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Southern University has been hit with more than $14,000 in fines and fees as a result of an illegal executive session of the university’s system-wide grievance committee on March 18 involving four professors who were appealing the decision by Southern Executive Vice President/Vice Chancellor James Ammons to either fired, demote or reduce the pay of the four.

Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Richard “Chip” Moore awarded $5,000 to the four professors and to yours truly. In addition, he ordered Southern to pay $8,400 in attorney fees to Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, and to pay $638 in court costs.

RULING ON SOUTHERN CLOSED MEETING

At the same time he ruled that any and all actions by the committee affecting the four professors from March 18 through the date of the ruling (May 13) were null and void, “said evidence being the unlawful fruit collected by the committee in contravention of the Open Meeting Law…”

The decision followed the May 6 trial in which the four professors—Elaine Lawnau, Christy Moland, Terrilynn Gillis and Marilyn Seibert—and Aswell said they were forced to exit an illegally-held closed-door meeting of the grievance committee on March 18.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said that prior to the committee’s convening in the committee room on the Southern campus, committee chairperson Marla Dickerson “met privately with all committee members to discuss whether the hearing should be open or closed to the public. Dickerson testified that the committee members unanimously and clandestinely agreed that the hearing be closed to the public (emphasis mine).

“Thereafter, Dickerson and the other committee members assembled in a boardroom and called the hearing to order with all plaintiffs being present. Dickerson then asked plaintiffs whether they desired the hearing be open or closed, and all plaintiffs moved that it be open to the public. Dickerson then posed the same question to Southern University, which advised through its counsel (Winston Decuir, Jr.) that the hearing be closed. Dickerson then authoritatively ordered the committee hearing be closed to the public, said action being taken without prior motion or vote from any committee member while the committee was in open session.”

The state’s open meeting law specifically says that (a) all votes to enter into executive session must be by a two-third majority vote and that the vote must be taken in open session and recorded in the minutes of the meeting, and (b) employee(s) filing the grievance or appeal have the final say as to whether the meeting is to be conducted in open or closed session.

The committee failed to meet either criteria.

Decuir, who appeared smug and self-assured at the outset of the trial, argued that because Southern’s handbook gives the committee the final say on executive sessions, the university was not required to comply with state law when in reality, the reverse order is true: state law trumps the school’s handbook, not the other way around.

But that did not stop Decuir from arguing that the committee “had no legal responsibility to comply with laws relative to public hearings,” Judge Moore noted.

Moreover, apparently disregarding the First Amendment, Decuir challenged my right to be a plaintiff in the matter, arguing that I had no standing even though I was there to cover the proceedings for LouisianaVoice. Under cross examination, he even asked me—as if the question had any relevance whatsoever—if I had ever covered a meeting at Southern before. Again, Mr. Decuir—I direct you to the First Amendment.

Judge Moore, who first was required to rule that Southern was a public body in order for the trial on the merits to proceed, noted that the recommendation to be made by the committee to Southern’s president/chancellor “was far too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members knew what facts and evidence it had considered…”

He said Dickerson’s own testimony “clearly established that prohibitory law was contravened when Dickerson improperly ordered the hearing go into executive session, closing the meeting to plaintiffs and the public.”

Moore also noted, “Generally, a party seeking the issuance of a preliminary injunction must show that he will suffer irreparable injury, loss, or damage if the injunction does not issue and must show entitlement to the relief sought. However, a showing of irreparable injury is not necessary when the act sought to be enjoined is unlawful, or a deprivation of a constitutional right is involved.”

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When four Southern University professors filed suit against the school over the manner in which the school’s system-wide grievance committee handled their grievance hearing, it didn’t take long for the name of James H. Ammons, Ph.D., to surface as the prime antagonist in the decision to fire, demote or cut the pay for the professors.

A trial was held on Monday of this week after the three, along with yours truly, filed suit for what we are claiming to be an illegal executive session called by the committee to handle the professors’ claims.

At issue is the university’s handbook which gives the committee final say over whether the hearing would be open to the public or closed versus state law which gives the professors the right to request—and be granted—an open meeting.

Also challenged in the lawsuit was the announcement by committee chair Marla Dickerson that the committee had voted prior to opening the meeting to enter into executive session.

The state’s Open Meetings Law expressly says that all such votes shall be taken in open session and the votes recorded in the minutes, neither of which occurred. A decision on the lawsuit, heard by 19th Judicial District Judge Chip Moore, is pending.

