Now, Baton Rouge and Lafayette Put Caddo to Shame

March 31, 2016
When the subject is the Caddo Parish School Board and its current administration, we are never far from more news of its dramatic spiral-down.  Yet, the whole truth of any given school system violation of law or the public trust is always instructive.  In no case, any longer, should our school system officials or their many sponsors be taken at their “word.”

What should happen in response to open lawlessness among public officials is spotlighted in an editorial in today’s Advocate.  Editorialists at the Baton Rouge-New Orleans-Acadiana newspaper hammered Lafayette City Marshall Brian Pope for openly breaking our state Public Records Law in a request from and by another newspaper, The Independent in Lafayette.  (SEE editorial here.)

Put directly, many CPSB members and administrative bosses are as lawless as Lafayette Marshall Brian Pope, but we have no allies in officialdom or the media to take such offenders to task for their lawbreaking.  As I explained in an article on the first day of this month (article here), flipping-off the public’s right to know whatever the heck the public wants to know is supposed to matter.  Here, officialdom and its substantial army of sponsors don’t give a damn.

My request back in February to Dr. Goree – our legally designated “Custodian of Records” for purposes of the Louisiana Public Records Law – was straightforward.  I wanted documents detailing how much taxpayer money he and the CPSB threw away by “saving” ancient and empty schools rather than leasing, selling or razing them.

Even I was floored with the resulting flip-off by our top public school official.  Though he had three days to furnish those (few) documents, he instead wrote to say that he would try to have them to me in a month.  Any who deal with such public records requests know Dr. Goree might as well have spit on the public.  So far, I know some $4,000,000 was thrown away.

More recently, I learned from a trusted source that some CPSB members have hatched a specific set of talking points to celebrate this lawlessness.  The stunning CPSB plan is to tell “naysayers” – a reference to any who oppose the CPSB – there are “too many” such requests, and they are draining the time and resources of Goree and his staff.

What these malfeasors wanted was for me to, as the Public Records Law directs, take them to court.  The only problem is, my lawsuit to recover taxpayer money stolen by Caddo Parish Commissioners in their retirement system stick-up sits frozen “in court,” more than a year after attorney Whitney Pesnell filed it.

Here are parts of The Advocate editorial I celebrated when reading of Marshall Pope’s dramatic comeuppance:

“Now, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards has decided to teach Pope a lesson, giving him a jail sentence and thousands of dollars in penalties for flouting the state’s public records law.  We hope Edwards’ judicial philosophy catches on.  It’s desperately needed in an era when officials routinely flout public records laws meant to hold them accountable, leaving citizens with little means to fight back. …………….

Pope has been ordered to pay $18,800 in penalties, along with more than $77,900 in attorney fees and court costs from The Independent’s suit against Pope.  The judge said evidence produced by the suit serves as possible grounds to investigate Pope for perjury and malfeasance in office. ……………..

Mounting a legal challenge to officials who refuse to turn over public records can be expensive and time-consuming, pitting crusader Davids against Goliath government agencies with plenty of resources to prevail.  In holding Pope’s feet to the fire, Edwards has helped tipped the scales of justice toward accountability.”

No such luck here, of course.  Caddo Parish residents are now watching as evidence unfolds in an attempted official cover-up of employee theft at Woodlawn High School, and fraud involving federal Title 1 and other taxpayer funds.  Make no mistake, Team Goree and the CPSB hide things for an obvious reason:  they have much to hide.

Working against our systemic corruption in Caddo Parish is more than merely daunting.  I thank God for the sanity of thought, heart, soul and purpose expressed in this editorial today.

It is sad, almost beyond imagining, that it had to come from Baton Rouge and Lafayette.

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent.  He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article.  His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted.  Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)

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