Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Even in defeat, Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, made a compelling case for pushing back against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s famed lack of transparency. Adley’s Senate Bill 57 would have undone what Jindal managed to do in his first year in office — shield virtually all the records of Louisiana’s executive branch from the state’s public records law. Candidate Jindal called lawmakers’ claims that some records should be kept from the public “outrageous,” and he went to laudable steps to make rank-and-file state representatives and senators subject to a “gold standard” for ethics. “This is the people’s government. It is not my job to make it more difficult for them to get records — it’s my job to make it easier,” Adley argued on the Senate floor Monday. This was the third consecutive year the north Louisiana Republican has tried to make good for the gander what’s good for the geese. Several of his fellow senators also spoke favorably of the bill and urged a sheepish Senate to get behind it. In the end, the bill failed by a 22-14 vote, with Acadiana-area Sens. Mike Michot, Elbert Guillory and Fred Mills voting on the side of secrecy.

Jindal’s opacity manifests in many ways. The Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee got so fed up with it last week, it voted unanimously to issue a subpoena for a financial analysis on the Office of Group Benefits prepared by a private firm. The OGB is the agency in charge of the health insurance plans for roughly 60,000 state workers — a plan Jindal wants to privatize. It’s also worth noting that the OGB has a $500 million surplus — funds critics charge Jindal wants to get his hands on to plug holes in the budget. Jindal canned the OGB’s former director, who opposed the privatization plan, and his replacement recently resigned following a contentious confirmation hearing that centered on the report at the heart of the subpoena. A national political news site, TPM, has joined the fray by filing a public records request seeking the report, which so far and like so many of Jindal’s official business on behalf of his employers — us taxpayers — remains secret.

On the same day the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee issued the subpoena for the OGB analysis, it got another primer on secrecy from Bruce Greenstein, secretary of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. For weeks Greenstein had refused to reveal which private firm had been recommended to win the most lucrative contract issued by the state — for running the Medicaid Management Information System, a contract currently worth $34 million. A least one committee member characterized Greenstein’s refusal to divulge the firm as “stonewalling.” Reminded about the fracas with OGB privatization, Greenstein finally fessed up: The winning firm is none other than his former employer, CNSI. Greenstein insists — and we’ll take him at his word — that he recused himself from the selection process due to the conflict of interest. The committee, nonetheless, voted to issue a subpoena for any records related to Greenstein’s contact with CNSI or its lobbyists. 

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