Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

It was Memorial Day weekend in Baton Rouge last year, the weekend of the BAYOU COUNTRY SUPERFEST that had country music fans flocking to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. LSU subsequently cancelled its contract with promoters and this year’s event will take place in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

But this story isn’t about Bayou Country Superfest.

It was several hours after the final performance of one night of the three-day event, around 3 a.m., in fact, that a black SUV was pulled over by a Baton Rouge police officer at the corner of Perkins and Acadian, only a few blocks south of I-10.

The officer, a member of the city’s DWI Strike Force, suspected the driver of driving while impaired, perhaps even intoxicated. In the SUV was a woman, a blonde. She was not the driver’s wife; she’s a brunette.

The driver, violating all protocol, exited his SUV and started toward the officer who, alarmed, is said to have pulled his weapon just before recognizing the driver as a high-ranking member of the governor’s administration.

Instead of escalating, as the situation could easily have done, the driver was inexplicably allowed to proceed on to his destination, driving that black SUV. He was not arrested, issued a citation or even asked to submit to a field sobriety test and the matter was quickly hushed up. Even the city officer, when asked about the incident, denied it ever happened. But later, when asked about the incident by a fellow officer, rather than deny it occurred, said instead, “I can’t talk about that.”

Yet the stories continue to persist nearly nine full months after the stop that the officer denies ever took place. LouisianaVoice was even given the officer’s name by no fewer than eight different, independent sources. At least when Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was pulled over for DWI, there was no attempt to keep the arrest quiet and he paid his fines and court costs for the offense. The only thing that raised eyebrows was when State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson showed up and gave him a ride home—a courtesy no ordinary citizen sans political connections would likely be accorded.

Who made the decision to allow the driver to go on his way? It’s unlikely the officer would have assumed the responsibility for such a decision fraught with all kinds of downsides on his own. That would mean there had to be an order from up the chain of command within the Baton Rouge Police Department. The question then, is at what level of the command was the decision made, mid-level or from the very top?

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie is probably on his way out. At least that’s the indication given by former State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome who was recently elect Baton Rouge’s new Mayor-President and inaugurated on Jan. 2, though Dabadie appears to be fighting to keep his job.

This is not to say Dabadie was ever even aware of the stop but if (and of course, at this stage, that’s a very speculative if)…if he is the one who put the kibosh on the stop and potential arrest of the state official, both men need to go. Immediately.

If he had any records of the pullover expunged from the police log, he could be found guilty of injuring public records under Louisiana R.S. 14:132 and he conceivably could face imprisonment. At any rate, if any records of the stop were destroyed on his watch, he must be held accountable for destruction of public records.

If records were never tampered with, then somewhere there is a paper trail that still exists, perhaps by now buried somewhere in the bowels of the BRPD.

LouisianaVoice is continuing to investigate the matter. We’ll let you know if anything develops. If not, the story probably will evaporate as did the ghost stop of a black SUV at 3 a.m. during the 2016 Bayou Superfest.

Read Full Post »

The Louisiana State Police Commission may have placed on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting an item to go into “executive session for discussion of professional competence” of commission Director Cathy Derbonne but an option that rests with Derbonne could put commission Chairman T.J. Doss behind the proverbial eight ball.

Doss is the State Police member on the commission. The remaining six members are appointed by the governor from each of the state’s Congressional districts.

Besides the item to enter into executive session, a separate item calls for “consideration of whether employment of the Director of State Police Commission should be continued or terminated.”

The entire proceeding, however could blow up in the faces of commissioners should Derbonne exercise her option to insist that all discussion be held in open session. Legally, she is entitled to make that call and if she does, there could be egg on the faces of Doss, Jared J Caruso-Riecke, et al.

In something of a plot twist, the web page of the State Police Commission was down briefly Wednesday night. Efforts to go onto the PAGE resulted in a message that the web address could not be accessed. The page was back online, however, after about 20 minutes.

Interestingly, the funneling of more than $40,000 in campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) through its executive director produced only a sham of an investigation by a political ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend was hired under a $75,000 contract to “investigate” the contributions which were approved by the LSTA board of directors, comprised of state troopers, and laundered through LSTA Executive Director David Young. Young made the contributions, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards, by writing checks on his personal account and then submitting expense invoices to the association.

Townsend, obviously taking his marching orders from up the food chain, declined to include as part of the evidence an audio recording of a meeting of troopers concerned about the contributions at which it was acknowledged that the LSTA violated the restrictions against state troopers becoming active in political campaigns, including making contributions. Townsend also failed to follow protocol in submitting a written report of his findings and instead, made only a verbal recommendation that “no action be taken.”

