Archive for April, 2015

Caddo School Tax Update

04/30/2015

CPSB Tactics Cross Well Into Constitutional Prohibition

April 30, 2015

This stunning development is no surprise, I suppose, given how far government has wandered from what most believe is right and true and proper.

It now seems more than merely possible that the Yogism from 1973 applies to the Caddo Parish School Board’s pro-tax plan campaign: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” The election on Saturday may prove to be something less than the end of the CPSB’s hyper-aggressive political op to borrow yet another $108,000,000 for a bunch of new buildings.

I am no attorney, but I know some here who are outstanding. The Pesnell Law Firm, some readers may remember, is working pro bono, as am I, in challenging the Caddo Parish Commission’s apparently unconstitutional retirement system, CPERS, as it is called.

Without any mention of the CPSB tax campaign from me, Whitney Pesnell telephoned today to share his concern about the school board’s campaign, and its admitted use of taxpayer resources in the effort. Mr. Pesnell noted both a provision of the Louisiana Constitution, and an on-point case stemming from a like East Baton Parish School Board tax campaign in 1977*.

All things legal and constitutional considered, Mr. Pesnell believes the people of Caddo have a very real legal case against the CPSB and staff – perhaps even in their personal “capacity” – in the way they used public money, facilities, staff time, telephone costs, etc., etc., etc., in these months of their all-hands-on-deck political op.

Mr. Pesnell questions the constitutionality of what the school board has done, with his interpretation based in this Constitutional provision, Article XI, Section 4:

“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization. This provision shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to a proposition appearing on an election ballot.”

All of this is about how the CPSB and staff went far, far beyond that second part. It blew through “dissemination of factual information” from the jump:

(1) When the CPSB picked its marketing title and tag line, it was already over the line: “Re-Invest in Caddo” is all over everything in the CPSB op, from its website, to it’s stationery, ubiquitous Power Point presentation slides, brochures, related letters, placards, marquee signs, on and on and on.

“REinvest” jumped over the line into advocacy … that is, being “for” the tax plan. Constitutionally, that is not neutral “dissemination of factual information.” It urges a “yes” vote.

The CPSB might have put a citizen committee together to do the money raising and spending and advocating, which until this school board effort is what has always been done. It CANNOT advocate with public money, which it has already acknowledged that it did.

(2) Ironically, as Whitney Pesnell most notices and particularly cites, it is the CPSB’s most offensive practice in its campaign which particularly makes this legal case. Better said, it is what it did NOT practice. The CPSB refused to answer the public’s questions about the plan in its public meetings held in our schools, opting instead to only make its “Re-invest …” presentation. That presentation was purely “FOR,” and thus certainly not a neutral “dissemination of factual information.”

As dozens of witnesses can testify, throughout this campaign, if you were against the plan, you got stiffed, including even in refusal of your Public Records Act requests.

The Caddo Parish School Board’s petulance and arrogance in quashing all opposition is the smoking gun of the legal case against it. The insult is deepest in that all the CPSB’s illegal and unconstitutional actions were on the taxpayers’ dollar.

Elliott Stonecipher

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* As noted above, here is the case Mr. Pesnell cites. Any who do not care to read all of this summary may read the third paragraph of text to see how directly comparable the two school board campaigns are, and the final two paragraphs to get what the Court says about the matter at hand. Here is a notable phrase relating to the exposure of individual school board members:

” … we have no hesitancy in holding that a knowing violation of an express constitutional provision also subjects a public official to vulnerability to legal action if done with malice or in bad faith.”

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

“Tax Machine” Devouring Caddo Parish, Stonecipher Says

04/29/2015

April 29, 2015

This article is the eighteenth in this series on the Caddo Parish School Board’s tax-and-spend-and-debt plan. Here are the Top 2 Reasons to vote “NO” on Saturday. For those who missed Reasons #10 and #9, click here, and for Reasons #8, #7, and #6, here. For Reasons #5, #4, and #3, click here.

Reason #2. We Must Never Reward Misconduct, Much Less Lawbreaking, by Public Officials

Outrageously, there are times when public officials knowingly ditch the truth, intimidate employees, purposely ignore or defeat the public’s “right to know,” and even sometimes break the law, to grab (even more) taxpayer money. When they do, the public must directly act against those officials, or it’s on us.

The CPSB is guilty of all of these, and the appropriate, initial response is to vote “NO” on Saturday. Any other outcome effectively rewards our school system for its violations of public trust.

First, the CPSB has violated well established laws prohibiting public officials from the use of taxpayer funds to campaign for even more tax money.

