It’s all relative: Senate Bill, Ethics Opinion put the Kibosh on School District Nepotism

Earlier this month we did a series of posts on K-12 education, the last one disclosing a meeting Slabbed had with Bay-Waveland School Board Trustee Mike Bell. The meeting, which included local parent volunteer Cami Cornfoot and Lana Noonan, President of the Hancock County Alliance for Good GovernmentTM dealt with the hiring of a new Superintendent of Education and the optics involving the fact the new Superintendent’s Brother was the existing business manager of the school district.

We covered a lot of ground over the ensuing two plus hours of discussing the state of the school district. I reserved judgment as I was in it for the information and I wanted to hear the School Board’s side of things. Lana on the other hand was pretty staunch in holding her position that the resulting nepotism from the hire of Vikki Landry looked awful. Simply put, Lana held Trustee Bell’s feet to the fire as they would eventually nicely agree to disagree on the subject.

To kick start things we need to re-visit Cassandra Favre’s January 27, 2017 story, BWSD may need 2 assistant superintendents, which left her readers (myself included) with the distinct impression the School District’s Central office expanded by one Assistant Superintendent solely to ameliorate the problems created by hiring the sister of the business manager as the Superintendent. Trustee Bell took issue with that characterization saying the addition of the second Assistant Superintendent was a discreet event that was not done to solve the nepotism problem involving Landry but rather involved a more sweeping reorganization of the business office in a move that cut the amount of local funds spent on Administration.

First what I found strange was both the before and after job description matrices we were presented showed the business manager answering organizationally to one of the Assistant Superintendents, a setup I had never seen in my 20 plus years auditing and consulting with Mississippi K-12s. Every other school district that I have first hand knowledge had the School Business manager answering directly to the Superintendent which makes sense given the job responsibilities handled by the School Business Office. The “before reorganization chart” was thus strange for lack of a better term because the arrangement would have had the Business Manager answering to his sister when she was Assistant Superintendent. Turns out that was not the case but before I get to that let’s visit with Kate Royals at Mississippi Today:

A bill removing a provision in the law allowing school districts to hire relatives of the district’s superintendents and principals passed the Senate on Wednesday.

State law defines a relative as a spouse, child, sibling or parent. The bill would, however, put in place a process for spouses of superintendents to be hired.

This bill was sponsored by Sen. Grey Tollison at the request of the Mississippi Ethics Commission. Continue reading “It’s all relative: Senate Bill, Ethics Opinion put the Kibosh on School District Nepotism”

I see my old acquaintances at the FBI are back

Its a poorly kept secret that the gang are voracious consumers of news of all kinds. I don’t keep an especially close eye on the back end as I haven’t the time but I just took a peek and decided to say hi.

One other thing I will say is I have been working behind the scenes for about 6 weeks now on this:

Senate Judiciary Committee opens inquiry into Harry Morel case, suspension of local FBI agent ~ Jim Mustian

I do not know Special Agent Zummer but I know the story like the back of my hand. The same bad actors from Jim Letten’s office surface time and again, kinda like the turds that float on top of the bowl. One thing about Mustian’s story I wouldn’t put much stock in would be the opinions of local rent-an-ethicist / gasbag Dane Ciolino.

Stay tuned and welcome back guys. ~ Doug

What is Singing River Health System and the Jackson County Board of Supervisors Hiding? A comment bump

Singing River Health System has refused to release a financial accounting of its employee pension fund, even though its own annual audit says the records are available to the public on request.

On March 9, the Sun Herald made such a request. We asked for retirement-plan financial statements from 2006 to 2014, except the year 2010-2011 because the newspaper found that statement online.

As the Sun Herald’s Anita Lee reported, without all of those records it is impossible to say how investments might have affected the retirement plan.

For months now the holy grail of reporting on the Singing River Health System disaster lay in the well rumored sweetheart related party transactions between insiders at the Health System, the Health System itself and the defined benefit pension plan the Hospital’s Board of Trustees voted in secret to terminate last November. SRHS has fought any public disclosure of its finances tooth and nail preferring instead to launch a legal jihad to remove Chancellor Harris from the related state litigation filed by retirees desperate to save the financial results of life’s work for the system.

Slabbed has documented previously undisclosed related party transactions involving the former Board of Trustee Attorney, his family and the health system. Slabbed’s commenters have uncovered even more related party transactions involving the Health System and its former Legal Services director. My guess is these limited disclosures barely scratch the surface of the cronyism that is at the heart of the SRHS financial meltdown.

