April 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007

UL journalism professor called to Afghanistan

Fifty-nine-year-old UL journalism professor Robert Buckman has been recalled to active duty by the Army Reserve and expects to report to Afghanistan sometime in July. Buckman retired from the Army Reserve nine years ago after 28 years of commissioned service but is still subject to recalls. "They are badly in need of people," says Buckman, who's had two hip replacements and a shoulder replacement in the past ten years but still managed to pass an army physical two and a half years ago.

Buckman says he contacted the Army following 9-11 to volunteer but was told he wouldn't be needed. About three years ago, Buckman says the Army began calling back and he was nearly deployed to Iraq last summer. There's still a slim chance Buckman's dispatch to Afghanistan may fall through but he's been issued a G.O. letter, meaning an Army general has signed off on his deployment and he's already contacted the University with the news. Buckman is now awaiting official orders in the coming weeks and expects to report to Fort Benning in June before heading overseas the following month for a year-long tour of duty. Buckman, who is a Lt. Col., says he's been told he will be serving as a deputy director for strategic planning on the joint staff, though he still doesn't know from which base he will be working.

Buckman is coordinator of the print journalism sequence at UL, where he has been teaching since 1989. He entered the military at the tail end of the Vietnam War and has never seen duty inside a war zone before. From the 70s through the 90s, he's served in a series of individual training tours and intelligence assignments, mostly in central and South America, due to his ability to speak fluent Spanish. His last service came in 1998 as a reserve attaché to Colombia.

"It's kind of ironic that after 30 something years I'm finally going to be going into a war zone," Buckman says. "It's gratifying to know they still think I'm useful at 59. I do things that younger people can't keep up with me.

"There are concerns," he adds, "but I'm not upset that I'm going to Afghanistan for a year. I'm concerned about making sure my great dane is going to be well taken care of. They wouldn't let me take him with me. And I got to get my house rented out and things like that."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:51 AM

Banner weekend at Festival International and Jazz Fest

Spurred on by glorious weather, Festival International had a banner year, with attendees packing downtown Lafayette throughout the weekend. An informal poll of Independent staffers yielded these favorite picks: sacred steel act The Lee Boys at the Fais Do Do stage (also one of multiple Gov. Kathleen Blanco sightings); Ba Cissoko's members running their koras through effect pedals to create the equivalent of African techno; and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band mixing in lines about the New Orleans Saints winning the Super Bowl during its version of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

With FIL now a memory, it's time to gear up for second weekend of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. Acadiana performers getting props from The New York Times for their first-weekend Jazz Fest performances include Steve Riley and Rosie Ledet. Chief Times music critic Jon Pareles said of Ledet, "Pfizer might want to contact the sultry zydeco accordionist and singer Rosie Ledet, who puts across some rocking, cleverly risqué two-steps. Her 'Pick It Up' is a cheerful endorsement of Viagra."

by: Scott Jordan 10:25 AM

L.A.Times: Cut the red tape

In a recent editorial, the Los Angeles Times says that Washington is dragging its feet in its efforts to help rebuild New Orleans. At issue, is Louisiana's share of the bill for rebuilding:

The federal government footed 100% of the bill after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, hurricanes Andrew and Iniki in 1992 and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Federal spending on Sept. 11 repairs amounted to $390 per resident of New York state, a historic amount at the time. But that was dwarfed by the $6,700 per Louisiana resident for Katrina and Rita. …

Rebuilding New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities will be enormously expensive, but if the country is in for a penny, it should be in for a pound. There's no point in trying to squeeze more money out of Louisiana for repairs — it has enough problems coping with its fractured tax base and ineffective governance. Doubling the regulatory burden not only creates pointless busywork, it runs counter to Bush's political philosophy. The administration should require Louisiana to spend the aid wisely, but that goal isn't served by tying up the money in red tape.

Read also "A post-Katrina doctor drought" about New Orleans' health care crisis.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:19 AM

Bill will protect Lake Peigneur

When the state legislative session opens today at noon, a bill aimed at prohibiting drilling in and around Lake Peigneur will be on the agenda. House bill 617, filed by St. Martin parish Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand is designed to give the coup de grâce to AGL Resources' attempts to drill two additional natural gas storage caverns into the Jefferson Island salt dome, deep beneath the lake. Residents fought the drilling of the first two caverns, and have continued to protest plans for expansion. Last year, Durand successfully shepherded a resolution through the legislature requesting that the Department of Natural Resources not issue the necessary permits for AGL to drill the caverns. DNR head Scott Angelle noted problems with lease payments from AGL then stopped its cavern-expansion plans over summer 2006. In Dec., 2006, AGL filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana Mineral Board and the Department of Natural Resources seeking an injunction against the state. Durand says she wants to put an end to all oil and gas activity except directional drilling at the lake which straddles the Iberia and Vermilion parish lines. "Hopefully this will give the lake the rest that it needs, and allow the people who live there and who come to visit an opportunity enjoy the beauty," Durand says.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:11 AM

Blanco jumping back in?

With no viable Democrat yet to emerge in the governor's race, Gov. Kathleen Blanco isn't dispelling speculation she may be having a change of heart about her decision not to seek re-election. The governor's spokeswoman, Marie Centanni, would not comment on the issue this morning but hinted more news may be forthcoming early this afternoon. "Watch today's 1 p.m. speech," Centanni says. The Advocate reported Sunday that Blanco did not shoot down such speculation when TV reporters questioned her about them at the Governor's Mansion Thursday. "This is Louisiana, and lots of exciting things can happen between now and the election," she said. Later that day, however, Centanni said, "The governor is certainly enjoying her current status, and she expects it to stay the same."

This morning Centanni said she meant Blanco is content with her status as a governor not seeking re-election, a comment that adds even more mystery to the issue. Blanco likely bowed out of the race March 20 to pave the way for former Sen. John Breaux, but some political pundits believe Breaux's disappointing decision not to run may have her rethinking the strategy.

by: Leslie Turk 8:38 AM

Friday, April 27, 2007

UL formally announces Authement is stepping down

At 2:40 p.m. today, The INDsider broke the story of UL President Ray Authement's plans to step down after 33 years at the helm of the university. The 78-year-old made the surprise announcement at the UL Board of Supervisors regular meeting, held today at Lafayette's LITE center. Authement will stay on until a replacement is named, a process that – if done correctly – should take at least a year. His announcement appears to be more of a retirement rather than a resignation, which is how UL officials initially characterized it. Read the university's formal announcement here, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco's statement here.

(photo from today's UL Board of Supervisor's meeting by Terri Fensel)

by: Leslie Turk 4:52 PM

UL Lafayette President Ray Authement resigns

UL Lafayette President Ray Authement announced less than an hour ago that he is resigning his post. UL spokeswoman Julie Dronet says Authement made the announcement to the UL System board, which held its regular meeting today at Lafayette's LITE center. Authement, who has held the post for 33 years, is 78 years old. Dronet says she will formally release more details later today.

by: Leslie Turk 2:29 PM

Lafayette Marine killed in Iraq

Just after six o'clock this morning, Aporil Celestine wrote to her husband on his MySpace webpage: "I keep sending you messages like you are going to write me back as soon as you get back from your convoy. It just doesn't feel real. I'm praying that this isn't true. I'm praying that you would write me back and tell me that it was a mistake." Willie Celestine Jr. died in Iraq while serving as a U.S. Marine. His MySpace page - which says he was 21 years old and a 2004 graduate of Acadiana High School - has become a place for friends and family to mourn and remember him.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:19 AM

LSU expects banner day at NFL draft

Based on numerous projections, LSU could have as many as seven players selected in this weekend's NFL draft, including Breaux Bridge native Jessie Daniels and Lake Charles' Justin Vincent. The Tigers will likely have three first round drafts picks, with two top 10 picks in Safety LaRon Landry and QB JaMarcus Russell, who is expected to go as the overall No.1 pick. Russell stands to become just the second LSU Tiger selected first in the NFL draft, joining legendary Heisman trophy winner Billy Cannon, who went to the Los Angeles Rams with the first pick of the 1960 NFL draft. LSU Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe is projected to go late in the first round while fellow wide out Craig "Buster" Davis, who many feel is underrated, is expected to be picked up in the second or third rounds, and could be a possible option for the New Orleans Saints.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:15 AM

Frigg-A-Go-Go tonight at Grant Street

It looks like Frigg-A-Go-Go plans to play an annual gig during the weekend of Festival International. (A year ago, Frigg's Christian Miller asked that we not call the band's performance a "reunion," even though the band had not taken the stage together in over two years.) Tonight Frigg-A-Go-Go headlines at Grant Street Dancehall, with opening acts theTransmission and Morning 40 Federation. Tickets are $15 and doors open at 8 p.m.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:14 AM

Black bear cub back home

An 18 month-old Louisiana black bear was reintroduced to the wild yesterday, after being fed and cared for by the Appalachian Bear Rescue in Tennessee. The cub was found last November in St. Mary Parish by a hunter. He weighed 15 pounds when captured, and was very small and near starvation. Paul Davidson, executive director of the nonprofit Black Bear Conservation Committee told The Advocate that when the cub was rescued, "it was so weak, when it bit you it didn't even hurt."

ABR Curator Lisa Stewart says in the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies newsletter:

The bear is returning to Louisiana a lot healthier than when he got here. We started him out on a commercial formula and yogurts. Then went to a more normal diet of lettuce, pecans and apples. The last month or so we fed him a lot of food that is found more readily where he will be released such as a lot of greens and corn.

When released yesterday in the Red River Wildlife Management Area, the cub was a healthy 90 pounds. Sprung from the steel transportation cage by members of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and the Black Bear Conservation Committee, the cub took off for the woods. Large-carnivore program manager of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Maria Davidson told The Advocate:

He did exactly the thing instinct told him to do. Find the closest tree and climb it. He looks good, very good.

