I recently had one of those famous Slabbed Ah-Ha moments where what seemed to be unrelated events clicked. The result is this post as we can examine the recent events that ended with Mr Theriot withdrawing his very ill advised lawsuit against the blogosphere in context. Unfortunately I’ll also explain why the Slabbed Nation should remained armed and vigilant as the thugs on the Parish Council and their waterboy Steve Theriot are busy hatching the next scheme to eliminate dissent inside Parish Government and trample the free speech rights of those who comment on Parish Government from the outside. Let’s begin with the Ah-Ha moment which came courtesy of a recent article by Rich Rainey at the Times Picayune:
The Internet has become an electrified third rail in Jefferson Parish government.
Most recently, interim Parish President Steve Theriot sued to uncover the identities behind anonymous user names on the website www.NOLA.com. After enduring days of public scoffing, he dropped the lawsuit this week.
But his administration’s wrestling with the online world goes back further.
In January, when Theriot took office in the dust storm of Aaron Broussard’s resignation, chief administrative officer Jose Gonzalez — himself newly appointed after Broussard’s top executive, Tim Whitmer, resigned — said he discovered a wide swath of parish employees with Internet access were abusing it.
About 1,500 computers exist in parish government, Gonzalez said. Roughly a third of those have Internet capability. Access is granted on a case-by-case basis, he said. For example, the parish attorney’s office has full access, but the rank-and-file must prove their case for online access.
“People would come to work, and they were being caught playing games, watching videos — even watching movies, believe it or not,” Gonzalez said.
So he ordered a number of sites blocked. He said most of the pornography sites, the gambling sites, the game sites had been addressed before he took office. This time, his focus was news media sites.
“We were getting reports that there were a number of employees (who) were coming to work and reading the newspaper,” he said.
NOLA.com, central to Theriot’s later suit though not a defendant, became a casualty of the new policy. It had become a popular stop among parish employees for its coverage of the scandal that led to Broussard’s resignation.
However, Gonzalez said his choice to block online news was not because of the scandal, nor to set the stage for Theriot to sue the anonymous users of NOLA.com for defamation.
Oh really Mr Gonzales? I think you told a whopper to Rich and even better I have proof. Per this article NOLA.com was blocked along with all news sites by the Theriot and Gonzales in back in January, a fact I also confirmed with sources familiar with Parish Government. Simply put it was not possible for employees to post comments to NOLA but it was NOLA.com that was subpoenaed for the IP addresses of those that “defamed” Steve Theriot. A review of the screen names listed in Theriot’s subpoena revealed 4 things:
- One of the aliases posted comments exclusively before Aaron Broussard resigned the office of the Parish President thus making it impossible for them to have defamed Theriot as he claimed in the complaint.
- A couple of aliases straddled the administrations posting comments before Theriot assumed office and after the blocks were placed on the Parish IT system.
- A few of the aliases posted exclusively after the blocks were placed.
- A few had extensive commenting records.
A few other observations courtesy of Rich Rainey’s early report on the lawsuit:
An examination of the screen names listed in the lawsuit shows that the comments are mostly reactions to news stories about a scandal that tore through former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s administration. Federal authorities launched a criminal investigation last year after reports that an insurance agency co-owned by Broussard’s top aide, Tim Whitmer, was doing business with public agencies and parish contractors.
The user accounts at NOLA.com on Tuesday appeared to show varying degrees of activity. Two appeared to have been blocked by the website, and only three mentioned Theriot by name.
Of course, savvy members of the Slabbed nation already knew most all of these facts except for the news block placed on the IT system which Rainey disclosed Thursday as noted above. The next piece of the puzzle come courtesy of yours truly, who wrote this back in late February just after Anne Marie Vandenweghe was suspended by Theriot for allegedly blogging while working:
This brings us back to the events of Tuesday night where 3 Parish Attorneys were taken to the woodshed by interim parish president Theriot. Anne Marie Vandenweghe was pretty much fired with “Skip” Hand and Steve Mortillaro lined up in the chop shop. Ms Vandenweghe was the person in charge of honoring public record requests and I suspect the myriad of subpoenas that have flooded the Parish since the double-dealing involving Aaron Broussard and Company broke late last year. It has been suggested in the comments these people were taken to task because they were the source of leaks to the media and perhaps even Slabbed. While I’ll admit our traffic includes a great number of visits from Jefferson Parish Government of late not a single one of our commenters has posted from an IP addy associated with Jefferson Parish Government.
Was our blogging that good that Mr Gonzales would not order Slabbed blocked? I’ll add we never did get a comment from a Jefferson Parish Government IP address but boy were we popular reading over at the Yenni building until approximately a month ago when I noticed traffic tailed off considerably from Parish Government. Surely they knew about us as we were mentioned in the suit so what gives?
