May 24, 2016*
How does an acronym come to trumpet – to mean – some very important thing? How is it possible that the first letters of any combination of words can name both the disease consuming a place, and its potential cure.
Here and now in Caddo Parish, the subject acronym is “CPERS” – referring to the Caddo Parish Employee Retirement System. “CPERS” is now code for systemic corruption in and surrounding the Caddo Parish Commission.
If the corruption embedded within it years ago by culpable parish officials is stomped out, “CPERS” might well come to refer to when and how Caddo Parish began its recovery.
Put the other way, if the corruption which is the subject of our CPERS battle wins, and the Caddo public is thus openly savaged by its very own government, there will be no hiding the fact that corruption owns this place.
For any who do not know, almost twenty years ago Caddo Parish Commissioners were permanently banned from receiving taxpayer-funded retirement benefits. The banning of such benefits to part-time elected officials – specifically including parish commissioners – went to a statewide constitutional amendment vote in the fall of 1996, with 69% of Caddoans and 70% of Louisianans voting to cease all such benefits, effective January 1, 1997.
Thus, the people spoke … but the Caddo Parish Commission did not give a hoot in hell.
Three years later, in March 2000, our Commission voted unanimously to give themselves that which was explicitly prohibited: retirement benefits, by putting themselves in CPERS.
That 2000 action was wildly illegal and wrong, but a change they voted themselves in March 2005 screamed malicious intent. That ordinance amendment supercharged their take of public money, rigging the annual taxpayer match rate as high as 16.75% in some years.
As it turned out, CPERS was the tip of the Commissioners’ self-pay iceberg. As far back as the early 1990s, we learned, they have voted or otherwise handed themselves many other categories of self-pay, each one of which is banned, also explicitly, by the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter, our constitution.
The help we needed last year to make our case came, but was also officially ignored. Our Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s two reports to the Commission, each of which was intended to remedy all of this, have been completely, totally, utterly disregarded by the Commission and all other local authorities.
The lawsuit I filed against all of this early last year is stalled – not by us. But, that doesn’t matter. Commissioners & Friends can end all of this right now: give the public its money back. Put the now nearly $300,000 Commissioners gave themselves back in the Commission general fund. No court action is necessary. Each Commissioner holding CPERS payola need only give it back. It is ridiculous to proclaim, as Commissioner Matthew Linn recently, publicly did, that such cannot be done.
Commissioner Mike Middleton’s Try
Only one Caddo Parish Commissioner, newcomer Mike Middleton, has taken a stand against the corruption. I regret that this public “Thank You” will be held against him by many Commissioners and their outside handlers, but at least he knows to expect that.
Mr. Middleton’s effort last week to force an open vote on three CPERS-related Resolutions – #40, #41 and #42, included here – never made it to “GO,” much less past it. The parish attorney first urged him not to even try it, but he went ahead. Then, Commissioner John Atkins took the lead to effectively kill the effort by moving the discussion into the secrecy of an executive session where lawyers – lawyers WE PAY – run the show. The public and news media were shut out.
That executive session was direct action against public interests. Such never, ever happens when right is being done. Thus, when the conniving was finished, Commissioner Middleton’s resolutions were kaput … with no public discussion or vote.
Spin and smoke from the black hats notwithstanding, commissioners – except for Mr. Middleton – along with their attorneys (who we pay) and their outside sponsors, are hard at work against the law and the public.
… to be continued …
* Since January 2015, I have written and published a series of highly detailed and sourced articles on the subject of the Caddo Parish Commission’s illegal retirement and other self-pay. Those and other related articles may be read on RealShreveport.com. Click first on “CPERS Timeline,” then begin reading the first article at the bottom of Page 2. Articles are chronologically arranged from there, forward.
For the audits of fiscal years 2014 and 2015, auditors identified problems at the State Board of Certified Public Accountants, the entity responsible for licensing and regulating CPAs in Louisiana.
Auditors found that in fiscal year 2014, the employee payroll was processed before time sheets were due, which did not allow enough time for management to review time entry and leave balances. In one case, an employee was paid for 24 hours of leave without pay, which was not recouped until three months later.
Employee records also showed negative leave balances, including one employee who had a negative balance for four consecutive pay periods but who was allowed to take leave. In addition, employee leave records did not match time sheet postings for two employees over multiple pay periods.
Auditors noted a similar finding in their report for fiscal year 2015. The 2015 audit also found that between January and March 2015, the Board did not have adequate segregation of duties over its financial operations. Specifically, the Executive Director prepared checks, approved disbursements without a formal process requiring purchase orders and/or requisitions, signed checks under $2,500, input disbursements into the general ledger, and maintained control over bank statements.
The Board also did not comply with the Louisiana Licensing Agency Budget Act in fiscal year 2015 because it did not submit its annual comprehensive budget to the appropriate entities until notified by auditors.
In its response, the Board’s management said it was looking at ways to help ensure adequate controls are in place to maintain error-free payroll and leave records. Management officials also said the failure to submit the Board’s budget in a timely manner was an oversight and should not happen again.
Cameron Mays, convicted last month of Aggravated Kidnapping, Aggravated Rape, and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, was this morning sentenced in Third Judicial District Court in Ruston to two life terms, plus twenty years.
The sentences will be concurrent (served at the same time), and are not eligible for parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.
Division B Judge Tommy Rogers said that there was no victim impact statement, but that the victim “dramatically and eloquently testified to her absolute terror” during her testimony at trial.
Rogers also said that Mays’ testimony at his trial showed a “total disregard for the truth,” and that he was “unwilling to take responsibility” for his crimes.
A Second Degree Murder charge against Mays is still pending, and his alleged accomplice in the murder, Brandon Bonton, is scheduled for trial on September 26. Susan Hashway, 64, was found dead in her home several days after the Monday, 6/4/12 kidnapping and rape.
Kevin Owens, Mays alleged accomplice in the rape and kidnapping, was originally scheduled to be a prosecution witness, but last February “dropped of the face of the earth” and couldn’t be located by prosecutor Mike Ruddick.
Owens has never been charged in the case.
Sales taxes in Ouachita Parish west of the Ouachita River will go up by $0.0039 (slightly less than 4/10 of one cent) beginning July 1, after the Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) unanimously approved at last night’s meeting an ordinance to enact the tax. The money is dedicated to roads and drainage.
Voters approved the levy in an April 9, 2016 election. A $0.0139 (slightly less than 1.4 cents) sales tax for the eastern part of the parish failed that same election.
During the public hearing for the ordinance, no one spoke.
There was extended discussion during the finance committee meeting over the cost of a upgraded electronic door lock system for the Green Oaks Juvenile Detention Center.
Director Lamar Anderson said the system would cost $577 thousand. The money would be paid from a capital fund money that originally was budgeted for a roof replacement.
District E’s Shane Smiley asked, “If the roof starts leaking in 2017, what are we gonna do?”
Treasurer Brad Cammack said that the roof did need some maintenance, but that it should hold up for several more years.
Finance Committee Chair Walt Caldwell (District C) asked Cammack to create for the next jury meeting a spreadsheet clarifying the center’s budget situation.
An amended lawsuit by Fourth Judicial (Ouachita, Morehouse Parishes) District Court Judge Sharon Marchman against several fellow judges in that district cites evidence of payroll fraud by court clerk Allyson Campbell.
The exhibit attached to the suit indicates that on several occasions, Campbell’s timecards showed hours worked while she was not at her workplace. Court employees have electronic security devices that open secured doors in the building. On the dates in question, Campbell’s device showed no activity, but the timecards record hours worked.
See here the document.
The lawsuit alleges that the named defendants conspired to cover up the payroll fraud, and tried to damage Marchmann’s reputation for calling attention to the situation.
From the document:
As shown in the summary, on seven different days Defendant Campbell reported that she had worked seven hours even though the key fob reports and video footage showed that she had not entered the courthouse on any of those days. Law enforcement officials have since interviewed Defendant Campbell and Defendant Judge Sharp, and they both misrepresented the facts concerning Campbell’s attendance at work.
The visit of ABC News’ Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross to Ruston last week likely is connected to a whistle-blower lawsuit now wending its way through federal court, Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) has learned.
Ross was working on a follow-up to a March, 2016 news story that reports on the high cost of helicopter ambulance service. He interviewed Carl Cheshire, a former employee of Air Methods Corporation (AMC), the subject of the earlier interview, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, Cheshire v Air Methods Corp., was originally filed in a state court, Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court in February, 2015. In March of that year it was moved to federal court, U. S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, in Monroe.
Plaintiff Cheshire alleges in his lawsuit that his former employer AMC fired him in retaliation for:
Reporting safety violations to his supervisors.
Reporting improper fuel burn rate calculations to his supervisors.
Reporting that aircraft mechanical issues were being ignored, and proper maintenance was not performed.
Reporting that maintenance records were not accurately reported.
Cheshire also alleges that controlled dangerous substances were adulterated, which compromised flight safety, and caused inaccurate insurance reports.
AMC denied the allegations.
The Ruston connection is that Pafford EMS, a local emergency services provider is allied with AMC who provides air ambulance service to Pafford, according to a Pafford Facebook posting.
From the Pafford Air One Facebook page:
Pafford Air One enjoys a special partnership with Air Methods Corporation to provide practical solutions to Critical Care Transport needs within our area of operation.
For several years Air Methods has provided the aircraft, pilots, and maintenance personnel to support the AirOne mission.
It is notable that much of the deposition testimony in the lawsuit has been sealed and kept secret by court orders signed by either by U. S. District Judge Robert James, or by Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes.
Cheshire opposed the gag orders, particularly a report by David Downey.
Downy is a Texas-based consultant on aircraft safety, certification, and training.
This week, AMC filed a motion requesting a fishing expedition to determine whether Cheshire or his attorney violated the gag orders.
In the documents, AMC discusses the Wednesday, May 4 Cheshire interview with ABC news at Ruston Regional Airport, and claims that the interview may have violated the court’s orders.
Cheshire filed a motion in opposition to the discovery requests the next day.
The opposition memo notes:
Safety was the topic of the interview. The case was not discussed during the interview. No confidential information was disclosed prior to, during, or subsequent to the interview. Expert reports were not discussed, nor were their findings.
Cheshire’s attorney is Ashley Paige of Ruston.
Chairman Walter Pullen (District 6) began by reviewing the existing policy for relocation of dumpsters that has been in effect since 1989.
Said Pullen, “Currently, the policy is, if you want us to move a dumpster, you have to supply us with a place to put it.” He noted that over the past three years, he had received numerous complaints about present locations and conditions at the sites.
He suggested that the committee develop a new policy on how dumpsters are relocated that would entail a petition process, and then allow for a public hearing from interested parties. More centralized locations (mega-sites) need to be employed, he said.
Bobby Bennett (District 3) said that perhaps some of the mega-sites might be located adjacent to the fire stations that are located throughout the parish.
Another agenda item addressed that very issue. A motion was made to allow the Parish Administrator to contact and negotiate with the Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 for any suitable site near the fire stations.
The motion passed unanimously.
Barbara Watts addressed the committee to make a push for door-to-door pickup, parish-wide. About a half dozen friends joined Watts with additional similar comments.
Pullen said that the existing sales tax collections were not sufficient to provide the service, and would be about three to five hundred thousand dollars short every year for that type service.
Also noted was that any parish resident that wanted door-to-door could contract for that service from private vendors.
By Kevin Litten, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
A House committee voted down legislation that would have allowed Louisiana law enforcement to begin using automatic license plate scanners that would identify uninsured drivers and fine them $200.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, is similar to legislation both the House and Senate passed last year but vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. This year, legislators began raising concerns about whether the bill would enable police to use the scanners for racial profiling, and about the windfall a private company could get for doing business with the state.
Activists who are concerned about privacy said they objected to such a program, saying the program called for storing an unnecessary amount of data on drivers’ whereabouts if they’re snagged by the automatic plate scanners.
“Just because someone wants to come to Louisiana and make some money, doesn’t mean citizens want to roll over and have data stored on a database,” said Wendy Adams, the executive director of the Libertarian Party of Louisiana. “No one wants to get hit by an uninsured driver. However, we don’t want to be recorded as we drive across the state.”
Brian Ross, Chief Investigative Correspondent for ABC News was involved in a fender-bender at Ruston Regional Airport last Wednesday, May 4, according to a Ruston Police Department (RPD) Incident Report obtained by Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) pursuant to a public records request.
From the report:
On the day of 05/04/16 at approximately 1621 hours. I. Sgt. Brown responded to Ruston Regional Airport. 128 Flightline Dr. in reference to a private property accident. Upon arrival, I spoke with driver of vehicle, Brian E. Ross who advised that he was backing away from the hangar when he struck a parked vehicle. I observed minor damage on the right rear bumper and quarter panel of Ross’s vehicle. I observed damage on the parked vehicle to be minor on the driver front quarter panel driver side door and side mirror. The other vehicle was properly parked and was not occuppied at the time of the accident. Ross advised that the vehicle he was driving was a rental vehicle and is self insured. I observed no insurance on the rental agreement which Ross provided. I advised Ross to contact RPD the next business day with the insurance information. All parties were advised that a report would be on file.
Last week, it was reported that the news crew was working on a story regarding air ambulance work. RPD was responding to a trespassing complaint against the news crew. No arrests were made, nor was any report filed on the original complaint, LPNO was told.
See here the complete incident report.