million the state was paying before the move.

Included in the Benson Tower purchase was a 60,000-square-foot plot encompassing a one-block section of LaSalle Street and part of what once was the New Orleans Centre shopping mall. That facility is now known as Champions Square where Saints tailgate parties are held. Anheuser Busch, makers of Budweiser Beer, has exclusive rights for beer concessions at Champions Square after striking a deal with the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED), also known as the Superdome Commission.

Benson, the seven LSED members (each of whom is appointed by the governor) and their families, businesses and business associates, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome management firm, and Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle Sales & Service combined to contribute more than $203,000 to Jindal campaigns between 2003 and 2012.

Prior to the Benson Tower deal, the average cost per square foot for state agencies leasing office space in New Orleans was $17.66. In 2012, the first full lease year in Benson Tower, the cost per square foot was $23.78. Rent at the building is tied to the consumer price index and today the cost per square foot is $25.10.

The Louisiana Attorney General’s offices were never relocated to Benson Tower because of a lack of 24-hour access to parking facilities.

The $7.4 million now being paid does not include $625,000 being paid by the state for 24,900 square feet of vacant office space in the building. That amount bumps the state’s annual rent up to $8 million per year.

The audit report said a survey of current listing information on available office space in New Orleans, the range for lease rates is $16 to $22 per square foot, including parking, or an average of $19 per square foot.

Accordingly, for the 347,849 square feet of Benson Tower, including the 24,872 of vacant office space, the state is paying an average of almost $2.1 million per year in excess rent to Benson.

And the state is locked in until 2025—an additional payment in excessive rent of at least $23 million during the remaining life of the agreement, although the lease agreement could be extended beyond 2025, according to Mark Moses, director of the State Office of Facility Planning and Control.

In his response to the audit, Moses said the Saints were “an import part of Louisiana’s culture as well as an economic driver for New Orleans and the rest of the state.”

He said the incentive package delivered to Benson with appropriate wrapping and bows “saved the state more than $280 million in addition to adding nearly $400 million in revenue expected to be generated over the life of the agreement.”

Moses also said the number of parking spaces included in the lease rate should be included with comparing Benson Tower rental rates with market rates in New Orleans.

“Commercial Class A buildings typically include one to two parking spaces per 1,000 square feet under lease,” he said. “Based on the approximate 323,000 square feet of space under lease (the auditor’s office gives the area as 348,000), the standard commercial lease rate would include between 323 and 646 parking spaces. The rental rate for Benson Tower, however, includes 900 parking spaces in the Superdome garages.”

He added that additional parking is also available for $50 per month in the state-owned Health Education Authority of Louisiana (HEAL) garage a block from Benson Tower.

Moses also pointed out that the audit report’s comparisons of market rates failed to mention that most commercial leases of Class A buildings including “pass through language,” which requires tenants to pay a proportionate share of operations and maintenance expenses that exceed base year expenses established in the lease. Pass through rates, he said, can vary depending on operating and maintenance expenses for individual buildings and according to occupancy rates. Benson Tower, he said , does not include pass through language in its lease with the state.

 

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BATON ROUGE (CNS)—You may recall Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ill-fated retirement “reform” bills of 2012, all written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and introduced individually by Jindal’s lackeys in the House and Senate.

An example of how those “reforms” would have worked if passed can be found in the case of a single state employee whom we know but who is representative of thousands of state civil service workers.

In her case, she was (and still is, given that no civil service pay raises have been approved for five years now) making $52,000 per year and had 20 years’ service in 2012 (21 now). Her plan was to put in 30 years and retire. At her current pay, with no pay raises for the remainder of her career (which appears more likely with each year of the Jindal administration), she would retire at $39,000 per year. With inflation and no raises taken into account, $39,000 a year won’t go very far.

Had Jindal’s “reforms” passed, however, her annual retirement would have been reduced to $6,000 per year—a $33,000 per-year hit. And state employees do not pay into nor do they receive Social Security benefits. Six thousand dollars per year for 30 years’ service. Period.

And she was not an anomaly; stories like this would have been the case throughout state government.