Using school children as their messenger girls and boys, top officials sent to all parents a slickly-produced tax plan brochure which goes far over the line between imparting information, and advocacy. Such is against the law, and if the board and staff do not know it, their infamously high pay to their attorney is wasted.

Too, the CPSB has broken the law by installing campaign signs well within 600-feet of Saturday’s polling places. These “marquee” signs hawk what goodies those schools will score if the plan passes. Put simply, the signs expose the underbelly – the quid pro quo – of this vote, proclaiming as if a virtue how to vote against the greater good: “The hell with the rest of ’em, get yours here!!”

The Caddo Parish Board of Election Supervisors will soon meet to determine how best to remedy the violation before Saturday voting. What action will be taken for the prohibited brochures is yet unknown.

Second, there is the loud and proud refusal by CPSB top bosses to answer the public’s questions in the forums it held to explain its awful plan. Literally, nothing in my long career comes close to the way these top officials proudly stiffed those who pay the system’s destructively high taxes. (Read Reason #8, here.)

Third, principals were ordered by still-denying top CPSB administrators to send their scanned signatures to those bosses to be used on a pro-tax plan flyer students take home to parents. When one principal asked to first see what she was “signing,” she was told: “I must advise you that you are an employee of the district and this is a refusal of request.” So much for professional respect, not to mention overt intimidation.

As the CPSB violators slap themselves on the back for their prowess in the dark political arts, they might consider the lasting damage such has done.

Reason #1. Vote “NO” to Save Caddo Parish from Death by Taxes

Four years ago, I went public with my research into Shreveport and Caddo Parish property taxes, and how much higher they are than in other Louisiana cities and parishes. I began with a segment on a news program of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, shown here.

The reaction from local powers crushed the likelihood of reform, other than by direct taxpayer action. Rather than positively respond to the obvious damage such high property taxes have done, the reaction has been the oldest and most self-defeating: shoot the messenger. What the poobahs ignore is now well-proven: our economic stagnation is perched on the edge of real decline as high property taxes stamp out growth.

The data in this table – here – demonstrates the fact:

1. Between 1983 and 2013, the most recent year of subject data, the Total Assessed Value of all property in Caddo Parish increased only 6.77% above the rate of inflation.

2. On the other hand, the Total of Parish & Local Taxes we pay have risen 71.67% over inflation.

3. Therefore, the percentage increase in taxes paid by Caddo Parish residents is 10.6-times the percentage increase in the value of all Caddo Parish property. Too-high taxes obliterate economic expansion.

4. As compared to our 10.6-times taxation versus expansion, that multiple in East Baton Rouge Parish is 3.4-times, and is 3.1-times in Bossier and Ouachita Parishes, 2.5-times in DeSoto, 2.3-times in Calcasieu, and 1.8-times in Rapides Parish.

Our local government bodies are an unmatched taxing machine. How we are taxed has devastated our economy, accelerating population out-migration, and simultaneously killing taxpayer in-migration.

The machine is devouring this – our – place. The Caddo Parish School Board is its engine.

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission Meeting Wednesday AM

04/28/2015

The Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission will meet Wednesday, April 29, 10:00 AM, Lincoln Parish Court House, 3rd floor Police Jury Conference Room.

Here is the agenda.

Monroe City Council Tuesday

04/27/2015

The Monroe City Council will meet Tuesday, April 28, 6:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

Former St. Tammany DA Indicted by Feds

04/26/2015

Former District Attorney Walter P. Reed and His Son, Steven P. Reed, Charged by Federal Grand Jury in 18-Count Indictment

U.S. Attorney’s Office April 23, 2015 – Eastern District of Louisiana (504) 680-3000

U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that former District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District,WALTER P. REED, age 68, and STEVEN P. REED, age 43, both from Covington, were charged with offenses related to their involvement in a conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering related to the misuse of funds from WALTER P. REED’S campaign account. Additionally, WALTER P. REED was charged with wire fraud for his personal misuse of campaign funds, mail fraud based on his diverting into his personal accounts funds from St. Tammany Parish Hospital that were intended for the Office of the District Attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, and filing false tax returns.

According to the Indictment, WALTER P. REED and STEVEN P. REED devised a scheme to defraud the Walter Reed Campaign and contributors to the Walter Reed Campaign by using donations toWALTER P. REED’S campaign to pay for goods and services either unrelated to the campaign or in an amount that grossly exceeded the value of the services provided.

