Archive for June, 2015

Exit Audit of 3rd JD DA’s Office Reveals Issues

06/29/2015

A just completed “best practices” exit audit of the Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Attorney’s Office has revealed several problem areas left over from former DA Bob Levy.

In requesting the audit, incoming DA John Belton wrote:

A transition audit was requested by the current administration to provide an overview of the finances of the Office of District Attorney for the Third Judicial District during the period of January 1, 2014, through January 11, 2015, as the office underwent a change in administration effective January 12, 2015. The information was necessary to assist the current administration in determining the financial state of the office and to provide the information necessary to address financial issues.

Among the findings:

Inventory capital assets, such as equipment, vehicles, and computers and compare to the agency’s inventory listing for missing items. Report all missing assets to law enforcement officials and to the legislative auditor’s office.

Conclusion:

We were unable to complete a physical inventory.

Account for all cell phones and pagers by attempting to physically locate all devices included on service provider bills paid during December 2014.

Conclusion:

We were unable to locate some of the devices that vendors have billed the DA’s Office for.

Account for all credit cards by attempting to physically locate all cards billed per vendor statements paid during December 2014.

Conclusion:

We were unable to inspect two of the cards that were being used during 2014 as the cardholders assert that they destroyed the cards when they left office.

Additionally, there were numerous issues with unpaid bills, disbursements with no backup documentation, and inadequate budget procedures.

See here the complete document.

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Newest Shreveport Tax Already on CenterPoint Bills

06/28/2015

June 28, 2015

Much to the surprise of many, the expected continuation of City Council debate on the proposed tax hike on our CenterPoint gas bills will never happen. Without any further public discussion, a 125% increase from 2.0% to 4.5% has been quietly signed into Shreveport law.

In fact, the Shreveport Times reports CenterPoint’s confirmation that the increase will be on the gas bills of customers whose meters are read after June 1st.

As I stressed in my first article on this subject earlier this month, CenterPoint opposed and never wanted any increase in its “franchise fee.” Such held zero sway with our resident City Hall tax-and-spenders.

While Mayor Ollie Tyler contends the increase will add only $1.25 per month to “average” CenterPoint bills, the company has offered no public confirmation of that claim. Regardless, tens of thousands Shreveporters should expect notably larger increases.

The speed with which Mayor Tyler and her top staff worked to levy and start hauling in the tax increase may have set a record in taxation from inception-to-collection. On May 31st, some Council members were sharing, in writing, that they were in a “stalemate” with Tyler-ites over the proposed tax jump. As Times reporter Alexandria Burris has nailed down, the taxing ordinance actually went into effect on May 23rd, a week before Council members wrote me of their belief that they and the mayor were in a “stalemate.”

Putting a rotten cherry atop the confection, we now know the City’s “agreement” with CenterPoint was signed some days after the ordinance became law on May 23rd. I presume, therefore, that the Tyler meeting with CenterPoint was very brief, like, “Hi guys. The Council voted it, and I’ve made it law. Sign here.”

Shreveport already has, by a mile, the highest combined taxes of any city in Louisiana, not to mention cities in neighboring areas of other states. Regardless, before levying this new tax without any vote by those of us who will pay it, City Hall never considered, not for one moment, spending cuts instead of the tax hike.

The Tax Hike Vote of Our City Council

As we now know, the only chance Shreveporters had to stop this mess came in the City Council’s first vote on the matter in its May 12th regular meeting.

As detailed in the official Minutes of that meeting (beginning on Page 7, “Amendment No. 2 to Ordinance No. 32 of 2015”), the very first vote on the tax would have stopped it cold. Such was the motion of Councilman Oliver Jenkins: 2% for 10 years, as is. Only Jenkins and Councilman Mike Corbin voted “aye,” to thus kill any tax increase, with the remaining five members voting “nay,” meaning for an increase:

Democrat Jeff Everson
Democrat Willie Bradford
Democrat Stephanie Lynch
Democrat Jerry Bowman
Republican James Flurry

When this tax-jump stopper failed, multiple votes were then taken on various amendments raising the tax, finally ending with a 4.5% tax for 10 years.

