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Archive for the ‘LSU’ Category

Remember THIS STORY as Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s office in 2008?

That was in 2008. Fast forward to May 16, 2019 and we have a thoroughly-researched and informative story by Baton Rouge Advocate reporter ANDREA GALLO in partnership with ProPublica, a leading investigative journalism website that details just how impotent, inept, and dysfunctional the Louisiana State Board of Ethics has become, thanks to Jindal’s “Gold Standard of Ethics,” passed in 2009, immediately after he assumed the office of governor.

In the 10 years since Jindal literally gutted the State Ethics Board of any enforcement powers, the board has become the antithesis of bodies like the State Board of Dentistry and the State Board of Medical Examiners which have the unbridled power to impose draconian penalties against dentists and doctors in order to support their exorbitant budgets.

Both extremes are classic examples of how political considerations trump due process and fairness in state government.

One bankrupts professionals who must accept coercion and extortion or face financial ruin while the other currently has more than $1 million in uncollected campaign violation fines dating back to (ahem) 2008, the year Jindal was elected.

Campaign finance report enforcement is all but non-existent, if the Louisiana Ethics Administration’s list of delinquent fines is any indication.

The administration’s WEBSITE lists 62 pages totaling about 700 uncollected fines dating back 11 years and totaling nearly $1.1 million, a testament to inefficiency and waste.

Moreover, the dental and medical boards, as well as other regulatory boards, have broad power to initiate their own investigations, something the ethics commission lacks. It can only investigate alleged ethics violations if it receives an official complaint.

But wait. Only elected or appointed officials may file a complaint; your average Louisiana citizen “has no standing” to file a complaint.

In other words, those not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official include:

  • A legislator who contracts with the state for hurricane debris removal (a real, not hypothetical case) is not subject to an ethics complaint unless said complaint is made by a state or local official.
  • A legislator uses campaign funds to pay his federal income taxes (again, an actual case), there is no ethics violation without an official complaint.
  • Another legislator using campaign funds to lease luxury vehicles for himself and members of his family and to purchase season tickets to Saints, Pelicans and LSU games.
  • Or a former governor publishing a book and then using funds from his tax-exempt foundation to purchase thousands of copies of the book at a nice profit to himself.

Convenient, no?

Jindal’s good-government charade began as soon as he took office and as a result, ethics board members resigned en masse in protest.

But could Jindal have harbored ulterior motives in pushing for his “reforms”?

On January 25, 2008, right after he took office, he was hit with his own $2,500 FINE for failure to timely disclose more than $100,000 spent on his behalf by the state Republican Party. A month later, he opened his first SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature dedicated solely to ethics reform.

At the same time, the Jindal reform package, when passed, allowed pending ethics fines against political allies, including then-state representative but current Grambling State University President RICK GALLOT, disappear.

The same couldn’t be said for two CALCASIEU PARISH PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS who led unsuccessful recall efforts against Jindal and then-House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. The teachers found themselves facing fines of $1,000 each for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. You can bet that little transgression wasn’t overlooked by Jindal and his “Gold Standard” of ethics.

But it’s impossible to place all the blame on Jindal.

In July 2007, more than a year before Jindal’s election, the ethics board allowed its chief administrator, Gray Sexton, resign and then rehired him in a different capacity—all to AVOID A REQUIREMENT under a new ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice, a move that on its face, might appear unethical to many.

But it didn’t end there. Sexton has since retired but now represents defendants before his former employer. Among his clients::

  • Lafayette developer Greg Gachassin;
  • Tammany Assistant District Attorney Harry Pastuszek, Jr.;
  • John the Baptist Parish Engineer C.J. Savoie and his company, C. J. Savoie Engineers;
  • Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph;
  • State Rep. Nancy Landry;
  • John the Baptist Parish President William Hubbard;
  • Former state senate candidate Shawn Barney;
  • Shreveport businessman Bobby Jelks;

And as far back as 1986, a full 17 years before Jindal’s first campaign for governor, it was common for the ethics board to be used selectively to punish politicians or public servants who had fallen from favor.

That was the year that former LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead and Baton Rouge Advocate publisher Doug Manship were FOUND GUILTY by the ethics board in connection with a flight by Brodhead and his wife to Manship’s private club in LaPaz, Mexico, on Manship’s private plane.

Then-LSU President James Wharton used the ethics charges as leverage to oust Brodhead even though Wharton was aware of the trip and even encouraged the Brodheads to take the trip, according to Brodhead’s account in his book Sacked!

