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Those of us who are sufficiently long in tooth can remember when a pickup game of baseball played on a vacant lot was the common denominator for neighborhood kids. Talent was of little consequence and the games were played sans adult supervision long before formal teams were sponsored in some league by the local drug store or hardware. We did our own umpiring, thank you very much, and the tie did go to the runner and 99 foul balls and you were out (though no one ever came close to 99 foul balls).

Those games, played before television, video games and all the other distractions that now demand kids’ attention, ranked right up there with skinny dipping in a nearby creek as our pastime of choice during those lazy north Louisiana summers when we really were out of school for a full three months. The new school year never started until after Labor Day.

I was reminded of all this during a recent visit with an old friend I hadn’t seen since I attended Cook Baptist Church as a teenager back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Our visit, far too brief, gave me pause to reminisce about those wonderful days so long ago and to long for those endless, carefree days once more.

As I type this, a Cinderella team from Coastal Carolina has just defeated Florida, the number-one team in the nation, in the College World Series in Omaha by a razor-thin 2-1 score. LSU might have been the one playing Florida had the Tigers not had the misfortune of running smack into that same very fine, well-coached, and classy Coastal Carolina Chanticleer team (a chanticleer is a bad-ass rooster, we’re told).

I love baseball and I was thrilled to see my Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have a banner year after all the years of frustration and losing records. I was equally dismayed to see Alabama steal our coach but in reality, Tech has been a stepping stone in recent years for coaches on the way up, so it was probably a foregone conclusion that it was going happen. But it came so soon—after only the second year of Greg Goff’s tenure.

I can never watch baseball without thinking of my opportunity to make friends and win a few games with a sandlot team in Ruston. For a full decade, I owned and “managed” the Ruston Ramblers in the old North Central League. My “managing” basically consisted of filling out a lineup card, keeping the scorebook and convincing myself I was adequate at coaching third base. In reality, my players were veterans of high school American Legion or college baseball and knew a lot more about the game’s nuances than I but they tolerated my general ignorance of the game’s finer points and allowed me to continue under the delusion that I was actually contributing.

We won far more games than we lost but again, that point is attributable to the players, not me. Players like Rennie Howard, Curt, Cecil and Steve Barham, Jack Thigpen, Rodney Schaffer, Glenn Trammell, Stevie Blackstock, Wayne Baxter, Reg Cassibry, Gene Smith, Gene Colvin, Woody Cooper, Gary Crawford, Dean Dick, Bill Duncan, and Randall Fallin among others too numerous to name.

For my part, I own a league record that will never be broken because the league has long since disbanded. I recorded 28 consecutive strikeouts—as a hitter—before finally getting a hit that, believe it or not, drove in the winning run in a game against the first-place Arcadia Aces and Emmett Woodard, a constant thorn in our side in that the Aces beat us every year for the league championship. We won only one championship and that was against Bob Price’s Simsboro team in 1968—and I wasn’t even there for the event; I was on my honeymoon and Jack Thigpen coached the team to the win.

We had a lot of ups and down. Gene Smith once pitched a no-hitter into the 10th inning only to have me lose the game on two consecutive errors at Magnolia, Arkansas. On both occasions, I mishandled ground ball singles in centerfield that allowed the winning run to move up two bases and ultimately, to score for Magnolia’s 3-2 win.

Our first year of existence, we were a rag-tag bunch that, if memory serves, didn’t win a single game but we had fun. We had a catcher, Jug Martin, who caught while barefoot. We had another catcher a few years later, Butch Bryant, who batted with his shin guards on. He wasn’t very fast down the line anyway, so it probably didn’t matter.

We had a couple of pitchers that are worth remembering—not for their ability, God knows. One, we knew only as Early Wynn. It was not the Early Wynn who pitched for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox over a 23-year major league career but one who, after walking the third consecutive batter on just 12 pitches (that’s right, he didn’t throw a single strike) got the ball back from the catcher and tried to slam the ball into his glove in frustration—and missed, the ball bouncing on the infield grass.

Another pitcher, we knew only as Rusty Staub. Again, not the red-headed Houston Astros, New York Mets, Montreal Expos—known there as “Le Grand Orange”— player who hailed from New Orleans. Our Rusty Staub gained his name by virtue of his showing up one day wearing a Houston Astros cap. I knew he didn’t have much by way of talent but I put him in one game that we obviously weren’t going to win and he nearly killed outstanding catcher Wayne Baxter with one wild pitch after another. At one point, as he chased down yet another wile pitch, Baxter was heard to mutter, “I’m gonna kill Aswell.”

