Archive for October, 2018

Letter to the Editor

10/29/2018

The following is a letter emailed to Ruston’s Board of Alderman dated Oct. 8 that was requested to also be published as a Letter to the Editor.

Ms. Carolyn Cage – Ward 1, Ruston, Louisiana; 243-2492
Ms. Angela Mayfield – Ward 2, Ruston, Louisiana; 243-0998
Mr. Jedd Lewis – Ward 3, Ruston, Louisiana; 548-1036
Mr. Jim Pearce – Ward 4, Ruston, Louisiana; 548-9422
Mr. Bruce Siegmund – Ward 5, Ruston, Louisiana; 614-4352

I am OPPOSED to the SALES TAX ORDINANCE proposal to be voted on by the Ruston City Council at the Nov. 5 regular meeting.

I attended local primary and secondary schools, and have an accounting degree from LA Tech. I was born in Ruston, and here is where I chose to live, work and raise my family. I vote at Hillcrest School and Jedd Lewis is my elected alderman. I have tried to personally contact all five aldermen or alderwomen to discuss this issue. I thank each of you for the time and courtesy each of you has shown me. If we’ve not talked yet, hopefully, we will before the November meeting.

I am OPPOSED to the Sales Tax Ordinance for the following reasons:

1. As a matter of personal belief, I think the voting citizens of the tax district should vote on taxes for this, or any other taxes that would be used as funding for the city’s recreational infrastructure. I don’t think that the citizens should be taxed without an opportunity to vote on the projected use. The taxpayers did not elect the aldermen to impose these taxes. The taxpayers may desire to wait on the recreational development or not desire to proceed at all; nevertheless, the taxpayers deserve a vote, rather than having this tax and projects being forced down their throats.

2. I believe that a full accounting should be given to the citizens of Ruston on the construction progress and expended / committed cost for the MRF projects. I and most other citizens are aware that most of the projects in the MRF have had serious overruns; in particular, the recreational projects now under construction. How much of the 3/4 cent sales tax funding, savings in maintenance and revenue synergies has been committed? Many citizens have concerns that the budget for MRF has been exceeded and additional funding sources are needed to save face.

3. The tax is being implemented as a sales tax increment financing under RS 33:9038.31 et seq. That law was enacted for funding of economic (industrial) development projects. The funds from this tax are proposed — according to the mayor at the recent town hall meeting — for recreational infrastructure rather than economic or industrial development projects. This is a legal high jacking of a law intended for funding economic development projects, and a means to bypass the requirement for a tax referendum by the voters. In my opinion, implementing the sales tax and the proposed additions to the recreational complex by this method is wrong.

4. The recreational projects to be financed by this proposed tax are designated as Phase II of the Sports Complex, yet Phase I has not been completed at this time. With solid budget control and sound estimating, perhaps some of the projected Phase II financial needs could be met from savings on Phase I construction. This would negate the need for imposition of the sales tax. Construction estimates for the projects based on “guesstimates” (mayor’s term) don’t meet the standards of best business practices. It is reckless, and shows disrespect for taxpayer money.

5. If, the recreational complex will be such a success (as the mayor has said), we will not need this additional tax revenue for Phase II of the recreational complex.

6. The proposed Phase II projects (senior center, veterans facility, splash pad and pool) are projects that are mutually exclusive and none of them are required for the successful completion and operation of the Phase I facilities. In other words, each of the Phase II features could be delayed and paid out of the income generated from the Phase I features.

7. The added maintenance and operational cost of the project features need to be reasonably forecast. Little mention was made regarding this item at the Old Fire Station meeting. How is this to be paid for? Both Phase I and Phase II of the complex will add serious maintenance and operational cost items to the budget.

8. Our mayor is an excellent salesman for the city, as evidenced by the Town Hall Meeting at the Old Fire Station recently, and the support he has generated for his projects. BUT, I ask that each of you stop and consider some serious questions about the financial wellbeing of our city without any influence from the administration. I submit to you the following:

a. The budget expenses have increased during the first four years of the Walker administration by about ten (10) percent. The 2014 budget of $66 million — the last year of the Hollingsworth administration — increased to about $77 million in 2018, the most recent year of the Walker administration.

b. The bonded indebtedness has increased during the first four years of the Walker administration by over 400 percent. The total principal and interest owed increased from $25 million in 2014 to about $112 million in 2018, the most recent year of the Walker administration.

c. The contingent liability for the Monster Moto Facility will soon (Jan. 1, 2019) be the responsibility of the City of Ruston as they are the guarantors of the bonds for the facilities. Granted the mayor recently has said to me, “…we have two possible companies to take their place and beside they will not be out until the end of the year.” The citizens are concerned, are you? The aldermen are responsible for the budget and its financial soundness and should be good stewards of the financial condition of this city.

d. Finally, cash flows from funding and revenue sources are not aligned or synchronized with the expense requirements for the MRF projects. The 3/4 cent sales tax allowed for approximately $40 million dollars in bonds to be issued, and an annual $1.2 million per year above the requirement for bond amortization. It is easy to see if you underestimate costs (sports complex), the needed fund will not be available for completion of all of the other MRF projects. This shortfall in available funds, demands the need for other revenue source such as a new tax (1.75 percent sales tax for Phase II), or a significant reduction in cash reserves from other accounts, either enterprise or general fund. We need adequate planning, accurate cost estimates, bidding discipline, and firm project management.