(photo of American black bear from Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies)

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:06 AM

Boasso's switch hit

Gubernatorial candidate and self-made millionaire Walter Boasso is going back to his roots for the October election. The state senator from Arabi confirmed yesterday his switch from the Republican to Democratic Party, saying running as a Democrat will give him the best opportunity to push an agenda for change and reform. The impetus for Boasso's move was the Republican Party of Louisiana's March 21 endorsement of U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, the frontrunner in the race. Says Boasso, "The people of Louisiana, regardless of party affiliation, are in search of a leader, and are eager to stand side by side with someone willing to challenge the establishment and reform our state." Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat, also is in the race. However, the Louisiana Democratic Party isn't likely to endorse a candidate until after qualifying, which takes place Sept. 4-6.

by: Leslie Turk 9:47 AM

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gulf Coast aid tied to Iraq withdrawal

By a vote of 218-208, the U.S. House yesterday passed a $124 million supplemental spending bill that included a timetable for withdrawal that would have most troops out of Iraq by this time next year. The bill largely goes toward funding the Iraq war and also contains almost $7 billion in hurricane aid for the Gulf Coast, including $1.3 billion for New Orleans levee protection, $110 million for fisheries, a two-year extension of Go Zone tax credits, and a waiver of the Stafford Act requirement of a 10 percent local match in hurricane recovery projects. The Senate is expected to pass the bill today, which will then head to President Bush, who is expected to veto it. Bush opposes the bill because of both the timetable for withdrawal and because of the high amount of additional spending included. House votes on the bill fell mostly along party lines, including the Louisiana delegation with Republican Representatives Boustany, Baker, McCrery and Jindal voting against it and Democratic Reps Melancon and Jefferson voting for HR 1591.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:17 AM

AG, outside counsel to aid Iberia investigation

Over the objections of Councilman Naray Hulin, the Iberia Parish Council continues to move forward in their investigation of Parish President Will Langlinais. At last night's council meeting, Hulin pushed diligently for mediation. However the council voted to formally request that the Attorney General's office step in. Executive Director of the Criminal Division Burton Guidry from the AG's office will provide assistance to the council. Additionally the council received a letter from Greg Lavergne, in the Legislative Auditor's office asking for a report in writing within ten business days outlining progress made to correct problems pinpointed in the audit. The council also hired New Iberia attorney Dean Wattigny as "special outside counsel" to represent employees who felt they were being intimidated by Langlinais if they participated in the investigation.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:09 AM

Bayou Bulls tryouts Saturday at Beaver Park

The Lafayette Bayou Bulls semi-pro football team is holding tryouts Saturday, April 28, at Beaver Park (next to Vermilionville). Registration starts at 1 p.m. There is no charge for tryouts, and the public is invited to watch. The Bayou Bulls, a member of the Southern American Football League for the past five years, won the league championship in 2004. Players must be at least 18 years old to try out; both veteran and new players should pre-register by e-mailing General Manager Bill Verret at [email protected]. For more information, call at 230-3741. The Kingoree, the annual jamboree, will be held July 14 at Memorial Stadium in Baton Rouge; the regular season starts July 21 against the Houston Hustlers. The 2007 SAFL will consist of 16 teams (including four new teams out of Texas), compared with 10 teams last year. The Vermilion Spartans, a team out of Abbeville, also formed this year.

by: Leslie Turk 9:18 AM

Black & Gold Nation readies for the NFL draft

NFL fans are counting down the hours ‘til Saturday and the NFL draft. And if you're a New Orleans Saints fan, you're wondering what the Black and Gold brass is cooking up for its No. 27 pick in the first round. General consensus is that the Saints are looking at a couple of cornerbacks (possibly Arkansas' Chris Houston or Texas' Aaron Ross), or a linebacker like Penn State's Paul Posluszny is also an option. The one wild card is whether the Saints have done any behind-the-scenes talks about trading defensive end Charles Grant, who's not happy with his franchise-player tag. It's a long shot, but if Grant were to be traded, he'd certainly command a No. 1 pick, which could change the Saints' plan of attack.

One thing's for sure: Black & Gold Nation doesn't like the rumblings coming out of Atlanta. Falcons owner Alfred Blank is supposedly ready to make a play for coveted wide receiver Calvin Johnson at the No. 2 pick. Another unattractive option is Johnson going to the Buccaneers at the No. 4 slot.

by: Scott Jordan 8:58 AM

Jaryd Lane's "really country"

Country singer and Kaplan native Jaryd Lane performed this past weekend on the public radio program Prairie Home Companion. Lane was one of six finalists - out of 740 contestants – featured on the program's "People in Their Twenties" talent search. Lane (host Garrison Keillor quipped that he's "really country") performed his songs "What Are We Fighting For" and "The Wrangler." You can listen to the entire program or individual segments online. (Lane's performances start at around 25 and 54 minutes into the program.)

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:44 AM

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Racines kick off Festival International tonight

When Mello Joy's oversized meat smoker shows up right outside The Independent Weekly offices, we know one of our favorite times of the year is here. Festival International 2007 kicks off tonight at 6:30 p.m. with Racines; the Steve Riley-led band is a perfect choice to usher in the festivities, as the band deftly plays choice cuts from the Cajun, Creole and zydeco canon. (Gotta love Kevin Wimmer's occasional bullfrog vocals, too.)

Check out this week's issue of The Independent for complete FIL coverage, including profiles on headliners Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Balkan Beat Box, as well as complete band previews for every FIL performer.

by: Scott Jordan 10:26 AM

Fiber engineering firm has proven track record

Lafayette Utilities System and City-Parish President Joey Durel yesterday awarded a $5 million contract to Georgia-based Atlantic Engineering Group to design, and oversee construction of the city's fiber-to-the-home network. The $5 million contract was awarded after a bid process in which LUS reviewed 13 competing companies and found Atlantic had the most extensive engineering experience with municipal fiber networks. Durel issued a statement noting "We have seen first-hand the work that Atlantic Engineering has successfully completed, and we are confident they will help us deliver a superior system to the city and people of Lafayette." Atlantic Engineering has been involved with several of the nation's largest municipal fiber projects. The company did the engineering and construction for networks in Provo, Utah; Bristol, Va.; and Dalton, Ga. – all of which were visited by LUS and city officials while researching fiber-to-the-home. Atlantic Engineering CEO, James Salter, is a former president of the national Fiber to the Home Council.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:15 AM

FEMA's regrettable funding formula

Mary Landrieu has been pushing for disclosure on the discrepancy in federal housing aid between Mississippi and Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Yesterday she grilled Matt Jadacki, deputy inspector general for disaster assistance oversight at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Here's what Jadacki told a Senate subcommittee hearing chaired by Landrieu:

"FEMA could have chosen a funding formula that would have granted Louisiana and Mississippi a more equal share. As a consequence of the FEMA decisions, the communities hardest hit by the 2005 hurricanes did not receive the proportionate shares of the $400 million appropriated for the program."

Mississippi received 72.5 percent of the $400 million to develop alternatives to trailers and mobile homes. Louisiana got 20 percent.

Landrieu, who has characterized Republican Mississippi's lion's share as political, called the discrepancy "inexplicable," in light of the far greater damage Louisiana suffered during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:03 AM

Willie pleads guilty

Back in September, country music legend Willie Nelson was busted with marijuana and mushrooms while driving through St. Martin Parish. Yesterday, Nelson and his tour manager pled guilty to possession of marijuana, were fined $1,024 each, sentenced to six months probation, and given 90-day jail sentences that were suspended. The Advocate reports:

A crowd of about 25 fans gathered outside to see Nelson after his brief court appearance. They waited with cell-phone cameras and scraps of paper scrounged for a signature.

He obliged the audience, taking a few moments to shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures.

"Thank y'all," he said, waving as he climbed into a car waiting in a parking spot marked: "Reserved District Attorney Staff."

The small group cheered as Nelson pulled away.

One woman yelled out, "Go Willie!"

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:43 AM

Lafayette Chamber pushing ethics reform

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, along with a statewide coalition of 30 business, economic development and good government groups, today helped launch a campaign to turn Louisiana into a national model for governmental ethics laws and enforcement. The vision of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, LA Ethics 1 is critical to the future economic development of the state, according to its supporters, who are working with legislators to file an ambitious package of reform bills for the 2007 legislative session. Within two years, LA Ethics 1 hopes to move the state's ethics code to the top of the Better Government Association's rankings. Among other issues, the proposals aim to strengthen access to public records, make government ethics training mandatory, and require personal financial disclosure by legislators and legislative candidates.

by: Leslie Turk 9:24 AM

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Council faces another development appeal

The city-parish council is scheduled to hear another case pitting concerned neighborhood residents against real estate developers tonight. The Business Investment Group out of Baton Rouge wants to build a 74-unit town house complex along the two-lane portion of Kaliste Saloom at East Broussard Road. Residents in the area have been up in arms over the project because they say traffic can already back up for a mile in front of their neighborhood. The issue is the fourth such appeal the council has seen already this year. "It's a continual battle that we're seeing," says Councilman Marc Mouton, whose district splits with Rob Stevenson's along Kaliste Saloom. "We've seen more of these appeals coming before the council than ever."

Mouton adds tonight's decision "ranks up there with one of the issues that I've received the most calls on," mainly from concerned residents. On the other side, Lafayette developer Cecil Trahan, who is serving as the real estate agent on the project, already took out a full page ad decrying the planning commission's opposition to development, and the developers are now offering up a $50,000 donation to the city to help alleviate traffic concerns. "I'm really torn," Mouton says. "This isn't one of those issues where both sides can't win. Somebody's going to leave unhappy tonight."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:47 AM

Levon Helm drums up Civil War hero

Levon Helm, legendary drummer for The Band, will be playing the ghost of General John Bell Hood when In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke begins filming in New Iberia tomorrow. He joins Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black, Cobb, JFK), Kelly Macdonald (Gosford Park, Trainspotting) and Ned Beatty (Deliverance). Helm's most recent appearance is in the just-released movie Shooter with Mark Wahlberg, but his most famous film appearance is as himself in the 1978 rock documentary The Last Waltz which chronicles the final performance of The Band. Notably, one of The Band's signature hits, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," a Civil War lament, is based on Helm's Southern roots. New Iberia's Main Street will be closed Wednesday and Thursday while filming takes place in the historic downtown.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:42 AM

Opelousas' all-night party to end

Since 2004, there's been a 24-hour party going on in Opelousas, especially in the part of town know as "The Hill," where some 2,000 people gather every night. Last night, the Opelousas Board of Alderman voted to turn out the lights on the never-ending party.

In 2003, a law was passed to allow the Evangeline Downs to serve alcohol throughout the night to its customers. A year later, the law was amended to include local bar owners, who argued that Evangeline Downs was being given preferential treatment. Last night, Opelousas' alderman voted to ban liquor sales from 2 until 6 in the morning. (Evangeline Downs is exempted from the new ordinance, since less than 15 percent of its gross sales are derived from alcohol sales.)

