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Call it the summer doldrums or whatever you wish. The truth is there hasn’t been much political blog activity—from any of us.

It’s not that there is a dearth of news to report; between killings by cops, killings of cops, terrorist attacks, political accusations, political promises that border on fantasy, e-mail scandals and plagiarized speeches, there’s more than enough to go around. But somehow, we’ve become inured, victims of a malady we can only identify as scandal fatigue for lack of a better term.

But LouisianaVoice, with the help of a couple of volunteer researchers, is working on a project that should generate considerable readership interest—unless, of course, readers are also victims of the summertime lethargy that seems to be at least somewhat contagious.

But we’d be less than honest if we didn’t admit we get pretty discouraged when we expose wrongdoing—some of it even criminal in nature—on the part of elected and appointed officials and nothing is done about it.

What more needs to be done, for example, than to point out the illegal use of campaign funds for such personal use as season tickets to sporting events, luxury car leases and even paying ethics violation fines and personal federal income taxes from campaign funds? Yet, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/05/17/improper-spending-of-campaign-funds-appears-to-be-the-rule-rather-than-the-exception-in-louisiana-random-check-reveals/

What more needs to be done than to publish official investigative reports of a state trooper having sex in his patrol car while on duty to bring severe disciplinary action down on that officer?

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/10/04/you-couldnt-time-an-egg-with-this-guy-state-police-lt-has-sex-twice-on-duty-once-in-back-seat-of-patrol-car-still-on-job/

It took LouisianaVoice weeks and many stories before official action was finally taken against a state trooper who went home to sleep during his shift so that he could work his second job the next day before he was finally fired. And even though we revealed that his supervisor allowed this practice to go on for years, the supervisor was simply transferred—even after we published audio recordings of that same supervisor refusing to accept a citizen’s complaint after he had denied refusing the complaint.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/11/gift-cards-for-tickets-payroll-chicanery-quotas-short-shifts-the-norm-in-troop-d-troopers-express-dismay-at-problems/

After we ran a story about a legislator, who made thousands of dollars by purchasing stock in a company he knew was going to be approved for a major program with the Department of Education, that legislator was re-elected.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/27/senate-education-chairman-appel-purchases-discovery-stock-week-before-company-enters-into-state-techbook-agreement/

When we outed Frederick Tombar III, the $260,000 per year director of the Louisiana Housing Corporation, over his sexually explicit emails sent to two female employees, he promptly resigned only to turn up at Cornerstone Government Affairs, a consulting company headed by former Louisiana Commissioners of Administration Mark Drennan and Paul Rainwater.

https://louisianavoice.com/category/campaign-contributions/page/9/

When we ran the story of a clerk in Fourth Judicial District Court in Monroe with ties to powerful attorney and banking interests who was failing to show up for work, both the Louisiana Attorney General the Office of Inspector General punted on their investigations.

When a north Louisiana contractor sued the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development over attempts by DOTD employees to extort payoff money from him, he won more than $20 million. Instead of paying up as it should, however, the state simply said it doesn’t have the money to pay the contractor who was forced into bankruptcy by the department’s criminal activity. Yet, no one at DOTD was fired, much less prosecuted.

http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2015/12/04/contractor-wins-20m-suit-against-dotd/76813444/

Department of Public Safety Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux twerked the system by taking an incentive buyout for early retirement that netted her an extra $59,000. She promptly promoted herself and came back to work the next day at a salary bump. Ordered to repay the $59,000 by then Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, she never did.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

But a caseworker for the understaffed and overworked Office of Children and Family Services was arrested with all the appropriate posturing and chest-thumping by law enforcement officials—including State Police—for payroll fraud after allegedly falsifying reports on monthly in-home visits with children in foster care.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/13/dcfs-funding-slashed-necessitating-driveway-visits-but-overworked-caseworker-is-arrested-for-falsifying-records/

The lesson here is obvious: if you’re politically connected, you can scarf off $59,000 with no repercussions but if you’re a lowly civil servant striving to meet impossible work demands brought about by budgetary cuts, you’re SOL. It’s not that we condone the payroll falsification, but justice should that should be administered evenly and blindly—but somehow never is.

The stories we have written about the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry and what the board does to dentists to destroy their practices and their very lives are horrific. Some of the investigative tactics and the retributions against defenseless dentists are sadistic at best and criminal at worst. Yet the board is allowed to continue its practices unchecked.