The Indictment alleges that WALTER P. REED caused a series of payments to be made from the Campaign Fund to STEVEN P. REED’s companies in order to pay down a loan on which WALTER P. REED was a cosigner for services that either were not provided or whose value was substantially less than the amount paid. For example, WALTER P. REED caused, STEVEN P. REED’S company, Globop, to be paid approximately $8,352.64 for producing a housewarming party at WALTER P. REED’S new condominium in April 2012 that was unrelated to WALTER P. REED’S campaign. Similarly, STEVEN P. REED’s company, Liquid Bread LLC, received $29,400 from the Campaign Fund account for purportedly providing catering or bar services at a campaign event at the Castine Center in September 2012 that STEVEN P. REED did not actually provide. WALTER P. REED also required two companies that provided services at the September 2012 event to kickback a portion of their payments toSTEVEN P. REED as a means to funnel campaign monies to him.

WALTER P. REED also paid for numerous other personal expenses unrelated to his campaign out of his Campaign Fund, including flowers with an accompanying message that stated, “[T]o my rodeo girl from a secret admirer from Camp J,” $1,885.36 for a Thanksgiving Day dinner for REED and approximately ten other members of his family and a $500 gift card for his future personal use, and $2,635.00 to a North shore steakhouse for a dinner he hosted for “Pentecostal Preachers” for the purpose of recruiting clients to refer him private civil legal work. Subsequently, REED also sought, and received, a reimbursement for the $2,635.00 dinner from the law firm with which he was affiliated, which he did not then put back into his Campaign Fund. In total, WALTER P. REED, spent at least $100,000 from the Walter Reed Campaign Fund bank account on personal expenses in this manner, including to recruit potential clients for his private legal practice, to pay off various expenses incurred by his son, STEVEN P. REED, and to pay for private and personal dinners.

The Indictment also alleges that WALTER P. REED diverted money paid by St. Tammany Parish Hospital for work performed by the Office of the District Attorney to his personal bank account. Specifically, between about 1994 and 2014, St. Tammany Parish Hospital retained the services of the Office of the District Attorney to advise it on various matters, for which it agreed to pay between $25,000 and $30,000 per year. REED attended some of the monthly meetings, though on dozens of occasions he directed Assistant District Attorneys to attend. Notwithstanding REED’s use of resources and personnel of his office, REED deposited into his own personal bank account each check provided by St. Tammany Parish Hospital that were intended for the Office of the District Attorney.

If convicted, WALTER P. REED faces up to 277 years in prison, followed by up to a three (3) year term of supervised release, and up to a $ 4,500,000 fine. STEVEN P. REED faces up to 65 years in prison, followed by up to a three (3) year term of supervised release, and up to a $1,000,000 fine.

United States Attorney Polite reiterated that the Indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

U.S. Attorney Polite praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation for investigating this matter and thanked the Metropolitan Crime Commission for their assistance. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney Jordan Ginsberg and First Assistant United States Attorney Richard Westling.

Caddo School Tax Update

04/26/2015

(This is one in a continuing series of articles concerning the Caddo Parish School Board property tax millage proposition. If approved by voters, CPSB nets another $108,000,000 for brick and mortar projects. The election is next Saturday, May 2nd.)

April 25, 2015

This article is the new installment in my countdown of the Top 10 Reasons to vote “NO” on the Caddo Parish School Board’s tax-and-spend-and-debt plan. For those who missed Reasons #10 and #9, click here, and for Reasons #8, #7, and #6, here.

REASONS #5, #4, and #3 …

#5. What We Don’t Know Always Hurts Us … This Time Particularly So

The list of this tax plan’s unanswered questions is far more striking than in any tax proposition offered by any Caddo Parish governmental body in my long experience. The number and importance of the yet unanswered is a stand-alone mandate to vote NO! Here are but a few:

1. Why did the school board and staff hatch most of this plan in non-public – secret – meetings? What could not bear public, taxpayer scrutiny?

2. What role was played by those who earlier put up serious amounts of money to elect four of our board’s six new members? (I supported that op, and judging from what we thus far know, I was wrong.)

3. Are there for-profit interests for whom we are expected to build the new Southeast Shreveport school? Some of us know that our system officials have all related answers, so why do they hide them?

4. Why were the parents and teachers and taxpayers targeted to be hit by the specifics of the plan – schools to be closed, for example – shut-out of the process?

5. Why do top system officials find it necessary to intimidate teachers and principals in their aggressive campaign to pass this plan? Why are the stakes that high?

Nothing about this process respects, much less honors, those who will pay its many and expensive costs.

