Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

Colorful. Vindictive. Unorthodox. Illegal. Underhanded. Flamboyant. Egotistical. Unethical. Dishonest. Freewheeling. No holds barred. Down and dirty. Deceitful. Unprincipled. Crooked. Bombastic. Pompous. Arrogant. Self-serving. Zealous.

These are just a few adjectives (believe me, there are many, many more) used by various news reporters down through the ages to describe Louisiana politics and its practitioners.

It may not compare to the quote about U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper by George Smathers, his opponent for the U.S. Senate in Florida way back in 1951:

“Are you aware,” Smathers told a rural, largely unsophisticated gathering, “that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy and that he and his wife matriculated together before they were married.”

But there are other ways to undercut a political opponent without ever resorting to smear tactics, half-truths, or innuendo and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican, may have just found a way to damage the aspirations of two of his Democratic opponents for the U.S Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter.

Besides the descriptions applied to Louisiana politics in the opening paragraph, astute politicians—particularly conservative Republicans—have allowed two other words to creep into the political lexicon: Evangelicalism and Privatization—as homage to two blocs that have gained considerable stroke in recent years: the religious right and disciples of Milton Friedman’s free market economy.

Boustany, however, also is effectively employing Subterfuge and Misdirection in the tried and true fashion of a slight of hand stage magician and no one has noticed.

Until now.

So, in light of his somewhat low-key TV ads, how is he attempting to obtain an edge through furtive means?

Two words: Joshua Pellerin.

Since 2012, Pellerin, manager of Pellerin Real Estate Holdings and of Pellerin Energy Corp., has contributed at least $8,800 to Boustany’s campaigns for the U.S. House and, since 2015, another $6,800 to his campaign for the Senate.


boustany-1 boustany-2 boustany-3 boustany-4 boustany-5 boustany-6



Pellerin also is the former manager of Preventive Vascular Screenings, LLC, and Pellerin Imaging Group, LLC.

Boustany is a cardiovascular surgeon, which makes the connection between the two men logical and explains why Pellerin would give financial support to Boustany’s campaigns for the U.S. House and now the U.S. Senate.

Wait. The U.S. Senate?

If you scroll down the list of the 24 candidates vying for the U.S. Senate, you will see that number 21 on that list (they’re in alphabetical order) is none other than Democrat Joshua Pellerin.

So we have a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate contributing $5,600 to the campaign of one of his leading opponents for the position—a Republican, no less.

That doesn’t make any since.


Unless Pellerin is a “dummy” candidate inserted into the race in an effort to draw votes away from fellow Democrats—Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard.

So who is the “dummy” candidate on the Republican side to draw votes from Boustany’s biggest challenger, fellow physician and Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming? Why, that would be none other than the ultimate dummy, David Duke. Fleming and Duke are battling for much of the same constituency—the Trumpers—and while Duke is destined to finish near the bottom, Fleming’s biggest hope is to pull enough votes from the former high potentate, imperial wizard, exalted grand sovereign (or whatever they call themselves these days) to sneak into the runoff.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time such a dummy candidate has been propped up to split an opponent’s vote. There were rumors, denied by Edwin Edwards, that he had his supporters contribute to the campaign of Tea Party Republican Lenar Whitney two years ago in an attempt to boost her into the runoff which would have greased the skids for him to waltz into Congress. If true, it didn’t work as Garrett Graves ran a strong second to Edwards in the crowded primary and then easily defeated the former governor in the runoff.

The biggest problem facing Boustany is getting Pellerin’s name out there before a sufficient number of Democrat voters. For his part, Pellerin, who has amassed a war chest of only about $300,000 (as opposed to more than $4.3 million in contributions to Boustany), has been making the rounds of Democratic forums in South Louisiana.

With only three weeks before the Nov. 8 election and with such a meager bank account (much of which was contributed by several physicians in the Lafayette area), Pellerin’s best hope to gain name recognition will be those public forums. And with so few Louisiana voters inclined to vote for Democrats these days, it won’t take much chipping at the Campbell-Fayard base to deal crippling blows to their campaigns.