And as recently as May 2, we have the announcement from Gov. John Bel Edwards of the appointment of TERRENCE LOCKETT of Baton Rouge to the Louisiana Auctioneers Licensing Board. His appointment was made despite his being ordered in 2013 to pay $600 in penalties for his failure to file lobbying expenditure reports from March-December 2011 and his second-offense DWI in April 2014, which was reduced to a first-offense DWI.

http://gov.louisiana.gov/news/gov-edwards-announces-boards-and-commissions-appointments-5-2

By now, you’ve probably detected a trend.

It’s more than a little frustrating to see these transgressions reported, to know they are seen by those in a position to do something, and yet see these same ones in charge do nothing—or do so little as to make any discipline meaningless.

LouisianaVoice over the next few days will examine ethics fines that have gone uncollected for years, critical legislative audits of state agencies about which nothing seems to get done, and campaign contributions and lobbying activity that fortify the positions of special interests while diminishing to virtual insignificance the influence and interests of Louisiana’s citizens.

And nothing gets done.

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By Robert Burns

After Louisiana’s FYE books were closed on June 30, 2013, the Jindal administration touted the fact that 2,340 hospital employees had been laid off during that fiscal year. Nevertheless, one hospital, the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, was proving particularly vexing for Jindal’s administration.

With much fanfare, Jindal’s folks called a news conference to announce that the hospital’s operations would be transferred to England Airpark with an estimated $30 million required to renovate the facility which was closed in the early 1990s. The money was said to come from $5 million pledged by the England facility and the remainder from state-issued capital outlay bonds issued during FYE ’13.

Despite all of the hoopla associated with the announcement of the transfer, the proposal ended up fizzling out, and Jindal’s administration had to conjure up a “Plan B.”

That turned out to be another iteration of the public/private partnerships for which the Jindal administration essentially could have qualified for a patent on crafting such arrangements. In this instance, the public/private partnership would entail Rapides Regional Medical Center and Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital taking over much of the workload of Huey P. Long.

Of course, the whole proposal had the

gnawing obstacle that it needed approval from those darn folks at the Legislature, and that’s where things got interesting.

To accomplish the goal, Senator Gerald Long obediently introduced

Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 48 in the regular session of the 2014 Legislative Session. On March 31, 2014, the Senate Committee posted an agenda for its meeting of April 2, 2014; however, that agenda was devoid of any reference to SCR-48.

On April 1, 2014 at 4:07 p.m., a revised agenda was posted in which SCR

-48 was posted and itemized to include a notation entailing its subject matter: “creating a new model of health care delivery in the Alexandria and Pineville area.” Amendments were added to SCR-48, and it ultimately passed both the House (66-28) and Senate (26-11).

Baton Rouge attorney Arthur Smith, III,

filed litigation on behalf of affected employees of the hospital and others alleging violations of Senate Rules of Order 13.73 and 13.75.

Also alleged was a violation of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Laws

, and relief was sought to have SCR-48 declared null and void (a relief available under Louisiana’s Open Meetings laws) based on that violation and also an assertion that SCR-48 was unconstitutional. A preliminary injunction was also sought to block the closure of the hospital with the ultimate goal of obtaining a permanent injunction.

The trial court granted the preliminary injunction, but it simultaneously suspended enforcement of the

preliminary injunction upon the defendants (the Louisiana Senate, LSU, and the State of Louisiana) perfecting an appeal.

It was initially believed that the Louisiana Supreme Court (LSC) would decide the matter because of the issue raised of the constitutionality of SCR

-48. However, the Supreme Court quickly refused to hear the matter in stating that it was “not properly before this Court.” The Supremes (no, not the singing Supremes) elaborated by ruling that it could consider only matters which had been declared unconstitutional in a court of law.

Since the trial court’s reasons for judgment only made reference to the

potential unconstitutionality of SCR-48 without making a definitive declaration that it was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court denied writs.

Meanwhile, the hospital was closed, and Smith took his case to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. That appeal was dismissed based

upon the fact there was no active injunction to prevent the hospital from being closed. That was the case because, expecting (wrongly) the Supreme Court to rule on the matter, Judge Robert Downing suspended the preliminary injunction. With no injunction in place to prevent the closure, the hospital was padlocked.

