There’s a new organization making its debut in Baton Rouge. It’s called Louisiana Strong, and it’s made up of some of the folks who have been active on issues like the effort to beat back the CATS tax.
When the organization was first noticed by the local media, it was billed by the Baton Rouge Advocate as an answer to the Alinskyite leftist outfit with the faint odor of a criminal conspiracy called Together Baton Rouge. That led to a cacophony of negative comments which looked like these…
Ben Lanier-Nabors · Works at Writer
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. One organization (Together Baton Rouge) is a collection of independent churches and civic groups who want to help improve the lives of people in the area with things like playgrounds, adult literacy, child care, language tutoring, food drives, community outreach, ecumenical bridge building, and the like. So this group is pro-social, pro-citizen, and positive. On the other hand, a second organization (Louisiana Strong) has dredged itself into being as a reaction to what the first organization does, countering positive civic action in the name of neo-Bircher/
neo-McCarthyist “anti-socialism.” So the second group is anti-social and negative, and it’s either deliberately or ignorantly using of the term “socialism” to rationalize and spread its nihilism. It’s objective: to be just one more political front for America’s Neo-Right. (BTW: The only “Reds” threatening our society are not socialists or communists but Red-State Radicals–anti-government, Ayn Rand, right-wing pseudo-anarchists.) Being pro-social (for society) is not being socialist; it’s being civilized, which is a prerequisite for a healthy democracy.
Beatrice Winkler · Top Commenter
TogetherBaton Rouge identifies itself as nonpartisan, so had the people forming this new group been willing to engage in a constructive manner, I assume they would have been welcome to join. But of course they can’t do that, because today’s conservative mindset seems to be that anyone who thinks differently is to be treated with fear and suspicion, an enemy trying to take something from you and who cannot even be talked to. Just look at the article.
So instead they hive off into their own little group, where they only have to associate with people who validate what they already think. Not exactly an environment conducive to the development of new ideas that can accomplish something positive.
Michele Fournet · Southeastern Louisiana University
Yes, a horde of left-wing radicals is really running Baton Rouge now! Hahahaha. And the ghost of Saul Alinsky is haunting our streets? Double hahaha. Gimme a break. You right wing anit-tax, anti-government, anti-poor people folks just can’t stand to have even a small group of rational human beings threaten your grip on this city. Get over it.
That was Monday.
But before Louisiana Strong got its first press notices, something else was going on in local politics in Baton Rouge. Namely, that Together Baton Rouge was bringing people who wanted a seat on the board for the Capitol Area Transit System, the parish’s smoking hole of corruption and incompetence which nevertheless will enjoy $18.5 million per annum in tax revenue to run empty buses for the next nine years and change thanks to TBR’s electoral prowess, in front of a “vetting” committee.
And boy did Together Baton Rouge’s gang do a good job with that process. This will fill you with civic pride.
Or maybe something else.
Here was the video interview of Bill Johnson, who was one of two finalists for the board seat Together Baton Rouge and their group presented to the Metro Council…
That went pretty well, didn’t it?
Who was on the committee asking those questions? Well, this is what Together Baton Rouge says the composition of that committee was…
The Qualifications Review Committee consists of representation from the following organizations: AARP Louisiana, Arc Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Baton Rouge Bar Association, Baton Rouge Community College, Center for Planning Excellence, Baton Rouge Hospital System, Louisiana Engineering Society, Louisiana State University, Southern University and Together Baton Rouge.
One might assume that the representatives from such organizations would have some idea of how to conduct a job interview.
As someone who spent some time as a corporate recruiter in a previous life, your humble correspondent can attest that two things are fairly basic requirements in vetting candidates for employment. First is a background check to find out if there are any obvious skeletons in the applicant’s closet which, while they might not disqualify him or her for the position, will need to be brought up in the interview. And second is a fairly standard question along the lines of “is there anything in your background that might serve to damage your qualifications for this position, and if so would you be willing to discuss that so we can get it out in the open and evaluate it with your side of the story as part of the record?”
That second part is a test of the candidate’s honesty. We all have a past, and minor blemishes – or even some major blemishes – which are disclosed and explained don’t need to destroy a candidacy for a job. It is, however, important to do the first part of the vetting to know if a candidate has something to explain, and should that candidate answer the question of the second part by saying that he/she has a clean slate and nothing to disclose then his/her resume immediately goes into the round file because not only does he/she have a past but he/she can’t be trusted to be truthful with the employer.
It’s especially important to do that vetting for a position which may involve the ability to lay one’s hands on the public’s money. And the CATS board seat Bill Johnson tested so well for was formerly held by an individual named Montrell McCaleb, who was shown the door from the board when it was discovered that CATS funds “magically” made their way into paying for his phone and satellite TV bills. Mr. McCaleb is now contemplating a defense to criminal charges, and his future public-sector employment prospects are not the best.
So you’d expect that Together Baton Rouge, whose credibility and reputation have been a smoldering ruin since the public began finding out about the scope of the graft engine its efforts to pass that tax last year have built, would want to work extra hard to insure its future endeavors where CATS is concerned were on the up-and-up.