The best play ever was when Jack Thigpen pulled an unassisted triple play. I don’t remember the opponent, but they had runners on first and second with no outs when they put on the hit and run. With a left-handed hitter, shortstop Thigpen moved over to cover second on the steal and as luck would have it, the batter hit a line drive right over second. Jack went airborne, speared the ball for the first out, landed on second, doubling off the runner going from second to third and reached down and tagged the runner from first as he slid into second, apparently unaware of where the ball was.

Jack, a light-hitting player, hit two triples and drove in all three runs in another 3-2 win in an exhibition game against a far superior team comprised mostly of stellar Grambling College players the same year that Grambling went to the NAIA playoffs behind Ralph Garr who hit something like .582 his senior year. Thankfully, he had already signed with the Atlanta Braves before that game and didn’t participate.

Back to my game-winning hit. I came up in the top of the ninth at Arcadia and with a runner on third, lined an improbable single. The runner at third was so stunned he nearly forgot to run. In the bottom of the ninth, I promptly allowed a leadoff triple over my head in left field. Now the Aces had the tying run on third with no outs. Pitcher Bill Duncan, who could play any position and who once while catching, picked a runner off second without ever coming out of his crouch, called out the catcher and said, “Nothing but fast balls.”

Nine fast balls latter, the last of three consecutive batters struck out swinging and we had a rare win over Arcadia.

We also played a classic game against Arcadia in Ruston. With no score in the bottom of the seventh, Thigpen scored what was apparently the game’s first run but an appeal resulted in his being called out for missing third. So we went to the 11th and Arcadia scored two runs. We answered by scratching out two of our own in the bottom of the 11th and the game went to the 17th inning before Rennie Howard stole home for another of those 3-2 wins.

The Downsville team had a badly overweight left-handed first baseman but he could really hit. No, he could really crush the ball. Once, at Downsville, first baseman Howard and our right fielder conspired to take advantage of the player’s obvious lack of speed. Sure enough, he scorched an apparent single to right field that reached the right fielder on one hop. He fielded the ball and threw a perfect strike first to get the runner by a good 20 feet.

That same player, who had a volatile temper, by the way, came to bat in a key situation in a game at Ruston. The tying run was at second and the lead run at first late in the game when he came to bat with two out. He took a mighty swing and hit a puny pop-up to the infield. He uttered a loud profanity and heaved his bat over the first base dugout—right through the windshield of his own VW Beetle. No one in our dugout dared laugh.

Why am I writing all this? Because on Saturday (June 18), I had that aforementioned visit at the home of Billy Jack Price in Ruston. Price is 83 now and in the course of our visit, he said he had something he wanted me to read. It was his personal notes about his love for and memories of “cow pasture” baseball in the late 1930s and early 1940s in Antioch, a community just north of the Lincoln Parish town of Simsboro.

Told through the eyes of a child of seven or eight years old (his estimated age at the time), I found it fascinating and extremely accurate—and it reminded me of the reason baseball was invented in the first place.

Back then, there was no pressure to win, no endorsements, no high salaries, and no batting gloves to be adjusted by the batter after each pitch. At times, umpires were recruited from the stands. A “ringer” was a player who showed up in an actual uniform from a big city like Ruston. The objective was to win, of course, but to have fun in the process.

Billy Jack Price names actual participants and the name Price pops up on the list. The most prominent is that of Bruce Price, father of the aforementioned Bob Price who later coached that Simsboro team against whom we competed. (By the time I came along, Bob was in his 50s but when he batted, we could never seem to get him out. He choked up on the bat and just drove us crazy hitting his dinky line drive singles just over the second baseman’s head.)

Bob’s father was Bruce Price who, in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees in Shreveport, once struck out Babe Ruth—not once, not twice, but three times, according to local legend. Ruth is said to have refused to bat against a fourth time, so Price was pulled and Ruth promptly hit a home run.

Billy Jack Price said his father and Bruce Price were not related but did marry sisters, which makes him a first cousin to the late Bob Price. Here then, is Billy Jack Price’s personal story of growing up with “cow pasture” baseball scheduled around milking and harvesting crops:

 

            In compiling thoughts on the Dring family, it invariably turns to recreation. Memories of a person who was young and impressionable tend to remember those things that he loved best from our youth. Set hook fishing, trips to chinquapin trees (a blight came through a few decades ago and wiped out the tree, which bore a nut that resembled a hazelnut but which tasted far better), watermelon in the early morning all come to mind.

            Nothing for the Dring family, however, was more embedded as the game of baseball. Beginning with the Drings from the early days at Antioch, came nearly 20 years of active participation in the game we came to know in the “cow pasture” field.