The First Circuit issued its decision on September 15, 2015. That ruling notwithstanding, the

declaratory judgment aspect of the lawsuit could proceed forward, and that led to a hearing in 19th JDC Judge Don Johnson’s courtroom on Monday, June 13, 2016.

During that hearing, much of what has been elaborated above was rehashed, but then co-counsel for the day’s proceedings, Chris Roy, Sr., of Alexandria, took center stage and converted what had been basically a snooze fest into a fireworks display.

Prior to Roy beginning testimony, Judge Johnson interjected a few points of his own into the arguments. First, Johnson indicated that, while he was a student at Southern University, he experienced a significant health issue and went to Baton Rouge’s local charity hospital

, Earl K. Long, and he said, “I sure was glad it was there to treat me.”

Earl K. Long was also shut down by the Jindal administration and subsequently demolished. Emergency room treatment of indigent patients was initially taken over by Baton Rouge General Midtown. But Baton Rouge General closed its emergency room more than a year ago. That forced low-income charity patients in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish to travel a much further distance to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in South Baton Rouge for treatment. That point was not lost on attorneys for the defendants who claimed that care would continue to be provided for the underprivileged, but such care would simply now take place under the new public/private venture.

Roy said that the closure of the

Huey Long Charity Hospital caused an enormous level of anxiety among the community’s population and also with the employees of the hospital. Johnson acknowledged that fact and said, “I’m aware of that fact. They didn’t like it at all.” Roy stressed that “125 employees lost their jobs and $11 million in wages were lost as a result of this episode.”

Roy focused most of his arguments on the fact that, contrary to defense attorney claims, the whole issue

of SCR-48 is not now “moot.” He emphasized that ordinary citizens are provided with only one mechanism for making their sentiments known about proposed legislation and that is through “showing up and testifying at committees and subcommittees of the Legislature.”

Roy then rhetorically asked how they were supposed to do that w

hen the Senate would engage in such a “flat-out violation” of posting an addition to the agenda at 4:07 p.m. the day before a hearing when the clearly-established deadline was 1 p.m. for such an addition. Roy then stressed his age, and even poked fun at the relative youth of one of his opposing counselors (who appeared to be in his late 20s at most), in indicating that he, Roy, was one of the participants in the formation of the present Louisiana Constitution.

Roy said, “One of our main objectives was to try and make everything as transparent as possible because there had been a prior governor, whom I won’t reference by name (a thinly veiled reference to Huey Long), who sought to keep the public from knowing

anything that was transpiring.” The irony of the subject matter of the suit being the closing of a hospital named for him seemed not to be lost on anybody in the room.

“Your Honor,” Roy continued, “the Senate basically said ‘to hell with the Constitution. We are the Senate of the State of Louisiana, and we decide what we will do and won’t do.’” Roy then emphasized that opposing counsel could not simply argue that the whole matter was “moot,” and assert a defense along the lines of “we won’t do it again.” Roy then emphasized that Louisiana Senate President John Alario is a good man with integrity and a close personal friend of his, but he then asserted that what Alario allowed to transpire in this instance was just “wrong.”

The State sought the granting of a Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ) to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs sought the granting of an MSJ declaring SCR-48 to be null and void. In the battle of the MSJs, Johnson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs: “SCR-48 of the 2014 Regular Session is declared to be Null and Void. The Plaintiff’s may seek attorney fees, costs, and expenses through post-hearing motion. The Joint Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendants is denied.”

Now all that remains to be seen is whether the state will have to pay salaries and benefits retroactive to the hospital’s closing date to those 125 employees (the amount given was $11 million saved by closing the facility) or if there will be yet another appeal of a 19th JDC judge’s ruling to the First Circuit.

The smart money is on an appeal.

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You just have to love Louisiana politics.

It’s kind of like having someone pee down your back while telling you it’s raining.

Or maybe trying to run a marathon with a rock in your shoe.

And to no one’s real surprise, it doesn’t seem to matter much which political party is in power.

Take Thomas Harris, the newly-appointed Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), for example.

On Feb. 19, not quite two weeks ago, Secretary Harris testified before the House Appropriations Committee about the agency’s fiscal year 2017 budget. In his testimony, Harris, who spent about a dozen years at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) before his Jan. 26 appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards, lamented the fact that his agency was so strapped for funding that up to 66 employees face layoffs come July 1.

