Wednesday, May 18, 2011

State Rep. Rickey Hardy’s bill to make affiliates of housing authorities subject to the state’s public records law won overwhelming support in the House, which voted 97-0 to strip their exemption from the sunshine law. Hardy, who played a key role in helping to expose potential corruption in the Lafayette Housing Authority (the feds continue to investigate, but there is ample evidence of wrongdoing), wants the public to be able to review the deals — most of which use federal low-income housing tax credits to develop affordable homes and apartments units in the parish. Affiliates of housing authorities are defined as any corporation, entity, partnership, venture, syndicate, or arrangement in which a local housing authority has an ownership or governance interest of less than a majority. For St. Antoine Gardens, the only such tax-credit venture complete and operational in Lafayette, an independent auditor found that the LHA improperly used as much as $1 million of its Section 8 and other funds for repairs, upkeep and an employee’s salary. Hardy’s legislation makes it possible for the public, the taxpayers, to see who is involved in these developments, how the money is being spent, who is profiting from them and whether there are conflicts of interest. For the purposes of the public records law, these affiliates will be considered public bodies. Let’s hope the state Senate sees the House’s wisdom.

That sinking feeling again. Cajun and Creole cultures in South Louisiana are not on the brink of extinction, despite some alarmist ink mainly from national media. But with Saturday’s opening of the Morganza Spillway and the ensuing floodwaters making their way down the Atchafalaya Basin, hundreds of homes, camps and businesses are — even with flood projections revised downward by the Corps of Engineers. Along with hurricanes, it’s one of the calculated risks we live with in these parts. Adding insult to injury is the panoply of laughably inaccurate characterizations of our culture embraced and perpetuated by a media culture hungry for personal stories about the flood’s human toll. To CNN et al: We’re not all alligator-trapping crawfishermen and, honestly, frog legs are an acquired taste.

It’s a testament to what a raw topic public education in Louisiana has become: The choice of an interim state superintendent to replace Paul Pastorek has become a maelstrom of accusations, recriminations and malaise in the upper reaches of state government. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recommendation — 35-year-old John White, the newly minted (and wet behind the ears?) head of the Recovery School District — was immediately panned by several state lawmakers as well as at least three members of the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education. Some state solons, meanwhile, accuse Jindal of holding up Senate committee action on a House-passed bill that redraws BESE’s districts in an effort to strong-arm the board into selecting White. Clearly, Pastorek’s four-year fight for reforms in public education frayed a lot of nerves. We’d wager that the choice of an interim superintendent is an innocuous, pedestrian affair in states where education is considered a successful public enterprise.

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