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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

A state district court last week knocked down action taken by the Vermilion Parish School Board for violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. In what must surely be a first, I find myself in agreement with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the whole affair.

Suffice it to say, however, that Landry waited until there was a judicial ruling to take his courageous stand, a ruling 10 months in the making, while LouisianaVoice took a similar position on the removal of a teacher from a board meeting immediately.

For that matter, why the hell did it take 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith 10 months to issue a ruling on a matter that is supposed to be fast-tracked: the issue of public meetings of governmental bodies? To take 10 months to decide what was obviously a violation of state law is somewhat ludicrous.

Be that as it may, Smith not only ruled the school board violated the Open Meetings Law by having a teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, a Kaplan middle school English teacher, arrested and removed from the meeting because she questioned the board action of awarding Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise, from $110,190 to $140,188, while teachers have gone years without a pay increase.

Puyau, in an interview with a Lafayette television station, said, “By the time the teacher stood up in the audience to the time she was at the door, it was 53 seconds. During that 53 seconds, she was asked to sit multiple times, the gavel struck multiple times.”

Yes, she was asked to sit and yes, the gavel was struck multiple times in a desperate effort to keep Hargrave from further publicly embarrassing the board and Puyau. When the raise for Puyau came up on the agenda, Hargrave, the parish’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, attempted to ask how the board could award Puyau a raise “when you’re basically taking from the teachers.”

Board President ANTHONY HARGRAVE, an Abbeville attorney who should have known better, rapped his gavel while informing Hargrave she was not on the agenda and the item being discussed was the superintendent’s contract.

Hargrave was quick to point out that she was addressing the very issue the board was considering, his gavel-rapping notwithstanding. “This directly speaks to what you’re voting on,” Hargrave said as a city marshal moved in to slap handcuffs on her and lead her from the meeting.

To view the complete video, click HERE.

The video prompted a flood of outrage from throughout the country. News organizations, from the Charlotte Observer, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to US News & World Report, to NPR, to NBC, to the La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, and even the Baton Rouge Tiger Droppings picked up on the school board’s action.

Meanwhile, Fontana, referring to Hargrave as “the poor little lady,” said, “If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can’t control, out of the classroom to the principal’s office, under our policy we have the same rules.” Apparently, Fontana believed he could treat teachers as children and that getting arrested is the equivalent to being sent to the principal’s office.

And perhaps Fontana, after 25 years on the board, should have retired before deciding he was the final authority on open meetings and freedom of speech First Amendment rights.

And while Judge Smith took his time in issuing his ruling, he did take it to its ultimate conclusion in negating the school board’s approval of Puyau’s contract and his $30,000 raise—because the action was taken in what Smith said was a meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Puyau, obviously feeling he had been grievously wronged by the ruling (never mind the manner in which the board treated Hargrave—one of its teachers, no less), told Lafayette TV station KATC reporter Chris Wetly that he would appeal the decision.

“It has ruined myself and my family,” he sniffed. “It has broken me personally. It has changed me as a person…to understand that politics is ugly and they (whoever “they” is) will do anything they can to get rid of me as Superintendent.”

Hey, Puyau, trying getting arrested, being handcuffed, and led out a public meeting—for simply exercising your First Amendment right of free speech. Then you can talk about your life being “ruined” and your life “changed.”

And of course, there is Landry, always ready and willing to pick the low-hanging fruit. Here’s the headline from his news release on Monday:

Vermilion Ruling A Victory for Teachers, Public Declares Jeff Landry
AG Landry Pledges Continued Enforcement of Open Meetings Law 

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry said of the ruling, adding that Hargrave and her fellow teachers, “who have not received a pay increase in many years despite growing class sizes, should have absolutely been heard.”

Of course, that was an easy call to make for Landry, ever the politician on the prowl for votes wherever and whenever he can find them. “And I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” he said.

That’s a curious “pledge” for him to make. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits his intervention in parish affairs unless specifically requested to do so by the local district attorney. And as attorney general, he represents state boards, commissions, and agencies, meaning he is mandated to protect their interest, not ours. That means that in litigation over open meetings or public records, rather than enforcing the law, he defends state boards, commissions and agencies.

As ample illustration of that important distinction, observant readers will note that while LouisianaVoice WEIGHED IN on the controversy immediately, Landry, once a ruling had been made, had an opportunity to characteristically grab the spotlight with his news release. Prior to Judge Smith’s ruling, however, he had absolutely zero to say about the matter.

Nothing.

Nil.

Zilch.

So much for “diligent enforcement.”

 

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H24/7 WALL STREET, that independent service that publishes a multitude of surveys each day, has published a list of 38 metropolitan areas in the U.S. which have the highest poverty rates.

Four Louisiana metro areas made the list, ranging from 10th to 37th poorest.

New Orleans was not on the list, most likely because the affluent parishes of Jefferson and St. Tammany are included in the greater metropolitan area of the Crescent City.

The rankings are based on latest data released in September by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 24/7 Wall Street survey noted. And while poverty is on a general decline in the U.S. with 13.4 percent of Americans living below the poverty line, all four of the Louisiana metropolitan areas included in the list had poverty rates that exceeded 20 percent, as did 38 of the 382 metro areas reviewed in the U.S.

Seventeen of those 38 areas were in Texas and Georgia (5 metro areas each), Louisiana (4) and West Virginia (3). Texas had three cities ranked as the worst areas with McAllen, Texas ranked worst in the nation with a poverty rate of 30 percent, an unemployment rate in the highest 10 percent at 7.4 percent and a median household income of $37,106, also among the worst 10 percent.

All four Louisiana metropolitan areas—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, Hammond, and Alexandria—had unemployment rates that ranked among the highest 25 percent and three—Monroe, Shreveport-Bossier, and Alexandria—had median household incomes ranked among the worst 10 percent.

Monroe was the 10th poorest metro area in the nation, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (11th), Hammond (30th), and Alexandria (37th).

While the national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2017, Monroe had a jobless rate of 5.3 percent, followed by Shreveport-Bossier (5.5 percent) and Alexandria and Hammond (5.7 percent).

To review the complete list, go HERE.

Louisiana followed the trend of having a high poverty rate that coincides with low educational attainment and a large share of available jobs in low-paying sectors.

It’s a familiar story for the state that seems to have become locked into an unbreakable pattern of low positives and high negatives. Elected officials, meanwhile, continue to ignore the factors that keep its citizens among the lowest paid, unhealthiest, and worst educated in the nation.

And whenever efforts are exerted toward reversing the trend, there are always certain self-serving or bought-and-paid-for legislators standing by to block those efforts and lobbyists with different agendas who will wine and dine the lawmakers.

Even more disheartening, we continue to re-elect them.

Whoever said we get the government we deserve…..nailed it.

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That ugly scene in which a Sterlington High School coach goaded a 16-year-old student into drinking vodka straight from a bottle and then physically attacked the youth, hitting him with his fists in the chest and face seems to have involved about half the officialdom of Ouachita Parish and maybe even a few folks from a neighboring parish.

Before taking this narrative any further, it’s important to remain focused on the primary issue because there are a lot of peripheral issues that come into play in its telling and each, in its own way, is an integral part of the whole.

In a nutshell, here is what happened:

Jack Goode, a coach, a teacher, an adult responsible for educating and molding the lives of young people, allowed teenagers who came to him for more beer after their supply ran out to handle an AR-10 assault rifle and then forced a 16-year-old, Chandler Jones, to drink vodka against his wishes, called him a p***y when he got sick from the booze and threw up, threatened to beat the youth like his (Goode’s) own father never had, then did so, striking him in the chest and face, and threatened to kill him, according to testimony given at an LSPC hearing.

Goode subsequently attacked Chandler Jones, throwing him down in a ditch while threatening to kill the youth and later appeared on a motorcycle at the home where the teenagers were partying and cut do-nuts in the lawn.

Goode was arrested on cruelty to a juvenile and for contributing to the delinquency of a minor but Geary Aycock, the district attorney’s chief felony prosecutor, inexplicably reduced the charges to simple battery and Goode was sentenced to pay a $300 fine, a sentence that was subsequently suspended, and he was placed on unsupervised probation. A condition of his probation was that he would not be able to seek employment at Sterlington High School nor Sterlington Junior High School. That wording is noteworthy because is said nothing about his working at other schools in Ouachita Parish.

Chandler’s mother, Haley Jones, a deputy sheriff, was subsequently accused of causing damage to her patrol car, demoted to radio duty and pushed to the point of resigning her job when she wasn’t even at the scene the night of the April 2017 incident. The pressure, she said, was because her father-in-law, a retired state trooper, posted comments about the incident on Facebook and Sheriff Jay Russell found his comments objectionable.

Her immediate supervisor was demoted from captain to lieutenant in the wake of the brawl triggered by an intoxicated high school coach when he remained with Mrs. Jones after she learned that her son had been attacked by Goode because he felt she was too distraught to be alone.

The deputy who conducted the investigation of the attack on Chandler Jones by Goode received a verbal reprimand.

Chandler’s dad, a Louisiana state trooper was initially recommended for a 40-hour suspension for interfering with the sheriff’s department’s investigation but had that reduced to 12 hours by LSP Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, which was in turn upheld by the LSPC. The trooper, Joseph Jones (Chandler’s father), was off-duty, not in uniform nor was he in a state police vehicle when he arrived at Goode’s home, though he did admit he had drunk “eight to 10 beers” prior to hearing of the incident with his son. He also admitted to using profanity and offered to drop criminal charges against Goode if the coach would take the matter into a nearby field to handle the matter like men.

You can go HERE and HERE to READ REPORTER Zach Parker’s entire story of the incident and the LSPC hearing in the Ouachita Citizen.

All of which brings us to these two very obvious questions which must remain the center of the discussion after all else is said and done and which must be answered by the proper authorities:

How is it that Jack Goode is now back in a classroom just down the road from Sterlington at West Monroe High School (in Ouachita Parish) teaching children?

For the answer, LouisianaVoice did a little investigation of our own and what we found was certainly interesting, if not conclusive.

It seems that Jack Goode is a native of Richland Parish.

His mother, Linda Goode, is Assistant Administrator at Richland Parish Hospital in Delhi.

She is a MEMBER of the hospital’s Advisory Committee and Community Partners for the Richland Parish School-Based Health Center for the Delhi senior and high schools.

State Sen. Francis Thompson also is a MEMBER of that same committee.

Linda Goode made five CONTRIBUTIONS of $200 each to Thompson’s political campaigns between 2010 and 2017 and son Jack Goode chipped in another $200 in 2014.

As we said, those facts, while intriguing, are not conclusive, so LouisianaVoice sent the following email to Thompson Thursday at 4:14 p.m.:

Senator, did you intervene or otherwise have any input, influence, or involvement in the decision by the Ouachita Parish School Board to hire Jack Goode to a teaching position at West Monroe High School after he agreed to resign from his teaching/coaching position at Sterlington High School as a result his providing alcohol for and fighting with a 16-year-old student in April 2017?

Did you discuss the status of Jack Goode with anyone either:

  • In the office of the Ouachita Parish District Attorney,
  • At the Ouachita Parish School Board office, including but not limited to School Board President Jerry Hicks,
  • Any official of West Monroe High School, or
  • Any individual associated with the Louisiana State Police?

Did anyone, including Jack or Emily Goode or Linda Goode, ever contact you on behalf of Jack Goode as a result of the altercation between juvenile Chandler Jones and Jack Goode?

On Friday at 9:46 a.m., we received this one-word response from Thompson through his Delhi Senate office:

From: Thompson, Sen. Francis (District Office) <thompsof@legis.la.gov>
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2018 9:46 AM
To: ‘Tom Aswell’ 
Subject: RE: JACK GOODE

No.

Perhaps this is an issue the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education might wish to take up.

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I have to respectfully disagree with Kevin Reeves.

Col. Reeves, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent, penned a LETTER to the editor of the Baton Rouge Advocate today (Friday, Aug. 31) in which he questioned the appropriateness and purpose of the paper’s continued reporting of what he referred to as an “incident” that occurred “over 20 months ago.”

The “incident,” of course, was that ill-advised road trip by four troopers to a San Diego convention—in and LSP vehicle—by way of the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, which proved to be the tipping point that brought the career of Reeves’s predecessor, Mike Edmonson, already rocked with a succession of scandals, to an abrupt end.

Reeves, who by all accounts, has demonstrated his determination to set LSP back on course and to restore its image, said it is time for The Advocate (and LouisianaVoice, I assume, though we were not mentioned in his letter) to “move forward” and to pull back on its negative coverage.

I’m certain that Col. Reeves needs no reminder that it was the State Police Commission (the LSP equivalent of the State Civil Service Commission) that kept the issue alive by its interminable foot-dragging in its investigation of the trip.

Repeated attempts by retired State Police Lt. Leon “Bucky” Millet of Lake Arthur to prod the commission into a full-blown investigation of the trip, as well as several apparent violations of LSP regulations and state laws by the Louisiana State Troopers Association, were met by delays followed by yet more delays and postponements as the commissioners seemed determined to turn a blind eye to events occurring under their collective noses.

In the end, Reeves attempted to mete out appropriate punishment to the four troopers who pleaded ignorance of regulations and who said they were merely following the directives of Edmonson. (Ironically, such pleadings of ignorance never carry the day when a motorist is pulled over for a traffic violation.)

But again, it was the commission, in its resolve to tidy things over, that overturned Reeves’s punishment in a recent hearing held in Monroe. That, for good, bad, or indifferent, kept the story alive. When the head of Louisiana State Police is blocked from disciplining errant troopers for actions they well should have known were improper, that’s legitimate news and it should be reported.

First, it was Maya Lau who covered the State Police Commission. She was a quiet but effective reporter and did an excellent job until she left to go to work for the Los Angeles Times. She was succeeded by Jim Mustian who also held the commission accountable. Now he’s leaving for a job in New York with the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, yours truly is staying put. I’m not going anywhere and I will continue to report on all governmental wrongdoing, local or state.

For instance, there is still the pending matter involving State Trooper Eric Adams:

WAFB-TV story

Warrant-redacted

Criminal dismissal

Petition

Motion for Sanctions

Answer & Recon Demand-filed

 

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It was the end of February 1968 and John J. McKeithen was just completing his first term of office. (Unlike today, when statewide inaugurations are held in January, state elected officials then took their oaths of office in May.)

McKeithen had earlier upset long-standing tradition when he managed to change the State Constitution during his first term so that he could run for re-election. Previous governors could serve only a single four-year term before being required to (a) seek another office or (b) start raising funds and lining up support for a return four years hence. In other words, governors were barred from serving two consecutive terms.

But this isn’t about McKeithen’s savvy political machinations that allowed him to become the first modern-day governor to succeed himself. It is instead about another precedent set by the Caldwell Parish native: The invoking of gubernatorial powers under Article IX, Section 8 of the 1921 Louisiana State Constitution which resulted in the heretofore unthinkable act of suspending a sitting sheriff from office.

It’s about how the current State Constitution, adopted in 1974, removed that authority from the governor.

And it’s about how, given the freewheeling manner in which some sheriffs wield power in their respective parishes, it might not be a bad idea if that authority was reinstated if for no other reason than to serve as a constant reminder to sheriffs that their actions could have consequences.

Yes, sheriffs are elected officials answerable to their constituents and if they keep getting elected, what business would a governor have in being able to say otherwise, especially if the sheriff and governor were political adversaries?

And if the sheriff can fool the electorate, there are always the courts. But face it, the local district attorney and the sheriff are usually strong political allies who present a formidable team to anyone who would question their authority. There are exceptions, like DA Earl Taylor and Sheriff Bobby Guidroz in St. Landry, who don’t exactly gee-haw on much of anything.

But then there is Louis Ackal in Iberia Parish whose strong-arm tactics, especially where blacks are concerned, has become a source of embarrassment to the locals—or at least should be—and would be even more of a pariah if the local newspaper, the Daily Iberian, was courageous enough to call him out for his egregious flaunting of basic human dignity and his contemptuous trampling of constitutional rights.

In the case of Jessel Ourso of Iberville Parish, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, it was just a matter of a little Louisiana extortion that prompted McKEITHEN TO OUST OURSO on Feb. 9, 1968. Iberville was in the midst of a construction explosion with chemical plants sprouting up all along the Mississippi and the high sheriff was in a unique position to take full advantage of the boom.

Ourso placed his brother in a no-show job as a union steward for the Teamsters at one plant and contractors were ordered to lease equipment from Ourso’s nephew, State Trooper Jackie Jackson. The tipping point, though, was apparently Ourso’s requirement that contractors use a guard service owned and operated by the sheriff.

One witness described an atmosphere of “just plain racketeering and shakedowns through collusion of individual law enforcement officers and labor.” (Imagine that: the word collusion was being bantered about half-a-century ago.)

McKeithen’s decision to suspend Ourso was based on the recommendation of then-State Comptroller Roy Theriot, a recommendation which in turn stemmed from a report by Legislative Auditor J.B. Lancaster which laid out Ourso’s strong-arm tactics, including his preventing contractors from firing workers who were performing no work.

In Ackal’s case prisoners have died under mysterious circumstances, dogs have been loosed on helpless prisoners in the parish detention center, prisoners have been sexually abused, and women employees have sued—and won settlements—over sexual harassment claims.

A television network recently aired a documentary on Ackal’s fiefdom, concentrating on the death of Victor White, III, who, while he sat in a patrol car with his hands cuffed, was fatally shot in the chest—a shooting that was ruled by the local coroner as a suicide, as improbable as that had to be, considering his hands were cuffed behind him.

Ackal’s office has paid out more than $3 million in legal judgments and settlements in his 10 years in office—a rate of $25,000 for each of the 120 months he has been in office. And that’s not even counting the attorney fees of about $1.5 million. Those numbers are far more than any other parish in the state except perhaps Orleans.

And there are other cases currently pending against Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Like the LAWSUIT just filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette by Michael and Suzzanne Williams.

In that action, the pair said that sheriff’s detective Jacques LeBlanc, who has since left the department, obtained a search warrant for their home because he “thought” he had reason to believe the couple was in possession of “illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia, currency and other controlled dangerous substance(s).”

When voices were heard outside their bedroom, Michael Williams went to the front door. When he opened it, he was ordered out of the house and deputies stormed the house. They forced Mrs. Williams outside clad only in bra and panties, refusing to allow her to dress. Williams was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car while deputies ransacked their home.

Officers “did not find a scintilla” of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia or illegal narcotics, their petition says. Following a fruitless search, they were released with no charges being filed.

Williams subsequently appeared at the sheriff’s office on numerous occasions in an attempt to obtain a copy of the search warrant and affidavit but were provided with neither, although they have since obtained a copy of the search warrant through other sources. They still do not have the affidavit on which the warrant ostensibly was based. Instead, they were told by Dist. Judge Lewis Pittman, who signed the warrant, that LeBlanc swore under oath that he had good reason to believe they were in possession of drugs.

They are claiming that LeBlanc knew his statement to the effect that he believed they had drugs was false and that he committed perjury in order to obtain the warrant.

They are seeking $2 million in damages in their lawsuit.

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