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Archive for the ‘LSU’ Category

Jimmy Buffett sang about clichés and we hear them every day:

  1. Life’s not fair. We learn that quickly in our lives.
  2. Those who make the gold make the rules: a subsection of Number 1.
  3. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Well, not necessarily.

Here’s another one: Get over it. That’s what those with the gold would tell us.

What’s the point of all this?

Well, for starters, the average salary for state classified (Civil Service) employees in Louisiana was $44,737 per year in 2017. After four years of virtually no growth, the 2017 average salary represented a 6.3 percent increase over the four years of 2010 through 2013 (2.1 percent per year), when the averages were, in order, $42,187, $42,208, $41,864, and $42,140.

If you followed those figures closely, you saw that the average salary for classified employees actually decreased by $47 from 2010 to 2013.

Contrast that with the average salary for unclassified (appointive) employees. Those average salaries increased by $1,565 (2.5 percent) from $61,861 in 2010 to $63,426 in 2013 and were $65,357 in 2017, a difference of $20,620 over their classified counterparts.

Okay, it’s somewhat understandable that unclassified employees would make 46 percent more than their counterparts. They are, for the most part, in managerial positions, after all.

For the most part. But it’s important to keep in mind that these appointees are there only as long as the governor. Generally, a new administration brings in its own personnel to replace those of the previous governor.

Unclassified employees are generally along for the ride and they’re basically temporary employees who come into an agency knowing little of its workings or its personnel. Others are just political hacks who were awarded jobs for supporting the right candidate. The classified, or civil service employees, the ones who do the actual work of keeping the state running, are career employees there for the long haul.

Article X, Paragraph 9 of the Louisiana State Constitution lays out some specific prohibitions for classified employees:

Prohibitions Against Political Activities:

(A)”No…employee in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity; make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate; or take active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, candidate, or any political campaign…”

(C) “As used in this Part, ‘political activity’ means an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or to support a particular political party in an election.”

These restrictions were put in place to protect classified employees from pressure from political bosses to ante up campaign contributions or to campaign for a particular candidate. But they also placed limits on other outside activity.

But, no matter how closely you study the Constitution, Civil Service, or Ethics Commission rules, you will not see any reference to activity restrictions on unclassified employees

So, why are the rules that govern ethics and conflicts of interest for classified employees different than for unclassified employees? Why is there an uneven playing field?

Take, for example, the case of Andrew Tuozzolo. He’s the Chief of Staff for Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).

Tuozzolo, who was hired on Feb. 1, 2016, and who earns $105,000 per year, is the manager of WIN PARTNERS, LLC, of New Orleans, a political consulting firm.

By its very name and function, Win Partners necessarily involves its manager in political activity such as supporting candidates, soliciting contributions and taking part in the management of affairs for political candidates.

And it’s perfectly legal—because he’s unclassified.

Incorporation papers for Win Partners were filed with the Secretary of State on Aug. 18, 2010, and the firm began receiving fees almost immediately. Since Sept. 1, 2010, only two weeks after it was incorporated, Win Partners, and to a much lesser extent, Tuozzolo personally, have combined to receive $1.95 million in fees from candidates and political action committees.

Some of those candidates included State Reps. Walt Leger, Austin Badon; State Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, Butch Gautreaux, and Jean Paul Morrell; New Orleans City Council members Joseph Giarrusso and Helena Moreno, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and at least one statewide candidate (Buddy Caldwell).

Since his hire by Gee on Feb. 1, 2016, Win Partners has slowed somewhat in activity but that can be attributed mainly to the fact that the only major elections were for New Orleans municipal offices.

Since beginning his employment with LDH, Win Partners has collected $36,900 in fees for working in the campaigns of Moreno, Giarrusso, and Leger.

Without even taking into consideration the question of when he would have time to devote to a political consulting company, the work itself is enough of a conflict of interest to get a classified employee fired.

And then there’s the matter of Dr. Harold D. Brandt who, from April 7, 2016 to Sept. 2, 2017, served as the Medical Vendor Administrator for LDH. Brand’s salary was $156.25 per hour which, based on a 40-hour week, comes to $6,250 per week, or $312,500 for a 50-week year, allowing a couple of weeks for vacation.

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Biweekly Pay Rate
9/2/17 Present Resignation
4/7/16 9/1/17 LDH-Medical Vendor Admin Physician IV $156.25/hour (4/7/16 to 9/1/17)

 

The only problem with Brandt’s serving as the Medical Vendor Administrator for LDH is that he also is on the STAFF of Baton Rouge Clinic.

Since April 7, 2016, Dr. Brandt’s date of employment, Baton Rouge Clinic has received more than $83,000 in PAYMENTS from LDH.

If, as the LDH Medical Vendor Administrator, Dr. Brandt’s duties included approval of vendor payments to Baton Rouge Clinic, that would place him in a position of a potential ethics violation, unclassified or no, but only if he owned greater than a 25 percent share of Baton Rouge Clinic.

The wording of the ethics laws says if an employee owns greater than 25 percent of a business, that enterprise is prohibited from doing business with the employee’s agency. Dr. Brandt likely does not hold a 25 percent interest in Baton Rouge Clinic but he certainly has a financial stake in its serving as a vendor for the state.

That 25 percent interest certainly didn’t come into play with one classified employee a few years back. A state vendor sent her, unsolicited, a baked ham for Christmas. It was delivered to her office unbeknownst to her. She was fined $250 by the Ethics Commission.

That’s because classified employees are prohibited from accepting anything of value (other than a meal, to be eaten at the time it is given) from vendors.

But unclassified employees running a political consulting firm on the side or monitoring payments to a clinic where he is employed apparently are okay.

So, there’s no point in even discussing legislators who purchase season tickets for LSU and Saints football and Pelicans games, leasing luxury cars, or who even pay personal income taxes from campaign funds—all prohibited on paper but certainly not enforced.

Is a level playing field really too much to ask?

At the end of the day, ethics violators are as thick as thieves but it’s just the low hanging fruit that the Ethics Commission, the OIG and the Attorney General’s offices go after—like a kid in a candy store. The tough cases they avoid like the plague. If they would only think outside the box, there’re plenty of fish in the sea for them to go after if they’d just take the tiger by the tail.

(How many clichés did you count in that last paragraph?)

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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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