The Independent awarded legal fees, Louisiana moves into the red and more
THE INDEPENDENT GETS $20,500 IN LEGAL FEES

On Monday, Oct. 9, District Judge Ed Rubin awarded attorneys' fees to The Independent Weekly, essentially forcing UL Lafayette to reimburse the paper for having to file a Public Records lawsuit June 30 for the new Davidson appraisal.

Rubin ordered the university to pay the newspaper $20,491.50 for fees and costs; the university has not indicated whether it will appeal Rubin's award.

On Sept. 11 Rubin ruled that the appraisal of attorney Jimmy Davidson's Girard Park property was a public record, and the university turned it over a week later. The university tried to keep the document under wraps because the new appraisal was $1.75 million less than UL planned to pay for the property in the now defunct horse farm land swap deal.

To date, the university has paid $10,450 to appraise Davidson's property. Even before trying to negotiate a lower price for the land, UL President Ray Authement moved to order yet another appraisal ' one that ostensibly would bring the value more in line with the seller's asking price.

Davidson is a member of the UL Foundation's Board of Trustees. ' Leslie Turk

OIL ASSOCIATION ENTERING NEXT PHASE

The Louisiana Independent Oil and Gas Association has dropped the "independent" from it's namesake in an effort to cover a more diverse membership and expand its influence. The 14-year-old LOGA lobby is also on the cusp of offering its members special insurance benefits, which would be a first for such a group.

It's a long way from 1992, when 12 oil men put up $60,000 to form the group as a means to influencing policy at the State Capitol. Today, the association has a budget topping $1 million. Don Briggs, the association's president, says it was necessary to communicate that the Baton Rouge-based LOGA is open to representing other sectors of the industry, like service companies, land men, geologists and pipeline companies. Aside from money and clout, the additional membership will help LOGA reach more lawmakers on the local level, where opinions really matter.

In short, Briggs isn't just bringing more bodies into the fold, he's adding more voters to his roster. "To do what we need to do, we need more members to communicate with their appropriate legislators," says Briggs, a Lafayette resident. "Nothing means more to legislators than getting those calls from their hometown."

On the horizon, LOGA (which has 800 members) is planning to launch an exclusive insurance program for its members within the year. The details are still being hammered out, Briggs says, but two basic areas of coverage will be offered. The program, dubbed LOGA Choice, will administer a group health benefit plan and build a workers' compensation pool, which is an approach that others, like the Louisiana United Business Association, have implemented in the same region in the past with notable success. "This allows us to create a more flexible situation that is geared towards our industry," Briggs says. "The companies will actually own the coverage and it will save them a lot of money." ' Jeremy Alford

LOUISIANA MOVES MORE INTO THE RED

When state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, a New Orleans Democrat, dropped out of the race for secretary of state last week, he made it possible for Republicans to claim they swept both statewide offices this year without the need for a runoff. Jim Donelon of Metairie was elected insurance commissioner late last month and state Sen. Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge is now posed to be the next secretary of state.

"What is more remarkable is that neither of the victors was previously elected to their respective positions," said state GOP Chairman Roger Villere, Jr. Furthermore, the sole Democrat on the statewide ballot last month ' Heitmeier ' managed to carry only 28 percent of the vote.

It's unlikely any major changes will come out of the approaching congressional elections, but Villere says he has two more high-ranking officials to lean on to help prepare for next year's round of statewide contests ' including governor. "We are poised to make major gains in 2007 and prepared to take full advantage of the momentum these elections have created," says Villere. ' JA

GOOD JOBS KEEP KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL

The lingering effects from Katrina and Rita, coupled with the state's new minimum admission requirements, have resulted in a significant enrollment dip at public colleges and universities across the state. The preliminary head count stands at 195,556 for the current fall semester ' a 7 percent drop ' according to data compiled by the Board of Regents. Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie says one of the reasons the numbers are down is the economy. "We're experiencing a significant spike in job opportunities post-Katrina/Rita ' especially in the construction and gas-and-oil sectors ' and many potential college students are taking advantage of the opportunity," Savoie says. "College enrollments often dip during an economic upturn." Later this month, the Board of Regents will receive full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment data, which will further clarify enrollment statistics by quantifying student numbers and course loads. ' JA

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