The grievances were filed against University Executive Vice President/Executive Vice Chancellor Ammons, whose decision it was to terminate or demote the professors.

Investigation by LouisianaVoice into Ammons’ professional background revealed a checkered past during his tenures at two other universities prior to his being hired by Southern in January 2018.

While serving as chancellor at North Carolina Central University in Durham, he was implicated in a satellite campus CONTROVERSY which skated the edge of violating state rules on program establishment and conflicts of interest.

Briefly, that involved the establishment of an unauthorized satellite campus in an Atlanta, Georgia, megachurch that had donated $1 million to the university.

The New L.I.F.E. College Program was established at the church of Eddie Long, a North Carolina Central University graduate who had been named to the university’s board of trustees two years earlier. Ammons, when questioned about the campus, professed to not remembering specifics, but said, “I accept full responsibility.”

He agreed to REPAY the federal government more than $1 million of the $3 million dispersed in financial aid for ineligible programs.

His next stop was at Florida A&M and more controversy.

At the same time his ouster was gaining momentum following the 2012 hazing death of the school band’s drum major, Robert Champion, he was negotiating $356,000 taxpayer-funded low-interest business LOANS to a company run by Ammons and his son, James Ammons, III.

At the time of the loan through the state’s Black Business Loan Program, he had just accepted and then walked away from the provost’s position at Delaware State University.

Corporate records listed Ammons as manager of Ammons Food & Beverage, LLC, and his son as registered agent. After rejecting the Delaware State job as the school’s number-two administrator, he signed a new contract to remain at FAME as a faculty member.

The loan represented the largest made through the program, representing more than 15 percent of the $2.225 million approved by the Florida Legislature to assist Florida’s black small business owners.

As pressure mounted for Ammons to resign, including a call from the governor that he step down, Rufus Montgomery, a member of the FAMU Board of Trustees, said, “This is not about hazing. This is about leadership or lack of leadership at FAMU. There have been more than 30 issues over the past year that have come before this board.

“This all came under the watch of the current president,” Montgomery said. “We have the FAMU students on trial this fall, we have no band this fall, we have a drop in enrollment coming and I read the other day that the Florida Senate is investigating the school.”

J.L. CARTER, writing for the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Digest on Ammons’ appointment as Southern’s new executive vice-president, said, “The last thing the (Southern) system seemingly wanted to do was to add a reason for negative speculation. But with Dr. Ammons, it did just that.”

In retrospect, his words, more than a year later, appear somewhat prophetic.

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It turns out that Southern University is indeed a public body.

And so are any of its committees assigned to carry out or to recommend university policy, according to a ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Richard Moore, III, denying Southern’s Exception of No Cause of Action.

A no-brainer, right?

Well, not if you accept the argument of attorneys representing the university in a pending lawsuit over the decision by the university’s system-wide Grievance Committee to enter into an executive session without benefit of an official motion or vote by the committee members and despite the request of the four Southern employees that the meeting be open to the public.

Southern’s motion was filed as a result of a lawsuit by Dr. Christy Moland, Dr. Elaine Lewnau, Dr. Terrilynn Gillis and Dr. Marilyn Seibert, four university professors either fired, demoted or reduced in pay, and LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell after the plaintiffs claimed that a CLOSED-DOOR MEETING by the grievance committee on March 18 was illegal.

In Monday’s hearing on the motion, Southern’s attorneys put up a rosy argument, saying that according to what Arthur Smith, III, attorney for the four professors, was saying, anytime an individual is assigned by the administration to carry out any function, their actions would constitute a public body.

Had Southern prevailed, then any public body, from the governor’s office down to the smallest town council, could hide behind that maneuver in order to keep the public uninformed of its actions.

But the grievance committee is not an individual. In fact, it is comprised of more than a dozen “individuals” who sit as a committee to hear grievances and to make recommendations to the university administration.

As such, the committee’s recommendations constitute official actions designed to set policy or official actions for the university to carry out.

At the March 18 hearing, all four professors requested that the hearing be conducted in an open forum but then, without a motion or vote to do so, Dickerson called an executive session, saying the hearing was not a public meeting and the committee was not a public body even though any decision it may make is clearly defined as an official action by a public body under state law. Dickerson’s saying otherwise does not change that.