While it may difficult for some to feel much compassion for DNR, given the historically cozy relationship between the oil and gas industry and the agency’s top brass. It was DNR and DEQ, after all, which conveniently looked the other way all these years as our coastal marshlands were raped by the industry that curtailed the so-called legacy lawsuits filed against oil companies that neglected to clean up after themselves. http://theadvocate.com/home/9183574-125/house-oks-legacy-lawsuit-legislation

http://legacy.wwltv.com/story/news/2014/12/10/tainted-legacy-legislatures-fixes-create-obstacles-to-oil-and-gas-cleanup/17671639/

Harris gave his testimony during the afternoon session of the Appropriations Committee that met during the recent special legislative session called to address major budget shortfalls.

To save you some time, open the link HERE and move to the 41-minute mark. That’s where Harris begins his address to committee members, most of whom were talking among themselves (as is the norm) and not really paying attention.

So just why are we making such a big deal of this? It’s no big secret, after all, that budgetary cuts are hitting just about every agency and employees are going to have to be laid off. It’s a fact of life for anyone working for the state these days.

Unless you happen to be named David Boulet or Ashlee McNeely

Harris hired Boulet as Assistant Secretary of DNR, effective March 10 (last Thursday), less than three weeks after his calamitous testimony about projected layoffs.

But get this: Ashlee McNeely, wife of our old friend Chance McNeely (we’ll get to him presently), worked in Bobby Jindal’s office from Feb. 3, 2014, until last Oct. 22 as a legislative analyst at $78,000. On Oct. 23, she was promoted to Director of Legislative Services at the same salary (someone please tell us why Jindal needed a director of legislative services when he had less than three months to go in his term—and with no legislative session on the immediate horizon). Of course, come Jan. 11, the date of John Bel Edwards’ inauguration, she was quietly terminated along with the rest of Jindal’s staff.

But wait. Harris decided he needed a “Confidential Assistant.” And just what is a “confidential assistant,” anyway? Well, we’re told that the term is loosely translated to “legislative liaison.” No matter. Harris did the only logical thing: he brought Ashlee McNeely on board on Feb. 10, just nine days before his cataclysmic budgetary predictions. What’s more, he bumped her salary up by eight thou a year, to $86,000.

But back to our friend Boulet: His salary is a cool $107,600—to fill a position that has been vacant for more than five years. So what was the urgency of filling a long-vacated slot that obviously is little more than window dressing for an agency unable to fill mission-critical classified positions?

Had Harris chosen instead to allocate the combined $193,000 the two are getting, he could have hired four classified employees at $46,750 each. Not the greatest salary, but certainly not bad if you’re out of work and trying to feed a family. And still higher than the state’s family median income

So, what, exactly are the qualifications of Boulet? Well, for openers, he’s the son-in-law of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and that’s of no small consequence. In fact, that was probably enough.

In fact, it’s not the first time he has landed a cushy position that took on the appearances of having all the right connections. We take you back to 2001, when Blanco was Lieutenant Governor and Boulet was hired as the $120,000-a-year Director of Oil & Gas Cluster Development for the Louisiana Office of Economic Development, a move that did not sit well with the scribes at the Thibodaux Comet: http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20011108/NEWS/111080313?tc=ar

And then there’s our old friend Chance McNeely, another holdover from the Jindal disaster. McNeely, all of 27, has seen his star rise in meteoric fashion after obtaining a degree in agricultural business and working four years as a legislative assistant for the U.S House of Representatives. From there, he found his way into Jindal’s inner circle as an analyst at $68,000. He remained there less than a year (March 6, 2014, to Jan. 12, 2015) before moving over to DEQ where the special position of Assistant Secretary, Office of Environmental Compliance (in circumvention of Jindal’s hiring freeze in place at the time and despite having no qualifications for the position)—complete with a $37,000 raise to $102,000. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/01/13/if-you-think-chance-mcneelys-appointment-to-head-deq-compliance-was-an-insult-just-get-a-handle-on-his-salary/

He held onto that job recisely a year, exiting the same day as his wife got her pink slip, on Jan. 11 of this year. Unlike Ashlee, who remained unemployed for just over three months, Chance was out of work for exactly eight days before being named Assistant to the Secretary at the Department of Transportation and Development, albeit at a slight drop in salary, to $99,000.

