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Opinion

A Hierarchy of Underpaid Wizards

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You’re Suggesting A Hierarchy of Organizations

2019 finishes up the 7th year that the Covington Weekly has been in downtown Covington.  Five of those years were spent understanding how economic development happens on the parish scale.  The first article written on that topic, under the title of CW’s “Economic Development Series,” garnered the attention of Senator Donahue and Larry Rase, who directed the Chamber of Commerce to call and find out what I was up to. 

It did not occur to me to question why the Chamber was calling on behalf of a Senator and a private businessman.

The phone conversation lasted about 45 minutes, during which I was told that the article written presented a “hierarchy” (their terminology) of organizations, to which I wholeheartedly agreed.  That, in fact, was the point.  During the conversation, our tech guy at the time beeped in to tell me that the CW website was being hacked, while I was arguing Civics with the Chamber.

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind the Curtain

Everyone knows and has opinions about the Chamber of Commerce and the Covington Business Association, but what about the Northshore Business Council?  Unless you are a member of the invitation-only business club, you probably don’t know much.  Both Pat Brister, our current Parish President, and Kevin Davis  (previous Parish President) came from the NBC Political Farm Club, so why shouldn’t we know about them?

I remember Trilby L’Enfant, assistant to Pat Brister circa 2014, presenting information at a Covington Business Association meeting regarding…. economic development. I waited until the end of the presentation, but I had some specific questions about the open-ended documentation and lack of publicly accessible information regarding the revenue bonds that the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (a problematic agency that no longer exists) was fond of tasking their Super Lawyers with writing.  I was pulled aside by the CBA president, who addressed the fairness of my question.  

“It’s regarding economic development,”  I said.  

“Fair enough,” he replied.  

What he meant was, she didn’t have permission from the man behind the curtain to answer my question.

 “What we do up here, we don’t get paid enough”

These words, in whatever context, came out of the mouth of Parish Council member Rykert Toledano, who was married to the president of the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce at the time.  After watching the nine- second clip from a council meeting on the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Facebook page, what he could be saying is how difficult it is for the members of the Parish Council to do what the public is asking of them, because of the little amount of money the council members receive compared to the time that is put in listening to the public and stuff.  Or maybe he was saying that he doesn’t get paid enough to do what the public wants as opposed to what developers want, which seems to be the case since his record indicates favoritism to developers.  

I think that what Rykert wants is not to be questioned;  unfortunately, public office is not the place one should go to escape accountability.  Covington Weekly has shown through the years that the parish council gets their house and senate picks to write bills that allow them to do things like exempt themselves from state ethics laws in order for their insiders to serve on multiple boards of conflicting government agencies, all while presenting a shining Chamber of Commerce endorsement.

 “I know it feels like, somebody’s watching me…”

I very much dislike politics.  Like disconnected childhood traumas, election cycles can inflict quiet wounds, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Last sheriff’s race, for example, there was an individual assigned to me for the simple reason that I omitted Strain’s name from any coverage because I already knew some things and did not think he was relevant.  Turns out he wasn’t.

Since then, that same individual was arrested for cyber-stalking, confirming my assessment of the time that they appeared in my life.  It also exemplifies the lengths that politicians will go to to exert their will onto others. 

I dislike lies and intimidation more than I dislike politics, and I will deal with politics in order to confront some lies and intimidation, even more so if it is coming from the publicly elected but privately selected.  I can agree on one thing:  I don’t get paid enough either.  Such is the way of the Hierarchy of Underpaid Wizards.

Timothy Achan Gates, CW Correspondent –  opinion

Local Events Local History Local News Opinion

Cold Cases and District Attorney Races

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The installation of a new District Attorney nearly two years ago signaled a drastic change for St. Tammany Parish. For one, the public is weary of the moniker “St. Slammany.” For the first time in history, Louisiana is beginning to look at the reality of being a prison state, with sweeping judicial reforms currently taking place. The leadership Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz showed with Operation Angel and other proactive programs is receiving local and national recognition. D.A. Warren Montgomery recently launched a pilot program that offers record expungement for non violent offenses.

Another subject that came to light during the D.A. Race involved two cold case murders in St. Tammany Parish. During a debate hosted by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany in Lacombe, Winston Cavendish, former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Deputy and McGruff the Crime Dog, appeared to ask a simple question that stunned the audience. His question? Which of the candidates would address the unsolved murders in the parish, namely the murder cases of Margaret Coon and Lynn Nunez, both of whom worked in the 22nd Judicial District Court system.

