Taxpayers Absorb Huge Blow… Atkins Joins Corruption Crowd in Blocking CPERS Vote!

With little fanfare, John E. Atkins and his Community Foundation coalition stuck a dagger in the hearts of taxpayers who know that the CPERS scandal is our greatest test for the future of our parish.  It is the decision to ensure the continuance of our corruption culture or finally stand up and have accountability after all these decades of corruption ruling our home.

In November 2015 the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, Daryl Purpera reported on the $258,665 (not counting interest) of illegal Caddo Commission retirement benefits known as CPERS(report here).  This also doesn’t include hundreds of thousands in illegal salary increases and travel reimbursements that the self-enriching Commissioners still take (only one, Mike Middleton, is holding the disputed salary increase in escrow for now).

During last Fall’s election, the seminal issue was the CPERS scandal.  John Escude, one of the most corrupt Commissioners was thumped in his reelection bid and didn’t even make the runoff.  New candidates challenged incumbents, and it appeared that the public would get the change they were demanding.  In many Southeast Shreveport circles, the great white hope that would step down from his throne to fix the Commission was none other than wealthy businessman, John E. Atkins.

In the 4-5 months that he’s been in office, he’s taken down all of his campaign literature and his website.  Suffice it to say that most of it was nebulous and vague, including promises of transparency, accountability and good government (note: it is unclear if any candidate has ever run on the opposite platform… ever).  His entry into the race went unopposed, so he won upon qualifying for the race.  Nevertheless, this writer called for his withdrawal from the Commission upon learning of his humongous conflicts of interest in serving the public while he had a tremendous stake in Argent Financials (read here).  Sources say that his stake in that company is larger than the ENTIRE amount of cash grifted from the public by those self-enriching Commissioners over a couple of decades.

Last Monday, even though he has zero personal money at risk in the CPERS scandal, Atkins and his coalition on the Commission killed taxpayer’s best shot at finally resolving getting our money back.  Commissioner Mike Middleton put together (in spite of objections by the Commission’s legal counsel) Resolutions 40, 41 & 42 (read here).  These resolutions have been the most significant test of our new Caddo Commission.  The resolutions are fairly straightforward and involve:

  1. Cutting off the excessive billing by outside counsel in the matter.  The outside legal tab is over $88,000 and growing.  Caddo Parish also employs attorney, Donna Frazier, to work on behalf of the Commission in a full time capacity.
  2. Attempt to enter into mediation with Elliott Stonecipher, who discovered the theft and sued the Commissioners when they sought to defend their illicit gains.  The apparent attempt in this was to have Mr. Stonecipher drop his lawsuit upon satisfaction that all illicit monies were returned to Caddo Parish.
  3. Resolve that the Caddo Commissioners, past and present, pay back the entirety of their taxpayer funded portion of the illegal CPERS retirement benefit.

Very little could be more straight-forward.  Middleton was attempting to put the Commission to the ultimate test.  If this went before a vote, they would have to once and for all declare where they stood on protecting illicit gains vs representing the victims (aka public).  Prior to the meeting, Atkins advised Middleton to not move forward with the resolutions and to not go against the Commission’s legal counsel.  Middleton moved ahead anyway.

Atkins’ and Community Foundation coalition, the heaviest donors to the Steven Jackson campaign, had a plan.  As the resolutions were introduced, Jackson immediately motioned to table ALL of Middleton’s resolutions (seconded by Lyndon Johnson).  The video of this can be found here, at 1hour 37mins and 30seconds.  The corruption choreography continued at 1hour and 44minutes in the video when every single Commissioner except Mike Middleton voted to take the CPERS conversation away from the public light and drag it back into private executive session… barring the public from the room as the Commission and their legal counsel yet again tangled the clear issue up with more legal maneuvering so that Commissioners could keep the money that was taken.

Atkins should be ashamed, but he isn’t.  He excused his vote and his actions away by saying the courts (now in year number two of dragging out Mr. Stonecipher’s lawsuit) are the best place to settle these “complex legal matters.”  Importantly, Mr. Stonecipher and his attorney alone bear the cost and brunt of the CPERS lawsuit and fighting for the return of public money, while self-enriching Commissioners use more public money to defend themselves.

As long as Atkins and other Commissioners stand in the way of the Commission resolving its own problem (potentially much lightyears faster than the courts) then the public is left to rely on Mr. Stonecipher to fight for them, while the extremely wealthy Atkins and his coalition risk nothing, change nothing and accomplish nothing to relieve us of this CPERS scandal.  A reformer, Atkins is not.  The great white hope, he is… but only to those wealthy Shreveporters who want to keep our culture of corruption because of it’s profitability for Atkins and his ilk at the expense of the middle class.

It is worth considering that as Atkins and his cabal stonewall the public, he directly profits from our Caddo Commission’s relationship with Argent Financial each day he wakes up as an “elected” “leader” in Caddo Parish.  Each of those same days, Caddo taxpayers have more of their money lost in this scandal, particularly now as the legal bills rack up.

Side note: The public almost got Mike Middleton to effectively fight for them on this matter.  Those who care should urge Middleton to expose these executive sessions and disclose publicly what is being said.  Middleton may be the only shot any of us have in at least dragging this entire awful scandal into the public light and keeping it there.  The Commissioners’ only ability to defend this clear malfeasance is to drag it through courts and keep their legal strategy in the dark.  Middleton can and should stand directly in the way of that at all cost, knowing that fellow Commissioners may “punish” him for exposing them.  With their votes to take Middleton’s resolutions into executive session, ALL other Commissioners in this current group have all placed their names in the pro-corruption hat and are now active defenders of the CPERS looting.

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