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Conrad Appel has a short memory.

Appel, the Republican state senator from Metairie, is the same one who made a killing investing in the stock of Discovery Education just before the Senate Education Committee which he chaired at the time adopted the company’s Science TECHBOOK as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction.

The states of Indiana and Oregon also adopted the program about the same time and the company’s stock went from $40.96 a share at the time of his purchase on Nov. 30, 2010, to $90.21 a share on Jan. 2, 2014, a period of just over three years. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded on the day of Appel’s purchase. The next highest volume was 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in the three-plus-year-period from December 2010 to March 2014.

Okay, that’s old news that LouisianaVoice has reported before, so what’s the big deal?

Nothing much, except that now Appel, apparently in attempt to emulate Bobby Jindal, is penning op-ed columns for The Hayride, a conservative blog. This not a criticism of The Hayride. They believe in what they write just as I believe in what I post, which certainly is a right I would never deny them. And LouisianaVoice also has guest columnists, so, understand that this not a slam on The Hayride.

But in his COLUMN, Appel opens by saying he has been engaged in the past week in “rather heated debate” over undocumented immigration. Funny, we thought he was trying to find a solution to Louisiana’s budgetary problems.

Nevertheless, Appel goes on to say that Louisiana’s weak economy is incapable of absorbing an influx of undocumented immigrants. He does give a nod to the indisputable fact that without that influx of Hispanic workers following Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans would never have recovered in the time it did.

He notes that the workers “flocked in” to form the labor force that rebuilt the region because, he says, jobs were plentiful. But here is a curious cop-out by Appel in his column: “A side question is why the natives didn’t return to assume those jobs but that is a subject for someone else.”

No, Senator, it certainly is NOT a question for “someone else.” As an elected state senator, it is precisely your duty to address that issue head-on, not weasel out of it with some half-baked excuse.

But in case you need a reminder, here’s a major reason, and you can file this away for future use:

The largely African-American male population that fled New Orleans in the wake of Katrina did not return to claim those jobs because they were unqualified to do the work. The Hispanics who “flocked in” were, in fact, skilled laborers, trained in carpentry, roofing, bricklaying, and concrete finishing. They were already trained in contrast to New Orleans blacks who historically have been written off by the power structure—white and black power structure, it should be noted—that considered them of no value other than on election day.

Of course, Appel represents lily-white Metairie in Jefferson Parish, so he would find it difficult to emphasize with the plight of people of color. But here’s an example that stands out as symbolic of the way in which the power structure I alluded to earlier games the system to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of what it considers the bottom feeders.

Following Katrina, FEMA issued 81,241 blue roof tarps (10-feet-by-10-feet). An Austin, Texas, contractor said he charged $300 to cover a 2000-square-foot roof. That equates to 20 tarps, or a buck-fifty per tarp.

FEMA contracted with the Shaw Group of Baton Rouge to place the tarps for $175 per 10-by-10 tarp, or $3500 for that same 2,000-square-foot house–more than 11 times what the Austin contractor charged.

But it gets better. Shaw apparently had no employees qualified to place the tarps, so it subcontracted with a company called A-1 Construction at a cost of $75 per tarp. That’s a profit of $100 per tarp for Shaw, whose employees never touched a tarp.

But wait. A-1 subbed its work out to Westcon Construction at $30 a square (tarp) for a profit of $45 per square—again, without ever touching a tarp.

Westcon then hired the actual workers who placed the tarps at a cost of $2 a square, or a profit of $28 per tarp for Westcon.

If Shaw had contracted to place all 81,000 tarps, the company would have pocketed more than $8.1 million without ever lifting a finger. A-1 cashed in for more than $3.6 million and never broke a sweat while Westcon made a more modest $2.27 million after paying its workers. Of course, those figures don’t take into consideration taxes and insurance paid by the companies. But still….combined profits of nearly $14 million?

By contrast the workers who actually placed the tarps received $162,000 to be divided between however many workers were hired to do the work.

Can you say profiteering?

Anyone care to bet against the chances that those workers who actually placed the tarps were Hispanic? After all, 45 percent of the recovery workforce was comprised of Latinos, about half of whom were undocumented. Of that 45 percent, 43 percent were from Mexico, 32 percent from Honduras, 9 percent from Nicaragua, and 8 percent from El Salvador.

And here’s the real kicker, just in case Appel ever cares to do a little research on the subject. Many of those ended up as victims of WAGE THEFT at the hands of unscrupulous contractors who vanished without paying the workers.