Jindal claimed his retirement package was aimed at restoring the various state retirement systems to some semblance of stability by reducing the unfunded liabilities. But rather than continue to pay the state’s share of contributions to the systems those payments were actually reduced.

The bottom line is Jindal has complete and total disdain for the plight of those in the trenches—the ones who actually make state government work by showing up for work each day (which is certainly more than he does, given his extensive travel itinerary) and listening to the complaints of hostile citizens who don’t understand why they have so much difficulty getting the services they need—from road repairs to college and university infrastructure repair to services for the developmentally disabled where the waiting list is 10,000 persons—and growing. http://theadvocate.com/news/6739937-123/la-officials-try-to-shrink

And he’s made their job much harder by laying off rank and file employees while fattening the unclassified (appointed, non-civil service) payroll.

At the same time, he has been careful to take care of favored legislators with six-figure, do-nothing jobs which serve only to beef up their retirement benefits, some by more than tenfold.

LouisianaVoice, with the information available, did a before and after calculation of retirement benefits for several of those washed up legislators and local politicians. All calculations were based on the assumption they will remain in their new lofty positions at least three years. Here is what we found:

  • Former Rep. Jane Smith, by virtue of her appointment by Jindal to Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue at a yearly salary of $107,500, saw her retirement benefits climb from a modest $6,700 a year to $56,400 annually.
  • Former Rep. Kay Katz, appointed to the Louisiana Tax Commission at a $56,000 yearly salary will go from $6,700 per year to $29,400 a year in retirement benefits.
  • Troy Hebert who left the House to assume directorship of the State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board, went from $4,500 to $37,500.
  • Lane Carson, who recently retired as Secretary of the Louisiana Office of Veterans Affairs at $130,000 after five years on the job will retire at nearly $64,000 instead of about $7,500 on the basis of his service in the legislature.
  • Former St. Tammany Parish President and now Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) at $165,000 and former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, now the $150,000 Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery are only guesses. Because we are unsure of their previous salaries or their tenure in office, we have arbitrarily given them 15-year tenures (including their current positions) which put their retirement at $85,000 and $75,000, respectively—estimates both.
  • Former State Sen. Robert Barham saw his modest $7,500 legislative retirement balloon to $84,500 on the basis of his $124,000-a-year position as Secretary of the Louisiana Office of Wildlife and Fisheries.
  • We already wrote about Congressman Rodney Alexander who is leaving Congress to accept Lane Carson’s former position as Secretary of the Louisiana Office of Veterans Affairs at $130,000, a comfortable position that will boost his retirement from 15 years in the Louisiana Legislature prior to his election to Congress from $7,500 to $83,500.
  • But the grand prize goes to former State Rep. Noble Ellington. His 16 years in the House earned him a pension of about $8,900 but his hiring by Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon (at the behest of Jindal—his fingerprints are all over this appointment) as Deputy Commissioner of Insurance brought his retirement to almost $100,000 ($99,750).

Smith, Katz, Hebert, Carson, Barham, Alexander and Ellington qualify or will qualify for a combined retirement of more than $455,000 per year—an increase of $395,700 (667 percent) over their pre-Jindal appointment collective annual legislative retirement incomes of $59,300.

Now we harken back to Jindal’s aborted retirement “reform” which would have reduced our friend’s retirement from $39,000 to $6,000. On contrasting the two scenarios, one must ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

What is wrong is we have a governor who is just as slick and oily with the filthy ooze of dirty politics as any governor in the history of this state—while cloaking himself in the mantel of righteousness.

What is wrong is we have a governor who knows how to enrich his friends and stick it to everyone else—while pretending to act in the best interests of the state.

What is wrong is that we have a governor who entered Congress in January of 2005 as a man of modest means but emerged three years later as governor a multi-millionaire—and no one has asked how that happened.

What is wrong is that we have a governor who has demonstrated repeatedly that he has no compassion for the sick, the elderly, the developmentally disadvantaged, the mentally ill, state workers—and certainly not Louisiana citizens in general.

And what is wrong is we have a governor who does all that while hiding behind a façade of honesty, integrity, transparency and a “gold standard” of governmental ethics.

