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Archive for the ‘NGOs’ Category

The best thing about blogging is that we are not bound by the constraints of pseudo-objectivity as are the reporters for your local daily. Every post for us is an op-ed piece in which we are free to express our disgust with or enthusiasm for people and events.

At this stage of the 2014 legislative session in Baton Rouge, we tend to get a little confused so excuse us if we can’t quite remember if it was Billy Wayne Shakespeare or Forrest Gump who said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Despite the rapid onset of CRS Syndrome, we have no trouble or hesitancy in calling something—or someone—stupid if that is the way we perceive it.

And sometimes we are willing to go a step further in injecting words like “corruption,” “duplicity,” “sleaze” (we especially like that one), or even “malfeasance.”

And so it is that after receiving a heads-up from our friend and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston, we employ each of these adjectives in describing the actions of the Senate Finance Committee on Sunday after 10 of its 11 members (Sen. Dan Claitor was the lone member to cling to his principles) discarded their oaths of office—their sworn duty to protect the interests of the people of Louisiana—in favor of political expedience of the very lowest sort by ripping $4.5 million from the budget for Louisiana’s developmentally disabled and allocating the money for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at the NOLA Motorsports Park in Jefferson Parish.

It’s bad enough that this state, thanks to the idiotic fiscal foolishness of Gov. Bobby Jindal, is so deep into the financial dumpster but still places a priority to lavishing millions of dollars on things like something called an IndyCar Series race, but to take that money from developmentally disabled citizens who so desperately need state services just to survive is nothing short of criminal.

Jindal, while traipsing all over the country with his goofy grin, rejects expansion of Medicaid that might alleviate some of the suffering, and after vetoing last year’s appropriation of extra funding to help shorten the waiting list for services for the developmentally disabled, now displays the sheer callousness, or stupidity, of committing to find the money for facility and track improvements. http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Disable_to_Racetrack.mp3

That’s correct. He made a commitment to the owners of the facility to drop $4.5 million on them. And who benefits from this largesse? The state? Teachers? Health care? State employees?

You can check those boxes no, no, no and no. A privately owned auto racetrack would be the correct answer.

Our first impulse was to plunge into the campaign contributions of campaign fund abuse poster boy Republican Sen. John Alario of Westwego in Jefferson Parish, president of the Senate. The whole deal just had that smell to it.

But, no, that was not the connection. His contributions from the principals were negligible in the overall scheme of things—something in the area of $3,500. That’s not enough to pay for one of Alario’s legendary meals at a fancy New Orleans eatery or to pay for one of his luxury boxes at the Superdome.

Nor were there any contributions to any of the Finance Committee members from NOLA Motor Club, LLC., operators of the raceway.

Our next step was to check in with the Secretary of State’s web page and conduct a corporations search for NOLA Motor Club, LLC. Voila! Whose name should pop up as one of the principals? Laney Chouest, that’s who.

So, who is Laney Chouest, you ask?

Well, he also showed up as an officer in a few other corporations run by the politically active Chouest family of Galliano. Their main business is in shipbuilding and marine transportation and Laney Chouest was listed as an officer in Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc., Alpha Marine Service Holdings, LLC., and Beta Marine Services, LLC., to name only three.

So, armed with that information we did a campaign contribution search of only the last name of Chouest and we hit the mother lode.

Between 2007 and 2010, members of the Chouest family and their various businesses contributed a whopping $106,500 to Jindal.

Laney Chouest was active in the political arena during that same period, contributing tens of thousands of dollars to minor candidates, but he was smart—or lucky—enough to stay away from Jindal and members of the Senate Finance Committee, thus making the direct link difficult.

The question then becomes why the hell is the state bailing out this family, which can well afford to make its own updates and repairs to the racetrack? Why indeed.

To take money from Louisiana’s very most unfortunate citizens and hand it to the Chouest family on a silver platter is not only unconscionable, reprehensible, irresponsible, immoral, or whatever other appropriate word you may wish to invoke in condemning this classic example of political corruption, it should be criminal and should carry the same penalties as embezzlement, public bribery or child abuse.

