Archive for November, 2015

Caddo Commission Cited by Lege Auditor

11/30/2015

November 30, 2015

For a second time, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has issued a ruling against the Caddo Parish Commission’s self-created retirement plan for Commissioners. The Auditor’s first warning as to the legality / constitutionality of the plan was issued in his letter to the Commission earlier this year, on February 12, 2015.

As was the stated assumption of the Auditor in that first letter, a supposed move by the Commission to obtain a declaratory judgment on the matter in First Judicial District Court in Caddo quickly failed. Its February lawsuit attempted to enjoin the Louisiana Attorney General in the dispute, for which there was no legal ground. Caddo District Court Judge Michael Pitman summarily tossed the suit.

On March 16, 2015, I filed suit against the Caddo Parish Commission, its top two administrators, and Commissioners seeking to recover the hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayer dollars these officials had paid themselves in illegal CPERS benefits. After further research by my pro bono partner in the suit, attorney Whitney Pesnell, we found that Commissioners had paid themselves yet another list of benefits explicitly barred by the 1984 Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.

No trial on the merits of our lawsuit has yet been held. Mr. Purpera’s new, second ruling may be read here.

The Auditor’s February letter was written after I published online my initial articles on the subject – January 27, 2012 and February 2, 2012. Mr. Purpera and other local, state and federal officials are recipients of my articles.

In his first letter, the Auditor specifically cited the following sections of the Louisiana Constitution, and later supporting opinions of the Louisiana Attorney General, in detailing his then-opinion that CPERS “… is improper”:

1. Louisiana Constitution Article X, Section 29.1
2. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 09-0115
3. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 10-0183
4. Louisiana Constitution, Article VI, Section 4
5. Louisiana Attorney AG Opinion No. 10-1083

Mr. Purpera then ended that first letter with this admonition: “… it is within the purview of the Legislative Auditor’s authority to advise on the proper use of public money. Therefore, based upon the Constitutional Amendments cited above, it appears to us that for Caddo Parish to continue to contribute public monies on behalf of Commissioners elected after (January 1) 1997, is improper. I urge you to reconsider your position and to determine whether Ordinances 3762 and 4343 should be repealed.”

Caddo Commissioners have ignored by Mr. Purpera’s advice, since paying outside lawyers $46,000 in taxpayer funds to fight to keep their many types of self-pay.

In today’s second report, Mr. Purpera adds new information from his auditors:

1. Caddo Parish Commissioners have received more than $258,665 in public money to fund their retirements, even though they are part-time elected officials barred by the Louisiana Constitution from participating in any local- or parish-sponsored retirement system.

2. Since the Commission was not eligible to participate in CPERS, Parish contributions appear to be donations (to Commissioners) in violation of yet another constitutional ban.

3. “The Caddo Parish attorney told auditors there is no conflict between the (Commission) ordinance and the Louisiana Constitution because the constitution only prohibits part-time public officials from participating in public retirement systems that are defined benefit plans, not defined contribution plans like CPERS.”

“Regardless,” Purpera said, “the Constitution provides that these part-time public officials cannot be members of a State of Louisiana-sponsored or any political subdivision-sponsored, retirement plan that contributes public funds to their retirement.”

5. The Auditor moves the matter, for the first time, into considerations of federal law and funds. Specifically, auditors found that Commissioners received $136,540 more than if they had properly participated in Social Security, noting that, “In that case, the Parish would only have paid $122,124 in Social Security taxes for those Commissioners.”

Contrary to the intentions of Commissioners, the Auditor also notes that if the ordinance is found unconstitutional in a state court, he is advising Caddo Parish to seek to recover improper contributions.

Those “improper contributions” are, of course, in the possession of the Commission and/or any Commissioners who have already withdrawn these taxpayer funds. In addition are other totals of public money Commissioners have paid themselves for years of salary above $1,200 per month, travel, and insurance which are banned by the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.

… developing …

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.)

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Lincoln Parish School Board Tuesday

11/30/2015

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

Here is the agenda.

Ruston Daily Leader Begins Drumbeat for Higher Taxes on the Little People

11/25/2015

With two “news” articles within five days touting Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker’s massive infrastructure rebuild for the city, it is almost assured that the area’s daily paper, The Ruston Daily Leader, will be supporting the plan, along with sticking the people who shop in Ruston for an additional 3/4 ¢ in sales taxes to help pay for it.

On Sunday, 11/22/15 there was this:

Infrastructure package proposed

Today, another article reporting on a Walker news conference held yesterday:

Sales tax approval needed to move forward

Readers will recall that in late September, The Leader began a campaign to reverse a 9/8/15 Lincoln Parish Police Jury vote to deny a tax break to two local businesses.