            Kate Trussell’s pasture on the north side of the road between her store and the Dring home was more than adequate. Cows were run off, only to often return to view the sport and to add irregular “bases” around the outfield, but no one minded. We were, after all, farm boys.

The Field

            Bordered by woods in the outfield, the road on the south and the Old Skinner Road on the east, the field roughly resembled the city slicker fields in Ruston, Simsboro and Dubach. The outfield was wide open and if an outfield caught the ball among the trees, you were out just as if it was caught in the clear area. Charlie Dring was well known for his ability to hit the ball over the trees and many other players could reach the trees with their blasts.

            There was no artificial turf on the infield but if time permitted the cow droppings were removed and the infield smooth down as much as possible with yard rakes.

The Backstop

            Four sweetgum saplings embedded into the ground had chicken wire stretched over them to form the backstop. Sometimes the wire held together as long as two years but usually it was replaced if the “collection” from passing the hat among the spectators yielded enough after the ball and bat were purchased.

The Bases

            Crocker sacks (horse feed sacks) half-filled with dirt created a usable base that would stay put. In fact, when a hard slide occurred, the bases didn’t yield so strong ankles were essential.

The Ball

            Practice balls were usually heavily-taped remains from a demolished baseball and only on game day did a new ball materialize. That was ball, as in singular—not the several dozen that are used in games today. Whoever went to Ruston during game week was charged with the responsibility of buying a game ball for the Saturday game. (To this day, I love the feel of a new baseball.) This ball was inserted into the big game—and all games were big. If fouled off, the game simply ground to a halt until the ball was found. By the end of the game, it was pretty well used. For one July 4th tournament, funds were found for three new balls. This unprecedented show of prosperity was unheard of.

            I don’t think we had a “store-bought” bat that was not broken, nailed, taped and used until is literally broke completely into two pieces and sometimes, even the stub was used. The standby was the home-made bats that Grandpa carved from an ash log. I don’t know who he thought he was making them for, but they were very long (the best guess is 42 inches, much longer than the traditional bat of 33-34 inches in length) and very heavy. After a certain time, these bats had a tendency to warp rather badly. Bruce Price explained to me that the crooked bat was for hitting a curve ball—and I, of course, believed him. Those bats did not break and the theory was that not one play in a thousand playing today could even swing them.

The Uniform

            There were none.

            The typical team would be dressed in work overalls, khakis that were badly worn, shirts that were threadbare, perhaps a cap that was handed down through the years, and shoes of choice—brogans (work shoes), Sunday shoes that were badly worn or, in most cases, no shoes. Dick Dring always caught and he wore his work shoes behind the plate and removed them while batting and running the bases.

            On occasion, a “hot shot” player would show up with a pair of baseball shoes with steel spikes. These spikes, usually filed to a knife’s edge, were the biggest origin of discord in a game. Sliding and spiking an opponent usually brought on strong words and, on rare occasions, blows until calmer heads prevailed. Few of these “hot shot” players returned to the Antioch field a second time.

Home Plate

            Take three pieces of 2 X 8 about 20 inches in length and overlay with three more pieces of same size and nail thoroughly. Embed about two inches into the ground and you had home plate. Will it skin you when you slide? Yes. Will it give you stone bruises if you jump on it? Yes. Will the ball bounce sky-high when fouled onto it? Yes. After countless at-bats, a hole sometimes six inches in depth was created on either side of the plate. This forced the umpire to make allowances for short batters whose strike stones were drastically affected when they stood in the holes.

Pitcher’s Mound and Pitcher’s Rubber

            Wheelbarrows loaded with dirt were utilized to raise the pitcher’s mound about nine inches above the playing field. This height, of course, could be adjusted to meet the requirements of the home team pitcher. The visiting pitcher never liked it.

            The rubber, consisting of a section of 600 X 16 tire 24 inches long was held down by spikes driven into the ground. One of the saddest sights I can remember of the Trussell field was the rotting home plate and the pitcher’s rubber still in place with grass, weeds and bushes around both.

Foul Lines

            The foul lines were not chalked off but were determined solely by the umpire and half the players. This, of course, resulted in many arguments. An honest catcher was in the best position to make the determination and Dick Dring was considered honest and always called them fairly for both sides—unless the game was close.

Home Runs

If the ball was hit fairly and the runner rounded all the bases safely without stopping, it was considered a home run whether it was a long fly ball hit over the outfielders’ heads or a sharp grounder through the infield that no one could flag down. Even missed pop-ups could turn into a home run. Doc Skinner and Charlie Dring were long ball hitters but Snooks Dring and Bruce Price were likely to just keep running on a routine ball just to “make something happen.” A couple of errors, an unlikely encounter between the ball and a fresh cow chip or a little assistance from an umpire could produce a home run.