And typical for Louisiana, all it may take is a dummy.

Read Full Post »

Attention State Civil Service employees:

·       There’s no money available for your pay raises for what now, the fifth straight year? The sixth? I’ve lost count.

·       The Office of Group Benefits, by the way, will be increasing your monthly health premiums again.

Attention State Troopers:

·       Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed the necessary documents clearing the way for pay increases as much as 8 percent for you—this in addition to last year’s two pay increasing totaling some 30 percent.

·       And by the way, Gov. Edwards’ signature also clears the way for annual guaranteed pay increases of 4 percent per year for State Police.

The State Police Commission (LSPC) will meet on Thursday (Oct. 13) to make it official.

Attention Department of Public Safety police officers:

·       You are not included.

·       Meanwhile, State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson’s hunt continues to identify the DPS malcontents who have the audacity to complain about being repeatedly left out in pay raises. Keep your heads down, guys.

The commission also will consider stripping away some of the duties of the commission executive director, according to the commission agenda published on its Web page. This is an obvious effort for Edmonson to seize more power through his puppet, Commission President/State Trooper T.J. Doss. http://laspc.dps.louisiana.gov/laspc.nsf/b713f7b7dd3871ee86257b9b004f9321/0449c2895409d86986258027004fff12/$FILE/10.12.16%20Revised%20Agenda%20(October%2013,%202016).pdf

LouisianaVoice also has learned that the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) is actively considering amending its by-laws to give it authority to purge its rolls of certain of its members, namely a couple of state police retirees who have questioned certain association activities.

And why not? Obviously pumped by the sham “investigation” of the association leadership’s decision (in open violation of state law) to contribute to political campaigns, including those of former Gov. Bobby Jindal and current Gov. Edwards, the LSTA is feeling pretty confident that it can do whatever the hell it wants with complete impunity.

The commission, you will recall, hired Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend, a former legislator, to conduct an in-depth investigation into the decision of certain LSTA leaders to become actively involved in political campaigns by having the LSTA executive director make the contributions in his name and then reimbursing him for his “expenses.” The action, nothing other than money laundering, was cleared by Townsend after he apparently got his marching orders from Edwards who didn’t want any embarrassment after reappointing Edmonson after becoming governor.

Townsend, a major supporter of Edwards and who helped head his transition team after he was elected, subsequent to his quiet recommendation of “no action” regarding the LSTA campaign contributions, was rewarded with appointment to the legal team pursuing legal action against the oil industry to force it to restore the state’s wetlands damaged by drilling. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_354f2c5c-8cc9-11e6-8564-5bb2846bb2e6.html

Townsend, instead of submitting a written report as most investigations require, simply told the commission he recommended “no action,” and the commission complied with no comment. Townsend even admitted he did not admit a recording of an LSTA chapter meeting in which is was admitted that the LSTA violated the law into evidence.

So now that the LSTA has survived that mini-scandal, it wants to rid its membership of retirees who dared question the association’s activities.

One of those retirees, Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur, has become a real burr under the commission’s and the LSTA’s saddles and the LSTA officers desperately want him out. He has attended every commission meeting for nearly a year now and is scheduled to attend Thursday’s meeting. Even worse than attending the meetings, he asks questions and that’s something the State Police hierarchy doesn’t particularly like. 

If the LSPC follows form, it will retreat into yet another executive session where it can discuss a course of action out of earshot of the public.

LouisianaVoice will be there.

Read Full Post »

“Just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

It’s a quote attributed to Malcolm X, reprised by Kelsey Grammer in an episode of the number one sitcom Frasier, but actually has its origins in New England. It means, “Just because you were born here, it doesn’t make you one of us.”

