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Could it be that Gov. John Bel Edwards has finally seen and heard enough about the shenanigans of Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent Mike Edmonson?

Has he been embarrassed one too many times by the state’s top cop who was foisted on him by the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police?

If the tone of this NOLA.com STORY by Julia O’Donoghue Wednesday (Feb. 22) is any indication, Edmonson’s days at LSP may indeed be numbered.

Edwards earlier this week ordered auditors from the Division of Administration (DOA) to conduct an investigation into a trip taken by a gaggle of LSP personnel and hangers-on to witness Edmonson receive an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) at its conference in San Diego.

Of particular interest to Edwards was the expenditure of thousands of dollars in salaries, overtime, fuel, lodging and meals for four State Troopers who drove an unmarked State Police vehicle assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command to the event. That trek included a side trip to and overnight stays in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Three of the four combined to claim 105 hours of overtime on the trip to and from San Diego, figures that appear far out of line with the distances traveled.

For example, each of the four claimed 12 hours to travel from the Grand Canyon resort city of Tusayan, Arizona, to Las Vegas, a distance of only 270 miles, a torrid pace of 22.5 mph. They also claimed 12 hours to drive from Las Vegas to San Diego, a trip of only 290 miles. For that leg of the journey, they put the petal to the metal, averaging a scorching 24 mph.

Can you say payroll fraud?

Maj. Derrell Williams did not claim overtime hours because those of the rank of captain or above are prohibited from claiming overtime. He did, however, claim compensatory leave time for the same hours.

While investigators’ focus will apparently be on the overtime charged by the four and the reasons for their side trip, there are several other aspects of the entire San Diego affair that should be considered:

  • Why was the original award nomination of Maj. Carl Saizan, a former State Trooper of the Year, pulled in favor of Edmonson?
  • Why was it necessary for so many State Police personnel to accompany Edmonson on this trip?
  • Why was Michelle Hyatt, the wife of Lt. Rodney Hyatt and a civilian non-LSP employee, allowed to accompany her husband in the State Police Ford Expedition on that cross-country trip? (The Expedition, by the way, is permanently assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy.
  • Why was part-time student worker Brandon Blackburn paid 53.5 hours for attending the conference? And why was Brandon Blackburn, the son of the late Frank Blackburn, formerly the LSP legal counsel, allowed to travel to the conference on his father’s ticket?
  • Finally, since each of the 15 LSP personnel who accompanied Edmonson on the trip, were on the clock and were paid for attending the conference, how many of those personnel actually attended conference sessions for which they charged the state?

LouisianaVoice made inquiry of IACP for attendance lists for the various sessions but we received the expected response: “We do not provide attendance records or make any information about our attendees publicly available.”

Of course, the DOA investigation is barely underway so it’ll be some time yet before any determination is made regarding Edmonson’s future.

One LouisianaVoice reader made an interesting observation when he said in an email to us this morning that the LSP superintendent’s position “is a job needing turnover every so often to avoid a J. Edgar Hoover situation.”

But should the governor decide that Edmonson has embarrassed his administration one too many times and that he must go, it’s crucial that he make the correct choice in selecting a successor—and not listen to the sheriffs and chiefs of police. He—and this is critical—must be his own man in making that decision.

If he simply drops down the chain of command a notch and names Dupuy, Lt. Col. Jason Starnes, or Maj. Beckett Breaux, nothing will have changed and LouisianaVoice will be guaranteed an uninterrupted flow of stories from Independence Boulevard.

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Gov. John Bel Edwards has ordered an investigation of that Las Vegas trip by four State Troopers.

The Trooper Underground has commissioned a poll of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s job performance.

Louisiana State Police (LSP) insiders confide that Edmonson is more nervous than he’s been since that attempt in 2014 to slide a bill amendment through the legislature that would have given him a $55,000 per year increase in his retirement income.

Want a good laugh in the meantime? When asked about his signature on the expense forms submitted by Derrell Williams, one of the four who drove the vehicle, Edmonson said (are you ready for this?) he allows his assistant to approve/look over this stuff and use his signature stamp.

hard-at-work-at-torrey-pines

And yet….and yet, no one has addressed that tacky action of yanking the nomination of a highly respected former Trooper of the Year so that Edmonson could stand in for the award in the company of a gaggle of his inner circle who made the trip to San Diego with him for the ceremony.