#4. The Greater Good

These are words lost to a much better time. Then, almost all public officials meant the Oath of service they swore. These words simply mean,

“We cannot have what we “want,” and we will not reward ourselves. The greater good must be served.”

The greater good is served if this plan is defeated, and the school system notably lowers its property taxes which are the highest in Louisiana, and much higher than a lot of other places in America. This system must be aggressively – and fairly – down-sized. Only then can Caddo Parish attract more taxpayers. If we do not do this, the parish will ever more rapidly continue its decline.

#3. We Should be Bridging to the Replacement System

Writing this series has been bittersweet. Mixed in with this reporting of bad governance and worse politics, some of us well remember some very good schools with their share of very good teachers and principals.

Some of the schools set for closing by this plan nurtured, and for some, protected us. Some of the educators in those schools stepped into our young and too often vulnerable lives to support and encourage us when others did not. Some of the principals we knew to appropriately fear were, we later learned and have never forgotten, true sentries who stood watch over us. Their hearts and souls informed them such was their job.

Among the many gifts some of us were blessed to receive was a very good education.

That was then. This is very much now. That was a school system we lost to our societal debts which went for generations unpaid. Separate but destructively unequal schools in ways sacrificed the educations of untold numbers of children, and took out a mortgage on the futures of many children to come.

Now, decades into our payment of those debts, we see that our old model, its invaluable strengths for some notwithstanding, is no longer usable, and awaits replacement. Rather than shaping that replacement, the CPSB continues to tax and borrow and spend, preserving itself as an instrument of political patronage.

As sad as it was to learn just days ago that we graduated only 67.7% of our Caddo Parish schools’ Class of 2014, the fact that the state has graded 53% of our schools “D” or “F” makes it worse. No system official in any way commented. Had they, the honest response would have been, “It is what it is.”

What those officials are saying is, “We want more!” … $108,000,000 more to drill a few more dry holes … which they refer to as “new schools.” That will run the debt we owe for this system to $262,812,944, plus interest on the whopping new principal. This tax plan is, in fact, dramatic evidence of the Politician’s Creed: Never, ever allow a tax to die!!

There is no version of sweet in this plan. This is purely about money … cold, hard, borrowed bucks. Nothing that makes the difference for children, and nothing for the front line pros who do the job that really matters.

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

Are Students the new “Human Shields”?

04/24/2015

Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to tax proposals and government spending the past few decades is familiar with the tactic of declaring that education funding is untouchable.

“It’s for the the children,” the refrain goes.

We suggest this is but a political tactic similar to the use children as “human shields” in military strategy. Non-combatants are placed in or around combat targets to deter attacks on these targets.

Education bureaucrats, with their fat salaries, taxpayer funded retirements, and gold-plated medical plans, don’t make good advocates for more taxes. Legislators can dis them with impunity and go back to their taxpaying constituents and brag about it.

But students – now there’s a sympathetic group.

We accuse the Education Establishment of taking advantage of the very people they claim to advocate for, and using them for props in an effort to protect their own jobs.

We hope the legislature doesn’t take the bait.

Another Student Mob at the State Capitol

04/23/2015

Southern University supporters rally at Capitol; senator: ‘Absolutely important’ school maintained in Louisiana

Budget cuts main focus of attendees
BY Elizabeth Crisp| ecrisp@theadvocate.com

Nearly 300 supporters of Southern University packed the State Capitol steps on Wednesday, rallying for their school and hoping to send a message to Louisiana legislators.

Jevante Myers, a sophomore from Opelousas, said he came out to the “We Are Southern” rally because he’s worried that with the threat of budget cuts, the university could be “shut down.”

“The university has been a tradition in my family,” he said. “It really means something.”

The Human Jukebox pep band, just back from a recent competition, rang out across the Capitol and could even be heard inside the building.

Several legislators spoke to the crowd, as did Southern University leaders.

“It is absolutely important that we maintain Southern University in our state,” said state Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge.

Caddo School Tax Update

04/22/2015

April 22, 2015

This article continues my countdown of Top 10 Reasons to vote “NO” on the Caddo Parish School Board’s tax-and-spend-and-debt plan. For those who missed reasons #10 and #9, click here.

REASONS #8, #7, and #6

#8. It’s Our School System, Not Theirs … Disrespect of Citizens, Part 1

Barry Rachal is the school board member in my district who has for years stridently opposed the building of new Caddo Parish public schools. Now, Rachal has inexplicably flip-flopped. He, alongside fellow member Larry Ramsey, has taken point in the over-the-top hawking of a tax plan which does precisely what the two conservative Republican board members often profess to abhor.

