Throughout life, I have been influenced by certain individuals (especially my parents) to be a “giver,” to support good people, to expect good government, and to participate in efforts to make our communities and our state a better place. This was a driving force for my being involved in a recent campaign to reform the ethical behavior of government in Louisiana and therefore improve the image of our state, as I believe that integrity and trust are essential ingredients for Louisiana to “retain” its greatest asset — its children.
For this reason, I read with great interest Jeremy Alfords article “Pay for Play?” (May 6) in The Independent. It was headlined that “Hundreds of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top donors are reaping the benefits of state contracts and choice political appointments,” something I abhor. But to my amazement, in his attempt to link donations with appointments to boards and commissions and hold the Jindal administration accountable, Mr. Alford instead predetermines an outcome of “same ole” by placing the “patronism” tag on some who truly donate their time to make Louisiana better.
Specifically, to portray my involvement on Gov. Jindal’s I-49 South Task Force as “a pay to play” and “a potential conflict of interest worth talking about” is asinine. Yes, I did donate to the Jindal campaign (at an energy-related function), but did it to support a governor who advocates (and has enacted) strong ethics laws and a positive change in the way the state does its business.
When asked to serve, I filled out a massive conflict of interest questionnaire that was forwarded to me by the governor’s office. After a review by the governor’s office and the state Senate, my appointment was approved. It should be noted that this task force doesn’t give out or recommend contracts, isn’t funded by the state, doesn’t pay its members or reimburse their expenses, and its members certainly don’t influence or ingratiate themselves to the powers that be at the Louisiana Department of Transportation. In addition, membership doesn’t provide anyone an advantage in procuring state contracts (if and when I-49 South is ever built) because DOTD awards its contracts through a request-for-proposal process that only grades the qualifications of companies applying for the work. With a little more due diligence, Mr. Alford should have placed some significance on the fact that governors Foster and Blanco had previously appointed me vice-chairman and chairman, respectively, of their I-49 South task forces beginning in 1994. Institutional knowledge, not the campaign donation, might have been a more reasonable deduction for my re-appointment, because surely no one in their right mind would “pay” to be a member.
In this case, it appears that the cliché holds true that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that being involved can sometimes carry a heavy burden. Consequently, having to explain to my children and family that I am not part of Louisiana’s problem, as your reporter tries to portray, has led me to write this letter and tell the rest of the story, something that Mr. Alford didn’t bother to do.
As an aside, I have reviewed the ethical standards of journalism, and find they include the common elements and principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability as they apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public. I suggest that Mr. Alford do the same.
(Editors’ Note: The Independent Weekly stands by the accuracy of Jeremy Alford’s story and the public records documents he used to support it. However, we acknowledge that Bill Fenstermaker was an inappropriate example of the “pay to play” premise the story explores; we also received several e-mails and phone calls from local business people upset about Fenstermaker’s inclusion in this story. As his supporters consistently point out — and as was reported — the I-49 South Task Force is but an advisory committee with no authority to award contracts. Additionally, City-Parish President Joey Durel, who chairs the task force, says it was critical to the initiative that someone with institutional knowledge of the I-49 project [Fenstermaker has been involved for almost two decades] be appointed.)
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.