Covington Weekly » Blog Archives

Tag Archives: transparency

Local News Opinion

STEDF Update: Following The Money

Published by:

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”

https://switzerlanddanceschool.com/case/road-safety-tips-essay/8/ example of good and bad thesis statement meaning assignment go site https://willcoxwinecountry.org/linkedin/easybib-vs-noodletools/47/ https://zacharyelementary.org/presentation/writing-white-papers-michael-stelzner/30/ kamagra gold tablets https://doceremedspa.com/mgpills/buy-viagra-online-without-prescriptiotn/86/ responsibility of students essay https://tffa.org/businessplan/mla-in-text-citation-poem/70/ https://abt.edu/bestsellers/scabies-antibiotics-prednisone/22/ ventolin nebules side effects follow site booth and rowntree essay writer original composition essay examples https://albionfoundation.org/perpill/metade-do-comprimido-de-viagra-faz-efeito/63/ sad story about love essay nick carraway essay https://www.thehasse.org/does/maxalt-from-canada/45/ cheap essay helper source site amoxil dose per kg viagra sin prescripcion http://archive.ceu.edu/store.php?treat=cinsel-g-artrc-cialis how to write a response paper to an essay essays worked connecticut college help financial case studies homework https://www.carrollkennelclub.org/phrasing/paper-writers-graduate-level/6/ click here expository essay introduction outline zoloft urination If it cannot be seen clearly, there is no transparency. If there are no answers to simple questions, there is no accountability.

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

Quote & Word of the Week

Quote and Word of the Week

Published by:

Quote of the Week

“Honesty and Transparency make you vulnerable.  Be Honest and Transparent anyway.”

–Mother Teresa

Word of the Week

vindicate –  to clear, as from  an accusation, imputation, suspicion, or the like

The New Moon is Saturday, October 1, 2016.

 

Opinion

Greater Degree Of Transparency Needed In St. Tammany Economic Development

Published by:

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.

corpor1

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

Published by:

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.

corpor1

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.

fare-the-well-helis-page-001

Opinion

The Transparent Parish Government by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

Published by:

While the public has called for better representation and more oversight of local government on the parish level, the current response is to provide more insulation from the public. Transparency rules the day once again.

With former ADA Julie Knight’s departure from the new administration at the St. Tammany Parish D.A.’s Office, Warren Montgomery is moving forward on outstanding cases. The Parish Council subsequently voted to remove the D.A.’s Office as legal counsel (for the Council). The only “No” vote was Councilman Jacob Groby.

This type of oversight is one of the necessary balances in local government and an action to remove it gives rise to conflicts of interest and favored contracts, such as certain situations observed during the D.A.’s race involving the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and the law firm of Talley, Anthony, Hughes and Knight.

The fact that the Parish Council is attempting to distance itself from the D.A.’s Office may be completely unrelated to Knight’s departure, regardless of timing. A poorly directed decision by Councilman Tanner, it does reveal little confidence in Montgomery’s administration.

GotEthicsNewBlurring The Lines Even More With The STPEDF

Enter the St. Tammany Parish Economic Development Foundation, which is confusing enough as it exists. The EDF is a private, not-for-profit foundation that works with the Parish Economic Development Office on projects in that regard. Some of the agreements managed by the EDF involve state and federal dollars, but the organization is not accountable to the public, or to the Parish Council for that matter.

One example is a lawyer who represents an organization (say, the EDF) in a legal capacity, and also sits on the board of that same organization. Rather than address the conflict, the solution is to draft legislation that provides specific exemption to State Ethics Laws.

A larger example would be the questions raised by District 7 representative Jake Groby with regard to the Folger’s Plant bond issue (involving the EDF), which to this writer’s knowledge have not been adequately addressed. CW’s involvement with that particular issue included a published response to a Tammany West article addressing the situation, which also lacked acknowledgment.

Recently, St. Tammany Parish Government announced that S. Michele Blanchard-Airey was appointed to fill the vacant District 13 Chair on the Parish Council. Blanchard is also a board member of the Economic Development Foundation. This presents a very clear conflict of interest as the Parish Council often votes on proposals presented to them by the Parish Economic Development Office, which represents the Economic Development Foundation in such proposals. In effect, Blanchard could potentially vote on matters concerning an organization of which she is a sitting board member. That the Parish would continue to pursue obvious conflicts such as this indicate a reluctance to present a proper representational government, much less an actual democratic process.

Perhaps this view is off-mark, and Blanchard is there to usher in a new era of accountability by presenting details of EDF activities to the public. Indeed, stranger things have happened. Councilwoman Blanchard will meet with her constituents August 31st in Slidell. (see stpgov.org)

Timothy may be reached at covweekly@gmail.com.

Opinion

Accountability & Transparency by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

Published by:

The Covington Weekly Educational Series on Economic Development in St. Tammany Parish generated discussion about the accountability and transparency of the economic development process. In the course of research, this writer spoke with Don Shea (Director, Economic Development), Trilby Lenfant (Deputy Chief Administrative Officer), Representative Tim Burns, the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce (on behalf of Larry Rase and DonahueFavret), David Folse II (Tammany West contributor) and Lacey Toledano (President of the Chamber, on behalf of Mayor Cooper, on behalf of Brenda Bertus [Executive Director of the Economic Development Foundation.])

While the series focused primarily on public and quasi-public entities with regard to economic development, the Chamber was tasked with responding, despite the organizations being Un-Related (a concept that from the respondent’s point of view cannot be stressed enough.) In the course of the various conversations, the word “accusations” kept insinuating itself into the exchanges. When asked directly to provide an example, none was available because no accusations have been made. What is asked for is accountability and transparency.

With regard to bonds issued by the Development District/EDF: The bonds are issued on Federal, State and Local Tax Dollars. Bondholders also receive generous tax incentives and exemptions in exchange for “job creation,” of which generally 30% is required for local hires. Every tax paying citizen has a stake in this bond money and should be aware of how every dollar of it is spent. The EDF’s deals are shrouded in secrecy due to confidentiality agreements. Covington Weekly has previously covered the issue of existing conflicts of interest and the question of how the bond issues create an unbalanced business climate (see “No Taxation Without Representation,” July 2, 2014.)

Economic development dollars should directly benefit the area for which they are intended. There is no mechanism in place to ensure this, because information related to the bonds is not readily available to the public. The Public, in turn, should have a say in the economic development that is pursued by the Parish by way of referendum, rather than finding out about developments after deals are made. The opportunity for a rational response to these issues is open and encouraged, and Covington Weekly will continue to investigate and publicize information that should already exist in the public realm.

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