It could just as easily be updated to apply to State Superintendent of Education John White’s lame explanation of a settlement of a lawsuit by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) against citizens James Finney, a technical college math instructor and Mike Deshotels, a former educator and past executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

White was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate as saying the ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark “merely resolved what had been a conflict between two laws” because federal law instructed the department not to release data that could be used to personally identify a child while state law mandated the disclosure of all public records.


Bull feathers.

Department legal counsel Joan Hunt said in a Wednesday email to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that a declaratory judgment was sought to resolve “tension” between free disclosure of public records and protection of student information according to federal law.


Neither Deshotels nor Finney ever requested information that would identify a single student.


And John White knew that. Period.

Since becoming Superintendent of Education in January 2012, White has made a career of stalling on compliance with public records requests if not denying them outright.

LouisianaVoice was once forced to sue white over public records and won an award of $2800 ($100 per day for each day delayed per request), plus court costs. The only downside of that judgment was that White was not held personally liable, meaning the $2800 and court costs were picked up by Louisiana taxpayers.

But in suing two Louisiana activist citizens (who admittedly had been something of a nuisance to White with their monitoring of the department), White reached a new low in attempting to avoid being held accountable for the manner in which he runs the department.

His lawsuit, in terms of disgraceful acts, ranks right down there with those judges in Monroe who sued the Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper in West Monroe. The newspaper’s sin? It made public records requests of the court.

Do we detect a disturbing trend here? You bet we do. The Louisiana Department of Education, district courts, and other public bodies have virtually unlimited financial resources at their disposal and most, like the Department of Education, have in-house legal counsel like Joan Hunt. They can initiate lengthy—and costly—legal action against any citizen and people like John White and district judges don’t have to pay a penny of the costs of litigation, courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers.

Private citizens do not enjoy that same advantage. It’s not a level playing field. And even if the public body does not sue, it can drag its heels on compliance, forcing the citizen making the request to either give up or enter into expensive legal action with no guarantee the court will uphold the public’s right to know.

At last Monday’s hearing, Judge Clark let it be known that her patience was wearing thin with public officials who attempt to hide behind legal maneuvers in an attempt to avoid compliance with the law.

The LDOE attorney opened by saying the department had “informal guidance” from the federal government that “we do not have to comply with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.”

Perhaps sensing the mood of the court, the state withdrew its demands for attorney fees from Deshotels and Finney, adding that “only two people are interested in the data.”

Judge Clark said it was an “improper purpose” to deny information to the public as a retaliatory action.

“Counsel should meet and work this out,” she said. “The public (meaning the court) takes a dim view of public officials using public resources to delay compliance with public records laws.”

Deshotels attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Chris Shows met outside chambers for more than two hours with LDOE attorneys but were unable to arrive at an agreement on the release of the requested documents.

When informed of the continued impasse, Judge Clark, visibly angry, said, “I am issuing a subpoena for John White to be in court at 9:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning for cross examination.”

When White got word of that, it was something akin to Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. Suddenly minds came together and miraculously, there was accord and LDOE agreed to three stipulations which settled the suit filed in April by White and the department against Deshotels and Finney. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_536e2fac-b5e2-575c-87f6-1a991bf0f455.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

The first stipulation mandates that the suppression of data in the economically disadvantaged and English language learner or English proficiency sub-groups of the Education Department’s multi-stat reports is not in compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The department agreed not to suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the act in the second stipulation.

The final stipulation says requested data will be made available to the public dating back to 2006.

Deshotels said the declaratory judgment filed against him and Finney was never about clarifying the legal issues relative to certain public records and student privacy as claimed by White.

Instead, he said White’s action was “purely an attempt to discourage citizens from seeking to independently research the claims and conclusions made by White and his staff.” “If citizens are forced to face legal challenges and high legal fees for seeking public records, the Department can continue to manipulate and spin what should be factual information about the operation of our schools.”

Sadly, Judge Clark’s ruling will do little to expedite timely compliance with future public records requests to other state agencies.