Margaret Coon was a former ADA who left that position shortly after Walter Reed first took office in 1987. She was murdered later that year while jogging near her home in Beau Chene Subdivision. Lynn Nunez was a court reporter and friend of Margaret Coon. She was shot in the French Quarter in her vehicle in 1998. A news story with regard to the Nunez murder ran last year on WDSU. This writer contacted the reporter with regard to the connection between the two murders, and was told that no one could be found willing to testify to anything that had to do with the two cases.
A Personal Connection Covington Weekly recently uploaded the content from the public websites of Frank “Rusty” Burns to the CW website. The websites were pulled after Mr. Burns’ passing in 2012, and they were a public exposition of his personal demons and his view of what created them in the first place. Rusty also had some ideas about the Coon and Nunez murders. What qualifies me to bring this information forward?
At the age of 14, I worked in construction installing countertops. I was assisting the installation of a kitchen down the street from where Margaret Coon’s body was found, the day it was found. At the age of 17, a high school friend introduced me to Rusty Burns. Visiting Rusty’s house one day while he was out, my friend told me that Rusty had files on people, including me. I was skeptical until the friend pulled my file to show me. I did not visit Rusty’s house after that incident.

I returned from Missouri (after moving from Louisiana post Katrina) in 2008, and Rusty’s websites were one of the first things I stumbled across. The odd personal connection of these experiences flooded back, and I eventually contacted Rusty through e-mail and social media, but never saw him again in person. The climate for disclosure offers more receptivity now than in 2012, and maybe discussion of this information will eventually lead to a resolution for these cold case investigations. At the very least, one would think that the St. Tammany Judicial System would have the drive and ability to solve crimes involving members of their own organization.

– Timothy Achan Gates, covweekly@gmail.com

Opinion

Greater Degree Of Transparency Needed In St. Tammany Economic Development

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It’s There, You Just Have To Really Look For It… And Sometimes Rely On An FOIA Request

Helis Oil & Gas Company announced last week that they would not pursue the anticipated project near Lakeshore High School, President David Kerstein reiterating that Helis consistently operated above board and within the parameters allocated in keeping with the public trust.     A day after the announcement, a Lee Zurik investigation revealed that a judge ruling on the case regarding Helis Oil & Gas Company vs. St. Tammany Parish and CCST received campaign contributions in the amount of $3,000 from Helis.  While politicians receive money from any number of industries all the time, a judge receiving money from someone with a case before them more closely resembles graft or bribery than an innocent contribution, which is not consistent with keeping the public trust.

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In March of 2014, St. Tammany Economic Development Director Don Shea declared that the district had no knowledge of upcoming projects when pitching the new Development Districts to the Parish Council.   Shea stated, there’s “Nothing In The Pipeline.” Unbeknownst to the council (or not), there was “Something In The Pipeline”.  A Freedom Of Information Act Request was obtained by the local group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, and parish government e-mails made public revealed that, not only did the parish have prior knowledge of the Helis project, there was a concerted effort to marginalize public dissent.  The publicized e-mails also revealed disparaging remarks directed at the citizenry, possibly a contributing factor to Shea’s departure from Parish Administration.

Considering that the STEDF (St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation, the “management arm” of the Economic Development District) receives millions of tax dollar derived Go Zone Funds from the Louisiana State Bond Commission for economic development related projects, and the STEDF is listed as a 501C6 Non Profit Organization, it is very confusing how the STEDF performs the following duties without being classified as a public agency, or a “quasi-public agency”:
1) be the “managing arm” of a public body (EDD)
2) raise funds for a public body (EDD)
3) appoint three board members of a public body (EDD)
4) provide one board member of a public body (EDD)
It makes very little sense how this organization claims no accountability to the public, when it is a major component driving St. Tammany Parish economic development.

laws-are-magic
Laws Are Magic  Legislation previously discussed in CW relates to the powers held by the Economic Development District, written by Sen. Donahue (SB617) and the former Rep. Burns (HB252).  The Ethics Law Exemption written for the Economic Development District world is relative to the tax exemptions, governmental authorities and other corporate incentives granted to development districts and bond-holders.  Conflicts of interest do not exist in that world, or at least, they are identified as “exemptions”.
Parish President Pat Brister lamented on the money spent in the fracking lawsuit, stating that changing oil and gas extraction laws requires going to the State Legislature. This sentiment is appreciated, and it is one that CW echoed many times, first stated by Patrick Courreges of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.