These facts of the matter notwithstanding, Councilman Everson has strongly objected in writing on social media to my inclusion of his name in the above list, insisting specifically that,

“I was one of the ones who voted against adopting this increase.”

By linking, above, to the Official Minutes, readers will see that Councilman Everson voted against the only no-tax-hike amendment offered. On a later substitute motion by Councilman Corbin to raise the tax to 4% rather than 5%, Everson joined Councilmen Corbin and Jenkins, but the other four killed that attempt.

The facts do not support Mr. Everson’s insistence that he “voted against adopting this increase.”

With the 125% tax increase in place, the final amendment forces CenterPoint to raise Shreveport’s rate to match any higher rate CenterPoint agrees to with any other Louisiana municipality. Again, only Jenkins and Corbin voted “nay,” with the remaining five members approving the requirement.

Notably, and contrary to public assertions by some friends of Mayor Tyler in the local media, there was no dedication of the tax proceeds to street repairs or any other specific use.

CenterPoint vs. AEP / SWEPCO … Glover and Tyler

In 2011, as authored and pushed hard by ex-mayor Cedric Glover and his team, AEP / SWEPCO’s like tax on our electric bills was hiked 150% by that City Council – from 2% to 5%, and for 25 years. That is exactly what Mayor Tyler attempted to do with CenterPoint’s tax.

Handling the CenterPoint tax hike for Tyler is CAO Brian Crawford, who likewise handled the SWEPCO tax increase in 2011 as Assistant CAO for Glover.

As shown in the Official Minutes of the August 9, 2011*, City Council meeting – when the SWEPCO tax jump to 5% was voted in – the 3% additional tax was to be set aside for a “Streets Special Revenue Fund.” Current City Council members Everson, Jenkins, and Corbin, along with former member Ron Webb voted for the increase with the street repair program specifically attached. Then-members Sam Jenkins, Joe Shyne and Rose McCulloch voted against the tax hike, arguing for different street program specifics.

(*The 2011 votes were on Ordinance No. 56 of 2011, Amendment No. 1, attaching the “Streets Special Revenue Fund.” The Ordinance language is shown on Page 68, and the final vote at the top of Page 74.)

Clearly, most local officials do not believe what everyone else in public policy has long known: remarkably higher taxes cause population out-migration and are an impenetrable barrier to population in-migration. With a Caddo Parish population more than 12,000 fewer than in 1986 – 79% of Caddoans live in Shreveport – more than ample evidence of this continuing official failure abounds.

Fewer and fewer tax payers live here, and help is certainly not on the way.

A sizable majority of local public officials are busily at work to keep it that way.

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. 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.)

The Forgotten Man – William Graham Sumner

06/26/2015

He works, he votes, generally he prays – but he always pays – yes, above all, he pays. He does not want an office; his name never gets into the newspaper except when he gets married or dies. He keeps production going on. He contributes to the strength of parties. He is flattered before election. He is strongly patriotic. He is wanted, whenever, in his little circle, there is work to be done or counsel to be given. He may grumble some occasionally to his wife and family, but he does not frequent the grocery or talk politics at the tavern.

Consequently, he is forgotten. He is a commonplace man.

He gives no trouble. He excites no admiration. He is not in any way a hero (like a popular orator); or a problem (like tramps and outcasts); nor notorious (like criminals); nor an object of sentiment (like the poor and weak); nor a burden (like paupers and loafers); nor an object out of which social capital may be made (like the beneficiaries of church and state charities); nor an object for charitable aid and protection (like animals treated with cruelty); nor the object of a job (like the ignorant and illiterate); nor one over whom sentimental economists and statesmen can parade their fine sentiments (like inefficient workmen and shiftless artisans).

Therefore, he is forgotten. All the burdens fall on him, or on her, for it is time to remember that the Forgotten Man is not seldom a woman.

