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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

One of the great paradoxes emerging from the devastating flood of 2016 is the manner in which a group of volunteers calling themselves The Cajun Navy, with no budget and no centralized organizational structure, can materialize and mobilize almost instantly in times of crisis to rescue thousands of victims from inundated homes while the inept and corrupt politicians of this state cannot or will not take the steps necessary to prevent or at least mitigate damages from the swollen waters of the Comite and Amite rivers.

At the same time, it’s beyond criminal how some people will seize upon the selfless benevolence of these heroic volunteers and upon the generosity of donors in order to satisfy their own greed-driven motives.

Take Sidney Ray-Bazan for example, a New Orleans woman who was soliciting funds on behalf of The Cajun Navy. But her name suddenly disappeared with no explanation from The Cajun Navy’s Facebook page. Previously, on the Navy’s page she was identified “as the woman running the Cajun Navy Facebook page and “making sure donations go to the right place.”

Apparently Ray Bazan’s idea of the “right place” did not parallel with that of the Navy’s.

Its Facebook page is now saying it does not raise funds. A cursory check into Ray-Bazan’s past track record in fund-raising probably explains why she was abruptly removed as the go-to person. http://cfozarks.org/attorney-general-directs-settlement-funds-to-cfo-for-rebuild-joplin/

Ray-Bazan reached a plea agreement with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in March 2014 after she was accused of diverting money collected for Joplin tornado relief to her personal bank account.

Sidney Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 in donations for rebuilding efforts in Joplin. She allegedly diverted more than $39,000 of the donations for personal use. She allegedly made frequent cash withdrawals and transfers to her personal account from the charity’s bank account and spent donated funds on restaurants, clothing boutiques, veterinary offices, grocery stores and childcare.

Her charitable organization, Relief Spark, also never applied for recognition as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS.

“In 2011, good-hearted people across Missouri and the nation donated money to help the citizens of Joplin recover and rebuild,” Koster said. “Unfortunately, we know that some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain. I am pleased that today we return a portion of that money to the people of Joplin.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Ray-Bazan was to have paid $39,200 to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and no longer solicit funds for any charitable purposes in the state of Missouri for five years.

Meanwhile, The Cajun Navy continues to rescue victims trapped by the rising waters that seemed to come from nowhere, silently concealing streets and highways and soaking residents’ homes, autos, carpeting, furniture and appliances. Many of those rescued were the very young and the very old. Some were sick, others disabled by other maladies.

Members of the Navy who manned bass boats, ski boats and ordinary bateaus did so without pay and without benefit of the photo ops so tempting to presidential candidates who breeze through disaster relief center just long enough to be photographed handing out bottled water to evacuees to show they do, after all, care for the little people.

Steve Hardy and David J. Mitchell, writing for the Baton Rouge Advocate on Saturday (Aug. 20), did a stellar job outlining the sorry history of the never-to-be-built Darlington Reservoir and the Comite River Diversion Canal. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_fc9f928c-6592-11e6-bad5-d3944fe82f0e.html

The two Advocate writers wrote, correctly, that “no one has suggested that the proposed Comite River Diversion Canal or the Darlington Reservoir would have prevented the flood,” but the canal by itself could have spared up to 25 percent of those whose homes were flooded. Like the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Mississippi, the project was not designed as a flood control reservoir. But taken together, projects could have mitigated hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

A 1986 LSU study estimated that had the Darlington Reservoir existed during the historic 1983 flood, the Amite River would have crested at a level six feet lower than the 41.5 feet at Denham Springs. The river crested at 46 feet last Sunday (Aug. 14). Flood stage at Denham Springs is 39 feet.

In 1992 the U.S Army Corps of Engineers said that the $154 million cost of Darlington and $222 for the Diversion Canal were not cost efficient and the last year the Federal government appropriated funds for the Canal project was in 2006.

Meanwhile, Bobby Jindal and state legislators went about their primary objective as Louisiana public servants: soliciting campaign contributions even as damages from the 2016 flood far exceeded (by a factor of at least five or six) the cost of building the reservoir.

Now there will be the usual indignant finger pointing and official promises that action must be taken to protect life and property. Then, just as quietly as the murky waters of the Amite River rose and receded, it’ll all be forgotten—until the next flood.

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A little more than five years ago, we launched LouisianaVoice in an attempt to bring political corruption in Louisiana into sharper focus. Two years ago, The Washington Post named Bob Mann’s Something Like the Truth and LouisianaVoice as two of the top 100 political blogs in the nation.