Instead of retreating to reality TV, those of us fortunate enough to have mentally and physically healthy children, siblings, parents and spouses should take a few minutes and consider the plight of our neighbors who are not so fortunate. They are the ones who can never enjoy dining out in a restaurant, going to a movie, taking family vacations or watching your reality shows because providing care to family members in dire need is a full time job without the downtime of cheering for LSU, Southeastern or ULL in this year’s regionals, super regionals or College World Series.

Extreme? Strident? Outraged? Damn right, hell yeah on all three.

The oath of office our elected officials take comes with a huge responsibility to place the welfare of our citizens uppermost above all else. Jindal and 10 members of the Senate Finance Committee have turned their backs on that promise by once again knuckling under to our absentee governor (and demanding this appropriation on his part) and in so doing, have committed the most disgraceful form of malfeasance.

Accordingly, here are the names of the 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee, how they voted on the amendment to take the $4.5 million away from the developmentally disabled, and their email addresses—just in case you might have something to add to what’s already been said here.

Sen. Jack Donahue (Chairman) (YES)R-Mandeville  donahuej@legis.la.gov
Senator Norbèrt N. “Norby” Chabert (Vice-Chairman) (YES) R-Houma  chabertn@legis.la.gov
Senator R.L. “Bret” Allain, II (YES) R-Franklin  allainb@legis.la.gov
Senator Sherri Smith Buffington (YES) R-Keithville  smithbuffington@legis.la.gov
Senator Dan Claitor (NO) R-Baton Rouge  claitord@legis.la.gov
Senator Ronnie Johns (YES) R-Lake Charles  johnsr@legis.la.gov
Senator Eric LaFleur (YES) D-Ville Platte  lafleure@legis.la.gov
Senator Fred H. Mills, Jr. (YES) R-New Iberia  millsf@legis.la.gov
Senator Edwin R. Murray (YES) D-New Orleans  murraye@legis.la.gov
Senator Gregory Tarver (YES) D-Shreveport  tarverg@legis.la.gov
Senator Mack “Bodi” White (YES) R-Baton Rouge  whitem@legis.la.gov

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They’re baaaack!

It’s been a scant seven months since State Treasurer John Kennedy fired off that news release claiming that 36 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) owed the state either an audit their expenditure of state funds or a combined refund of up to $4.5 million.

The resulting furor resulted in political watchdog C.B. Forgotston’s publicizing the corporate structure and frequent lack of corporate standing of many of those 36 NGOs which in turn prompted a flurry of hostile communications and threats of lawsuits on behalf of  State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb (D-Baton Rouge), whose husband, Sterling Colomb was the recipient of a $300,000 state grant in 2007.

Without rehashing the details of that little political firestorm, suffice it to say that none of those 36 NGOs are back this year asking for state handouts but it certainly did not deter others from seeking legislative largesse at a time when Louisiana continues to be strapped for cash to improve highways, fund higher education, or to provide basic services for the physically, mentally and economically disadvantaged citizens of Louisiana.

In all, 87 NGOs, including one identifying itself with the attention-grabbing name of Diaper Bank (at least it’s not a diaper exchange), have submitted requests for funding from the state totaling more than $109 million and some of the applicants may surprise you—and maybe not.

While most requests are of modest amounts from local councils on aging, community centers, local economic development corporations and other non-profit social services, a mere 34—less than half the total number of applicants—account for requests of $100,000 or more but those 34 combined for more than $108.4 million in requested funding, according to figures obtained from the state.

Topping the list are the Audubon Nature Institute (ANI) ($32.4 million), The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana (BRF) ($11.48 million), and the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport (two requests of $10.165 million and $2.5 million).

Their requests combined for $56.545 million, or nearly 52 percent of the total dollar amount requested for all 87 applicants.

ANI, which operates the Audubon Zoo, the Audubon Aquarium, and a golf course, is requesting $12 million in Priority One, or first-year funding to finance ongoing construction projects which total more than $300 million since 1977, its application says. The $12 million was approved by the legislature in 2013 and was subsequently approved by the State Bond Commission as a noncash line of credit. The remainder of its $12 million request is broken out in subsequent year priorities, the application indicated.

Perhaps the most controversial of all the requests is that of BRF.