The St. Tammany Parish Government laid a foundation of Transparency and Accountability, but stories of bribery, conflicts of interest and public deception, all within one failed project that was presumed to happen, indicate that greater Transparency and Accountability can be achieved. Citizens should be able to understand how government works without a law degree or a Freedom of Information Act request, and the public has a right to know how its money is spent.   The reality is that all of the heartache, frustration and money wasted could have been avoided had there been a public referendum in the first place.  Considering the rich history of this parish, as well as its namesake, preservation of the beauty and mystique of this area should be paramount to corporate interest.

 

 

Opinion

Tammany West Needs To Re Evaluate Tactics

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Editorial by Timothy Achan Gates, CW Correspondent

Kevin Chiri wrote in a recent editorial that the perceived battle between St. Tammany Parish Government and CCST needed a “time out.”  First, there are no “time-outs” in debates that concern the health and safety of an entire community.  Whether one is opposed to or in favor of fracking, industrialization is an issue that is a community decision.  A democratically cherished ideal is crushed when the Parish reports to us that St. Tammany has no right to Self Determination with regard to the oil industry.
This sentiment was presented by Covington Weekly in Patrick Courrege’s (LA DNR) suggestion of Changing the Law at the State Level.  While the Parish Government feigned surprise when Helis’ public announcement was made, they sat on e-mails indicating knowledge of a plan years in advance, which were eventually made public.  The business lobbying groups just laughed, continuing to place people in office who will “do what they want.”

Chiri’s editorial goes on to moralize the situation, undoubtedly emboldened by his self-appointed position as referee between the Parish Government and a community advocacy group, relegating the whole thing to a lack of respect for authority.

41_Pied_Piper
Disrespect for the Public and Democratic Principles in General is Exemplified by Public Officials and Industry Colluding to Industrialize A Community Behind the Backs of Their Constituencies. 
There is ample evidence to back the assertion that Parish Administration was aware of the Helis project well before it became public knowledge.  To pretend ignorance, then pursue a lawsuit against a sanctioned project while shaming the public about the amount of money spent on said lawsuit, is absurd.  There are several instances across the parish involving drainage litigation resulting from infringing development where the parish spends a significant amount more fighting its own constituency, as opposed to what it has spent “fighting” fracking.
Disrespect Is NBC Director Larry Rase Berating the Public Due to Their Lack of Appreciation For All  the Oil and Gas Industry Does For the Parish. 
Ironically, the Advocate recently ran a series detailing the amount of tax incentives given away, roughly 1.4 – 1.6 billion dollars, a number that basically equals Louisiana’s deficit.  Oil and Gas is a large recipient of these incentives, so the question becomes, if the Oil and Gas Industry is so beneficial to the state, why is there a budget deficit equal to tax incentives given strictly to big business, while small businesses are consistently asked to pay more and more?      Where Is The Disrespect, Again?

Email:  covweekl@gmail.com

Opinion

Hydraulic Fracturing Project Shifts Gear Into Drive

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corporations_are_not_people_protest_tshirt_mug-re602e74d12b94c60bc133bf7449275f0_x7jgp_8byvr_324Despite the fact that the property in question is not zoned appropriately for such operations, and the fact that the current ruling is under appeal, Helis Oil & Gas Company has announced that it will move a rig into place and begin drilling by the end of the month at their pad location near Lakeshore High School.  All this comes after announcing that they are scrapping some of the testing measures to which they agreed to comply with.  This suggests that Helis has no regard for the laws that are in place, no respect for the judicial process, and no concern for the safety and health of the population they wish to operate amongst.  By extension, neither does the Parish Government, despite their involvement in the lawsuit.  Below is a letter to Parish President Pat Brister from CCST’s Rick Franzo, for your consideration. –  Timothy Gates

