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“LSU police chief retiring next month; national search on tap,” said the HEADLINE in the June 9 Baton Rouge Advocate.

But don’t look for that “national search” to extend far beyond the corporate limits of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And don’t be surprised if an old familiar name is quietly named the new chief.

We don’t want to announce his name just yet, but his initials are Mike Edmonson.

That same day, a Baton Rouge TV STATION announced that current LSU Police Chief Lawrence Rabalais was being forced out after it was learned that his department racked up $1.2 million in overtime pay last year for his 80-person staff.

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that comes to about $15,000 per person in overtime pay but don’t carve that in stone because some apparently were not getting their share. Records obtained by New Orleans television investigative reporter Lee Zurik, working in conjunction with Baton Rouge station WAFB-TV, showed that two LSU police captains made more than Rabalais in both 2015 and 2016 from logging hundreds of hours of overtime. In 2016, one of those captains made $64,800 in overtime while the other pulled down $61,800 in overtime pay. In another case, an LSU officer made $56,200 in overtime pay, which was nearly $5,000 more than his base pay of $51,300.

Rabalais will be stepping down from his $127,800-a-year job, effective July 5, the school announced. LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard, III said Maj. Bart Thompson would serve as interim chief until a permanent successor is named. “We will begin a national search for his permanent successor and put together plans for a transition plan in the near future,” Ballard added.

When asked if the retirement was voluntary, he said, “Our policy is to not comment on personnel matters, but there have been no terminations at the police department.”

Well, no, when you can pressure someone into resigning or retiring, firing becomes a moot point and administrators can walk away without having to invoke the ugly F-word.

“We will begin a national search for his permanent successor and put together plans for a transition plan in the near future,” Ballard added.

The timing of the Rabalais announcement is more than a little suspect, to say the least.

Something just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Don’t take that as a defense of Rabalais. He certainly had sufficient baggage with the Helen Haire matter to warrant a change. It’s just that the university had the perfect opportunity to cut its losses when her sex discrimination suit wound up costing LSU big bucks after he was named chief over her. Instead, the school waited for an obscure issue like overtime to make its move.

One might then asked why, then, did LSU suddenly take action?

LouisianaVoice has learned that Edmonson, for nine years Superintendent of State Police until his lax managerial practices finally caught up with him in San Diego last October, is near the top of a very short list of candidates for the job.

Don’t be too surprised if he does indeed get the job. In Louisiana politics, the Peter Principle—the theory that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in his or her current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role—is in full effect.

Edmonson’s position prior to being named by Bobby Jindal to head Louisiana State Police was that of public information officer for LSP and as bodyguard for LSU football coaches—and he was very good at those because his duties primarily involved schmoozing those in a position to help his career along.

Unfortunately for Louisiana, that did not translate to effective leadership of the entire agency. In a state where administrators are chosen not for their ability but for their political connections, it is not only the norm but the expectation that mediocre people will occupy the positions of greatest power and influence. The more power and influence to wield, the greater the demand for mediocrity.

And nowhere in state government—and the emphasis is on nowhere—are political influence and inflated egos more prevalent than on the campus of Louisiana State University, aka the Ole War Skule.

It’s almost enough to make one wonder if, when the chance to bring Edmonson into that tight little clique that is LSU presented itself, LSU officials decided to jump at the opportunity and to belatedly “address” the Rabalais problem.

Oh, surely not.

LouisianaVoice was first with the STORY on March 10 that Edmonson was gone from the State Police and the official CONFIRMATION came five days later, on March 15. We also were consistently first on dozens of accounts of Edmonson’s controversial tenure as Louisiana’s top cop for more than four years until other media were finally forced, albeit reluctantly, to begin following the story, and then stepping in to politely accept the credit for his ouster.

Some of the events at which officers have worked overtime were understandable. Besides more than 130 LSU athletic events and Bayou Country Superfest, a three-day music festival held in Tiger Stadium for the past several years, there was the 2016 flood event in Baton Rouge last August and the police shootings of 2016. In the latter case, all police patrols went from one- to two-person patrols, thereby doubling the need for officers on all shifts. There also was the 2014 ice storm, and other crisis or emergency situations; fundraisers on campus;  events held by student organizations; work at other LSU facilities, and others.