But by combining his and his wife’s salaries, the $177,000 isn’t too shabby for a state with a median income of $42,406 per household, according to 2014 data. And how many 27-year-olds do you know who pull down $99,000 per year? http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

So, Secretary Harris, as you struggle with balancing the high pay of your political appointees with cutbacks of the ones who do the real work, please know that we understand fully that we live in Louisiana where, no matter the rhetoric, things never change.

You will head an agency that will protect big oil from those of us with ruined pastureland and briny water. DNR will continue to shield big oil from those who would do whatever necessary to preserve our wetlands. And as those oil companies continue to fight back with whatever legal chicanery they can craft—including the buying of legislators.

And the merry-go-round of appointments to those with the right political connections will continue unabated—no matter what self-righteous rhetoric of freedom and justice for all is spewed by the pompous ass clowns we continue to elect.

Now ask me how I really feel.

 

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On Feb. 15, an arrest warrant was issued for a north Louisiana employee of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) following an investigation of more than two months by the Office of Inspector General.

Kimberly D. Lee, 49, of Calhoun in Ouachita Parish, subsequently surrendered to authorities and was subjected to the indignity of being booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on Feb. 17 after being accused of filing false reports about mandatory monthly in-home visits with children in foster care.

As is often the case, however, there is much more to this story.

A month earlier, on Jan. 10, LouisianaVoice received a confidential email from a retired DCFS supervisor who revealed an alarming trend in her former agency:

“I served in most programs within the agency, foster care, investigations, and adoptions,” she wrote. “Over my career I witnessed the eight years of (Bobby) Jindal’s ‘improvements.’

“Those ‘improvements’ endanger children’s lives daily. The blight is spread from the Secretary to the lowliest clerical worker in the agency. People are overworked and underpaid but it’s not just that. People are so distraught from the unrelenting stress that children are in danger. Add to that the inexperience of most front line workers and their supervisors’ inability to properly train new staff.”

She then dropped a bombshell that should serve as a wake-up call to everyone who cares or pretends to care about the welfare of children—from Gov. John Bel Edwards down to the most obscure freshman legislator:

“In the Shreveport Region, the regional administrator (recently) told workers that they may make ‘drive-by’ visits to foster homes, which means talking to the foster parents in their driveway. Policy says that workers will see both the child and the foster parent in the home, interviewing each separately (emphasis added). A lot of abuse goes on in foster homes. Some foster families are truly doing the best they can but they need counseling and guidance from their workers. The regional administrator’s answer to that one? Have the foster parent call their home development worker—another person who can’t get her job done now.”

She wrote that she had heard of two separate incidents “where a child new to foster care was taken to a foster home and left without paperwork, without contact information for the person in charge of the case and without knowing even the child’s name.”

Moreover, she said, vehicles used in the Shreveport Region “are old, run-down, and repairs are not allowed. The last time new tires were bought was in 2014. When one (of the vehicles) breaks down, they just tow it away. No replacement is ordered.”

Could those factors have pushed Lee to fudge on her reports? Did the actions attributed to her constitute payroll fraud or did budgetary cuts force her into cutting corners in order to keep up with an ever-increasing caseload? Lee says yes to the latter, that she was told by supervisors to get things done, “no matter what.” Child welfare experts said her actions and arrest shone a needed light on problems at DCFS: low morale, high turnover, fewer workers handing greater numbers of caseloads, and increasing numbers of children entering foster care.

http://theadvocate.com/news/14909284-31/louisianas-child-protection-system-understaffed-and-overburdened-after-years-of-cuts-child-advocates

To find our own answers, LouisianaVoice turned to a document published on Jan. 5 of this year by the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group of Montgomery, Alabama.

The 77-page report, entitled A Review of Child Welfare, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, points to:

  • A growing turnover rate for DCFS over the past three years from 19.32 percent in calendar year 2012 to 24.26 percent in 2014;
  • A 33 percent reduction in the number of agency employees to respond to abuse reports;
  • A 27 percent cut in funding since fiscal 2009, Bobby Jindal’s first year in office;
  • An increase in the number of foster homes of 5 percent;
  • An increase of 120.5 percent in the number of valid substance exposed newborns, from 557 to 1,330;
  • A trend beginning in 2011 that shows 4,077 children entered foster care but only 3,767 exited in 2015;
  • A 19 percent decrease in the number of child welfare staff positions filled statewide from 1,389 in 2009 to 1,125 in 2015.
  • Of the 764 caseworkers, 291, or 38 percent had two years’ experience or less and 444 (58 percent) had five years or less experience.

Moreover, figures provided by the Department of Civil Service showed that of the agency’s 3,400 employees, 44.5 percent made less than $40,000 a year and 19 percent earned less than $30,000.

In 2014 (the latest year for which figures are available), the median income for Louisiana for a single-person household was $42,406, fourth-lowest in the nation, as compared to the national single-person median income of $53,657.

http://www.advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Household-Incomes-by-State.php

“The stresses within the system are at risk of causing poorer outcomes for some children and families,” the report says in its executive summary. “…Recent falling outcome trends in some of the areas that have been an agency strength in the past are early warnings of future challengers.”

Despite years of budgetary cuts under the Jindal administration, Louisiana has maintained “a high level of performance in achieving permanency for children in past years and currently is ranked first among states in adoption performance,” the report said.

The budget cuts, however, “have negatively affected the work force, service providers, organizational capacity and increasingly risk significantly affecting child and family outcomes” which has produced a front-line workforce environment “constrained by high caseload, much of which is caused by high turnover and increasing administrative duties and barriers that compromise time spent with children and families.”

And it is that threat to “compromise time spent with children and families” that brings us back to the case of Kimberly Lee and to the email LouisianaVoice received from the retired DCFS supervisor who cited the directive for caseworkers to make “drive-by” visits to foster homes, leaving children with foster homes with no paperwork, contact information or without even knowing the children’s names, and of the state vehicles in disrepair.

It’s small wonder then, in a story about how Jindal wrecked the Louisiana economy, reporter Alan Pyke quoted DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner-Walters as telling the Washington Post if lawmakers can’t resolve the current budget crisis, many Louisiana state agencies will see budget cuts of 60 percent. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2016/03/07/3757416/jindal-louisiana-budget-crisis/

As ample illustration of Bobby Jindal’s commitment to social programs for the poor and sick, remember he yanked $4.5 million from the developmentally disadvantaged in 2014 and gave it to a Indy-type racetrack in Jefferson Parish run by a member of the Chouest family, one of the richest families in Louisiana—but a generous donor to Jindal’s gubernatorial campaigns and a $1 million contributor to his super PAC for his silly presidential run.

Well, thanks to the havoc wreaked by Jindal and his Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, the legislature did find it necessary to pass the Nichols’ penny tax (not original with us but the contribution of one of our readers who requested anonymity) to help offset the $900 million-plus deficit facing the state just through the end of the current fiscal year which ends on June 30.

Were legislators successful? Not if you listen to Tyler Bridges, one of the more knowledgeable reporters on the Baton Rouge Advocate staff. “Legislators were neither willing to cut spending enough, nor raise taxes enough nor eliminate the long list of tax breaks that favor one politically connected business or industry over another,” he wrote in Sunday’s Advocate (emphasis added). http://theadvocate.com/news/15167974-77/a-louisiana-legislature-that-ducked-tough-budget-decisions-during-its-special-meeting-convenes-again

As is all too typical, most of the real “legislation” was done in the flurry of activity leading up the final hectic minutes of the special session, leaving even legislators to question what they had accomplished. In military parlance, it would be called a cluster—.

But that should be understandable. After all, 43, or fully 30 percent of the current crop of legislators, had to work their legislative duties around their busy schedules that called upon them to attend no fewer than 50 campaign fundraisers (that’s right, some like Neil Riser, Katrina Jackson, and Patrick Connick had more than one), courtesy of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, the Beer Industry League, CenturyLink and a few well-placed lobbyists. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/03/louisiana_special_session_fund.html

It is, after all, what many of them are best at. (Seven of those were held at the once-exclusive Camelot Club on the top floor of the Chase Bank South Tower. We say “once-exclusive” because last week the Camelot announced that it was closing its doors after 49 years. Restrictions on lobbyists’ expenditures on lunches for legislators was given as one cause for the drop in club membership from 900 to 400. Not mentioned was the fact that Ruth’s Chris and Sullivan’s steak restaurants in Baton Rouge have become favorite hangouts for legislators and lobbyists during legislative sessions. One waiter told LouisianaVoice during the 2015 session that one could almost find a quorum of either chamber on any given night during the session—accompanied, of course, by lobbyists who only wanted good government.) https://www.businessreport.com/article/camelot-club-closing-afternoon-can-no-longer-viable-club-owner-says

LEGISLATORS’ FUNDRAISERS

Bridges accurately called the new taxes that will expire in 2018 “the type of short-term fix” favored by Jindal and the previous legislature “that they had vowed not to repeat.”