Several articles and editorials held forth on the necessity of such tax breaks to encourage “economic development.”

At the 11/10/15 jury meeting, the earlier vote was reversed, and the tax breaks granted.

One of the counter arguments was that the tax breaks would have to be made up by other taxes somewhere else.

Sure enough, days later a massive spending plan has been unveiled that will have to be paid for by taxing those who can least afford it via sales taxes.

You can bet the people who are pushing this plan of higher sales taxes are the same ones who stampeded the police jury into reversing their vote on the business tax breaks.

See here the complete Ruston infrastructure plan.

Readers need to know about, however, the business relationship The Ruston Daily Leader enjoys with the City of Ruston.

For calendar year 2014, as “official journal,” the newspaper billed the city nearly $12 thousand for “legal advertising.”

See here the document.

This amount does not include similar relationships that the newspaper has with other governmental entities in the area, such as the police jury and the Lincoln Parish School Board.

Jackson Parish Police Jury Meeting Minutes – 11/23/15

11/24/2015

November 23, 2015 -Jonesboro, Louisiana

The following are selected entries to the minutes.  See the link above for the complete record.

The Jackson Parish Police Jury met in special session Monday, November 23, 2015, at 5:30 PM in thePolice Jury Meeting Room ofthe Jackson Parish Courthouse. Members present: Todd Culpepper, AmyMagee, Billy Bryant, Maxie Monroe, Charles Garrett and Lynn Treadway. Absent: Eddie Langston.

Mr. Langston arrived and the vice president relinquished the chair to the president.

Motion Ms. Monroe seconded Ms. Magee to appropriate $50,000 to the Town of Jonesboro. A roll call vote was taken.
Mr. Treadway – Nay
Mr. Garrett –Yea
Ms. Monroe –Yea
Mr. Bryant –Yea
Ms. Magee –Yea
Mr. Langston –Yea
Mr. Culpepper –Nay
Motion passed with 5 yeas, 2 nays

Motion Mr. Garrett seconded Ms. Monroe to rescind the resolution adopted on December 16, 2013reducing the compensation of members of the Jackson Parish Police Jury to $600.00 per month effective with the new term of jurors effective January 11, 2016. Motion carried with Mr. Culpepper nay.

Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission Meeting Tomorrow

11/23/2015

The Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission will meet tomorrow (Tuesday, 11/24), 10:00 AM, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Here is the agenda.

Jackson Parish Police Jury Pay on Monday Agenda

11/22/2015

The issue of police jury pay is up for discussion again, but this time it’s Jackson Parish. On the Monday, 11/23, 5:30 PM, agenda is this:

Rescind resolution adopted on December 16, 2014 reducing the compensation of Jurors to $600 per month effective January 11, 2016.

Here is the complete agenda.

Also, the Personnel Committee will meet at 5:00 PM. Here is the agenda.

The meeting will be in the Police Jury Meeting room on the third floor of the Jackson Parish Courthouse, 500 East Court Street.

Two incumbent jurors were reelected yesterday, Amy McGee (Ward 3), and Lynn Treadway (Ward 7).

Johnny McCarty unseated Billy Bryant (Ward 4) to regain the seat he held for several months in 2012. McCarty had been appointed after long time juror Nate Zeno died, and lost it to Bryant in a special election.

Lincoln Juror Pay Raise Thwarted

11/20/2015

A proposal to hike the monthly pay for Lincoln Parish Police Jurors (LPPJ) from $875 to $1,200 was voted down at last night’s meeting after an earnest discussion of what other parishes pay, and just what the concept of public service really meant.

The vote was 6 – 4.

Moving for the raise was Joe Henderson (District 9), with Jody Backus (District 7) seconding.

Voting for were:

Hazel Hunter (District 2)
Jody Backus (District 7)
Joe Henderson (District 9)
Sharyon Mayfield (District 11)

Voting no were:

Theresa Wyatt (District 1)
Bobby Bennett (District 3)
Randy Roberson (District 4)
Walter Pullen (District 6)
Skip Russell (District 8)
Heather Walker (District 12)

Absent were David Hammons (District 5), and Nancy Wilson (District 10)

Jury President Hazel Hunter began the discussion by presenting a list of more than a dozen parishes that pay jurors from $900 to $1,600 monthly. Statutorily, $1,600 is the maximum.

See here the list.

However, missing from the list were two neighboring parishes, Union and Claiborne, that pay jurors $600/month.

The discussion continued for about 25 minutes, with everyone having a say. Among the more pertinent comments:

Backus: “It’s been over sixteen years since there’s been an adjustment.”

