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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

If you really want to know what’s wrong with our political system and the people we elect to office, it can be summed up in the current race for State Treasurer.

Here are the Duties of that office:

According to Article IV, Section 9 of the Louisiana Constitution, the treasurer is head of the Department of the Treasury and “shall be responsible for the custody, investment and disbursement of the public funds of the state.” The Treasury Department website outlines the treasurer’s duties:

  • receive and safely keep all the monies of this state, not expressly required by law to be received and kept by some other person;
  • disburse the public money upon warrants drawn upon him according to law, and not otherwise;
  • keep a true, just, and comprehensive account of all public money received and disbursed, in books to be kept for that purpose, in which he shall state from whom monies have been received, and on what account; and to whom and on what account disbursed;
  • keep a true and just account of each head of appropriations made by law, and the disbursements under them;
  • give information in writing to either house of the Legislature when required, upon any subject connected with the Treasury, or touching any duty of his office;
  • perform all other duties required of him by law.
  • advise the State Bond Commission, the Governor, the Legislature and other public officials with respect to the issuance of bonds and all other related matters;
  • organize and administer, within the office of the State Treasurer a state debt management section

https://www.treasury.state.la.us/Home%20Pages/TreasurerDuties.aspx

Nowhere in al that does it even once say or even imply that the job has once scintilla to do with:

  • standing with President Trump to create new jobs or to cut wasteful spending, as former Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis would have us believe in her TV ads;
  • fighting to make drainage and infrastructure top priorities in the state budget, as State Sen. Neil Riser insists in his TV ads;
  • having the guts to say “No! No to bigger government, no to wasteful spending and to raising your taxes,” as former State Rep. John Schroder proclaims in his TV ads, or
  • stopping cuts to education, healthcare and wasteful government spending, as the TV ads of Derrick Edwards insist.

http://www.wafb.com/story/36425632/la-treasurer-candidates-launch-tv-ads-analyst-calls-them-flimsy-on-duties-of-office

So, why do they insist on campaigning on issues in no way related to the actual duties of the position they are seeking?

For the same reason candidates for Baton Rouge mayor (former Mayor Kip Holden and State Sen. Bodie White, who ran unsuccessfully for the job, come to mind) consistently campaign every four years on improving schools and reducing the number of school dropouts when the mayor’s office has zilch to do with the school board:

They consider the average voter to be unsophisticated, ignorant fools who don’t know any better. Or they’re so stupid they don’t know any better themselves. Those are only two choices.

Period.

Their campaign ads clearly illustrate the complete and total disdain the treasury candidates have for Louisiana voters. They obviously think they can throw up (ahem) fake news and pseudo issues that leave voters in complete darkness about each candidate’s relative qualifications to hold the job.

And by so doing, they send a loud message that neither is qualified for—or deserving of—the job.

When John Kennedy, who had previously served as Secretary of Revenue, an appointive position, ran for treasurer in 1995, he ran a somewhat relevant ad that said, “When I was Secretary of the Department of Revenue, I reduced paperwork for small businesses by 150 percent.”

That ad carried a message that actually resonated with small business owners drowning in paperwork and which at least sounded germane to the office of state treasurer—never mind that it was physically impossible to reduce anything by 150 percent. Once you reduce something by 100 percent, you’re at zero.

All of this rant about the four candidates for treasurer and the lame campaign rhetoric of candidates for Baton Rouge mayor—and just about any other political office you can name—just illustrates to what lengths politicians will go to cloud the real issues and to shy away from discussing matters they can actually address when in office.

How many times have you heard a candidate for U.S. Representative or U.S. Senate implore you to send him to Washington so that he can “make a difference”?

It’s disingenuous at best, fraud at worst.

So, on Oct. 14, be sure to go to the polls and cast your vote for one of the four frauds running for treasurer.

It’s the Louisiana way.

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High school civics classes taught us about the checks and balances of government. You know, the three branches: the executive, the judiciary, and the legislative, each of which is supposed to serve as a safeguard against abuses by the other two.

In addition to those, at the state level at least, we have the Office of Inspector General, the Legislative Auditor, and the Attorney General—except that the Constitutional Convention of 1974, thanks to the muscle-flexing of the district attorneys, hamstrung the attorney general from intruding on the turf of the DA’s unless specifically invited to do so.

Another little-known fact about the attorney general is that the office is set up to defend, not prosecute, state agency heads who run afoul of the law. That’s why you see enormous expenditures on the part of the Louisiana Office of Risk Management when an agency head is sued for, say, failure to provide public records when requested or even when an agency head is accused of criminal wrongdoing. ORM, the state’s insurance agency, pays defense attorneys who are contracted by the attorney general’s office. Thus, as long as someone else is footing the bill, the incentive is for the public official to duke it out in court.