Seen on Burgessville Road This Morning

06/26/2015

Sign

Book Sale This Weekend

06/26/2015

Friends of the Ouachita Public Library Book Sale

Dates: Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27

Time: 9am-3pm

Where:

West Ouachita Library
188 Hwy 546
Exit 108 from I-20
West Monroe, La 71291

3rd JD Public Defender Chief Solicited

06/24/2015

District Defender Selection, District 3 (Lincoln, Union Parishes)

The Louisiana Public Defender Board (LPDB) seeks to contract with a District Defender to provide for the delivery and management of public defender services in the 3rd Judicial District, comprising Lincoln and Union Parishes. La. R.S. 15:161(A).

La. R.S. 15:162 provides the procedure by which vacant District Defender positions are filled. A local Selection Committee reviews all interested applicants and makes recommendations to LPDB. The Selection Committee is comprised of three members: The State Public Defender selects the Committee’s Chairperson; the Chief Judge of the Judicial District and the President of the State Bar Association each select one of the two remaining members.

Within sixty (60) days of being formed, the Selection Committee submits a list of at least three District Defender nominees, ranked by preference, to LPDB. The Selection Committee will undertake any advertisement, determine that minimal statutory qualifications are met, conduct any necessary interviews, and explore the candidate’s background in the areas of management, training, substantive and procedural criminal law, data management and ability to work with LPDB, which regulates public defense in Louisiana. The final Committee recommendations will be interviewed by the State Public Defender and staff prior to a recommendation by the State Public Defender to the LPDB members. The LPDB members will make the final selection of the incoming District Defender and determine the appropriate salary. All District Defenders in Louisiana enter into an individual ‘Contract for Public Defender Services’ with the LPDB and are considered local employees of the district pursuant to La. R.S. 15:147(E). Salary is commensurate with experience. Statutory qualifications are as follows:

• Be a person of good character, honesty and integrity.
• Be a citizen of the United States.
• Following appointment, be a domiciliary of Louisiana who is registered to vote.
• Be an attorney licensed to practice law in Louisiana with at least 5 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney.
• Following appointment, be a domiciliary of the judicial district or a contiguous judicial district and be registered to vote in that judicial district or contiguous district.
• Provide and/or maintain a district office, or appropriate office space, in each judicial district for meeting with clients and rendering public defender services.

The LPDB mission statement is:
In pursuit of equal justice, the Louisiana Public Defender Board advocates for clients, supports practitioners and protects the public by continually improving the services guaranteed by the constitutional right to counsel. Through its commitment to performance standards, ethical excellence, data-driven practices and client-centered advocacy, the Louisiana Public Defender Board oversees the delivery of high quality legal services affecting adults, children and families, and supports community well-being across Louisiana.

Resumes/curriculum vitae, a writing sample and references should be mailed to — or emailed to – Mr. Ivan Daigs, 309 S. Bonner Street, Ruston, LA 71270-4409. Application deadline is the end of the business day on July 3, 2015.

District Defender Duties include:
• Manage and supervise public defender services provided within his judicial district.
• Prepare an operating budget for the district and submit it to the budget officer annually.
• Work in conjunction with the budget officer in developing a uniform method of accounting for all expenditures of the district, including but not limited to the salaries, contracts, acquisition of equipment, and supplies.
• Submit to the budget officer a monthly report of all revenues received and expenditures, including but not limited to salaries, contracts, acquisition of equipment, and supplies for the district.
• Work in conjunction with the compliance officers to ensure that public defender assignments within the judicial district comply with the standards and guidelines adopted pursuant to rule by the board and the Rules of Professional Conduct.
• Supervise the work of the district personnel.
• Employ district personnel, subject to review by the state public defender or the regional director, where applicable, for compliance with qualifications and standards and guidelines established by statute and by rules adopted by the board.
• Contract for services in accordance with the standards and guidelines adopted by rule by the board, and as authorized by the regional director, where applicable.
• Keep a record of all public defender services and expenses in the district and submit the records to the regional director, where applicable, or state public defender as requested.
• Implement the standards and guidelines and procedures established by the board, state public defender, and regional director, where applicable, for the district.
• Maintain a client workload for the district office as determined by the regional director, where applicable, the state public defender, and the board.
• Employ or terminate district personnel, manage and supervise all district level work, including establishment of district personnel salaries, subject to review by the board for compliance with salary guidelines established by the board through the adoption of rules.
• Perform all other duties assigned by the regional director, where applicable, state public
defender, or board.
• Work in conjunction with the legislative auditor in developing uniform audit reports as
required by R.S. 24:515.1.
• Other duties as assigned by the State Public Defender or LPDB Board of Directors.