Certainly it was a mere coincidence that Rabalais was told to clean out his desk at LSU so soon after Edmonson was told the same over at LSP.

 

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I recently had occasion to be at the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) to take a gander at some public records. I was ushered into a conference room where all the requested records were stacked on a table.

About halfway through the process of copying the records, we (LDAF press secretary Veronica Mosgrove and I) were uprooted to an adjoining room as various official-looking persons began filtering into the conference room. They were carrying documents and looking all serious and important and ignoring me like any self-respecting individual of such prominence naturally would. So of course, I asked who they were and what they were meeting for.

Veronica explained that they were some sort of ultra-serious group assembled to facilitate the coordination of the implementation of Louisiana’s new Revised Statute 40: 1046, Part X-E, aka the Therapeutic Use of Marijuana law.

Odd, I thought, because those who entered the room appeared focused and clear-headed, and none appeared to have the munchies, a condition that generally accompanies the use of cannabis. In fact, everyone seemed fairly alert and no one called me dude.

And with one exception, no one entered with that faraway, glassy-eyed stare so typical of those who indulge in ganja. Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain was fashionably late and as he entered, Veronica introduced me to him and we shook hands. That’s when I noticed that he had what I like to call for a lack of a better term, that blank gladda-meetcha-gotta-move-on-I’m inna-big-hurry stare so common to elected officials. His eyes gave me the brief once-over as he quickly hurried into the meeting.

Pot had nothing to do with it; it’s the look they learn their first day in Politician College in Meet-n-Greet 101 where they’re taught to look at you but not actually see you. The only way to penetrate that defensive force field is with a special password, usually written on a check, in multiples of a thousand dollars. It’ll instantly melt away that glacial stare and earn you the big grin of warm recognition and the ever-elusive eye-to-eye contact, gestures reserved for special constituents—as in campaign donors.

But I digress.

Louisiana, for better or worse, is officially in the POT BUSINESS, thanks to the efforts of State Sen. Fred Mills (R-New Iberia), Louisiana’s 2008 Pharmacist of the Year and recipient of the 2010 Louisiana Family Forum’s Family Advocate Award, who pushed through Senate Bill 271 which became Act 96 of the 2016 legislative session upon Gov. John Bel Edwards’ signature.

And of course, there are rules governing the licensure of medical pot prescriptions. Lots and lots of RULES.

And it fell to Strain’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry to develop a plan for licensing a single producer for the (legal) cultivation and distribution to 10 pharmacies licensed to sell the product.

Okay, that makes sense. If we’re going to regulate something that is grown and cultivated from mother earth, it’s only logical that the Department of Agriculture have a hand in the decision-making process. No problem there.

And it’s also understandable that the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy will regulate the 10 pharmacies licensed to sell weed.

But there’s a kicker.

Buried deep in those rules is this:

“The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Southern University Agricultural Center shall have the right of first refusal to be licensed as the production facility, either separately or jointly.” (emphasis added.)

Then, two paragraphs further down the list of rules is this gem:

“The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center or the Southern University Agricultural Center may conduct research on marijuana for therapeutic use…” (emphasis added.)

Given, it’s been a long—nearly five decades—time since I walked off the Louisiana Tech stage with my journalism diploma in hand and I know a lot has changed on college campuses. For one, I’m told freshmen girls at Tech no longer are required to be securely in their dormitories by 7 on week nights (10 p.m. on Fridays). They’re probably allowed to stay out until 9 weeknights and 11 p.m. Fridays by now. That’s a liberal college town for you.

But at the same time, I know some things probably have not changed.

And that’s why the decision to allow college students—agriculture students, no less—to research the best methods to grow marijuana is….well, interesting.

What could possibly go wrong?

What are the odds some enterprising students might decide to launch their own freelance farming/research enterprise?

Not that I would ever rat them out. I did that once already, albeit inadvertently, and once was more than enough.

When I was at Tech and simultaneously running the North Louisiana Bureau for The Shreveport Times and Monroe Morning World, I kept noticing one popular student, a Tech football player, leading a blind student to and from his classes each day. Impressed by this unusual alliance and touched by the player’s kindness, I sought an interview for a human interest story.