Even as this is being written, former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols has already cost the state more than the original judgment against her in another lawsuit by LouisianaVoice.

LouisianaVoice received a pittance in a lawsuit in which the Division of Administration (DOA) under Nichols had dragged its heels for more than three months on several separate public records requests.

LouisianaVoice calculated DOA owed some $40,000 in penalties for non-compliance but was awarded less than $2,000, plus costs and legal fees, by the court. Even then Nichols appealed the decision. And although the court held Nichols personally liable, meaning she alone was responsible for the penalty, the state is picking up the tab for that appeal, which partially upheld the district court ruling.

Nichols, still not satisfied, and still not paying a cent of the legal costs (though LouisianaVoice is paying its legal costs, applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As of this date, the state has spent far, far more than the penalty imposed on it in trying to avoid paying the penalty and LouisianaVoice has spent more than it will ever be awarded, provided the Supreme Court even upholds the lower court.

And while the obvious question is: Is throwing good money after bad a wise way to spend state funds? An original penalty of less than $2000 has now cost the state several times that in defense costs and the tab is still running.

And John White’s obfuscating dribble notwithstanding, that’s what Louisiana citizens are faced with in trying to hold its state government accountable.



Read Full Post »

Less than three months ago, on June 24, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order in which he mandated more scrutiny over how significant industrial property tax breaks are doled out to manufacturers. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2016/06/john_bel_edwards_signs_executi.html

Theoretically, the order gave local governments that would lose out on property taxes a say in approving exemptions for heavy industry, and companies applying for five-year renewals of five-year tax breaks totaling $11 billion would be required to prove the breaks would create and/or retain jobs.

But the Commerce and Industry Board may be trying an end run around Edwards’ order.

The board waited until late Friday afternoon (one of Bobby Jindal’s favorite tactics of making announcements as the week’s news cycle winds down) to give public notice of a Monday board meeting during which it is scheduled to vote on redirecting millions in local property tax revenue from disaster-affected parishes to corporate tax exemptions, without any input from the local bodies losing that revenue.

One of the exemptions to be voted on Monday would “renew” an exemption for Georgia Pacific, a Koch brothers company, costing East Baton Rouge $1.9 million in property taxes.

Exemptions are costing $16.7 billion in lost property tax revenues to local governments, schools and law enforcement, according to the nonprofit Together Louisiana, which will hold a press conference to oppose the proposed exemptions Monday at 9:15 a.m. prior to the 10 a.m. board meeting. http://togetherbr.nationbuilder.com/about

The board meeting will be held in the LaSalle Building at 617 North Third Street in Baton Rouge. The Together Baton Rouge press conference will be held in front of the LaSalle Building.

The exemptions being voted on at Monday’s meeting are being considered in direct violation of Governor John Bel Edwards’ Executive Order issued, and “effective immediately,” on June 24th, 2016, which stated that no future industrial tax exemptions would be approved without the consent of the local governmental bodies — school boards, sheriffs, municipalities and parish governing authorities — whose tax revenue was at stake.

No public hearings, public deliberations or local votes have taken place on any of these proposals, despite the clear requirement of the Edwards executive order. Here is the full agenda for Monday’s board meeting: http://www.opportunitylouisiana.com/docs/default-source/boards-reports/MeetingCategory/louisiana-board-of-commerce-and-industry/9-12-16-c-amp-i-board-agenda.pdf?sfvrsn=0


Read Full Post »

Allegations of forged and falsified time sheets, misapplication and/or misappropriation of federal funds, unaccounted for expensive ice chests, a claim of a stolen computer hard drive and an FBI investigation.

Just another ordinary day at the office in another state agency in Louisiana.

Except this state agency, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) normally flies well under the radar, attracting little or no attention from local, state or federal officials.

And, to be truthful, that’s the way LDWF officials would have preferred it.

