Archive for April, 2015

Richwood Finances “Un-Auditable”

04/21/2015

In a just-released financial report on the Town of Richwood, Baton Rouge CPA Melvin Davis revealed numerous findings and problems for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, and “disclaimed” an opinion on the town’s finances.

Wrote Davis:

The Town could not provide sufficient competent evidence to determine the accuracy and completeness of the Town’s financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2013.

and,

The Town’s ongoing revenue shortfalls and inability to meet its financial obligations raise substantial doubt about the Town’s ability to continue as a going concern.

See here the complete report.

Among the findings:

Overall lack of financial management
Failure to record transactions
No financial statements
Lack of payroll administration
Potential ethics violations

Richwood has been under the direction of a Fiscal Administrator, Lafayette CPA Jonald Walker, who took over AFTER the period covered in the report.

Reportedly, Walker is making progress with the town’s finances.

I-20 Board Meeting This Afternoon

04/21/2015

The Interstate 20 Economic Development District Board of Directors will meet today, (Tuesday, April 21) 4:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

DA’s Office Bows Out of Hashway Murder Prosecution, Trial Date Likely Delayed

04/21/2015
Dr. Sue Hashaway

Dr. Sue Hashway

As we had reported in January, the personnel shuffle in the Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Attorney’s Office has caused delays once again in the prosecution of the accused murderer of retired Grambling State University Professor Dr. Sue Hashway.

The DA’s office recused itself from the prosecution of the alleged killer, Cameron Mays, because new hires in the office formerly were involved as public defenders for Mays. Deanna McCallum, who is the wife of another judge in the 3rd JD, Jay McCallum, and Lewis Jones, who was recently a candidate for 3rd JD Judge, are now Assistant District Attorneys.

Assistant Attorney General Mike Ruddick, based in Monroe, will be handling the case.

Ruddick told Lincoln Parish News Online at this morning’s court hearing that he had been given the case “two or three weeks ago,” and that Mays’ trial, now set for September 28, would likely have to be delayed beyond that date so that he could familiarize himself with the case files.

Hashway was killed nearly three years ago, in June 2012, in the normally quiet Cypress Springs neighborhood of Ruston, in what appeared to be a home invasion and robbery. Several days after the crime, the Ruston Police Department (RPD) arrested Mays and charged him with Hashway’s murder. He was also charged in another home invasion and rape that occurred in the same neighborhood.

Today’s developments came after bailiffs attempted to close the courtroom to the public. It was said that to relieve courtroom crowding, only those whose names appeared on the docket would be allowed in, and after their cases were heard and they left the courtroom, then others would be allowed in.

We protested, and were let in.

On this point, Louisiana’s Constitution is succinct and clear.

Article 1, Sec. 22 – Access to courts

All courts shall be open, and every person shall have an adequate remedy by due process of law and justice, administered without denial, partiality, or unreasonable delay, for injury to him in his person, property, reputation, or other rights.

Presiding at this morning’s hearing was Division B Judge Tommy Rogers. Defense attorney for Mays is James Buckley.

The next hearing is set for 9:00 AM, July 21.

At 1:30 PM this afternoon, another defendant involved the Hashway case, Brandon Bonton, is scheduled for a preliminary exam hearing.

Greater Ouachita Water Hung Out to Dry @ OPPJ Meeting

04/21/2015

Brown water and irate customers were featured at last night’s meeting of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ), when Greater Ouachita Water Company (GOWC) showed up to fend off complaints about discolored water and poor service.

The issue came to a head recently when West Monroe resident and GOWC customer Quentin Henry created a Facebook page (The People vs Greater Ouachita Water Company), and began to chronicle customer complaints with pictures and videos.

GOWC’s Tommy Sparks said that while the water has been in compliance as far as safety, it was “not acceptable” in appearance. He said they were taking steps to install carbon filters to remove the color.

Said Sparks, “We going to convert to carbon filters. We’re going to put these at Arkansas Road and Highway 80,” the area where many of the complaints were originating.

He said that by 2016, much of the system will have the filters.

Also representing GOWC was Bill Murdis and Jason Moss of Severn Trent Services, the systems operator. They detailed the technical processes they were employing to remove the stain. Promises were made to be more responsive to customer complaints.

Henry said that the reason he created the page was to help prevent a re-occurrence of the problems. He suggest that the jury create an advisory board to work with GOWC, as is provided in the company’s original charter.

Said Henry, “They (the advisory board) are there to know what exactly is going on at all times,” with the water system.