Near the end of the interview, he volunteered that, besides his friendship with the blind student, he had other interests that were not typical of football players. “I grow a garden,” he said. “It’s in the woods and I work in it every day.”

Naively assuming he was raising tomatoes, squash, brown crowder peas and such, I included that in the story. Lincoln Parish Sheriff George Simonton, a bit more perceptive and infinitely more seasoned in assessing human frailties than I, easily read between the lines. His deputies staked out the garden. A really nice guy was subsequently arrested, kicked off the football team and left school after his marijuana “garden” was raided. Of course, I was stunned and saddened. Never did I imagine what kind of garden it was, nor could I comprehend later why he ever alluded to it in the first place during the interview. I’m not a toker but never would I intentionally have outed him.

Finally, even further down, we find this language:

“No person licensed pursuant to this Subsection shall subcontract for services for the cultivation or processing in any way of marijuana if the subcontractor, or any of the service providers in the chain of subcontractors, is owned wholly or in part by any state employee or member of a state employee’s immediate family, including but not limited to any legislator, statewide public official, university or community or technical college employee, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center employee, or Southern University Agricultural Center employee.”

That’s as it should be. That complies with the state’s ethics rules governing state employees and elected officials. Of course, ethics rules are often ignored by those in certain positions in state government.

For example, nowhere in the 4,500-word list of regulations does it prohibit a legislator who happens to be a pharmacist from obtaining one of those 10 licenses to sell medical marijuana.

Hmmm.

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An updated variation of the infamous Mike Edmonson Amendment has made its way into the 2017 legislative session in an effort to help yet another public official scratch out a little more money from the public fisc.*

*fisc (fisk) noun: The public treasury of Rome.

It’s really amazing how these legislators can work so diligently on behalf of certain connected individuals while ignoring much larger problems facing the state.

As much as LouisianaVoice criticized Bobby Jindal during his eight years of misrule, it was the legislature that allowed him to do what he did. It was the legislature that brought about the state’s fiscal problems by refusing to stand up to his ill-advised “reforms,” and it’s the legislature that has steadfastly refused to address those problems with anything approaching realistic solutions.

But when there’s a chance to help one of their own: stand back, there’s work to be done.

Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) has introduced House Bill 207 aimed specifically at benefiting U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Louisiana, it seems, has this pesky little dual office holding/dual employment law that might otherwise prove a hindrance to Cassidy’s ability to moonlight by teaching at the LSU Health Science Center while serving in the U.S. Senate.

Carter wants to remedy and if you don’t think this bill was written specifically for Cassidy, here’s the particulars of the bill:

“To enact R.S. 42:66(E), relative to dual officeholding and dual employment; to allow a healthcare provider who is a member of the faculty or staff of a public higher education institution to also hold elective office in the government of the United States…”

The bill would provide an exception to the current law which prohibits “certain specific combinations of public office and employment, including a prohibition against a person holding at the same time an elective or appointive office or employment in state government and an elective office, appointive office, or employment in the U.S. government.”

We could be wrong, but it just seems to us that serving in the U.S. Senate is a full-time job that demands the full attention of whomever happens to be representing Louisiana in that august body.

It was just such an amendment in 2014 that helped prove the eventual undoing of Edmonson’s career and his political aspirations. The word was that Edmonson planned to seek the state’s second-highest office in 2015—and was considered a fairly viable candidate.

LouisianaVoice broke the story of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and his tacking an amendment onto an otherwise benign bill that would have given Edmonson between $50,000 and $100,000 per year in additional retirement income. Because of the resulting furor over that amendment, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) successfully sued to block the increase in Baton Rouge district court.

A veteran political observer recently told us, “If you hadn’t broken that story, Mike Edmonson would be lieutenant governor today.” (We don’t know about that but at least he’d be better than what we now have in that office.)

Remember in the 2014 senatorial race between then-incumbent Mary Landrieu and challenger U.S. Rep. Cassidy when Landrieu claimed Cassidy was paid for time lecturing classes not supported by his time sheets?