The $11.48 million it is seeking is in addition to more than $120 million in hospital improvements and expansions the state is expected to bankroll after BRF assumed operations last October at the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Shreveport—a move that the Jindal administration insists will ultimately save the state money—even though the transaction has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The request is a two-part application for BRF itself and not for either of the hospitals. The first is for $6.53 million for upgraded and expanded equipment for the PET Imaging Center, which was approved by the legislature in 2013 as a Priority Two project.

The second part is for $4.95 million for Micro-Imaging Equipment for the Molecular Imaging Center.

BRF is headed by CEO John George who also sits on the LSU Board of Stuporvisors which last year approved the transfer of the two hospitals to BRF, apparently circumventing conflict of interest laws with some fancy sleight of hand.

The State Fair Association is seeking $10.165 for repairs to Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, the venue where Elvis gave his final performance as a member of the Louisiana Hayride on Dec. 16, 1956, just two years after the facility was constructed.

A second request of $2.5 million is for the construction of an exhibit building on the fairgrounds to replace the one that was previously demolished. It will house the LSU AgCenter exhibits during the annual State Fair and will be leased as a multipurpose venue during the remainder of the year, the application said.

Other requests in order of amounts from most to least include:

  • Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans—$10 million;
  • Teach for America, New Orleans—$5 million;
  • Food Bank Association, Baton Rouge—$5 million;
  • Louisiana Association for the Blind, Shreveport—$4.926 million;
  • Lighthouse for the Blind, New Orleans—$4.8 million;
  • Kingsley House, New Orleans—$4.415 million;
  • Daughters of Charity Services, New Orleans—$$3.737 million;
  • Capitol City Family Health Center, Baton Rouge—$2.349 million;
  • New Orleans Jazz Orchestra—$1.45 million;
  • The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans—$1.124 million;
  • WYES-TV (public television), New Orleans—$1 million;
  • Sci-Port: Louisiana Science Center, Shreveport—$1.3 million (two requests, $1 million and $300,000);
  • Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network (LATAN), Baton Rouge—$750,000;
  • The Developmental Institute for Rural & Urban Excellence, Monroe—$750,000;
  • Bayou Civic Club, Larose—$646,491;
  • Jefferson Performing Arts Society, Metairie—$600,000;
  • Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation—$544,020;
  • District 2 Community Enhancement Corp., New Orleans—$500,000;
  • South Louisiana Economic Council, Thibodaux—$467,995;
  • Washington Parish Fair Association, Franklinton—$403,100 (two requests of $353,100 and $50,000 for replacement and repairs to building and roofs);
  • Tangipahoa Diaper Bank, Hammond—$316,000;
  • New Orleans Bowl—$280,577 (to pay a share of the financial guarantee of $500,000 each to the Sun Belt Conference and Conference USA whose conference champions pay in the New Orleans Bowl);
  • Opportunities Industrialization Center of Ouachita, Monroe—$250,000;
  • Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Baton Rouge—$250,000;
  • Special Olympics Louisiana, Hammond—$250,000;
  • Woods Products Development Foundation, Pineville—$214,000;
  • Teaching Responsible Earth Education, New Orleans—$200,000;
  • Healing Hearts for Community Development, Metairie—$151,388;
  • Helping Assist Multi-Purpose Community Organization (HAMPCO), Monroe—$105,104;
  • Louisiana Restaurant Association Education Foundation, Metairie—$100,000;
  • Nicholson Redskins Booster Club, Marrero—$100,000.

Teach for America (TFA) submitted another of the more controversial requests.

The billion-dollar organization pays its founder more than $390 million a year to train non-teaching college graduates for about five weeks during the summer months and then installing them in classroom settings with no experience. For that, local school boards are obligated to pay TFA teachers’ salaries and to pay TFA $3,000 per teacher recruited—even as long-time teachers are being laid off because of budget cuts.

So, if TFA receives $3,000 per teacher placed in local school systems and the systems must then pay TFA teachers’ salaries, what is the $5 million from the state used for?

No one really knows because the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is complicit in the cover-up. In fact, one BESE member, Kira Orange Jones, also serves as executive director of Teach for America—Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta.

The Louisiana Food Bank Association provides food for more than 609,000 persons each year through some 700 community and faith-based organizations in every parish in the state.

The Louisiana Association for the Blind provides vocational training and rehabilitation services visually impaired Louisiana citizens in much the same manner as the Lighthouse for the Blind.

Kingsley House’s application described the organization’s purpose as “to help maintain required infrastructure that underlies essential service delivery by the agency to nearly 6,000 people that meets the need for services of at-risk children, families, medically fragile/disabled adults and seniors in 12 parishes across southeast Louisiana.”

Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans attempts to “restore medical services to the New Orleans East community,” an area it claims is “underserved.”

Capitol City Family Health Center performs many of those same functions for a seven-parish area surrounding Baton Rouge.

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra will use its grant money, if approved, to expand existing programs, according to its application.

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art would use its $1.1 million to renovate the Patrick Taylor Library for use by the museum.

Sci-Port is part of the Louisiana Science Center which in turn is affiliated with the Louisiana Children’s Museum and will use its funding to bring a children’s museum with IMAX technology to Shreveport.

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From time to time at LouisianaVoice, someone will ask us how we get the information we use for our stories.

The answer is quite simple, really.

Instead of listening to what elected officials, political appointees and attorneys are saying, we listen to what they’re not saying.

And then we find out where the appropriate public records are and we go get them, sometimes finding it necessary to take legal action to obtain what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Louisiana. Our driving obsession is that public records are not the exclusive domain of whomever happens to be holding office at any given time.

The public’s right to know should be uppermost in any government—unless that government or a particular politician or bureaucrat has something to hide and we feel that having something to hide is the only reason for not releasing public records, deliberative process be damned.

And so, we choose to ask one more question. We know the politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers are going to put the best possible spin on any issue, so we must ask one more question and if we’re not satisfied with the answer, there are always the public records.

That’s the beautiful thing about a democracy; there’s always a paper trail when the politicians and their lawyers quit talking—or when they talk and we hear what they don’t say loud and clear.

And so it was when Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson fired off that six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy in which she chose to attack Kennedy for his political aspirations as much as to defend her client, State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton Rouge), that we listened.

Dorsey, in 2007, pushed through the legislature a $300,000 appropriation for the Colomb Foundation in Lafayette which Kennedy in July of this year listed as one of three dozen non-government organizations (NGOs) that owed the state some $4.5 million for non-compliance in reporting on how their grant money was spent.

The Colomb Foundation received its funding to design and build a community center in Lafayette Parish.

The Colomb Foundation is run by Sterling Colomb who is married to Sen. Dorsey.

Pierson, however, went for Kennedy’s jugular when she dropped her bombshell in her letter: Dorsey and Colomb were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant, she said.

It was one of those “aha” moments that attorneys love. A “gotcha,” as it were, the implication being that there could be no conflict if Dorsey was not married to Colomb at the time.

Advantage, Dorsey.

But wait.

There was something in Pierson’s declaration about their marriage date that was not said—like how long had they known each other or how long had they been in a relationship? Could Dorsey have used her position to funnel $300,000 in state funds to her future husband?

We listened but all we could hear was crickets chirping. So, we embarked on a little paper chase that took only a few minutes and a couple of clicks of a computer mouse. And what do you suppose we found?

On Jan. 5, 2007, one Sterling Colomb contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Yvonne Dorsey, according to records obtained from the Louisiana Ethics Commission. And while the $300,000 grant to the Colomb Foundation was indeed approved three years before their marriage, the campaign contribution from her future husband came approximately four months before the opening of the 2007 legislative session during which the grant to his foundation was approved—a little more than three years prior to their marriage.

Aha.

Your move, counsellor.

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The heretofore one-person debate over state funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been ramped up a notch with Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson’s six-page letter to State Treasurer John Kennedy that challenged Kennedy’s contentions that the Colomb Foundation owes a refund in lieu of an additional accounting of how it spent a $300,000 grant awarded the foundation in 2007.

The Colomb Foundation in Lafayette, run by Sterling Colomb, received its “public purpose” grant to “design and build a much needed community center that will house social services activities and programs that will be directed toward improving the quality of life through advocacy in crime prevention, distribution of health information and in an effort to decrease mortality rates among the at-risk population, and enhancing youth education through reading,” Pierson quoted from the foundation’s grant application.

Colomb is the husband of State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey (D-Baton rouge) but Pierson noted the two were not married until 2010, three years after the issuance of the grant.

The Colomb Foundation is one of three dozen NGOs that Kennedy said in July owed the state more than $4.5 million because of non-compliance in reporting how grant money is spent.

Several of the recipient NGOs no longer exist and the whereabouts of many of the NGO officers and representatives are unknown.

The state Capital Outlay Bill (Act 24) is peppered with local NGO projects that consume tens of millions of dollars of state taxpayer funds at a time when the state faces repeated annual budgetary shortfalls and while the number and amounts of NGO funding projects has diminished, their presence is still felt. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=858547&n=HB2 Act

Included in this year’s construction spending bill were such items as:

  • $200,000 for a sports complex in Princeton in Bossier Parish;
  • $500,000 for a water system in Bienville Parish;
  • $245,000 for planning and construction of a community and recreational center in Ascension Parish;
  • $380,000 for the purchase of the Lamar Dixon Development in Ascension Parish;
  • $450,000 for planning and construction of a multipurpose community center in Avoyelles Parish;
  • $300,000 for an airport industrial park in De Soto Parish;
  • $1 million for development of an industrial site in East Carroll Parish;
  • $500,000 for a new industrial facility in Evangeline Parish;
  • $1.3 million for an activity center in Franklin Parish;
  • $185,000 in first year expenditures for a recreational complex in Iberia Parish;
  • $3 million for a new hospital in Iberville Parish;
  • $2 million for a community center in Iberville Parish;
  • $300,000 for street lighting and security upgrades for the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority;
  • $5.2 million for recreation and achievement center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $3.5 million for construction of Parc des Familles in Jefferson Parish;
  • $735,000 for the Woodmere Community Center in Jefferson Parish;
  • $400,000 for the Avondale Booster Club and Playground upgrades in Jefferson Parish;
  • $17 million for a new hospital in St. Bernard Parish;
  • $220,000 for civic center planning and construction in St. Martin Parish;
  • $300,000 for recreational improvements at Kemper Williams Park in St. Mary Parish;
  • $125,000 for the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission;
  • $980,000 for a community health center and livestock facility addition in St. Tammany Parish;
  • $400,000 for a multipurpose livestock and agricultural facility in Tangipahoa Parish;
  • $180,000 for a recreation complex in Vernon Parish;
  • $180,000 for improvements to rodeo arena in Vernon Parish;

Also funded were various local court houses, jails, water and sewer systems, local airports, fire districts, parish road improvements, councils on aging, and municipal projects too numerous to list here.

For a list of 2013 NGO funding requests, go here: http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/NGO/NgoSearch.aspx

A spokesperson for Sen. Dorsey has contended all along that the organization is in compliance but Pierson’s letter of Wednesday, Nov. 20, was the first time that an attorney has weighed in on the issue.

An addition to her letter which she said she was sending to news outlets (LouisianaVoice was not among those to whom she sent copies of her letter—and yes, we feel slighted—although she did include a couple of long-retired reporters in her list of 24 media contacts) “because of all the fanfare you (Kennedy) have caused and the press coverage you demanded through your press releases, Pierson attached 10 exhibits—just like a lawyer in a real trial—which contained another 61 pages of receipts, emails and letters.

Among the exhibits were receipts from retail outlets for supplies, emails from the Legislative Auditor’s office indicating that office had found no irregularities, and even emails and letters from Kennedy’s office indicating its satisfaction with documents provided by the foundation.

“I suspect that the compliance by the foundation does not fit into your apparent political agenda for re-election or, even better, a campaign for governor,” Pierson wrote.

“On behalf of the Colomb Foundation, I demand it be deemed in compliance and that this matter be closed…and a letter be sent to Mr. Colomb ‘notifying him of the closure,’” her letter said.

“Failing the closure of the matter by your office on or before noon on Dec. 2, 2013, I have advised Mr. Colomb and the Foundation that a suit for mandamus may be filed, directed to you to compel you to perform the only remaining ministerial duty of closing the file because there is no further accounting to be done for any legitimate purpose,” she said.

And of course, her letter contained the requisite threat to sue for damages: “In addition, your prior actions, performed under the color of state law, have caused substantial damage to the Foundation and Mr. Colomb, if the matter cannot be amicably resolved by that date a claim for said damages will also be filed.”

kennedy letter

kennedy letter EXHIBITS

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