So what is SRHS hiding in the pension’s financial records that Anita Lee seeks? Nunn Yabidnez posited a theory a few days ago on these pages that matches a rumor that has been circulating for a little while now and this theory is well worth exploring in the absence of any information from the Pension Plan:

Here’s a possible theory for a lot of the SRHS pension problems. I don’t claim it as fact, but the dates and the “what is known,” combined with the various external situations, tend to fit. Remember, it’s just a theory.

Some background:
One way to “benefit” from pension management is to invest the funds in places that will make a reasonable income for the fund, but also cut the management in for a taste via “commission sharing” from brokers, investing in “sweetheart” deals with “friends” and doing so via what appears to be a legit broker/manager (see FiduciaryVest). There are even ways to pull equity market manipulations. And as long as things stay fair-to-middlin’ and nobody gets too stupid or greedy, things could rock along with no one ever being the wiser. However, if one or more of the “covering factors” go south, things can get bad in a hurry, esp. if the fund is stretched too thin on “friends helping friends” deals that depended on an up market. So, what does that have to do with SRHS?

That said, here’s a maybe: Continue reading “What is Singing River Health System and the Jackson County Board of Supervisors Hiding? A comment bump”

I almost hate to bring this up…..

But then again never in my life would I have ever expected the Mississippi State Auditor to use the power of the office to obstruct journalism in the public interest so as to spare his political friends and associates embarrassment in the wake of the DMR scandal. Auditor Pickering earned himself a contempt of court citation for that one, which he happily took for the family.

I mention this because one of my better sources there in Jackson County has unequivocally indicated to Slabbed that Jackson Co. D.A. Tony Lawrence’s daughter previously clerked at Dogan and Wilkinson and has publicly expressed an interest in working there after law school. If what I am told is true and Pascagoula is a small enough community where such things would be widely known in the legal circles, I question the thinking that went into Mr. Lawrence leading any investigation into the doings at SRHS, where Dogan and Wilkinson played a central role in the unfolding disaster.

I never had much faith in the Mississippi investigative community and what little I had was shattered when Pickering, former AUSA John Dowdy and pals misused a federal Grand Jury subpoena to seal up the DMR records.  Even if Mr. Lawrence has the best of intentions, the appearance of a conflict of interest is enough for me. Mr. Lawrence should step aside.

First there was the famous Wino of Lafayette Square…..

And now there are signs of life along High Street.

Speaking of Jackson, I seem to remember hearing a Federal Grand jury there was probing aspects of the BP Multidistrict Class Action Litigation in New Orleans or in lawyer parlance the MDL.  If you’re not following Jason Berry’s coverage of that which is happening I highly recommend you pay him a visit and read the last three posts.

Because it is a brother in law deal Day 7: Quality or quantity

I have a quote from a contractor that “never heard back” from MGFB.  The question folks is one of quality or quantity:

The artificial reef community is growing and innovating as the needs for artificial or “Dynamic Reefs” continues to change, and new environments are identified and addressed. Open bids for all Dynamic Reef projects should be encouraged and maintained. Open bids drive innovation and creates a Dynamic Reef suite that also helps the environment. Artificial reefs are more than reef balls, ship drops, and multifaceted shapes for fish propagation. They now include tourism centric design, new ceramic reef modules and a more blended approach to Dynamic Reef design and placement. Put this way, the oceans and ocean environment are constantly changing. Like a master painting you wouldn’t just use one color, the artificial reef bid space needs to be aware of new technologies and paradigms and only open bidding with public input can get us to a more blended and technology savvy Dynamic Reef space for the future.

Here on the coast MGFB’s sites are set a bit lower: Continue reading “Because it is a brother in law deal Day 7: Quality or quantity”

Because it is a brother in law deal. DMR employee lets contracts to his own family

I’ve been chasing this lead for a week but it was the following email that best tells the story:

The sub-grant agreements from DMR to the Mississippi Gulf Fishing Banks, Inc., specifically require compliance with the State Personal Board Contracts regulations requiring bidding and comparable pricing – much like the contracts with Elizabeth Rooks-Barber required.

A couple of sub-grantee agreements were posted documents at Sunherald. Page 417 of the 2008 Artificial Reef Project EDRP, Katrina Money of the publically posted documents is the applicable sub-grant agreement with MGFB, Inc. Section 8.27 of that agreement requires compliance with State Personnel Contract Review Board rules.

