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Archive for the ‘Layoffs’ Category

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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There’re few feelings worse than a hangover and when the hangover contains remnants of the eight-year drunjeb privatization binge of the Bobby Jindal administration, the pain is particularly excruciating. In this case, it’s the state hospital privatization fiasco that keeps on giving us the dry heaves.

It may not rank up there with the 50-page blank contract http://www.forward-now.com/2014/01/09/as-the-la-hospital-privatization-biomed-worms-turn/ but the less-than-transparent and most probably more than a little illegal closure of one hospital has prompted a Baton Rouge attorney to file an APPEAL with the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge. His appeal follows the State Civil Service Commission’s denial of his Civil Service appeal on behalf of eight employees who lost their jobs when the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville.

Arthur Smith III initially also represented Edwin Ray Parker, president of Council 17 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Brad Ott, a public hospital patient from New Orleans. Upon being informed they had no standing in a civil service matter since they were not state employees, however, they requested that their claims be dismissed.

In all, some 200 employees lost their jobs when the Jindal administration shuttered the facility on June 30, 2014.

Ott and Parker initially sued the state as soon as the closure was approved, claiming legislators did not comply with the Louisiana State Constitution in authorizing Bobby Jindal to close the LSU-run hospital. A retired state judge sitting in for the presiding judge in the case, in a curious ruling noted that the Senate violated the open meetings law when the proposed legislation was heard by its Health and Welfare Committee and said the closure was unconstitutional—but nevertheless allowed the closure to go forward. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/06/lsu_hospital_closure_ruled_unc.html

The open meetings law violation claim came into play when the Senate committee published a meeting notice two days before its hearing, with an agenda that did not include the hospital closure legislation. But on the afternoon prior to the meeting, a revised agenda was posted that included the legislation, a ploy most likely designed to blindside opponents of the closure by not giving them sufficient time to mount an organized opposition.

Judge Robert Downing said he made his ruling so that the matter would fast track a direct appeal to the State Supreme Court, which ultimately denied a stay order, thus allowing the closure. At the same time he sharply criticized Jindal for “turning down billions” of federal dollars through Medicaid Expansion—even as Jindal was (wink, wink) claiming the hospital closure would improve health care for the uninsured in the 16-parish area served by the hospital.

Smith filed his appeal with the First Circuit following the Civil Service Commission’s seven-page DENIAL of his civil service appeal issued on April 6.

State Civil Service Director Shannon Templet was quoted in the commission’s decision as saying a “lack of funds” was the reason for the layoff. That, of course, played directly into Jindal’s hands as he had been systematically starving health care for the indigent since long before he became governor—as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals under former Gov. Mike Foster.

In his appeal, Smith argues that the Civil Service Commission erred in approving the cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) pertaining to the medical center by failing to comply with the rules set forth by the Louisiana Supreme Court in Civil Service Commission v. City of New Orleans. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/la-supreme-court/1274405.html

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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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As an illustration of the arrogance of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and the Division of Administration (DOA), one need only examine the most recent “compliance” to our request for public records in the matter of former Louisiana Housing Corporation (LHC) Executive Director Frederick Tombar, III. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/21/frederick-tombar-a-key-jindal-appointee-resigns-260k-job-at-lhc-following-internal-investigation-of-sexual-harassment/

Even as the parties to our lawsuit against Nichols and DOA were awaiting the start of our case in District Judge Mike Caldwell’s courtroom on Monday, DOA’s legal counsel asked our attorney about our post of Sunday, May 3, in which we revealed that DOA was sitting on another request of ours. We made simultaneous requests, we explained, to DOA and to an office under DOA (LHC). The office responded with the records but DOA still had not complied nearly two weeks after our request was submitted. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/05/03/louisianavoice-v-la-doa-goes-to-trial-monday-we-need-your-help-to-defray-legal-costs-that-will-continue-on-appeal/

But don’t just take our word for it. Here is a column by Robert Mann from nearly two years ago:

http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2013/05/louisiana_government_is_making.html

The attorney for DOA, upon being told what records we had requested, promised us we would have the records on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, apparently buoyed by only a partial victory by us, DOA responded with partial compliance as some sort of weird game of gotcha.

The records we received from the LHC contained 16 pages. The records provided Tuesday by DOA contained four pages.

DOA insisted in the trial of our earlier lawsuit against DOA (also before Judge Caldwell, who, in that case, ruled against LouisianaVoice altogether—do we see a pattern here?) that we were not being singled out for deliberate non-compliance or the withholding of records despite DOA’s historically taking weeks and even months to provide requested documents.

Yet, withholding 12 pages of a public record (the LHC board, with the concurrence of legal counsel, had previously decided that the investigative report into allegations of sexual harassment against Tombar was indeed public) certainly appears to us to be deliberate—and against the law.