 Attention:  Letter to Patricia Brister From Rick Franzo Regarding Helis Oil

Even while expending considerable taxpayer dollars in a legal action against the Helis Oil & Gas Company to enforce the parish’s state constitutional right to control its land use and prevent Helis from drilling in an area of land the parish has zoned residential, your administration undermines its legal action against Helis by actively allowing Helis to violate land use requirements through the company’s performance at the drill site of all manner of work activities related to its proposed hydraulic shale fracturing operation.  As a matter of public policy, your actions are financially and legally imprudent, seemingly unethical, and intellectually dishonest.
Parish residents expect you to honor the high degree of trust they have placed in you as the parish’s highest elected official.  It is imperative that you understand the specific powers and checks on the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government.  In simplest terms, as leader of the parish’s executive branch of government, you are not authorized to make or create a land zoning ordinance, which is a responsibility reserved to the parish council, nor are you empowered to interpret the law, which is a power granted to the judiciary;  your sole responsibility is to enforce parish land zoning requirements.  If the separation of powers inherent in our system of government is still unclear to you, I suggest you read The Federalist, Essays No. 52-83, which explain the concept in precise detail.  The Federalist is a series of 85 essays by three authors –  Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.  It is widely considered the third most important political document in American history, just behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself.  It should be required reading for you and every other St. Tammany Parish elected official.
Clearly, you cannot faithfully honor your publicly sworn fiduciary duty to protect the legal rights of parish residents while you insist on serving Helis’ rapacious financial interests.  You cannot willfully and recklessly continue to support a public policy which undermines the parish’s and CCST’s legal action against Helis, wastes taxpayer dollars and places your own political interests before the fundamental legal rights of parish residents.
In light of the foregoing, until the parish and CCST receive a definitive ruling from the Louisiana Supreme Court in the Helis matter, I call upon your office to take prompt administrative and legal action to ensure Helis ceases and desists from any work activities at its proposed hydraulic shale fracturing site.  –  Rick Franzo, President, CCST
Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany       ccstp.org

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Local Events Local News Non Profit Spotlight

FD12 Donates to CCST for Flood Relief Efforts

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IMG_5140

L-R Capt. Terry Peyton, Capt. Brad Boogaerts, Cindy Rester (CCST), Captain Rene Marks, District Chief Kevin Adams. Photo by Jason Dyer, Fire Fighter.

The St. Tammany Parish Fire District 12 / Fire Fighters Association – Local 4800 gave a donation to Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany for the victims of the flood disaster last month. CCST would like to extend it’s heartfelt thanks and appreciation for this generous donation that will be used for the many in need! A community coming together makes all the difference in the world! Thank you to STPFD-12 / Fire Fighters Assn. -Local 4800!

 

Local Events Local News

CCST Hosts St. Tammany Sheriff Debate Monday September 14th

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Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany is hosting a Debate Forum for all candidates qualifying for St. Tammany Parish Sheriff at the John Davis Center in Lacombe on Monday, September 14, 2015. The public is invited to attend this debate concerning one of the most powerful political offices in the Parish.

Incumbent is current St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain, with challengers Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith, 30 year Navy veteran Jennifer Werther, and former U.S. Customs agent Scott Illing.

www.ccstp.org

Opinion

2015 A Year of Action Says LOGA – by Timothy Gates, CW Correspondent

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In an email exchange between St. Tammany Director of Economic Development Don Shea and St. Tammany Chief Deputy Assessor Troy Dugas from May 2014, Shea states, “The general heat will die down, except for the loonies.” The email, one of several released by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, continues to ring true. With respect to the theme, Covington Weekly introduced Tammany J. Frog, the singing and dancing amphibian sensation who likes to entertain the Parish administration. (See “St. Tammany’s Own Michigan J. Frog,” – CW.)

While Shea’s comment reveals disdain for the growing opposition to hydraulic fracturing in St. Tammany Parish, the action detailed in the communication is inconsistent with the basic principles of a representative democracy. Dugas proceeds to outline a strategy for subverting public discourse that was admittedly used to influence past public meetings (read the email). Despite efforts to sway public opinion, several lawsuits are filed, local municipal officials have officially stated their concerns, and the citizens responded by packing standing-room-only meetings.  Perceptibly, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) is now on the warpath.

Yosemite_Sam

Yosemite Sam – sourced wiki.org

Published on December 31, 2014 on www.loga.la, “2015: A Year Of Action” proposes that the oil and gas industry is under threatening attack in Louisiana.  A quick read of LOGA President Don Briggs’ diatribe against a “rogue group of environmentalists” is reminiscent of the ranting and raving of the rabbit -hating cartoon prospector Yosemite Sam.  Blame is shared with trial lawyers and activists, who elect candidates that actively work against the oil and gas industry, highlighting the dire need for “conservative, business friendly officials.”