Strangely enough, no ethics violations investigations were ever initiated against Wharton and LSU Alumni Association President Charlie Roberts for accepting dove hunting trips from LSU Board of Supervisors member Sam Friedman, nor were ethics violation charges ever pursued against Friedman who owned a Holiday Inn hotel outside Gainesville, Florida, the hotel at which the LSU football team was quartered when it played in Gainesville.

Nor did the ethics board pursue charges against legislators who routinely accepted dove-hunting trips from lobbyists, choosing instead to “take no action.” In fact, a story in The Advocate said, “The Board’s staff attorney refused to say who the lawmakers were, when or why they took the trip.”

The time has long since past when the legislature reinstated the enforcement powers of the ethics board.

The alternative would be to admit the futility of any pretense at enforcement, or even the existence of, governmental ethics and simply shut down the agency as excess baggage.

We would probably never notice the difference.

 

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LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been REINSTATED and all those Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) supporters can breathe a sigh of relief.

But does anyone even remember the shabby treatment of STEVEN HATFIELD by LSU? Did anyone ever protest the disgraceful manner in which he was shown the door? Well, a handful of SCIENTISTS did protest Hatfield’s firing, but who listens to scientists anyway? Certainly not Donald Trump.

Hatfield, for those who may not remember, was an expert on biological warfare who, along with about 30 others, found themselves on the FBI’s list of “persons of interest” in connection with its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Apparently, this honor was bestowed upon him because he had once passed through Fredrick, Maryland, where the anthrax envelopes were mailed from. Actually, he worked as a biodefense researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick—enough to make him a “person of interest.”

Even though the FBI repeatedly said that Hatfill was not a suspect in the case, it nevertheless directed the university to prohibit Hatfill from participating in any projects financed by the Justice Department.

LSU meekly complied without asking the FBI for a shred of evidence. The university denied that its decision was influenced by the fact that LSU received substantial funds from the Justice Department for programs that trained law-enforcement and public health officials to handle bioterrorism attacks and similar crises.

Not satisfied with firing Hatfield, LSU went a step further in firing his boss, STEPHEN GUILLOT, director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training and the Academy for Counter-Terrorist Education.

And our legislators wonder why so many professors are looking at Louisiana in their rear-view mirrors.

Can you say “extortion”?

Hatfill had the last laugh, however, settling his LAWSUIT against LSU and the federal government for $4.6 million.

The odyssey of a former LSU BAND DIRECTOR got more ink than the injustices inflicted upon Hatfield.

The Baton Rouge SUNDAY ADVOCATE was liberally PEPPERED with stories SPECULATING with breathless anticipation the next steps for Wade and LSU. The gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth even carried over to Monday with yet another story that DICK VITALE had returned to a Baton Rouge radio show to discuss the monumental ongoing saga that, to rabid LSU fans at least, carries all the weight of say, the selection of a new Pope.

Yet, only minimal coverage was given to the manner in which LSU canned hurricane scientist IVOR VAN HEERDEN following his criticism of the U.S. Corps of Engineers because his public statements were “hurting LSU’s quest for federal funding across the board.”

Now that’s the humanitarian approach: go right for the bottom line.

The fact that van Heerden’s criticism was vindicated when tests of steel pilings revealed the very deficiencies, he had described that led to the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina did nothing to prompt LSU to rush to reinstatement.

So, he did the obvious: he FILED SUIT filed suit against LSU in 2010 for wrongful termination.

LSU, if nothing else, is consistent. It doggedly defended the lawsuit, even after losing one key ruling after another until Jed Horne, a columnist for THE LENS, a New Orleans online news service, wrote:

Journalists and members of the LSU community who are aware of the ongoing persecution are disgusted and somewhat mystified that the university has chosen to go after van Heerden, rather than quietly settle this shameful case. It seems especially odd in light of the state’s increasing vulnerability to catastrophic storms and van Heerden’s proven expertise in anticipating their wrath—not to mention the high cost of protracted litigation as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes devastating cuts to the university’s budget.

Finally, after throwing $435,000 of taxpayer funds down a rat hole to defend the suit (benefiting no one but the state’s defense attorneys) LSU finally decided to settle in February 2013 for an undisclosed amount. Again, taxpayer dollars but this time the court concealed from public view the amount of the settlement, itself a disturbing trend when public dollars are involved.

While the local media in Baton Rouge have given extensive coverage to the travails of poor Will Wade (six-year, $15 million contract), not a nano-second of air time nor a single sentence has been devoted to the manner in which the LSU Dental School swept a multi-million-dollar scandal under the rug by firing the whistleblower who revealed that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective. That the deficiencies resulted in excruciating pain and at least eight suicides wasn’t enough to prevent the department from ruining the career of DR. RANDALL SCHAFFER.