The jury approved a resolution appointing Jury President Scotty Robinson (District A) to coordinate between GOWC and the jury.

Robinson said he would begin receiving the systems monthly reports and keep the other jurors informed.

In other business, Parish Engineer Kevin Crosby reported on a revision of the flood insurance rate map for Frenchman’s Bend Subdivision.

See here the news release.

Paid Media Decries Lack of Participation in Student Mob

04/21/2015

Our Views: No roars from Tigers?

Advocate story

Complacency appears to have replaced activism even as higher education faces its most severe crisis in the past five years of recurring financial crises.

The good news is that some 150 students appeared at the State Capitol to protest the cuts that would reduce direct state aid to universities by as much as 82 percent in one year.

The bad news is that there were only 150. And the Capitol is only minutes by car or even by bus from LSU’s main campus.

Editors of The Daily Reveille at LSU were underwhelmed. It’s not the Tigers roar that LSU students should provide, they said in an editorial.

Caddo School Tax Update

04/21/2015

April 19, 2015

As the Caddo Parish School Board has rolled-out its tax plan over the past weeks, the list of reasons for voters to kill it, and send the board and staff back to the drawing board, grows and grows. Beginning here, I will boil the opposition case down to my Top 10 Reasons to Vote NO!

I began this months-long effort of research and writing last September. This article is the fifteenth in the series. I hope and trust the work explains to Caddo residents that taxing and spending and borrowing is already strangling the economic life out of our parish. Passing this plan will certainly hasten that process.

TOP 10 REASONS TO VOTE “NO” ON MAY 2ND!

#10. This Plan is for Taxing-and-Spending-and-Debt, Not Better Educations for Our Children

This CPSB plan includes just about zero for the all-important academic side of the educational equation. Neither does it do anything to improve our system’s employee salaries.

This is, in fact, a public policy misfire – a brick-and-mortar plan for a system long crushed under the fiscal weight of, yes, brick and mortar. The CPSB now has more schools and so-called “repurposed” school buildings than we had at the time of our desegregation “cross-over” in 1969-1970. We had 60,158 students then, but have 20,000 fewer now.

The Caddo Parish population peaked in 1986. We now face a future of continuing population out-migration owing to hugely high property taxes. For there to be hope that we will ever grow again, the CPSB must pay-down its existing debt of $123,961,505. Over time, that will erase our current 6.00-mill property tax for brick-and-mortar debt.

To compare this situation to the much more responsible days of our school system’s past, consider the following:

By 1984, just before construction of three schools – Turner Elementary in 1984, Keithville Middle in 1988 and Donnie Bickham in 1989 – the CPSB had diligently worked to pay down its debt to almost zero. Before building started, debt was a very low $2,400,000 … $5,200,000 inflation-adjusted to today. Now, with no concern for our future, the CPSB plans to enter the next few years of profligate spending on a completely unnecessary building spree with existing debt of $123,961,505.

I stress that voter approval of this plan will rocket our school system’s debt to over a quarter-billion dollars. (SEE details in this article.)

Here is how our property tax compares to like public school systems in Louisiana. (This 2014 data is provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, here. Scroll to property tax millage table.)

Caddo PSB ….. 75.66-mills
Bossier ….. 51.61-mills ….. CPSB is 46.6% higher
Rapides ….. 48.75-mills ….. CPSB 55.2% higher
Orleans ….. 43.71-mills ….. CPSB 73.1% higher
E. Baton Rouge ….. 43.35-mills ….. CPSB 74.5% higher
City of Monroe ….. 41.57-mills ….. CPSB 82.0% higher
Ouachita ….. 40.70-mills ….. CPSB 85.9% higher
Lafayette ….. 32.54-mills ….. CPSB 132.5% higher
Calcasieu ….. 30.58-mills ….. CPSB 147.4% higher
Jefferson ….. 22.70-mills ….. CPSB 233.3% higher

#9. System Intimidation of Employees to Pass This Plan

I have known and worked closely with many excellent CPSB members and top system staffers in my time. Now, though, our system is taking us back to the very damaging early 2000s. Not coincidentally, that was the first time this Southeast Shreveport school deception was tried – and strongly rejected by voters.

Confirmation of this path is the revelation this week that top system officials are strong-arming principals and other professional staff in order to pass this plan.