Townsend likewise has been silent on the issue of the manner in which commission members were appointed. When there is a vacancy, the commission chairman is required to notify the university president in that congressional district to solicit names for nominations from which list the governor makes his appointment.

Derbonne’s major transgression appears to be that she did her job, including notifying the governor’s office of the requirements for member appointments and of commission members who, like the LSTA, violated ethics rules by making political contributions while sitting on the board. Three members ultimately resigned because of that issue.

So, bottom line, what we have here is a failure to communicate (apologies to the late Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke). An attorney who is a crony of the governor shirks his duty to the job for which he was contracted but still collects his fees and stands in good stead with the commission while Derbonne followed the dictates of her job and finds her job is on the line.

Way to go, guys. You should really feel good about yourselves. Eulis Simien, I really thought you had more integrity than to let yourself be manipulated by Doss and Edmonson.

Every time I hear Doss talk, I wonder how it feels to have Edmonson’s hand up his backside.

Calvin Braxton, you’ve already seen what can happen when you cross Mike Edmonson, but you’re going along with this fiasco anyway?

Monica J. Manzella, I’m really not that surprised; after all, you negotiate contracts with the State Police on behalf of the City of New Orleans. No conflict there.

Jared J Caruso-Riecke, Mike Edmonson obviously owns you.

Donald Breaux, we know where your loyalty lies with your special LSTA-1 license plate on your car.

You’re all a real piece of work.

How can Simien and Caruso-Riecke (appointed June 6) and Manzella (Oct. 11), who between them, have barely a year’s experience on the board, make any kind of intelligent judgment call as to the competence of Derbonne? The answer is, they can’t; they can only rely on the manipulations of Edmonson and Doss.

And that $75,000 investigation by Taylor Townsend only to get a verbal “I recommend no action.” It’s a damn good thing you weren’t heading up the investigation of the previous commission executive director DEBRA JOHNSON. Even the Office of Inspector General nailed her for felony theft, fraud, and malfeasance in office.

If anyone in this tragicomedy should be called to the carpet for misappropriation of funds, it should be Townsend. I could’ve done what he did for a measly five bucks and a beer from the bar run by LSTA over at the State Police training facility in Zachary.

We can only hope Derbonne will exercise her rights and make them do their dirty work out in the open for everyone to see.

And if you think firing a single employee—for no other reason that she insists on doing the right thing despite what Edmonson wants—will make your problems disappear, you’re so very wrong.

If you think LouisianaVoice has been a pain in the ass so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Read Full Post »

Thursday’s meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) promises to be a bloodbath with number-one coward (there are six cowards on the commission, so we are forced to give them numbers) T.J. Doss leading the way—running interference, as it were, for his boss.

The agenda for Thursday’s 9 a.m. meeting includes two significant items:

  • Executive session for discussion of professional competence of Director of State Police Commission (Cathy Derbonne);
  • Consideration of whether employment of the Director of State Police Commission should be continued or terminated.

While there was no immediate indication what precipitated this sudden move, rest assured that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s DNA is all over it.

There’s no guarantee, of course that Derbonne’s fate has already been decided and that the “discussion” and “consideration” are mere formalities (read: B.S.)—but that’s where the smart money is.

Here is a copy of an ANONYMOUS-LETTER LouisianaVoice received last Saturday, which apparently was also sent to Derbonne:

Actually, perhaps coward may be the wrong term. A better description would be incompetent, backstabbing, rubber-stamping, salivating lap dogs—owned, wormed and neutered by Edmonson. Did I leave out trained? Sorry.

Like the letter (apparently written by an active Trooper who works at State Police Headquarters in Baton Rouge) says, “The senior command—that would be Edmonson, Jason Starnes and Charlie Dupuy—does not take kindly to not having the LSPC rubber stamp their desires.”

That sentence was likely in reference to an issue raised by the only member with any spine, LLOYD GRAFTON of Ruston. Grafton, a couple of meetings back complained that the commission had been misled by Edmonson when he told commission members the promotion of Starnes to lieutenant colonel so he could take on the financial duties of retired JILL BOUDREAUX (even though he has no background in accounting or finance) would not result in additional costs. “Then I turn around and (the new lieutenant colonel slot) has gone from $125,000 to $150,000. Somebody is not being honest,” Grafton said.

To a member, the remaining five members (Monica Manzella was not yet on the board at the meeting in question)—Doss, Jared J Caruso-Riecke, Donald Breaux, Calvin W. Braxton, Sr., and Eulis Simien, Jr.— went conveniently blank, professing to have no memory of Edmonson’s comment but Derbonne told the commission that he did indeed make that claim.