Police Chief Perry Gallow told The Advocate that since the 24-hour liquor law's been in effect, the city has spent some $50,000 a year in overtime pay to police to patrol The Hill. The new law goes into effect at the end of May.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:40 AM

The $5.6 million man in the gov's race

With recent polling showing the majority of Louisiana voters open to any candidate in the governor's race, Metairie businessman John Georges — a virtual unknown among voters — says he's put $5.6 million of his own money into his campaign. That's slightly more than U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, the GOP frontrunner, has raised. "Isn't that interesting," Georges told The Advocate Monday. "And I have nobody to answer to but my wife."

Jindal's camp says he's taken in $5.3 million from in- and out-of-state contributors. Campaign reports filed yesterday show the two Republicans with the most money to spend in the October election. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who is not seeking re-election, has yet to say what she'll do with her $3 million war chest.

by: Leslie Turk 10:34 AM

Rare Marc Broussard show tonight at Blue Moon

It's been about five years since Carencro soul sensation Marc Broussard played the Blue Moon Saloon. Cover charge was only $3, and Broussard drew more than 300 fans. That was before Broussard was signed to a major-label deal with Island Records, released the album Carencro in 2004 and became a steady draw on the national nightclub circuit. Tonight Broussard returns to his old stomping grounds for a special show with limited ticketing and some special guests promised. Tickets are $24; doors open at 7 p.m., guitarist Brian Marshal plays at 8 p.m., and expect Broussard to hit the Blue Moon patio stage around 9 p.m.

Broussard could be previewing material from his forthcoming sophomore CD, S.O.S.: Save Our Soul, a collection of classic soul covers like Al Green's "Love and Happiness" and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." For an advance taste of the atmosphere at Blue Moon tonight, check out Broussard's video for his 2004 single, "Home."

by: Scott Jordan 10:22 AM

Monday, April 23, 2007

Katie Holmes "spooked" in Shreveport

Shreveport is awash in Hollywood stars as of late, especially with the filming of the movie Mad Money, starring Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Ted Danson and Katie Holmes. And while star sightings are more common than ever, Us Weekly magazine reports that tragedy was narrowly avoided recently while Holmes was on her way to shop at a Target store.

After getting spooked by a pair of photographers en route to the store, the actress, 28, had her handlers call the local police, who came to the rescue, escorting Holmes inside and trailing her as she browsed for clothes for herself and daughter, Suri.

Who wouldn't be frightened by two Louisiana paparazzi while on the way to shop at Target? But don't worry about Katie. She'll be safe while in Shreveport.

Says Holmes' rep, "The production office gave Katie the name of the chief of police and told her to call if she felt she needed it."

Holmes didn't talk about the horrifying details of her Target nightmare when she spoke to the Shreveport Times:

"I met some really great people, and it was nice," said Holmes, gesturing with a hand sporting a large diamond ring.

"They did recognize me, and it was a pleasure meeting them. We had nice chats about kids, and it was lovely."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:47 AM

Dueling Bobby Jindal Web sites

Now the lone frontrunner is this year's governor's race, Bobby Jindal is galvanizing both fans and critics, who are either elated or petrified by the Metairie congressman's campaign. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Wild West atmosphere of online political blogs, where two dueling Web sites, jindalisgood.com and jindalisbad.com, have cropped up devoted to all things Bobby. Jindalisgood.com calls Jindal "a modern day Alexander Hamilton" and also features a bizarre chronicle of fictional stories, wherein Jindal is visited by a series of former Louisiana governors dating back to the Sauvole de la Villantry. Jindalisbad aims to expose "the truth about Bobby Jindal" and challenges jindalisgood.com for what it claims are several photo-shopped images, including one of a sneering John Breaux holding a martini. Both Web sites feature online stores, with their own exclusive line of t-shirts and bumper stickers.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:37 AM

LHC Group's buying spree continues

Lafayette-based health care provider LHC Group, which has been on a buying spree since its initial public offering in mid-2005, takes over another home health agency May 1, the same day it discusses first quarter 2007 financial results in an earnings conference call scheduled for 9 a.m. Last week LHC Group signed a definitive agreement to buy a controlling interest in Princeton Community HomeCare, a hospital-owned home health agency in Princeton, W. Va. The transaction is valued at about $610,000. LHC Group provides post-acute health care services — both home- and facility-based — primarily to Medicare patients in rural markets throughout 10 southern states. Among its holdings are more than 125 home nursing agencies, six hospices, 12 facility-based locations (seven are long-term acute care hospitals), and a home health pharmacy.

In 2006 alone, LHC Group made 27 acquisitions. The company now has 4,000 employees.

by: Leslie Turk 10:06 AM

Langlinais' lawyer takes aim at Iberia DA

At a recent Iberia Parish Council meeting, Parish President Will Langlinais complained that as a result of the legislative audit investigating alleged wrongdoing, he "had to go out and retain the services of an outside attorney. I've not been kept in the loop." Now Langlinais' lawyer, Paul J. Hebert, a member of Lafayette law firm Ottinger Hebert, is trying to knock Iberia Parish DA Phil Haney, who is investigating Langlinais for criminal behavior, out of the loop as well.

Hebert sent a letter to Haney stating:

It is clear that your office has been directly or indirectly involved in the factual and background events surrounding many of the issues addressed by the Legislative Auditor in his recent report. I believe that our Professional Conduct Rules make it clear that in such a situation you and your office should not be involved in this process.

In addition, since the Iberia Parish Distinct Attorney is the legal advisor to the Parish Government, it is also apparent, due to the nature of several of the claims in these proceedings, that actions or non-actions of your office may be or could be viewed as negligent or gross negligent performance of the stated purpose of your office.

Hebert concludes that for Haney to continue his investigation would be a serious conflict of interest and strongly recommends that any further investigation be handled by an independent counsel or the Attorney General. Hebert is slated address the council Wednesday, April 25.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:04 AM

Louisiana Lightning could be in for long year

UL Lafayette grad, Cy Young award winner and all-around local legend Ron Guidry, AKA Louisiana Lightning, looks like he has his work cut out for him in 2007 as the New York Yankees' pitching coach. A number of Yankee starting pitchers like Mike Mussina are already battling injuries early in the season, so the Yanks are relying on rookies like Chase Wright, a lefty and Guidry protégé. Last night must have been particularly galling for Guidry, as Wright gave up a record-tying four home runs in a row against the Bronx Bombers' hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. The Sox were down 3-0 in the third inning when the onslaught started. As Jason Varitek jacked the fourth Red Sox bomb in a row out of the park, the ESPN cameras caught unflappable Red Sox G.M. Theo Esptein exclaiming "Oh. My. God."

by: Scott Jordan 8:36 AM

Friday, April 20, 2007

NCAA strips titles, scholarships from UL basketball

UL's basketball program is no longer the 2004 and 2005 Sun Belt champs. In fact, its entire record from those years has essentially been erased, with the university prevented from ever making reference to the successful seasons. The devastating blow, which is making national headlines, was handed down by the NCAA because former player Orien Greene's 15 hours of non-UL correspondence courses were incorrectly used in calculating his minimum GPA for eligibility. The program will continue to feel the sting, as the NCAA also took away two basketball scholarships and 90 percent of the money — almost $20,000 — the program got from the Sun Belt Conference for playing in the NCAA tournament in 2004. The football program was also spanked for making summer workouts mandatory rather than voluntary. For that infraction, the team was told to cut its spring workouts from 20 hours to 15 hours for one week, which UL says it has already done. Though it found that the violations were not intentional, the NCAA put UL's athletic department on probation for two years.

by: Leslie Turk 10:45 AM

WRDA passes House; White House voices opposition

Yesterday, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Water Resources Development Act, the omnibus appropriations bill for major flood control and water-related projects, by a 394-25 vote. WRDA, usually passed every two years by Congress, was last passed in 2000. Both the House and Senate passed separate versions of the bill last year, which never made it out of conference committee.

The $15 billion act passed yesterday includes over $2 billion earmarked for South Louisiana, including funds for coastal restoration projects, closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and a channel deepening at the Port of Iberia. The House bill also includes more than $850 million for construction of the 72-mile Morganza to the Gulf levee, a provision that the White House attempted to strip out of WRDA last week.

President Bush is still opposing the bill, wanting states to share in more of the costs of the projects, and limit the total federal price tag to $10 billion. Among Bush's specific objections is a provision the Louisiana delegation fought hard for to lower the state's cost-share in deepening and maintaining coastal harbors and channels. In response, Congressman Charles Boustany has issued a statement noting, "I'm frustrated that the Bush administration is opposed to this provision, but I'm confident that it will not impede this important bill from being signed into law."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:38 AM

A week of music and dance

The Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week kicks into gear this weekend at Chicot State Park outside of Ville Platte. Sponsored by Louisiana Folk Roots, the week-long event features master classes and performances from some of Acadiana's finest musicians. Opening ceremonies for the Roots Heritage Festival on Saturday kick off at noon, followed by performances by Bayou Deville; Corey "Lil Pop" Ledet; T-Salé; Bonsoir, Catin; and Nathan and The Zydeco Cha Chas. Admission is $7 and free to Friends of Louisiana Folk Roots and children 12 and under.

On Sunday, Roots Family Day gets underway at noon with a Catholic Mass in French. The music starts at 3:30 p.m. with Don Fontenot et les Amis de la Louisiane, the Lucky Playboys; and Jeffery Broussard and Creole Cowboys. Admission is $5 and free to Friends of Louisiana Folk Roots and children 12 and under.

