Quotes of the Week
"What troubles me most about New Orleans is the democracy gap between the priorities of the people and the priorities of the decision-makers in power. Too many of our elected officials and influential citizens continue to do the public wrong by protecting the status quo or their own self-interest. Rather than using data or best practices or evidence of success, policy and budget decisions with long-term consequences for the city's future are too often made in the absence of sufficient public input, and instead on the basis of personal whim, anecdotal evidence, or alliance with entrenched institutions that have much to lose or gain by a given decision." — District A City Councilmember Shelley Midura, announcing she would not seek re-election in 2010
"This is one of those good days." — LSU Chancellor Michael Martin, after LSU received a $300,000 donation from the American Wetlands Foundation. That news came just four days after Martin announced the first round of reductions to meet a required $19 million in cuts, including furloughs, pay raise delays and reductions to LSU Press and the university's art museum.
GATOR, GOP Face AG
Riddle No. 1: What does GATOR, the West Bank political group affiliated with indicted Gretna City Councilman Jonathan C. Bolar, have in common with the pro-Bobby Jindal leadership of the Livingston Parish Republican Party in Denham Springs? Answer: Both political organizations owe the state Ethics Board longstanding late fees for tardy campaign finance disclosure reports — and both cases have been turned over to state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's office for collection, according to Kathleen Allen, general counsel for the Louisiana Ethics Board. After making several payments, the Livingston Parish GOP Executive Committee still owes $2,945 for two campaign reports from the 2006 elections — filed 37 and 78 days late, records show. GATOR (Gretna Alliance Towards Opportunity and Restoration), the political group chaired by Karen F. Bolar, wife of the embattled councilman, owes $12,000 for four tardy reports, ranging from 113 to 658 days late, records show. Ms. Bolar has been mentioned in her husband's 16-count federal indictment for an alleged zoning scheme, but she has not been charged with any crime. Meanwhile, Councilman Bolar is expected to appear before the board Aug. 31 to contest $4,800 in fines for three late reports, including two related to his unsuccessful 2007 campaign for the state Senate seat won by David Heitmeier. A violation of state campaign finance laws, tardy disclosure reports can deny voters critical information about a candidate's funding sources. — Allen Johnson Jr.
Indicted Pol Gets a Break
Riddle No. 2: What West Bank politico, currently under federal indictment, recently won a round before the Louisiana Board of Ethics? Answer: Former state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero. At the board's June 29 meeting, the panel rejected a staff recommendation to let stand a $2,000 fine against Shepherd for late campaign finance disclosure reports related to his successful Senate re-election campaign in 2007. Instead, the board cut Shepherd's fine to $1,000. In a waiver request, Shepherd wrote he "immediately" paid one fine the board assessed against him on April 10, adding that his accountant failed to inform him he had actually been charged with "two counts" of campaign finance violations. Last fall, Shepherd resigned his Senate seat after pleading guilty in federal court to one criminal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He initially faced 23 counts. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is scheduled to sentence Shepherd at 1:30 p.m. July 29. — Johnson
Jindal Fills Seats On Reform Commissions
Gov. Bobby Jindal last week announced his appointments to two study commissions that will pave the way for what are expected to be two more tight years in state government. One board will study higher education, while the other will identify ways to save the state money generally as future budget deficits loom. This year's shortfall was $1.3 billion, and subsequent years are forecast to be in the same fiscal neighborhood. The Postsecondary Education Review Commission, which was the brainchild of House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, will seek ways to cushion the coming blows for higher ed — and explore how cuts should be implemented. Critics argued that Jindal failed to focus on the latter by not offering more specifics during the recent legislative session. Tucker says that's why he filed legislation to create the new commission. Jindal was allowed two appointments to that commission; he named attorney Tony Clayton of New Roads, currently the chairman of the Southern University Board of Supervisors, and Blake Chatelain of Alexandria, chair-elect of the LSU Board of Supervisors. Tucker's legislation calls for the commission to present its recommendations to the state Board of Regents in February.
The Commission on Streamlining Government was among Jindal's centerpiece initiatives, and he says it will be a "great tool for reviewing and addressing operations in state government that are duplicative or have become outdated." Jindal gets two appointments on this board as well; he named Barry Erwin of Baton Rouge, president of the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL), and Roy O. Martin of Alexandria, director of Roy O. Martin Lumber. Another watchdog group, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), suggested in its session wrap-up last month that streamlining efforts should already be well underway and that another study isn't the answer. "Fiscal reform this session was limited to the governor's package of bills that called for a streamlining study commission," the report states, "and a few limited measures to increase budget flexibility when shortfalls arise." — Jeremy Alford
LSU's New Coastal Studio
State and LSU officials unveiled ambitious plans last week for a new academic clearinghouse and professional training agency that will specialize in coastal challenges. In theory, the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio will become a worldwide source for restoring and protecting seaside landscapes that take the brunt of everything from hurricanes and energy exploration to saltwater intrusion and commercial fishing. In coming months, the center will conduct a test case for restoration projects in parishes along the Mississippi River Delta, says Robert Twilley, director of LSU Coastal Sustainability Agenda and an oceanography coastal sciences professor. He says the studio will be a multidisciplinary effort that will use the challenges of restoring and protecting the delta to develop new approaches and create smart policies for building more resilient communities. The studio also will be a training ground for the engineers, biologists and other professionals who will tackle the challenge of hurricane protection and coastal restoration — a task that could cost up to $100 billion. Twilley says that's one reason the studio is developing international partnerships. "The physical studio will be situated on LSU's campus, but the expertise will be drawn ... from coastal experts around the world," he says. The center was funded initially by a $300,000 donation from the America's Wetland Foundation. AWF Chairman R. King Milling says the studio will impact policy development and maximize volunteer efforts on the "front lines of the battle." — Alford
Energy Bids Still Lag
The state Mineral Board held its first oil and gas lease sale of the new fiscal year two weeks ago, and officials managed to collect only $3.2 million from landmen and private companies. It's a dramatically different take than the state enjoyed just a year ago. In July 2008, the Mineral Board collected a record-setting $48.7 million, chiefly from the massive natural gas play in north Louisiana's Haynesville Shale area. This year's July sale is the lowest on record since 2007, when the state collected only $2.5 million. In all, 25 leases covering more than 5,300 acres were awarded this year — out of 48 nominated tracts spanning 49,772 acres. Of the 25 leases sold, 20 were in south Louisiana. In fact, 13 parishes received money from the energy leases, including Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines. There was some good news from the sales: The state leased roughly 3,600 offshore acres to oilmen — the first offshore leases since January — for about $1 million. — Alford