We were left unblocked to set a trap for the person we now know Theriot and his band of idiots on the Parish Council were gunning for the entire time in Anne Marie Vandenweghe. Obviously, since Theriot and gang later filed suit the trap did not work. This brings us back to February when Ms Vandenweghe was suspended by Theriot as we start with a Val Bracy report for Fox 8:
Vandenweghe says during a meeting on the day she was suspended, parish officials told her they had proof she blogged on parish computers during work hours.
“When I saw the people that were sitting around the table, and I was back here at home by then, and thought about the people that were around the table I realized that I had referred numerous violations by each and every one of them, except for Theriot and Donelon. and I realized that perhaps Mr. Theriot was not aware of the number of violations I had reported,” she says.
Parish President Steve Theriot has said he can’t discuss the specifics of Vandenweghe’s case because it’s a personnel matter, but he did confirm federal investigators inquired about her suspension.
Theriot also said the parish has ample evidence to support the decision to suspend Vandenweghe.
And he made the same assertion over a week earlier just after he suspended Ms Vandenweghe:
Vandenwehge was in charge of public records requests sent to the parish by the media and others. She filed the Whistleblower protection suit with the Personnel Board Thursday and and now the feds are interested in why she was suspended.
“I think it’s a logical move since obviously they’re here looking at what we’re doing,” said Theriot.
Theriot stands by his decision to put Vandenweghe on paid leave.
FOX 8: Are you concerned other employees who might have info won’t come forward because of what happened to her?
Theriot: Well, let me put it like this here, whatever action took place wasn’t because of anyone providing info.
Theriot says the parish has the evidence to back up its decision.
How ironic that Theriot later claimed his lawsuit’s purpose was to gather information from concerned citizens about Parish corruption. Such is the problem with lying Steve because liars have a hard time keeping their lies straight. And of course we all know now that Theriot was also full of crap about having proof to support his suspension of Ms Vandenweghe. In fact the team seized Ms Vandenweghe’s office computer and her files no doubt rummaging through the information for 5 weeks solid trying to dig evidence to make the decision to send her home stick. They came away with nothing and had to reinstate her while his “investigation continued”. In a sign of desperation he filed suit to save face.
Now this begs the question why spend so much time and scarce tax money trying to crush an employee who evidently was just doing her job? Let’s visit with Val Bracy again who interviewed Anne Marie Vandenweghe for a partial answer:
“It appears the direction of the investigation went from my alleged blogging, which was non-existent, and my internet surfing. Now there’s a reference to my having done some work for my daughter who is in college and/or to my mediation work; mediation work I haven’t done since 2007 and that was prior to going full-time at the parish.” Vandenweghe believes Theriot’s decision to suspend her was based on bad information from other unnamed employees with ulterior motives.
“Perhaps Theriot was intentionally misled by people I had blown the whistle on and that is of extreme concern because that may not be the
only time they’ve done it. We don’t know how many other people are out there that that happened to and that’s unconscionable that someone would do that to Mr. Theriot. It’s equally unconscionable that action would be taken against someone who perhaps would not have the where-with-all to fight back,” said Vandenweghe.
Although Vandenweghe has studied public records law extensively and even led the parish’s employee seminars, the letter from Theriot says
she will be moved to the parish attorney’s Recovery division.
FOX 8: “Do you think they just wanted you gone because you were making public records accessible to the public?”
Vandenweghe: “My opinion, probably somebody somewhere wanted me away from public records. For what reason I don’t know but in having seen what I have seen in handling the public records there would be a number of people that may have that goal.”
After the federal, state and parish investigations into former parish CAO Tim Whitmer began public records requests were coming in by the dozen.
Vandenweghe says some of the responses she received from parish employees showed discrepancies. She reported the conflicts to the ethics board and parish personnel board.
Since Vandenweghe was suspended, the Parish Attorney’s Office’s public records policies have changed. Records take longer to get, if FOX 8 gets them at all and every request FOX 8 has filed is answered with a letter calling our request “overly broad and burdensome.”
I have heard several times of the new policy adopted by Theriot and his band of idiots on the Parish Council which essentially puts each department in charge of responding to salient PRRs. I am not a communications expert but was floored when told about it because there is no longer any centralized control over records that might be released. My inquiry of a source in the communications field professionally told me that is a big no-no. Even worse is the new policy will certainly result in incomplete answers to requests. For example, a contract or contracts with a law firm may extend across several departments so a taxpayer wanting to know how much the mythical law firm of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe was paid by the Parish will get an incomplete answer unless every Parish department is queried. This procedures makes the process very cumbersome to the point where transparency in government is eliminated, assuming the request even makes it past the desk of the Theriot’s lapdog that is now in charge of PRRs.