Jason Berry, publisher of The American Zombie Web blog said that on no fewer than 21 occasions over a 30-month span, U.S. Rep. Cassidy billed LSU Health Science Center for work supposedly performed on the same days that Congress was in session and voting on major legislation and holding crucial committee hearings on energy and the Affordable Care Act.

“On at least 17 different occasions,” Berry wrote, “he (Cassidy) spent multiple hours in LSU-HSC’s clinics on the same days in which he also participated in committee hearings and roll call votes.”

Landrieu said at the time of the revelations that Cassidy, while claiming to serve the poor, was in fact, “serving himself an extra paycheck. That’s not right. It could be illegal and it looks very much like payroll fraud.”

The arrangement apparently also troubled then-Earl K. Long Hospital Business Manager William Livings who said in an email to Internal Medicine Department Head George Karam, “We are going to really have to spell out exactly what it is he does for us for his remuneration from us. Believe me, this scenario will be a very auditable item and I feel they will really hone in on this situation to make sure we are meeting all federal and state regulations.”

In addition to Cassidy’s salary, Berry said, LSU also paid for his medical malpractice insurance, his continuing education and his licensing fees, “expenses that can easily total in the thousands.”

And now Carter wants to make it all nice and legal—but only for Cassidy. All other state employees who would like to do a little double-dipping to supplement their income can just fuggedaboutit.

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The simmering resentment between the Blue Shirts and the Gray Shirts isn’t going away anytime soon—at least as State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson continues to push for higher and higher pay for Louisiana State Police (LSP) while ignoring Department of Public Safety (DPS) police http://www.lsp.org/dps_police.html. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/16/two-year-old-edmonson-email-to-dps-seemed-to-promise-salary-increases-and-he-delivered-for-all-but-dps-officers/

DPS police may have a lower profile, a less public face than LSP officers. After all, DPS doesn’t detail officers to serve as bodyguards for the state’s college football coaches. That, by the way, is precisely the total qualifications of Edmonson to be Superintendent of State Police; he served as Nick Saban’s personal escort when he was LSU’s head coach.

Carrying that thought a bit further, it has always escaped me why a coach with upwards of 100 beefy, muscular jocks in protective pads and helmets surrounding him would need a bodyguard. Does anyone out there agree with me that this seems like a colossal waste of manpower, money and resources invested in training these men as law enforcement officers?

Before nabbing that plum assignment, Edmonson was the LSP Public Information Officer with precious little experience as a road trooper and zero experience in a supervisory capacity.

His appointment, for those who don’t remember, was made by Bobby Jindal soon after he became governor in 2008.

Besides the title of Superintendent of State Police, he also carries the title as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. http://www.dps.louisiana.gov/deputy.html

With the latter title, Edmonson is also responsible for the well-being of the DPS officers and that would include working for better pay for them as well as for State Troopers.

Instead, we learn that instead of going to bat for DPS, he is going after DPS with a bat. We have been told there was an intensive effort to ferret out the identities of those in DPS who spoke to us about pay issues for DPS officers. The only reason to seek those identities, of course, would be for reprisals.

In an earlier post about the recent pay increase for Edmonson and his inner circle, we said the raises were approved in House Bill 1 in the 2016 legislative session.

Not so. It turns out the salary for Edmonson is set by the governor at his discretion and Edmonson took it upon himself to the increase certain subordinates’ salaries to levels that exceed the State Police pay grid.

We recently obtained a copy of the DPS pay grid and we offer both for your comparison.

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The timeliness of Tuesday’s observation about holding our public officials accountable has come into play less than 24 hours after the post went up.

Today’s (March30) Baton Rouge Advocate revealed that only two of Bobby Jindal’s nine public-private partnership hospital contracts will be funded in the next fiscal year, a move that is certain to adversely affect low-income residents seeking medical care. http://theadvocate.com/news/15333761-70/seven-out-nine-public-hospitals-unfunded-in-next-years-budget-including-baton-rouge-and-lafayette

As severe as the projected cuts are ($58.4 million to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in Baton Rouge and $51.2 million to Lafayette General Health Center alone), Gov. John Bel Edwards appointee Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee has been AWOL at hearings before the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget.