There would be little argument against the statement that St. Tammany is a fairly conservative community with a Republican bent. The local municipal leadership familiar to this writer fits the description of both “conservative” and “business friendly.” Valid concerns about a specific technology or practice within a particular industry are not an indication that an individual is unfriendly to business or liberal, in a general sense.

Briggs harbors resentment for judges that “blatantly rule against the industry,” suggesting that all positions of influence be occupied by people who will decide only in favor of the industry, in every situation. Besides being undiplomatic, this solution more accurately describes a plutocracy, a political ideology contrary to St. Tammany Parish’s Home Rule Charter. The notion also conflicts with local control of the preservation, security and protection of our immediate environment and resources, concepts outlined in our State and Federal Constitutions.

Rather than push for unrestrained industrial development, an action LOGA could take is to ensure accountability in the existing industry. This is lacking, outlined in a report from the Louisiana State Legislative Auditor’s Office regarding Orphaned and Abandoned Wells from May 2014. In an earlier December 3rd LOGA article (“OPEC Threatened By US Shale Plays“), Briggs chides OPEC for attacking the shale industry by refusing to cut production, commenting that participating countries’ social programs will suffer, as they are subsidized through oil.  Evidenced by data found in the State Legislative Auditor’s report, some Louisiana operations inadvertently become social programs, because the public is left to pick up the tab in the mitigation of abandoned and orphaned wells.

Instead of parish correspondence that denigrates the citizenry and conspires to manipulate public meetings, establishing truthful and rational dialogue relative to the future of our community would be a good start to restoring public trust between citizens and parish administration. The consequences of fracking are generating such alarming data by independent sources that support of the practice is now decreasingly a partisan issue. Acknowledgement of a community right to self determination would preclude the perceived mutual exclusivity of economic development and community preservation, which is not partisan either.

One thing is for certain: for good or ill, 2015 is here, and early signs indicate that the new year will indeed be a Year Of Action. As the Action Unfolds, you can bet that the Loonies will be paying close attention.

Timothy Gates may be reached at 985-288-9609 or by email at codexproventus@gmail.com

Opinion

St. Tammany’s Own Michigan J. Frog – by Timothy Gates, Correspondent

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Tammany J Frog Read about Michigan J Frog at wiki.org

Tammany J Frog
Read about Michigan J Frog at wiki.org

“…the general heat will die down, except for the loonies.” – Don Shea

This is an excerpt of one of several emails referencing the St. Tammany fracking controversy publicized by the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany as a result of records requests for official Parish correspondence. The State responded by releasing over 8,000 emails to CCST. Find out more about CCST at www.ccstp.org.

Many remember the popular Looney Toons character, Michigan J. Frog. Michigan breaks out in song and dance for only one man, who, driven by money, tries desperately to get the frog before the public, to no avail.

Meet Tammany J. Frog, Michigan’s Southern cousin. Tammany differs from his Northeast counterpart with his mustache and yat dialect, offering gifts of money. For a while, Tammany J. Frog sang and danced for the parish officials only. Now the public is beginning to see the song and dance, and something seems slightly out of tune.

St. Tammany Director Economic Development Don Shea, when asked by Parish Councilman Jacob Groby at the February 2014 Parish Council Meeting if there were any pending business proposals with regard to the Economic Development Districts, responded, “No sir, we’re quite ahead of the development curve.” (Watch the video at www.stpgov.org) While public discussion of the leaked emails exists, one noticeable discrepancy is unaddressed by the media. The tone and dates of the emails (the emails discussed in this article took place in April and May 2014 – see covingtonweekly.com) suggest a relationship that extends well beyond February 2014.

In a separate April 2014 email between Shea and Parish President Pat Brister, Shea writes that a resolution to ban fracking would hamper their efforts to grow the tax base, “give a very harmful signal to Helis of course,” and disappoint the “already substantial” oil & gas employment sector in STP. Efficiency and industriousness of our parish officials aside, it is difficult to imagine that the Parish Council or the public is expected to believe that Shea was not aware of a hydraulic fracturing project of the magnitude proposed by Helis Oil & Gas in February, a short time before the emails were written.

While the development districts were promoted to the Council as a tool to aid accountability and transparency, the released emails convey a certain degree of contempt for the public and illustrate a need for greater public oversight of Parish activity. After speaking with Mr. Shea on the phone, this writer was referred to Ronnie Simpson, Parish Director of Public Information and Intergovernmental Relations, who was not available for comment.

Timothy Gates may be reached at 985-288-9609 or by email at codexproventus@gmail.com

Referenced emails can be viewed here: Email #1  &  Email #2

For more information, visit www.ccstp.org

Healthy Living Local Events Local News

DNR Public Hearing November 12th at Lakeshore High to Discuss Fracking Permit

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Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) and the Town of Abita Springs announce that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) will be holding a public hearing for the citizens of St. Tammany this November 12th, 5:00pm at Lakeshore High School off of HWY 1088 in Mandeville. The hearing will be regarding the Helis Oil & Gas application for a drilling permit 1 1/2 miles from Lakeshore High School involving the controversial hydro-fracturing or “fracking” method.

The request for a public hearing was made by attorneys representing CCST and the Town of Abita Springs. The meeting will be an opportunity for citizens to address their comments or concerns, and to hear comments from the community. A written public comment period through the LDNR will commence after the hearing. For more information, visit www.ccstp.org or www.fracking-101.webs.com.

Local Events Local News

CCST Announces LDNR Public Hearing on Fracking Permits Nov. 12th

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DNR Public Hearing On Fracking PermitsConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) and the Town of Abita Springs announce that the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) will be holding a public hearing for the citizens of St. Tammany this November 12th, 5:00pm at Lakeshore High School off of HWY 1088 in Mandeville. The hearing will be  regarding the Helis Oil & Gas application for a drilling permit 1 1/2 miles from Lakeshore High School involving the controversial hydro-fracturing or “fracking” method.
The request for a public hearing was made by attorneys representing CCST and the Town of Abita Springs.  The meeting will be an opportunity for citizens to address their comments or concerns, and to hear comments from the community. A written public comment period through the LDNR will commence after the hearing.
Some points from CCST and the Town of Abita: (1) Property for initial well is zoned residential and is designated wetlands, (2) violation of the St. Tammany Parish Code of Ordinances, and the STP Unified Code of Development (UDC) (3) a direct attack on the Federal, State, HRC Constitutions, whereby required to protect the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the citizens, (4) State Legislative Auditors send a scalding report regarding lack of oversight on wells operating and shut down in Louisiana, (5) 2.5+ million gallons of water required for each well, (6) toxic chemicals used in the process, which the drilling companies do not have to disclose.
For more information visit www.CCSTP.org.

Opinion

Curatorship, Recusals & Public Office by Timothy Gates, Correspondent

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While last week gave a brief overview of the District Attorney Debate hosted by Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, this week will explore a few specific issues raised, particularly that of curatorships and recusals.  A curatorship refers to the authority of the court to administer the property of an individual unable to take care of their own estate and affairs, for any variety of reasons.  A recusal is a judicial safeguard in which a judge or prosecutor is removed (recused) from a legal case due to a conflict of interest.

During the debate, Brian Trainor was asked by Roy Burns about his efforts in achieving accountability and transparency during his eight years as an Assistant D.A. with regard to work release programs, nepotism and other abuses of office. Trainor responded that he was not aware of any violation of policy or law, otherwise it would have been reported.

Burns then pointed out that curatorships are an abuse, judicial appointments in which the appointee benefits financially, while holding a public office. Trainor stated that if the judge appoints a local attorney to represent someone in a case, they represent them. This answer seems simple, but it doesn’t address the question of the process being abused in a partial manner.

With regard to judicial and prosecutorial recusal, Trainor stated that recusals should only be offered in the furtherance of justice. Alan Black responded that recusals are overused, explaining that they are mandatory when the reasons exist. The suggestion of abuse in relation to the practice is that recusal is not offered when obvious conflicts exist, but is taken when no conflict exists, in which the recused has the opportunity to operate through a private practice while also serving the public office.

The subject of recusal has surfaced in the 22nd Judicial District Family Court Judge’s race between Judge Dawn Amacker and Candidate Nanine McCool, as reported by The Advocate, “St. Tammany school arrest raises more questions about dual roles of Walter Reed’s assistant.” The story details several conflicts of interest throughout the case, exemplifying the problems in this type of abuse of office. Find it online at www.theadvocate.com.