If the CPSB does anything other than dead-neutral sharing of factual information about the plan, such is illegal. As if to say “the Law be damned!,” a few top system bosses have written this memo – read it here – for students to take home to parents. The content well crosses the legal line over and into advocacy, meaning the use of tax money to pass the plan.

(The claim in this memo that this plan will not raise homeowners’ taxes is false. Any property tax millage still “on the books” will raise the homeowners’ taxes absent a public vote by the taxing body. The only millage which cannot and will not raise homeowners’ taxes is one which is kaput … zeroed … pushing-up-daises dead and buried!)

Too, there are constitutional and statutory safeguards to protect the intimidation of system employees to do any unethical and/or illegal things. Principals are, as this is written, being ordered to send copies of their signatures to Central Office for use in this aggressive campaign to pass a tax plan, regardless that principals will have no part in writing or approving messages they thus “sign” in absentia.

These heavy-handed tactics by system administrators, and possibly some CPSB members, reveal a system in ethical, if not legal, free fall.

… 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.)

City of Ruston Cited for Bid Law Violation

04/20/2015

A just-released audit for the City of Ruston said that a quarter million dollar public works project was let without bids, in violation of the state’s public bid law, LA RS 38:2212.

The violation occurred during fiscal year 10/1/2013 – 9/30/2014, which would have been under former Mayor Dan Hollingsworth’s administration.

Management’s response, presumably from newly-elected Mayor Ronny Walker, noted that the city administrator in charge of the project was no longer employed by the city, and that additional training would be conducted regarding bid laws.

See here the complete report.

Monroe Mayor Mayo Agrees – In Writing – To Council Budget Requests

04/20/2015

Last week’s meeting of the Monroe City Council saw an “agreement” – in writing – between the council and Mayor Jamie Mayo on budget matters.

Recall that after the council introduced its own budget at the March 24 meeting, Mayo went on a public relations push, and said the council’s budget would be “catastrophic” to city’s finances.

Mayo held town meetings with his factotums from city hall in tow. Dutifully carrying water for Mayo was The (Monroe, LA) News Star, aka The Mayo Mouthpiece.

City Hall watchers anticipated a lively 4/14 meeting over who would vote how, if Mayo would veto, and if his veto would be upheld or overruled. Then, as the 4/14 meeting got underway, it was announced that the mayor and council had settled their differences.

However, not until Roosevelt Wright’s column in the 4/18 edition of the Monroe Free Press did we know that Mayo put his promises in writing.

Among the document’s points:

Understanding of the Parties – The parties agree and understand that the effectiveness of the Mayor’s Original Proposed Budget is predicated upon the following commitments by James E. Mayo, Mayor:

1. Additional funding for increased safety and protection to police department;
2. Additional funding for ditching, flooding and culverts;
3. Additional funding for wage increases up to a standard minimum wage rate of $10.00 per hour pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement;
4. Funding for “at risk” youth including the Special Skills Program in association with the Home Builders Association;
5. Funding for the Granny Goins Kitchen,O.K. Program and Council of Aging;
6. Funding for programs to beautify and make the City “litter free”;and
7. Overlay of Jackson Street.

It is further understood by the parties that quarterly budget amendments will be presented to the Monroe City Council prior to such budget amendment appearing on the Monroe City Council Agenda and further that a quarterly report on the above stated six(6) commitments be prepared and submitted to the council.

See here the signed document.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury Monday

04/19/2015

The Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) will meet Monday, April 20, 5:30 PM, Ouachita Parish Court House, second floor.

Here is the agenda.

Roller Withdraws Guilty Plea

04/17/2015

Jackson Parish Ward Four Fire Protection District Chief Curtis Roller has withdrawn his guilty plea made last year to three counts of wire fraud, according to court documents obtained by Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).

At issue is the amount of loss attributable to the crime, the “pecuniary gain” Roller received from the crime, and the corresponding sentence that Roller could be facing, depending upon the monetary amounts.

Roller contends he received about $19 thousand in ill-gotten gains, while the government contends the amount should be calculated upon the amount of the grant money at issue, some $800 thousand plus.

The lesser amount would likely result in a sentence of probation, versus a 3 to 4 year jail sentence for the greater amount, according to the documents.

The motion to withdraw the guilty plea was granted 1/13/15.

See here the documents:

Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea

Memo in Support of Motion

Letter from Assistant US Attorney to Defense Counsel

See here the original plea agreement.

Prosecuting the case is Assistant US Attorney Earl Campbell. Defense attorneys are Marty Stroud and Nichole Buckle.