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Opinion

Greater Degree Of Transparency Needed In St. Tammany Economic Development

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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

Fracking No Longer A Plan For Helis

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Helis Oil and Gas Company announced earlier this week that they would not pursue their proposed project near Lakeshore High School.  The stated reason is that analysis of the sample did not indicate a profitable return.  A recent Lee Zurik investigation indicates other possible factors for their withdrawal:  discovery that one of the Justices hearing the case received campaign cash from Helis, amid rumors that other conflicts of interest were present.

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At the very least, the Helis saga indicates a need for greater transparency  with regard to the process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish.  Incidentally, Parish President Pat Brister expressed the sentiment that in order to address issues of oil and gas extraction in the parish, it must be taken to the state legislature, a concept that CW has expressed numerous times since the beginning of the fracking controversy.

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Opinion

Continuing Adventures of Tammany J. Frog by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

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Mark Twain“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  This saying is attributed to the infamous lower mid-western writer, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens).  While there is no direct evidence that Twain spoke or wrote this phrase, there was a direct experience that illustrated the concept with regard to Twain’s short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.

Upon learning of an ancient Greek story that mirrored his own, Twain wrote,  “no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often…”  The alleged “Greek” version, presented by a Professor Sidgwick of England, actually was Twain’s jumping frog story, included in a textbook for students learning to translate English texts into Greek.

English papers reproved Sidgwick for his omission, but he maintained his innocence, believing that the story was so well known that formal mention of it was unnecessary.  Sidgwick personally related this to Twain in England around the turn of the century (1900), but still failed to acknowledge Twain in later editions of his textbook.

Illustration “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain  -- thepinetree.net

Illustration for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” by Mark Twain — thepinetree.net

Twain is marked for his humorous and satirical work, the jumping frog swindle in particular.  Lesser known is that he was highly critical of imperialistic political motivation, as well as a supporter of abolitionism.  The following passage shares insight into Twain’s political philosophy:

“Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise. Then it follows that laws and constitutions should change around and say there shall be a more nearly equal division.”

This quote is reminiscent of ideology within national scale social movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and the efforts to bring accountability to the “too big to fail” banks.  If one considers that the etymology of {the word} government is to control the mind, and that the economic system of capitalism was developed specifically with the interest of members of society already owning capital, there is no need to search for obscure and problematic conspiracy theories, because the facts are there for all to see.  The constructs are tactics of division that are used to the advantage of the control structure.  If there ever was a truly “free” market, this Great Experiment would likely look much different than it does currently, filled with problematic conflicts of interest, favored contracts, cronyism, and the use of public monies for anything besides what is in the public’s interest.  When used in the context of the proletariat, the term socialism receives venomous criticism; when it relates to aristocracy, it is understood to be a privileged given.

Tammany J Frog

Tammany J Frog

Unfettered by a belly full of buckshot, Tammany J. Frog continues to hop around the parish.  Tammany J. Frog was introduced by Covington Weekly in December of last year as a light-hearted symbol representing the operation of economic development in St. Tammany Parish, and because those who question Hydraulic Fracturing were referred to as loonies. Now, it’s Christmas in July as Helis Oil & Gas Company begins to prepare their exploratory well near Lakeshore High School.   The Parish administration plays at listening to the public while reviewing grant money, writing private bonds (the details are not disclosed to the public) and declaring exemptions and incentives to friendly neighborhood corporations and developers, while small business owners struggle to pay their bills and taxes with little relief.

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occuprint.org

No real operational difference exists between social welfare and corporate welfare; they both fall within the definition of socialism, and they are both forced sharing.  Time will tell what St. Tammany Parish’s historic rhyme sounds like.

Timothy Achan Gates is a local writer and musician. Contact: codexproventus@gmail.com.

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.