If mechanisms used to provide a speedy and impartial judicial process to the public are instead used to judicial or prosecutorial benefit at the expense of the public, as the referenced story indicates, that needs to change. Trainor doesn’t seem to recognize a problem. Black does recognize a problem, but prefers to rely on the framework in place. Burns has a comprehensive plan for reform of the office, with an emphasis on being “unconnected.” Warren Montgomery touts transparent leadership and a staff of qualified individuals to establish integrity in office.

After 30 years of the same, St. Tammany is ready for change. View the debate videos here: www.ccstp.org

Timothy Gates, covweekly@media9productions.com

Local News Opinion

Brief Analysis Of CCST D.A. Debate by Timothy Gates, Correspondent

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Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPThe Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany hosted a debate for the candidates for D.A. at the John Davis Center in Lacombe on August 26, 2014, moderated by radio personality Don Dubuc.  Participating in the debate were Candidates Alan Black, Roy Burns, Warren Montgomery and Brian Trainor.
Trainor opened his statements by pointing out that he is the  clear choice because he is the only candidate with law enforcement experience, uniquely understanding of the partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, the D.A.’s Office and the community.  The current political climate indicates that the described partnership is rhetorical and lacking; Trainor did not indicate that he intended to initiate any major changes other than revising the office’s screening process and establishing comprehensive independent audits.  Trainor takes a democratic view on issues like term limits, reserving it for public vote.   Quote:  “I can’t report it if it didn’t exist.”
Black is in the same spectrum as Trainor with regard to relying mainly on the existing mechanism.  He has a more representational approach, and stressed the separation of powers inherent in our state and federal constitutions.  Black plans to hire a former employee of the State Legislative Auditor’s Office to ensure transparency and accountability. Black is also the Chairperson for the Committee to Re-Elect Judge Dawn Amacker, according to documents relating to Amacker’s campaign finance as well as documentation on Amacker’s website.  Quote:  “Transparency is the word of the night.”
Burns has the most radical approach to accountability and transparency, supporting the idea of an inspector general, term limits and reducing wasteful spending, starting with chopping the salary of the office for which he is running by $50,000.  Stressing conflicts of interest, he would like to “de-centralize” the office.  Quote: “I can’t change human nature, but I can change the attitude towards it.”
Montgomery has experience as a federal prosecutor, and favors a team of qualified individuals combined with transparent leadership to establish integrity in the office.  He also stressed that solid family foundations are integral to healthy communities, and criticized the ‘good old boy’ network.  Quote:  “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The District Attorney debate took a turn for the surreal when former Sheriff’s Deputy Winston Cavendish asked the candidates if they would prioritize the unsolved murder of Margaret Coon, a former Assistant D.A. in the Sex Crimes Division.  While all candidates agreed that unsolved murders are a priority, Trainor added that the Sheriff and D.A. Offices can’t be used “as a means to get what we want.”  The ghost of Margaret Coon may very well be the defining factor in the District Attorney Race.     View the debate videos here:  www.ccstp.org

See more detailed summarization/partial transcript of the debate here.

Timothy Gates, Correspondent, Covington Weekly
covweekly@media9productions.com

Local Events Local News

CCST Hosts District Attorney Debate Forum For Running Candidates

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Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish CCSTPConcerned Citizens of St. Tammany will hold a special debate forum next Tuesday for the candidates running for St. Tammany District Attorney. Radio personality Mr. Don Dubuc from WWL 97 FM / 105.3 AM will host the forum.  The debate will be held August 26th, 6 pm at the John Davis Community Center, 61100 North 12th Street in Lacombe.

Tentative Candidates include Mr. Roy Burns, Mr. Alan Black, Mr. Brian Trainor and Mr. Warren Montgomery.

Learn more at www.CCSTP.org

 

General Local News

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – CCST Engages CELDF, Parish

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In the last two weeks, Covington Weekly has outlined the process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish, indicating an undemocratic and self-serving system established by bad legislation. Covington Weekly is thrilled to introduce an organization that may help with a solution to our problem. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund operates on the principle that as a society, we are in the midst of an escalating ecological crisis as the result of decisions made by a relatively few people who run corporations and government. Sustainability will never be achieved by leaving those decisions in the hands of a few, both because of their belief in limitless economic production and because their decisions are made at a distance from the communities experiencing the impact of those decisions. Therefore, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others.