Louisiana Revised Statute 42;4.1 THROUGH 42.13, the state’s Open Meetings Law, clearly defines a “Public Body,” and then goes on to say “A committee formed by the public body is considered a public body, e.g., an executive committee.”

Having established that point, the next issue would be the state’s OPEN MEETINGS LAW, which says, “In order for a public body to enter into an executive session, a vote of 2/3 of members present at an open meeting, for which proper notice was given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, is necessary — along with an accompanying statement of the reason for entering into the executive session. The vote of each member on the motion to enter into executive session along with the reason for entering the executive session must be recorded and entered into the minutes. (emphasis added)

So, the “Grievance Committee” violated the state’s open meetings statutes which require public hearings of grievances should those filing grievances request a public hearing, which all four in fact, did request.

The same section says:

Further, the public body may not enter into executive session for the purposes of this discussion, if the individual requests that the matter be discussed in an open meeting. (emphasis added).

Committee chairperson Marla Dickerson, in calling the closed session, ejected not only LouisianaVoice, but also the four professors and their legal counsel (Smith) as well as the legal counsel for the university itself (Winston Decuir), thus preventing legal counsel for each side from hearing any testimony by witnesses.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said, “…the Grievance Committee…is making recommendations to the President-Chancellor as to whether employment should be maintained and, if so, the amount of compensation. The…type of committee action is too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members know what factors are being considered. The actions taken by the Grievance Committee served to slam the door on…(the) Louisiana Constitution and our democratic process. For all these reasons and considerations, the exception of no cause of action filed by Southern University is overruled.”

 

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LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been REINSTATED and all those Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) supporters can breathe a sigh of relief.

But does anyone even remember the shabby treatment of STEVEN HATFIELD by LSU? Did anyone ever protest the disgraceful manner in which he was shown the door? Well, a handful of SCIENTISTS did protest Hatfield’s firing, but who listens to scientists anyway? Certainly not Donald Trump.

Hatfield, for those who may not remember, was an expert on biological warfare who, along with about 30 others, found themselves on the FBI’s list of “persons of interest” in connection with its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Apparently, this honor was bestowed upon him because he had once passed through Fredrick, Maryland, where the anthrax envelopes were mailed from. Actually, he worked as a biodefense researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick—enough to make him a “person of interest.”

Even though the FBI repeatedly said that Hatfill was not a suspect in the case, it nevertheless directed the university to prohibit Hatfill from participating in any projects financed by the Justice Department.

LSU meekly complied without asking the FBI for a shred of evidence. The university denied that its decision was influenced by the fact that LSU received substantial funds from the Justice Department for programs that trained law-enforcement and public health officials to handle bioterrorism attacks and similar crises.

Not satisfied with firing Hatfield, LSU went a step further in firing his boss, STEPHEN GUILLOT, director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training and the Academy for Counter-Terrorist Education.

And our legislators wonder why so many professors are looking at Louisiana in their rear-view mirrors.

Can you say “extortion”?

Hatfill had the last laugh, however, settling his LAWSUIT against LSU and the federal government for $4.6 million.

The odyssey of a former LSU BAND DIRECTOR got more ink than the injustices inflicted upon Hatfield.

The Baton Rouge SUNDAY ADVOCATE was liberally PEPPERED with stories SPECULATING with breathless anticipation the next steps for Wade and LSU. The gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth even carried over to Monday with yet another story that DICK VITALE had returned to a Baton Rouge radio show to discuss the monumental ongoing saga that, to rabid LSU fans at least, carries all the weight of say, the selection of a new Pope.

Yet, only minimal coverage was given to the manner in which LSU canned hurricane scientist IVOR VAN HEERDEN following his criticism of the U.S. Corps of Engineers because his public statements were “hurting LSU’s quest for federal funding across the board.”

Now that’s the humanitarian approach: go right for the bottom line.

The fact that van Heerden’s criticism was vindicated when tests of steel pilings revealed the very deficiencies, he had described that led to the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina did nothing to prompt LSU to rush to reinstatement.

So, he did the obvious: he FILED SUIT filed suit against LSU in 2010 for wrongful termination.