So, yes, Sen. Appel, there is a problem but to say the economy of this state can’t afford an influx of undocumented immigrants is just a tad hypocritical, given the fact that the Legislature that was so complicit in abetting Bobby Jindal as he tanked the state’s treasury couldn’t seem to get its act together until it had carried the state to the very edge of the metaphorical fiscal cliff. Until you as a body can act responsibly in addressing our teetering state economy, you shouldn’t cast stones—in anyone’s direction.

Especially when many of the undocumented workers who did “flock in” were never paid for the work they did in restoring New Orleans.

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In the 2013-2014 school year, Louisiana ranked 34th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia with average teacher earnings of $49,067 per year.

Since then, Louisiana is the only state in either the top 10 or bottom 10 to experience a wage decrease. As a result, the state has tumbled 10 places to 44th (that’s 8th WORST) for teacher salaries.

But since 2013, you’ll be happy to know that 20 unclassified employees in the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), including the husband of a state senator and State Democratic Chair, who were already making in excess of $100,000 received raises averaging 27.2 percent, according to figures obtained by LouisianaVoice from the Louisiana Office of Civil Service.

Altogether, the 20 unclassified (that’s political appointees, for those who might not know) employees combined for raises totaling $534,600, an average increase of $26,730 each from 2013 to 2018.

Three others who were not employed in 2013 were on the payroll in 2015 had combined pay increases of $49,500, or 18.3 percent.

In all, the 23 individuals had their pay increased from a low of 10 percent for Manager Lisa French and Assistant Superintendent Kunjan Narechania to 61.5 percent for Liaison Officer Dana Talley and a staggering 85.7 percent for Director Shan Davis.

Even Dana Peterson, a Recovery School District (RSD) Administrator and the husband of State Democratic Party Chairperson Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, is along for the ride, having seen his salary increased from $125,000 per year in 2013 to $148,500 in 2018, a bump of 18.8 percent.

The RSD is scheduled to revert back to the control of the Orleans Parish School Board by July but LDOE still lists 94 UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES unclassified employees assigned to various positions with the RSD.

There were seven employees (Davis, Jules Burk, Tiffany Delcour, Jessica Baghian, Bridget Devlin, Rebecca Kockler, and Dana Talley) who received increases of 36.6 percent or more from 2013 to 2018 while three more received raises of 29.4 percent (Laura Hawkins), 29.5 percent (Jan Sibley), and 29.8 percent (Jennifer Conway).

Two employees, Director Jill Slack and Executive Counsel Joan Hunt, might be somewhat offended at all that money flying around since they received raises of only 2 percent and 3.8 percent during that same five-year period. Their raises, however, were more in line with what state employees receive in the way of pay raises—when they get them. Raises for state classified (civil service) employees have been static for nearly a decade now.

For a look at the spreadsheet for LDOE unclassified employees’ pay raises, go HERE. (The salaries for 2013 and 2015 are given as bi-weekly salaries. To get the annual pay, multiply those numbers by 26 (the number of times state employees are paid each year).

 

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In case you’ve ever taken the time to wonder why our legislature has been unable—or unwilling—to effective address the looming fiscal crisis for the state, here’s a quick lesson in civics that may help you understand the real priorities of our elected officials and the forces that motivate them.

Members of Congress are advised to spend four hours per day FUNDRAISING, or on “call time.” That’s time to be spent on the telephone raising campaign contributions—if they want to be re-elected.

They are also told they should spend one to two hours on “constituent visits,” which often translates to meeting with lobbyists and campaign contributors. That leaves two hours for committee meetings and floor attendance, one hour for something called “strategic outreach,” or breakfasts, meet and greets, press interviews (read: Sen. John Kennedy), and one hour “recharge time.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that we’re paying big salaries for these guys to actually work only about two hours per day for only part of the year.

Another way of putting it is we’re paying big bucks for them to spend twice as much time raising campaign contributions as actually doing the work of the people who, in theory at least, elected them.

That’s in theory only, of course. The truth is special interests such as banks, hedge funds, big oil, big pharma, the military-industrial complex, the NRA, and other major corporate interests—especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—turn the gears of democracy while letting the American middle class delude itself into thinking we actually affect the outcome of elections.

Now, take that image and move it down to the state level and you have a microcosm of Congress.

The numbers are smaller, of course, given the smaller House and Senate districts from which candidates run but the model is the same.

And that is precisely the reason nothing gets done in regard to resolving the financial plight of the state.

Corporate tax breaks, tax exemptions, and tax credits have eroded the state budget until the onus now falls on the individual taxpayers while companies like Walmart enjoy Enterprise Zone tax credits for locating stores in upscale communities across the state.

Petro-chemical plans along the Mississippi River and in the southwestern part of the state enjoy millions of dollars in tax breaks for construction projects that produce few, if any, new permanent jobs.