And now that same governor is attempting to call the shots in the election to fill the unexpired term of Rodney Alexander by promoting his puppet State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) for Congress. He did this by manipulating (a) the timing of Alexander’s retirement, (b) his immediate offer of a cushy job to Alexander, (c) turning over former Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell and chief fundraiser Allie Bautsch to work on Riser’s behalf, and (d) sewing up endorsements from State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) and a host of Louisiana Republic congressmen, including former Payday Loan magnate John Fleming of Minden.

We in Louisiana are used to being conned by crooked politicians but they did it with so much more class than Jindal and his gaggle of sycophants.

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The best little hurricane response company no one ever heard of has been handed a contract by the Jindal administration to provide physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, licensed social workers and clerical and administrative staff in case a major hurricane strikes Louisiana.

And the company is in Wisconsin.

Response Systems, Inc., a company in Oconomowoc (can I buy a vowel?), Wisc. was named recipient of the $871,000 contract, apparently because it is more qualified in hurricane relief than any other company from Texas to Florida.

Funny thing is, no one in Wisconsin seems to know squat about the firm.

A business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal knew nothing of the company other than a story that ran several years ago naming a new vice president/general manager who is no longer with the firm.

Even stranger, Bob Duffy, Director of Economic Development for Oconomowoc, drew a blank when asked about the company on Monday. “I never heard of them,” he said.

One would reasonably think that the director of economic development in the very town in which Response Systems, Inc. is domiciled would know of the company and whether it was a viable, thriving member of the local business community.

It required a fairly extensive search, but a web page for the company was finally found which offered some information about the company. http://www.disasterpreparation.net/about-news.html

LouisianaVoice attempted to call Response Systems but got the voice mail of the firm’s registered agent, Todd Grainger.

Here’s what we do know:

  • The contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) runs from Feb. 1, 2012 to Jan. 31, 2016 and is for emergency preparedness and readiness training—something we just assumed in our own naïve way was the responsibility of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. After all, what is the function of a state agency with a current budget of $1.3 billion—unless it’s just to be sure the state has a sufficient supply of ice for the next hurricane?
  • The company will get even more money in case it has to do anything—like providing medical teams in the event of a disaster.
  • Response Systems would be called out for a minimum five-day deployment at a cost of $290,714, plus travel and meals—that’s over and above the $871,000 contract amount.
  • The company may provide staffing of more than 150 licensed personnel to ensure operational efficiency and recovery in the event of a mass medical surge or evacuation.
  • The company must have teams in place within 48 hours of call-up.
  • Response Systems, Inc. employs fewer than 10 people and had revenues of less than $500,000 last year, according to an online business profile service.
  • The company was first incorporated in January of 2009, was sent a notice of administrative dissolution for failure file an annual report on Oct. 1, 2010, and was restored to good standing after filing its report on Oct. 28, 2011—barely three months before entering into its contract with DHH.

In perhaps the irony of all ironies with this administration, DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert was quoted as saying, “If the event (a hurricane of some like disaster) goes on for a prolonged period of time, we didn’t have the staff to really staff those shelters appropriately.”

Might this be because Jindal has gutted state agencies with widespread layoffs so that he could contract with these private firms? Could this be another CNSI on a somewhat smaller (like $200 million smaller) scale?

While LSU has provided professional staff in the past, state public health nurses are getting fewer in number with the cutbacks and Kliebert said hospital privatization changes which have occurred recently made the contract necessary. Really?

State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry added that while it was nice to have had support from LSU in the past, “It’s a new day. Business is different. We have to get a little more creative.” Really again.

The company’s website says Response Systems, Inc. has contracts with several other states, including Colorado, Washington and Kansas for similar services.

The web page said it is actively recruiting medical teams to assist with on-demand mass evacuation operations on the Gulf Coast.

“We are respectful of the large responsibility Louisiana DHH has tasked us with,” said Grainger on the website. “Our ability to successfully carry out past response missions in Louisiana is a key building block to insure a now larger statewide construct of support.”

The website described the company’s role in assisting DHH following Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

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