So, with all these safeguards in place, how is it that a quiet amendment was sneaked through the legislature 11 years ago that gives legislators control over the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars most folks, including the Legislative Auditor’s Office and those whose job it was to draft bill amendments, didn’t even know existed?

Well, we gave you the answer when we said “sneaked.” These types of bills are done very quietly, with zero fanfare but with laser-like efficiency.

Here’s the wording of that amendment:

R.S. 24:39(D) is amended and reenacted to expand the uses of the monies in the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund to include supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the Legislative Budgetary Control Council. This provision is effective June 7, 2012.” (Emphasis ours.)

The Legislative Capitol WHAT fund?!!!?

Legislative Budgetary Control Council?!!?

What is the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and who are the members of this Legislative Budgetary Control Council?

The members of the Budgetary Control Council are:

  • Sen. John Alario, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Taylor Barras, Co-chair;
  • Rep. Michael Danahay;
  • Rep. Cameron Henry;
  • Rep. Walt Leger, III;
  • Rep. Gregory Miller;
  • Sen. Eric LaFleur;
  • Sen. Gerald Long;
  • Sen. Karen Carter Peterson;
  • Sen. Gregory Tarver.

We also found the 2008 act that created the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund which gives legislators a helluva lot of discretion over funds no one knew existed—especially with the slipping in of that 2012 amendment that gives them carte blanche control over a helluva lot of money.

Here is the wording of R.S. 24:39, including the key Section D:

RS 24:39     

Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund

  1.  There is hereby created in the state treasury, as a special fund, the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund, hereinafter referred to as the “fund”.
  2.  The state treasurer is hereby authorized and directed to transfer ten million dollars from the state general fund to the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund on June 30, 2008, and on July first of each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2009.  The legislature may appropriate, allocate, or transfer additional monies to the fund if it deems necessary to accomplish the purposes of the fund.
  3.  Monies in the fund shall be invested by the treasurer in the same manner as monies in the state general fund and any interest earned on the investment of monies in the fund shall be credited to the fund.  All unexpended and unencumbered monies in the fund at the end of the fiscal year shall remain in the fund.
  4.  Monies in the fund shall be available for appropriation to and use by the Legislative Budgetary Control Council, hereinafter referred to as the “council”.  Such appropriations shall be used by the council solely to fund construction, improvements, maintenance, renovations, repairs, and necessary additions to the House chamber, Senate chamber, legislative committee meeting rooms, and other legislative rooms, offices, and areas in the Capitol Complex for audio-visual upgrades and technology enhancements and for supporting all other operations and activities consistent with the authorized mission of the council.

In 2010, Clifford Williams, who said he worked as a legislative staffer in the Legislature’s Amendment Room where his job was to draft amendments to bills, said, “I was not even aware of this provision until I was asked to do an amendment involving this provision one day.”

He said a legislator came in that day and requested the transfer of $5 million to some other long-forgotten project. “To tell the truth, I not only don’t remember what he said he wanted the money for, I don’t even recall the legislator’s name. But this was the first time I ever heard of this fund, which is nothing more than a slush fund for legislators’ use with virtually no oversight. It’s money that exists outside the regular legislative budget,” he said.

In 2012, just four short years after the initial $10 million appropriation, the fund had a balance of more than $32 million. Here is an analysis of the fund for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012:

FINANCIAL HIGHLIGHTS

The Council’s net assets increased by $20,161,763. This resulted primarily from significant increases in appropriations in the current year for the Legislative Capitol Technology Enhancement Fund and the State Capitol HVAC Replacement and Renovations project, as well as decreases in expenditures due to the completion of various projects.

 The general revenues of the Council were $32,749,917, which is an increase of $16,741,476 from the prior year. The significant increase is a result of additional appropriations received in the current year for projects and renovations. Prior year revenues did not include appropriations for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations.

The total expenditures/expenses of the Council were $11,577,183, which is a decrease of $7,173,036 from the prior year. The decrease is a result of capital outlay expenditures for the Technology Enhancement projects and Capitol renovations decreasing due to project completions in the current year.

The other financing uses of the Council were $1,010,971, which is an increase of $283,007.

So, as the state struggles with budgetary shortfalls, looming deficits and near-certain budget cutbacks, it’s comforting to know the Legislature has solidified its financial future through legislation sneaked through the process with such skill that even Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera was caught unaware Monday when asked about the fund.

Just another way, folks, that your legislators continue to look out for their own interests (parties, fine dining, campaign cash) while leaving you and your concerns choking in the dust.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would’ve said, you can’t make this stuff up.

And the party goes on.

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The most recent audit (August 2017) of the Foster Care Program of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) found that:

  • DCFS did not conduct proper criminal background checks on non-certified foster care providers;
  • DCFS allowed nine certified providers with prior cases of abuse or neglect to care for foster children during fiscal years 2012-2016 without obtaining required waivers.
  • DCFS does not have a formal process to ensure that caseworkers actually assessed the safety of children placed with 68 non-certified providers.
  • DCFS did not always ensure that children in foster care received services to address physical and behavioral health needs.
  • State regulations require DCFS to expunge certain cases of abuse or neglect from the State Central Registry, which means those records are not available for caseworkers to consider prior to placing children with providers.

(See the DCFS audit summary HERE.)

So, the question now is this: What steps will the state take to protect these children now that the Legislative Auditor has pointed out these serious deficiencies?

If the results of a 2012 audit of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development’s Enterprise Zone Program is any indication, then the answer is nothing.

Under state statute, Louisiana’s Enterprise Zone (EZ) program is designed to award incentives to businesses and industries that locate in areas of high unemployment as a means of encouraging job growth. (The summary of that audit can be viewed HERE.)

That audit found that:

  • Approximately 68 percent of the 930 businesses that received EZ program incentives from the state were located outside of a designated enterprise zone. These businesses received nearly $124 million (61 percent) of the $203 million in total EZ program incentives during calendar years 2008 through 2010.
  • Approximately $3.9 billion (60 percent) of the $6.5 billion in capital investment by businesses receiving EZ incentives was located outside a designated enterprise zone.
  • Approximately 12,570 (75 percent) of the 16,760 net new jobs created by businesses granted EZ incentives were located outside an enterprise zone.
  • Four other states with which Louisiana was compared exclude retail businesses from EZ incentives. Louisiana does not, allowing such businesses as Walmart to take advantage of the incentives.
  • None of the four neighboring states allows businesses to count part-time employees among the new jobs created. Louisiana does.
  • Louisiana state law prohibits disclosure of the amount of incentives received by businesses.

Little, if anything, has been done to rectify these deficiencies in the oversight of the EZ program.

There has been precious little reaction from this year’s audit of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which found that thousands of dollars in equipment had been stolen, a story LouisianaVoice called attention to last year. Go HERE for a summary of that audit report or HERE for our story.

Some remedial steps have been made in addressing a multitude of problems exposed in a 2016 audit of the Department of Veterans Affairs (See audit summary HERE).

Yet, we can’t help but wonder where the oversight was before a critical audit necessitated changes. Among those findings:

  • Payment of $44,000 to a company for improperly documented work without the required contract.
  • The use of $27,500 in federal funds specifically earmarked for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell for the purchase of a Ford Expedition for the exclusive use of headquarters staff.
  • The failure to disclose information of potential crimes involving veteran residents at several War Veteran homes.
  • The possible falsifying of former Secretary David Alan LaCerte’s military service as posted on the LDVA website.
  • LaCerte’s engaging in questionable organizational, hiring, and pay practices that led in turn to a lack of accountability.

Likewise, some positive steps have been taken in shaping up the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) trusty oversight programs but that resulted as much from a thorough investigative report by Baton Rouge Advocate reporters as a 2016 audit (see HERE) that found:

Because the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola’s trusty policy, 1,547 (an astounding 91 percent) trusties at Angola were not eligible for the program and even after the policy was revised, 400 (24 percent) of 1705 trusties were ineligible. All 400 were considered by DOC to be eligible as a result of having an undocumented, implicit waiver for a sex offense or time served less than 10 years.

Equally troubling, the audit found that 14 of 151 (9 percent) of trusties assigned to work in state buildings in Baton Rouge were not eligible because of crimes of violence, including aggravated battery, manslaughter, and aggravated assault with a firearm. The report further found that if those 151 were required to comply with the requirements in place for Level 1 trusties, 49 (32 percent) would be ineligible.

Indicative of the monumental waste brought about by the proliferation of boards and commissions in state government, a 2017 audit (see HERE) of “Boards, Commissions, and Like Entities) noted that the number of boards and commissions had been reduced from the 492 in 2012 to “only” 458 in 2016. Texas, by comparison, has 173, Mississippi about 200. The appointment of members of those boards and commissions take up a lot of time as the governor’s office supposedly vets each new member.

Four boards did not respond to the auditor’s request for data in 2017 and 2016.

There were 11 inactive boards which were not fulfilling established functions, five of which were also inactive the previous year.

Some of these boards, as illustrated on numerous occasions by LouisianaVoice, often go rogue and there seems to be no one to rein them in. These include the Louisiana State Police Commission, The Louisiana Board of Dentistry, the Auctioneer Licensing Board, the State Board of Cosmetology, and the State Board of Medical Examiners, to name but a few.

Take, for example, the 2016 audit of the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission (see HERE):

  • The commission did not have adequate controls over financial reporting to ensure accuracy.
  • The commission did not comply with state procurement laws requiring contracts for personal, professional and consulting services, failing to obtain approval for contracts for two vendors totaling $80,000.

The point of this exercise is to call attention to the one office in state government which, with little fanfare and even less credit, goes about its job each day in attempting to maintain some semblance of order in the manner in which the myriad of state agencies protects the public fisc.

The Legislative Auditor’s Office, headed by Daryl Purpera, performs a Herculean, but thankless job of poring over receipts, contracts, bids, and everything related to expenditures to ensure that the agencies are toeing the line and are in accordance with established requirements and laws regarding the expenditure of public funds.

Thousands of audits have been performed. We pulled up only a few random examples: there are others, like the Recovery School District, the Department of Education, Grambling State University (only because it has so many audits with repeated findings), levee districts and local school boards and parish governments. Untold numbers of irregularities have been uncovered—only to be largely ignored by those in positions to take action against agency heads, who, because of political ambitions, allow attention to be diverted from their responsibilities of running a tight ship.

In cases of egregious findings, the media will jump on the story, only to allow it to fade away and things soon return to normal with no disciplinary action taken against those responsible.

If all elected officials and members of the governor’s cabinet were held accountable for their sloppy work or the outright dishonesty of their agency heads, it would send a message throughout state government and this state might well save hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted expenditures and theft.

It calls to mind the lyrics of a 1958 Johnny Cash song, Big River, recorded when he was still with Sun Records:

“She raised a few eyebrows

And then she went on down alone”

Through it all, Purpera and his staff trudge ever-onward, raising a few eyebrows and then continuing (alone) to do their jobs even as those above them do not.

They—and the taxpayers of Louisiana—deserve better.

 

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Since our publication of those Crimson Tide pictures on a Terror-Bonne sheriff’s patrol vehicle, we have gotten all manner of pushback from supporters—and one apparent relative—of Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, one even suggesting we had libeled the good sheriff (we have not, by any definition of the term “libel”).

If those good people think we have been a little tough on Sheriff Larpenter, we have a few more surprises that are certain to get their blood boiling.

This is the sheriff, you recall, who had a search warrant executed against a blogger who had the temerity to criticize the man who holds what is arguably the most powerful elected office in the parish. The blogger’s home was raided in the early morning hours and his computers seized only to be sheepishly returned after a federal judge read the sheriff the riot act about a person’s First Amendment rights.

One who commented on our story said, “You guys do realize those letters are photo-shopped into that picture, right?”

Um, no.

Another well-meaning writer who works in graphic arts assured us she had no dog in the hunt but after examining the photos, she, too, was of the opinion they were photo-shopped.

Nope. Afraid not. It turns out they are produced specifically for Alabama fans. Subsequent photos put up by LouisianaVoice revealed that the tires had been turned around since our store so as to not be visible to the public.

But then the dealer who sold the tires to Larpenter’s department weighed in, saying that the tires cost no more than any other tire because they were on state contract and actually cost less than what they cost the dealer.

Okay, we concede that point but if the good sheriff had nothing to hide, why was he so quick in flipping them so that the lettering faced the undercarriage of the vehicle? Perhaps he did so to escape the wrath of LSU fans who can be every bit as rabid as ‘Bama faithful.

One writer, who identified himself as Joseph Larpenter, wrote, “If that’s all you people are bitching about is tires, then you are stupid. I know the reason behind the tires and it’s a great idea. I’m not saying this because of who I am. I’m not stupid to this approach. If you don’t get it, then you are stupid as well.”

He later emailed us to say, “Because of a set of tires really.” The lack of punctuation marks in the appropriate places sort of diluted his message, but we get it. He doesn’t like us and he thinks we’re picking on the sheriff as did the person who commented that we were treading dangerously close to libel. Our only response to that is that he’s obviously not an attorney.

Well, today we received a little tip about deputy overtime pay and, considering the financial plight of the sheriff’s department where employee benefits have been cut back to help the sheriff overcome a huge budgetary deficit, the numbers ain’t pretty.