But thank God Will Wade has been reinstated.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI  John Lombardi had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

One of the things that sealed Lombardi’s fate was his hesitancy to endorse the surrender of the LSU Medical Center via a contract containing 55 blank pages. The beneficiary of Jindal’s generosity, by the way, was a sitting member of the LSU Board of Supervisors who headed the outfit that took over University Medical Center in Shreveport. But no conflict there, apparently.

Also loath to approve the giveaway of one of the finest teaching hospital systems in America were LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend. On July 17, 2013, there was a meeting at which the privatization of the state’s system of LSU medical centers was pitched.

Both Cerise and Townsend were present at that meeting and both EXPRESSED THEIR RESERVATIONS. Members of the Board of Supervisors who were at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a two-page summary of the meeting prepared by Cerise.

With days, two of the most respected members of the LSU medical community were gone. Fired.

But LSU has Will Wade back in the fold and all is well.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

And who could ever forget the humiliation the LSU Board heaped upon legendary football coach Charles McClendon by making the man wait in his car back in 1979 while the board decided his fate? He was canned because he couldn’t beat Bear Bryant. Well, guess what? No one else was beating the Bear either. If that is the barometer for a coach’s survival at LSU, then no coach’s job is safe as long at Nick what’s-his-name is at ‘Bama.

And the ham-fisted manner in which Athletic Director Joe (Duke lacrosse death angel) Alleva handled the LES MILES firing had all the delicacy and subtlety of Jack the Ripper.

But Will Wade is back and that makes everything okay.

Until the other shoe drops from the ongoing FBI investigation, as it almost surely will.

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A prudent individual who follows the news might well be asking what the hell’s going on out at LSU?

It’s certainly a fair question.

The disconcerting stories have been piling up at Louisiana’s flagship university with each new story causing more head-scratching than the last.

In 2015, SIGMA CHI fraternity was kicked off campus for three years following an investigation into drug use and hazing on October 17 at the chapter house. A fraternity member’s overdose death that same day was not connected to incidents at the frat house, investigators determined.

In September 2017, PHI DELTA THETA’s general headquarters announced that it had formally suspended and revoke the charter from its LSU chapter following the binge-drinking and hazing death of Maxwell Gruver despite the fact that the fraternity had an alcohol-free housing policy and a blanket anti-hazing policy in place.

Then apparently unable to see the writing on the wall, DELTA KAPPA EPSILON (DKE), better known as the Dekes made infamous by the movie Animal House, got its charter revoked by the national organization following the arrest of nine present and former DKE members following reports of hazing that involved urinating on pledges and forcing them to lie in ice water, on glass.

Without attempting to minimize the gravity of those incidents—students died, after all—binge drinking has always existed in frat houses as boys away from their mommies and daddies for the first time, go more than a little crazy on testosterone overload.

But what about the adults at the Ole War Skule? How do they explain their unrestrained behavior of late?

First there was the LSU basketball program that came under the dual microscopes of the NCAA and the FBI. Head coach WILL WADE was suspended after FBI wiretaps caught him allegedly discussing payments to a recruit with sports agent Christian Dawkins. The player, Javonte Smart is a standout freshman guard.

Actually, Wade was not suspended until he refused to meet with LSU administrators to discuss the investigation. Wade initially agreed to talk but canceled when he learned NCAA investigators would be in the meeting.

But the basketball probe took an ugly turn.

Before news of the basketball investigation became public knowledge, another scandal rocked Baton Rouge when it was learned that JOHN PAUL FUNES was arrested for embezzling more than $800,000 from the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation.

Funes made more than $283,000 per year as president of the foundation which is the fundraising arm of OLOL hospital that raises money for such projects as the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

In addition to allegedly embezzling the money from the foundation, he reportedly also gave foundation funds to the parent of an LSU ATHLETE, supposedly as salary for a job.

The dust still hasn’t settled on the OLOL-LSU basketball drama even as new revelations keep popping up like some kind of Whack-a-Mole game of financial chicanery.

On March 19, a state audit revealed that the LSU SCHOOL of VETERINARY MEDICINE paid a faculty member more than $400,000 in salary and benefits over more than three years even though the “employee” failed to carry out his employment duties from August 2015 to September 2018.

Despite being told by LSU to appear for work for the Fall 2018 semester, and despite his failure to do so, he was still employed as of January 24.

“The faculty member knowingly received 38 months of LSU salary and benefits without performing commensurate work,” the audit said.

So, how in the name of fiduciary responsibility was this allowed to happen? Who was minding the store out at the School of Veterinary Medicine? Someone has to be held accountable for this.