Notice I said this was a partial answer. Our readers no doubt recall, per Val’s report I linked above that Team Letten inquired of Mr Theriot why he let Ms Vandenweghe go just after she was suspended. The US Attorney’s interest here is not local public record requests, but getting truthful replies to the myriad of subpoenas they have served at the Yenni building.
I think it is also clear, as I have opined on several occasions, that Mr Theriot’s actions clearly demonstrate he is trying to protect those under investigation. It is beyond brazen to do so and if the Feds were zeroed in on a group of perpetrators even fool hardy. Something changed that emboldened Theriot and that something was the passing of Maurice Katz, the gentleman who not only could give Team Letten Aaron Broussard, Whitmer, Wlikinson and others in Jefferson Parish government but also Marc Morial and Ray Nagin. Let’s again visit with Rich Rainey who wrote the story on Hippo Katz’s passing:
Maurice Katz, a longtime habitue of steakhouses and Louisiana politics, died Tuesday at his Metairie home of coronary artery disease. He was 76.
Known as “Hippo,” a nickname he bore from his youth, Mr. Katz endeared himself to the political lives of some of Louisiana’s largest characters, including former Gov. Edwin Edwards and the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee. Rare were the days before Hurricane Katrina struck when Mr. Katz could not be found hobnobbing through lunch or supper at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on Broad Street in New Orleans, a magnet for the city’s political insiders.
A source familiar with the investigation disclosed to Slabbed that Katz was Team Letten’s prime target until he died and given the man’s business dealings and political connections that made sense as he could wrap up ongoing investigations in both New Orleans and Jefferson Parish. So who is Theriot and company protecting? Easy question as a few of the rats outed themselves in the story:
“He’s just a wonderful guy,” state Sen. Danny Martiny of Kenner said. “I don’t know if he had that much of an effect on any particular race, but he was a guy who was always around.”……
“Always fun, always a good laugh,” Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, Lee’s daughter, said of Mr. Katz as she recalled him telling that story. “I can see how my dad would be attracted to hanging out with him.”
While cherished by his friends, Mr. Katz was not without controversy stemming from his political acquaintances. An insurance broker by trade, his work with local governments and public entities brought him close to several scandals in recent years.
In 1999, he was accused in a lawsuit of illegally securing a contract through Edwards to sell insurance to state employees. The suit was eventually dismissed.
Two years later, he helped secure a contract for a company to invest money for Jefferson Parish public school employees, a deal that ended with the employees swindled out of $4 million. Three people pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Mr. Katz was not prosecuted.
Of course Katz was never prosecuted in the old days as he always had friends running the show over at the NOLA US Attorney’s office before Mr Letten took over. A succession of US Attorneys did absolutely nothing to clean up the open systemic corruption political corruption in New Orleans including Harry Rosenberg and the now disgraced Eddie Jordan. And of course we would not be talking about any of this had Bushie gotten his way and appointed Fred Heebe US Attorney back in 2002 as we continue:
Mr. Katz also was tangentially connected to the scandal that has wracked former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s administration in recent months. He partnered with former Parish President Tim Coulon and Broussard’s chief administrative officer, Tim Whitmer, to form the insurance agency THT Group, which, with its sister company, Lagniappe Industries, was sold insurance to employees with Jefferson Parish, other public entities and parish contractors.
Martiny and Lee-Sheng said Mr. Katz was confident his name would be cleared in the course of the continuing federal investigation of the Broussard administration.
Very doubtful as Katz was actually on the verge of serving several of them up before he died. I do not think it was a coincidence that Danny Martiny was the first Jefferson Parish politicians to try limiting access to public records by weakening the state’s public records law in the legislature.
And this brings us back to the unrepentant Steve Theriot, his nonsensical press releases and letters to the editor which has literally made him nationally infamous (the latest example can be found here at Walter Olsen’s Overlawyered blog.) Clearly the man is not acting in his own best interests by continuing his crusade against free speech and a single employee whose only sin was doing her job too well. The continued sabre rattling tells me Team Theriot is busy coming up with plan C. Given the Parish reserved the right to re-file their suit I think it will involve another legal action. Mr Theriot’s letter to the editor did not mention this but his continued abuse of power is what has Parish workers demoralized. I suspect certain employees that have had their good names ruined by following the man’s orders (no doubt to save their own jobs) are likely the most morale impacted. Perhaps in time we can tell their stories too.
Coming soon as we continue the Theriot resignation watch. Slabbed explores Larry Sisung and his various connections to Parish government.