For more information visit Louisiana Folk Roots Web site or call Chicot State Park at (337) 363-2403 or (888) 677-2442.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:14 AM

Czech it out

Don't miss the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra's season finale. Distinctive sounds of eastern European composers fill the program on Saturday, April 21. The program begins with Armenian master Khachaturian's Spartacus Suite No. 1: Scene and Dance with Crotalums and Variations of Aegina & Bacchanalia, followed by a sinfonietta by Czech composer Janacek. Russian romantic Borodin's Prince Igor: Polovetsian Dances will be sung by the Choral Acadienne, which will also join the orchestra onstage for the Louisiana premiere of Polish composer Kilar's Exodus. The program starts at 8 p.m. at the Heymann Performing Arts Center. If you can't make the evening show, Sneak Previews offer an opportunity to hear the same program at noon on the day of the concert. Sneak Preview tickets are a bargain at $10. Also mark your calendar for a performance of the Barber of Seville in a joint production by ASO and the ULL College of the Arts, May 3-6, at Angelle Hall. Tickets available here.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:50 AM

A Whole Lotta Lil' Band o' Gold

Lafayette swamp pop supergroup Lil' Band o' Gold got the Led out yesterday in New Orleans. The band was in the Crescent City recording with none other than legendary Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant; the session was for an upcoming Fats Domino tribute record that will benefit Domino and the non-profit Tipitina's Foundation. Lil' Band o' Gold will be joined by The Pine Leaf Boys Saturday night in New Orleans for a Lafayette double bill at Tipitina's, and it just so happens that Plant will still be in New Orleans, too. Who remembers The Honeydrippers' cover of Phil Phillips' swamp-pop classic "Sea of Love"?

by: Scott Jordan 9:15 AM

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ridin' for La.'s coast

This weekend Terry Forrette will set off on a 3-month, 12,000-mile motorcycle trip around the perimeter of the continental United States. His sole mission is to raise awareness of Louisiana's disappearing coast. He's dubbed the project "Riding the Rim" and explains the importance of his Louisiana's wetlands on his Web site:

… People's lives, homes and jobs are dependent on maintaining the wetlands. Not just for the inhabitants of Louisiana and those states with tidal wetlands, but everyone in the entire country. You experience the importance of the wetlands each time you fill up at your gasoline station, pay a utility bill, or dine on fresh seafood from the gulf.

Forrette is partnering with America's Wetland Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana. For more information on Forrette's mission, to read about his journey as he travels, to make a donation, or to learn how you can help save Louisiana's coast, visit www.ridingtherim.com.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:40 AM

With Breaux out, is Chris John in?

In his first interview since ducking out of the governor's race, former Senator John Breaux appeared on the Jim Brown Show to discuss the decision and its implications on the race. Breaux says without a favorable opinion from Attorney General Charles Foti that he does meet the state's "citizenship" requirement to run, he couldn't risk a campaign clouded by questions of his qualifications. "I didn't want to go forward without at least something to point to from a legal standpoint," he says. He also hints that his exit may open the door for his political protégé, former Congressman and fellow Crowley Democrat Chris John. "The fact that I am not in," he says, "I think, that perhaps others will look at it. Former Congressman Chris John, I think, is interested." Listen to the entire interview here.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:16 AM

Boasso going Democratic in governor's race?

Conventional wisdom is that Bobby Jindal benefited most by John Breaux dropping out of the governor's race, but here's a new twist: Republican candidate and Arabi Sen. Walter Boasso is considering switching over to the Democratic Party. Boasso was extremely unhappy that the state Republican Party endorsed Jindal so early in the race, and now Democratic supporters are courting Boasso and encouraging him to change his party affiliation. The Advocate reports that some Republicans are adding fuel to the fire by nudging Boasso to defect, further clearing the path for Jindal.

Too early to predict which way Boasso will go, but he has to be giving the move some serious consideration. On a related side note, this could be a notable instance of the national Republican Party's recent struggles subtly filtering into Louisiana; when was the last time you remember a Louisiana Republican switching to the Democratic Party?

by: Scott Jordan 10:02 AM

EatLafayette campaign signing up local eateries

LCVC is signing up locally-owned restaurants for the third annual EatLafayette campaign, the brainchild of Charley G's owner Charlie Goodson. "The idea is to expose residents to the wide variety of local restaurant options available in and around Lafayette," says Goodson. The six-week campaign is held during the summer, traditionally a slow time for restaurants; this year's runs June 18-July 31. The specials vary with each restaurant and can range from buy-one-get-one-free entrées to simply a complimentary glass of wine with a meal. Last year 28 restaurants participated, and Goodson says some reported double digit increases in business. The program emphasizes the economic benefits of dining at independent eateries, claiming dollars spent at these establishments have a "multiplier effect" — every dollar generates five times that amount as it cycles back through the community. Restaurants already in the campaign include Charley G's, Blue Dog Café, Nash's and Tsunami Sushi; those that sign up before the end of May will get the full benefit of advertising exposure that starts in early June, but LCVC is hoping to have the list close to finalization by the end of this month. To participate, contact Kelly Strenge at LCVC, (337) 232-3737.

by: Leslie Turk 9:59 AM

Gloria Fiero show opens in Arnaudville

Retired UL history, art history and humanities professor Gloria Fiero has an art exhibit opening Friday, April 20 and Saturday, April 21, 5-7 p.m., at Turtle Cove Gallery in Arnaudville. Fiero taught at the university for twenty-seven years, encouraging students to pursue careers in the visual arts and art history. Once she retired, she took her own advice, setting up a studio in New Orleans and pursuing her fascination with the Crescent City. Her Mardi Gras series reflects the ability of the city and its to culture to thrive, post-Katrina. Art galleries, fiddle shops and the Town Market will also be open for Arnaudville's Potluck rural celebration, April 20, 6-10 p.m. For more info call 739-4749 or 280-9355.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:53 AM

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Zachary Richard's new album

Zachary Richard will release his latest compact disc, Lumière dans le noir, at this year's Festival International de Louisiane. With songs like "La Promesse Cassée," recorded with French recording star Francis Cabrel, the album has already been topping the charts in Quebec, New Brunswick and other areas of Canada. Richard takes the Lafayette Stage, along with Cabrel, at FIL on Saturday, April 28 at 7 p.m. The "Franco-American Tribute" follows the hurricane relief effort concert the two hosted in Paris in November 2005, which raised over $100,000 to help displaced Louisiana musicians.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:30 AM

And the Culinary Classic winners are ...

The Acadiana Culinary Classic, held Monday night at the Cajundome Convention Center, each year features the finest buffet spread in town, with chefs from across the region pulling out their finest signature dishes to see whose cuisine reigns supreme. This year's winners include Brian Berry, the former Hilton's chef now with UL Lafayette, who won the poultry competition with his grilled duck breast with seared foie gras accompanied with duchess sweet potato and veggie stir fry; and Scott McCue of Cypress Bayou Casino, who won for best soup with a crawfish and apple wood smoked bacon Yukon gold potato bisque with goat cheese and white truffle croutons. Randols restaurant won gold in both the finfish and shellfish categories but by far the biggest winner of the night was Cypress Bayou Casino, which racked up a total of 12 medals, including golds in soup, bread, beef & veal, and dessert. Cypress Bayou executive sous chef McCue was also awarded Best in Show, a $10,000 prize, for his bread entry, a brie cheese and grilled portabella mushroom bread, served with raspberry cabernet butter. View the full list of winners here.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:24 AM

A familiar face on the New Orleans Levee Board

The secretary of the newly consolidated New Orleans Levee Board is a familiar face. John Barry, renowned historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the epic 1927 Mississippi flood chronicle Rising Tide, is putting his levee expertise to use by helping the board navigate layers of pre-consolidation holdings. "We're spending an enormous amount of time separating flood assets from nonflood assets," Barry tells The New York Times. "The new board is interested in levees." Barry hopes the new board can overcome the old board's troubled legacy and push to get crucial levee repairs completed. "One thing that is not going to happen is, we're not going to lose our focus," he says.

Read The Independent's February 2006 interview with Barry.

by: Scott Jordan 10:23 AM

Inspector General releases horse farm audit

Inspector General Sharon Robinson's audit of UL Lafayette's failed horse farm land exchange found nothing "to suggest that any laws were breached or any illegal activities occurred." However, her investigation into the proposed swap did uncover that UL President Ray Authement signed the land swap agreement prematurely on Sept. 13, 2005, before the UL System had given him final approval. And that action gave BRE-ARD LLC, the local group planning to buy the Davidson property on Girard Park Drive and then exchange it with the university for horse farm acreage, the ammunition it needed to create title problems for both properties. For the first time, BRE-ARD's motivation for filing the agreement into the public record with the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office late last year was revealed. "BRE-ARD LLC representatives said they filed these documents to cloud the title on the properties," the report states. Read the full report here.

by: Leslie Turk 9:56 AM

Farmer's Market to reopen in Oil Center

The City Garden Market, where local farmers sold everything from apples to zuccuni is slated to reopen May 5. The new location will be a parking lot on the corner of South College and Heymann Boulevard, directly across the street from Champagne's. Market organizer Leslie Barton says the move from River Ranch to the Oil Center will bring farm fresh produce closer to core customers, as well as locating the market in a neighborhood that has strong association with the development of Lafayette. "We wanted to transform the market into a municipal event with support from city government and the Oil Center Renaissance Association," says Barton. "We're getting back to basics." Barton plans for the market to be open year round, every Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:45 AM

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lourdes closes on $14 million Boustany property

On April 11, Our Lady of Lourdes finalized its acquisition of a 45-acre tract on Frem Boustany Drive at Ambassador Caffery Parkway that will eventually house a portion of its campus. The property, which Lourdes bought for $14 million, is across Ambassador Caffery from the new Cordoba office complex and Home Bank. Confirming only that he will develop an Ambassador Caffery campus and calling the project "a top priority," Lourdes President and CEO Bud Barrow says he will release more details before the end of the year. Should Lourdes relocate most of its services to Ambassador Caffery Parkway, it will be well-positioned to take advantage of that corridor's growth and expanding population. Plans call for Ambassador Caffery Parkway to be extended south to U.S. Highway 90, opening up a large portion of previously undeveloped real estate.

by: Leslie Turk 10:38 AM

Mitch Landrieu: Thanks, but no thanks

Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, widely considered the top Democratic candidate to step into the breach left by John Breaux's abruptly aborted candidacy for governor, wants nothing to do with trying to clean up Breaux's mess. Landrieu released a written statement late yesterday afternoon and declared that he would not run for governor. "I believe I can best serve the people of Louisiana by finishing the job I started four years ago," Landrieu said. With Landrieu declining to enter the race, speculation continues that Treasurer John Kennedy, former Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and former Rep. Chris John are possible candidates. Meanwhile, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell remains the last Democrat standing against Republican candidates Walter Boasso, John Georges and Bobby Jindal.

by: Scott Jordan 10:26 AM

Doctors Without Borders VP to give talk

Alain Dubos, Vice-President of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières will be giving two lectures on Wednesday, April 18. Doctor, author and philosopher, Dubos, will speak about the Acadian experience which he has written four books about, at a lunchtime lecture at the DuChamp Opera House in St. Martinville. Wednesday evening, Dubos will be at the Acadiana Center for the Arts addressing the moral obligation Doctors Without Borders is founded on--to go where others will not go. His talk, "Engaging in Humanitarianism" questions whether those on missions in war zones go "with the simple intent of relieving individual stress or in the illusion of influencing collective destinies." For more information about the lectures call Alliance Française de Lafayette at 262-5810.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:20 AM

UL satellite in orbit

A miniature satellite designed and built by a team of UL engineering students was successfully launched into earth orbit this morning. The UL group, dubbed the Cajun Advanced Picosatellite Experiment, or CAPE, is part of the Cubesat project run by California Polytechnic State University to give students hands on experience with satellite technology. CAPE, which has been preparing for almost three years for its launch, was one of seven university satellites to go up this morning.

