Archive for June, 2014

Lincoln Parish School Board Tuesday

06/30/2014

The Lincoln Parish School Board (LPSB) will meet Tuesday, July 1, 6:00 PM, Central Office, 410 South Farmerville Street.

See here the agenda.

A couple of committees will meet prior to the full meeting: the Finance Comittee at 5:15 PM (agenda), and the Building & Grounds Committee at 5:30 PM (agenda).

The Finance Committee will discuss a new salary schedule for non-certificated employees – cafeteria, bus drivers, custodial, etc. The proposed plan would reward longevity with increases in pay.

See here the memo.

The Building & Grounds Committee will hear an update on various construction projects from Architect Mike Walpole. During the full board meeting, the personnel report will be presented.

In New Business, several items will be considered.

Lincoln Parish Sales & Use Tax Commission – proposed budget.

Cypress Springs Elementary construction – change order.

MFP Funding Lawsuit – resolution.

Ad Valorem Taxes 2014 – proposed millages.

Hico Citizen’s Association – Cooperative Endeavor Agreement.

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Tuesday’s Jonesboro City Council

06/26/2014

We were unable to attend the Noon Tuesday meeting of Jonesboro’s Board of Aldermen, but through the efforts of one of our correspondents who kindly took notes, we are able to provide this narrative.

Several questions were asked during the public comment section of the meeting. Asked why the Noon meeting time, District D’s Devin Flowers, who is also the Mayor Pro Tem, said that was a more convenient time for the other members, as it was a special called meeting.

Another question concerned the annual salary for the Fiscal Administrator, which is set at $125 thousand/year. The third issue concerned the advisability of raising water rates, considering that so many customers were not paying their bills.

Fiscal Adminstrator Ken Folden presented two proposed budgets, the amended budget for the fiscal year 7/1/13-6/30/14 just ending, and the proposed budget for 7/1/14-6/30/15 about to begin.

The two were turned down on a 1-2-1 vote. Voting yes was Flowers, with Alderman-at-large LaStevic Cottonham and District C’s Charla Mason-Melton voting no. District A’s Sam Lamkin abstained, as the budget contains monies allocated to the Jackson Parish Coroner’s Office, where he is a Deputy.

District B’s Renee Stringer was absent due to a work conflict.

Folden said the budgets included money to hire another police officer, and money to operate the animal control facility.

He said the two budgets would be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office for their review and approval.

KTVE-TV10 Wins Appeal on Hakim Defamation Suit

06/25/2014

A three-judge panel of Louisiana’s Court of Appeal, Second Circuit has upheld a trial court’s finding that KTVE-TV10 reporter Daisy O’Donnell DID NOT defame Monroe businessman Nouri “Eddie” Hakim in an August 2011 news broadcast. The court released the opinion earlier today.

On behalf of Judges Jay Caraway and Felicia Williams, Judge Jeanette Garrett wrote:

For the reasons stated above, the ruling of the trial court, granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Daisy O’Donnell and Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc., d/b/a KTVE NBC 10, and dismissing the claims of the plaintiff, N. Edward Hakim, is affirmed. Costs in this court are assessed to the plaintiff.

Hakim had claimed in his suit that that O’Donnell’s question to one the defendants (former Monroe City Councilman Robert “Red” Stevens) in that 2011 news broadcast was defamatory. Asked O’Donnell:

Eddie Hakim gave testimony to make his IRS investigation go away. Is it enough to acquit you?

Hakim was chief prosecution witness against Stevens and another council member, Arthur Gilmore. Both were on trial for public bribery. Their defense team presented what they claimed was evidence that Hakim was receiving favorable tax treatment in exchange for his testimony.

Stevens and Gilmore’s convictions were reversed and then reinstated. The prosecution consented to a new trial, where they were ultimately convicted.

Garrett noted:

Even though the federal trial court later reversed its ruling, its initial ruling shows that, even with an intense, thorough, and lengthy review of all the factors in this case, that court concluded that the plaintiff received a benefit from the termination of the IRS investigation of him. This conclusion was very similar to that drawn by O’Donnell, a lay person, immediately after the hearing. In this context, it is clear that the conclusion drawn by O’Donnell may have been a misunderstanding of the stipulation she heard in court, but her conclusion certainly was reasonable and
understandable. Her statement was a fair abridgment of the occurrence reported and was a comment on a judicial proceeding made in the reasonable belief of its truth.

And,

The plaintiff had the burden of proving his probable success on his defamation claim against the defendants. Against the backdrop of the undisputed facts of this case, it is clear that a conditional privilege applied, raising the standard of liability to be proved by the plaintiff to that of actual malice.

See here the document.

Representing Hakim was Joe Guerreiro. Attorney for the defendants was Justin Ourso III.

St Tammany DA Update – 6/25/14

06/25/2014

Hospital officials created position for DA Walter Reed’s brother, emails show

Heather Nolan NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Lee Zurik Fox 8 News/Fox8live.com

St. Tammany Parish Hospital officials talked about how the hospital had “made a position” for the purpose of providing employment for St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed’s brother, and worried how it would look if word got out, according to emails obtained by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News. They also were concerned he was publicly bragging about having the “easiest job in the hospital” and debated whether his replacement should be made full-time “just to show that Richard’s position was needed.”

Richard Reed, who was employed at the hospital for at least a decade, most recently worked as a clerk in the mailroom, the emails show. His job description and salary were not immediately available.

Walter Reed was paid a $30,000 annual retainer by the hospital for almost two decades although he never had a contract and there were no documents to show exactly what services he had performed for the money. He resigned as the hospital board’s attorney last month, less than two weeks after the news organizations raised questions about the arrangement.

Richard Reed’s position at St. Tammany Parish Hospital was designated full-time, but hospital personnel questioned whether it would be necessary to keep it that way after Richard Reed resigned June 13. His last day at the hospital is Friday (June 27), sources said.

Jean Holtman, the hospital’s vice president of human resources, recommended keeping the position full time, but Ron Scott, department head of materials management, suggested it only be a 20-hour a week position, emails show.

See the emails at the WVUE-Fox8 website.

St Tammany DA Update – 6/24/14

06/24/2014

St. Tammany ADA Leo Hemelt received federal grand jury subpoena, sources say

Heather Nolan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Lee Zurik, Fox 8 News/Fox8live.com

St. Tammany Parish Assistant District Attorney Leo Hemelt has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury investigating his boss, District Attorney Walter Reed, sources have confirmed to NOLA.com | The Times Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News. When Reed served as outside legal counsel to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, he occasionally sent Hemelt to board meetings in his place.

Hemelt has since announced his resignation from the District Attorney’s Office.
Story by

Reed terminated his deal with the hospital last month, less than two weeks after the news organizations raised questions about his position. Reed was paid a $30,000 annual retainer for more than 15 years with no contract or documents that laid out what he did to earn the money.

Reed said Hemelt was not paid with public money to attend the meetings.

Hemelt resigned from the district attorney’s office June 3. According to his resignation letter, which the news organizations obtained through a public records request, Hemelt said his last day will be Aug. 1. He “requested or offered to stay on part time to do public records requests,” according to the letter.

Homer Audit Shows Many Problems

06/23/2014

The Town of Homer’s latest audit has many adverse findings, in addition to a lack of financial data for the town’s hospital. Wrote Shreveport CPA Marsha Millican:

The financial statements referred to above do not include financial data for the Town’s legally separate component unit. Homer Memorial Hospital, which accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America require to be reported with the financial data of the Town’s primary government.

Among the findings:

Customer utility accounts are not properly reconciled and managed

Vendor payments are not made on a timely basis

The Town made payments to organizations without a cooperative endeavor agreement in place.

Minutes of the Board of Selectmen were not published in a timely basis.

The Town is not in compliance with the Local Government Budget Act.

Traffic violations were not reported to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety as required by law

Monthly reports to the Municipal Retirement System and the Municipal Police Retirement System were not filed on time nor paid on time for eleven months

See here the complete audit.

Last March, Mayor Alicia Smith was arrested and accused of malfeasance.

Monroe City Council Tuesday

06/22/2014

The Monroe City Council will meet Tuesday, June 24, 6:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.
Here is the information packet.

I-20 Board Committee to Negotiate Frontage Road Right-of-Way

06/20/2014

A three-person committee of the Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors was tasked at last night’s meeting to negotiate with landowners the purchase of right-of-way. The land purchase is the first step to allow completion of frontage road construction along Interstate 20 eastward from Monroe.

The south frontage road has a gap between Nutland Avenue near the old State Farm Building eastward to Lowe’s Home Improvement. The north frontage road will be extended from Garrett Road at Pecanland Mall eastward to Russell Sage Road near the old GM Guide Plant.

The committee will consist of Board Chair Otis Chisley, Secretary Charles Pritchard, and member Johnny Bryant.

There was considerable discussion of what constituted a “quorum,” since a committee with a number above that level would trigger the state’s Open Meetings Law. The board is authorized seven members, but only five have been appointed.

If it is assumed that the “total membership” is seven, then it would take four for a quorum. Conversely, if the five sitting members represents the “total membership,” then three would represent a quorum.

Asked Pritchard, “Are we dealing with four out of seven, or three out of five?”

LA RS 42:13 (A)4 says:

“Quorum” means a simple majority of the total membership of a public body.

Attorney Louis Scott said he would research the matter.

Ron Hasty of RCH Company, Inc., reported on a issue with the just completed frontage road near Sparks Nissan.

Interim City Engineer Kim Golden had expressed concerns regarding some cracking in the concrete curbs on the roadway. However, Hasty said that in his professional judgement, the cracking was minor and within Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development specifications.

Said Hasty, “The amount of cracking was acceptable and within tolerance at this point.” He added, “Concrete does crack – that’s part of its behavior. Control joints, we’ve put them every 20 feet, and expansion joints ever 60 feet.”

Golden would have the final say on approval, Hasty said.

There was no report, at least publicly, of a trip to Las Vegas by Chair Otis Chisly that had been approved at last month’s meeting. The purpose of the trip was to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention.

St Tammany DA Update – 6/20/14

06/20/2014

Another subpoena issued surrounding Tammany DA

By Sara Pagones

The member of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed’s staff who sometimes stood in for him at St. Tammany Parish Hospital board meetings has been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury, sources familiar with the situation said Thursday.

Leo Hemelt, an assistant district attorney, was served a subpoena while vacationing in Florida with his family, the sources said.

WVUE-TV and nola.com reported that at least 10 subpoenas were sent to members of Reed’s staff. Those reports, which cited unnamed sources, did not identify the staff members. Reporters from various media outlets staked out the grand jury room in federal court in New Orleans on Thursday, but no one from Reed’s office was spotted.

The question of how Hemelt was paid is important in determining whether Reed enriched himself from work that was at least partly billed to taxpayers — a situation potentially similar to that of former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan, who benefited from a private contract to provide medical services to Slidell jail inmates. That work was actually done by a Coroner’s Office employee, whose salary was paid by the public.

In response to a public-records request, St. Tammany Parish Hospital provided copies of 1099 tax forms it mailed to Reed from 2008 to 2013. They show that Reed was paid the full amount each year — $30,000 — except for 2010, when he was paid $32,500. The forms indicate the money went to Reed and not the District Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, the checks from the hospital were made out to “Reed, Walter,” at the address of the District Attorney’s Office: 701 N. Columbia St. in Covington.

Reed’s explanation of his arrangement with the hospital is at odds with the one offered by the hospital. Hospital CEO Patti Ellish said prior to Reed’s resignation that he “is on retainer for legal services as the district attorney,” and noted that when Reed could not make a meeting he “sent a subordinate in his place.”

WVUE and nola.com reported that Hemelt attended two of the last 16 board meetings in Reed’s stead.

I-20 Board to Meet Tomorrow

06/18/2014

The Interstate 20 Economic Development Corporation Board will meet Thursday, June 19, 5:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway, Mayor’s conference room, second floor.

Here is the agenda.

In a related development, The Ouachita Citizen’s Johnny Gunter is reporting today that board attorney Louis Scott is representing board President Otis Chisley in a civil matter. Last month, Chisley suggested Scott’s hourly fee be increased to $200.

I-20 board attorney wants more money (subscription required)

In 2009, Chisley was cited by the city for violating city codes. That case is apparently still pending.