And who is front and center in protecting the interests of these corporations?

That would be the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), first created with the intent of breaking the stranglehold of organized labor back in the 1970s and now focused on maintaining lucrative tax incentives for its membership.

LABI has four primary political action committees: East PAC, West PAC, North PAC, and South PAC.

LouisianaVoice has pulled the contributions of LABI, its four PACs.

For lagniappe, we’ve also thrown in contributions from pharmaceutical and oil and gas interests. The latter list offers a clear-cut explanation of why efforts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damage to Louisiana’s coastal marshland have died early deaths.

You will notice in reviewing the reports that LABI, while making individual contributions, pours most of its money into its four PACs, which then make the direct contributions to the candidates.

Enjoy.

LABI CONTRIBUTIONS

EAST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

WEST PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

NORTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

SOUTH PAC CONTRIBUTIONS

PHARMA CONTRIBUTIONS

OIL AND GAS CONTRIBUTIONS

 

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A lawsuit making its way through U.S. District Court in Lafayette alleges that a female employee, Jordan Carter, was dismissed from her job at Swiftships, LLC in Morgan City because she was pregnant and management did not want to grant her maternity leave.

The lawsuit, which also says Carter was promoted prior to her pregnancy but never received a promised increase in pay that was supposed to go along with the promotion, carries far more significance that your normal discrimination lawsuit, however.

Between fiscal year 2007 through 2016, Swiftships held seven federal CONTRACTS totaling $386 million. Those included $103.4 million in contracts with the U.S. NAVY for non-nuclear ship repair. The duration of those contracts ran from Sept. 22, 2014, through March 20, 2018.

Carter was employed by Swiftships for nearly 21 months, from April 22, 2013, to Jan. 9, 2015.

Prior to her termination, she was demoted. She said her supervisor told her she was demoted because of her pregnancy.

One witness told Smith that she was aware of two other pregnant women who were terminated by Swiftships prior to giving birth.

Federal contracting regulations strictly prohibit employee discrimination in any form.

  • Last April 24, Swiftships was awarded a $27.4 million modification to a previously-awarded contract “for the accomplishment of continuous lifecycle support for the Iraqi Navy.” The shipbuilding firm is providing TECHNICAL EXPERTISE in preventative and planned maintenance, repairs and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, offshore vessels, and defender boats. Work under the contract, which was scheduled for completion this month, was performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq.
  • In October 2015, the U.S. Navy EXTENDED Swiftship’s contract to operate and upgrade a repair facility for Iraqi patrol boats built in Morgan City. The one-year extension was worth almost $11 million for Swiftships.
  • Swiftships has delivered almost 300 vessels through Foreign Military Sales, (FMS) the preferred method for selling defense systems abroad.

Under FMS, the Department of Defense procures defense articles and services for the foreign customer using the same acquisition process used to procure for its own military needs.

Recent policy changes in the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations have opened the door to foreign governments, allowing them to participate in FMS procurement negotiations. In general, the government-to-government purchase agreements tend to ensure standardization with U.S. forces; provide contract administrative services that may not be available through the private sector; and help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD. DCS allows the foreign customer more direct involvement during the contract negotiation phase; may allow firm-fixed pricing and may be better suited to fulfilling non-standard requirements.

The President designates countries and international organizations eligible to participate in the FMS program. The Department of State makes recommendations and approves individual programs on a case-by-case basis. Currently, around 160 countries are eligible to participate in FMS.

The Carter lawsuit is not the first litigation in which Swiftships was named as a defendant.

  • In 2015, Swiftships found LIABLE for $2.1 million in unpaid fees owed to MTU America, plus more than $400,000 in legal fees.
  • Last month, Swiftships, with annual revenues of $50 million, was found liable for $689,000 plus legal interest and legal fees for BREACH OF CONTRACT.
  • In June 2015,Valerie Landreneau, a female employee of Swiftships’ Morgan City facilities, filed suit in state district court against Swiftships after claiming that a former co-worker attacked her after learning about her SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaints against him.

If Carter or Landreneau should prevail in either or both of their harassment lawsuits, an adverse decision could result in the cancellation of hundreds of millions of federal contracts currently held by Swiftships.

Carter is represented by attorney J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge who has also claimed (though not in the lawsuit itself) that he has been informed that Swiftships “raids employees’ 401K accounts in order to remain afloat (no pun intended) but has failed to repay the money. Smith says a witness has informed him that Swiftships employees have had their 401K funds “borrowed” and used “to run the company,” and that “many of the employees did not get their money reimbursed as promised.”

Federal law also prohibits companies from raiding employee retirement and/or insurance funds.

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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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