Mike Irwin Holmes, the owner/operator of Mike Holmes Construction, is Kerwin Cuevas’ brother-in-law (Kerwin’s wife’s brother).

And my new pen pal was kind enough to provide a link establishing the Brother in law relationship.  I invariably do a supplemental Google search of my own on tips and lo and behold Holmes turns up connected to KEBAWK Response Technologies which certainly worked the oil spill. He is listed as a partner to KEBAWK so what we have here is a brother in law deal with a side partnership (once removed).

Worth noting is the MGFB contracts with Mike Holmes Construction LLC since December 2011 are technically a nullity since Mike Holmes Construction LLC was administratively dissolved by the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office back in December, 2011.

Since this is a brother in law deal we gotta drill down a bit on another Special Purpose Entity acting the part of middleman to what appears to be specious activity:

Even more curious is why DMR used MGFB for the reef building work.  DMR has the permits to build the reefs.  The posted records show that all MGFB did was act as a conduit to forward Mike Holmes and Matthews Marine’s invoices to DMR for payment.

Here is one page of many in the Sun Herald document dump that deals with Kerwin Cuevas and Mike Holmes. Click the pic to nab the PDF via the Sun Herald: Continue reading “Because it is a brother in law deal. DMR employee lets contracts to his own family”

A man can not serve two masters: A pair of stories to illustrate the point.

Nowdy covered the civil cases related to the political prosecution of former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz back when she was active here on Slabbed and it pairs up well with a topic I’ve covered in Jefferson Parish in the suit filed by Anne Marie Vandenweghe against the Parish and former interim Parish President Steve TheRiot. I noted some recent news in Lampton that has implications for the suit against the Parish as we again find the law firm of Phelps Dunbar in an interest conflicted situation.  I’ll begin with the Sun Herald’s Anita Lee:

Dunn Lampton, now deceased, then took the tax records of Diaz and his wife, Jennifer Diaz, to the Mississippi Judicial Performance Commission. Leslie Lampton was a commission member at the time and was part of an investigation involving the tax records, which ended without action in December 2008.

A 5th Circuit panel already has ruled Dunn Lampton was not immune from a lawsuit because he was acting outside the scope of his official duties as U.S. attorney when he turned over the tax records to the commission.

A trial judge had ruled neither Dunn Lampton nor Leslie Lampton was immune from a lawsuit.

I mention this because Phelps Dunbar is evidently representing both the Parish and former interim Parish President Steve Theriot. You see folks, Continue reading “A man can not serve two masters: A pair of stories to illustrate the point.”

The Times Picayune becomes hip to why legal conflicts of interest are not in the public’s interest.

And they even wrote an editorial yesterday to prove it.  Here at Slabbed we’ve been hip to that concept for quite some time most recently in the case of BP using a middle man to purchase certain Louisiana politicians such as Bobby Jindal, Mary Landrieu and such.  I bet USA v St Pierre left an impression with the folks at the T-P as well as ol’ Marky Mark used Jackson based lawyer Danny Drake to do some of his dirty work. Welcome aboard guys.  😉

sop

In this episode of Magnum J.D.: April fools or MAD, Team Magnum files an answer and reconventional demand in the lawsuit involving his former partners. (The problem with telling lies is keeping them straight)

Folks Team Magnum, in what I can only describe as an April fools joke, filed an Answer and Reconventional Demand in the suit involving his brother and other former partners at the firm of Gauthier Houghtaling & Williams who left the firm I’m told because of the massive conflict of interests Team Magnum has playing both sides against the middle representing clients against BP while simultaneously representing BP.

The answer contains all the stock denials that one would expect in the early stages of a lawsuit but Team Magnum is taking this a step further with their Reconventional Demand on page 13 of the pdf I linked above. In paragraph 145 Magnum essentially admits to his blatant conflict of interest involving BP while he centers his attack against his former partners making allegations of client poaching that really have no context absent the conflict of interest involving Houghtaling’s company Ocean Therapy Solutions doing business with BP while he trolled for clients to sue BP and Magnum’s lust to sign a legal representation contract with BP. Let’s revisit a the key point in paragraph 145 and compare to the contemporary news report we featured back in June 2010 from Fox 8:

While Huber, Slack, Brian Houghtaling, Pandit and Thomas were encouraged to generate new business for the firm (with GHW Continue reading “In this episode of Magnum J.D.: April fools or MAD, Team Magnum files an answer and reconventional demand in the lawsuit involving his former partners. (The problem with telling lies is keeping them straight)”