Letter In Response To Tammany West Article On Folgers & St. Tammany EDF

by Timothy Achan Gates, Covington Weekly Correspondent

This letter is a response to the article “Bertus: Folgers In Compliance” from Tammany West, July 10, 2014, written by David Folse II. The intention of the Tammany West article is to refute Parish Councilman Jacob Groby’s assertion that Folgers is not in compliance with regard to their job threshold, as per the contract (bond) for the facility in Lacombe. In the article, Mrs. Brenda Bertus, Chief Executive Director of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (EDF), states that the 82-job figure was associated with the state, not parish, portion of the contract, which had a duration of two years (in a twenty year bond.) The contract in Councilman Groby’s possession which this writer viewed showed that the state deal was actually four years, with supporting documentation and correspondence. When this discrepancy was mentioned to Mr. Folse during a phone conversation about the article, he responded that he would not engage in a “teenage he-said, she-said argument.”

Reassurances were made that there was no intention to degrade the conversation or to point fingers. The issue is not whether Folgers is in compliance, but why none of this information is public record, considering that the EDF and the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development District (EDD) perform governmental roles in the Parish (as a non-profit corporation and a political subdivision of the state, respectively) while managing public money. The article lists several facts and figures, but the lack of documentation supporting the information merely raises more questions, including the following:

1. The article lists several estimates and projections based on a study issued by an outside firm; who was the outside firm that conducted the study, and what documentation was provided with regard to the study?

2. The Folger’s contract is in the eleventh year of a twenty year bond. Where is the hard data generated at this point, rather than the reiteration of estimates and projections from eleven years ago?

3. Why are there confidentiality agreements when these organizations are operating with public funds?

4. In the article, Bruce Clement states, “the idea we are giving something away by giving tax incentives is incorrect,” directly following the statistic, “for every dollar invested in economic development in the parish, $159 is created in impact.” What document supports this statistic, used to reinforce the preceding statement?

5. How does exempting the highest grossing companies in the parish benefit “mom and pop” business owners and middle class homeowners, both of whom are watching their taxes rise on a yearly basis? (note: The current listing of Sheriff’s Sale foreclosures is 7 pages long.)

Mr. Folse confirmed that documentation was presented to him, but he was reluctant to share information or divulge the name of the firm associated with the bond. Why the secrecy, vague replies and misdirection? The entities discussed have governmental authority and manage public money, which demands public oversight. A link to the State Legislative Auditor’s website was sent to Mr. Folse, showing the passage of Representative Burns’ Bill concerning an ethics exemption, along with a link to the State Legislative Auditor’s file of the 2013 Financial Statement for the St. Tammany Development District, of which the Economic Development Foundation is the “managing arm.” There was no reply with regard to the information sent.

Calculating the information provided in the article, the amount paid to Fire District #3 and Recreation District #4 over the last 11 years amounts to $825,000, representing approximately 3% of the $25 million bond. By contrast, the estimated one-time impact of $18.7 million for the warehouse construction represents 74% of the entire bond amount. Who received that contract? Why, after 11 years, is there no data to show actual impact, as opposed to old projections and estimates?

Politics exist in a realm where truths become inaccuracies and inaccuracies become doctrine. In this realm, Folgers is in compliance simply because there are no verification procedures present to ensure their compliance. In the article, Bertus states that they (Folgers) will have to pay back “every penny of the bond;” the taxpayers would never know, because there is no requirement to disclose this information, which should be public.

Timothy Achan GatesĀ is a local musician and writer. Contact by phone is 985-288-9609 or e-mail at codexproventus@gmail.com