(An audio recording of the meeting obtained by LouisianaVoice via a public records request confirmed Grafton’s recollection of Edmonson’s testimony as well as Derbonne’s assertion.)

At that point, Doss and the Feeble Four switched their arguments to whether or not, LSPC had any authority over setting salaries. Derbonne’s response was the commission had no authority to exceed the State Police pay grid but that it did have the authority to approve the promotion of Starnes—based on Edmonson’s assurance that no additional cost would be incurred.

Perhaps that anonymous letter should also have pointed out that Edmonson and his lackey commission don’t like to be shown up by facts or to have their flawed collective memories refreshed when it becomes and embarrassment to them.

That, Ms. Derbonne, is apparently an unforgivable sin.

Basically, here is what LouisianaVoice has learned in covering LSPC during the past year:

  • The Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA—not to be confused with LSPC, which is the state civil service equivalent that investigates state trooper wrongdoing and hears appeals from disciplined troopers) laundered political campaign contributions through its executive director—in apparent violation of state ethics rules prohibiting campaign contributions from individual troopers. The decision to make the contributions, by necessity, had to have been approved by members of the LSTA board;
  • An “investigation” of the contributions by LSPA hit an abrupt dead-end when Gov. John Bel Edwards pal Taylor Townsend was hired at $75,000 to get to the bottom of the campaign contribution controversy. He promptly declined to submit a written report to the LSPA and instead, made a verbal recommendation that “no action” be taken, a recommendation only too quickly approved by the commission;
  • LSTA operated a bar that served alcohol at the State Police training facility in Zachary where prisoners are also housed, an apparent violation of state law prohibiting the sale and/or the consumption of alcohol at correctional facilities;
  • Former LSPC member William Goldring, who RESIGNED last April after it was revealed he had made political contributions while on the board (a state ethics violation), is owner of an alcohol distributorship in New Orleans, CROWN BEVERAGE, that sold liquor to LSTA for the bar, a cozy business relationship that could also be considered an ethics violation;
  • LSPC member Monica Manzella is a New Orleans attorney who serves as Legal Counsel for the City of New Orleans. As such, she negotiates and approves all Local Area Compensated Enforcement (LACE—a program is run by some district attorneys in the state to pay State Troopers for traffic enforcement, including DWIs) contracts between the city and State Police, contracts that determine what rate is paid the troopers (see above re: ethics);
  • Manzella was never nominated for her position on the commission by a university president as required by state law—even though LSPC and the governor’s office had been notified of this discrepancy with other members well before her appointment by Gov. John Bel Edwards;
  • J. Doss, a rank and file State Trooper, is Chairman of the commission and as such, would be called upon to take the lead in any investigations of State Trooper transgressions—including any investigation that might arise involving his boss, Edmonson, a questionable incestuous arrangement at best.

Here are a couple of STATE-POLICE-CONTRACTS approved by Manzella in her capacity as legal counsel for the City of New Orleans.

Given the multiple ethics breaches, the naked power grab being attempted by Edmonson through his rubber stamp commission and the numerous serious administrative blunders documented on this site, Gov. Edwards needs to seriously consider cutting his losses now before Edmonson causes him irreparable political damage and embarrassment down the road, the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association be damned.

Read Full Post »

Despite Inspector General Stephen Street’s impassioned plea for a stay of proceedings in the Corey DelaHoussaye defamation lawsuit against the Street and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “for the sake of conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars,” it has been brought to the attention of LouisianaVoice that one of the biggest and most expensive law firms in Baton Rouge has been retained to defend OIG.

And apparently it’s not enough that the firm Taylor Porter was retained but the firm has assigned not one, not two, but three of its attorneys to the DelaHoussaye matter.

As evidenced by OIG’s MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS filed on Nov. 15, Taylor Porter attorneys Preston Castille, Jr., Katia Bowman and Ne’Shira Millender signed off as “Special Assistant Attorney General Counsel to OIG Defendants.”

Talking about using a baseball bat to swat a gnat…

Not that DelaHoussaye is a gnat by any means. He appears to have a pretty solid case against Street and OIG, given that his home was raided by Street on the basis of a search warrant the OIG has no authority to issue and based on the fact that Street initiated the prosecution of DelaHoussaye even though DelaHoussaye did not work for any state agency.

It’s also telling that by the attorneys signing off as “Special Assistant Attorney General” counsels for OIG it is implicit that the Taylor Porter contract was issued by the Office of the Attorney General.