Henderson: “Sixteen years without an increase, that’s not fair.”

Pullen: “That’s not what we got into this for, and everybody knew what the pay was when they ran.”

Walker: “If you wanted someone more qualified (to run for juror), they wouldn’t care about the money. It’s not about the money.”

Bennett: “There’s a hospital board over there that doesn’t get a dime. The library board doesn’t get a dime. They serve for nothing.”

In other business the Finance Committee, and in turn the full Jury voted unanimously to adopt amended 2015 and proposed 2016 budgets.

Lincoln Parish Library 2015 amended, 2016 proposed budgets
Lincoln Parish Police Jury 2015 amended, 2016 proposed budgets

Walker Unveils Massive Infrastructure Rebuild of Ruston, Plus 3/4 ¢ Sales Tax Hike to Pay for it

11/18/2015

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker has unveiled a multi-million dollar “wish list” that includes streets, sewers, water, drainage, and recreation projects to be completed over the next ten years. Walker spoke to a group of at the old Fire Station earlier this afternoon.

Said Walker, “When I came on board in January I started meeting with all our department heads and looking at our city from a strategic plan and long term plan, as far as the next ten and twenty years. What I found was we had a backlog of infrastructure projects that some were ten and fifteen that we needed to do just to get us up to this point, but we really needed to look forward if we were planning on growing the city.”

To fund the projects, Walker wants to put a 3/4 ¢ sales tax increase before the voters next April.

Among the more significant projects:

Three lane rebuild of Kentucky from 167 to hwy 33 – $15 million
Sheppard Creek drainage improvements – $6.5 million
Street Overlays – 35 miles – $5 million
Sports Complex on South Farmerville – $15 million

Map of proposed Ruston Projects

Map of proposed Ruston Projects

Financing for the projects, estimated at $80 million total, would be a combination of borrowing, sales tax proceeds, state funding, and existing funding.

WP_000587

Walker noted that while the tax increase would put Ruston’s sales tax at 9 1/2%, it is still lower than other communities in the area.

Seen in the crowd of three to four dozen people were representatives of the area’s engineering, construction, and real estate interests.

Pay Raise for Lincoln Police Jurors on Agenda

11/18/2015

Discussion of “method and amount of Police Juror compensation” is on the agenda for a special called session of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) tomorrow (Thursday, November 19) at 6:00 PM.

Agenda – Police Jury – 6:00 PM

Two committee meetings are scheduled prior to the full jury.

Agenda – Health & Welfare Committee – 4:30 PM
Agenda – Finance Committee – 5:00 PM

The meeting will be held at the Lincoln Parish Courthouse, third floor.

Hakims, I20 Board Head to Court

11/18/2015

Development of property north of Interstate 20, just east of Garrett Road and south of Millhaven Road, has hit a snag over drainage issues.

I-20 Corridor Properties, owner of the land, has sued the Interstate 20 Economic Development  Corporation (I20 Board), claiming that construction of a road connecting Millhaven and Fontana Road has aggravated flooding issues on his land.

The plaintiff requests that road construction be halted until a trial decides the issue. From the petition:

Plaintiff further alleges that a part of the terms and obligations of the aforesaid Agreement between the parties which in part provided for Plaintiff to donate extremely valuable property (estimated to be worth approximately six (6) million dollars) to the Defendant for the road that Defendant and the City of Monroe, Louisiana wanted and desperately needed for further economic development for the area, that there was an understanding between the parties that the road construction on Plaintiffs property north of Interstate 20 would be such that Defendant would construct the road in question at its cost, estimated to be under three (3) million dollars, and that the Defendant would make sure that, the road, even in its finished form would serve to drain Plaintiffs property properly and would not cause Plaintiffs property to flood; moreover, had it been understood by Plaintiff that the Defendant never plam1ed to do what was necessary to make sure that Plaintiffs property would drain properly before or after development of same, Plaintiff would never had agreed to donate the property for the constructions of the roads, especially since the cost of the road over the property located on the north side of Interstate 20, was about one-half of the value of the property donated by Plaintiff.

See here the complete lawsuit.

At last night’s meeting, of the I20 Board, the issue was discussed in an hour long executive session.

Afterwards, I20 Board President Otis Chisley said that the suit was “unfortunate,” but not unexpected. He said there were discussions about hiring legal counsel to handle the matter, but no final decision had been made as to who that may be.

I-20 Corridor Properties lists as managers Joseph and Nouri (Eddie) Hakim, well known area property developers.

Eddie Hakim several years ago was the Government’s chief witness in a trial that resulted in the conviction of two Monroe City Councilmen for raketeering, Robert “Red” Stevens, and Arthur Gilmore.