Archive for the ‘ORM, Office of Risk Management’ Category

Did Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols violate state law when she approved an amendment to the Alvarez & Marsal (A&M)?

In May of 2011, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro) sharply criticized the Division of Administration (DOA) for DOA’s approval of a $6.8 million contract amendment for F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA), the firm that initially took over the operations of the Office of Risk Management.

Fannin and other members of the committee were upset that DOA did not seek approval of the contract amendment from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB).

Things got tense as Fannin tore into Assistant Commissioner of Administration Steven Procopio. “All I’m seeing here is where FARA had a $68.2 million contract that somehow went to $74.9 without anyone’s coming to the … Committee … for approval,” Fannin said.

The JLCB was the committee that approved the original $68.2 million contract the year before. “Isn’t a contract a contract?” Fannin asked.

“It is until it’s amended,” Procopio said in typical administration double-speak. “Then it’s another contract.”

It was at that point that Patti Gonzales, Assistant Risk Director for ORM stepped up to the plate to rescue Procopio before he could do any further damage.

“We are allowed one amendment up to 10 percent (of the original contract amount) without legislative approval,” she said, adding that the Office of Contractual Review approved the amendment.

Suffice it to say committee members weren’t very happy to learn that under state law, the Office of Contractual Review may approve contract amendments of up to 10 percent one time without legislative concurrence.

Fast forward to January 2014.

Nichols announced last week that the $4.2 million contract with A&M had been amended by $800,000 to a nice round $5 million.

That’s the controversial contract under which A&M is charged with finding $500 million in state savings. If the firm’s initial report is any indication, the contract is going to go pretty much the way everything else this administration has done—that is to say, bad.

But wait. An $800,000 amendment to a $4.2 million contract?


Excuse us for questioning the validity of the amendment, but according to our math, that’s a 19 percent amendment. Of course we went to public schools in Louisiana, so Jindal may be able to discredit our figures.

But wouldn’t the approval of a 19 percent amendment without concurrence from the JLCB be in violation of that obscure law?

Well, the Office of Contractual Review is required to give its stamp of approval to the amendment.

But wait. The Office of Contractual Review is part of DOA and as such, takes its marching orders from Nichols who takes her marching orders from Jindal who takes his marching orders from…Timmy/Taylor Teepell? ALEC? Bobby Brady? Pick one.

But it was clearly stated back in 2011 that the law allows a one-time 10 percent amendment to contracts without JLCB concurrence.

To paraphrase Rep. Fannin, isn’t 10 percent 10 percent?

Isn’t the law still the law?

Well, that depends.

Remember that whiteboard sign in one of the DOA offices we alluded to on Jan. 23? That’s the one that says, “Do not ask about the law. Do not research the law.” (If there is a functioning brain cell left in this administration, assuming there ever was one, that message most probably has been erased by now.)

And then there was the consultant a few years back who told DOA officials, according to sources present at the meeting, to not let the law stand in the way of the administration’s objectives.

So, what are a few percentage points among friends?


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Cue Queen and crank up Another One Bites the Dust.

Charles Calvi and Patrick Powers are leaving the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) and Susan West, late of the Office of Risk Management has been named Interim CEO—the fourth person to head OGB in less than three years.

Meanwhile, that $540 million reserve fund balance OGB had on hand to pay benefits at the time of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s infamous raping of the agency now sit at $240 million and is dwindling at a rate of $20 million per month, no doubt the result of Jindal’s 7 percent premium reduction six months before the January 2013 takeover of OGB by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Louisiana.

But not to worry. In one of the administration’s now routine Friday press releases (so that the impact of the story is lost over the weekend when newspaper readership is down), Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols announced that (drum roll, please) Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) will be working with West in efforts to “continue the transformation and redesign of OGB.”

Bear in mind that OGB was one of those state agencies that was doing quite well in paying health care benefits to some 250,000 state employees, retirees and dependents. That included building up that half-billion dollar reserve fund while paying claims in a timely manner (average turnaround of three days) that kept both claimants and providers happy. But somehow, the administration deemed it in need of “transformation and redesign” and now health care providers are being asked to wait longer for payment of claims and BCBS is asking the state to waive the service level agreements and performance guarantees in place for Claims Timeliness and to not impose financial penalties for payments made later than 30 days during January and February.


But back to Alvarez and Marsal. That’s the company Jindal recently hired for $4.2 million to find presumed savings of $500 million in state expenditures by April—except it turns out there was nothing in the contract alluding to any $500 million savings; it was in the cover letter but not the contract. After being caught with her knickers down, Nichols, who initially assured legislators that the contract did indeed call for the $500 million savings, has said the contract will be amended to contain the language. Good for her. Oh, wait. It turns out that amendment also added another $800,000 to the contract, boosting it to $5 million. Yipee.

Alvarez and Marsal, you may remember from a previous LouisianaVoice post, was the firm that advised the state to fire 7,500 public school teachers in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/01/17/firms-advice-to-fire-orleans-teachers-after-katrina-may-cost-taxpayers-1-5b-hired-for-4m-by-jindal-to-save-state-money/

When those teachers were not called back and instead were replaced by new teachers, they sued and won and now the state is on the hook for about $1.5 billion, give or take a couple of dollars.

So now this firm is awarded a $4.2 million contract to do what the brilliant minds of all those Jindal appointees apparently could not do. Alvarez and Marsal is going to send its suits to Baton Rouge to figure out what the Legislative Fiscal Office cannot. If the fiasco in New Orleans is indicative of its work, will the last one out of Baton Rouge please turn out the lights? On second thought, never mind; Entergy will have already disconnected the meter.

On April 15, 2011, Tommy Teague, the man responsible for OGB’s accumulating that $500 million reserve fund and who, by all accounts, ran a highly efficient agency known for its rapid turnaround on claims payments and satisfied claimants, was summarily fired when he did not jump on board the Jindal privatization train. Within six weeks, his replacement, Scott Kipper resigned in frustration or disgust—or both—and was replaced with Calvi. So now OGB CEO Charles Calvi and his $170,000 salary and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Powers ($107,000) are leaving voluntarily, headed to Metairie to work for Teague and the Louisiana Health Care Exchange.

West, the fourth person to head OGB in three years, previously as ORM’s administrator for loss prevention, underwriting and statistics where she was responsible for policy development, risk financing and premium development and allocation. Before that, she served as a claims manager for multiple lines of insurance provided by ORM, the agency that insures all state agencies.

Oddly enough, in her announcement of West as the Interim CEO, Nichols never once alluded to the departure of Calvi or Powers. LouisianaVoice learned of their leaving through other sources. Calvi’s leaving, whether voluntary or involuntary, was not difficult to figure out after West was announced as his replacement, albeit without benefit of an accompanying announcement of his exodus. http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/PressReleases/New_OGB_Interim_CEO_Susan_West.htm

It was certainly a ham-handed way of announcing West’s appointment with no explanation of Calvi or Power’s leaving. Nothing would surprise us though, given the manner in which this administration tends to handle such matters with all the subtlety of Larry, Moe and Curly trying to administer a cold buttermilk enema to a feral cat.

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It’s small wonder that Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to get out of town quickly—he departed the state for an extended trip to Asia to recruit business and industry investment in Louisiana—given the flak he is receiving from the legislature and radio talk show hosts over his hiring of a consulting firm at a cost of $4.2 million to somehow magically find $500 million in state government savings. http://theadvocate.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=sZuDzNJoJK2fudmeRm9FJpM5tm0Zxrvol3sywaAHBAlauzovnqN0Cbyo1UqyDJ6gE0$uXvBjavsllACLNr6VhLEUIm2tympBeeq1Fwi7sIigrCfKm_F3DhYfWov3omce$8CAqP1xDAFoSAgEcS6kSQ–&CONTENTTYPE=application/pdf&CONTENTDISPOSITION=Alvarez%20Marsal%20Government%20Savings%20Contract.pdfhttp://theadvocate.com/news/8045923-123/vitter-super-pac-raises-15

And that contract doesn’t even take into account Pre-Jindal recommendations by the firm that may ultimately end up costing taxpayers $1.5 billion which, of course, would more than offset any $500 million savings it might conjure up that the Legislative Fiscal Officer, the State Treasurer, the administration, the legislature and the Legislative Auditor have been unable to do, largely because of a time honored political tradition affectionately known as turf protection.

One might even ask, for example, why representatives of the consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, who somewhat smugly call themselves “efficiency engineers,” were wasting their time Friday at the gutted Office of Risk Management. Isn’t there already a promise of $20 million in savings on the table as a result of Jindal’s privatization of that agency four years ago? For just that one small agency, that’s 4 percent of the entire $500 million in savings Jindal is seeking through the $4 million contract. (The elusive $500 million savings, for the real political junkies, represents only 2 percent of the state budget.)

The Baton Rouge Advocate also got in on the act on Saturday with Michelle Millhollon’s excellent story that  noted that the actual contract contains no mention of a $500 million savings. http://theadvocate.com/home/8131113-125/vaunted-savings-not-included-in

That revelation which is certain to further antagonize legislators, including Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) whom Jindal will now probably try to teague for his criticism of the governor’s penchant for secrecy.

Hey guys, your contract is only for four months, so why waste your time in an agency that supposedly is on the cusp of a $20 million savings? That ain’t very efficient, if you ask us.

Legislators immediately voiced their displeasure at the contract. “There’s a lot of people who don’t like it,” said Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), a one-time staunch Jindal ally.

Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee (if he hasn’t been teagued by now), said when the dust settles any cost cutting will ultimately be the responsibility of state officials. “Even the best PowerPoint presentation isn’t going to cut government,” he said. “The trick is to make the political choices.”

The contract raises immediate questions how Jindal, now entering his seventh year in office, could justify the move in light of his many boasts of efficiencies his administration has supposedly initiated.

Ruth Johnson, who is overseeing the contract for the Division of Administration, defended the deal with the simplistic and less than satisfactory logic that “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.”

And while Jindal has indicated he wants a final set of recommendations in April, the contract runs through 2016, meaning the final cost could far exceed the $4.2 million Alvarez & Marsal is scheduled to receive for its review.

Jim Engster, host of a talk show on public radio in Baton Rouge, on Friday predicted during an interview with State Treasurer John Kennedy that Alvarez & Marsal’s final report will most likely bear an uncanny resemblance to the 400-plus-page interim report of Dec. 18, 2009, by the infamous Commission on Streamlining Government.

The hearings by that commission, you may remember, gave birth to the term teaguing, a favorite tactic employed by the Jindal administration when a state employee or legislator refuses to toe the line. A state employee named Melody Teague testified before that commission and was summarily fired the following day. Six months later her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as head of the Office of Group Benefits when he was slow in getting on board the Jindal Privatization Express. Mrs. Teague appealed and was reinstated but her husband took employment elsewhere in a less volatile environment.

The Alvarez & and Marsal representatives have pleaded ignorant to questions of whether their report will draw heavily from the four-year-old commission report and even professed to not know of its existence.

A curious denial indeed, given that Johnson was also the ramrod over the streamlining commission during Jindal’s second year in office. Does she not share this information with the firm or was all that commission work for naught? Or part of Jindal’s infamous deliberative process? Curious also in that Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the report’s first 51 pages, each of which is in the context of privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. The report quoted the firm as recommending that:

  • “The governor and the legislature authorize and direct the LSU Health System to adopt the recommendations of Alvarez and Marsal for the operation of the interim Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The governor and legislature direct every other charity hospital in Louisiana to contract for a similar financial and operational assessment with a third party private sector consulting firm, such as but not necessarily Alvarez and Marsal, that specializes and has a proven track record in turnaround management, corporate restructuring and performance improvement for institutions and their stakeholders.”

That’s right. That is where the seed was apparently first planted for the planned privatization of the LSU Hospital system, even to the point of directing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to vote to allow a Shreveport foundation run by one of the LSU stuporvisors to take over the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. Alvarez & Kelly performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30 (almost $200,000 per month).

Alvarez & Marsal also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That quickie, ill-conceived plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken

But Alvarez & Marsal’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal, even. http://www.alvarezandmarsal.com/case-study-new-orleans-public-schools It’s a relationship that could become one of the most costly in state history—unless of course, the state chooses to ignore a court judgment in the same manner as it has ignored a $100 million-plus award (now in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars—with judicial interest) stemming from a 1983 class-action flood case in Tangipahoa Parish.

In fact, the state probably has no choice but to ignore the judgment as an alternative to bankrupting the state but that does little to remove the stigma attached to a horrendous decision to accept the recommendation of Alvarez and Marsal which subsequently was rewarded with a $29.1 million three-year state contract from April 4, 2006 to April 3, 2009 to “develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the crack consulting firm that Jindal somehow thinks is going to be the state’s financial salvation.

That resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006. The wording contained in the ruling said:

  • “In December 2005, the OPSB passed Resolution No. 59-05 upon the advice and recommendation of its state-selected and controlled financial consultants, the New York-based firm of Alvarez & Marsal. The Resolution called for the termination of all New Orleans Public School employees placed on unpaid “Disaster Leave” after Hurricane Katrina, to take effect on January 31, 2006.1 On the day that the mass terminations were scheduled to take place, Plaintiffs amended their petition to seek a temporary restraining order preventing the OPSB from terminating all of its estimated 7,500 current employees at the close of business on that day. The trial court granted the TRO and this Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs on the issue. The TRO was later converted into a preliminary injunction that restrained, enjoined and prohibited the OPSB, et al, from “terminating the employment of Plaintiffs and other New Orleans Public School employees until they are afforded the due process safeguards provided in the Orleans Parish School Board’s Reduction in Force Policy 4118.4.” Nevertheless, Plaintiffs and thousands of other employees were terminated on March 24, 2006, after form letters were mailed to the last known address of all employees of record as of August 29, 2005.”

The appellate court upheld the award of more than $1 million to seven lead plaintiffs in the case of Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board but adjusted the lower court’s damage award, ordering the school board and the Louisiana Department of Education to pay two years of back pay and benefits and an additional year of back pay and benefits to teachers who meet certain unspecified requirements.

Immediately following Katrina, state-appointed Alvarez and Marsal set up a call center to collect post-Katrina addresses for a majority of staff members in time for the anticipated layoffs. But when the state began the hiring process for schools that had been taken over, the terminated employees were never called, prompting plaintiff attorneys to charge that the entire procedure was intentional and part of the state’s plan to take over the Orleans Parish school system.

Plaintiffs said that then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, and the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find savings of an unspecified amount. What could possibly go wrong?

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This might be considered a break from state politics and in a way, it is. At the same time, however, there is a tenuous link—a tongue-in-cheek link, to be sure, but a link nonetheless.

It is a somewhat convoluted story centered around a former co-worker. Harley Purvis (not his real name) worked with me for about 10 years as a claims adjuster for the Louisiana Office of Risk Management (ORM). A legend in his own mind, he retired about a decade before I managed to make a less than graceful exit to watching the mail for my monthly pension check.

Harley was a hoot. He was never shy about boasting of his self-anointed title of political kingmaker (or king-breaker, depending upon which politician was the subject of the day’s conversation) during coffee breaks in the old Department of Education building.

We so looked forward to those breaks because we knew ol’ Harley would regale us with tales of his epic exploits which approached reality only in his vivid imagination. All other conversation would cease whenever he began with his obligatory “I’ll tell you one damned thing…,” because we knew he was about to bestow his unique version of the truth upon us.

He claimed to be president of the board of a country club in a neighboring parish but a single phone call by yours truly confirmed that he was neither president nor even a member of the club’s board of directors. A club member, yes. But President? you can check that box “no.”

There were normally up to a dozen—maybe even more—present at many of the breaks at which he generally held court. No one at those breaks ever challenged his claims—mostly because no one wanted to interrupt his wildly imaginative flights of fancy.

When Edwin Edwards defeated Buddy Roemer in the 1993 governor’s election, Harley spread the word that he was in line to be the next commissioner of administration.

Of course, it didn’t happen. Weeks later, after Edwards mysteriously passed over Harley in favor of another, I asked him at break what happened to his appointment. Without missing a beat, Harley simply informed us that “They didn’t get the money right.” This at a time when claims adjusters for ORM topped out at somewhere around $30,000.

When Harley’s high school class scheduled its reunion (there was no word which reunion it was, but it must have been at least his 35th or 40th), he immediately began his preparations for the big event by dying his hair jet black—with liquid shoe polish.

Predictably, the polish soon began running down the back of his neck, soaking into his shirt collar. ORM’s claims officer walked past his cubicle and, seeing the streaking shoe polish oozing down his neck, asked, “Harley, what the hell happened to you?”

He once ran for the state civil service board and after taking time off to campaign throughout the state, finished last.

Anytime anyone at break mentioned any prominent resident of the parish where his country club was located, Harley would always twist his first two fingers together, hold them up and proclaim, “We’re just like this. He always sits at my table when we have a function at the country club.”

After about the 20th time hearing this (about 20 different “tight friends”), I asked, “Harley, how many tables do you wait on at these country club functions?” That was probably the angriest I ever saw him but everyone else got a good laugh.

He once spotted an attractive lady who worked for another agency in our building. Unaware that I knew her, he confided in me that he had a date with her for the coming weekend. Intent on giving her a heads up about his misplaced narcissism, I quietly made my way to her and asked her if she knew Harley. “Who?” she said. I pointed him out and informed her that he said he had a date with her. “Oh, God, no!” she blurted. “I don’t have a date with him this weekend or ever. I have to stop this.”

I never learned what she said to him but when I later asked him how his date went, Harley said, “I cancelled it. I found out she’s married.”

She wasn’t.

For the then-approaching 1997 elections, he boasted that he had to start lining up his campaign contributions because “You have to know where to put your money. That’s how I keep my political power.”

“But isn’t it illegal for civil service employees to contribute to political campaigns?” I asked.

“Hell, I’m not stupid. I give the money to my mother and she passes out the contributions.”

“So, in other words, your mama has political influence and you’ve got squat.”

That was the second time I made him angry. “I don’t know why I even talk to you,” he muttered, walking away.

Never one to be discouraged, he nevertheless did continue talking to me, later telling me his girlfriend was moving back to Louisiana from Houston. Hooking his thumbs in his belt buckle, he drawled, “I guess I’m gonna have to call Edwin (Gov. Edwards, whom he apparently knew on a first-name basis) and get her a job at (an area university).”

A couple of hours afterward, I walked into the copy room and found a female co-worker already at the copier. As I waited my turn, I related that conversation to her in full Harley Purvis mode—right down to the thumbs in the buckle. As I embellished his drawl, I noticed her eyes widening and her mouth trying to form words.

“He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” I asked, still imitating his distinctive cadence and inflection.

She could only nod in silent assent.

I turned and said, “Hello, Harley” and retreated to my cubicle. Nothing else one can do when busted like that.

As his retirement date approached, Harley became bolder and even more boastful with his fellow adjusters.

“When I retire, I’m gonna work as an investigator for a plaintiff attorney and I’m gonna bring this agency to its knees,” he said more than once.

Fast forward a few years and ORM becomes the first state agency to be privatized by Gov. Bobby Jindal—at a cost to the state of nearly $75 million. It was $68 million at first but the company that took over ORM, F.A. Richard and Associates (FARA) of Mandeville came back in only about eight months for a 10 percent ($6.8 million) amendment to its contract.

Then, less than a month after getting that amendment approved, FARA sold its contract to another company from Ohio which only a few months later, sold out to a New York firm—despite a clause in the state contract that strictly forbade transfer of the contract without prior written approval. No prior written approval was ever given.

Meanwhile, word coming out of ORM indicates that workers comp claims payments are about $10 million more than before privatization. So instead of the privatization saving the projected $20 million, the state now is in a $10 million hole and will now have to see a savings of $30 million to reach that $20 million estimate—and it doesn’t seem likely that those savings will ever be realized.

With a third company now serving as ORM’s third party administrator, accountability and transparency are out the window insofar as the agency is concerned.

So in retrospect, perhaps Harley was right. Maybe he was behind the privatization movement. Maybe he helped to run up the excess claims payments.

It may have taken 10 or more years, but hey, who’s to say ol’ Harley wasn’t sandbagging us all those years?

Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that he wasn’t instrumental in “bringing this agency to its knees?”

Who knew?

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As analogies go, something called the Leadership Academy, offered to state employees by the Division of Administration (DOA), could best be described as Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Did we say offered? Of course, we meant to say mandated, as in employees had no choice but to attend. And what they got was reminiscent of motivational courses offered a few years back to employees of the late Office of Risk Management. In those ORM classes, motivational speaker Ron Jackson of Baton Rouge offered employees the opportunity to build structures out of plastic drinking straws as some kind of motivational exercise.

And for his trouble, Jackson was awarded a $49,000 contract by ORM. In another of Jackson’s sessions, employees were asked to draw an energy-efficient automobile.

It is not known if Toyota, Kia, Nissan, GM, Ford or any other carmaker has moved to incorporate any of the revolutionary automotive designs that came out of that little exercise. And to our knowledge, no architectural firms have inquired about plastic straw building designs.

Jackson did hold one-on-one sessions with ORM employees to receive “confidential” thoughts, suggestions and complaints but few employees placed their full trust in the word “confidential,” and thus did not participate.

One reason for that lack of trust was the name of one of board members of his company, LEAD Training Resources Group. Before the contact information was removed, the LEAD website contained the name of a board member who, coincidentally, just happened to be an employee of DOA. And as if that were not enough, her contact information contained her state email address.

So now DOA is following that example by offering its Leadership Academy, complete with handouts of a book entitled Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

The list price of the book is $24.95 but it’s likely that DOA got a steep volume discount. Total cost for all copies of the book was only $448.80, which computes to only about 18 copies at full price and considerably more copies than that were passed out.

Another $565.45 was spent by DOA on the reproduction of handouts and binders, bringing the total cost of leadership to $1,014.25 for the undetermined number of DOA employees assigned to attend the academy. Of course, the time spent by employees away from their duties to attend the lectures was not computed into the equation so that cost is undetermined.

And while no one was asked to construct a building of plastic straws or to design an energy-efficient car, attendees were given a list of six pairs of choices, or preferences, printed on a sheet of paper. That list is as follows:

• Beach or Mountains;
• Hamburger or Hot dog;
• Hotel or Camping;
• Fiction or Non-fiction;
• Pie or Cake, and
• Movie Theater or DVD.

Participants were asked to circle one preference on each line and then to visit other employees in attendance to compare lists to see who came closest to their choice of preferences—to what end we’re not entirely sure. Perhaps it was a test of compatibility for some new type of dating service.

The academy consists of five sessions. The first was held on Feb. 13 and the final session for the last group of employees is scheduled for next Wednesday (March 6), according to the itinerary provided employees.

We’re also not certain what happened last Wednesday but following that session, Vincent Miholic, Ph.D., training and development program manager for DOA, sent a somewhat curious email in which he apologized to attendees.

“My apologies, again, for miscalculating and running out of time,” he wrote. “Was really looking for a robust discussion, rather than the failed timing. Thought I could ‘power’ through it…very dangerous, drag-racing without enough pavement. Hope you’ll let me chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure.”

“…chalk this one up to success as ultimately a product of failure”?

Can someone please tell us what that means?

The handbook contained a letter to attendees from DOA Chief Staff Steven Procopio, Ph.D. ($122,000 a year).

“On behalf of the Office of the Commissioner, (Commissioner Kristy Nichols ($162,700), thank you for your attendance in this valuable professional development activity,” Procopio wrote. “Your participation is an investment in professional growth and evidence of a strong commitment to the mission of the Division.”

Excuse us, Dr. Procopio, just how is required attendance indicative of a “strong commitment” to anything?

And as for the “mission” of the division, that’s a little difficult to quantify considering the mission of the governor’s office seems to be a little vague these days. It’s virtually impossible to discern any mission when Gonenor Jindal never seems to be around to look in on little things like an ever-expanding sinkhole in Assumption Parish that just happens to be leaking toxic gases.

It’s hard to define a mission when efforts to overhaul retirement and schemes to pay for school vouchers are shot down either by the Legislature or the courts.

Where’s the mission when an agency like the Department of Health and Hospitals, which has more than $650 million in assets and more than $7 billion in annual revenue is allowed to decimate its audit section in favor of a single contract auditor (who subsequently walked away from that contract) only to see an employee misappropriate some $800,000 in state funds before being caught?

Sorry, but having sat through a few of them ourselves, we really do not see the value of these touchy-feely sessions that may be intended to spread a warm fuzzy message throughout an agency but which accomplish little more than provoke derisive ridicule from the very ones the sessions are intended to benefit.

Where’s the mission in a campaign hell-bent on gutting higher education, handing out lucrative contracts to political supporters as public education is offered up as a sacrifice to the god of charters and vouchers and systematically dismantling the state’s public health programs?

From our perspective, this “Leadership Academy” is nothing more than meaningless lip service and an empty gesture designed solely to convince employees that someone up the food chain actually cares about them.

Sadly, the reality is nothing could be further from the truth.

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