You may remember how Attorney Jeff Landry got his drawers in a wad over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointment of attorneys to represent the state in litigation against oil companies for their contribution to the destruction of Louisiana’s coast. Landry just flat refused to sign off on the contracts and Edwards was forced to cancel their appointments.

That’s because State law gives the attorney general the final say-so in approving the appointment of all lawyers who represent the state.

So what’s wrong with that? Not much except that LIZ MURRILL is Chief of the Attorney General’s Civil Division and as such has direct supervision over Taylor Porter.

And her husband, JOHN MURRILL, just happens to be a PARTNER at Taylor Porter.

Now I’m not an attorney but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once and it appears to me that the Taylor Porter contract comes awfully close to a violation of the STATE ETHICS CODE which says, in part:

  • GENERAL PROHIBITIONS (R.S. 42:1111 – 1121): For public servants, other than legislators or appointed members of boards and commission, bidding on or entering into any contract, subcontract or other transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency. This restriction also applies to the immediate family members of the public servant and to legal entities in which the public servant and/or his family members own an interest in excess of 25 percent. (Emphasis added)

Granted, John Murrill doesn’t “own” 25 percent of Taylor Porter but he is a partner in the firm.

And the State Ethics Law covers that little contingency when it goes on to say:

  • 1112 – Participation by a public servant in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which any of the following persons have a substantial economic interest: (1) the public servant; (2) any member of his immediate family; (3) any person in which he has an ownership interest that is greater than the interest of a general class; (4) any person of which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee; (5) any person with whom he is negotiating or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment; (6) any person who is indebted to him or is a party to an existing contract with him and by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly his economic interests. (Emphasis added)

Does Taylor Porter and thus John Murrill have an “economic interest” through contracts with the Attorney General’s Civil Division?

Well, consider this: Taylor Porter, from August 2015 through November 2016, was approved for 13 contracts totaling more than $2 million, about $160,000 per contract on average.

And that didn’t even include Taylor Porter’s contract to defend OIG. That contract has yet to be entered on the state’s online LaTrac program, which lists contracts with every state agency.

Perhaps there is a perfectly logical explanation for all of this. If so, we’d love to hear it.

Otherwise, we’ll just refer to the immortal words of the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

Read Full Post »

It’s no wonder the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) decided to give the boot to Leon “Bucky” Millet and three other retired members of LSTA. It seems that the retirees, particularly Millet, have been asking questions that are making the LSTA and the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) members extremely uncomfortable.

And their questions are a helluva lot more intelligent than the answers the commission has offered.

Oddly enough, all the questions Millet has peppered the commission with over the past several months seem to leave LSPC legal counsel Taylor Townsend especially oblivious—even as the meter keeps ticking on his legal fees for attending meetings while contributing nothing of substance.

But one commission member, Lloyd Grafton of Ruston, has zeroed in on the problem even if his colleagues have not and in doing so, broached a subject the others would apparently rather not discuss—apparent misleading testimony at last August’s meeting from State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has come in possession of a recording of a meeting of an affiliate troop meeting at which LSTA Executive Director David Young received a much tougher grilling than he did from commission members. Throughout the 16-minute recording, Young is questioned as to how the checks were written and who authorized the budgeting of money for contributions before anyone even knew who the candidates would be in any given race. At one point, Young was advised to have an audit conducted of LSTA expenditures. The questioning of Young, it appeared from the tone of the voices on the recording, was anything but friendly.

Millet, of Lake Arthur, has regularly appeared at monthly meetings of the commission to challenge the association’s political contributions and the commission for its failure, on advice of Townsend, to act on the contributions.

Millet has repeatedly said the contributions, decided on by the LSTA board, each of whom are state troopers, are a violation of commission rules prohibiting political activity by troopers.

The commission—and Townsend—just as consistently, has responded by saying LSTA is a private entity and David Young is not a state trooper, meaning the commission has no jurisdiction over the association.

Never mind that the contributions were made by Young with checks drawn from Young’s personal account and he in turn would be reimbursed by the association for “expenses.”

And never mind that the decisions of who to support and to whom checks would be contributed were made by LSTA board members, each of whom is a state trooper.

Millet again raised that issue at the commission’s November meeting. “This commission allowed mike Edmonson and command staff to get out of control,” he said. “The citizens of Louisiana deserve better. The agency I was so proud of has deteriorated to such a point that the LSTA has voted to excommunicate four members (retirees), including yours truly. There is no criteria for termination of membership. Most members who voted weren’t born when I retired from LSP.”

Commission Chairman T.J. Doss interrupted Millet to say, “There’s nothing pending before the commission that we can address. If you think something, please let us know.”

