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General Local Events Local News

Brister Statement Regarding Interstate 12

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St. Tammany Parish Government President Pat Brister is joined by parish council members, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary Shawn Wilson, and Senator Jack Donahue to announce the $25 million federal BUILD grant awarded to St. Tammany for the widening of I-12. The hard work and advocacy of the people in this photo, as well as our congressional representatives and community members, led to the funding that will make a safer, better I-12 possible.

Statement from Pat Brister after being notified today that St. Tammany was awarded a $25 million BUILD Grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the widening I-12:
“This is a huge win for all of us — the St. Tammany community and the people who travel this interstate. To see that the federal government has chosen to support our mission in making our interstate system safer by awarding this $25 million BUILD Grant, reinforces the necessity of this project. We can’t wait to get started. We also sincerely appreciate the leadership and efforts of our Congressman Steve Scalise and the rest of the Louisiana delegation on securing this funding.” said Pat Brister, St. Tammany Parish President.
“We committed to doing our part to find a funding source for this project, and this first step is a success, which means we can move forward in the plans to make the I-12 safer for travel. We will still continue to seek support and funding from every possible source, and we will continue to push for immediate action. The safety of St. Tammany and every person who comes through here is — and has always been— my top concern.”

General Local Events Local News

Operation Angel A Success at 2 Years

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CPD Chief Lentz announced the launch of Operation Angel in May of 2016. The innovative program was adopted by select departments across the country as a way to provide people with substance abuse issues treatment and help instead of incarceration. To date, over 100 people have walked through the CPD doors seeking help through this program. Chief Lentz talks about Operation Angel in his own words:
“On May 2nd, 2016 we launched Operation Angel. Since then, over 100 people have walked through our doors asking for help with addiction. For the last year, we have been fortunate to have one of our residents, Linda Hudson, volunteer her time for the Operation Angel Program. Linda keeps in touch with those who enter the program and helps them continue on their road to recovery. Through her efforts and their hard work, we have determined that 39% of the people who walked through our doors are clean and sober today!
As a celebration of their recovery, we invited those individuals back to the Police Department this evening for a catered event, where Chief Lentz presented each with a certificate of achievement and an Operation Angel challenge coin.
Tonight’s celebration was fully funded through the generosity and support of our community. Catering was provided by the Columbia Street Tap Room. Flowers were donated by CJ’s Florist and Mr. Ronnie Briggs was kind enough to donate the funds to purchase the challenge coins.

Please join us in congratulating each of these men and women for their hard work and self-determination to succeed. It was an honor to spend the evening with them, as well as St. Tammany Parish Government President Pat Brister, who came to show her support for the program.” CPD Chief Tim Lentz
Congratulations to the Operation Angel successes, and to all who actively work to better themselves This type of program provides people with the support they need to overcome the physical and mental debilitation of substance abuse.

General Local News

Safe Haven Receives $5 Million Grant

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Pat Brister, St. Tammany Parish President, announced that St. Tammany Parish Government, and the Safe Haven project, will receive $5,310,000 in grant funding through the National Disaster Resiliency funding, facilitated through the State of Louisiana’s LA SAFE initiative. The funding from this competitive grant will be to implement the Safe Haven green infrastructure projects.

As part of the grant process, LA SAFE held individual engagement events in 2017 to gather public input on six proposed projects in St. Tammany Parish, as well as other proposed projects throughout the State. The Safe Haven project was supported by the residents in public meetings, and voted for by St. Tammany Parish citizens as one component of the competitive process.

General Local Events Local News

CPD Chief Tim Lentz Receives BGR Award

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The Covington Police Department is pleased to announce that Chief Tim Lentz has been selected to receive the Bureau of Governmental Research’s Excellence in Government 2018 Innovation Award. BGR is a non-profit, independent research organization dedicated to informed public policy making and the effective use of public resources in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area. Chief Lentz was nominated for the award by Parish President Pat Brister. School Board Supt. Trey Folse also participated in the interview process with the selection committee, recommending Chief Lentz for the award.
The Excellence in Government Awards, a biennial program founded in 1994, recognizes government employees and private citizens for outstanding performance and creative problem-solving that significantly improves local governmental services. Chief Lentz was honored with the Innovation Award for his leadership in creating the Operation Angel Program in St. Tammany Parish.
Like many communities affected by the nationwide opioid epidemic, St. Tammany Parish has seen an increase in opioid-related deaths and drug-related crimes in recent years. In an effort to combat the crisis, Chief Lentz sought alternatives to arresting and jailing drug users, which generally does not break the addiction cycle. Through his efforts, Chief Lentz learned about Operation Angel, a community-based policing program that allows someone addicted to prescription or illegal drugs to seek help from law enforcement. Through this program, anyone suffering from addiction can walk into a police station and ask for help. They can surrender their drugs and be taken by a police officer to a treatment facility, without fear of arrest or prosecution.
In May 2016, with the support of other law enforcement agencies and public officials, Chief Lentz launched Operation Angel in St. Tammany, the only parish in Louisiana presently offering the program. In the first 12 months, 132 people sought help and were taken to a treatment facility by a police officer. Since the program started, of the almost 100 people that have walked into the Covington Police Department and asked for help, 38% of them remain clean and sober today.

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister stands with Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz.

City and parish officials have praised Operation Angel for its success, both in saving lives and reducing crime.

In 2016, the City of Covington saw a 14% overall reduction in crime and a 22% reduction in 2017, primarily attributed to a drop in the number of thefts.
Operation Angel remains an integral part of Chief Lentz’s community-based policing philosophy, providing participants with a powerful resource to fight addiction and promoting a safer community for our future.
Chief Lentz would like to thank Parish President Brister, Supt. Folse, and Mayor Cooper for their continued support. For additional information about the Bureau of Governmental Research, visit http://www.bgr.org.