Three days after that story made news, on March 22, it was learned that four LSU administrators earning six-figure incomes had RESIGNED after failing to comply with a state law that requires that they register their vehicles in Louisiana and obtain a Louisiana driver’s license.

The law was passed in 2013 at the urging of the late C.B. Forgotston in a bill sponsored by then State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite).

The four were identified as:

  • Andrea Ballinger, chief technology officer: $268,000 per year;
  • Matthew Helm, assistant vice-president in information technology services, $202,000;
  • Susan Flanagin, director in information technology services, $149,000, and
  • Thomas Glenn, director of information technology services, $14,000.

All four are from Illinois and three of the four worked part of their time for LSU from Illinois

In addition to their salaries, three of the four were provided stipends to help with moving expenses. Ballinger received $20,000; Helm $15,000, and Flanagin $5,000. So, just how were those moving expenses used by the three if they didn’t physically move here?

All four said had they known of the law requiring registering their vehicles and obtaining state driver’s licenses, they would not have taken the LSU jobs.

So, this was not explained to them when they were hired?

And persons making six-figure incomes are allowed to work for a state university while living three states away? Sweet.

Universities, by their nature, tend to be an autonomous part of the communities in which they are located, impenetrable to the outside world, but this is ridiculous.

Someone has to answer for these lapses and that someone begins and ends at the top of the food chain at LSU: President F. King Alexander on whose watch all the above events have occurred.

LouisianaVoice wrote extensively about ALEXANDER almost exactly six years ago when it became evident that he was in line to become the next LSU president.

King was appointed during the Jindal administration and Gov. Edwards indicated he wanted to keep King in place. Was that a wise decision in retrospect?

Former chairman of the Louisiana Board of Regents RICHARD LIPSEY is calling for the firing of both Alexander and Athletic Director Joe Alleva for what he calls a “lack of leadership.”

Alleva, you may remember, was athletic director at Duke before coming to LSU. While at Duke, rape charges were brought against the school LACROSSE team, charges that proved to be a hoax and which ultimately cost the local district attorney his law license over his eagerness to prosecute the players.

Alleva, meanwhile, didn’t even wait for charges to be filed. He cratered early and dismantled the lacrosse program before due process could be carried out.

Fast forward to LSU, 2015. Alleva badly botched the Les Miles situation, hovering on the verge of firing the likable coach before Miles saved his job with a 19-7 win over TEXAS A&M. But the die had been cast and everyone knew it was a matter of time before Alleva, who was born with a serious birth defect (no spine) would cave again to the big money donors who wanted Miles’s head.

Four games into the 2016 season, Alleva PULLED THE PLUG and fired Miles following a heartbreaking 18-13 loss at Auburn, proving once and for all he possessed the subtlety and tact of an air raid siren at a wake.

I don’t know if Lipsey’s recommendation is the needed remedy at LSU. The Board of Supervisors, after all, was appointed to oversee operations of the LSU system and not to be mere puppets of the governor.

Oh, wait, my mistake. Turns out they were.

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JIM BROWN, Louisiana’s erstwhile legislator, secretary of state, gubernatorial candidate, state insurance commissioner and self-described victim of an over-zealous FBI HATCHET JOB, today has a radio talk show and publishes an Internet blog as well as dabbling in the BOOK-PUBLISHING business.

On May 6, Brown will turn 78 but as a former track star at the University of North Carolina (he was the first athlete recruited by the legendary Dean Smith), he has certainly shown no signs of slowing down.

But this isn’t about Jim Brown per se. It’s about a post by Brown that reminded me just how unfair American justice can be and how badly the FBI can screw up.

Even FBI directors and agents who screw up and are eventually promoted to director of the FBI.

Agents like James Comey and former Director Robert Mueller.

In the interest of full disclosure and as an open admission that I am not an “objective news reporter” by any stretch, I want to say it pains me greatly to write anything that puts Donald Trump, whom I detest with every fiber in my being, in a favorable light—even by comparison. I will add that I purchased Comey’s book and actually started reading it. But I put it down after a few pages of self-serving fluff about what a great kid he was growing up, how he was bullied, and how he rose above it all. It just seemed to be a little too me, me, me.

I know I will receive critical comments, and though I am no fan of Hillary Clinton, I remain firmly convinced that the accident of Donald Trump (elected with a substantial minority of popular votes) is the worst tragedy to befall this nation since the Civil War. By comparison, LBJ was a benevolent father figure, Nixon a saint, George W. Bush a towering intellect, and Bill Clinton a paragon of marital fidelity.