And yet you didn’t hear anyone on Together Baton Rouge’s committee ask Johnson the magic question, did you? Nope. You didn’t.
As it turns out, nobody did the first important piece of candidate vetting either…
Rachel DiResto, executive vice president for the Center for Planning Excellence and a member of the vetting committee, said it was not the committe’s responsibility to perform criminal background checks for CATS applicants.
And that’s a bit unfortunate, because a simple Google search of William Johnson out of Zachary, Louisiana – which those right-wing Tea Party nut jobs at Louisiana Strong did manage to do – turned up something enchanting…
Advocate, The (Baton Rouge, LA)
December 16, 2006
Grand jury charges 4 with fraud
Four people accused of taking part in a scheme that involved the fraudulent solicitation of funds for the Slaughter and Zachary D.A.R.E. programs were indicted by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury on theft and conspiracy charges, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office reported Friday. The grand jury indicted Brian Joseph Brady, 36, 4544 St. Gerard Ave., Baton Rouge; Edward Allen Waller, 47, 5438 E. Homochitto Road, Gloster, Miss.; Kimball Gill, 40, 6881 Highway 567, Liberty, Miss.; and William”Bill” Johnson, 56, 14044 Brantley Drive, Baker.
Felony theft carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and conspiracy a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The four men were arrested in May after Zachary business owners complained they received several calls from people soliciting funds for the D.A.R.E. programs, the Attorney General’s Office reported. The D.A.R.E. program, or Drugs Awareness Resistance Education, uses police officers to teach children the dangers of alcohol and drugs.
The Attorney General’s Office reported that the solicitations were being made under the name of the Metro Magnolia Peace Officer’s Association. The governing board of that association knew nothing about the solicitations, the Attorney General’s Office reported.
Isn’t that great?
As it turns out, Johnson pled guilty in March 2009 to attempted felony theft. He was given a one-year jail sentence and let out on time served, and he was released on unsupervised probation for one year with a requirement that he make restitution to the victims. To the tune of $3,000, which was apparently his end of the $13,000 his little syndicate ripped off from the business owners in Zachary.
This guy isn’t Jean Valjean. He was wearing orange shower shoes not six years ago, and not someplace far away. He’s guilty of ripping people off in the community, and recently.
Nevertheless, Together Baton Rouge and their blue-ribbon panel of vetters sent him up as a finalist for the job, and but for the fact that the Metro Council couldn’t decide between him and another finalist – and put off a decision until Wednesday night’s meeting – he would have been confirmed as the fresh new crook on the CATS board.
Until the Louisiana Strong folks showed up and rained on the parade with the results of their googling.
Councilman John Delgado was a bit perplexed…
“It shows a breakdown in the vetting process when something like this slips through the cracks,” said Metro Council John Delgado, who said he had planned to vote for Johnson before learning the information.
Let’s call that an understatement.
Do we have enough information on Together Baton Rouge and its grand poo-bah Brod Bagert to suggest their putting Johnson’s name forward was something more than rank, Obamacare-style incompetence? One thing TBR hasn’t shown itself to be is incompetent; you could say it’s a bunch of creeps, and you could say it’s a stealth leftist outfit, and you could say it’s about as bent as the Mighty Mississippi – but while giving that organization the authority to govern is akin to giving whiskey and car keys to 14-year old juvenile delinquents it’s not accurate to say these are people so stupid as to offer up inmates late of the parish prison for duty on public boards without knowing what they’re doing.
Together Baton Rouge is supposed to be a community organizing outfit. Are we to believe that they don’t know who’s in the community they want to organize?
So we’ll go there, and we’ll say it looks to us that sending Johnson up the flagpole was a brazen attempt to restock the CATS board with crooks who would re-establish the graft engine that broke down when McCaleb and former board chairman Isiah Marshall overdosed on sunshine earlier this year. And had it not been for the mean racist kooky white people at Louisiana Strong Bagert and his cronies would have gotten away with it.
Does it look like something else to you?
We’ll admit it if we’re wrong. In fact, it’s entirely possible that we are. Because this is who ended up being confirmed as the newest member of the CATS board…
Linda Perkins seems like a nice lady. But here’s something nobody managed to ask her about during her interview and she didn’t exactly blurt it out, either. Turns out she’s a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Democrat Party Executive Committee.
In other words, a political party hack who’ll be on a public board which votes to dispense patronage in the form of contracts and so forth.
Nothing suspicious about that at all. Right, Councilman Ryan Heck?
Councilman Ryan Heck said he was disappointed his colleagues didn’t see a problem with inserting a political partisan to the CATS board.
“It would conversely be inappropriate to put someone form the (Republican Parish Executive Committee) on the board,” he said. “We need proven business professionals on the CATS board. Period.”
Oh. So somebody else sees a problem as well.
You’ve got to give the Together Baton Rouge people credit. CATS is their pride and joy, and pulling their hooks out of it is a bit like getting Michael Jackson off the kindergarten playground. As long as Together Baton Rouge is in business and there is a Capitol Area Transit System, those crazy Tea Party type folks at Louisiana Strong are going to need to Google away, and report their findings loudly.