Financing

            It takes money to run a club. The hat was usually passed around at games and on one occasion a spectator actually dropped a dollar bill in without asking for change. This would purchase a ball for the next game and if anything was left, perhaps a store-bought bat.

Concessions

            For the big games, there was always a concession stand consisting of several number-two wash tubs filled with iced-down Coca-Colas, big oranges and 7-Ups. Occasionally there would be a few Grapettes. Grapettes were the drink of choice for most who tried them but the bottle was so small that most would not spend their nickels for them when the larger drinks would last longer. Funds from the concessions went into the fund for purchasing equipment for the team.

Team Structure

            Three or four Drings, a couple of Prices, some Skinners, and a fill-in or two usually made up the Antioch team. Strictly from memory, as I was quite young, here is the lineup for a big game:

Zane Skinner (shortstop)

Freddy Price (second base)

Snooks Dring (third base)

Charlie Dring (centerfield)

Towdy Dring (first base)

Doe Skinner (left field)

Dick Dring (catcher)

Whoever was available or some young ‘un like Bob Price (right field)

Bruce Price (pitcher)

            The lineup changed often because it was never a certainty as to who would be finished plowing by game time and it was never really very clear who the coach/manager was. Milton Methvin, Bunk Price, Bud Smith, Alva Dring, Earl Turner and several others were always ready to offer lineup advice.

Catching Equipment

            Some way, somehow, the team had managed to secure a mask and a chest protector for the catcher and a mitt also existed. How any catcher avoided being hurt with that antiquated equipment remains a mystery but my awe for Dick Dring led me to a 15-year career as a catcher in Little League, high school, American Legion, some college, the military and semi-pro.

The Umpires

            Generally, the umpire was Dude Smith or Earl Turner and if both were present, both called the game. The balls and strikes umpire stood behind the pitcher and if necessary called both balls and strikes and the bases. The umpire was often the center of attention and Dude Smith could be very colorful with his duties. (Dude Smith was the father of Gene Smith, who played for Simsboro High School, American Legion, Louisiana Tech and the Ruston Ramblers.) While there were arguments a-plenty, most of it was in good, clean fun. Occasionally, some hothead would go too far but cooler heads quickly prevailed.

The Dugout

            Homemade 2 X 12 benches or a log hauled from the woods served as the dugouts for the teams. It was a thrill for me, at seven or eight years old, to be allowed to sit on the bench with the players. Being allowed to take a dipper of water from the water bucket was a bonus

Ringers, Hot Dog Players and City Slickers

            Anyone living in town was a city slicker and immediately branded as such when he appeared to play at Antioch Field. Ragging from players and fans alike was the price one paid for driving over from Ruston. If that player happened to show up in a uniform, the baiting was ramped up considerably. Bruce, Snooks and the others ragged a player from Ruston unmercifully and when the game was over, they thanked him for coming and invited him back.

Bruce Price Curveball

            Yes, Bruce struck Babe Ruth out! Probably once but with each passing decade as the story was repeated, it became twice, then three times and sometimes even more. I can’t vouch for even one but I do know I’ve seen a lot of curve balls and was struck out by some of the best but I have never caught a pitcher who had a Bruce Price curve ball nor have I ever faced a pitcher who had such a devastating pitch as his curve.

July 4th Tournament

            Three or four teams would gather at the Trussell Field on July 4th and several games would be played. Brush arbors were built for the fans to sit under. Food and drinks were available and it was a community holiday the likes of which we don’t see any more. Goose Creek, Ansley, Simsboro, Hico, and other local communities had teams and each had a certain following of fans, family, kids, so the tournament usually brought a pretty good crowd.

            In the Dring family, the farming duties always—without exception—came ahead of ball playing. If the cotton needed plowing, it was plowed before there was any baseball. If a fence was down, it was mended.

            But that was how it was played when I was a kid. The competition and the good fellowship the game provided dictated that the game was recreation, not win at all costs.

            After plowing five days, a good baseball game was relaxing and served as a diversion from the toil and boredom of back-breaking work as we emerged from the Great Depression. Some aspects may seem rural and funny to the sophisticated baseball aficionado.

            But this was a coming together of friends, communities and players for the sole purpose of visiting and sport.

            It was fun.

 

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MAGNIFYING GLASS

By Ken Booth

Guest Columnist 

Under the provisions of Louisiana 44:1 et seq. (The Public Records Law), should any local or state government official raise questions as to whether requested records are public, the agency’s custodian of public documents is required to notify in writing the person making the request of the custodian’s determination and the reasons, including the legal basis. Said notice shall be made within three days of the request exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (emphasis added).

