Roemer is a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) from District 6, which comprises all or parts of the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa and Washington.
His sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Louisiana Public Charter Schools.
The Board of Ethics, on April 21, 2010, issued a ruling on Docket No. 2010-222 concerning Ms. Shirley’s appearing before BESE on behalf of the association.
In that ruling, the board concluded that Ms. Shirley was prohibited from:
• appearing before BESE;
• representing the association in matters before BESE;
• discussing with individual BESE members matters or positions of the association, and
• interacting with the staff of the Department of Education on matters under the jurisdiction of BESE.
That opinion was a clarification of an earlier ruling issued on Feb. 15, 2008, in response to an inquiry from Chas Roemer. Because Roemer did not request an opinion on the legality of his voting on charter school issues, the one-page opinion did not address that issue.
Because his practice of voting on charter school matters has never been addressed, Roemer has continued to not only vote on those matters but has on occasion even made motions or offered seconds to motions concerning charter schools.
Louisiana Voice on Nov. 2 raised that question along with that of the legality of Jay Guillot’s serving on the board in light of state contracts worth nearly $17 million that his company, Hunt-Guillot & Associates, holds.
It turns out, apparently, that a Louisiana citizen/taxpayer/voter is unqualified to question the ethics of any state elected official. LouisianaVoice’s owner was deemed by the board to have “no legal standing” to seek an ethics ruling on either Guillot or Roemer.
Several attempts were made to contact ethics board staff attorney Stacy Barker, to whom the LouisianaVoice inquiry was assigned but she never returned phone calls. She took our call only after a fake name was given to the receptionist and thus confronted, said the board’s rules state that only someone who is directly affected by an action may seek an ethics determination.
Here are the verbatim procedures for requesting advisory opinions as contained on the Board of Ethics web page:
“Requests for advisory opinions must be in writing, signed and submitted by a person or governmental agency with a demonstrable and objective interest in the opinion requested (emphasis ours). The Board does not render advisory opinions with respect to past conduct, but can provide crucial advice on how to avoid problems in the future.”
The procedure for filing complaints is even more restrictive, requiring a vote of at least eight members to refer a complaint to investigation. A sworn complaint before a notary may be referred to investigation by a simple majority of the board.
The board is comprised of 11 members, seven of whom are appointed by the governor. Two each are elected by the House and Senate. On the surface, it would appear rather difficult to muster an investigation what with the governor holding a solid majority on the board.
If one of his appointees even acts like he is entertaining thoughts of independence, Jindal can pull a Donald Trump and fire them or at least apply sufficient pressure so as to force a resignation. That would not be an unprecedented move; he replaced four black members of the Board of Regents with white males a year ago. And one of his BESE appointees, Tammie McDaniel of Oak Ridge, resigned in February of 2010 after first resisting Jindal’s efforts to force her out.
Apparently one who resides in Roemer’s BESE district and who is concerned for the public schools that his grandchildren attend, is not qualified to seek an ethics ruling. It seems that only someone named Roemer or Shirley has a “legal standing” to request an opinion.
Don’t hold your breath for that request.
If this is an example of what Jindal calls a “gold standard” of state ethics, then the joke is on all of us.