In doing so, communities must challenge and overturn legal doctrines that have been concocted to eliminate their right to self-government, including the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights, preemption, and limitations on local legislative authority. Inseparable from the right to local self government – and its sole limitation – are the rights of human and natural communities; they are the implicit and enumerated premises on which local self government must be built.

CELDF was formed in 1995 in Pennsylvania by Thomas Linzey, Executive Director, and Stacey Schmader, Administrative Director, to provide free and affordable legal services to community groups. Over the first few years, CELDF assisted hundreds of communities in Pennsylvania facing unwanted corporate development projects such as incinerators and quarries. CELDF assisted these communities to try to stop the projects by appealing corporate permit applications through the state’s environmental regulatory system. CELDF was very successful at appealing permits, finding the holes and omissions that would render them incomplete. As such, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Hearing Board would toss out the permits, and the communities would celebrate their “victory,” believing the system of law had worked.

However, the corporation could and would simply file another permit, this time filling in the holes and omissions cited. Once the corporation filed an administratively complete permit application, the state was automatically required to approve it. The communities asked CELDF to appeal the permit again, but there was nothing left to do. The law in Pennsylvania, as in every other state, works the same way. The state legalizes an activity, such as mining, or commercial water withdrawals, or factory farming, and communities are legally prohibited from saying “no” to it.

After experiencing how the regulatory system operated over several years and watching communities lose time and time again, CELDF determined that they would need to take a different approach.

Beginning in 1998, they began to assist communities to draft legally binding laws in which they asserted their right to self-govern. Initially, the work focused on communities facing corporate factory farms and later the application of sewage sludge to farmland. Communities across Pennsylvania adopted their anti-corporate farming and anti-corporate sludging laws.

To accommodate the growing interest, with calls coming in from across the country, CELDF launched the Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools in 2003, which have become a critical tool in grassroots organizing. Communities facing other corporate threats, such as uranium mining in Virginia and commercial water withdrawals in New England, began to take on this work.

The Legal Defense Fund has now become the principal advisor to activists, community groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. CELDF has taught nearly 200 Democracy Schools across the country and over 100 communities have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted ordinances.

The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Legal Team and CCST President Rick Franzo recently met with representatives of the Parish, including St. Tammany Parish attorneys, to discuss cooperating on legal efforts going forward. As of Monday, the Parish has filed a “Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief,” demonstrating a positive direction by the newly hired attorneys. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 19. CCST is also proud to announce a partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, considered to be a tremendous asset.

CELDF - Community Environment Legal Defense Fund

“Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

www.celdf.org

Local News

Comment Period Reopened For LDEQ & USACE

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Louisiana state sealThe US Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have reopened their public comment period on the permit application by Helis Oil & Gas for hydraulic fracturing near Mandeville. Both agencies are now taking comments until mid-night June 16th, 2014, under pressure of the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany’s legal team.

Contact person for US Army Corps of Engineers: Robert Tewis phone: (504) 862-2041 email: robert.m.tewis2@usace.army.mil

Contact person for LDEQ: Elizabeth Johnson phone: (225) 219-3225 email: elizabeth.johnson@la.gov

For a full list of contacts for state representatives, check  house.louisiana.gov

 

Local Events Local News

Educational Meeting At St. John’s Regarding Fracking: Music, Information and Fellowship

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FrackFreeInfoMeetingSt.JohnsUnsure about fracking, or feel that you do not know enough to make an informed decision? A group of Covington citizens have organized this informative meeting to be a relaxed and peaceful opportunity for residents to learn more about hydrofracturing. Microbiologist and chemist Wilma Subra will be the keynote speaker. The night will be filled with music, coffee, food, drinks and productive discussion. Come by and bring a friend!

General Local Events Local News

Coroner Recall Petition at the Block Party: Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany

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560001_640608195956786_1833961229_nThe Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany (CCST) are about half-way through the recall petition drive which began on May 15th.  So far, the group has collected about 30-35 percent of the signatures needed to force an election.  CCST needs the signatures of 53,000 registered voters by November 14, 2013 to make this happen.  The coroner, Peter Galvan, is currently under investigation for questionable practices and has been asked by some parish leaders to resign.  The concerned citizens of St. Tammany will have a table set up during the Block Party for any registered voters who would like to sign the petition or  volunteer to collect signatures.  Find out more about CCST on their website, www.CCSTP.org