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This should be the mother of all embarrassments for the legislature…but it won’t be.

I received a couple of emails over the past few weeks that, though sent independently of each other, combine to illustrate in crystallized form the ineptitude of the Louisiana Legislature.

Whether this ineptitude is by design or is simply the unfortunate consequences of an uninformed citizenry’s having elected a bunch of dunderheads remains a matter of conjecture.

But regardless, ineptness is ineptness and everyone loses. Barney Fife perhaps said it best in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show when, speaking to Andy, he said of a character played by Don Rickles, “He’s not ept, he’s not ept, he’s just not ept.”

But I digress.

The emails.

In the first one, I was blind-copied on a message sent to 15 senators, all members of the Senate Finance Committee:

  • Eric LaFleur (D-Ville Platte), chairman;
  • Brett Allain (R-Franklin);
  • Conrad Appel (R-Metairie);
  • Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge);
  • Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans);
  • Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville);
  • Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro);
  • Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell);
  • Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles);
  • Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport);
  • Bodi White (R-Central);
  • Norby Chabert (R-Houma);
  • Blade Morrish (R-Jennings);
  • Francis Thompson (D-Delhi);
  • Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe)

(Chabert, Morrish, Thompson and Walsworth are all interim members.)

The email dealt with the writer’s concerns over the Louisiana Department of Education’s Minimum Foundation Program, the formula employed for funding public education in Louisiana (not that they would be likely to read anything that didn’t have a campaign check attached),

I have withheld the identity of the author of the email because he/she obviously is an LDOE insider with sensitive knowledge of the situation. Here is that email:

To: lafleure@legis.la.gov, allainb@legis.la.gov, appelc@legis.la.gov, barrowr@legis.la.gov, bishopw@legis.la.gov, donahuej@legis.la.gov, fanninj@legis.la.gov, hewitts@legis.la.gov, johnsr@legis.la.gov, tarverg@legis.la.gov, whitem@legis.la.gov, chabertn@legis.la.gov, morrishd@legis.la.gov, thompsof@legis.la.gov, walsworthm@legis.la.gov
Date: April 28, 2018 at 4:16 PM
Subject: MFP Program at Department of Education

Greetings,

On Monday morning, the Senate Finance Committee will approve SCR48 by Sen. Morrish.  This resolution deals with the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) formula for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. As the Department of Education and representatives of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will argue that these funds are necessary to help Louisiana’s struggling schools, one must question the MFP in the current fiscal year. 

The department has been in complete chaos these past few weeks when it discovered a serious flaw in the MFP formula. Every child in the state was shortchanged in State General Fund dollars since the fiscal year began in July 2017. Interestingly, some districts got more MFP dollars than (they) should have. The department currently has a $17 million State General Fund surplus because of the flawed formula. Now, instead of quickly correcting the formula and distributing the funds to the school districts, they (Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth Scioneaux and MFP Director Katherine Granier) are attempting to “spin” the mistake and make no mention about it because they are afraid of an audit of the MFP program. Basically, the department will lie and cover up the mistake, the local school districts will lose out on the funding that they are entitled, and the excess State General Fund will be used for onetime expenses in fiscal year 2018-2019.

Who is monitoring the Department of Education? Anyone? Are they not accountable? 

I would be interested in what they have to say about the $17 million surplus. I am quite certain that the local school boards would be surprised to know this, too. They are unsure how the formula is derived and they just depend on the Education department to get it right.

I would hazard a guess that this individual never received a response from a single member of the Senate Finance Committee. LouisianaVoice also would be interested in knowing if anyone at LDOE is accountable or if anyone in the Legislature is paying the least bit of attention.

That curiosity is piqued not only by the email above but by one received on Sunday. Again, I am keep the identity of the second writer confidential as well. Here is that email:

To anyone who thinks that the legislature is doing ANY real work:

Consider the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP). This $3.7 BILLION appropriation is the second largest item in the state budget (the largest is Medicaid). These dollars go to local school districts to fund operations. It’s kind of a big deal and surely elected members have some questions or at least want to know a little about this gigantic item, right? WRONG!  The MFP for FY19 exists as SCR 48. This resolution sailed through the Senate with only a couple of perfunctory questions. Not to be outdone, when it arrived at the House Education Committee, it got worse. Chairman Nancy Landry (one of the worst of the Tea-Partiers) called up the resolution before anyone from LDOE even arrived at the meeting, said it wasn’t necessary for the Department to be there, moved favorable, and just like that, $3.7 BILLION moved on. Not a single question, not a single comment, no public testimony (no one was present), no Department testimony. And THAT is YOUR legislature at work. Meanwhile, the House Floor spent HOURS on an asinine bill by Rep. Amedee (possibly the least intelligent member of the body) to mandate a certain amount of time per day as “recess” for grades K-8. One would think this is purely the purview of BESE and the local school boards, but No. Incidentally, Amedee is one of those Tea-Partiers who abhor any sort of government regulation EXCEPT WHEN IT IS SOMETHING THEY WANT. Then, it’s okay! To its credit, the House voted her bill down. But the fact that hours were spent on such stupidity, and not one minute was spent on the MFP, tells you everything you need to know about YOUR legislature. These are the jackasses that WE elected!! So, who should really shoulder the blame? The elected jackasses or “We, the People” who put them there? 

In addition to the contents of those two emails, consider this:

The Louisiana Department of Education has 37 unclassified employees (appointive) who draw $100,000 or more per year in salary, including Elizabeth Scioneaux, who is paid $133,000 per year whose job it apparently is, according to the first writer, to spend multi-million-dollar mistakes in order to conceal them from legislative or state auditor oversight.

LDOE also has nine people identified by the somewhat ambiguous job title of “Fellow” knocking down between $88,000 and $110,000 per year. Those are mixed in with the “consultants,” “directors,” “advisers,” “specialists,” “assistants,” “researchers,” “managers,” “liaison officers,” and something called “paraeducators.”

In all, LDOE has a whopping 170 UNCLASSIFIED EMPLOYEES, topped of course, by State Superintendent John White’s $275,000 per year. This information was obtained as part of a public records request submitted by LouisianaVoice.

We even found our old friend David “Lefty” Lefkowith, who pulls down $100,000 per year as a “director,” whatever that is. Our first encounter with Lefty was back in 2012 when we discovered he was commuting to and from his California home to perform his duties with LDOE. A little closer examination revealed he was part of a CARTEL that included then-candidate for Florida governor Jeb Bush, the now-defunct Enron Corp., and a spin-off company named Azurix in a failed effort to privatize and store potable water to later sell to the highest bidder through a process called aquifer storage and recovery (ASR). At least LDOE did drop Lefty’s 2012 salary of $145,000 per year to its current level. But then, we’re told that he no longer commutes, either; he works from home in California. Nice.

Others include:

  • Laura Hawkins—Recovery School District administrator (RSD): $110,000;
  • Elizabeth Marcell—RSD administrator: $115,000;
  • Dana Peterson—RSD administrator: $148,500;
  • Jules Burk—superintendent: $120,000;
  • Meredith Jordan—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ralph Thibodeaux—superintendent: $115,000;
  • Allen Walls—education coordinator: $112,200;
  • Ronald Bordelon—RSD administrator: $150,000;
  • Andrea Cambria—RSD administrator: $100,000;
  • Tiffany Delcour—assistant superintendent: $120,000;
  • Gabriela Fighetti—assistant superintendent: $135,000;
  • Lona Hankins—director: $140,000;
  • Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Erin Bendily—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Kenneth Bradford—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Jennifer Conway—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Bridget Devlin—chief operating officer: $110,000;
  • Hannah Dietsch—assistant superintendent: $130,000;
  • Lisa French—manager: $104,500;
  • Joan Hunt—executive counsel: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Kockler—assistant superintendent: $129,800;
  • Rebecca Lamury—director: $100,000;
  • Diana Molpus—educational director: $103,000;
  • Kunjan Narechania—assistant superintendent: $159,500;
  • Catherine Pozniak—assistant superintendent: $140,000;
  • Jan Sibley—fellow: $100,000;
  • Jill Slack—director: $126,500;
  • Melissa Stilley—liaison officer: $135,000;
  • Dana Talley—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Francis Touchet—liaison officer: $130,000;
  • Alicia Witkowski—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jamie Woing—fellow: $110,000;
  • Jacob Johnson—executive director: $100,600;
  • Shan Davis—director: $135,200.

And there was Vicky Thomas, listed as a “confidential assistant,” making a cool $91,800 per year.

Yet, with all those high-powered appointees with the important-sounding titles, a $17 million error in the crucial MFP was apparently allowed to slip through the cracks and no one in the legislature across the street could think of a single question to ask—because they were too busy considering recess, concealed carry in schools, granting payday loan companies interest rates of 167 percent, renaming highways, and…well, you know: important matters.

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Under the Latin term Respondeat Superior (Let the master answer), an individual would not be held personally liable in a civil proceeding if (a) he (or she) was acting within the scope and duties of his employment or if the action was taken on advice of counsel.

An example of that would be if a state employee withheld records from a reporter on advice of the agency’s attorney but it was subsequently determined in court that the records were actually public and should have been made available upon request. It would be the agency, not the employee, who would be liable in such a case.

A newspaper reporter would be protected from libel damages if he had written something he believed to be factual and it was vetted by editors and published only to be found to be inaccurate and damaging to the subject’s reputation or career. In that case, the newspaper or TV station (or, more accurately, the medium’s liability insurance policy) would pay.

So, it is more than a little curious that Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) paid to defend Attorney Supervisor Weldon Hill—and paid the settlement—in Bethany Gauthreaux’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Hill, a STORY first reported by LouisianaVoice earlier this month.

And why, when the news media requested names of cases involving sexual harassment, was this case omitted. Nowhere in the Baton Rouge Advocate STORY is the Gauthreaux case listed. Was this an honest mistake—or was it by design?

Not only did LDH pay the $40,000 settlement, but the agency also paid more than $76,300 in legal fees to the Baton Rouge law firm of Keogh Cox and Wilson ($69,828), the Louisiana Attorney General’s office ($1,258), Court Reporters of Louisiana ($2,183), Walgreen’s ($27), the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court ($2,611), North Oaks Medical Center ($250), and for photocopies ($186).

And how did that particular law firm wind up with the contract to defend Hill and LDH? The very fact that the LDH Deputy General Counsel, under whom Gauthreaux worked, was Kim Sullivan should have disqualified the firm.

Attorney Chad Sullivan is Kim Sullivan’s husband and he works for Keogh Cox and Wilson, a fact that the firm should have disclosed. By virtue of supervising plaintiff Gauthreaux, Kim Sullivan was a potential co-defendant—and witness—in a case defended by her husband’s law firm. (Click HERE and move your cursor to the first photo on the third row—the first one with a beard. That’s Chad Sullivan.)

Including the $40,000 settlement, the TOTAL COST to LDH was just north of $116,300 to defend an employee who, it would seem certain, was not acting within the scope and duties of his employment. And it would appear he was certainly not acting on advice of legal counsel (though he is himself an attorney) when he was said to have asked highly personal questions about breast feeding her newborn infant, pressed his body against hers as she monitored her computer screen, and placed his hand on hers atop the computer mouse.

And moving her and two other women from their eighth-floor offices to the fifth floor—Gauthreaux to a converted supply room with no phone—would seem something of a gray area insofar as the Respondeat Superior doctrine would apply as would the statement attributed to Hill that he felt women “have nothing to say,” and his timing women employees’ bathroom breaks.

So, now the state is out more than $116,000 because of the actions of Hill, his supervisor, LDH Executive Counsel Stephen Russo, General Counsel Kimberly Humble, and others up the food chain—and because of the inaction of LDH’s Human Resources Office, which should have taken appropriate steps as soon as it was aware of the harassment, but curiously did not.

And just where was LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee while all this was going on? After all, someone anonymously (for obvious reasons, given the climate at LDH) placed a copy of Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on the windshield of Dr. Gee’s vehicle.

To get those answers, LouisianaVoice emailed Dr. Gee on Jan. 19, posing three simple questions:

  • What action do you plan to take regarding the sexual harassment lawsuit settlement against your legal department, specifically, Mr. Weldon Hill?
  • Why did Mr. Hill’s supervisor(s) and/or DHH HR not initiate some kind of remedial or disciplinary action?
  • Why did you not take some type of remedial or disciplinary action when you first found a copy of the Ms. Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on your vehicle windshield?

Dr. Gee never responded even though LouisianaVoice received a return receipt indicating that she did open that email.

So, a follow-up email was sent to Dr. Gee on Jan. 23:

Dr. Gee, I don’t mean to pester you, but I would remind you that to ignore my questions below would not serve your or LDH’s best interests. It almost seems as if you are trying to conceal information. Many a public servant has learned the hard way that eluding questions and refusing to face issues head-on usually backfires in the end. This litigation was a serious matter that deserves your serious attention. I will not bother to ask you again but should you choose to continue to ignore this issue, I will have no choice but to so state in my follow-up articles.

The same three questions were attached to the bottom of that email and a return receipt indicated she opened that email as well.

But she still has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Hill and Russo continue at their jobs which pay them $100,000 and $138,500, respectively, while Gauthreaux was forced to quit her $42,500-per-year attorney position. And the word is that Hill is planning to quietly retire.

Not only should Dr. Gee answer the three questions LouisianaVoice put to her, but these as well:

  • Why did the state pay Hill’s attorney fees and the settlement without demanding some payment from him?
  • Why was he not summarily fired once the details of his actions were known?
  • Why was Russo and LDH’s HR Department not held accountable?
  • And finally, just what is the purpose of the mandated sexual harassment classes for state employees if those in supervisory positions are going to simply look the other way and not themselves be held accountable?

We’re waiting.

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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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