The law is pretty plain. It doesn’t say “may be made,” “might be made” or “should be made” within three days. The word used was shall.

MIKE EDMONSON PHOTO

But with the introduction of the new administration, elected and appointed officials in Louisiana seem to have decided they are exempt from provisions of the state law…one of them, the head of the State Police, of all people, even having “manufactured…own loophole for denying public records requests,” as reported by Louisiana Voice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/01/lsp-stakes-out-claim-that-investigations-records-are-exempt-from-public-records-law-if-no-disciplinary-action-is-taken/

Are they perhaps taking their cues from federal officials?  Within the past week, for instance, the State Department told a federal court that processing a demand for documents relating to Hillary Clinton and her aides would take as long as 75 years and would stretch “generations.”

Besides Obama, of course, Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton have regularly invoked executive privilege as a means of protecting documents from public scrutiny.

What brings this to mind are a series of demands for public records recently involving three areas of significant public interest but which have either gone unacknowledged or denied or even fought with lawsuits against the public seeking the records.  That’s a mean stretch even by Louisiana’s political and corruption standards.

When the weekly Ouachita Citizen sought to follow-up on a state audit that pointed to possible payroll fraud involving a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court, the court’s judges balked and denied the paper’s request for disciplinary action taken against court clerk Allyson Campbell over her alleged falsification of time sheets and other public documents.

When the newspaper filed a complaint with the District Attorney, the court filed a lawsuit against the newspaper which from a financial standpoint would effectively throttle further attempts to litigate the issue.

The paper has multiple public requests in at the office of state Attorney-General Jeff Landry which have for weeks gone unanswered.

Similarly, a couple of my own requests (shown here) to the new “transparency-minded” and “aggressive” Republican Attorney-General remain without result except for one letter which said it “may take some time.”

In a June 7th E-mail to Landry’s office, I wrote: “I would very much appreciate either the documents requested sixteen days ago or an opinion from that office on why they cannot be produced. Please know this is a public records request that will not go away silently.”

Landry’s press secretary Ruth Wisher has made sure that reporters know that her boss doesn’t always return her texts. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky-dory.

BOOTH REQUEST

AG RESPONSE TO BOOTH

BOOTH FOLLOW UP REQUEST
           Known records requests to the AG’s office also demand access to a state police report on its investigation into the allegations of possible payroll fraud and destruction or concealment of court documents. A report on the findings from a companion investigation by the Inspector General’s office was released back on April 15th. The state police report is known to be in the hands of the Attorney General.

All of this is at odds with the very public Landry who has been throwing his weight around the capitol lately pushing for control of his agency’s own finances, making national headlines while trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal aliens, and squaring off (at least publicly) with the Gov. John Bel Edwards as if he hopes to succeed him some day.

But Landry and the 4th Judicial District Court in Ouachita Parish are not the only ones playing keep-away with public records.

LouisianaVoice has been repeatedly stymied by the Louisiana State Police with respect to sought after records.

In fact, as a recent LouisianaVoice post notes, Edmonson has manufactured his own loophole for denying public records requests after tiring, he suggests, of the public learning of “far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons.”

Several high-profile cases of alleged improper State Trooper conduct have been determined to have been free of wrong doing and are therefore exempt  from public records laws if no diciplinary action is taken. That’s staking out a rather questionable claim by the Supertindent.

Curiously, however, his agency did release records showing payroll fraud had occurred at Troop D headquartered in Lake Charles when the lieutenant there was accused of having instructed the men under his command to pad their time sheets to reflect work that had not been performed.

Ironically, that’s the same charge investigated by the same LSP against the law clerk in Ouachita Parish, the report of which has been hidden from public scrutiny even amid growing speculation nothing will come of the charges against her or the Judges who approved her bogus time sheets. It should be noted that the Troop D lieutenant was found to have engaged in “no wrong doing” and access to any investigation findings with respect to him has been denied. However, a trooper he supervised and who figured in the padded time sheets was fired.

The Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police is appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate. Edmonson had—and continues to have—the support of Gov. Edwards.

Edwards is also credited with preserving through his influence, at least indirectly, the job of another Jindal administration hold-over department head, Education Superintendent John White. While White actually is appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over which the governor has little control since most board members are elected, his stated support of White certainly didn’t hurt.

JOHN WHITE PHOTO

White, a 2012 BESE appointee, has been under considerable public fire over his steadfast defense of the Common Core program.