LSU, if nothing else, is consistent. It doggedly defended the lawsuit, even after losing one key ruling after another until Jed Horne, a columnist for THE LENS, a New Orleans online news service, wrote:

Journalists and members of the LSU community who are aware of the ongoing persecution are disgusted and somewhat mystified that the university has chosen to go after van Heerden, rather than quietly settle this shameful case. It seems especially odd in light of the state’s increasing vulnerability to catastrophic storms and van Heerden’s proven expertise in anticipating their wrath—not to mention the high cost of protracted litigation as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes devastating cuts to the university’s budget.

Finally, after throwing $435,000 of taxpayer funds down a rat hole to defend the suit (benefiting no one but the state’s defense attorneys) LSU finally decided to settle in February 2013 for an undisclosed amount. Again, taxpayer dollars but this time the court concealed from public view the amount of the settlement, itself a disturbing trend when public dollars are involved.

While the local media in Baton Rouge have given extensive coverage to the travails of poor Will Wade (six-year, $15 million contract), not a nano-second of air time nor a single sentence has been devoted to the manner in which the LSU Dental School swept a multi-million-dollar scandal under the rug by firing the whistleblower who revealed that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective. That the deficiencies resulted in excruciating pain and at least eight suicides wasn’t enough to prevent the department from ruining the career of DR. RANDALL SCHAFFER.

But thank God Will Wade has been reinstated.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI  John Lombardi had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

One of the things that sealed Lombardi’s fate was his hesitancy to endorse the surrender of the LSU Medical Center via a contract containing 55 blank pages. The beneficiary of Jindal’s generosity, by the way, was a sitting member of the LSU Board of Supervisors who headed the outfit that took over University Medical Center in Shreveport. But no conflict there, apparently.

Also loath to approve the giveaway of one of the finest teaching hospital systems in America were LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend. On July 17, 2013, there was a meeting at which the privatization of the state’s system of LSU medical centers was pitched.

Both Cerise and Townsend were present at that meeting and both EXPRESSED THEIR RESERVATIONS. Members of the Board of Supervisors who were at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a two-page summary of the meeting prepared by Cerise.

With days, two of the most respected members of the LSU medical community were gone. Fired.

But LSU has Will Wade back in the fold and all is well.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

And who could ever forget the humiliation the LSU Board heaped upon legendary football coach Charles McClendon by making the man wait in his car back in 1979 while the board decided his fate? He was canned because he couldn’t beat Bear Bryant. Well, guess what? No one else was beating the Bear either. If that is the barometer for a coach’s survival at LSU, then no coach’s job is safe as long at Nick what’s-his-name is at ‘Bama.

And the ham-fisted manner in which Athletic Director Joe (Duke lacrosse death angel) Alleva handled the LES MILES firing had all the delicacy and subtlety of Jack the Ripper.

But Will Wade is back and that makes everything okay.

Until the other shoe drops from the ongoing FBI investigation, as it almost surely will.

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A prudent individual who follows the news might well be asking what the hell’s going on out at LSU?

It’s certainly a fair question.

The disconcerting stories have been piling up at Louisiana’s flagship university with each new story causing more head-scratching than the last.

In 2015, SIGMA CHI fraternity was kicked off campus for three years following an investigation into drug use and hazing on October 17 at the chapter house. A fraternity member’s overdose death that same day was not connected to incidents at the frat house, investigators determined.

In September 2017, PHI DELTA THETA’s general headquarters announced that it had formally suspended and revoke the charter from its LSU chapter following the binge-drinking and hazing death of Maxwell Gruver despite the fact that the fraternity had an alcohol-free housing policy and a blanket anti-hazing policy in place.

Then apparently unable to see the writing on the wall, DELTA KAPPA EPSILON (DKE), better known as the Dekes made infamous by the movie Animal House, got its charter revoked by the national organization following the arrest of nine present and former DKE members following reports of hazing that involved urinating on pledges and forcing them to lie in ice water, on glass.

Without attempting to minimize the gravity of those incidents—students died, after all—binge drinking has always existed in frat houses as boys away from their mommies and daddies for the first time, go more than a little crazy on testosterone overload.

But what about the adults at the Ole War Skule? How do they explain their unrestrained behavior of late?

First there was the LSU basketball program that came under the dual microscopes of the NCAA and the FBI. Head coach WILL WADE was suspended after FBI wiretaps caught him allegedly discussing payments to a recruit with sports agent Christian Dawkins. The player, Javonte Smart is a standout freshman guard.