In fact, according to one former agent who spoke with LouisianaVoice, he was told precisely that by a fellow agent: “Don’t worry, we’re over here in Southwest Louisiana where no one ever looks at us”

Long before it became public knowledge that the FBI was investigating irregularities at LDWF, LouisianaVoice received a cryptic telephone call in mid-June from an FBI special agent from Baton Rouge asking what we might know about the agency.

We had already received an anonymous tip that the feds were looking into illegalities involving misappropriation of federal funds related to the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill cleanup. Our source said about $10,000 in fishing equipment was purchased with the federal funds, “along with 40 or 50 Yeti coolers,” of which “only three can be accounted for.”

Yeti coolers are expensive, top-of-the-line coolers, some costing more than $1,200, making them a prime target for theft.


Professing (truthfully) that we had little information to share, we referred the caller to former LDWF agent Todd Abshire who had contacted us earlier about payroll irregularities—including the forging of his initials on his timesheets to reflect time classifications which he says were inaccurate.

Now it appears official that LDWF is indeed under investigation for misapplication of federal funds from the BP oil spill. http://www.louisianasportsman.com/details.php?id=9895


At issue is how the agency spent $8.6 million seafood testing grant awarded by BP following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

Abshire, a Marine Corps veteran, said he was the victim of discrimination because supervisors would not accommodate him for his service-related PTSD. He also said he witnessed supervisors claiming hours that they did not work. In one case, he said the supervisor left him practicing backing a trailer in the supervisor’s driveway while the supervisor worked at his second job.

LDWF receives no state General Fund (direct) money, but the bulk of its funding is via statutory dedications which are state funds and, like all other agencies, its funds have to be appropriated by the state to be spent. Therefore it would be incorrect to say the agency is self-funded, as some in the agency insist. In fact, it receives funding from several federal programs and, says Abshire, that is where the time sheet irregularities come into play.

Agents are required to code their time sheets according to which of the federal programs they work on a particular day. The money for their salaries is charged back to the program listed on the timesheets.

The federal programs include, among others:

  • Boating Safety Enforcement;
  • Boating Accident Investigation;
  • Boating Safety Search and Rescue;
  • Recreational Fishing Federal;
  • Commercial Fishing Federal;
  • Commercial Catch Shares;
  • Federal Game and Waterfowl;
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ);
  • Maritime SWAT

Abshire said he has witnessed agents remaining in the LDWF offices while coding their timesheets under one of the federally-funded programs.

He even provided copies of his own timesheets which he said showed changes to times he did not work—changes made without his authorization and with his initials forged to the timesheets.

Besides the feds, the agency is also being investigated for contract irregularities and for nepotism by a number of local and state agencies, including the Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Office of Inspector General and East Baton Rouge District Attorney.

Now, in addition to the missing ice chests, claims of illegal purchases with federal funds, and charges of falsified time sheets, comes the word that a LDWF employee has reported the theft of items from her desk, items that include a computer hard drive and a day planner.


Wendy Brogdon, listed as a confidential assistant, said the hard drive, day planner and personal souvenirs were taken in a burglary of her office between the evening of Aug. 11 and Aug. 24 during a time the office was shut down because of record flooding, according to her attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III.

Inexplicably, she was placed on administrative leave after reporting the theft and just as puzzling, LDWF spokesperson Adam Einck would not confirm whether or not she was a LDWF employee even though her name regularly appears in the minutes of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission as the commission secretary.

LDWF officials also said surveillance cameras at agency offices were of no use because they were aimed at the office’s exterior and not the interior. If we had a tendency toward conspiracy theories, that would be just too convenient and it might even prompt us to wonder what might have been on the hard drive and the day planner that was important enough to be taken in the theft.

But this is Louisiana, after all, so it’s only natural that the thief would also take Duck Commander duck calls autographed by Willie Robertson of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, Duck Commander tea cups signed by Si Robertson and Duck Commander baseball caps signed by Willie and Si Robertson.

At least now we know the real reason for the burglary.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »