Remember how during his first term of office, Gov. Piyush Jindal hop-scotched all over north Louisiana in that state helicopter to witness his Christian faith at all those Protestant churches from Shongaloo to Dry Prong, from Farmerville to Plaucheville, from Winnfield to Winnsboro?
Sorta gave you a warm fuzzy to see the leader of the state professing his love for his fellow man—unless, of course, you offend him by doing something really audacious, like thinking for yourself or formulating an opinion of your own.
That seems to be where the trouble begins and Christian charity abruptly ends.
After what we’ve seen in four years-plus of this governor, what administrator would ever be bold enough to give a straight answer to a legislative committee?
• January 2008—The echo of his first oath of office had barely died out when it was learned that Jindal was being fined $2,500 for failure to disclose more than $118,000 in direct mail expenses the Louisiana Republican Party made on his behalf.
He subsequently pushed through a bill that literally gutted the Ethics Board by transferring power to an ethics adjudicatory panel, prompting the resignations of all but one member, including Ethics Administrator Richard Sherburne who resigned in protest on June 26, 2008.
Not that Jindal holds a grudge or anything, but a whole four years later, ethics board Chairman Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge was mysteriously snubbed for a second term on the board after he had been critical of interaction between the ethics board and the ethics adjudicatory panel to which Jindal had orchestrated the power transfer in 2008.
• March 26, 2008—Jim Champagne, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, was fired barely two months into Jindal’s first term. His sin? He opposed Piyush’s campaign promise to repeal the motorcycle helmet law.
• May of 2008—Jindal successfully fights for repeal of Stelly tax plan which has cost the state about $300 million per year in revenue.
• September 15, 2008—Ann Williamson, Secretary of the Department of Social Services, is forced out after criticism of shelter conditions following Hurricane Gustav and problems with a post-storm food stamp program.
In what would be a prophetic utterance, Jindal promised more changes “sooner rather than later.”
• 2009—It’s learned that Jindal has appointed more than 200 campaign contributors who donated more than $784,000 to his election campaign in 2007 and 2008 to positions in state government. Jindal sought to prevent the divulging of the information by helping to kill a bill that would have required him to disclose the names of campaign contributors appointed to government posts.
• May of 2009—Jindal opposes and eventually succeeds in killing House Bill 169 which would have extended the Public Records Act to the governor’s office. Jindal, aka Mr. Transparency, said the bill would violate executive privilege.
• May of 2009—Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere is called upon to resign after he sent a public records request to a Republican legislative leader who was critical of Jindal. This act would be repeated in 2012.
• June of 2009—Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Tammie McDaniel, was asked by Jindal to resign because she didn’t agree with some of the administration’s public education policies. She resisted until Feb. 11, 2010, when she finally acquiesced.
• August 21, 2009—Despite backing for the project from businessmen, Gov. Jindal rejects federal stimulus funds to construct a light rail system between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
• October 1, 2009—Melody Teague, a Social Services grant reviewer, testified in opposition to Jindal’s plan to streamline government during legislative hearings. She was fired the following day, ostensibly not for her testimony but for her overall job performance. She appealed and got her job back six months later.
• February 5, 2010—Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary William Ankner fell on his own sword when he resigned after Coastal Bridge Co. filed a lawsuit against the state after Boh Bros. Construction Co., with a high bid and the longest time for completion, was nevertheless awarded a $60 million contract to widen a stretch of I-10 in Baton Rouge.
Robert S. Boh, one of the company’s owners, and the company itself combined to contribute $11,000 to Gov. Jindal’s gubernatorial campaigns between 2003 and 2011.
Coastal Bridge, meanwhile, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s campaign between 2003 and 2010. Perhaps Coastal felt it was entitled to at least half the work.
• August 13, 2010—Gov. Jindal demands the resignation of State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Secretary Murphy Painter after Painter twice refused to comply with directives from the governor’s office to issue a permit to SMG, the New Orleans Superdome management company, that would allow Budweiser to erect at large tent and signage in Champions Square.
Budweiser had offered $300,000 to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District to sponsor the tent for tailgating parties at Saints home games. Painter, who said SMG never addressed compliance requirements of his office, was not only fired, but was subjected to sexual harassment and stalking charges. Nearly two years later, however, criminal proceedings still have not been initiated against Painter.
• April 15, 2011—Melody Teague’s husband, Tommy Teague, was canned as director of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) despite the fact he had taken the agency from a $30 million deficit to a $500 million surplus in a scant five years. The problem was he didn’t jump on board the administration’s privatization plan quickly enough. His successor, Scott Kipper, lasted six weeks before leaving in disgust.
At issue was the $49,999.99 Chaffe Report on the advantages and pitfalls of the proposed OGB privatization. At first, Jindal refused to release the report to a legislative committee but eventually it was “leaked” to the media. Trouble is, the administration had said the report was received on May 25, 2011, but was confidential. The “leaked” copy was signed off on by the administration on June 7, two week after it said it received the report. Moreover, none of the pages of the report were date stamped, which is strictly against policy. This cast doubt on the validity of the “leaked” report and led to speculation that there may have been two versions of the Chaffe report.
• May 2011—Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein refused to divulge to a legislative committee who the winning bidder was on a $300 million contract with his agency. It was learned later that the winning bid came from a firm for whom Greenstein once worked and despite his denials that he had discussed the bid with his old company, emails subpoenaed by the committee indicated otherwise.
• October 19, 2011—Gov. Jindal refuses to apply for a federal grant that could have meant $60 million in early childhood education funding for Louisiana.
• October 27, 2011—Bryan Jeansonne, law partner of State Republican Executive Director Jason Dore sends emails to parish school superintendents throughout the state making a public records request of all emails between the superintendents and school employees.
• October 27, 2011—It was learned that the state lost an $80 million federal grant to expand the reach of broadband Internet to rural and poor areas of the state. Jindal rejected the grant after a political contributor was forced to resign from the Board of Regents when it was revealed he had a contract with the Regents for a high speed fiber optics internet project. Jindal said he felt the job could be done by the private sector. It was also learned that AT&T, a Jindal supporter, had opposed the grant.
• February 1, 2012—Larry Dorsey, administrator of University Medical Center (UMC) in Lafayette, acting no doubt on orders from above, sent an email to his employees that they were not to attend a rally in protest of the elimination of 130 positions at the hospital, whether they were “on or off the clock.” Dorsey said that violation of his directive may result in disciplinary action.
Civil Service rules clearly allow state employees, particularly those “off the clock” to attend protests, carry signs and sign petitions.
• Also on February 1, 2012—The Civil Service Board rejected a proposal by DHH Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology chief Carol Steckel to abolish 69 information technology (IT) positions and to fire the employees because of inadequate documentation to justify the layoff.
Problem was, the IT employees had already been informed by teleconference that they would lose their jobs and upon returning to their work stations they found they were locked out of their computers. Because of the Civil Service Board’s action, they were reinstated but in a retaliatory measure because some had complained to LouisianaVoice, all annual leave applications by the employees were rejected.
• February 8, 2012—LSU Systems President John Lombardi obediently sent an email to his administrators to ask that they not complain about the proposed elimination of 2,837 positions in higher education. “…the administration does not think it helpful to have complicated or difficult or contentious higher education initiatives brought before the legislature,” he said, adding that the administration would appreciate it if higher ed officials recognize that the budget “gives higher ed special treatment and thank the administration for their attention and concern for higher ed.”
In theory, Lombardi was toeing the line and complying with the governor’s request that higher ed officials thank him for his benevolence. In reality, Jindal was dangling a carrot in the form of a promise of $100 million for higher ed should Jindal’s retirement package pass.
• March 6, 2012—Mary Manuel, executive director of the Office of Elderly Affairs, testified that she was never informed of Jindal’s intent to transfer her agency from the governor’s office to DHH. The following day she was fired. She said she was summoned to testify by Rep. John Berthelot (R-Gonzales). Berthelot, as expected, threw her under the bus by never coming to her defense.
• March 6, 2012—Rep. Harold Richie (D-Bogalusa), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, voted against a tax rebate for those who donate money for scholarships to private and parochial schools, a bill being pushed by Jindal. The next day he was stripped of his vice chairmanship of the House Committee on Insurance by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles). Committee Chairman Greg Cromer (R-Slidell) was not informed of the action beforehand nor did he have a voice in naming Richie’s replacement.
• March 14, 2012—State Rep. Nancy Landry (R-Lafayette), in a transparent effort to out teachers who took off work to protest the administration’s education bills, made a motion for all those speaking for or against the bills to tell their names, where they are from and whom they represent (normal procedure) to also inform the committee if they were present before the committee on annual or sick leave—something that committee member John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) pointed out was unprecedented.
Even when it was determined the committee could not refuse testimony if speakers refused to divulge that information, Landry proceeded to push her silly, petulant, toothless motion through and sure enough, when Gov. Jindal testified, he neglected to inform the committee if he was on annual or sick leave.
• March 26, 2012—As the debate raged over the administration’s attempt to force state employees to work longer and pay more for drastically reduced retirement benefits, Gov. Jindal was quietly buying back 2.2 years of time in order to enhance his own state retirement.
• April 25, 2012—Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie) proved that a hack is not always a taxi as he fought a bill by Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) which would have prevented legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure political jobs in order to boost their state retirement.
Even as the administration was still trying to come up with a way to rape state employees of their retirement benefits, Martiny went into a snit against Claitor’s bill—possibly because he was one of a handful qualified to take advantage of the loophole.
The bill was defeated even as it became known that former legislators had been appointed to lucrative jobs for which they possessed few, if any, qualifications. Cases in point included Noble Ellington of Winnsboro, appointed to the second position in the Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year; Jane Smith of Bossier City, appointed to position of Deputy Secretary in the Department of Revenue at $107,500 per year; Troy Hebert of Jeanerette, appointed Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board at $107,500 per year; Kay Katz of Monroe, named member of the Louisiana Tax Commission at $56,000 per year; Nick Gautreaux of Meaux, named Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles at $107,000; Tank Powell and M. J. “Mert” Smiley, both named to the pardon board at $36,000 per year—Smiley to serve only until he takes office as Ascension Parish tax assessor; former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, named Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at $165,000, and former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, new Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery at $150,000 per year.
• April 27, 2012—The LSU Board of Supervisors, knuckling under to the Gestapo tactics of Gov. Jindal, fires LSU system President John Lombardi. Two days before, Lombardi told the House Education Committee it was attempting to fix a problem that does not exist with a bill that would allow the state’s higher education boards to vary the state funding formula for college campuses by up to 5 percent. It was a bill favored by Jindal.
Lombardi has never been known for his diplomacy and the one cardinal sin one does not commit in Louisiana is upstaging Piyush.
One must now wonder if the governor may now withdraw that offer of $100 million he promised to higher ed from the savings he’d anticipated from his retirement reform.
It would seem now that it would be practically impossible to attract qualified candidates for Lombardi’s position. What university administrator with any intelligence would even entertain the thought of coming into this politically-charged atmosphere? It’s a dead-end job at best, rife with political land mines.
For that matter, what agency director of department head would dare give a candid account of his agency or department at this stage of the game? Heads roll far too easily for anyone to speak openly. The ambivalence was palpable just last week when cabinet secretaries testified about the future of their agencies.
Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas, asked if her department was likely to lose engineers or truck drivers to the administration’s proposed retirement changes, said “It’s really hard to say.”
Really? The Louisiana State Employees Retirement System (LASERS) knows. They would tell the secretary that employees are lined up to get retirement counseling prior to Jindal’s retirement changes being adopted—changes that the Legislative Auditor and LASERS each say are unconstitutional. That’s because LASERS is beyond the reach of a vindictive Jindal.
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson, ever the political/social climber, said legislators should not worry about the number of employees in the Department of Public Safety who might retire because if necessary, he would work traffic accidents. “Public safety is my number one priority,” he said. Yeah, right. That and photo ops with Jindal.
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Lane Carson (a former legislator who moved into his secure state job) said he would defer to his finance manager.
His agency’s undersecretary, Tom Burbank, said he is waiting to see the outcome of the final retirement legislation before taking the time to assess the situation.
LASERS has projected as many as 21 percent of all state civil service employees are eligible for retirement.
That’s candor you won’t find from an appointed state employee.
Thanks to Piyush’s ongoing reign of terror.