Take Maj. Tommy Odom, for example.

Maj. Odom apparently is a workhorse of unlimited energy and a capacity for long hours.

Copies of time sheets from nine randomly selected two-week pay periods indicate Odom’s income may well surpass that Larpenter himself working as he does an average of 21 hours per week in overtime.

The man is dedicated, working Saturdays and Sundays and hardly, it seems, even taking time to go home for lunch, taking as he does only half-hour lunch breaks.

Why, in a single two-week pay period, he logged 88.5 hours over and above his regular 80 hours, good for an extra $5,100 in overtime in addition to his regular pay of $4,080. From September 15, 2014 through September 28, he worked 13 consecutive days, logging as many as 15 hour on several of those days, according to the time sheets obtained by LouisianaVoiceCLICK HER FOR TIME SHEETS

Using the nine pay periods as a base, it showed he worked an average of 21 hours per week overtime. At his base rate of $51 per hour, his regular salary is about $2,040, or around $106,000 per year. At the legal time and one-half overtime rate, he made $76.50 per hour for his overtime work, which, at an average of 21 hours per week, would be about $83,500 in addition to his regular salary.

These figures aren’t photo-shopped. They’re real. And it leads one to wonder just what it was that Odom did during all those overtime hours—or why he was allowed such latitude.

Odom, our source said, is the only one of his rank who is allowed to work overtime. In fact, our source said, “No one else at Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office at the rank of captain or above is allowed to work overtime.” Only Odom, who also is charge of purchasing. When he previously worked patrol, our source says, “he used to dictate his reports to his wife and she would write his reports for him.”

So, while we had a little fun with our tire story, the manner in which Larpenter runs his office is serious business and remains a sticking point with many residents of Terrebonne Parish.

So, in response to Mr. Joseph Larpenter, who obviously has skin (or at least kindred blood) in the game: No, bitching about tires is not all we have to bitch about is tires—not by a long shot. And LouisianaVoice will keep poking and probing and prodding for answers and we will report our findings.

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I’ve got no quarrel with anyone who wants to display his loyalty to a particular college or professional sports team. As a Louisiana Tech graduate, I naturally pull for the Bulldogs and because I live in Denham Sprints, right next door to Baton Rouge, I’m an LSU baseball fan.

And I’ve been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life, dating back to the days of the greatest hitter of ‘em all, Ted Williams who also, incidentally, was very active in helping raise money for the Jimmy Fund, a benefit program for children suffering from cancer. He did so quietly and privately, regularly visiting sick children. There was one ground rule, however: no media were to know when he was there. On one occasion a sick child was holding Ted’s finger in his hand. As Ted tried to leave, the child wouldn’t let go. Williams had a nurse bring a chair to the child’s bedside and he sat there all night holding his hand.

I have LSU, Tech and Red Sox caps and T-shirts but no bumper or window stickers but see nothing wrong with those who openly support Mississippi State, Florida or even Alabama on LSU turf—even if that person happens to Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

You remember Larpenter. He’s the one who got a judge to sign a search warrant so he could raid the home of a blogger whose only sin was being critical of Larpenter. You know, free speech and all that.

A federal JUDGE threw that search warrant in the trash can and in doing so, gave a Larpenter a verbal lashing and a refresher course on the First Amendment while clearing the way for a civil rights lawsuit against the high sheriff.

Well, now we learn that Larpenter, even as he cut back on his department’s matching deferred compensation for his employees and cut a boat load of other benefits as well in an effort to overcome his department’s $3 million deficit, saw nothing wrong with blowing a tidy sum on special tires and rims for one of the Sheriff’s Department’s vehicles.

In what was obviously a hilarious joke on the local LSU fans, Larpenter’s tires have nice white raised lettering reading “University of Alabama Crimson Tide.”

And while the “in your face” rolling proclamation might rankle resident Tiger fans, it should really raise the hackles of local taxpayers who’re paying for this unusual expenditure.

This little gesture must certainly fall under the “What the hell were you thinking” classification of really stupid things to do, Sheriff. It would have been far more economical to just get a Tide rear window sticker—and it’d be a lot less offensive to those who write checks for their property taxes each December.

But then again, this is the type mentality we get from elected officials who feel sufficiently immune to voter outrage and who seem to think of their office as just that—their office, instead of belonging to the people who have bestowed upon them the privilege of occupying the office temporarily.

(Lord, I hope he doesn’t get a search warrant to come barging through my front door at 6 a.m. to seize my laptop the way he loves to do to bloggers who criticize him. I just painted the door and put in new flooring following last year’s flood and don’t need the aggravation.)

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