You can call him governor, you can call him Bobby, you can call him Piyush…..but don’t you ever call him inconsistent
BATON ROUGE (CNS)—Consistent: Unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time; showing steady conformity to character, profession, belief, or custom; dependable, unswerving.
It’s an adjective that’s not been used very frequently in describing Gov. Bobby Jindal. It should be. The governor has been a veritable model of consistency. As ol’ Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up.
Jindal has consistently tried to unemploy state civil service workers in his repeated attempts to privatize their agencies from under them. He started with the Office of Risk Management, a relative small agency ($100 million budget) in the overall scheme of things.
Flushed at the ease with which that was accomplished, he next turned his eyes on state prisons, the Office of Group Benefits (OGB), and Medicaid.
Those weren’t as easy. The prison plan fell through, at least for this year. OGB has met with considerable resistance from judges, state employees, retirees, and legislators. And the Medicaid plan ran into an unexpected hurdle during confirmation hearings for the secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals.
He consistently has been out-of-state on fundraisers, book promotion tours, or campaign appearances on behalf of other Republican candidates when he should have been home minding the store that was fast going broke.
He consistently visits Protestant churches, mainly in north Louisiana, to pass around clipboards with forms for church members to fill out, giving their names, phone numbers, mailing and email addresses for future fundraising solicitation efforts.
The only reason his out-of-state trips and church visits have stopped in recent weeks is because of a law that prohibits fundraising activities during the legislative session.
Jindal also has been consistent in withholding information from legislators, reporters, and even the state auditor. His Office of Economic Development refused to provide records requested by auditors who were attempting to perform a routine state audit of the agency. And the Division of Administration (DOA) simply refuses to disclose anything more than the time of day and more often than not, even that’s a half-hour late.
Then there was the infamous Chaffe Report. Without rehashing old news, Jindal hired Chaffe & Associates of New Orleans to perform a financial overview of OGB with the idea in mind to plug the data into his executive budget. When the budget contained nothing relative to the report, it soon became evident that the report’s analysis indicated privatization of OGB was not a good idea.
The public, press, auditors, and even legislators would never have known that, however, had Rep. Jim Fannin and Sens. Ed Murray, Karen Peterson, and Butch Gautreaux not pressed for the report. Even then, DOA attempted to withhold the document.
Jindal has been consistent in that he brooks no dissenting opinion.
During public hearings on governmental streamlining in October of 2009, Melody Teague, a contract grants reviewer for the Department of Social Services, testified against the administration’s streamlining proposals and was fired the next day. She appealed, but it took about six months for her to get her job back.
Then, on April 15 of this year, her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as CEO of OGB—and he had not even publicly opposed privatization of his agency. He did, however, take OGB from a $50 million deficit to a $520 million surplus in a period of only five years.
His successor, Scott Kipper, had the temerity to tell the Senate Retirement Committee that if nothing changed at OGB, if there was no sale, no privatization, no third party administrator, there was not a single employee he would lay off at the agency. In fact, he told the committee, he had inherited a staff of excellent, dedicated employees. From that moment forward, his days were numbered.
His boss, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, had only a few minutes earlier testified that OGB staff needed to be reduced by 149 persons.
Finally, there are the confirmation hearings for Jindal appointees which thus far have been an unqualified—but consistent—disaster for the governor.
First, Rainwater sat at the witness table texting as Kipper was grilled by Murray and Peterson, never offering to come to his rescue by clarifying an answer or volunteering to rescue Kipper who twisted slowly in the wind.
Then, when Rainwater reversed himself on his promise to the Senate and Governmental Affairs (S&GA) Committee, made during that same hearing, to make copies of the Chaffe report available to them, Kipper was caught in the middle. His fate sealed, he resigned, effective June 24. At his final board meeting on Wednesday of this week, he received extended laudatory praise from the board.
The confirmation hearings have been the number one entertainment attraction this session.
That’s because of Jindal’s consistent persistence in trotting out nominees with baggage and expecting them to slip by Murray and Peterson. Invariably, the senators ambush the unsuspecting appointees with pointed questions about conflicts of interest or a lack of that now overused word, transparency.
With Rainwater and Deputy Commissioner of Administration Mark Brady, it was the refusal to come forward with the Chaffe report. With Bruce Greenstein, things took a little nastier turn when he refused to reveal the name of the winner of a 10-year, $34 million-per-year contract for DHH.
As secretary of the agency, he assured S&GA Committee members that he took a decidedly hands-off approach in the selection process for the contractor to install and operate the Medicaid Management Information System for DHH.
Despite that, he refused for more than an hour under withering demands to reveal the name of the contractor. When he finally relented, he revealed that the contractor was CNSI of Gaithersburg, MD., a company for whom he once worked.
Then, on Wednesday of this week, Ed Antie of Carencro, a Jindal appointee to the Board of Regents for Higher Education, took his seat in the witness chair to begin his confirmation process before the S&GA Committee.
Things got ugly early.
Murray started the carnage by asking an apparently innocuous question: “Do you have any outstanding contracts with the State of Louisiana?”
“No,” Antie assured Murray.
“Do you know of a company called Sun America?”
Antie shifted uncomfortably before answering. “I own a company, a holding company that’s dormant, that owns a company that owns a company that owns maybe 10 percent of Sun America. I’m inactive.”
“Have you ever heard of LONI?” Murray asked. LONI is an acronym for the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, a state-of-the-art fiber optics network that connects eight major research universities—LSU, Louisiana Tech, LSU Health Sciences Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport, Southern University, Tulane University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the University of New Orleans.
“I politicked Sun America to give them a discounted rate for our fiber optics,” Antie said.
“I thought you said you were inactive,” Murray said. “Does Sun America have a contract with the Board of Regents?”
“They may. I was not involved in the negotiations and I have no idea what the contract value is,” Antie said.
“You were given a questionnaire and that question was left blank,” Murray said.
Antie, who heads up Central Telephone, replied, “I didn’t realize that a company from which I was so far removed was relevant.”
“Sun America has a contract with the Board of Regents in the amount of $531,000,” Murray said. “You first said there was no contractual relationship and now there is. Don’t you think that’s relevant?”
“I asked Sexton Gray (Gray Sexton, a Baton Rouge attorney who once headed up the State Ethics Board) and he said to recuse myself from any votes,” Antie said. “I’m not trying to hide anything. I took retirement from the telecommunications industry to serve on this board.”
“Which one of those companies that you mentioned owns Sun America?” asked Murray.
“Central Telephone is my company. It’s just a holding company. Central Telephone owns Network USA, about 30 percent, and Network USA owns Delta Media which owns 10 or 15 percent of Sun America.”
He said Charles Chatelain is the registered agent for Network USA, Delta Media, and Sun America.
“First you said you had no contractual relationship with the state and now we find that your company has a $531,000 contract with the Board of Regents,” Murray said. “You said you didn’t know, but you said you approached Gray Sexton for advice on your apparent conflict.
“In terms of ethics, you may be breaking the law,” Murray said.
Sen. Lynda Jackson (D-Shreveport) observed that Antie claimed that Central Telephone was dormant. “Yet, when you check corporate records with the Secretary of State’s web page, it shows that Central Telephone is in good standing, which means it has filed annual reports,” she said. “Its last report was November of 2010 and it shows that you are the registered agent.”
She said that ethics and conflicts of interest have become a recurring problem of the Jindal administration.
A check by LouisianaVoice also revealed that Antie made three contributions to Jindal’s campaign totaling $5,000. The contributions were made in August of 2007 and in August and September of 2010. His associate, Charles Chatelain gave $5,000 to the Jindal campaign in December of 2009; Network USA gave $5,000 in separate $2,500 contributions in August of 2009 and March of 2010, and Sun America contributed $3,500 to the governor’s campaign in november of 2010.
Jindal appointed Antie to the Board of Regents in January of this year.
At least that’s consistent with Jindal’s legacy of consistency.