Can we get an Amen?

In the meantime, he observed that Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, because the legislature still left a $50 million hole in the current budget, will have to decide which state programs will be cut—again.

Emphasizing the risks to children, Garner-Walters told legislators in a committee hearing during the just-completed special session that state DCFS staff numbers 3,400, down a third from the 5,100 it had in 2008. “You can’t just not investigate child abuse,” she said.

Former Baton Rouge Juvenile Court Judge Kathleen Richey, now heading up Louisiana CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate), a child advocacy non-profit, has expressed her concern over the budgetary cuts that make DCFS caseworkers’ jobs so much more difficult.

“Our political leaders need to understand that while infrastructure represents a physical investment in our future, our children represent an intellectual investment in our future,” she said. “We have to protect innocent children who have no one else to stand up for them.”

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Though it is probably far too late, Louis Ackal would be wise to take the advice of an adage steeped in indisputable wisdom of the ages.

The sheriff of Iberia Parish, however, apparently has never heard the expression attributed to a host of well-known politicians, amateur philosophers and gifted writers: “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”

We’ll get to Ackal momentarily, but first a little background on that famous quote.

Mark Twain didn’t say it, though he is often cited as the one who coined the phrase. Neither was the quote original with publicist William Greener, Jr., as quoted in the September 28, 1978, Wall Street Journal.

The phrase of uncertain origin has also been attributed to the late Louisiana Congressman F. Edward Hebert, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1941 to 1977. A former newspaper reporter and editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Hebert, who died in 1979, covered the Louisiana Hayride scandals of 1939 that led to the convictions of Gov. Richard Leche and LSU President James Monroe Smith. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Edward_H%C3%A9bert

Hebert, according to legend, added to the phrase when he said, “I never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the trainload.” (Emphasis added.)

The quote was intended to illustrate just how futile it is to pick a fight with a crusading newspaper. Some clarification is needed here for our younger readers: the term crusading newspaper is passé, long gone from the vernacular used to describe the style of journalism depicted in the classic movies The Front Page (the 1931 original starring Pat O’Brien and Mae Clark or the 1974 remake starring Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Susan Sarandon, Charles Durning, and Carol Burnett); 1940’s His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy; or of course, All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie about Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon, starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Martin Balsam, Ned Beatty and Jane Alexander.

No, sadly, those days are long gone. Newspapers have felt the impact of the perfect storm of shrinking ad revenue and declining circulation along with waning influence as reflected in inverse proportion to the explosion of the Internet and the fourth estate. Once the epitome of independence, newspapers now find themselves subjected more to corporate pressure than to any need to inform its readership. The same gots for television news, of course, only if anything, to an even greater degree.

That famous and once chillingly accurate phrase could now be replaced by any one of several similar but equally relevant versions currently floating around out there in cyberspace:

  • Never pick a fight with someone who buys their bandwidth by the gigabyte.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who has a camera and a Twitter following.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who knows how to use the Internet better than you.
  • Never pick a fight with someone who has access to Google to prove you wrong immediately.
  • Never pick a fight with someone when your own video cameras or those of witnesses may contradict you.

To those might be added another pearl of wisdom: Never underestimate the intelligence of your constituency (the emergence of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz notwithstanding).

Ackal previously served as a Louisiana State Trooper where he served for awhile as a captain and Commander of Troop I. He retired abruptly in 1984 after being placed in charge of the narcotics squad of Region II which covered all of Southwest Louisiana.

He later resurfaced as a private investigator before running for High Sheriff of Iberia Parish in 2007. Now, not even four months from winning re-election sheriff, he seems not to have absorbed an iota of any of that advice about picking quarrels with those possessing generous supplies of ink and paper—and online access.

Even before he beat challenger Roberta Boudreaux last November in a runoff election, Ackal was already fighting a public relations disaster that culminated in his choosing to pick a fight with the Acadiana Advocate, sister publication of the Baton Rouge Advocate.