I hope each of you will consider the above items that I have highlighted and consider voting to defeat the proposed ordinance and submit the questions for further study and review.

I will see you at the Nov. 5 meeting.

James Fuller
Ruston

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Finance Reports for Judge’s Race

10/19/2018

Finance reports are in on the race for Division C Judge of the Third Judicial District (Lincoln, Union Parishes). Two candidates are running, Monique Clement and Bruce Hampton.

Clement’s report shows total receipts of $84,415, as of 9/27/18. Of that, $55 thousand is a personal loan to her campaign.

Among the major monetary contributors:

Bill Autrey, Ruston: $1,000
Breithaupt, DuBos, & Wolleson, LLC, Monroe: $2,500
Randy Ewing, Ruston: $1,000
Lamar Haddox, Ruston: $2,500
LaGrange Cloy, LLC, Thibodaux: $2,500
Louisiana Bancshares, LLC, Arcdia: $2,500
Laurie Parks, Ruston: $1,000
Brian Woodard, Choudrant: $2,500
Russell Woodard, Ruston: $2,500

Among the major expenditures include about $7 thousand to Classic Designs of Ruston for signs, $5 thousand to Creative Communications of Baton Rouge for consulting, and about $2,400 to Freeman Lumber of Ruston for sign materials.

As of the reporting date, she has spent $29,147

See here the complete report.

Hampton’s report shows $137,275 of total receipts, with $87,500 of that from a personal loan to the campaign. He has spent a little over $103 thousand. Hampton’s report is also as of 9/27/18.

His major donors are:

Amado Leija Management, Monroe: $1,000
Byrnes Mechanical Contractors, Inc, West Monroe: $1,500
Country Line Farm, Farmerville: $1,000
Johnny Dollar, Monroe: $1,000
Enviro Service Rental, LLC, Farmerville: $2,500
Thomas Futch, Farmerville: $1,000
Kenneth & Misty Halley, Sterlington: $1,000
Sanson’s Family Medicine, West Monroe: $1,500
Jamie Sanson, Farmerville: $2,500
Willie Sensley, Jr, Farmerville: $1,500
Vernon & Theresa Sharp, Marion: $1,000
Ross Wilhite, Downsville: $2,500
Sidney Wilhite, Jr, West Monroe: $2,500
Sybol Wilhite, Downsville: $2,500

Significant expenditures are:

National Association of Lincolnites, LLC, Ruston: $1,500
Brave New Televsion/Politics, Denaham Springs: $23,700
Community Coordinating Coucil, Ruston: $1,000
Corney Creek Festival, Bernice: $1,500
Drabo, Dubach: $1,440
Farmerville Jaycees, Farmerville: $2,500
LA Peach Festival, Ruston: $2,500
Quest Consultants, Monroe: $24,440
Rapid Sign, Ruston: $24,053
Gregory Adam Terry, Washington DC, $5,800
Tommy’s Tees, Ruston: $7,730
Union Parish Chamber of Commerce, Farmerville: $1,000
Union Parish Museum of History & Art, Farmerville: $1,000

See here the complete report.

Interest Builds for House District 12 (Lincoln, Union)

10/17/2018

Interest is beginning to build for the upcoming special election for Louisiana House District 12, made up of Union Parish and Part of Lincoln Parish.

Ruston businessman Bill Elmore and local attorney Cary Brown both have told Lincoln Parish News Online that they are contemplating a run for that office.

Neither are strangers to politics.

Brown lost narrowly in November, 2014 to John Belton in the race for District Attorney, and Elmore lost to Ronny Walker for Mayor of Ruston.

Other names rumored, but not confirmed include Jason Bullock, who ran for the seat in 2011, Andy Halbrook, a local stockbroker, and Ayres Bradford, whose wife Connie was a member of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The district was formerly represented by Rob Shadoin, who recently resigned to take a job with the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Commission. He was first elected in 2011, and was unopposed for re-election in 2015.

According to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, the election has been set for February 23, 2019, with a runoff (if needed) on March 30.

Qualifying is January 9 through January 11, 2019.

Sparta Commission Hears Reports

10/16/2018

Last Wednesday’s meeting of the Sparta Groundwater Commission failed to garner a quorum for an official meeting, but nevertheless heard a series of reports and comments from the members.