While we were quite proud to have been recognized by such a prestigious publication as the Post, that pride was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that we could never have achieved such a designation had political corruption not permeated all levels of government in Louisiana— from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Charles to Monroe.

Now we learn that researchers Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, have been conducting a “one-of-a-kind” corruption survey over the past two years.

“The survey is designed to construct perception-based measures of different forms of corruption in American states,” Dincer wrote us recently. “We surveyed more than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across (each state).

“…We were able to construct measures of illegal and legal corruption for each (branch of) government in 50 states,” Dincer said, adding that the results of the survey “quickly drew extensive and positive attention from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, FiveThirtyEight, and a number of regional newspaper and broadcast stations.”

The results of that 2015 study were published by Illinois State University and the researchers are now in the process of conducting an updated survey. https://about.illinoisstate.edu/odincer/Pages/CorruptionSurvey2015.aspx

So just what is legal corruption as opposed to illegal corruption? Isn’t corruption just corruption without the adjectives? Dincer explained the difference. “We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

Legal corruption, on the other hand, is defined as political gains in the form of campaign contributions to or endorsements of a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups by “explicit or implicit understanding.”

“According to several surveys, a large majority of Americans, both liberals and conservatives, think that donations to super PACs, for example, by corporations, unions, and individuals corrupt the government,” the researchers’ report said.

The 2014 report indicated that the leading states for moderately to very common illegal corruption in the executive branch of government were Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah. States identified as “very common” in illegal corruption in the legislative branch included Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Legal corruption was found in many more states. Kentucky and New Jersey were identified as states where legal corruption in the executive branch was “extremely common,” while those where it was “very common” included Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York and Texas.

Legal corruption in the legislative branch was far more discouraging on a nationwide basis. States where legal corruption in the legislative branch was “extremely common” included Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

States where legislative branch legal corruption was called “very common” included Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

When all factors were taken into consideration, the states leading in overall illegal corruption were Arizona, California, Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island and Texas.

Setting the bar for overall legal corruption were Kentucky, Illinois, Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

States that showed up as most corrupt in both legal and illegal corruption were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

So, where did Louisiana rank in all these studies?

“Surprisingly enough, we received no responses from Louisiana, which is historically one of the more corrupt states in America,” the report said. http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/measuring-illegal-and-legal-corruption-american-states-some-results-safra

We knew there had to be a logical explanation. There just had to be.

Which brings us to the current survey.

“We are conducting the third wave of the survey this year and we would like you to take part in a short (5 minute) survey that will gauge your perception of government corruption in Louisiana,” Dincer wrote. “We will again be contacting as many news reporters/journalists as possible in this endeavor to ensure that our results are as reliable as possible. The responses are entirely anonymous and cannot be related to specific participants or institutions.”

So, to all political reporters—and that includes local government beat reporters and political bloggers—in Louisiana who may be reading this, here is the link to their survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYNN5FC

Now that the legislative session is over and there is no gubernatorial election on the near horizon, there’s no reason for you not to participate.

Be completely truthful, candid and forthright and we can return Louisiana to its rightful spot at the top of the rankings.

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“Why are you going into executive session?”

—My question to the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) after it voted to go into closed session.

 

“We don’t have to give a reason.”

—LSPC legal counsel and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches, who is under a $75,000 contract to the commission to provide legal advice.

 

“Yes, you do. It’s the law.”

—My response to attorney Townsend.

 

“To discuss personnel matters.”

— Townsend (did I mention he’s an attorney?), after a moment’s reflection on my citing law to him. Below is the statute:

 

RS 42:16

  • 16.  Executive Sessions

A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by R.S. 42:17; however, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.  Nothing in this Section or R.S. 42:17 shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of this Chapter. (Emphasis added.)

 

 

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Poor Troy Hebert. Like his mentor, Bobby Jindal, he just can’t seem to get any traction or notice in a crowded field of candidates.

Unlike Jindal, however, instead of sending out daily email blasts from Iowa proclaiming the glass to be half full (when in reality, the glass was just dirty and needed washing), Hebert, one of 24 candidates for the U.S. Senate, is making his case in the courts.

He should be right at home there, given the number of times he was sued by agents he fired and/or harassed during his tenure as Jindal’s Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC).

