The LSU Board of Supervisors’ decision to replace the newly appointed chairman of the New Orleans University Medical Center Management Corporation Board only days after she was named to the key post by LSU System President Dr. John Lombardi stinks to high heaven. And it's got the Jindal administration's finger prints all over it. Still, we can’t quite figure out the series of events or motivation that replaced Lafayette attorney Elaine Abell with Robert Yarborough, a Baton Rouge businessman who is the most recent Jindal appointee on the board.
On Thursday the LSU System announced Abell’s appointment to chairman of the LSU-affiliated medical center board, which will oversee the ambitious $1.2 billion 424-bed facility that is replacing Charity Hospital and the temporary LSU Public Hospital that opened after Hurricane Katrina. But by Monday, the LSU System put out a tersely worded release, one that deviated in format and style from its earlier releases, saying the “board leadership heard from a majority of the LSU Board of Supervisors, who expressed a preference for having a Board of Supervisors member serve in the position of chair of the Academic Medical Center board.” Abell, an LSU Law Center graduate and current member of IberiaBank’s board of directors, served on the LSU Board of Supervisors from 1988 to 1994, including one year as chairman.
Monday’s release also cited “input from the Governor’s office,” in announcing that Yarborough, who also is Jindal's campaign treasurer, had been appointed chairman. The UMC Management Corp. is a private, not-for-profit entity affiliated with LSU under state law. The new medical facility, which will be paid for in part by approximately $800 million in money previously appropriated by the state and a judgment against FEMA, is intended to be operated with “best practices” management to provide a world-class academic medical center for Louisiana. To complete the project, the state must secure another $400 million to $500 million in financing by year’s end.
In accepting the appointment as chair, Abell was ready to hit the ground running, saying the first meeting of the new board would be held in August. “One of the first actions of the board will be to determine the feasibility of obtaining $400 million to complete the project,” she said. If all goes as planned, the facility could be open by late 2014.
Monday’s release does not identify the “majority” of board members, whether they were polled (which would constitute a "walking quorum" and be a violation of the state’s open meetings law), or who in the governor’s office intervened. The LSU Board of Supervisors is, in essence, Lombardi's boss. The release also made no mention of the fact that the governance agreement or bylaws for the medical center board, which consists of four LSU seats, gives Lombardi the authority to name the chairman from his four appointees. All four appointees were approved by the Board of Supervisors July 16. The agreement also gives Tulane and Xavier one representative each on the board, with the seventh seat rotating among Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans and Delgado Community College. Jindal also named four board members not affiliated with the universities who must be confirmed by those seven members.
LSU System Vice President for Communication Charles Zewe said he did not know the names of the board members compromising the majority, nor does he know how they made their positions known. “You are going to have to get that from our board chairman, Mr. [Blake] Chatelain,” Zewe says. Chatelain, who is president of Red River Bank in Alexandria, is out of town and not available for comment, his office said.
Asked about the appropriateness of the governor’s involvement in these types of matters, Zewe, who has headed communications for the LSU System for five years, responded: “You’re asking me a loaded question. I’m not going to comment on that.”
Kyle Plotkin, Jindal’s press secretary, issued the following statement in response to The Independent’s request for more information: “We think Bobby will do a great job as Chairman. The important thing now is that all board members start working together to quickly establish a world class academic medical center that provides first-rate care, trains the medical workforce of the future and attracts more research funding to our state.” Plotkin, however, did not address a question about why Jindal’s office would exert this kind of influence when specific legal authority had been granted to Lombardi.
At least two other members of the LSU Board of Supervisors, Rod West of New Orleans and Alvin Kimble of Baton Rouge, told the Times-Picayune they were not part of any discussions about Yarborough’s appointment (West and Baptist Community Ministries President Byron Harrell of New Orleans are the other two Lombardi appointees to the medical center board). Kimble said he was unaware of the move till he was told by the T-P. Kimble said Lombardi had made board members aware of Abell’s appointment before last Thursday. “I’m sure Mr. Yarborough will do a fine job, but this is highly unusual,” Kimble told the New Orleans paper.
Abell would not comment on the matter, beyond saying she hopes the board can continue its vital work without these types of unnecessary distractions. “I don’t have any comment at this time. I just hope the board can come together and help develop a world-class academic center for the people of New Orleans and this state. I would hope that there is not too much political interference in all this but that may not be possible.”
The T-P also noted precedence for Jindal’s pressure in the LSU Board of Supervisors’ affairs.
In 2008, Kimble was in line to be elected chairman of the LSU board until Jindal’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, maneuvered an 8-8 deadlock between Kimble and Shreveport physician John George. As a compromise, Jindal shifted his support to Chatelain, then one of the board’s newest members, as Yarborough is now.
Teepell, who has a heavy hand in the governor’s affairs, is taking a three-month leave from the governor’s office to help with gubernatorial races in other states. His leave, however, didn’t start till Aug. 1. That was Sunday, which means he had plenty of time to stir up this current mess.
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.