Actually, Wade was not suspended until he refused to meet with LSU administrators to discuss the investigation. Wade initially agreed to talk but canceled when he learned NCAA investigators would be in the meeting.

But the basketball probe took an ugly turn.

Before news of the basketball investigation became public knowledge, another scandal rocked Baton Rouge when it was learned that JOHN PAUL FUNES was arrested for embezzling more than $800,000 from the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation.

Funes made more than $283,000 per year as president of the foundation which is the fundraising arm of OLOL hospital that raises money for such projects as the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

In addition to allegedly embezzling the money from the foundation, he reportedly also gave foundation funds to the parent of an LSU ATHLETE, supposedly as salary for a job.

The dust still hasn’t settled on the OLOL-LSU basketball drama even as new revelations keep popping up like some kind of Whack-a-Mole game of financial chicanery.

On March 19, a state audit revealed that the LSU SCHOOL of VETERINARY MEDICINE paid a faculty member more than $400,000 in salary and benefits over more than three years even though the “employee” failed to carry out his employment duties from August 2015 to September 2018.

Despite being told by LSU to appear for work for the Fall 2018 semester, and despite his failure to do so, he was still employed as of January 24.

“The faculty member knowingly received 38 months of LSU salary and benefits without performing commensurate work,” the audit said.

So, how in the name of fiduciary responsibility was this allowed to happen? Who was minding the store out at the School of Veterinary Medicine? Someone has to be held accountable for this.

Three days after that story made news, on March 22, it was learned that four LSU administrators earning six-figure incomes had RESIGNED after failing to comply with a state law that requires that they register their vehicles in Louisiana and obtain a Louisiana driver’s license.

The law was passed in 2013 at the urging of the late C.B. Forgotston in a bill sponsored by then State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

The four were identified as:

  • Andrea Ballinger, chief technology officer: $268,000 per year;
  • Matthew Helm, assistant vice-president in information technology services, $202,000;
  • Susan Flanagin, director in information technology services, $149,000, and
  • Thomas Glenn, director of information technology services, $14,000.

All four are from Illinois and three of the four worked part of their time for LSU from Illinois

In addition to their salaries, three of the four were provided stipends to help with moving expenses. Ballinger received $20,000; Helm $15,000, and Flanagin $5,000. So, just how were those moving expenses used by the three if they didn’t physically move here?

All four said had they known of the law requiring registering their vehicles and obtaining state driver’s licenses, they would not have taken the LSU jobs.

So, this was not explained to them when they were hired?

And persons making six-figure incomes are allowed to work for a state university while living three states away? Sweet.

Universities, by their nature, tend to be an autonomous part of the communities in which they are located, impenetrable to the outside world, but this is ridiculous.

Someone has to answer for these lapses and that someone begins and ends at the top of the food chain at LSU: President F. King Alexander on whose watch all the above events have occurred.

LouisianaVoice wrote extensively about ALEXANDER almost exactly six years ago when it became evident that he was in line to become the next LSU president.

King was appointed during the Jindal administration and Gov. Edwards indicated he wanted to keep King in place. Was that a wise decision in retrospect?

Former chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents RICHARD LIPSEY is calling for the firing of both Alexander and Athletic Director Joe Alleva for what he calls a “lack of leadership.”

Alleva, you may remember, was athletic director at Duke before coming to LSU. While at Duke, rape charges were brought against the school LACROSSE team, charges that proved to be a hoax and which ultimately cost the local district attorney his law license over his eagerness to prosecute the players.

Alleva, meanwhile, didn’t even wait for charges to be filed. He cratered early and dismantled the lacrosse program before due process could be carried out.

Fast forward to LSU, 2015. Alleva badly botched the Les Miles situation, hovering on the verge of firing the likable coach before Miles saved his job with a 19-7 win over TEXAS A&M. But the die had been cast and everyone knew it was a matter of time before Alleva, who was born with a serious birth defect (no spine) would cave again to the big money donors who wanted Miles’s head.

Four games into the 2016 season, Alleva PULLED THE PLUG and fired Miles following a heartbreaking 18-13 loss at Auburn, proving once and for all he possessed the subtlety and tact of an air raid siren at a wake.

I don’t know if Lipsey’s recommendation is the needed remedy at LSU. The Board of Supervisors, after all, was appointed to oversee operations of the LSU system and not to be mere puppets of the governor.

Oh, wait, my mistake. Turns out they were.

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