Bonton Trial Date Set

06/24/2015

Brandon Bonton, an alleged accessory to the murder of Dr. Sue Hashway, was given a September 28 trial date at a Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court hearing yesterday afternoon in Ruston.

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.

Bonton was one of several individuals charged as accomplices to the June, 2012 murder of the retired Grambling State University (GSU) professor, and the rape of a Louisiana Tech University (LTU) student.

Bonton’s attorney, Scott Killen, said he wanted to confer with the Louisiana Attorney General’s office on a related case, that of the alleged ringleader of the crime spree, Cameron Mays.

Assistant AG Mike Ruddick is handling Mays’ prosecution. Almost all the Third JD public defenders who had been involved in Mays’ case, got jobs as prosecutors in the administration of newly elected District Attorney John Belton, and had to be recused because of the conflict of interest.

Mays is set to next appear in court at 9:00 AM, July 21. Bonton has a status conference hearing at 9:00 AM, September 15.

Handling the Bonton case yesterday was First Assistant District Attorney Laurie James.

Presiding was Division B Judge Tommy Rogers.

Strike Three for Calhoun @ OPPJ

06/23/2015

For the third time in as many meetings of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ), District B’s Mack Calhoun failed to get a second to his motion to build a branch of the Ouachita Parish Library in Calhoun.

The motion came after twenty minutes of often rancorous commentary from Calhoun, chastising his fellow jurors for not supporting his plan.

District C’s Walt Caldwell said that while he supported construction of branch in Calhoun, the library board needed time to put forth a strategic plan, with adequate budgets to support the system.

Said Caldwell, “I think that the library board need make their five-year plan, and I would like to see this as part of it. I support this library.”

Library Director Robin Toms, who was unable to attend last night’s meeting, wrote in an email that planning was underway to that end.

I will not be able to attend the jury meeting tonight so I wanted to update you all on the action taken at the library board meeting held on June 11, 2015. The board voted to approve a timeline for the development of a new strategic plan for library services and facilities over the next 5 years. The timeline calls for the utilization of a community survey, focus group meetings, library staff and board meetings between July and October of 2015. The board intends to approve the final plan in December and present it to the full police jury in January. The board and I will be assisted in this process by Diane Brown, Associate State Librarian with the State Library of Louisiana.

See here the document.

Calhoun would have none of it and continued to harangue the other jurors.

Even District F’s Pat Moore tried to calm Calhoun, to no effect.

Said Moore, “If we’re going to be calling people names, and just conducting ourselves like this, then I think that’s out of order.”

After Calhoun made his motion with no second, he seemed to run out of wind. As jury elections are later this year, Calhoun’s efforts appear geared more for free publicity than for reasoned discussion.

In other business, Parish Engineer Kevin Crosby told the jurors that the project to improve drainage and widen Fink’s Hideaway Road should be substantially complete by the end of the year.

The $8.7 million project has been underway for about a year, Crosby estimated. The road, which connects the Swartz area to Hwy 165 North, is one of the most heavily traveled in the area.

Monroe City Council Tuesday

06/22/2015

The Monroe City Council will meet Tuesday, June 23, 6:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury Meets Monday

06/21/2015

The Ouachita Parish Police Jury will meet Monday, June 22, 5:30 PM, Ouachita Parish Courthouse, second floor.

Here is the agenda.