In March of 2014, a 22-year-old black man, Victor White, III, died after being shot while handcuffed in a sheriff’s department patrol car. Deputies said he pulled the gun and fired one round, striking himself in the back. The Iberia Parish coroner, however, ruled he was shot in the chest, immediately raising the question of how he could shoot himself in the chest with his hands handcuffed behind his back. The Iberia Parish district attorney, following a State Police report that the wound was self-inflicted, has declined to pursue criminal charges against deputies. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/da-charges-handcuffed-man-police-car-shooting_us_56b8f75de4b08069c7a8548b

The U.S. Attorney’s office likewise concluded an investigation of more than a year with the announcement that it would not pursue charges against the sheriff’s office. http://www.iberianet.com/news/feds-no-charges/article_087eda70-9e8f-11e5-a1e6-03aa54a2fd19.html

None of those findings, however, kept the Advocate group from publishing a May 6, 2015, story revealing that eight prisoners had died in Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office custody over a 10-year period. http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/neworleansnews/12248374-123/8-die-in-custody-of

The family of one of the victims, Robert Sonnier, settled its resulting lawsuit with the sheriff for $450,900 and the family of Michael Jones was awarded $61,000 in his wrongful death. There were other incidents, all of which prompted U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond’s May 19, 2015 LETTER TO ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH requesting an investigation “into alleged civil rights violations of members of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.”

Moreover, incriminating video of beatings of and dog attacks on prisoners were reported on by the Acadiana Advocate https://photographyisnotacrime.com/2015/05/04/disturbing-video-surfaces-highlighting-pattern-of-abuse-and-death-in-louisiana-jail/

Easy to see why Ackal may not be too enamored with the Acadiana Advocate, but to declare the paper and its reporters as “persona non grata” is foolish at best. http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/13886833-37/iberia-sheriff-mum-on-salary

It’s a war he can’t possibly win. As much adverse publicity as LouisianaVoice has given to the Louisiana State Police administration, Superintendent Mike Edmonson has never gone that far.

But, as those cheesy late-night TV commercials say: wait, there’s more.

First, there was his re-election campaign last fall.

He nearly won in the first primary, pulling in 47 percent of the vote. Parish Jail Warden Roberta Boudreaux got 25 percent and Spike Boudoin received 18 percent. Joe LeBlanc and Bobby Jackson won 7 and 3 percent, respectively.

That was on Oct. 24. On Oct 30, just six days later, Ackal hired Boudoin as something called director of community relations at a salary of $50,658 a year. http://theadvocate.com/news/14013818-123/iberia-sheriff-to-pay-defeated

Coincidentally, Boudoin announced at the same time his endorsement of Ackal in the runoff against Boudreaux. But other than the distribution of a news release announcing Boudoin’s hiring, Ackal said he would not entertain questions about the newly-created position.

Ackal won the runoff election on Nov. 21, receiving 56 percent of the vote against Boudreaux’s 44 percent.

To Jackson, it was déjà vu all over again. In 2007, he finished third with 11 percent of the vote behind Ackal and David Landry, both of whom got 42 percent. LeBlanc, who also ran in 2007, got the remaining 5 percent. After that primary, Jackson endorsed Ackal and was rewarded with a job as intelligence analyst, a role he had held in the U.S. Army. The difference with the sheriff’s department was he was denied working space, equipment and any direction as to his duties, all while being paid. He quit in disgust after little more than two months walking around “with my thumb in my rear,” he said, adding that he now sees “history repeating itself.”

Public servants are prohibited from using their positions to “compel or coerce any person or other public servant to engage in political activity,” according to the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics. Political activity is defined, in part, as “an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office in an election.”

It is also illegal for anyone to give money or anything of value “to any person who has withdrawn or who was eliminated prior or subsequent to the primary election as a candidate for public office, for the purpose of securing or giving his political support to any remaining candidate or candidates for public office in the primary or general election.” (Emphasis added.)

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, told the Acadiana Advocate that Ackal’s simultaneous hiring and endorsement raises questions of whether taxpayer money, i.e. Boudoin’s salary, was used to secure an endorsement.

Tomorrow: ethics complaint, sexual harassment lawsuit and guilty pleas over beatings and dog attacks are beginning to clutter embattled Louis Ackal’s desk.

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