But here’s the thing, as Brown reminds us in his POST: Comey, abetted by his boss, then-FBI Director Mueller, literally ruined the life of an LSU professor a mere 16 years ago.

It all actually started in 2001. Mueller had been appointed FBI Director in July of that year by W. In a matter of days after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the first of several envelopes containing deadly anthrax were sent to NBC News, the New York Post and the publisher of The Sun and The National Enquirer tabloids. In October, two more such envelopes were received at the Senate offices of Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. In all, 17 persons fell ill and five died from anthrax inhalation.

It didn’t take long for fingers to start pointing (incorrectly) to an obscure medical doctor named Steven Hatfill who once had worked at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which, coincidentally, had stocks of anthrax, according to a lengthy 2010 article in THE ATLANTIC, entitled simply, “The Wrong Man.”

Hatfill immediately became the central figure in a media circus and the FBI was happy to oblige the need to find a scapegoat for the anthrax letters. He was working at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a large defense contractor, from 1999 to 2002, where he was involved in developing a brochure for emergency personnel on ways in which to handle anthrax hoax letters.

He wasn’t surprised, then, when the FBI wanted to interview him for what he thought was the agency’s pursuit of foreign terrorists. He assumed that the FBI was routinely interviewing all scientists who had worked at USAMRIID.

It didn’t seem to matter to the FBI that anthrax is a bacterium and Hatfill was a virologist who never handled anthrax.

Investigators raided Hatfill’s girlfriend’s townhouse, telling her, “Your boyfriend killed five people.” He was fired from SAIC with the official explanation being that he had failed to maintain a necessary security clearance (a disqualification that would eliminate about half of Trump’s White House staff).

And here’s where the local angle comes in. He thought he’d landed on his feet when LSU hired him as the associate director of its new program designed to train firefighters and other emergency personnel to respond to terrorist acts and natural disasters. The pay ($150,000) was to be the same as he’d made at SAIC.

But Justice Department officials, in their desperation to nail Hatfill, told LSU to “cease and desist” from using him on any federally-funded program. Accordingly, he was fired before his first day on the job. Then other prospective jobs fell through. Like the anthrax he was suspected of sending, he became toxic. One job fell through his fingers like so much sand when he emerged from a meeting with prospective employers only to find FBI agents videotaping them.

For two years, his friends were interrogated, his phone was tapped, surveillance cameras recorded his every move. (Comey recently said in his ABC-TV interview with George Stephanopoulos that if an FBI agent can’t put his investigation together in 18 months, he should be fired.)

The FBI brought in two bloodhounds from California whose handlers insisted the dogs could sniff the scent of the killer on the anthrax letters—never mind that sniffing the letters would have been lethal to the animals. When Hatfill petted the dogs, their handlers said the dogs responded “favorably,” proof that Hatfill was the killer.

If the FBI had shown even a fraction of investigative professionalism in the dog handlers’ backgrounds as they had in Hatfill’s, they might well have sent the handlers—and their dogs—packing. Defendants in California who had been convicted on the basis of the dogs’ behavior were later exonerated. In one case, a judge called the dog handlers “as biased as any witness that this court has ever seen.”

But Mueller was infatuated with the dog evidence, however, personally assuring Attorney General John Ashcroft that they had their man. Comey, asked if Hatfill might be another Richard Jewell (the Atlanta security guard wrongly accused of the Olympics bombing), was just as adamant, saying he was “absolutely certain” there was no mistake.

Well, as we all know by now, Hatfill was innocent.

Mueller and Comey’s certainty that he was the anthrax killer eventually cost the Justice Department nearly $6 million in a LEGAL SETTLEMENT. Refusing to attend the press conference announcing the resolution of the case, Mueller was less than contrite about ruining an innocent man’s life. Responding later to reporters’ questions, he said, “I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation. He added that it would be erroneous “to say there were mistakes.”

But, Mr. Mueller…there were mistakes. There was incompetence. There was recklessness. Most of all, there was a total lack of concern for an innocent man’s life—all for the benefit of advancing the careers of ambitious men too caught up in their own careers to think of the impact their actions might have on another’s livelihood.

As much as I loathe Trump and all he stands for, I fervently hope that Mueller—and by extension, Comey—haven’t traveled down that same path in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

And last of all, but certainly not least, thanks to Jim Brown for reminding us of a dark chapter in LSU’s history, a chapter in which there should be everlasting shame, one that ranks right alongside that of the sorry saga Ivor Von Heerden’s firing over his criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following Hurricane Katrina (it turned out his criticisms were dead-on)—neither of which should ever be forgotten.

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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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