White has filed a lawsuit against two individuals seeking public records in five different requests from the Department of Education, presumably to block their access to dirty laundry in that agency as might be said of the lawsuit by the Judges in Monroe against The Ouachita Citizen.

Even considering Louisiana’s notorius reputation for politial scandals, suing private citizens or even the news media by government agencies has plunged the state’s standards to a new low.

As has been pointed out elsewhere the use of unlimited financial and legal resources—all paid for by the taxpayers—to block citizens with limited financial means is a dangerous threat to the very notion of checks and balances that are supposed to protect the public from abuse.

For those elected Louisiana officials to sit back and do nothing to put a stop to this unprecedented assault on the public’s right-to-know is pretty much tantamount to an endorsement of such actions.

And if the civilian public looks the other way when this kind of mess is exposed and doesn’t demand that it stop then expect the level of distrust to grow.

 

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During the Bobby Jindal years in Louisiana, it was well documented that seats on prestigious boards and commissions were the rewards for generous campaign contributions.

Seats on the LSU Board of Supervisors, the Board of Supervisors of the University of Louisiana System, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome), or various levee boards came at a price and those who wanted the seats ponied up. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/11/bobby_jindals_political_appoin.html

Even the job of monitoring Louisiana’s hundreds of boards and commissions went to the director of the Committee to Re-Elect Bobby for an eight-month period from mid-October, 2012 to June 28, 2013, thus insuring that board appointees would do the bidding of the governor.

That, apparently, is the way politics work just about everywhere.

In Florida, a large enough campaign contribution can even buy justice—or stymie justice, as the case may be.

Pam Bondi, attorney general in the Sunshine State (talk about a misnomer), solicited—and received—a $25,000 contribution from the Donald Trump Foundation and once the check cleared, she promptly dropped her office’s investigation of Trump University, conveniently citing insufficient grounds to proceed. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/florida-ag-asked-trump-donation-075016133.html

And in Bossier City, less than $20,000 in campaign contributions has smoothed the way for the transfer of the city’s water and sewer department to a private Baton Rouge firm—at a first-year cost of more than $1 million to the city, and the loss of about 40 jobs in the department.

http://www.ksla.com/story/32159296/public-private-partnership-in-bossier-city-threatens-dozens-of-jobs

http://www.ktbs.com/story/32163755/bossier-city-council-considers-privatizing-water-sewer-operations

Word has been filtering down to LouisianaVoice for some time now that Caddo Parish is the new New Orleans in terms of political corruption. Apparently elected officials across the Red River have been paying attention to both Caddo Parish and to Bobby Jindal’s love of privatization as well as his thirst for campaign contributions.

The city council voted unanimously Tuesday (June 6) afternoon to approve the PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT with Manchac Consulting Group out of Baton Rouge.

Typical of the seemingly growing penchant of public officials for operating out of earshot of the public, more than 100 employees of the Water and Sewer Department have been told nothing over the last several months of negotiations. City officials have refused to provide information to workers even though an organizational chart proposed by Manchac reflects half the current staffing in some departments.

On Tuesday, the vote was 7-0 to approve a five-year contract with Manchac Consulting to oversee the city water and sewer treatment plants, distribution lines and daily operations at a first-year cost of a little more than $1 million the first year, including $120,000 upon city officials’ signing the contract.

Campaign finance reports show that at-large council member David Montgomery received $2500 from Manchac, $2500 from its CEO Justin Haydel, $2500 from Atakapa Construction Group, which includes Haydel and Manchac President Kenneth Ferachi as officers, $2500 from Manchac Senior Project Manager Christopher LaCroix, and $999 from Ferachi—a total of $10,999.

Council member Scott Irwin received $500 each ($2000 total) from Atakapa, Ferachi, Haydel and Manchac Consulting Group.

Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker received $6,644 total, including $2500 from Manchac Consulting, $3,144 from Haydel (including $2,144 in an in-kind contribution for a fundraising dinner in Baton Rouge), and $1000 from Atakapa Construction.

An Associated Press story pointed out that the Trump family foundation contribution, received by a political group supporting Bondi’s re-election, was received on September 17, 2013 and was in “apparent violation” of rules regulating political activities by charities.

But hey, what’s a little obstacle like a federal law when you’re trying to buy your way out of trouble? It was The Donald himself, after all, who is on record as saying he expects and receives favors from politicians to whom he gives money.

The commitment to pay Manchac more than $1 million over the next 12 months may be completely above-board—we hope so, anyway—but taken in context with the way city officials kept their own employees in the dark even as the mayor and two council members took contributions from the prospective vendor, it just doesn’t look good. And, as they say: perception is everything.

