by Marion Marks
The Caddo Parish Commission has been splashed in every media from print to TV stations, blogs, FaceBook page and email alleging serious illegal activities of elected officials, administrators and those hired to handle legal issues and guidance for citizens of Caddo Parish. However, glaring legal failures like potholes in the CPERS retirement system appear to have sidetracked far too much of the discussion about criminal activities, and factual errors in reporting seem to discredit many well-meaning people. I suggest those who should have known of the illegal participation are the most guilty – the paid legal team.
I’ve watched as the topic has degenerated into bitter feuds among well-meaning good people. Friends have stopped talking and bitterly hammered each other because bad decisions that may turn out to be criminal conduct, in the opinion of good legal minds, and the court decision, have dragged us into this cesspool. Personally, I blame bad legal advice and greed for much of the mess. When elected officials and paid consultants place leveraged public funds at risk and greedily seek to enrich those whose service should be for the betterment of the community, we all suffer.
The initial arguments and questions about the CPERS program participation by elected commissioners appears to have become quite clearly resolved based on previous legal opinions and investigations of the obvious facts in the record. However, some facts have not been clearly reported by too many participants in the discussion.
A simple public records demand. based on Public Records Law (R.S. 44:1-41) should have been filed and shared long before much of this current eruption. It’s really not difficult to demand these records, and here were the three questions I posed Woody Wilson, Parish Administrator and the legal staff at Government Plaza. Provide:
1. Names of all current and past elected commissioners participating in CPERS retirement program as well as all other non-full-time participants past and present in the program.[Actual file provided] [Revised list of financial participants!]
3. Record of ALL legal opinions sought and provided regarding the participation of elected commissioners in the CPERS program.
The answers I received were not completely a surprise, as I had previously asked questions of some commissioners based on the litigation filed March 16, 2015 by Elliott Stonecipher thru attorneys at the Pesnell law firm. The litigation seems to be filed AFTER some commissioners, made aware of the legal issues of their participation in CPERS formally requested that they be removed from CPERS and that ALL monies deposited in their retirement account be refunded to the parish.
Based upon a public records request to the Caddo Parish Commission, clarification of the CPERS participation by commissioners, reported to be illegal, revealed the following. In a letter dated February 5, 2015, on Caddo Commission letterhead commissioners Michael Thibodeaux, Jim Smith, Matthew Linn, John Escude, Doug Dominick and David Cox directed the administration to “immediately withdraw participation in the Caddo Parish funded portion of CPERS until such time as a judicial resolution has been reached as to its legality. When resolution is reached I/we will take the appropriate action necessary.”
Based upon what I have been told, several commissioners believed this request to withdraw was not a strong enough response because threatened legal action appeared imminent. Elliott Stonecipher and others believed the illegality and personal liabilities associated with the original CPERS program as conceived, approved and endorsed by former commissioners and endorsed by legal advisors of the time led several current commissioners to immediately withdraw from the CPERS program. Michael Thibodeaux, Jim Smith, Doug Dominick and Matthew Linn filed letters requesting withdrawal from the program immediately. These letters, dated March 5 – 9 of 2015 were on record prior to the litigation filed in Caddo district court March 16, Case 533,388-A by Elliott Stonecipher. These actions seem to be significant in current legal proceedings, but my PRR received no indication that money has actually been refunded to the taxpayer account.
The plot becomes clouded when it also appears that no longer serving commissioners also illegally may have participated in the CPERS program, and their monies will also have to be returned. These include Clifford Collins, Michael Long, Gif Gillen, Joyce Bowman, Lindora Baker, Bob Brown, Ron Webb, Sam Jenkins, Jim Morris and Hershel Brown. Will the law require the estates of those deceased to return illegally received monies?
This revelation seems add new wind to the litigation and stories that too many have used public monies to get legal advice that was not only bad, but will cost the public dearly. Correcting any error in reporting should carry the same weight or “splash” as the original story. And all reporters should be concerned with the splash as well as the accuracy of information.
The facts regarding some members of the commission named in the litigation requires correction, because aggressively publishing known inaccurate information in the public realm is more serious offense than being told erroneous information, but not repeating it. As the masthead of our blog quotes from William Shakespeare, “The truth will out.” The appropriate modern equivalent ancillary quote should be “follow the money,” because motivations today must be questioned from the viewpoint of, “who has gained from given actions?”
NOTE: questions on additional facts cause me to add the following: Caddo Parish Ordinance 3762 of 2000. Section 2-52. Authorized Membership in the program -and was approved by Commissioners Jim Morris, Rose McCulloch, Carl Pierson, Sr., Gif Gillen, Joyce Bowman, Ken Epperson, Sr., Patrick Williams, John Escude, Bob Brown, Danny Dumas, Ron Webb, and Forest Davis. Each of these should also be responsible for returning to taxpayers or altering their “benefits” package.
The Ordinance that made the plan active, Ordinance No. 4343 of 2005, received eight votes of approval: – Joyce Bowman, Clifford Collins, David Cox, Gif Gillen, Michael Long, Rose McCulloch, Jim Morris, and Ron Webb – but the other four votes were recorded “Absent” – Lindora Baker, Bob Brown, Stephanie Lynch and Carl Pierson, Sr. – information research by Elliott Stonecipher