Where Jindal resigned himself to the kiddie table at the Republican debates in Iowa’s debates that more resembled a bunch of hogs trying to get to the slop trough (and we all know by now that the biggest pig of all, Trump, ultimately prevailed, causing the others to squeal pretty loudly), Hebert is suing a polling firm because he was incorrectly identified as a (gasp!) Republican!

Hebert, a former Democrat while serving as a State Representative from the parishes of Vermilion and Iberia, is a declared Independent, running without party affiliation.

He doesn’t seem to be commanding the same respect as a candidate that he did as head of ATC where employees were required to stand and chirp, “Good morning, Commissioner,” when he entered the room.

So he’s claiming in his lawsuit that a May poll (not to be confused with a maypole) conducted by Southern Media and Opinion Research and its veteran pollster Bernie Pinsonat was “flawed” because it incorrectly identified him as a Republican.

He said the polling firm is incompetent at best and committing fraud at worst by “intentionally misleading respondents,” adding in a whine reminiscent of Trump himself, that “the system is definitely rigged against independent candidates” because the survey was used to keep him from participating in two candidate forums.

Pinsonat, in something of an understatement, said identifying Hebert as an Independent would not get him better numbers.

Hebert says he was not allowed to participate in a June 29 forum sponsored by the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

He was also turned away, he said, from a July 28 event put on by the Louisiana Municipal Association because he didn’t reach the required 5 percent in the Southern Media survey.

In that poll for the period of May 19-23, State Treasurer John Kennedy and “Undecided” were neck and neck at 32 percent. The only other candidate to touch double digits was U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany with 10 percent. Hebert, with 2 percent, edged out Eric Skrmetta, who got 1 percent.

At least Hebert can take some comfort in the knowledge that he did better in that poll than his former boss did in any of the polls in Iowa.

Of course he still has an outside shot of making the runoff—if he can only persuade Jindal to endorse one of the other candidates

 

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Apparently Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has never read the First Amendment. Neither, apparently, has 32nd Judicial District Court Judge Randal Bethancourt. Nor does it seem that either has ever checked into the constitutional status of Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute.

Larpenter made national news last Tuesday (August 2) when he sent a posse of six deputies to the home of a suspected blogger and hauled away two laptop computers because the blogger said bad things about the high sheriff. Somehow, six men to confiscate two laptop computers approaches overkill, but perhaps that’s the way things are done in Terrebonne Parish. After all, the laws that apply to the rest of us don’t seem to hold much water with Larpenter and Bethancourt. https://theintercept.com/2016/08/04/sheriff-raids-house-to-find-anonymous-blogger-who-called-him-corrupt/

The blogger, after all, had said some really bad things about Larpenter and Parish President (and former State Rep.) Gordon Dove and Dove’s business partner Tony Alford, who landed a huge benefits package brokerage contract for Larpenter’s office, and their jointly-owned trucking firm, and Dove’s former legislative assistant Debbie Ortego who was given a $79,000-a-year job as Dove’s new officer manager, and Debbie’s husband Dana who is Dove’s Risk Manager, and Dana’s nephew Parish Attorney Joe Waitz, III, District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr.’s son, and Sheriff Larpenter’s wife Priscilla who has a six-figure job as manager of Tony Alford’s office, and Jackie Dove who is married to Assistant District Attorney Sye Broussard. There were a few other names in the organizational flow chart compiled by the publisher of the Internet blog http://exposedat.in/wp/ but it gets complicated and somewhat confusing after that.

But the gist of the story is that certain connected entities have successfully evaded their responsibility to pay nearly $400,000 in parish taxes, malfeasance on the part of local officials for not pursuing the collection of the delinquent taxes with, in the words of the late John F. Kennedy, “great vigor,” nepotism, ethics violations, and violations of environmental regulations.

To give you a bit of background, LouisianaVoice had a post two years ago about Dove and his trucking company which got into trouble with the environmental watchdogs in Montana who, unlike their counterparts in Louisiana, tend to do their jobs with no consideration given to oil company political contributions and highly paid oil and gas lobbyists milling around the State Capitol’s rotunda with steak restaurant vouchers for famished legislators. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/06/01/gordon-dove-fox-in-the-house-natural-resources-committee-henhouse-or-perhaps-its-just-louisiana-jindaltics-as-usual/

As we read through the mystery blogger’s most recent post about Terrebonne Parish (the one that got him into trouble with Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt), we couldn’t help but be impressed with the detailed thoroughness with which he laid out his case, supported by document after document.