Public employees, after all, are prohibited—as they should be—from accepting anything of monetary value from vendors or contractors. So why should elected officials be held to a completely different (read: double) standard of ethical behavior?

Before we leave this topic, it should be pointed out that politicians will only do what they can get away with. If the voters lower the bar, then our public officials will respond accordingly. Only if we demand accountability, will officials be accountable. A compliant legislature not held accountable by voters allowed Jindal to rape this state for eight years. Likewise, our failure to insist on statesmanship instead of demagoguery, decorum instead of buffoonery, serious discussion of the issues instead of meaningless rhetoric, sanity instead of hysteria, has created candidates like Donald Trump.

If we consistently look the other say and say that’s just the way it is, that’s the way it will always be.

And we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

We will have done it to ourselves.

 

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An official complaint over the appointment of Louisiana State Police (LSP) Maj. Jason Starnes as Interim Undersecretary of Management and Finance has produced another LSP major: a major CYA maneuver at State Police headquarters to backtrack and act as though the “promotion” never occurred.

At the same time, the Louisiana State Police Commission has rescinded last November’s action by the commission to approve a last-minute longevity pay increase plan for state police who last year received two separate pay increases totaling about 30 percent.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/07/state_troopers_get_hefty_back-.html

The longevity pay plan would have locked troopers into automatic pay raises based on years of service and was part of Bobby Jindal’s exit strategy as he headed out the door of the governor’s office near the end of his term.

But on June 1, Cathy Derbonne, LSPC Executive Director, published TRANSMITTAL SHEET NO. 58  on the LSPC Web page that pointed out that Article X, Section 48(C) of the Louisiana Constitution mandates that “any rule determination affecting wages or hours shall have the effect of law and become effective only after approval by the governor and subject to appropriation of sufficient funds by the Legislature (emphasis Derbonne’s).

“As of June 1, 2016, an approval by the Governor has not been received and there is currently insufficient funding to implement the revisions,” she wrote.

“The Revision of State Police Commission Rule Chapter 6 Uniform Pay and Classification Plan is hereby rescinded in its entirety,” she wrote (emphasis Derbonne’s). The pay plan approved by the LSPC last November is contained in GENERAL CIRCULAR 180

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, was recently transferred by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS).

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

In addition to the points cited in the official complaint, LouisianaVoice pointed out last month that the promotion of Starnes placed him in direct supervision of his estranged wife, Tammy, Audit Manager for LSP. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/05/16/mike-edmonsons-appointment-not-official-yet-senate-committee-set-to-consider-his-confirmation-on-tuesday/

LouisianaVoice also revealed that since his separation from his wife, Starnes had been residing in the LSP Training Academy’s VIP quarters. The VIP quarters at the academy is also known as the “Charlie Dupuy Suite,” so named because Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charlie Dupuy also resided there during his own divorce from his first wife.

Starnes has since denied he is staying at the LSP Training Academy and more significantly, he has said he is not acting in the capacity of Undersecretary of Management and Finance despite this February memorandum from Edmonson announcing his appointment:

EDMONSON NAMED

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Starnes’ name has since been quietly removed from the DPS Management and Finance Web page and replaced by that of Edmonson who is listed as Deputy Secretary and Custodian of Records. http://mfn.dps.louisiana.gov/

The Office of Management and Finance page contains a link to the undersecretary but when readers click on the link, a “Message from Undersecretary” heading pops up. Beneath that are only the words “Coming Soon.”

That has to be one of the more obvious moves by Edmonson to obscure a major departmental administrative blunder on his part.

The effort to promote someone in his inner circle illegally, Taken with his clumsy but almost successful effort to steer a bill amendment through the Legislature in the waning hours of the 2014 session that would have given him a retirement pay hike of some $30,000 and the documented cases of inconsistent and inadequate investigations and punishment (or outright ignoring) of wrongdoing within his agency, should give pause to the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee which is scheduled to vote on his confirmation today (Monday, June 6).

 

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LSP has manufactured its own loophole for denying public records requests.

Col. Mike Edmonson apparently has come to the conclusion if he makes the decision not to formally punish, the public has no right to know why. In other words, if someone is victimized by a member of the department of public safety and Edmonson deems it is not worthy of punishment, the public has no right to review the decision.

On the contrary, it would seem to us that when someone is exonerated, this is all the more reason to produce the information. LSP further claims when those who resign in lieu of the completion of an investigation the investigative report is not subject to release.

We think Edmonson is tired of the public’s learning of far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons. He has initiated a pattern of issuing no punishment in an apparent effort to hide misconduct. The reason for not administering punishment is in the investigation file. Many of the investigation files from LSP have shown to be seriously biased in favor of some while very severe for others.

Typically, LSP has denied public records requests for investigation files when the department finds no wrongdoing stating. The standard response to requests for the information generally reads: “The investigative report you requested is not subject to release as the individual right to privacy afforded by Article 1 Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974 outweighs the public’s right to review.”

We maintain the investigation file is a public document and serves a legitimate public interest.

The reference to Article 1 Section 5 of the LA Constitution is a mirror of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution to protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. The amendment specifically lists, “person, property, communications, houses, papers, and effects.” We have no access to those nor does LSP without a properly issued warrant as the amendment states. If it is illegal for us to access, it is also illegal for LSP to have obtained it.

We have accumulated a growing list of denials based on this fantasyland God-like authority bestowed upon himself by himself (Edmonson).

Captain Chris Guillory

LouisianaVoice has received a response to a complaint filed against Captain Chris Guillory for lying to LSP internal affairs investigators. A citizen said that Guillory refused to accept his complaint against a State Trooper in Troop D. The response to the complaint from LSP states in part, “A determination has been made that Captain Guillory did not make a false statement to IA” with his denial that he refused to accept the complaint. The complainant provided an audio tape directly contradicting two documented statements made by Guillory to LSP internal affairs. You can review it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zd-JV3rKjko.

LSP will not release the investigation file because Edmonson did not punish his friend Guillory. The public is denied the right to know why Guillory was not found in violation. We have the tape and we have the LSP documentation listing Guillory’s statement two times denying unequivocally he refused to take the complaint.

LSP has found no wrongdoing by Guillory involving the recently terminated Trooper Ronald Picou even though he was responsible for the investigation of the exact same allegations in 2013, the “Brady Day” investigation, or the investigation involving the padding of time sheets by Brady. He has emerged without any formal discipline.

Guillory has since been removed from his command at Troop D. He has been given a larger command in Baton Rouge. Sources have informed us Guillory’s new position is in violation of state police commission rules on residency because he lives in Sulphur but works in Baton Rouge. Sources further report Troopers are authorized three hours one way for travel to Baton Rouge. That means Guillory works two hours out of every eight hour day.

LT Paul Brady

We requested the documentation involving the investigation into “Brady Days,” paid time off for arresting someone for DWI in violation of quota and payroll fraud laws—so named the Troop D supervisor who allowed, indeed, encouraged the practice. Sources indicate Brady days was an unwritten policy at Troop D under some supervisors and this was confirmed by IA investigators. We were informed there was no finding of wrongdoing on Brady’s part. But again, we were denied access to any investigation findings.

Brady was cleared even though he was the supervisor for Trooper Picou who was recently terminated. Picou was proven to be neglectful of duty. Brady was paid to be a supervisor and sources say if he would have simply done his job Picou might still have his.

But again, because there was no disciplinary action taken against Brady, the investigation record remains out of the public’s reach.

A recent complaint has been filed against Troop D personnel alleging a wrongful DWI arrest. Sources say the arresting Trooper was a beneficiary of paid time off for Brady days but was also punished for not accumulating a sufficient number of DWI arrests.

Trooper Jimmy Rogers

Rogers suddenly resigned amid the beginning of the massive investigations at Troop D. We were denied access to his records because LSP did not complete the investigation. This is another method of Edmonson escaping culpability for poor leadership—ask them to resign so no one finds out. Sources report Rogers resigned after it was discovered he was committing payroll fraud on parish-funded overtime details known as Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE). Rogers was reportedly issuing citations on his regular shift but claiming them on different dates in order to accrue overtime.

Accepting excess money for violating state issued permit/bribery

We requested the investigation files involving a Trooper who accepted extra money for moving oversized loads in violation of the state issued permit and possibly bribery. It was discovered after another Trooper refused the extra payment. The response was to make the Trooper give the extra money back. We were notified no complaint was filed so they did not investigate it.

In a letter from LSP dated April 27, 2016, we were again notified no complaint was filed. All of our other requests resulted in the investigation of the allegations but they skipped this one. The excuse that they do not investigate misconduct until someone files a complaint is silly. A complaint has since been lodged with LSP so maybe they will finally investigate.

We are not done

The failure to release records at the discretion of one man with a proven track record of unethical behavior and poor decision making should not be allowed to stand. The public has a right to know about the circumstances surrounding a resignation in lieu of termination amid an investigation.

They further have a right to know why a public employee was found to have committed no wrongdoing—if for no other reason than to fully clear the employee’s name and his public standing. There is no reason to hide such information unless indeed, there is something to hide.

LouisianaVoice is exploring legal remedies for these denials.

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