The satellites were launched through a converted intercontinental ballistic missile from a former Soviet facility in the Republic of Kazakhstan. The CAPE team will now be attempting to contact the satellite from their ground station at 146 Madison Hall on the UL campus. The public is invited to attend the first two contact attempts at 10 and 11:45 this morning. Visit the CAPE Web site for further updates.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:10 AM

NY Times on Bush's "broken promises"

In an editorial today, The New York Times chastises President George W. Bush for his response to the devastation of the Gulf Coast.

President Bush has reneged on his promises to Katrina's victims. Shamefully, the president has chosen the interests of bureaucracy over those of American towns on the brink of failure.

The editorial states there are still 64,000 people in Louisiana living in trailers and 20,000 projects in limbo due to financing problems.

These are unacceptable failures. At least part of the problem is a law that requires states to contribute 10 percent of the cost of most federally financed reconstruction projects. Mr. Bush waived that requirement after the Sept. 11 attacks (as his father did after Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki) but he refuses to do so for the Gulf Coast.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:07 AM

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Independent wins Freedom of Information Award

The Independent Weekly won the Louisiana Press Association's coveted Freedom of Information Award for its continuing coverage of the UL horse farm land swap and its lawsuit against the university to protect citizens' rights to public records. Judges of the award called Senior Editor Leslie Turk's coverage of the story "passionate and vigorous." Other contenders for the award included The Advocate of Baton Rouge, The News-Star of Monroe and the Toledo Bend Tribune.

On Saturday, at the LPA's 127th annual convention in New Orleans, The Independent Weekly garnered 20 first place honors – in categories as diverse as best investigative reporting (for Nathan Stubb's coverage of former Lafayette Police Chief Randy Hundley), community service, best advertising idea, and best Web site. At the end of the day, The Independent took home 47 awards. Read this week's edition on Wednesday, April 18, for the complete story.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:48 AM

Inspector general releasing horse farm audit

State Inspector General Sharon Robinson, Gov. Kathleen Blanco's appointee pulled into UL Lafayette's land swap fiasco by a concerned resident's complaint, says she'll release a report on the failed deal Wednesday morning. "We did conduct an investigation," Robinson says. "It's a full audit report." Hopefully, Robinson's report sheds light on how UL came to be involved in the suspect swap, whereby 36 acres of its horse farm property were to be exchanged for 4 acres of attorney Jimmy Davidson's Girard Park Drive property. The university claimed both properties were valued at $3.25 million, though subsequent appraisals revealed the horse farm was worth $5.37 million and the Davidson property only $1.5 million — the latter appraisal obtained only after The Independent Weekly's public records lawsuit. Had the deal gone through — UL President Ray Authement didn't call off the suspicious transaction till June of last year — the university stood to lose almost $4 million. But who stood to gain? The inspector general's office works to prevent waste, abuse, fraud and corruption in state government; if Robinson's audit is truly independent (after all, Blanco's husband, Raymond, is a top university official — and this is Louisiana), we should know more Wednesday. Robinson says the report will be available on the IG's Web site by 9:30 a.m.

by: Leslie Turk 10:45 AM

Michot ramps up fundraising

State Sen. Michot of Lafayette doesn't look like he's taking any chances with financing a re-election campaign. Lafayette Republican and District 23 Sen. Michot is sending out invites to a $500-a-couple fund-raiser on April 26 at River Ranch's City Club. The fundraiser's timing is good for Michot, as his push (along with Rep. Joel Robideaux and City-Parish President Joey Durel) to finance road improvements with vehicle sales taxes recently picked up the endorsement of state Treasurer John Kennedy. Gov. Kathleen Blanco is opposed to the initiative, saying it will divert funds away from health care and education.

by: Scott Jordan 10:22 AM

Louisiana ranks last in volunteer hours

The Corporation for National and Community Service, the parent organization of federal programs AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, has just released a three-year study on volunteerism in America. The results don't bode well for Louisiana, a state with a greater need of volunteer aid to augment its ongoing hurricane rebuilding efforts. In a review of average volunteer hours per resident per year, Louisiana ranked dead last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Louisiana also ranked 49th in overall volunteer rates and showed a 1.5 percent decline in its volunteer rate from 2002 to 2006. In the civic life index, a composite of statistics on volunteerism, voting, and civic and nonprofit infrastructure, Lousiana barely edges out Nevada for the second-to-last spot. The best showing came in the category of college student volunteer rates, in which Louisiana ranks 29th. View the full report here.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:56 AM

Third in Daspit's architecture series published

Sculptor and retired UL fine arts and architecture professor Fred Daspit is launching the third in his prestigious Louisiana Architecture series Thursday from 6-8 p.m. with a book signing at Natalee Interiors in the Oil Center. The book is published by UL's Center for Louisiana Studies. Louisiana Architecture 1840-1860 follows two previous volumes which cover the colonial period, 1714-1820, and the golden age of plantation building from 1820-1840. The books are filled with photographs and hundreds of Daspit's own drawings, as well as research from three decades of teaching. All three of Daspit's Louisiana Architecture series, $45 per volume, will be available for purchase at Natalee Interiors or at the Center for Louisiana Studies online bookstore. Call Natalee Interiors, 233-5000, for more information.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:37 AM

Friday, April 13, 2007

Foti punts to courts

State Attorney General Charles Foti says the issue of whether former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is a Louisiana "citizen," eligible to run for governor, should be decided by the courts. The AG says it would not be proper for his office to decide the matter because it is an issue of fact. The Louisiana Constitution has a residency requirement for a number of other offices, including the state Legislature, but uses the term "citizen" for statewide offices like governor. Breaux, who lives in Maryland, claims he meets the qualifications because he was born in Louisiana, owns property here and pays taxes on it. He served for 14 years in the U.S. House and 18 years in the U.S. Senate before retiring in 2005.

Read Foti's opinion (in a Word document).

by: Leslie Turk 11:42 AM

Waiting on Foti

Media outlets anxiously awaiting AG Charles Foti's opinion about whether former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is eligible to run for governor were told late yesterday they'd have to wait another day. "Just some refining," Foti spokeswoman Kris Wartelle said yesterday afternoon. "Dotting i's and crossing t's. Will be tomorrow...am sometime." It's 11 a.m., and we're still waiting.

by: Leslie Turk 10:55 AM

Report: Corps should acknowledge global warming

A new report released yesterday shows how flood risk is increasing because of poorly designed and managed federal flood-control projects, damage to coastal wetlands and global warming. The report, which comes just as Congress is considering a $15 billion water projects bill (the Water Resources and Development Act), was conducted by leading national environmental organizations Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation. It says if the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't prioritize its projects to base them on flood risk, massive disasters like Huricane Katrina (which resulted from the Corps' engineering errors) will occur again as seas become more dangerous and flood control structures are strained by heavier rains and flooding. The full House and Senate will likely vote on WRDA soon after Congress returns from its April recess. Read the full report here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:51 AM

School board election set for Oct. 20

The Lafayette Parish School Board has set an Oct. 20th election to decide who will fill the District 7 seat left open following the death of Dr. David Thibodaux. The election will coincide with the state gubernatorial primary and legislative elections.

The school board has already named Mark Cockerham, a 30-year-old UL alum who works with his family's oil field supply business, as an interim replacement. Cockerham was recommended by Thiboduax's family for the post. He is yet to decide whether he will run in the upcoming election, the winner of which will fill out the remaining three years of Thibodaux's term. Qualifying for the race is Sept. 4 - 6.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:09 AM

Birds and bears on festival calendars

Louisiana celebrates its lush wildlife with migratory bird festivities and a black bear festival in April.

After a hiatus following Hurricane Katrina, the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration is back on track April 13-14. The Celebration offers guided bird watching tours, island history tours, boat tours to Queen Bess Isle, live birds of prey, bird-related arts and crafts, and is fun for families with children. Many Grand Isle families will welcome birders into their yards for leisurely bird watching all weekend.

In Lafayette, The Acadian Cultural Center, in cooperation with Vermilionville, will offer 2 special eco-tours of Bayou Vermilion. Join a National Park Service ranger and an ornithologist aboard the Cocodrie as they identify birds by sight and sound on the 1 ½ hour boat tour. "Birds Along the Bayou" cruises at 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. from the Vermilionville Dock. Reservations are strongly recommended. Call 337-233-4077 for reservations and information. A walking tour, activities for children and a discussion about tracking birds with radio telemetry will take place on April 14, 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Acadiana Park Nature Station. Call 291-8448 for info.

The Louisiana Black Bear is making a comeback and Franklin is the place where the wild things are. The Bayou Teche Bear Festival will be held Saturday, April 21 in Franklin's historic downtown.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:47 AM

Hurricanes still hurting schools

A recent report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government says that public schools in the hurricane-stricken Gulf states are either struggling to recover or "filled to capacity."

The study finds that enrollment has not yet recovered to pre-Katrina levels in most of the districts. St. Bernard Parish is suffering the most, with a decline of 57.4 percent in student enrollment; followed by Orleans Parish, down 54.3 percent; Bay St. Louis/Waveland, down 31.9 percent; Biloxi, down 25.3 percent; and Jefferson Parish, down 21.3 percent.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, enrollment has increased 8.3 percent in the East Baton Rouge Parish school districts, leading to schools that are filled to capacity and exacerbating pre-existing shortages in teachers, substitute teachers, and school bus drivers.

Read GulfGov Reports: Education.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:14 AM

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Joe Broussard inducted into Chef's Hall of Fame

Lafayette caterer Joe Broussard will be inducted into the Acadiana Chef's Hall of Fame in a special ceremony at the Acadiana Culinary Classic on April 16. The Chef's Hall of Fame was created by the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation in the late 1980s. Over the past 20 years, only three luminaries in the cooking world have been honored - Tony Chachere, Paul Prudhomme and John Folse. Current Acadiana ACF president Jude Tauzin, Catahoula's Restaurant chef, says Broussard was the obvious choice. "Joe has been an integral part of the organization from the beginning. The reason the Culinary Classic is taking place now is because of him."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:51 AM

Melancon optimistic on Morganza levee

Despite the latest threat on funding for the 72-mile Morganza to the Gulf levee project, Congressman Charlie Melancon - whose district includes the Terrebonne and Lafourche area the levee will protect - says he is confident the Morganza project will pass in the House of Representatives. Melancon says he is being assured by Democratic Party leadership that the project will be re-instated in a final version of the Water Resources Development Act expected to be voted on by the House next week. He also hints that is not enough to assure the funding, since the House of Representatives has already passed funding for Morganza three times only to have it held up in the Senate.

Earlier this week, the White House sent shock waves through the Louisiana Congressional delegation when it released a new draft of the WRDA bill that cut the $886 million slated for the Morganza levee. Sen. David Vitter wrote the administration pleading them to reconsider, noting that their opposition "will display a fundamental lack of understanding and commitment to crucial hurricane and flood protection in key parts of southeast Louisiana."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:34 AM

Iberia DA to convene grand jury

Iberia Parish District Attorney Phil Haney told the Iberia Parish Council last night that he's working with state police investigators on a criminal investigation of the papers used by the legislative auditor and looking into other possible violations of the law. Actions of Parish President Will Langlinais were the main focus of the audit. Haney concluded that "we believe sufficient evidence exists to convene a grand jury into allegations raised in the compliance audit," which he plans to call within 60 days. In a letter, Haney also urged the council to conduct civil "investigations into the affairs of the Parish Government and conduct of any Parish official. ... The council may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony and require the production of evidence."

The council voted to begin their own investigation. Langlinais responded in a passionate three-minute speech, calling the audit a "witch hunt." He then asked Haney if the investigation was a "two-edged sword," because "there are some possible improprieties by some council members. I can tell you there are some more (issues) that involve some council members that I feel I should have the opportunity to address."

Haney responded that Langlinais should take his allegations to the criminal investigation unit of the state police.

(photo of Will Langlinais by Terri Fensel)

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:33 AM

Congress cracks down on cockfighting

If President Bush signs into law the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, Louisiana's cockfighters will face new legal hurdles before the state even addresses the issue. The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved H.R. 137, making it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. The legislative push has been a six-year effort spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS President Wayne Pacelle says, "With the passage of one of the strongest animal protection laws in the nation, we expect to see many cockfighters and dogfighters pack it in and stop flouting the law." Louisiana is the only state where cockfighting is still legal.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:14 AM

Dupuis replaces Chris Williams as LTC regional director

Phyllis Dupuis today replaces Chris Williams as Region Four director of the Louisiana Technical College, a position held for less than six months by Williams before his abrupt reassignment last December. Dupuis, an almost 30-year veteran of the organization who has been serving as dean of the Lafayette campus, was the faculty senate's overwhelming favorite for the post when Williams was named to it in July 2006. The position was created at that time as part of a streamlining of the state's community and technical college system.

In addition to the Lafayette campus, LTC's Region Four includes the Crowley, Ville Platte, St. Martinville, Abbeville, Opelousas and New Iberia campuses.

by: Leslie Turk 8:27 AM

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Vitter shocked by Bush stance on coastal restoration

Louisiana senator David Vitter in a letter to President Bush said he was "shocked" by the administration's removal of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system from the Water Resources Development Act up for renewal in Congress. Vitter is also opposing a Bush recommendation to cut the $2 billion dedicated to coastal restoration in Louisiana by half. The Advocate reports that Vitter wrote to Bush about the administration's position:

"It will display a fundamental lack of understanding and commitment to crucial hurricane and flood protection in key parts of southeast Louisiana." ...

Vitter called the funding limitation "a raw deal for Louisiana and a real mistake that will cause the loss of an environmental treasure to this nation."

Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to the governor for coastal affairs called the Bush stance "ludicrous."

"It just tells me that the only thing that matters is counting the beans," Coffee said.

Read The Times-Picuyane's account.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:45 AM

Durel touts state transportation bills

In a press conference scheduled today for 11 a.m. on the steps of the state Capitol, City-Parish President Joey Durel is expected to tout a slate of new transportation funding bills that are being introduced for the upcoming legislative session, beginning April 30. The bills are also being pushed by a coalition spearheaded by the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.

Lafayette state Rep. Joel Robidaux and state Sen. Mike Michot are filing a bill that would redirect motor vehicle sales taxes to local governments to use toward road and drainage improvements. Lafayette state Rep. Don Trahan is pushing an effort to build a state mobility fund for major infrastructure projects that would be bankrolled by drunk driving fines and vehicle registration and inspection fees. All told, Robidaux says the proposed transportation bills could mean an additional $600 million a year being dedicated to meet the state's infrastructure needs.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:38 AM

District Attorney to address Iberia audit

Iberia Parish District Attorney Phil Haney will address the Iberia Parish Council tonight concerning a legislative audit delving into contractual arrangements between Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais and attorney Shane Romero. After the audit was publicly released in March, Haney requested all the documentation - 1,800 pages - compiled by the auditor's office. Tonight's agenda will focus on three points: whether Haney, who as DA represents both the council and parish president will have to recuse himself and recommend outside council, to determine if any laws were broken and if so what is the parish council's responsibility under the Home Rule Charter, and to outline the DA's office's role in the parish's Risk Management Program, which is what Langlinais hired Romero to litigate. If the case is made for charter violations, one possible outcome of tonight's meeting could be that Haney will recommend convening a Grand Jury to indict Langlinais.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:12 AM

Lafayette's land bank

A new nonprofit spearheaded by Lafayette Consolidated Government could renew economic interest in the the McComb Veazey neighborhood. The Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority has committed $400,000 to the new organization, dedicated to bringing vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties back into use.

Read more about the project in this week's issue of The Independent Weekly.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:11 AM

Rickey Hardy running for state rep.

School board member Rickey Hardy announced today he is running for the District 44 state Rep. seat being vacated by Wilfred Pierre. Pierre, who has held the seat since 1992, is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.

Hardy, in his fifth term on the school board, joins a crowded field of candidates which already includes City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams, city Planning Commissioner Fred Prejean, former Superintendent of State Police Terry Landry and attorney Derriel McCorvey. In a sign that the jostling has already begun, Hardy's press release takes a not-so-subtle jab at Williams, who has been involved in bitter public disputes with his fellow councilmen, often over racial issues.

"Among my goals as a State Representative is to end divisiveness in matters with regard to the public," Hardy states. "Divisiveness that seems to be present, at this time, in our Lafayette Parish Council. This kind of divisiveness cannot be carried over to a state elected office. I pledge to bring a mature level of representation to the people of District 44."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:01 AM

iMonelli's Brian Blanchard takes over a la carte

Brian Blanchard, the chef/owner of iMonelli Italian restaurant on Johnston Street, is the new owner of a la carte. The restaurant and catering operation's founder, Michael Doumit, is now handling sales. Blanchard spent the past few months getting a handle on the Oil Center business' immense debt and recently paid off the Internal Revenue Service to relieve a tax lien on a la carte's equipment, the final step in his takeover. "You could say I cleaned up the place a lot," Blanchard says. "Michael knew what needed to be done, but he was battle weary, and when he quit fighting, things just got worse." Blanchard retained only about 20 percent of the staff. Read the complete story here.

by: Leslie Turk 8:25 AM

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cravins and Durand seek UMC answers

A recent gap in orthopedic services at University Medical Center has two Acadiana legislators requesting an overview of the hospital. State Sen. Don Cravins Jr. says he and state Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand are co-sponsoring a resolution in the upcoming legislative session to request that the LSU Board of Supervisors look at ways to better coordinate its education and medical services at the Lafayette charity hospital. He says he wants to see the hospital run more like LSU's Medical Center in Shreveport, which was built more as a teaching facility and has one administrator overseeing all graduate education and hospital services.

Last month, LSU closed down an orthopedic clinic at UMC that was seeing up to 150 patients a week. LSU needed to move the program back to New Orleans from Lafayette - where it had moved following Hurricane Katrina – for accreditation. LSU has agreed to send orthopedic residents into Lafayette once a week to continue to see patients, but that won't begin until June. "How do we not see these things coming?" Cravins asks. "The medical school and the medical center should be working hand in hand so that we don't have these shortage problems again."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:50 AM

NY Times on NO's recovery chief

Today the NY Times features Dr. Edward J. Blakely, the executive director of New Orleans' Office of Recovery Management and the former dean of the school of management and urban policy at the New School in New York City. Blakely's plan for New Orleans' recovery has been hailed as the most sensible plan to date. The Times describes Blakeley as a no-nonsense man: "He is the latest incarnation of what has become a stock character in the New Orleans saga, the rescuer from afar - but one with an unusually candid streak. …"

It is too early to say whether Dr. Blakely will succeed where others have failed, and he recently said he might leave his post in a year. But what is clear is that, perhaps for the first time, a ranking New Orleans official is looking out over the ruins and their complicated context with a clinical, outsider's eye.

That awareness of entrenched realities here, racial and economic, is reflected in Dr. Blakely's relatively modest plan: it is not an effort to make over the city all at once. Instead, it revolves around localized attention to promising zones that, if they take off, could have a transforming effect on the whole. "If I could pump life back in these places, you might pump life back into the entire city," he said.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:47 AM

Voters undecided in governor's race

Without Gov. Kathleen Blanco running, Louisiana's gubernatorial race appears to be wide open. A Verne Kennedy poll released yesterday shows an overwhelming majority of voters undecided about who they'll support in October. Of the 600 people surveyed by the Pensacola-based firm, 74 percent say they are open to any candidate and only 22 percent have made a definite decision. Thirty percent favor a Republican, 29 percent a Democrat, 12 percent an independent, and 28 percent are uncertain. Verne Kennedy, hired by Republican businessman John Georges of Metairie who is planning to run, conducted the poll March 29 through April 3. The poll also finds that when it comes to supporting a candidate with real-life business experience over one with political skills, the results are 51 percent to 29 percent — with 20 percent undecided.

by: Leslie Turk 10:43 AM

The check's in the mail, Mississippi

Louisiana Democratic senator Mary Landrieu's attempt to block FEMA giving $275 million for Mississippi to begin an Alternative Housing Pilot Program is a moot point. Stories in the Times Picayune and Advocate detail that the agency confirmed the money had been released on Monday. Landrieu objects to the lesser amount slated for Louisiana, $75 million, with no release date in sight, as another sign of political favoritism for Republican governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

Landrieu and other Louisiana politicians have decried the grant program since before the December announcement, arguing that FEMA ignored congressional intent by fashioning a competitive process that did not consider the respective housing needs in hurricane-affected states. More than 200,000 Louisiana homes were heavily damaged or destroyed in the 2005 storms and related flooding, while Mississippi lost about 60,000 residences.

And FEMA's top brass have said repeatedly that Mississippi's proposals were better. Scoring summaries obtained by The Times-Picayune show that Mississippi's winning programs scored a 184 and 182, while Louisiana's proposal notched a 176. All three were significantly higher than the remaining proposals.

Lafayette architect Steve Oubre, who worked with new urbanist planner Andres Duany to design Katrina cottages during planning charettes in Erath and St. Bernard parish says that "in terms of design, in Mississippi and Louisiana, the cottages are the same plans. They were all done as part of that exercise, the plans are no different."

Louisiana's plan calls for as many as 600 Katrina Cottages on sites in New Orleans, Abbeville and Lake Charles--once the money arrives.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:30 AM

Road Home lump sums

Applicants to the Road Home program will now receive lump sum payments. In March, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the Louisiana Recovery Authority that it could not disburse $7.5 billion in federal aid to homeowners in installments as homeowners made repairs.

Reuters reports:

But the new plan could make it easier for lenders to seize the grants of up to $150,000 to satisfy unpaid mortgages and expose people to contractor fraud because it lacks protections established by the state-designed Road Home program, LRA officials said.

"H.U.D. basically said, 'You've got to do lump sum payments.' So if we end up with increased blight, it's because of HUD's policy," Recovery Authority housing task force chair Walter Leger said.

Read also coverage from The Times-Picayune and The Advocate.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:00 AM

Monday, April 09, 2007

KADN's 9 p.m. news debuts tonight

KADN Fox 15 will debut its newscast at 9 p.m., but outside of billboards and a front page sticker attached to Sunday's Daily Advertiser — with the tagline, "At 9 it's news…By 10 it's history" — not much is known about the kind of news product the local station will offer. Company officials did not return The Independent Weekly's phone calls about the launch, which comes in the midst of parent company Communications Corporation of America's bankruptcy reorganization. Sources approached to advertise during the newscast say it will be a regional product, with weather by meteorologist Nelson Robinson of Lafayette and sole anchoring duties by Jeff Beimfohr, who produced and anchored sports programs on CNN from 1998 to 2001. Both are already on KADN's Baton Rouge sister station, WGMB Channel 44, which began a local newscast in March. KADN airs on Cox Channel 6.

by: Leslie Turk 10:31 AM

Washington Post says waive the 10 precent

In a Saturday editorial titled "Help for Louisiana," the Washington Post urges president George W. Bush to waive the 10 percent local match requirement to use FEMA funds.

... Mr. Bush did this for New York after the horrific Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (damage: $390 per capita).

Not so for Louisiana. Not after it was hit by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history; not after it sustained the worst damages in U.S. history ($6,700 per capita). Not after 1.3 million people were displaced from their homes. Not after its economy collapsed. And not after residents of a great American city, New Orleans, experienced what Mr. Bush called "the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know." ...

Speaking from Jackson Square in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 2005, Mr. Bush said, "When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm . . . . We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better." Such progress is being tripped up by thick rolls of red tape. Mr. Bush can clear those obstacles and help turn his far-reaching vision into reality with a stroke of a pen by waiving the 10 percent FEMA match requirement. He should do it now.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:23 AM

Breaux's duck stamp: the new smoking gun?

While Louisiana waits to hear what opinion State Attorney General Charles Foti's office has to offer on whether or not John Breaux can run for governor, the Republican Party of Louisiana says it has more ammunition to make the case that he can't. In a press release, the La. GOP says that records from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries indicate that in January 2006, Breaux "… acquired the following licenses, Nonresident Migratory Bird 3-day, Nonresident LA Duck Stamp and HIP Certification …" In the statement, GOP Chairman Roger F. Villere, Jr. adds, "This is one more embarrassing development that clearly indicates that Lobbyist John Breaux is a citizen of Maryland."

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:57 AM

Cisco testing new products in Lafayette

Cisco –the multibillion-dollar Silicon Valley Company specializing in networking and communications technology – is testing new products at the Lafayette law office of Saloom & Saloom. Last week, Cisco formally announced a new line of office products, targeting small to medium-sized businesses, in a press release that quotes Kaliste Saloom III, managing partner of Saloom & Saloom. The local law firm has been testing out the new Cisco gear, which includes mobile office phones and Ethernet, for the past several months. Saloom & Saloom was recruited for the testing by local information technology firm, iConvergence, who worked with Cisco on the product launch.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:23 AM

Iberia may bet on video poker

With video bingo on the front burner in New Iberia once Bon Temps Bingo asked for a permit for a bingo parlor from the state's Department of Revenue two weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before gambling's easy money bubbled up at the Iberia Parish Council. Councilman Jerome Fitch pitched video poker to the Public Works Committee as a way to avoid raising taxes to fix the parish's deteriorating roads. His gambit paid off, and the recommendation from the committee will go to the entire council requesting public hearings to consider putting video poker on a ballot. Iberia Parish rejected video poker in the 1996 local option vote. The Council bid on putting video poker on the ballot in 2004, but was trumped by the Louisiana Legislature, which must approve whether the proposal can go to the voters. Councilman Naray Hulin supports the video poker initiative as a way to retain dollars lost to the gambling industry in St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, which surround Iberia. "We're losing a lot of revenue that could go the roads," he said in the Daily Iberian.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:15 AM

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Save the Horse Farm not giving up on barn

Save the Horse Farm is not giving up on its effort to convince UL President Ray Authement that the historic barn on the university's Johnston Street horse farm property is worth saving. Believing the state was unlikely to stop Authement from razing the old barn on the university's Johnston Street horse farm property (a suspicion confirmed yesterday afternoon when the state's office of Facility Planning & Control gave Authement the go-ahead), Save the Horse Farm member/avid UL sports fan Pat McDonald paid a visit to the property and brought general contractor Trent Descant with him. "His assessment of the barn is that the front (hay loft side) needs to be taken down and shored for short-term liability remedy," McDonald wrote in a letter e-mailed to Authement yesterday afternoon. "Other than the structural damage noted, [Descant] was surprised at the very good condition the bracing, as well as the remainder of the barn, is in, despite the appearance," he wrote. Authement has not yet responded to McDonald's email.

Because local government does not have the money to buy the 100-acre property but is interested in its potential as a community park, Save the Horse Farm is meeting this morning and plans to launch a major fund-raising campaign to purchase the property. McDonald says the barn, which the city's mounted patrol unit wants to use to board its horses, is an important component of the plan. But first McDonald and his group of community activists have to convince Authement to allow them to fence off the barn and address the liability issues. To date, Authement has shown no interest in preserving the barn, which some believe was constructed in the early 1900s, and neither he nor the state believes it is a local landmark with historic value.

by: Leslie Turk 10:30 AM

Port Fourchon lobbies for $63 million road upgrade

Two-lane Louisiana 1 is best known as the path to serious fishing and relaxation on Grand Isle, but 14 percent of the nation's oil lies at the end of that road at Port Fourchon and the Louisiana OffShore Oil Port. If a serious hurricane destroyed or flooded out a significant part of the road, we'd be looking at a major disruption of energy supplies. Gov. Blanco and representatives from non-profit LA 1 Coalition hammered home that point yesterday in demonstrations for lawmakers, in hopes of securing $63 million from the state surplus to raise and secure sections of La 1. "We think this project has evolved into the poster-child for the nation for critical energy infrastructure at risk," Port Fourchon director Ted Falgout told The Times-Picayune.

by: Scott Jordan 10:16 AM

School Board rejects Trahan

In an overwhelming rejection of Superintendent James Easton's recommendation, the Lafayette Parish School Board voted 8-1 not to renew the contract of embattled grants administrator Amy Trahan. "I know the Superintendent had a lot of confidence in Amy," says board member Mike Hefner. "But there was just way too many problems [in Trahan's department]." Trahan has bore the brunt of frustration over delays in state approval of the district's title monies – some $13 million – in addition to other complaints of grant money not being expedited into schools.

Following the vote to eliminate Trahan's contract, which expires June 9, some board members moved to buy out Trahan's contract immediately and to have Chief Academic Officer Bernell Lemoine take over Title funding. Hefner warned the board could be overstepping its bounds and potentially violating state law if it were to appoint someone without a recommendation from the Superintendent. The motion failed to get the required two-thirds vote to be added to the agenda. "With some of the board members the ends justifies the means," Hefner says. "And that's dangerous for an elected body to take that attitude."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:13 AM

Spike Lee plans sequel in Mississippi

Filmmaker Spike Lee, whose ground-breaking documentary "When the Levees Broke" brought the plight of post-Katrina residents of New Orleans to a national audience, announced that he wants to make a sequel, focusing on the Gulf coast region outside of New Orleans.

"Next month, we're going back to HBO and discuss how we can continue this," Lee said after presenting three New Orleans residents who told their stories at the closing luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington.

"The Gulf Coast will be a much bigger part. We didn't forget about you," he said in responding to a question from Stan Tiner, editor of the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald, whose paper has crusaded to remind the nation that the Mississippi coast was also devastated by the 2005 hurricane.

Lee was also won the Long Island University George K. Polk award for journalistic integrity in the category of documentary television. The awards will be presented Thursday, April 12.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:56 AM

No INDsider on Good Friday

The Independent Weekly offices will be closed tomorrow for Good Friday, and there will be no Friday edition of The INDsider. Hope everyone has a great Easter weekend.

by: Scott Jordan 9:15 AM

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

We hope you're wrong again, Dr. Gray

If it's springtime, it's time for the annual hurricane forecast from Dr. William Gray at Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science. Gray's 2006 forecast of an unusually active hurricane season proved incorrect due to unexpected El Niño conditions. But now those conditions have dissipated, and Gray and his forecast partner Phil Klotzbach are estimating a "very active" 2007 hurricane season with nine hurricanes and 17 named storms. The most unsettling prediction in the report: There's a 49 percent chance of a major hurricane (Category 3, 4 or 5) making landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville, Texas.

Hurricane season begins June 1. Let's hope Dr. Gray's wrong again this year.

by: Scott Jordan 10:20 AM

Beyond funnel cake

When people talk about New Orlean's Jazz Fest, the buzz is usually limited to the music line-up. But some of us enter the Fair Grounds and make a bee line for the food. The cooking is as funky as a five trombone jazz band starring dazzlers like Andouille Calas or Sweet Potato Pone. Two Lafayette restaurants, Prejean's and Creole Lunch House have been long-time cooks at the festival. Catch Prejean's Pheasant, Quail & Andouille Gumbo on the fly, or pick up one of Creole Lunch House's signature Stuffed Breads for noshing to a Cajun beat. With 55 booths to choose from, lines are relatively quick and for the money, you won't find a tastier or more extravagant banquet anywhere else in town.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:04 AM

Daily Advertiser's top sales exec joins Citadel

Susan Ruona, one of The Daily Advertiser's top sales executives, has joined Citadel Broadcasting as an account executive for the local radio group that includes FM stations KSMB 94.5 and KXKC 99.1. "This is brand new for me. The only radio experience I had was buying radio for my shoes stores and that was a long time ago," says the 56-year-old. "I wanted to do something different with my advertising career."

Ruona joined The Daily Advertiser in the early 1990s, left for a brief stint with the Moody family's newspapers and accepted a sales position with The Times of Acadiana in 1994 (when it was owned by Independent Weekly publishers Steve May and Cherry Fisher May). During her tenure with the group of publications now owned by Gannett Co., Ruona at various times served as sales manager for The Advertiser, Times and Daily World but in recent years asked to return to sales, where she says her passion lies. She was handling local major accounts and territory accounts.

by: Leslie Turk 9:34 AM

Tabasco's $5 million, 17-foot levee

The New York Times reports that the McIlhenny Co., makers of Tabasco sauce, intend on building a 17-foot, $5 million levee around Avery Island. The family-owned company had intended to build a museum in New Orleans with the money, but both hurricanes Katrina and Rita changed its plans.

Instead, the family plans to spend $5 million on something far more urgent: a 17-foot levee on Avery Island and a back-up generator. Construction should begin by April and be ready in time for the 2008 hurricane season.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:53 AM

Folk Roots events announced

On Saturday night at the Blue Moon Saloon, it's the Louisiana Folk Roots fundraiser "Arrête pas la musique!" The show starts at 9 p.m. with Ray Abshire & Friends, and admission is $10. At 7 p.m., as apart of the Routes to Roots workshop series, fiddler Hadley Castille will demonstrate the Cajun fiddle bowing technique.

The week-long Dewey Balfa Cajun and Creole Heritage Week is just over two weeks away, April 20-26. Nightly musical acts for Heritage Week will include Balfa Toujours, Ray Abshire, Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys, Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie, the Pine Leaf Boys and others. Instructors for the week-long event at Chicot State Park include members of those bands, as well as Castille, Al Berard, Jeffery Broussard, Kristi Guillory, Corey "Lil Pop" Ledet and Ann Savoy.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:49 AM

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

French class for toddlers begins

Early learning is the best way to acquire a lifelong skill in a language. This spring, the Alliance Française de Lafayette is offering French for Toddlers (ages 2 to 4). Specially designed for mom or dad and child to learn together, these classes offer a unique opportunity to engage in the first steps of learning French: nursery rhymes, the alphabet, numbers and colors are taught tout en français with Jessica Cormier, Saint Landry Parish native, and experienced pre-school language educator. Classes begin Thursday April 5, and are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Membership in the Alliance required, as well as a fee for the class. Call 262-5810 for more information.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:39 AM

Schedule a musical spring

With the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Festival International and Jazz Fest less then a month away, you can get a jump start on mapping out who you want to hear and where and when.

FIL's new interactive, Web-based Festival Schedule Builder lets you plot out your musical week by time, stage and artist. After adding items to your itinerary, you can save out your schedule and print it for portability during the festival, April 25-29.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival has also revealed its lineup and the stages where each act will perform. The Cubes are accessible by clicking on each day or in this PDF form.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:38 AM

New Orleans' Hemline coming to River Ranch

Discerning Acadiana shoppers in search of designer threads will have a new place to browse at the end of April. New Orleans-based upscale women's clothier Hemline is coming to River Ranch's Market development, joining existing lifestyle center tenants Bonefish Grill, kiki, JoS. A. Bank and Ann Taylor Loft. Hemline's almost 12-year-old flagship store is located in the French Quarter at 609 Chartres St., but the company has expanded to Houston, Kansas City and Baton Rouge. Lafayette will be its ninth location. Muffy White, who's been managing the Baton Rouge store that opened on Highland Road near the Country Club of Louisiana within months of Hurricane Katrina, will own the local store. A New Orleans native, White has worked for Hemline for six years and is moving to Lafayette. The trendy shop offers dressy-casual and ready-to-wear lines from well-known designers like BCBG, Diane Von Furstenberg, Single and Nicole Miller, in addition to trendy footwear from makers like Laundry, Seychelles and Chinese Laundry.

by: Leslie Turk 10:33 AM

Lafayette's $55 million man outduels Curt Schilling

Yesterday was opening day for Major League Baseball, and Acadiana High alum and former Seattle Mariners pitcher Gil Meche couldn't have scripted a better start to his season. Matched against 2005 World Series hero Curt Schilling and the Boston Red Sox, Meche helped lead the Kansas City Royals to a 7-1 drubbing of the BoSox in the Royals' home opener. He struck out six and received a standing ovation from a sellout crowd after yielding to the Royals' bullpen in the eighth inning. It was just the kind of performance the Royals were hoping for when they signed Meche to a widely derided five-year, $55 million contract in the offseason. Even Schilling seemed impressed.

"If [Meche] ever wants to get to that next level and be great, the stuff is there," Schilling told mlb.com. "He'll be worth every penny of that contract and more if he wants to be one of the best guys in the game."

by: Scott Jordan 10:17 AM

Cockerham likely to replace Thibodaux

The Lafayette Parish School Board will meet in a special meeting today at 4:30 p.m. to appoint an interim replacement for the late board member David Thibodaux. The board is expected to defer to Thibodaux's family, who is recommending Mark Cockerham be appointed to the seat. Cockerham, 30, is a former student of Thibodaux's at UL and also helped run his 2004 campaign for Congress. Board member Hunter Beasley says Cockerham "is of the same philosophy as David. I think he will represent the district well." If appointed, Cockerham will serve until a special election – likely to be scheduled for September – decides who will serve out the remaining three years of Thibodaux's term.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:10 AM

Monday, April 02, 2007

New details in Westlake mayor's death

The story of Gerald Washington's death just gets stranger. The black mayor-elect of Westlake was elected by a white majority. But the day before he was to take office, on Dec. 30, 2006, he was found dead with a gunshot wound from his own handgun to his chest. The Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Department ruled the death a suicide, but the family criticized the handling of the case. After conducting its investigation, the Louisiana State Police ruled it a suicide as well.

Now a new state police report reveals that Washington had gambling problems and extramarital affairs. The American Press in Lake Charles published a summary of the report, recently released by the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney's office. The report contends that Washington may have gambled away anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 of his retirement savings and that he had extramarital affairs with three different women, one of whom threatened to take the affair public.

The family disputes the report.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:48 AM

60 Minutes takes on Billy Tauzin

In a story examining the prescription drug industry's high-powered lobbying machine, last night 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft peppered former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin with questions on his role in passing the Medicare prescription drug benefit bill in 2004. The bill was viewed as a windfall for the drug industry, and shortly after it passed, Tauzin left Congress and took a lucrative job as their chief lobbyist. Unfazed by the questions, Tauzin tells Kroft he was motivated to take the job because of his own bout with cancer and the innovative drugs that helped save his life. When Kroft quotes Congressman Walter Jones saying that the bill's passage was "the ugliest night I have ever seen in 22 years in politics," Tauzin quips back, "Well, he's a young member. Had he been around for 25 years, he'd have seen some uglier nights." See the story and interview here.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:15 AM

Church Point, Nova Scotia company rebuilds houses

The distinctive architectural style Acadian homesteaders brought with them to Louisiana came from Nova Scotia. Deep porches and steep-pitched roof lines which keep Acadian-style houses cool were designed to withstand the heavy snows of the northern climate. Now, 250 years after the Acadian emigration to Louisiana, two Canadian builders are offering to construct and ship prefab houses, built in keeping with local Louisiana architecture, to help hurricane victims rebuild quickly.

Belliveau Building Supplies president Julien Comeau, of Church Point, Nova Scotia, is planning to send more than 300 1,500-square foot houses to Louisiana in the coming year. The houses, produced by a Cape Breton company are built in panels; each wall, which is finished inside and out comes already wired, ready for plumbing and with windows already built in.

"In two weeks six men can have the kitchen, the bathroom, the finishing, the painting, everything done," says Comeau in the Yarmouth County Vanguard.

Comeau is in talks with Habitat for Humanity to supply them with a 1,000 square-foot model as well.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:15 AM

State weighs in on horse barn demolition

The state's Office of Facility Planning & Control is expected to weigh in tomorrow on UL President Ray Authement's request to demolish the historic barn on the university's 100-acre Johnston Street horse farm property. Jerry Jones, OFPC's director, would not say which way his office — which has assessed the barn's condition and potential liability for the university — is leaning. Jones has been inundated with requests to save the structure, which some believe was constructed in the early 1900s (the university claims it was built circa 1940). Community activists involved with Save the Horse Farm sent more than 200 letters and postcards in support of preservation, as did state Sen. Mike Michot and Rep. Joel Robideaux. The group hopes Jones will delay the demolition plan so it can construct a protective fence around the dilapidated barn while it raises funds for restoration. "We will take everything into consideration as well as all the correspondence received before making a determination to approve the request for demolition," Jones says. It's unclear what happens if Jones says the building is worth saving, but if his office sides with Authement, the final decision still rests with the university president.

by: Leslie Turk 9:50 AM

Finally, a New Orleans rebuilding plan

It took 19 months, but the New Orleans rebuilding plan announced late last week by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and New Orleans Recovery Chief Ed Blakely is earning praise as the most sensible and practical recovery blueprint to date for the Crescent City. Federal Recovery Chief Donald Powell and Louisiana Recovery Authority Executive Director Andy Kopplin are among the plan's proponents – marking the first time that local, state and federal officials appear united on a rebuilding and recovery plan for New Orleans. The plan calls for targeting selected sites in more than 17 areas including the Ninth Ward, New Orleans East and Lakeview, and using them as economic development corridors to encourage rebuilding and private development efforts around those areas.

View the targeted sites.

by: Scott Jordan 9:48 AM