He had documents and links to documents to support every claim in his post and yet all that made no difference to the two officials who went after the presumed publisher of the blog, one Wayne Anderson who just happens to be a police officer for the City of Houma and who formerly worked as a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s deputy.

Despite his denials that he is the owner of the blog, he was placed on paid leave a little more than an hour after the raid.

Regardless whether or not Anderson is being truthful in denying authorship of the blog, the entire thing should be a moot point. The blogger, Anderson or whomever, has a right to free speech guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. It’s not that there hasn’t been an effort to thwart freedom of speech. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute comes immediately to mind.

http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-14/rs-14-47

That law was passed way back in the beginning of John McKeithen’s last term as governor. It was also the start of the final four-year term for Attorney General P.F. “Jack” Gremillion of whom former Gov. Earl Long once said, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book.”

Bethancourt said he had to stay within the “four corners” of the warrant and affidavit (whatever that means) and that he was unable to discern if Alford was a public official (under the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. New York Times which ruled that for a public official to claim libel, he must prove not only malicious intent but “reckless disregard for the truth”)—despite Alford’s status as a member of a local levee district. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute, he said, is “pretty broad” and that he would the state to have a “look-see” at what was contained on the computers that might have defamatory statements on them.

The only problem with the judge’s interpretation of the state’s “pretty broad” defamation statute is that it is non-existent.

David Ardoin, Anderson’s attorney, correctly pointed out that Bethancourt made a mistake in approving the warrant to raid his client’s home because in 1981, the second year of former Gov. Dave Treen’s term of office, the law was declared unconstitutional. http://www.lsli.org/files/unconst_report2016.pdf

Just to put things in their proper perspective, that was 35 years ago. Way to stay current on the law, Judge. And Judge, one more thing: since the law was held unconstitutional, it would seem that neither your nor the sheriff—nor anyone else, for that matter—has any right to have a “look-see” at what is contained on Anderson’s computers. That, yer honor, is invasion of privacy.

I happened to run into former Gov. Edwin Edwards last Friday when we each were guests on different hourly segments of the Jim Engster Show in Baton Rouge. I asked him if he remembered the defamation law and he immediately responded, “Of course. It was later declared unconstitutional.” A pretty sharp mind for a man who turned 89 on Sunday (August 7).

When I explained what had occurred in Terrebonne Parish, he said, “It sounds to me like the sheriff has some very serious legal problems. I would love to be that blogger’s attorney in that civil litigation.”

Sheriff Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt have greatly overstepped their authority and their responsibility to the citizens of Terrebonne Parish. So much so that the local newspaper, the Houma Daily Courier, took a big risk in alienating the local power structure when it took the sheriff to task in a sharply worded EDITORIAL on Sunday (Aug. 7). The paper, however, stopped short of condemning Judge Bethancourt for going along with the sheriff’s Gestapo-like tactics.

Just a cursory read of ExposeDat makes it abundantly and undeniably clear that there are some cozy—too cozy—relationships that border on political incest in Terrebonne Parish. Too much authority and power is vested in the hands of too few people to allow for a workable system of checks and balances. Those few control how millions upon millions of public dollars are spent. Whenever that occurs, there is no oversight and invariably, greed becomes the motivating factor that drives virtually every action.

And it is the citizens who are the ultimate losers.

Local media are subject to economic realities, they can be—and are—squeezed by those in power so that any real investigative reporting is tempered by whatever financial pressure (read: advertising revenue) can be applied by those with the most to lose.

Because of that, bloggers like ExposeDat who are not beholden to the Chamber of Commerce or the local banks are more important than ever before.

Whenever a blogger draws the ire of a public official or is referred to as a “chronic complainer (as in the case of LouisianaVoice recently), it only means that blogger has struck a nerve. Whenever someone says “They’re just a blogger” like a State Trooper ally of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson recently said in an attempt to discredit LouisianaVoice, we just smile and say, “Yep. We are ‘just a blogger’ who exposed an attempt by Edmonson to enrich his retirement benefits by about $30,000 a year—illegally, we might add—and stopped that little scheme in its tracks.

To ExposeDat, we strongly urge the publisher, whoever you are, to keep the heat on. You’ve already done the heavy lifting and we support your lonely vigil. Don’t relent. If you know you’re doing the right thing, then follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never, Never, Never.”

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