Mr. Rachal particularly gushes about the $24,500,000 new school in Southeast Shreveport. Given that he owns and runs a real estate company from and in the same residential base, conflict of interest questions have not surprisingly arisen. Rachal’s case is not helped by his refusal to identify, specifically, the for-profit interest for whom Caddo taxpayers will be building the school if the tax plan passes.

Angry for whatever reasons, Rachal recently used an email, shared among many, to flail away at opponents of the tax plan. He particularly targeted those who insist on the public’s right to ask school system bosses their questions about the plan.

The supposed places for such questions are the many meetings system officials have staged in schools around the parish. Those doing the hawking in those meetings are board members or top staff, the very ones who designed it, mainly in secret. Public officials or not, questions from the public are not allowed.

With no attempt to defend the system’s outrageous refusal, Rachal delivered this broadside …

….. “Set up your own damn community meeting or neighborhood meeting for a debate.”

Whether Rachal forgot or simply refuses to acknowledge it, those ARE the peoples’ “damn community meetings.”

We the people paid for the very school facilities in which these bosses stage their carnival barking. We pay Mr. Rachal’s school board salary. We pay the salaries of the top administrators who join him in putting on those hustles. That they do not honor and respect these facts is itself a great reason to Vote “NO.”

#7. Disrespect of Citizens, Part 2: “Dear Mr. Ramsey …”

As mentioned, CPSB members Barry Rachal and Larry Ramsey are the leaders of this taxing op. New member Susannah Poljak is another leader of the school board’s political team, but she is not yet up to speed. I am among those who hope she soon recognizes that board reform is our system’s constant, critical need.

As for Ramsey, fellow board members have outed him as the one behind Superintendent Lamar Goree’s whopper of a pay raise in February, a mere one year and a few weeks after he went to work.

There was no performance evaluation of any kind before the gift.

Including his “signing bonus” – what?! – and his next pay raise installment, school system adder-uppers say Dr. Goree will be scoring $235,000 a year plus an impressive array of side goodies. The vote to bestow the gift was 11-0, and, very tellingly, it was Mr. Ramsey who no-showed.

To put Goree’s take in local perspective, the Census Bureau reports that Caddo Parish earners, on average, make $24,308 a year. That is about one-tenth of Dr. Goree’s soon-to-be package. Though I know of no one who begrudges any Caddo superintendent competitive pay, the timing, nature, size and handling of this reward-for-who-knows-what was a slap in the face of many, if not most, taxpayers.

Yes, this school system is in real decline, and we should pray Dr. Goree can turn it around, but giving any fresh and new superintendent this kind of windfall this quickly is stupefying. It is also a disincentive for Goree to work harder and accomplish more. It confirms, yet again, the CPSB’s extravagance in spending (and wasting) taxpayers’ money.

As Ramsey, from near hiding, co-directs this tax-and-spend-and-debt campaign, he is simultaneously running for a seat on the Caddo Parish Commission. Pending the outcome of current litigation which challenges the constitutionality and legality of their taxpayer money haul, a Commissioner’s salary is more than double that of school board members. On top are buckets full of additional cash for retirement, health care, $15,000-per-year travel accounts, and more.

#6. (Vote NO Because) Throwing More Money at the CPSB Problem is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Even our school board’s strongest supporters never publicly assert that the outfit does not get and have a flood of taxpayer money gushing through it.

Thirty years ago, Caddo taxpayers gave our school board $2,600 per-year, per-pupil to do its job, equal to $5,900 today. Today, we give these “leaders” over $12,000 per pupil, each year. That is 127% more by way of inflation adjustment, plus another 103% in real increase.

In its editorial in opposition to the CPSB tax plan, The Times likewise headlined it: “More Money Won’t Fix Caddo Schools.” Their editorial is here.

Quite literally, I and many others believe, passing this tax-and-spend-and-debt plan is absolutely, precisely wrong. The CPSB’s record of failure can, by definition, only worsen if its decades-old profligacy continues.

… to be continued …

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

Bonton Case Continued, New Attorney Appointed

04/21/2015

Brandon Bonton, an alleged accessory to the murder of Dr. Sue Hashway, was assigned a new indigent defender in Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court this afternoon in Ruston.

Ruston Attorney Scott Killen was assigned to handle Bonton’s defense.

In addition to the accessory to 2nd degree murder, Bonton is charged with accessory to burglary, possession of stolen things, and theft of a firearm.

A June 23, 1:30 PM hearing is the next court date in the case.

Division B Judge Tommy Rogers presided.