The latest crisis is, of course, directly attributable to the short-sightedness of Bobby Jindal and his obsession with privatizing everything in state government that moved—even to the extent of having his lap dog LSU Board of Supervisors approve a contract turning over medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe to private concerns which contained 50 blank pages.

As things now stand, it appears the only hospitals to be spared the knife (if you will pardon a terrible pun) are the LSU Medical Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport and they survived only because they house LSU medical schools.

The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for a 10 percent funding cut for DHH. That comes to $283 million right off the top but the number escalates to $750 million when the loss of federal matching funds are factored into the equation.

Besides OLOL in Baton Rouge and Lafayette General, other public-private hospitals impacted by the cuts include those in Alexandria, Monroe, Houma, Bogalusa and Lake Charles.

LSU Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier testified that he was worried about the prospect of seeing the public-private arrangements go belly up. OLOL, he said, has 150 residents in training and Lafayette has 82. In all, LSU has about 800 residents scattered about the state.

State Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) noted that residents of north Baton Rouge, a predominantly black area, have lost both inner community hospitals when Earl K. Long was closed and later torn down and when Baton Rouge General-Mid City closed down its emergency room a year ago Thursday (March 31).

So with all this bad news swirling about, where was the DHH secretary?

Sure, DHH Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds testified but was unable to give clear cut answers to legislators’ questions about how funds saved from Medicaid expansion might be used to offset the DHH shortfall.

But Gee was still MIA. Reynolds said she was absent because of personal issues but that lame excuse was quickly shot down by DHH spokesperson Bob Johannessen told LSU’s Manship School News Service that Gee was spending spring break with her family.

Johannessen’s candor could get him in hot water. The boss never likes it when a subordinate reveals something that puts him or her in a bad light. And face it, this is a pretty bad light. He did recover some lost ground, however, when he added that legislators who were critical of her absence were “grandstanding.”

Well, yeah. That’s what politicians do. So why make it so easy for them?

Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville) said he doesn’t recall seeing Gee at any Appropriations Committee or Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget meetings.

Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington) was even more critical. “It’s getting a little troublesome that the secretary doesn’t come,” he said. “The taxpayers want to hear from the boss when we start talking about these kinds of dollars.” http://www.thenewsstar.com/story/news/local/2016/03/29/millions-dollars-cut-state-hospitals/82402336/

Spring break? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (the new polite way of saying WTF?)

Edwards appointed Gee, a professor of health policy and management in obstetrics and gynecology at LSU, to head DHH in early January. http://new.dhh.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/page/7/n/55

We just had a DHH secretary (Kathy Kliebert) whose brother-in-law got into hot water with the Louisiana Board of Ethics (does anyone have any idea how difficult that is to do after Jindal revamped the ethics board in 2008?) because he failed to disclose his employment by state Medicaid contractor Magellan Health Services. http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11707352-123/brother-in-law-of-state-health-secretary

We just got rid of a governor who for eight years steadfastly refused to be held accountable for his action (or inaction, as the case may be).

Her appointment was described as “among the most important appointments Edwards will make in his new administration” by NOLA.com back in January.

At the time of the announcement of her appointment, she said, “I pledge to you I will use all of the skills I’ve used as a physician, a patient, a parent, and a policymaker to do everything I can to improve the lives and health of people in this great state.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/01/john_bel_edwards_dhh_secretary.html

Dr. Gee, those noble words might mean a little more to the taxpayers of this state if you would take your position more seriously and appear at important committee hearings. A public face on an agency in crisis mode is more than important: it’s critical.

It’s all about accountability.

We’ve already had one agency head (Kristy Nichols) to duck out on a committee hearing to attend a boy band concert in New Orleans. We don’t need an encore of that performance. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/10/06/kristy-kreme-knows-one-direction-ducks-out-on-legislative-committee-for-boy-band-concert-at-n-o-smoothie-king-arena/

Going on spring break at a time when the low-income residents of this state are staring at having to overcome even greater hurdles to obtain decent health care sends the wrong message—a message that we’ve become all too familiar with over the past eight years.

And that message is arrogance.

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