Here’s the gist of the investigative report:

LHC board Chairman Mayson Foster asked the DOA Office of Human Resources to conduct an investigation on April 13 into claims by two female employees (one, a contract employee and the other a full-time employee of LHC) that Tombar, who lives in New Orleans, had pressured each of them to spend nights with him in his hotel room when he was in Baton Rouge for board meetings.

(The report, as it should, withheld the names of the women and LouisianaVoice has never requested that information. We respect the employees’ privacy; we only wanted the investigative report.)

The harassment of the first employee, a contract worker, began on Nov. 19, 2014, the report said, when Tombar and the employee separately attended a luncheon for the agency. Immediately following the luncheon, he “friended” her on Facebook and Instagram and made repeated requests for her to join him after work for drinks.

The employee made excuses to avoid doing so but then his advances became even stronger as he began to request that she spend the night with him in his hotel room during his stays in Baton Rouge. Specifically, emails provided LouisianaVoice by LHC (with the name of the employee properly redacted) show that Tombar asked her to spend the night with him on Feb. 10, 2015, the night before an LHC board meeting.

Even though she was a contract employee, Tombar promised her in his emails that she would be “safe” from layoffs and then asked her again to spend the night with him on April 7, 2015.

Eventually, the woman blocked his calls and filed a formal complaint and asked that she continue working but away from Tombar.

The second woman, an employee of LHC, said she attended a conference in New Orleans on Feb. 7-9, 2015 and that on March 19, she received an email from Tombar saying he would be staying overnight in Baton Rouge and asking her to stay with him overnight in his hotel room, a request she declined.

He repeated the request on April 7 before she sought relief in the form of a formal complaint in which she said she wished to keep her job but to work “away from Mr. Tombar,” the report said.

In one Instagram message provided LouisianaVoice as part of the record, Tombar asked one of the women, “You’re cool with my having a wife at home?”

The report’s conclusion said:

“Inform

  • “Information gathered from claimant interviews as well as a subsequent review of electronic messages sent to both claimants by Mr. Tombar clearly establish a pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Specifically, Mr. Tombar’s declaration that (the first claimant’s) position would be protected from layoffs while (simultaneously) trying to establish a sexual relationship with her presents clear evidence of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Additionally, the use of sexually explicit content in electronic messages to LHC employees and contractors presents clear evidence of a hostile work environment.”

The report further said the women “should have been more direct and forceful” in putting Tombar on notice “that his advances were unwelcomed and unwarranted, which they acknowledged in their interviews.” At the same time, the report pointed out that the women were fearful of losing their positions because of Tombar’s position as Executive Director and Appointing Authority within LHC.

Attempts to interview Tombar by DOA’s Human Resources Department “to provide him an opportunity to refute and defend those claims” were thwarted when Tombar abruptly resigned his $260,000-a-year position on April 21, the report said.

Tombar was appointed to head LHC after passage of Senate Bill 269 by State Sen. Neil Riser in 2011. The bill, which became Act 408 upon the signature of Bobby Jindal, consolidated three former agencies into one: the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, the Road Home Corp., and Louisiana Land Trust. That consolidation became effective on Jan. 1, 2012 and Jindal named Tombar to head the new agency shortly after that.

Tombar earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Notre Dame University and later attended Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where he earned a Master in Public Policy degree.

He directed the Road Home Program following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Road Home served as the largest single housing recovery program in U.S. history.

LHC currently is house in an elaborate structure on Quail Drive across from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center just off Perkins Road in Baton Rouge. LOUISIANA HOUSING CORP.(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

The agency has 125 employees and a payroll of more than $7.9 million. Besides Tombar, eight other employees make more than $100,000 per year, according to State Civil Service records.

http://doa.louisiana.gov/boardsandcommissions/viewEmployees.cfm?board=273

In an April 6, 2015, message to one of the women, Tombar said, “Jindal has a claim to my time until 5. Any plans after are negotiable.”

The employee, in an apparent effort to put him off, responded, “Maybe next time.”

In the most explicit message provided by LHC, Tombar sent a message that gave the definition of “sunrise surprise” from the online Urban Dictionary: “To wake someone up at exactly 6 am by having rough anal sex with them.” There was no response to that message.

As for DOA’s pattern of non-compliance with our requests, our attorney has suggested that we pursue criminal charges against Nichols in addition to our civil petitions.

It’s certainly an option we’re keeping open although Attorney General Buddy (or is it Bubba) Caldwell (no relation to the judge) has certainly revealed his reluctance to pursue the interests of the citizens of this state over such mundane matters as public records.

So, it would fall to the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore.

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