Local Events Non Profit Spotlight

Business Resource Workshop Re-Cap

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The seventh installment of the award-winning Covington Business Resource Workshop series was held Thursday, September 21, 2017 at the Bogue Falaya Hall of the Greater Covington Center (Covington City Hall Complex).
The workshop was hosted by the Covington City Council Economic Development and the City of Covington. The speakers included Councilman District D Larry Rolling, City of Covington Mayor Mike Cooper, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister, and Director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at Southeastern William Joubert, City of Covington Human Resources Director Cheryl Andrus, Labor Law Attorney Michael Bush with Chaffe McCall, L.L.P, and Covington Business Association President Brad Schroeder.

Pictured L-R: Councilman Larry Rolling, Sandy Summers, Michael Bush, Mayor Mike Cooper, Cheryl Andrus, Pat Brister, and Brad Schroeder.

Local News Opinion

STEDF Update: Following The Money

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Recently, Covington Weekly reported on changes in the composition of economic development in the parish. The following exchange between CW Correspondent Timothy Gates and the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation took place this past week:
Email to St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation on Tuesday, September 12, 2017:
“Good Morning Tracy,
Thank you for your response in regard to my inquiry. The changes reflected in the legislation are significant.
1) I am curious about the relationship between the Northshore Community Foundation and the Parish Government; I am aware of cooperative endeavor agreements, etc., but specifically, what gives them the authority to issue a study that impacts your office, resulting in sweeping changes that include eliminating the leading 20-year+ economic agency in the parish? My understanding is that non-profit corporations (501 c3’s) are unable to influence legislation (upon review by IRS). Any commentary on this would be helpful.
2) How will these changes affect the public disclosure process, in terms of real-time information?
3) Because Mrs. Bertus represents the EDD as well, does the manager’s response to the LLA constitute an official statement from the parish with regard to the matter?
Thank you for your time. Timothy Achan Gates”
The STEDF replied with this response:
“In response to your questions:
1) For inquiries regarding the Northshore Community Foundation, the St. Tammany Parish Government, and their relationship, please contact the Northshore Community Foundation and/or the St. Tammany Parish Government directly.
2) The St. Tammany Parish Development District’s role is expanding. Beginning 1/1/18, the St. Tammany Parish Development District will be equipped to operate as the lead economic development organization in the parish.
As a political subdivision of the state of Louisiana, the St. Tammany Parish Development District will continue to be subject to Louisiana laws pertaining to open meetings, public records, official journals, etc.
3) Brenda Bertus serves at the Chief Executive Officer of the St. Tammany Economic Development Foundation (STEDF) and the Executive Director of the St. Tammany Parish Development District (STPDD, or “the District”).
The District’s response to the LLA does not constitute an official statement from the St. Tammany Parish Government, as the District is a political subdivision of the state of Louisiana, and is not a division of the parish government. I hope that these answers provide clarity.
Sincerely, Tracy Clanton, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CLED
Records Custodian, St. Tammany Parish Development District, 21489 Koop Drive, Ste. 8, Mandeville, LA 70471
(985) 809-7593 phone (985) 809-7596 fax”
“Thank you for your time and the symbolic representation of answers to the questions sent. Best Regards, Timothy Achan Gates”

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St. Tammany Parish Government has yet to respond with a statement regarding this matter. The only thing clear in the answers from the STEDF is that our government is over-complicated to the degree that one must be a lawyer or a robot to understand how it actually operates. Since CW began writing about the STEDF, we have seen the termination of Don Shea from the STEDD for agency to agency emails that were derogatory to the public, changes in the board composition such that public officials are no longer allowed to serve on the STEDF board (circa 2014, both Mayors Cooper and Drennan were members), and now, the apparent end of the STEDF in its current role in January 2018.
Ch-Ch-Changes… Time to Face the Strange The Parish Government deflects when it should cooperate. In the St. Tammany Chamber West’s recent letter to Mrs. Pat Brister, it is stated that the recent EDD tax should be repealed, in very strong language, referring to it as Taxation Without Representation and discriminatory with regard to application. At this point in the game, a third run may be a shot in the foot for Brister & Co.
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

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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Local Events Local News

Informational Meeting on Tulane National Primate Research Center Investigation – Open to the Public

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Tulane Primate CenterSt. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister, the St. Tammany Parish Government Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, officials from the Tulane National Primate Research Center (TNPRC), and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, are among several state and federal investigative agencies that will be on hand at an informational meeting regarding the ongoing investigation at the TNPRC, to be held on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m., in the St. Tammany Parish Council Chambers located at 21490 Koop Drive in Mandeville. Also on hand from the State of Louisiana will be representatives from the Department of Health and Hospitals, the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Environmental Quality. Federal agencies will include: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

This meeting is open to the public, and residents who live nearby and families with students in nearby schools are encouraged to attend if they have questions or concerns.

Late November 2014, two non-human primates in the breeding colony at the (TNPRC), a private research facility, became ill. In mid-December 2014, samples submitted to the CDC identified Burkholderia Pseudomallei as the causative agent. This strain of bacteria is not endemic in the U.S. but was the subject of research at TNPRC. Because Burkholderia Pseudomallei is a tier 1 agent and the material was considered not in containment, the CDC and USDA initiated a joint investigation of TNPRC in January 2015. As part of the investigation conducted January 20-24, federal and state scientists visited the TNPRC site to conduct epidemiological study and to review lab practices to determine possible route of transmission.

All media releases to date on this matter can be found at www.stpgov.org/community-awareness.