Chairman Zack Spivey talked about the opportunity for water savings by the area’s water systems though proper maintenance of those systems to curtail leaks. He said that first the systems must measure the water they pump, and then compare that to what they sell.

Said Spivey, “I’m going to call that low hanging fruit. We should have some influence to encourage the rural water districts and the cities to know whether their numbers are good or not.”

Historically, the commission’s public relations efforts have focused on individual users, and encouraged conservation by fixing leaky faucets and minimal lawn watering.

Executive Director Lindsey Gouedy reported on the commission’s budget, and said that they were on target for the year.

Also, a former commission member, Richard Durrett was welcomed back. He was appointed by the Lincoln Parish Police Jury last week.

Court Hearing on DeSoto LACE Case

10/13/2018

DeSoto judge removes DA from investigation of possible LACE payroll abuse

By Vicki Welborn – KTBS TV3 Shreveport

DeSoto District Attorney Gary Evans and his staff are prohibited from investigating the sheriff and his deputies in connection with alleged abuses of an overtime ticket-writing program called LACE, a district judge ruled Friday following a five-hour court hearing fraught with legal wrangling.

District Judge Charles Adams based his decision on his belief District Attorney Gary Evans in the eyes of the public could not maintain the “independence and impartiality” that is required for the investigation. Adams said that was evidenced by what took place in the courtroom during the afternoon hearing.

At times contentious, the court session was punctuated by multiple but unsuccessful attempts to have the proceedings stopped and even throw Adams off the case. Motions were filed and procedures were argued before a courtroom filled with spectators.

Sheriff Jayson Richardson agreed with the ruling, saying afterwards he welcomes an investigation into “supposed wrongdoing” but wants it led by someone not associated with the district attorney’s office. Richardson contends Evans wanted to convene a grand jury weeks before next month’s special sheriff’s election in attempt to influence the outcome in favor of his preferred candidate.

Richardson and Mansfield Police Chief Gary Hobbs are vying for the remainder of the unexpired term of longtime Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle who retired earlier this year. The election is Nov. 6.

The back-and-forth about the LACE investigation sandwiched a separate but related matter that could lead to a fine or jail time for two employees of the district attorney’s office. Adams found Assistant District Attorney Cloyce Clark and chief investigator Kem Jones in contempt of court after witnesses testified seeing them taking photographs or videos in the courtroom Monday in violation of court rules.

Bailiff Brett Jones said at the judge’s order he reviewed Clark’s phone, which Clark handed to him and open to the photo album. Brett Jones said he saw four photos that had been taken of attorneys and sheriff’s office personnel inside the courtroom, but they had been recently deleted. Clark described them as “personal” pictures, and said he wasn’t aware it was wrong to take photographs in the courtroom when it was not in session.

Kem Jones refused to answer questions about the contents of his two phones, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. When he was on the stand later, Jones again refused to answer questions about the phones, which Adams has in his possession after they were returned from the Bossier City Marshal’s Office.

Clark and Jones will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Monday for the contempt of court.

Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Lea Hall told Adams they will appeal his ruling recusing Evans. The state Attorney General’s office will be notified about Evans’ recusal, Adams said, putting them in charge of any investigation.

Hall vigorously argued throughout the afternoon against the hearing even moving forward since at the beginning of it he filed a motion notifying the court Evans had voluntarily removed himself from any investigation of Richardson and the sheriff’s office as a whole.

But Richardson’s attorney, Michael Magner, pointed out that did not resolve the matter of the individual deputies. He maintained their belief Evans should not have any dealings with the LACE investigation, not only because of his alleged political involvement but also because his office also was part of an investigative audit involving alleged LACE payroll abuses.

At one point Hall said moving forward was “a disservice to the entire parish” and added on a personal note he considered the entire issue that’s putting the parish’s elected officials as odds as “ridicules.”

Richardson said in a court motion filed Oct. 5 that Evans was motivated by politics to present a case to the secret panel because of his friendship and support of Hobbs. Hall said during Friday’s hearing that’s an allegation Evans denies.

The motion was filed hours after Evans appeared before a group of state lawmakers in Baton Rouge who review audit findings. Evans was there to respond to findings concerning his office’s handling of LACE.

But Evans instead focused on the sheriff’s office and announced he was calling a grand jury for Oct. 8. He said theft was “rampant” in the sheriff’s office and he needed auditors to release an audit report that’s being conducted on the sheriff’s office’s LACE program.

State Auditor Daryl Purpera said he would not be pulled into politics surrounding the election and would only release the report when it’s completed, and it’s not.

A recording of Evans’ appearance before the panel was submitted during Friday’s hearing. While Evans was in the courtroom, he was not called to testify. Instead, the questions were posed to Kem Jones.

Kem Jones answered Magner’s questions about the audit findings and also reviewed copies of some of the deputies’ LACE time sheets. He said when Evans took over LACE administration he wanted more detailed time sheets. The D.A.’s office did not start paying the deputies who worked LACE until Evans began his diversion program, Jones said, adding Evans “never paid a penny to the sheriff’s office for LACE.”

The district attorney’s office does not consider itself a “victim” of LACE,” Hall noted.

LACE is a program that goes back decades that allows off-duty law enforcement officers to work traffic enforcement. Most of their time is spent on interstates targeting speeders.

Early in 2017, Evans began questioning the LACE set-up, he said after a DeSoto Parish police juror said the criminal court fund, one of the recipients of LACE ticket revenue, was losing money.

Arbuckle pulled his deputies off of LACE in June 2017. State troopers continue to work it – after a brief hiatus when the LSP commander called a halt to it to revise policies and procedures following payroll padding allegations among some troopers in South Louisiana. Evans also has a contract with the Mansfield Police Department.

Police Jury Awards Bid on Horse Barn

10/11/2018

Construction of a covered warm-up arena at the North Louisiana Exhibition Center should begin soon, after the Lincoln Parish Police Jury recognized Pro-Build Construction of Homer as the low bidder. The action came at Tuesday’s meeting of the jury.

Markay Brown, of Meyer, Meyer, LaCroix & Hixson told jurors that Pro-Build’s base bid was about $502 thousand, well under the project budget. That was done, however, by reducing the size of the original scope, from a 230’x230′ building, to 160’x230′.

Brown said the low bid should allow 40′ to be added back on the size (200’x230′), and that could be done with a change order.

See here her letter and estimates.

See here the tabulations of all the bidders.

The voted 11-1 to proceed.

District Six’s Walter Pullen was the lone no vote. He had earlier this year objected to taking money dedicated to courthouse maintenance and using it for other projects.

Earlier, the Finance Committee approved the annual budget requests.

The $11 thousand increase for the Lincoln Total Community Action Agency was approved with the provision that it be for one year only.

Another change was for the Trailblazer program. The $4500 request was amended to $2250.

See here the list.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury Commits to $2.7 Million Jail Debt

10/10/2018

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury at last night’s meeting authorized application to the Louisiana State Bond Commission the borrowing of up to $2.67 million for construction of a 100 bed addition to the Lincoln Parish Detention Center.

A resolution for the application passed unanimously.

Project architect Mike Walpole said he was confident of the cost estimates for the project, in response to our question. We noted that other area public entities were not accurate with their cost estimates, and that’s why we asked.

Walpole’s numerous projects for the Lincoln Parish School Board have been very close the original estimates when completed.

Although Sheriff Mike Stone had orally agreed to reimburse the police jury for the construction costs out of his jail operating budget, no language was included in the documents approved last night.

We will have more reporting on the meeting later.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury Tomorrow

10/08/2018

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury will meet Tuesday, October 9, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor. Committee meetings begin at 5 PM.

Public Works Committee – 5:00 PM
agenda

Insurance Committee – 5:30 PM
agenda

Finance Committee – 6:00 PM
agenda

Police Jury – 7:00 PM
agenda

Claiborne Electric Annual Meeting

10/07/2018

Last week, Claiborne Electric, an electric power distribution system that serves much of North Central Louisiana, had their annual meeting in Homer, LA. One of our correspondents was there.

Recently, Claiborne has been in a scrape with District Five Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell over their plans to build and operate an optical fiber internet system. Rural areas have typically not had high-speed broadband internet like that in urban areas, since the population density is much lower.

Claiborne had proposed to build such a system, but Campbell has worried that should the internet system not be profitable, Claiborne’s electric customers would be on the hook for making up any difference.

Our correspondent sent us these documents from the meeting:

Transparency and Governance – Our Commitments to You
Welcome

Ruston Aldermen Medical Insurance Benefits Detailed

10/04/2018

In addition to the $1 thousand/month salary (recently bumped from $800/month), all but one of Ruston’s Aldermen receive a very lucrative medical insurance benefit by way of the city’s group insurance plan.

A letter in response to a public records request show the following medical insurance benefits paid for by Ruston’s taxpayers.

Carolyn CageWard 1: $9,599.52/yr
Angela MayfieldWard 2: $8,035.98/yr
Jedd LewisWard 3: $5,477.88/yr
Jim PierceWard 4: $9,599.52/yr

Bruce SiegmundWard 5 is not enrolled in the city’s group insurance plan.

These amounts represent either 70% of the plan premiums (high deductible plan), or 85% (preferred provider plan).

The Lincoln Parish School Board has five of its twelve members who are on the district’s group plan. Of those five, two are retired teachers. All of the five are “grandfathered” and will drop off the plan whenever they leave office.

No members of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury are enrolled in that entity’s group plan.