And while there has been plenty focus on the overtime pay claimed by the four who drove an unmarked State Police car to San Diego via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, little attention has been given the salaries paid the others who attended the conference at which Edmonson was honored. And even less attention has been given to how Michelle Hyatt, wife of Lt. Rodney Hyatt and a civilian, was allowed to ride in the Expedition on that trip in violation of state regulations.

working-hard-at-the-searsucher-san-diego

San Diego’s nice this time of year

These five guys on the clock?

Why aren’t they at the IACP conference?

In fact, it appears that officials at LSP have circled the wagons as records promised by Public Information Officer Maj. Doug Cain have not been forthcoming.

Gov. Edwards Monday ordered an INVESTIGATION by the Division of Administration (DOA) into (you know someone was going to say it) LSP Travelgate. The investigation will be conducted by DOA auditors.

While the investigation will begin with the San Diego trip, Richard Carbo, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said auditors would look for patterns and “keep going further back if they find additional information.”

It could, however evolve into a good news-bad news scenario:

In what has to be encouraging to Edmonson’s critics, Carbo said the DOA investigation would be conducted apart from an internal investigation ordered by Edmonson, who has opposed efforts to bring in outside investigators to review the Las Vegas trip for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Auditors may also look into presence a fifth passenger, a civilian, who also made the trip in the Ford Expedition permanently assigned to Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy. Michelle Hyatt posted photos of her and husband, Lt. Rodney Hyatt (one of the four who drive the Ford Expedition) at the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam on Facebook but has since taken them down. Those photos raised speculation, since confirmed by Edmonson, that she may have been a passenger in the vehicle, a violation of state policy.

The results of that nine-question SURVEY are certain to be interesting and will be published later this week.

Each question provides five possible answers. Without listing the answer choices, the questions include:

  • How effectively does Colonel Edmonson use company (agency) resources?
  • How much integrity does Colonel Edmonson have?
  • How consistently does Colonel Edmonson reward employees for good work?
  • How consistently does Colonel Edmonson punish employees for bad work?
  • How much trust to you have in Colonel Edmonson’s ability to make the right decisions?
  • How well do Colonel Edmonson’s priorities match up with the goals of your company (agency)?
  • How comfortable do you feel voicing your disagreement with Colonel Edmonson’s opinions?
  • How knowledgeable is Colonel Edmonson about the laws that matter to your company’s (agency’s) industry (field)?
  • Is Colonel Edmonson fit to lead the Louisiana State Police?

Optional: So that those taking the survey may verify that respondents are state employees, please provide your name. Names will remain strictly confidential, but if you are uncomfortable doing so, it is not required.

Optional: Provide any comments you wish to be provided to the media and the governor.

 

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LouisianaVoice was founded more than five years ago on the belief that not enough was being done to expose official wrongdoing. I set out with the stated purpose of connecting the dots between campaign money and bad law and going into any parish, anytime to contribute in some small way to rooting out the rot that has for too long corrupted this state.

Of course, there have been the occasional book reviews, stories about friends (and pets) who have died, and a couple of April Fool’s stories that apparently were of sufficient originality to have tricked some of my readers. But those aside, I have stuck steadfastly to my original mission of shining a light into the dark corners of the state that I love in the hope of somehow bringing about a change in the way public officials have historically treated the citizenry like so many serfs in some personal fiefdom.

And while there has been no shortage of such stories to write (notwithstanding my wife’s tongue-in-cheek prediction of a couple of years ago that I’d have nothing to write about when Bobby Jindal left office), there is the occasional story that merits special attention.

This is one of those.

It’s about a man who carried out what is probably one of the most painful things a man can do: turn in his own son for suspected criminal activity, in this case committed against the district attorney’s office in the 12th Judicial District in Avoyelles Parish.

The father’s name is Charles Riddle III.

He is the District Attorney for Avoyelles Parish.

Riddle is a former State Representative who, in 1999 introduced legislation that became Act 1118 which prohibited the state from recovery of the costs paid by the state under Medicaid for individuals residing in nursing homes. The act protected the patients’ homes from seizure.

He co-authored the bill that made Louisiana State University in Alexandria a four-year school and in 1997. He also introduced the constitutional amendment that ultimately allowed LSU to take control of the Louisiana Charity Hospital System which created one of the premier teaching hospitals in the nation until the system was dismantled by Bobby Jindal.

He was reelected in 1995 and 1999 and resigned from the legislature in 2003 after being elected as district attorney. He was re-elected without opposition both in 2008 and 2014 and in 2008 he was elected President of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.

His selection in 2012 to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame appears in retrospect to have been justified by his subsequent candor as a father and his dedication as a public official sworn to uphold the law impartially, uniformly and fairly.

Riddle took to Facebook with what the BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE described as “an emotional post that his son, John Riddle, is also being investigated for possible wrongdoing in Avoyelles Parish—in a case where the DA’s Office is the alleged victim and his father is the complainant.”

Riddle told The Advocate he could not discuss the case in which his office was victimized in detail but did say his son took advantage of his access to “certain things” because of their relationship. He said he personally called Marksville police to report what he felt was a criminal violation by his son.

In an apparently unrelated development, John Riddle was arrested by St. Tammany officials for trashing a hotel room and for possessing counterfeit money.

The elder Riddle said he wanted to defuse the story about his son because, he said, people have tried to use his son’s legal problems “in an effort to gain a more favorable result by threatening me in a form of blackmail, thinking that I would do anything to protect my son,” Charles Riddle wrote.

Riddle said his office would be recused from involvement in any case filed against his son in Avoyelles Parish; instead, the matter would be handled by the state Attorney General’s Office.

“Know that as a parent, I love my son and will do what any parent would do to obtain the correct result. Yet, I will not compromise this office. I do not condone any action that he is accused of doing,” he said.

In light of recent stories by LouisianaVoice about preferential treatment accorded by district attorneys in St. Landry and Livingston parishes to an individual with a laundry list of felonies and misdemeanors, including multiple DWIs, Charles Riddle’s story, while heartbreaking, is nonetheless a refreshing change from the norm.

In short, Charles Riddle’s character and honesty has shone through in this unfortunate incident and his handling of a difficult matter has shown all of us what public service should be about.

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Two seemingly unrelated news stories appeared in my laptop emails on Monday, one noteworthy for nothing more than its abject absurdity and the other even more so for the ominous threat it poses to the ability to hold elected officials accountable.

And while LouisianaVoice rarely delves into national politics because, well, truth be told, it’s admittedly way beyond my pay grade (and I was always taught to “write what you know”), both these stories have potential trickle down repercussions if any legislator is dumb enough to take his (or her) cue from the Man with the Golden Hair.

In the first story, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway issued a dire warning, heavy with legal overtones, to “be careful” BE CAREFUL what we say about her boss. Her remarks, of course, were directed to retiring Senate Minority Leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid.

Reid last week said the election of Trump “has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America” And that, in the minds of Conway—and presumably Trump—borders on libel (and, of course, “crooked Hillary” is simply campaign rhetoric).

It’s no secret that Trump, on the one hand, champions tort reform whereby corporations can be better protected from lawsuits over such trivial oversights as exploding batteries, toxic dumping, sexual harassment, etc. On the other hand, however, Trump has made it equally well know that he favors more liberal libel laws which would make it easier for public officials to sue.

Well, Trumper, you can’t have it both ways. The landmark case Sullivan v. New York Times makes it quite clear there must be a “reckless disregard for the truth” for a public official to recover damages.

Were that not the case, there might well have never been a Watergate scandal, the White House plumbers, Bebe Rebozo Iran-Contra revelations, Sen. John Edwards, the all-too-cozy relationship between Wall Street and The Clintons, Bushes, and even Obama or any number of other investigative pieces about public corruption. And to quote an old Baton Rouge State-Times editor responding to a reader who was irate over the treatment the paper was according Richard Nixon: “Exactly what is it about Watergate you would rather not have known?”

And out in Arizona, we have a bill pending BILL PENDING before the state legislature that appears to be right out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook and if it is, you can look for clones of this bill to pop up across the landscape, including, in all likelihood, Louisiana.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills (wouldn’t you just know it would be a Republican who wants to put the kibosh on the public’s right to know?) has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult to obtain public records if public officials feel the requests are “unduly burdensome or harassing.”

That’s pretty open-ended and a decided advantage to any public servant who feels my request might be “unduly burdensome.” Wouldn’t Kristy Nichols have loved that? No, wait. It wouldn’t have mattered with her; she simply ignored my requests until she was damned good and ready to comply—if she even decided to comply. Okay, Mike Edmonson. He’d feast on a law like that.

Lest you think such a bill would never pass, consider this: this is Kavanagh’s second attempt at passing the bill and last it passed the Senate by a 22-7 vote, but lost in the House by a 40-19 vote.

LouisianaVoice will be watching closely to see if any similar such legislation is introduced in the 2017 session. If it is, then we will know without a doubt that this is an ALEC-sponsored bill.

ALEC, you may recall, meets at retreats, mini-conventions and conferences to draft “model bills” for members to introduce in their respective legislatures back home.

More recently, it has launched a sister organization, American City Council Exchange (ACCE) that has the same goals as ALEC, only on a municipal as opposed to state level. One of ACCE’s objectives, outlined in an Indianapolis conference last July, is to have its members become familiar with public records laws and to “be on the lookout for frivolous or abusive requests.”

Sen. Kavanagh couldn’t have said it better himself.

But what he conveniently overlooks is this: In any company, be it a mom and pop hardware or one of those mega box stores, management has the unchallenged right to know what its employees are doing when representing the company, be it processing orders, reducing errors, or one-on-one contact with the customer.

The President, Congress, 50 governors, Kavanagh, his fellow legislators and other elected officials throughout the land are chosen by the people. They in turn hire subordinates to carry out the day-to-day functions of government. So Kavanagh and every other elected or appointed public official in this country works for…the people.

And we, the people, have a right to examine the work they’re doing on our behalf.

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Okay, class, listen up. Today’s lesson is about a place called the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center—so called because it originally was constructed as a weather station..

For the sake of simplicity (and because I’m too lazy to write it out every time) we will hereafter refer to it as M-WEOC.

If you are of my generation and you read the book or saw the 1964 movie Fail Safe, featuring Henry Fonda, Larry Hagman, Walter Matthau and Dom Deluise, among others, it  was called Mount Thunder, but the reference was obvious.

M-WEOC is a civilian command facility located in Virginia and is a major relocation site (read: a place to run and hide) for high-level (not you and me, noooo) civilian and military officials in the event of a national disaster so there may be a continuity of government. (Some—any—continuity of government would be pretty nice right now.)

The underground component—the bunker—contains 600,000 square feet. Following the 9-11 attacks, most of the congressional leadership (read: cowards) was evacuated to Mount Weather by helicopter. Being elected Speaker of the House does carry certain privileges.

The National Gallery of Art from 1979 to 1981 developed a plan to transport valuable paintings in its collection to Mount Weather via helicopter. (Are you kidding me?). While I approve of the arts, there are a lot of things I would be trying to save before some painting of a limp pocket watch or a Campbell soup can or something painted by a guy with only one ear. Apparently those high-level civilian and military functionaries plan to sell the artworks when they emerge from the underground bunker at M-WEOC—if there’s anyone left to sell them to.

Would you like to hear who else is included among the A-list to be evacuated to M-WEOC?

FEMA. That’s right, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the same people who brought you those splendid recovery efforts for Katrina and more recently the devastating floods of Southeast Louisiana.

M-WEOC, it seems serves as FEMA’s center of operations.

If an enemy ever attacked this country, FEMA, with its unprecedented record of ineptitude, might be spared just so it could finish off what the bombing missed. Given its performance record, that scenario may be closer to the truth than we would like to believe.

A friend and regular reader of LouisianaVoice observed somewhat caustically, “If we have a nuclear attack or other disaster that takes most of the rest of us out. High-ranking FEMA officials will be among those saved. What a waste.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate’s REBEKAH ALLEN wrote on Tuesday (Dec. 12): “For the amount of money FEMA is spending on temporary mobile homes for flood victims, the federal agency could buy displaced residents modest houses in some parts of Baton Rouge.”

The basis on which she wrote that was a document provided to U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves which revealed that FEMA’s typical cost for the purchase, transport and installation of each FEMA trailer placed on the property of a flood victim is a cool $129,200.

If the “manufactured housing unit” (a FEMA euphemism for trailer but hey, a rose by any other name…) is placed in an existing commercial mobile home or travel trailer park, the cost of leasing the site pad increases the tab to $149,000 and if placed in FEMA designated group sites, then the price jumps to $170,000.

That’s for a living space of a whopping 980 square feet. My 2,300-square-foot home cost me less than $129 thou.

(And John Kennedy thinks the state has a spending problem.)

“You’re saying, ‘We may be slow, but at least we’re more expensive,’” Graves said.

Here’s the breakdown, according to Allen:

  • Cost of FEMA trailer: $62,500;
  • Installation: $23,000;
  • Maintenance: $15,400
  • Transportation: $5,000
  • FEMA’s administrative overhead cost: $23,000.

Tito Hernandez, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer (how’s that for a snappy title?), had a well-reasoned, logical explanation.

Of course he did.

The FEMA trailers meet strict safety standards set by the federal government.

Well, Tito, every doublewide mobile home sold on every commercial lot in America meets “strict safety standards” set by the federal government. “The FEMA unit is strong, it’s a higher quality, it’s more solid than many being sold commercially,” he said.

Sure they are, Tito. And we still remember those pieces of crap foisted off onto those wretched Katrina victims. Weren’t we also told then what a great deal those were?

Borrowing the mantra of former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. William Proxmire, Graves calls the money spent on the trailers the “fleecing of America, example no. 10,000.”

That same friend/reader that I alluded to earlier experienced his own FEMA nightmare when his 33-year-old rental trailer flooded in Central:

“We had little choice but to get a new one at 100 percent our expense or walk away from the property entirely. Why didn’t we have flood insurance you might well ask?  Even if we had, we would have gotten nothing because a 33-year-old trailer has no value. We replaced this old trailer with a brand-new, but smaller one (1,000 sf living area) – ordered it a week after the flood and it still is not ready for occupancy since we still don’t have it plumbed so there is no water.

“Everything about this has been a nightmare from permitting through trying to get people over there to do site prep, electrical, etc.  We are very lucky to have finally convinced the City of Central to give us a “temp to perm” electrical connection so the air conditioning could be installed last Thursday. I could go on and on and on, but to get to the cost:

“I had a slab poured, lot work done, including demolition of the old trailer, paid extra to have the new trailer elevated to 2 feet above the basic flood elevation, paid and engineer to do two flood elevation certificates during the permitting, have done extra work on the trailer, including adding two porches at a cost of $7,000 and doing other extras like fence repairs, putting in blinds, buying new hardware for the washer/dryer, etc. I project with all this, my total cost will be about $62,000.

“This whole FEMA thing is utterly and completely stupid. With all the extras I did that FEMA isn’t even doing, it cost me less than half what they paid for doing a piss-poor job of installing some trailers. And what are they going to do with them when they get them back in 18 months? FEMA is another of the many fine reasons people have absolutely no faith their government can do anything right. Everybody would have been a lot better off if FEMA had simply given them $129,000 and, based on the total costs, it would have probably cost taxpayers less and would certainly have been less hassle for everybody. Don’t you think somebody could rent a pretty nice place for $7,166.67 per month for the 18 months they are allegedly loaning people the ridiculous trailers for? I am disgusted and angry about this whole thing. I don’t know what the answer is at FEMA, but some ass-chewing and firing might help.”

But not to worry. When the next national disaster hits, our critical congressmen, generals and FEMA will be safely ensconced in that underground bunker at M-WEOC (with sufficient food and drink) while the rest of us kick into survival mode.

We can only hope FEMA has a better contingency plan for that disaster than it does for hurricanes and floods.

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