That’s when Grafton waded into the fray.

“We have no authority over LSTA but we do have authority over individual troopers who are being paid by the State of Louisiana. Troopers are prohibited from political activity. I know what our counsel said about LSTA. State troopers are not supposed to be giving political contributions to politicians.

“What I see in this whole process is a corrupting policy that is going on and is guaranteed that this association of state troopers is going to become more corrupt as time goes on as they invest money and continue to wallow in politics. That’s why we have a civil service for state troopers.”

Doss again attempted to interrupt. “Correct me if I’m wrong; we not discussing political contributions….”

“Let me finish,” Grafton shot back. “Any time you give money to politicians, you allow yourself to become corrupt. You cannot have protection of civil service and give money to politicians because you have given up that protection at that point in time. That’s why civil service was created. In Louisiana, we want to have it both ways: ‘Oh, I’m protected by civil service. I get equal protection under law.’ But you can’t because you’ve already made a choice. That is corruption and that’s where we are today.

“People who come to us, and I’m talking about the top administration of state police and they say, ‘Approve this lieutenant colonel position. It won’t cost you a dime more.’ Then I turn around and (the new lieutenant colonel slot) has gone from $125,000 to $150,000. Somebody is not being honest. This commission is a stepchild. That’s not our role. Our role is oversight, not undersight. We are to look and decide if something is fair or not. When it’s not, we say it’s not.

Commission member Jared J. Caruso-Riecke said, “My colleague’s rant notwithstanding, we have two lawyers here and another (Monica J. Manzella) who sits on this commission, but she’s new so I won’t put any pressure on her (apparently forgetting that commission member Eulis Simien, Jr. also is an attorney), so tell me, do we have jurisdiction over LSTA?

When told the commission did not, he then tried to compare LSTA to the Knights of Columbus. “If we’re being asked to go after the Knights of Columbus, I’m not gonna do it. I’m not gonna open up this commission to a civil lawsuit.”

Millet reminded Caruso-Riecke that while both the Knights of Columbus and LSTA are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, the Knights of Columbus membership is made up of a cross section of the population while the LSTA membership is comprised exclusively of state troopers and retired troopers. Nor did Caruso-Riecke acknowledge that the LSTA board of directors is made up of only state troopers who made the decision to make the political contributions.

The bureaucratic shuffle was a perfect example of officials talking circle logic in an effort to avoid confronting the real issue. Except they weren’t very good at it, thanks to the anemic efforts of Chairman Doss.

“If what has happened doesn’t alarm you as commissioners, I don’t know what will,” Millet said.

Grafton then asked, “Do we have any authority over salaries? Did I hear Col. Edmonson say (in August) if we approve this new position (the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to lieutenant colonel and bestowing the title of deputy superintendent and chief accounting officer upon him), it won’t cost any more money? I understood him to say it won’t cost any more money. That means no raise. Yet my understanding is, he got a $25,000 raise. We did not approve any raise. It looks to me as if the administration doing as it pleases and we’ll get the word in some point in time. What part am I saying that is absolutely wrong? Did he say he wouldn’t get a raise? I don’t see a board member here who heard that.”

Simeon said, “That’s not an accurate reflection of what was said.”

“I know what I heard,” Grafton said.

At that point, members around the table suggested pulling up the recording of that August meeting and if what Grafton said was accurate, to get Edmonson back before the commission to explain the pay increase.

Commission Executive Director Cathy Derbonne told commissioners that Edmonson did indeed testify that the newly-created position would not cost State Police any additional funds.

In an effort to recover the high ground, Doss said, “We govern classified positions and we create unclassified positions but don’t govern them.

Derbonne said, “We create and we can take away. How can we create an unclassified position and not have control?”

“We have no authority over unclassified positions.”

Derbonne said, “We have jurisdiction only over classified positions that fall within pay grid. We cannot pay someone outside pay grid unless they come before the commission for approval.”

When LouisianaVoice reviewed a recording of that August, the revelations were damning to Doss and other supporters of Edmonson and showed that at least one commissioner, Grafton, was paying attention and not simply going through the motions.

In his appearance before the commission to request creation of the new position, Edmonson quite plainly said that he proposed moving Starnes into the position formerly held by JILL BOUDREAUX, but in a newly-created unclassified position. “We’re not creating any additional funding issues, no additional money,” Edmonson said. “He will be the CAO. No new funds will be needed. It is not my intention to even ask for that.”

It doesn’t get much plainer than that, campers.

At least Grafton was listening when it mattered.

Now let’s see how long he’s allowed to remain on the commission.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »