July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Can Blueprint make a difference?

In the national news lately for all the wrong reasons — U.S. Sen. David Vitter, U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, Edwin Edwards (need we say more?) — Louisiana has a long way to go to change the nation's perception of how government is run here. And, more important, to change how government is run here. But a grassroots group that got its start in Lafayette has an ambitious plan to turn the state around. Blueprint Louisiana, spearheaded by local businessmen Matt Stuller, Bill Fenstermaker and Clay Allen, who is also an attorney, unveiled its much-anticipated agenda yesterday in Baton Rouge:

1. Adopt the nation's best ethics laws
2. Expand nationally recognized Pre-K program
3. Better utilize community/technical colleges for skilled workforce
4. Health care for the uninsured
5. Transportation projects/more toll roads

Calling itself a non-partisan organization, which also includes prominent civic and community leaders from across the state, Blueprint worked on the agenda for about a year — reviewing in excess of 400 reports on a wide range of topics and interviewing more than 50 experts on a variety of subjects. To collect additional input and guidance, in April the group hosted a series of workshops in nine regions of the state, drawing interest from about 750 residents.

Blueprint certainly isn't the state's first reform movement, but its membership is growing every day with hopes politicians will step across party lines — and how refreshing that would be — to take the bait. Let's just hope state officials, and there's a whole new batch coming into office with this year's election, don't follow in the footsteps of their predecessors — or their friends in Washington. We deserve better.

by: Leslie Turk 10:57 AM

Pat Leblanc hopes to fill Alexander's shoes

With state Rep. Ernie Alexander not seeking re-election, local architect Pat Leblanc says he will be a candidate in the upcoming election for the south Lafayette District 43 seat. "I would have never considered running against Ernie because I do consider him a close friend," Leblanc says. "I've always considered running for his seat when the seat became available."

In addition to his family architecture firm, the Leblanc Group, Leblanc is also president of LCS Corrections, the fifth largest private prison system in the U.S., with several correctional facilities in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama. He says his prison business deals almost exclusively with federal inmates and it does not have any direct contracts with the state. The 53-year-old Leblanc has been politically active for years within the Republican Party and has been a major supporter of Ernie Alexander and Congressman Charles Boustany. He hosted an event for Boustany with Vice President Dick Cheney several years ago and more recently held a fundraiser at his home for Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Leblanc is also a past president of Acadiana Homebuilders, past chairman of the Cajundome Commission, and currently serves on the Louisiana Residential Licensing Board.

Leblanc says he wants to see tougher ethics and financial disclosure laws for elected officials, as well as more state investment in the Lafayette area. "We're not prepared," he says, "and we're not in a situation where we have the roads or the infrastructure to be able to handle all this imposed growth that we've endured in the past two years. We are an economic engine for the state and yet it seems we're being overlooked in a lot of ways. We're sending a lot of money to Baton Rouge and we should be getting a lot more of it back."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:44 AM

More tension over Jena Six

A series of unresolved racial disputes in Jena has led to the conviction of one black teenager - part of the group dubbed the Jena Six - and has focused a blinding and harsh light on the small central Louisiana town. (To get up to speed, read our first blog entry, our second, and our third.)

The U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service hosted a forum in hopes of healing some of the divide that appears to be growing. On Thursday night, 200 people gathered at a Jena middle school, most of whom were black. Only 12 percent of the town is black, while the majority, 85 percent of the town, is white. During the 4-hour forum, U.S. Attorney Donald Washington said the initial noose incident was investigated as a hate crime.

Washington said there were all the elements of a hate crime but one - threat or use of force.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond stated, "This is an American outrage that demonstrates the continuing shame of racial division in our country." The organization has set out to help defend the Jena Six. The international media spotlight was already focused on Jena, but it got just a bit brighter on Monday when National Public Radio made the story its lead news item.

About 40 miles southwest of the town, The Alexandria Town Talk has been covering the story. Today's edition covers the story in three different ways. One article reports that the tree where the nooses were hung was cut down by the LaSalle Parish School Board.

The noose incident, which some have said should be handled as a federal hate crime, was never reported to the Jena Police Department, LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Office or LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters, according to U.S. Attorney Donald Washington.

The school investigated the incident and determined the nooses were placed there as a "prank" in response to the question, he said. Washington's office doesn't have enough evidence to prosecute those responsible for the nooses with a hate crime, he said.

In a second article, Washington elaborates on issues brought up at the community forum.

"First of all, as the FBI said (during the forum) hanging a noose under the circumstances these nooses were hung is a hate crime," Washington said Monday. "... If these were adults who hung the noose, there would be less of an issue with moving forward with the investigation and prosecution."

He said hanging the noose after a student asks about being able to conduct some kind of activity around school tends to indicate strongly that the white students who hung it were intending to send a message. But because those who hung the nooses were juveniles, it makes the process much more difficult.

He said the federal government rarely prosecutes juveniles, and even if it does, it would be in a juvenile delinquency hearing that would be closed to the public and conducted in a manner that the public would be unaware that it even occurred.

About a month ago in an editorial, The Town Talk expressed the sentiment that Jena is not alone in dealing with racial issues. However, it mentions no other communities where white people are still hanging nooses from trees and how those communities handled the problem. Then in today's editorial, the third piece about the Jena Six, the tone is more forceful, but the message is the same - racism isn't unique to Jena.

News organizations, editorial writers, television stations and Web sites with all kinds of agendas have zeroed in on the trials and the community as being the epicenter of all things racist. They are wrong, of course, and they need only look in their own front yards to see that. But it is so much easier to go to Small Town, America, deep in the heart of Dixie, to find and point at ugliness.

While there is mention of "six young black men who are charged with beating up a young white man," there's no mention of nooses hanging from a tree in the school yard, placed there by white students, or hate crimes or why they are enacted or why the initial situation should have been addressed properly a year ago when the principal recommended expulsion for the students found responsible. Instead, the paper has managed to avoid the issue of the nooses – just like the LaSalle Parish School officials, the LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Department, the Jena Police Department, and the District Attorney's Office.

So for those who contend that nooses hanging from the branches of trees has nothing to do with race in America, check out this Web site, Without Sanctuary, a collection of "photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America." Or watch this video of Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit":

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:35 AM

Comeaux chosen for Iberia Parish President

Last night at a special meeting, long time Iberia Parish councilman Caesar Comeaux was unanimously appointed by the council to become interim parish president. Comeaux, who was first elected to the council in 1967, says it's time to look forward and leave the past behind. He steps in to replace Will Langlinais, parish president for the past 15 years, who last week resigned and pled guilty to one count of malfeasance in office. "I'm going to review what we have, where we want to go, how we're going to get there," Comeaux says. On his first day at work, he is speaking with parish employees, letting them know he wants them to do the jobs they've been hired to do. "They don't have to come to me every day to report--get the work done serving the people, that's what we're all about," says Comeaux. Former New Iberia mayor pro-temps Nolan Pellerin says the 81- year-old Comeaux has worked hard over the years to represent his district and the council. "In all that time, he's never sought recognition," Pellerin says. "The parish is in good hands." Comeaux is slated to serve until January, when the winner of this fall's election will be sworn in.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:09 AM

Clapton and Landreth give 'em Hell

The INDsider noted last week that Breaux Bridge six-string genius Sonny Landreth was slated for a big day at rock legend Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival in Chicago this past Saturday. Clapton's become one of Landreth's biggest champions in recent years, and the man behind Cream, Derek and the Dominoes and Blind Faith appeared genuinely thrilled to have Landreth at his guitar extravaganza. Billboard reports:

Clapton started the day with a guitar in his hands, completing emcee Bill Murray's comic attempt to play "Gloria" and introducing the first act, Louisiana guitar great Sonny Landreth. Clapton helped Landreth close his set with "Hell at Home" and spent most of the day at the side of the stage, talking to the other performers, hanging out with his wife and children and taking pictures.

Two Landreth performances from his Crossroads set (including Clapton's cameo on "Hell at Home") are online here. For a brief teaser, here's the video of Slowhand bringing Landreth to the stage:

by: Scott Jordan 9:48 AM

Monday, July 30, 2007

Buckels planning another bid for District 31

All indications are that a familiar face will soon be entering the race for District 31 state representative. Multiple sources say that Charlie Buckels, a longtime fixture with the parish and state Republican parties, will soon be announcing another bid for the seat. Buckels narrowly lost the District 31 race four years ago, when state rep. Don Trahan edged him out by 13 votes in the runoff. Buckels also made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1996. When asked for comment, Buckels would only say, "I'm not officially in the race right now but I am very, very much interested in it and in just a few weeks I'm going to be making an announcement regarding the race."

"I know the issues," he adds. "I know the voting record and we need leadership in this district." Buckels, who worked for 30 years in insurance investments, now represents Redflex, the company recently awarded a contract to install cameras to monitor red light running in Lafayette. He would be facing off against Trahan, the incumbent Republican, and Nancy Landry, a family law counselor and registered independent who has raised an early $100,000 for the race and is launching radio ads this week.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:25 AM

Landrieu secures FEMA funding for Iberia Parish elementary school

It literally took an act of Congress to force FEMA to relocate an Iberia Parish elementary school situated in a flood zone to higher ground. Peebles Elementary is located on Weeks Island Road near the Port of Iberia. Inundated by Rita's storm surge, in the early days after the storm, the school was identified by FEMA as qualifying for $3.2 million to relocate outside of the flood zone. School board officials spent nearly half a million purchasing a site for the new school before FEMA reneged on their promise. Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu attempted to restore the funding, but FEMA denied her request last year. In January, the Iberia Parish School Board voted to spend approximately $12 million of their own money to build a new elementary school that would merge Peebles and Grand Marais Elementary. Last week, Landrieu amended a Senate homeland security appropriations bill to include $1.6 million to help relocate Peebles Elementary. Landrieu, calling FEMA's actions "ridiculous," took the agency to task.

FEMA made a promise to Peebles Elementary school and six months later the agency broke its word. The Senate recognized that rebuilding a school in a location that is extremely vulnerable to devastating storms makes no sense and these children deserve better from their government.

The Homeland Security Appropriations bill will now go to conference with the House, which passed its version June 15.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:31 AM

Wetlands activist travels 12,000 miles

Remember Terry Forrette? For the last three months and 12,000 miles he's been riding a Harley across the United States to raise awareness of coastal erosion. He rolled into Slidell on Friday night. Forrett says, "Losing a football field of wetlands every 38 minutes is a serious matter, and I think that Texans, Californians, North Dakotans, Washingtonians, Floridians and everyone in between now have a better understanding of what Louisiana's wetland loss means to the country." Check out the Web sites for Riding the Rim and America's Wetlands.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:10 AM

Lafayette Middle School makes Southern Living

Kudos to Lafayette Middle School and teacher Stacy Hess for their inclusion in Southern Living's current August 2007 cover story on protecting barrier islands. Southern Living writer Steve Bender notes:

On Fifi Island, a small barrier island near Grand Isle, I watched seventh-grade students from Stacy Hess's environmental and biological sciences class at Lafayette Middle School plant salt-tolerant black mangrove seedlings to help stabilize a shoreline scraped clean by Hurricane Katrina.

The description accompanying the picture on the right-hand page says it all:

Coordinated by Wayne Keller of the Grand Isle Port Commission, students from Lafayette Middle School in Louisiana plant seedlings they grew at school as part of the Coastal Roots project. The black mangrove seedlings will keep Fifi Island from washing away. "You are all heroes," David Bourgeois of the Louisiana Sea Grant Marine Extension tells the children. "You are going to save this island."

by: Scott Jordan 10:01 AM

Blueprint debuts reform agenda today

Blueprint Louisiana, a state reform movement initiated by Lafayette leaders, debuts its five-part plan to improve the state at a noon meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge, De La Ronde Hall, 320 Third St. Doors open at 11:30 a.m., and the program starts at 12:15.

Calling itself a "nonpartisan organization led and supported by business and community leaders from all regions of the state," the group's mission is implement essential changes in state government. Blueprint reps say they've been reviewing existing Louisiana-based research, analyzing studies from regional and national groups and interviewing experts, interested parties and academics that have been involved in these issues.

A multi-million dollar media campaign will ensue after today's launch. Candidates who sign on to support Blueprint's agenda will receive the group's support. The organization promises to actively campaign against those who do not.

by: Leslie Turk 8:49 AM

Friday, July 27, 2007

Saban to LSU: It wasn't personal

Florida Coach Urban Meyer may be defending a national title this year, but his reception at the Southeastern Conference's football media days paled in comparison to Nick Saban's. More than 600 reporters crowded into the new Alabama head coach's session yesterday, pressing him on his abrupt departure from the Miami Dolphins, his record $4 million salary, and relations with his former team turned bitter rival, LSU. Asked how aware he was of any backlash in Louisiana created by him taking the Bama coaching job, and if anything had filtered back to him, Saban had this to say:

You know, I'm very aware of all the things that happened. One of our ladies, administrative assistants, who worked for us at LSU who went to a wedding in Baton Rouge got her tires slashed at the wedding. So I think we're very aware of the backlash; live it every day.
I absolutely hate to see people on my staff who we care about, love, and want to see have success have to be penalized, you know, for that.

But at the same time, I can't answer that question any differently than what I've already answered it. We have respect and admiration for the people in the state of Louisiana. What was accomplished there at LSU was special to us. We have respect for the institution and the people who are there now, the players that have represented the program there that we have had involvement with in the past, and would do anything to help any of them be successful.
We have no ill feelings towards anybody. It was not our intention to create any of this by leaving there. It was not a personal thing to us. It was strictly a professional decision. When we left LSU it wasn't personal. We thought it was professional. We learned about ourselves, made a mistake in terms of what we did, in terms of what we want to do, where we feel we should be, and you can't go back.

I mean, there was no opportunity for me to go back to LSU. This was a great opportunity that we had at the University of Alabama. We chose it. It wasn't personal. It wasn't meant to hurt or harm anyone at LSU. Now, I can't say that any better, any more, whatever. I'd like for somebody to record it and we just push the button and go from there. How's that? I'm just kidding (smiling).

LSU Coach Les Miles, who has had to live under Saban's shadow at LSU and has played his own part in fueling the rivalry with Bama, faces reporters today.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:50 AM

Eric Clapton and Sonny Landreth at Crossroads tomorrow

Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton has turned into one of Breaux Bridge six-string wizard Sonny Landreth's biggest fans in recent years. "He's probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced," Clapton recently said of Landreth. Slowhand's put his money where his mouth is, too, booking Landreth for his inaugural guitar-blowout Crossroads Festival in 2004 in Dallas. It's encore time tomorrow, as Clapton will take the stage in Chicago at the 2007 Crossroads Festival and personally introduce Landreth to kick off the festival. MSN.com is webcasting the event beginning at 12:30 p.m. so the intro might not be broadcast, but Landreth's set should still be going on when the webcast starts. And of course, no telling if Landreth might sit in later with the likes of fellow Crossroads performers Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan and more.

Here's a smoking live clip of Landreth with John Hiatt to fire up your Friday morning:

by: Scott Jordan 10:37 AM

Chris John heading to Mid-Continent O&G Assoc.?

In his Louisiana Political Fax Weekly, John Maginnis reports that former U.S. Rep. Chris John is expected to be named the next president of Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association, which lobbies the Legislature on behalf of all sectors of the oil and gas industry. Citing industry sources, Maginnis says John will take over the post held by longtime association leader Jim Porter, who is moving toward retirement.

Contacted this morning by The Independent Weekly, Mid-Continent spokesman Larry Wall declined comment, and John could not be reached. After losing the 2004 Senate race to David Vitter, John began lobbying Congress for Ogilvy Governmental Relations. Earlier this year, he also considered running for governor.

by: Leslie Turk 10:37 AM

Election speculation hot topic in Iberia

With the abrupt resignation of Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais on Wednesday, talk has begun to swirl across the parish about who will jump into the upcoming race for his seat. Over the last 15 years, Langlinais has been an unbeatable candidate in four elections, collecting over 70 percent of the vote each time he was challenged, walking back into office twice without opposition. Two announced candidates, retired Regions Bank president Ernest Freyou and offshore supervisor Ronnie Migues already have signs in place, as did Langlinais, as late as Wednesday. Term-limited state rep. and former Iberia Parish sheriff Errol "Romo" Romero also has erected signs around town that don't specify what he might be running for. Yesterday, he refused to clarify his position, telling The Advocate, "I'm not opening the door and I'm not closing the door."

Another name on many lips is term-limited state senator Craig Romero, who served as Iberia Parish President from 1984 until he was elected to the state senate in 1992. Iberia Parish councilman Bernard Broussard, who was one of the key players in calling for the audit of Langlinais' administration, has also been mentioned, but Broussard confirmed yesterday that he is running for his own district seat.

Meanwhile the council will meet on Monday to find an interim replacement for Langlinais. While council members have been mum about who they are considering from within their own ranks, members who are not running for re-election are likely choices. George Gros and Ray Fremin are stepping down in January, and sources say they are on the short list to become the interim head of parish government. Council president Caesar Comeaux has also been mentioned as a possible choice.

Qualifying is Sept. 4-6. The election will be held on October 20.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:30 AM

Louisiana's kids don't count

Louisiana remains one of the worst places in the nation for kids, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count report. One-third of Louisiana's children live in single-parent homes or homes where a parent doesn't have full-time work, and 19 percent of the state's children live in poverty. Coming in at No. 49, the only other state worse for a child is Mississippi. Since 1990, Louisiana has consistently ranked at the bottom of the report, which analyzes rates of infant mortality, teen births, high school dropout rates, percentages of children living in poverty and other factors.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:54 AM

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Meet Charles Foti's medical experts

A day after a New Orleans grand jury declined to indict Dr. Anna Pou, refuting Attorney General Charles Foti's homicide accusations against Pou, Foti took the unusual step of releasing all "investigatory" documents compiled by his office in the case to press outlets. The files detail the findings of five experts used by Foti's office. It's standard practice for private attorneys to cherry-pick and pay expert witnesses for preparatory work and trial testimony, and today's Times-Picayune reports that criminal pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht says he charged Foti's office $300 an hour for his work on the Memorial Katrina case, and was unsure of the total amount he earned for working for Foti's office.

Of all the expert witnesses that Foti could have used in this case, Wecht is a controversial choice. He's currently under an 84-count federal grand jury indictment that alleges mail and wire fraud and also accuses Wecht of bartering unclaimed bodies in exchange for use of lab space at Carlow University.

In addition to Wecht, another expert Foti used was Dr. Michael Baden, host of the HBO television show Autopsy. Baden is perhaps best known for being an expert witness for O.J. Simpson's defense, and here's how USA Today encapsulated Baden's work in that case:

Contradicted nearly all of pathologist Spitz's opinions about fingernail wounds, thinks Simpson cut hand on glass shards; believes multiple killers used multiple weapons; killers should have gotten blood on skin and clothes; Goldman could have remained on his feet struggling with his killer for two or three minutes after being stabbed; didn't recall telling national TV audience that Goldman remained standing for 10 minutes; reviewed film clip and said difference between two, three and five minutes was inconsequential because it was still five to 10 minutes from first stab wound to death.

by: Scott Jordan 11:16 AM

Mayhem tonight at the Blue Moon

Tonight the Mayhem String Band rolls into Lafayette for a show at the Blue Moon Saloon. The young 5-piece North Mississippi string band plays what it calls "outlaw bluegrass" music. The acoustic group plays an old school style of country music - borrowing from bluegrass, old time and classic country – that's probably more hillbilly music than anything else, complete with blazing picking solos and songs about drinking, Hank Williams, love gone wrong, the devil, and jail. The Mayhem String Band is traveling across the country in support of their debut album "Rapscallions and Ne'erdowells".

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:26 AM

Absinthe makes the brain go wander

Sometimes a glass of wine just won't do it. If you're looking to take a walk on the wild side, New Orleans native chemist Ted Breaux may be the distiller of your dreams. Breaux deconstructed the elements of absinthe, the beloved cocktail of 19th century bohemian New Orleans and France. Banned in the U.S. because of its storied hallucinogenic properties, it is alive and tippled in Europe. A decade ago, Breaux took his recipe to the french Combier Distillery which brews historic elixirs in 1870's alembics (alchemical stills). He has recreated a line of historic absinthes which can be mail-ordered from France, allegedly without bringing the revenuers beating on your door. One label, Lucid, which Breaux persuaded FDA regulators to admit into U.S. liquor stores and bars is legally sold in New York, and Breaux is looking for a Louisiana distributer. Lately, he has been working on another fringe aperitif, Perique, distilled from the extremely rare and highly pungent tobacco of the same name. Perique tobacco is native to St. James Parish, and only grown by a few farmers in the area. Described by Times-Picayune arts writer Doug MacCash as

amber colored, mildly sweet, warm on the tongue but not hot, with the slight tannic bitterness of iced tea. The mellow can't-put-your-finger-on-it flavor invites one analytic sip after another,

Perique liquor is also offered online by Liqueurs de France. Whether it makes it through the mail to your door is another story.
Image: Absinthe Drinker in a Cafe by Edgar Degas

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:51 AM

Ernie Alexander won't seek re-election

District 43 state Rep. Ernie Alexander won't seek re-election this fall. The 74-year-old retired broadcaster says that while term limits don't prevent him from seeking a third term, he will honor his original intention to serve eight years in the state legislature. Alexander's announcement comes as strong competition had emerged to challenge him for the seat. Page Cortez, a 46-year-old Republican and the co-owner and operator of La-Z-Boy furniture and Stoma's furniture, is preparing to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks, having already raised some $60,000 for the campaign. In a commentary posted on his Web site earlier this week, Alexander expressed reservations about going up against a candidate who was being backed by the same organization that helped elect state Rep. Joel Robideaux and state Sen. Mike Michot. Alexander released the following statement today:

After much soul-searching and prayer, I have decided not to seek re-election as State Representative for District 43.

Colleagues in the House of Representatives have encouraged me to run and have said "influential people" are promoting me as Speaker of the House. This is flattering. As Speaker, Appropriations Chairman or Ways and Means Chairman it is evident many benefits would accrue to this community.

Nevertheless, a strong commitment to term-limits has tugged at my conscience. As one who went to Baton Rouge to testify on behalf of term-limits, urging that the Legislature adopt a limit of two four-year terms, I feel obligated to honor that original intent.

I have enjoyed serving the citizens of District 43 and expect to continue service to my community in other areas.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:49 AM

DOTD: state's infrastructure backlog now $14 billion

DOTD Secretary Johnny Bradberry says the state has a $14 billion backlog of infrastructure projects that need to be funded to keep the Louisiana competitive. "You talk about economic development. In my opinion, that's the driver for bringing economic development and prosperity to this state," Bradberry said last night on the TV program Focus on Louisiana.

The Focus on Louisiana series is sponsored by Cox Communications and the Council for a Better Louisiana and airs on Cox Channel 4 locally. CABL's Barry Erwin, who co-hosts the show with Cox's Rusty Jabour, suggested public/private partnerships to expand highway infrastructure, particularly in population growth areas like Baton Rouge and Lafayette, and to adequately support the state's entire transportation system.

An effort by state Sen. Mike Michot and state Rep. Joel Robideaux to divert motor vehicle sales taxes back to municipalities across the state for infrastructure improvements was unsuccessful in the recent legislative session. Michot said the plan would have meant about $15 million a year in additional road maintenance dollars for Lafayette Parish.

To view the segment on transportation in streaming video, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 9:35 AM

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Will Langlinais resigns, pleads guilty to malfeasance in office

A somber Will Langlinais took the stand this morning before 16th Judicial District Judge John Conery to end his 15-year tenure as Iberia Parish president. Langlinais resigned, effective immediately. He also pled guilty to one count of malfeasance in office. Langlinais has agreed to pay $50,000 in restitution to Iberia Parish Government. Sentencing could include five years of hard labor or could result in probation. Conery set a sentencing date for Aug. 2 at 9 a.m. Iberia Parish council member Naray Hulin says the council will meet early next week to appoint an interim parish president, probably from among the members of the council.

Langlinais' resignation comes at the end of a 15-month investigation instigated by four members of the Iberia Parish Council. Discovery of parish contracts entered into and extended by Langlinais without knowledge of the council led council members Bernard Broussard, Glen Romero, Larry Richard and Ray Femin to ask District Attorney Phil Haney for advice. Haney contacted the Attorney General's office and the state legislative auditor. An ensuing audit uncovered drainage work done on behalf of private landowners at no cost to them by parish public works employees, abuse of authority for reimbursement of expenses to which Langlinais was not legally entitled, extension and modification of contracts in violation of the parish Home Rule Charter, and malfeasance in office. Langlinais allegedly attempted to improperly influence the statements of various persons in response to the auditor's investigation.

Langlinais says that he made the decision to plead guilty in order to end the ordeal for himself, his family and Iberia Parish. "I have made some errors in judgment; however, I have always attempted to act in the best interests of the citizens of Iberia Parish and their government. It is time for the controversy to end and for Iberia Parish to move forward. I remain forever thankful to the citizens for allowing me to serve as parish president."

by: Mary Tutwiler 11:10 AM

Foti casts about for a scapegoat

Attorney General Charles Foti must be taking public relations lessons from U.S. Sen. David Vitter. Immediately after a New Orleans grand jury refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou on homicide charges in the Medical Memorial Hospital/Katrina case, Foti put out a one-sentence statement that said, "The dedicated employees of the Attorney General's Office have done their duty as required by federal and state law, and I am very proud of our efforts on behalf of the victims and their families."

So even after his always-shaky case was finally buried for good, note how Foti uses the word "victims," continuing to publicly imply that Pou, Landry and Budo murdered people while tending to patients post-Katrina at Memorial. The honorable thing for Foti to do yesterday would have been to accept his defeat and move on – but sometime after issuing his statement, Foti decided to ratchet up his character attacks on Pou and the two nurses. At a Baton Rouge press conference, Foti claimed he had medical experts willing to testify that the patient deaths were homicides – while conveniently neglecting to mention that New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard, after exhaustive testing and consultation with top forensic experts, had already said that the physical evidence did not support the homicide charges.

In the most telling move, Foti then tried to place the blame on embattled New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan, a tactic that might ordinarily fly if it wasn't so transparent and Jordan wasn't such an easy target as scapegoat. But Foti has to try and account for the most stinging rebuke of his career somehow, and according to The Advocate, he's not handling it well. Foti grew angry at the press conference when a reporter asked about his re-election prospects:

"I really don't care how it affects my chances for election," he snapped.

Foti might not care, but I suspect a lot of voters will care when they head to the voting booths on Oct. 20 for the Attorney General election.

by: Scott Jordan 10:59 AM

Will Langlinais resigns

Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais has resigned from office, effective immediately. Read "Will Langlinais resigns, pleads guilty to malfeasance in office" for more information.

by: admin 10:30 AM

The Wine Loft uncorks Thursday

Peer inside the window of Tim McCoy's The Wine Loft, behind Bonefish Grill in River Ranch's Main Street development, and it's obvious there's quite a bit of work to be done before tomorrow's soft launch. "They have confirmed with us that no matter what, they will be open for business on the 26th," says Ashley Copeland, a spokeswoman with The Wine Loft's public relations agency in Birmingham. The grand opening is Wednesday, Aug. 22.

McCoy, who has owned downtown's Jefferson Street Pub for more than four years, is a franchisee for the Baton Rouge-based company and has rights to develop additional locations of the high-end bar in Lafayette Parish.

McCoy says while The Wine Loft's décor is upscale, the emphasis is squarely on comfort. "I believe the surprise to the public will be how laid back an environment they will experience in such an upscale bar," McCoy says. "It's quite a unique feel." For more on The Wine Loft, read today's Turk File.

by: Leslie Turk 10:26 AM

Ernie Alexander may not seek re-election

State Rep. Ernie Alexander is considering walking away from a career in politics that has spanned two decades as both city councilman and state legislator. The 74-year-old retired broadcaster surprised many supporters when he posted a column on his Web site this week titled "To be or not to be" in which he states "Today, I am undecided as to whether I will seek re-election or not." Alexander says the fact that he was one of the original supporters of two-term limits for state legislators gives him pause in seeking a third term. He also would have to face off against a formidable opponent. Page Cortez, co-owner and operator of La-Z-Boy furniture, has already been putting together an impressive organization to run against Alexander, including many of the same supporters who helped fund and elect state Sen. Mike Michot and state Rep. Joel Robideaux. Read the full story in this week's Independent.

by: admin 10:22 AM

No indictment against Dr. Pou

On Tuesday, an Orleans Parish grand jury refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou for allegedly euthanizing patients at Memorial Medical Center in the week following Hurricane Katrina. (Read Jason Berry's account of events in the Nov. 1 cover story, Charles Foti and The Memorial Three.) After learning of the grand jury's decision, Pou made a public statement :

Today's events are not a triumph, but a moment of remembrance for those who lost their lives during the storm, and a tribute to all of those who stayed at their post and served people most in need. ... All of us need to remember the magnitude of human suffering that occurred in the City of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina so that we can ensure that this never happens again, and that no health-care professional should ever be falsely accused in a rush to judgment.

Read the accounts from The Associated Press and The New York Times.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:30 AM

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

One week left for Road Home applications

At this point, it seems like a particularly cruel invitation: Only one week left to enter a Kafka-esque bureaucratic hall of mirrors that could break your heart and crush your spirit, but you might receive funds to help rebuild your hurricane-damaged property. It's more complicated than that. For all the bumbles, missteps, and outright inexcusable mistakes made by the Road Home program, getting Road Home funds could still be the difference between a hurricane-affected resident staying in the state or packing up for other pastures. And while it might seem ridiculous on the surface that an eligible homeowner still hasn't applied for assistance after almost two years, remember that many people are still fighting with their insurance companies and are unsure what amount their insurance is going to cover. So if you know anyone who's still on the fence about using Road Home, remind them that they only have one week left to make their decision. The deadline for applications to the Road Home program is next Tuesday, July 31.

For more info, visit www.road2LA.org or call 1 (888) ROAD.2.LA (1 (888)762-3252) or 1 (800) 566-4224.

For the record, here's the latest Road Home statistics:

Total applications received and recorded to date: 158,489
Appointments held: 140,835
Benefits calculated: 103,292
Amount of benefits calculated: $7.285 billion
Closings held: 36,655

by: Scott Jordan 11:05 AM

Baseball great Johnny Bench in town today

Baseball great Johnny Bench will be making patient rounds at Our Lady of Lourdes' orthopedic unit at 4:30 p.m. today. Bench, who is in town to share his experiences with joint replacement, will also be autographing baseballs in the unit.

From 6 to 8 p.m. tonight, the former Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher will be a guest speaker at a free public seminar for joint pain sufferers at the City Club at River Ranch. Bench had total hip replacement surgery in 2004 after suffering for years from chronic joint pain. The evening is sponsored by medical device manufacturer Stryker and the Arthritis Association of Louisiana. To register, call 1-888-stryker or click here.

Excelling behind the plate and more so in the batter's box, Bench suffered knee problems in his later years as a player, a common ailment for catchers. For the last three years of his career, he played mostly third or first base, catching about 13 games. During one of his final games on Sept. 17, 1983, proclaimed "Johnny Bench Night" at Riverfront Stadium, he hit his 389th and final home run.

Bench was overwhelmingly elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in January 1989, his first year of eligibility. At the time of his retirement, he was the all-time home run and RBI leader for catchers (later surpassed by Chicago White Sox's Carlton Fisk and more recently by Oakland Athletics' Mike Piazza). Now 61, he is regarded as one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game. Annually, the Johnny Bench Award is presented to the best collegiate catcher in the country.

by: Leslie Turk 10:35 AM

Pave paradise, protect a tree

One of the most revered icons in town is getting a little TLC this month. Father Keith DeRouen, pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is overseeing a project to create more parking for the church and Cathedral-Carmel school; serendipitously, his plan will enhance and protect one of the oldest residents of the church grounds, and a charter member of the Live Oak Society, the St. John Oak.

When the old rectory behind the oak was demolished for a parking lot, a vista opened up that allowed church officials to really see the scale of the tree. DeRouen says he consulted with arborist and UL horticulture professor Jim Foret, whose father before him kept watch over the St. John Oak for the past 50 years. "They're giving the root system more room--which is almost never done," Foret says. "With these trees the root system extends beyond the branches. Every time we pave a driveway or a patio next to a tree, we take away space for root systems. It's very unusual giving space back to a tree."

DeRouen says the church actually lost about 15 parking spaces in the lot closest to St. John Street. Asphalt was removed which will be replaced by a crushed stone bed and a cobblestone walkway that will surround the tree while allowing the roots to breathe. A decorative iron fence will keep visitors from walking under the limbs and compacting the soil over roots that run along the surface. "All the work is for the oak," says DeRouen. "We're spending tens of thousands of dollars to give more longevity to the life of the tree. Of all the renovations that I've done here in the nine years, and I've renovated the exterior of the cathedral, the plaza, did the interior and exterior of L'Eveche, did the interior and exterior of the Cathedral Center, it's the first time we have had to go into debt, and it's because of the oak. I didn't expect that the attention to the oak would be so great, but it is what it is. It's worth every penny."

Foret will be talking about the St. John Oak and other historic trees with Lagniappe guest host Conni Castille today at 1 p.m. on KRVS.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:22 AM

Council takes up new building regs

The city-parish council will consider new commercial and residential building requirements as part of a comprehensive drainage ordinance up for adoption at tonight's regular meeting. The new law would require all residential and commercial development within a federally designated flood zone to be built one foot above the base flood elevation. The ordinance will also finally put on the books retention requirements which city-parish government has long encouraged for all new residential and commercial developments. The new drainage ordinance has been in the works for several years and was first recommended by the Lafayette In A Century steering committee in 2001. "Drainage is one of the issues we hear most about," says Councilman Bruce Conque. "This is designed to protect homeowners and developers."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:22 AM

Louisiana could owe you money

Over a million Louisiana homeowners may have overlooked a tax credit, leaving $200 million on the table. But over 200,000 Louisiana homeowners have pocketed about $170 from the state of Louisiana with their 2006 state income tax returns. The Times-Picayune reports "the claim is available to nearly everyone who pays property insurance premiums in Louisiana."

In December, the Legislature in a fit of largesse set aside $239 million to refund special assessments that policyholders paid in 2005 and 2006 to help bail out Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state's insurer of last resort that was overwhelmed by damage claims from Katrina.

The key lies in the declaration page provided by your insurance company every year.

The declaration page lists fees for assessments for the two types of coverage under Citizens: the FAIR and Coastal plans. Policyholders are entitled to the tax credit for the full amount of the fees charged for both of those plans.

And if you already filed your returns by the May 15 deadline, you can still file an amended form. Read the entire article for more information.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:06 AM

Monday, July 23, 2007

Georges comes out swinging against Jindal

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Georges has been relatively quiet so far on the campaign trail, but now he's lobbed a grenade straight into the current fissure of the Louisiana Republican Party. As frontrunner and U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal continues to distance himself from embattled U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Georges is employing the risky strategy of supporting Vitter and blasting Jindal for a lack of loyalty.

"These recent disclosures have undoubtedly damaged Vitter's clout in Washington, but instead of abandoning him when he's in trouble – as Bobby Jindal has done – we should help Vitter remain a force in national politics by following his family's lead and forgiving him as constituents," Georges said in a statement released this morning. "Whether you like David Vitter's politics or not, you cannot dismiss his service to our state and the importance of having him recover from the crisis and remain in the Senate. The next few years are critical to our ongoing hurricane recovery and we need David Vitter in Washington."

"As a lifelong Republican I am appalled at the way Bobby has turned his back on David Vitter," continues Georges. " …His actions in the last two weeks show he is only worried about getting elected and is unwilling to do what's right if it's not popular."

Georges sees an opening here, and he's probably going to keep hammering away at it with his $7 million in campaign cash until Jindal makes some more definitive statements about his current perception of – and political relationship with – Vitter. As a recent Monroe News-Star story illustrates, Jindal's being vague by noticeably chilly regarding Vitter:

When Jindal, R-Metairie, was asked whether he remained an ally of Vitter, who last week was linked to a Washington, D.C. escort service, Jindal said: "What do you mean by ally?" That was followed by a question asking Jindal whether or not he would vote on Vitter, a Republican who has been seen a mentor to Jindal in the past. His response: "There's not an election for three more years."

by: Scott Jordan 10:35 AM

Agave Mexican restaurant opens downtown

Agave Cantina, Lafayette restaurateur Nidal Balbeisi's newest concept on Vermilion Street (across from Stan's), is now open for lunch and dinner. Balbeisi's almost 5,000-square-foot restaurant blends the spices of traditional Mexican cuisine with local flavors in a contemporary atmosphere, offering a tequila bar and lounge with more than 40 fine agave tequilas. It also has a large patio dining area.

Additionally, Balbeisi is about two weeks shy of opening what will likely be the prototype for a fast-food franchise of his popular Zeus concept. The Greek and Lebanese eatery is taking over the former Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits at 4100 Johnston St. The new restaurant will be Balbeisi's fifth Zeus location in Lafayette. No opening date has been set for his Italian restaurant, Trynd, which is locating next to Zeus Café on Jefferson Street.

by: Leslie Turk 10:26 AM

Four percent of parish voters turn out for tax renewals

With no candidates, new tax proposals, or state issues on the ballot, a vast majority of Lafayette voters elected to stay home for Saturday's election. While only four percent of parish voters showed up at the polls, 63 percent of those that did voted to renew parish millages that support the courthouse complex and the jail. A slightly higher percentage, 5 percent, of city voters turned out and renewed a citywide public buildings millage with a 65 percent majority. And 87 voters within the downtown central business district overwhelmingly renewed a millage to support the Downtown Development Authority, with only three voters opposing the measure.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:19 AM

Buddy Roemer endorses John McCain

Despite campaign fundraising problems and recent cuts in his campaign staff, presidential hopeful John McCain managed to secure the endorsement of former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer. In a press release, the Arizona Republican Senator said of Roemer: "Buddy is a dedicated public servant and a respected leader in Louisiana. I am grateful for his endorsement and look forward to his help in building support for my campaign throughout the state." Roemer became governor in 1987 when Edwin Edwards withdrew from the race. In 1991, in the race with Edwards and former Klu Klux Klansman David Duke, Roemer came in third. He attempted another comeback in 1995 but was defeated by Mike Foster.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:01 AM

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lafayette Parish libraries go wireless

All 10 of Lafayette Parish's libraries are now offering residents free wireless Internet service. Because wireless was previously offered at only a few locations, patrons often waited in line to use the public desktop computers, which have time limits. Now, users with their own laptops, cell phones and PDAs have unlimited e-mail and Internet access while in the library. Properly configured cards will automatically detect the library's "public library" identification, and no password is needed to access the network. "Other advantages users have are the ability to dowload files permanently to their own devices and the ability to utilize specific programs installed on their devices that may not be available on public workstations," says Adam Melancon, systems administrator for Lafayette Parish's libraries.

Printing from laptop computers, however, is not yet available with the wireless network. Users can either e-mail the files to themselves to print at another location or save them to a disk or USB drive and use the public library computer to retrieve the files and print them at the library.

For more information about wireless access and other electronic resources at Lafayette Parish's libraries, call 261-5787; for a list of the 10 branches and their hours of operation, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:49 AM

Buy a book, support your school

Books XYZ is a non-profit internet bookstore headquartered in Lafayette. Designed to support schools and education, president Joseph Abraham has come up with a way for book buyers and readers to raise money for their schools. This is how it works. If you buy a book from booksxyz.com, you can direct 5 percent of the purchase price to any school in the country simply by scrolling down to the bottom of any page at booksxyz.com, click on "find your school," fill in the name and city of your school and a code will pop up. Add this code to your purchase info and cha-ching, your school can rake in some cash.

However, says Abraham, about half of the store's clients don't select a school, leaving a lot of money on the bookshelf. To collect that unused money all you have to do is build a link to booksxyz.com into your next internet posting, whether you're blogging, facebooking, myspacing or whatever. Just mention a book that you like; for example I picked James Lee Burke's new book, The Tin Roof Blowdown. Create a link to the book at booksxyz.com by finding the book on the booksxyz.com website, copying the URL (that's the internet address on your browser), adding a hyphen and typing in the code of your school (I picked UL Lafayette). When somebody clicks on it as their link to buy the book at booksxyz.com, your school will become the default, and if they buy a book, the 5 percent will head to your school. Easy. Not so easy? You can reach Joe Abraham the old fashioned way, call him at 337 769-1466 for more information.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:46 AM

Louisiana's oil revenue reaches record levels

The annual oil and gas revenue report released Wednesday by the state Mineral Board reads like a time warp back to Louisiana's oil boom of the late 1970s and early '80s. During the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the state received a record $522.5 million in income from oil and gas royalties. It's enough to make any public official ecstatic, as oil money not only supports the general operations of the state, but also spills over into special funds for education, roads, coastal restoration and other services. "These figures, coupled with severance tax income, and increases in drilling activity, all suggest that times of growth and prosperity are upon us," says Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. "While Louisiana has an increasingly diversified economy, the energy industry remains a vital part of this state's economy."

According to Louisiana Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen, the state also earned another $600.1 million from bonus, leaseholder and interest payments, the highest tally for payments since 1983. Industry and academia sources credit Gov. Kathleen Blanco's proactive policies, such as streamlined permitting and fewer bureaucratic hoops. "The Blanco administration had its antenna up early on and responded to some of our concerns," says Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs. "With effective change, there certainly is indication in these numbers that business is on an upward spiral in this state." The newfound riches could be chalked up to high prices, but David Dismukes, LSU associate professor and associate director of the Center for Energy Studies, says increased production is also responsible. "The fact that lease sales are generating record income indicates that the industry views Louisiana in a more attractive light for future energy investments," he says. - Jeremy Alford

by: admin 10:21 AM

Lost Bayou Ramblers release "Live a la Blue Moon"

The Lost Bayou Ramblers will be at the Blue Moon tomorrow night, celebrating the release of their fourth album, and first live CD, "Live a la Blue Moon." The 18-track disc, recorded over a two-night stand at the Blue Moon back in January, features the band in their element and in their own backyard. The Ramblers roll through a crowd pleasing set that mixes its own traditional compositions alongside standards from John Fontenot and Iry Lejeune, throws in a brief "Who Dat" for the Saints, and closes things out with the 10-minute jam "Blue Moon Special." Saturday's show starts at 8 p.m. and also features opening act The Jungle Rockers from Austin.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:14 AM

The Advertiser seeks help with "grammer"

This ad ran in yesterday's and today's edition of The Daily Advertiser:

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:51 AM

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cajundome's financial troubles mounting

On the heels of FEMA knocking on the Cajundome's door for a $1 million refund of money the agency gave it for serving as a shelter, the tax man is aggressively pursuing the facility for back sales taxes. And this man is adamant the law is on his side. Lafayette Parish School Board Sales Tax Director Carl Meche claims government entities are exempt from state and local sales tax on purchases only, and must collect and remit taxes on all sales to the public. "We feel really confident," Meche says. "If the exemption is for the government entity, why are they extending the exemption to the customer?"

The sales tax office can only go back on an entity for three years, and based on the Cajundome's calculations, the estimated total (4 percent for local and 4 percent for state sales tax) plus penalties comes to about $1.4 million. Thus far, the state has not asked for its cut. The combined total of the FEMA money and sales tax, about $2.4 million, is more than a third of the Cajundome's annual $6 million budget.

In response to Meche's claim, the Cajundome filed a petition for declaratory judgment in state district court yesterday, asking the court to determine whether the public entity is required to collect sales tax on events it self-promotes or concessions, catering and merchandise it provides. Cajundome attorney Gary McGoffin says in 1993 the dome began promoting some its own events, like the Eagles, Whitney Houston and New Kids on the Block concerts, and did not collect sales taxes. When a private company promotes an event, however, sales tax is collected; prior to November 2004, when the catering and concessions at the dome were handled by Quintess Catering, that company charged sales tax.

McGoffin's petition argues that the dome does not fit the tax code's definition of either a "dealer" or "person" with an obligation to collect and remit sales tax.

The dispute has been going on since August of last year, when Meche's office realized that sales taxes were not being collected on amusement rides for the Cajun Heartland State Fair. An inquiry into that issue led to the discovery that a similar situation existed across the board.

Meche says the lawsuit will not stop him from pursuing an audit to determine how much is owed.

by: Leslie Turk 11:02 AM

Wood storks on view Saturday

They stand up to four feet tall as they wade through coastal wetlands, hunting for crawfish. Their heavy curved black beak open, they probe the shallows, making little noise unless aggravated. Then they hiss like a snake or croak like a frog. Startled, the big birds lift off slowly, fanning the air to get some height, pink feet dangling awkwardly until they catch an updraft and then with the spectacular black and white spread of their nearly 6 foot wing span, the storks take off over the cypress canopy to find a quiet place to fish. A wood stork is not an everyday sighting in Louisiana.

This weekend, the endangered largest wading bird in North America will be on view at the South Farm of the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area Complex on Saturday, July 21 from 7 a.m. till noon. At this time of year, large groups of feeding wood storks and other waders are visible in the area. Bring binoculars, a sun-hat, bug-spray. To get to the South Farm, take the Ramah Exit off 1-10 (Exit 135), head north and follow the signs. For more information call La. Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries at 337 948-0255. The event is free, but you must have a valid Hunting/Fishing License or Wild Louisiana Stamp, call 888 765-2602 to purchase a license over the phone.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:39 AM

Board of Regents' Web site leaks personal info

Imagine using Google to access more than 80,000 names and Social Security numbers on the Louisiana Board of Regents' Web site. That's exactly what law school student Aaron Titus did, according to WDSU.

In all, more than 80,000 names and Social Security numbers were accessible for perhaps as long as two years on an internal Internet site run by the Louisiana Board of Regents, the body that has oversight over the state's institutions of higher education. …

For example, there's a list of administrators and instructors at South Louisiana Community College that includes their Social Security numbers.

"I'd be shaking in my boots. I'd be really, really freaked out. All of my information is available to anyone who wants it right now," Titus said.

In a statement issued yesterday, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph Savoie stated: "Although we are aware of no misuse of non-public information, we are working with the Attorney General's office to fully investigate this matter and take any appropriate action. No mission-critical data related to the Board of Regents or Louisiana's public colleges and universities were compromised." It also setup a webpage as "a precautionary step" to explain how to go about placing a fraud alert on one's credit.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:22 AM

Blanco vetoes Sen. Michot's auto insurance bill

Gov. Kathleen Blanco used her veto pen yesterday to strike down a bill sponsored by Lafayette state Sen. Mike Michot, which would have raised minimum automobile insurance coverage requirements in the state. The bill would have raised the current 10-20-10 minimum liability coverage to new limits of 25-50-25. In a statement sent out yesterday, Blanco noted how more than 1.5 million drivers in the state carry the minimum coverage, and that the proposed increase could dramatically increase their premiums. She also complained that the bill did nothing to address the ongoing problem of drivers who carry no insurance. "Clearly the goal of this legislation is important and desirable for the improvement of our citizens," Blanco says. "However, in light of the devastating storms of 2005 and the difficult on-going economic effects on many of our residents, this is not the time to increase the required liability coverage."

Following the governor's veto, Michot released his own statement, noting how Louisiana continues to lag behind other states in minimum coverage requirements. He also acknowledged timing was "not great" for the bill. "However, we must also realize that this problem is not going to go away," he says. "We must remember that the required minimum coverage has not increased since the mandatory insurance law took effect over 20 years ago."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:06 AM

Antiques Road Sheaux

Is there a better way to spend the day than cruising up Hwy. 93 from Grand Coteau to Arnaudville while buying other people's stuff? At least a dozen families are getting together this Saturday, July 21, for the First 7 Mile Yard Sale. The idea isn't a new one. The Highway 127 Corridor Sale billed as "The World's Longest Yard Sale" covers 630 miles and covers five states. But Dr. John Daigre says that for Acadiana, this is the first extended yard sale. Daigre owns Cypress City Antiques in Arnaudville, where vendors are also setting up for free Saturday. The old lumber yard will host the Road Sheaux, where an appraiser will be on hand from noon until 2 p.m. to appraise items, along with music and barbecue. The sale kicks off Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. The activities at Cypress City Antiques start at 10 a.m. and run until 5 p.m. For more information, call Dr. John Daigre at (337) 332-1404

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:20 AM

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lemoine may finish out Easton's term

After the school board parted ways with James Easton last month, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer Burnell Lemoine has filled in as acting superintendent. At its meeting tonight, the board will officially appoint Lemoine interim superintendent of the school system. It could be a lengthy appointment. Several board members are discussing having Lemoine fill out Easton's old contract term, through the end of 2008. Proponents say this would provide for an easier transition and allow the board more time to find its next superintendent. "That's what I'm leaning toward," says board member Mike Hefner. "Burnell's personality is the type that can get everybody refocused, particularly from the academic side." Lemoine was previously superintendent of the Avoyelles Parish School System and also served a brief stint as interim superintendent in Lafayette Parish in 2000.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:01 AM

Vitter's strategy: Stonewall, stonewall, stonewall

"Vitter stopped, faced the cameras and delivered a terse statement. … Vitter would not take questions …"

Talk about déjà vu. That was the scene Monday night when U.S. Sen. David Vitter emerged from a week of hiding – and it was also The Advocate's description of the scene yesterday when Vitter returned to Washington, D.C. If there was ever any doubt, Vitter's strategy regarding his prostitution scandal is now crystal clear: stonewall, stonewall, stonewall. His contempt for the New Orleans and Louisiana press corps was evident all last week, but now he's upping the ante by thumbing his nose at the Washington, D.C. press corps as well. Yesterday was like a pathetic adult version of Beltway hide-and-seek, with Vitter using back doors to get to meetings, letting colleagues shield him in the hallways, and using an Isuzu Rodeo as his getaway car.

It's as if Vitter truly believes that as long as he refuses to acknowledge unanswered questions about his behavior – including questions about whether some of the illicit activity happened on taxpayer time, and who paid for it – the matter will go away. At the rate things are going, the exact opposite is true; today brings a fresh round of editorials ranging from The Daily Advertiser to The Washington Post urging Vitter to come clean. And with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now saying the scandal deserves a full airing due to the ongoing criminal investigation into Deborah Palfrey's prostitution ring, the spotlight on Vitter is only going to burn hotter.

by: Scott Jordan 10:59 AM

Interim no more: Walker is UL's new AD

David Walker, who has served as interim athletic director at UL Lafayette since Nelson Schexnayder stepped down two years ago, is taking over the AD post full-time. The administrator had been dividing his time between the athletic chief's position and director of auxiliary services. UL officials have not yet announced who will replace him in the latter role. As interim director, Walker worked with UL President Ray Authement to develop a formula that allows a larger percentage of the university's operating budget to be dedicated to athletics. The change was approved by the state Board of Regents earlier this month, replacing restrictions that had been in place since the oil bust of the mid-1980s.

"This is a significant step in helping to put our athletic program on an even field with other Division I programs," Walker said in a press release. "These changes will give us the ability to provide the resources our programs need to be competitive."

An almost 30 year administrator who earned his MBA from UL, Walker is responsible for personnel supervision, budget and policy management, contract negotiations, football game scheduling, contract approval of all athletic contests, ticket pricing, facility management, NCAA rules compliance, and alumni, fan and donor relations. His position becomes official after the board of supervisors for the UL System approves it.

by: Leslie Turk 10:34 AM

Langlinais hearing slated for Thursday

A hearing to determine whether Iberia Parish DA Phil Haney will have to recuse his office from pursuing criminal proceedings against Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais is scheduled for July 19 at 1:30 p.m. at the Iberia Parish Courthouse. Lafayette attorney Gerald J. Block is joined by Lester J. Gauthier Jr. as co-counsel for Langlinais. Judge John Conery will preside.

A grand jury was convened in May, and Haney issued subpoenas for witnesses to testify under oath before the grand jury, following allegations of theft, malfeasance in office, obstruction of justice and falsifying public records brought to light in March by a legislative audit. On June 8, Block filed a motion to recuse Haney's office on the grounds of conflict of interest. Under Iberia's Home Rule Charter, the Iberia Parish DA's office is counsel for both the Iberia Parish Council and the Iberia Parish President, in this case, Langlinais. If Haney steps aside, the Attorney General's office will handle the case.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:22 AM

Habitat's ReStore coming to Lafayette

Every month, there's enough building materials thrown away in Lafayette Parish to build 25 houses, according to Habitat for Humanity International. But a new retail operation from the nonprofit organization may reduce that waste, while providing local homeowners with some great deals and raising money for Habitat for Humanity's efforts.

ReStore will take in donations of new or like-new home improvement items from builders, retailers, wholesalers and individuals and then sell those items back to the public at a deep discount. Manager Michael Urness calls the concept "a home improvement thrift store." Although the concept may be new to Lafayette, it's already at work across the country and in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas.

ReStore is located at 209 E. Pinhook in Lafayette, on the United Way of Acadiana campus. It's set to open Friday, July 27, with a grand opening to follow in mid-August. ReStore will be open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. If you're interested in donating items, volunteering or learning more, contact Michael Urness at (337) 371-6030.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:45 AM

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Respected former state rep. named to airport commission

City-Parish President Joey Durel made a wise choice in naming former state Rep. Odon Bacque to fill the unexpired term of Don Higginbotham, who resigned from the Lafayette Regional Airport Commission on June 30. Better yet, it's a positive sign that someone with Bacque's leadership skills and credentials has agreed to serve on the embattled commission.

A Lafayette native who's worked for Mass Mutual Financial Group for more than two decades, Bacque will serve until July 3 of next year and will be eligible for re-appointment at that time.

In 1982 Bacque served as president (now called chairman) of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and carried its banner for consolidation of city and parish governments. Four years later, he was founding chairman of Leadership Lafayette, a community leadership program sponsored by the chamber.

Bacque was in the state Legislature representing District 43 from 1987 to 1991 as an independent and is well-remembered for his stance against former KKK grand wizard David Duke. His personal feelings notwithstanding, Bacque argued that Duke should not be seated because he failed to meet the state's requirement for domicile in the district he was elected to serve. Despite that state law was clearly on his side, Bacque lost the argument and Duke served from 1989 to 1992, eventually making the runoff for governor of the state in 1991.

by: Leslie Turk 10:59 AM

Vitter rolls the dice

After going into hiding for a week after his prostitution scandal broke, U.S. Sen. David Vitter finally broke his silence yesterday afternoon by going to one of the oldest moves in the political playbook: Blame the media.

Taking this approach is the biggest gamble of Vitter's political career, and has the potential to blow up in his face. After again asking for forgiveness, he fired some direct shots at the journalists assembled for his statement:

"Unfortunately, my admission has encouraged some long-time political enemies and those hoping to profit from the situation to spread falsehoods too, like those New Orleans stories in recent reporting," he said. "Those stories are not true. Now, having said all of this, I'm not going to answer endless questions about it all over again and again and again and again. That might sell newspapers, but it wouldn't serve my family or my constituents well at all because we all have a lot of important work to do for Louisiana."

So here's what it boils down to: Vitter is saying that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Times-Picayune is staffed by liars. Former Louisiana Weekly writer and State Rep. candidate Christopher Tidmore is a liar. Louisiana Republican State Central Committeeman Vincent Bruno is a liar. Deborah Jean Palfrey is a liar. Wendy Cortez is a liar.

Vitter's treading on extremely thin ice here. With his refusal to answer legitimate questions, he's keeping the story alive for local and national media. MSNBC's Chris Matthews said last night that Vitter looked "angry" and "contemptuous"; Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz put it best:

Doesn't a senator who preaches the sanctity of marriage and then breaches it have a responsibility to do more than read a statement? Does Vitter think reporters aren't going to dog him about this at every subsequent public appearance?

I'm not in favor of these stakeouts -- especially when kids are involved, have a heart -- but I doubt the senator can successfully run against the media here. The reason the camera crews were chasing him is that he went into hiding for a week. He says he's not going to help sell newspapers by talking about the scandal, but he has built his career on a platform of moral values and sanctity of marriage. Now, having used that spotlight to boost his political career, he wants his privacy? He wants the reporters to go away? It doesn't work that way.

by: Scott Jordan 10:59 AM

Wetlands documentary screens tomorrow night

Lafayette native Jared Arsement will be premiering Paradise Faded, an environmental documentary about Louisiana's wetlands, Wed. July 18, at the Manship Theatre in Baton Rouge. A graduate of STM and UNO's film school, Arsement, 25, picked up Mike Tidwell's Bayou Farewell, a book about the wetlands loss in Terrebonne Parish, on a summer trip with his film school classmates and never looked back. "I never had any intentions of getting into documentary filmmaking," Arsement says. "I don't even think I sat down and watched an entire documentary before I started. I probably would have made a comedy for my first film. But when I read Tidwell's book; it was a call to arms." Arsement started working on a doomsday scenerio set in New Orleans and then Katrina and Rita slammed into the state. He was trying to document a moving target. "The whole story was evolving as I was filming" he says. He captured interviews with Governor Blanco, Department of Natural Resources head Scott Angelle and LSU Hurricane Center deputy director Ivor Van Heerden as well as local voices in storm struck wetlands areas, who showed him the reality of ignoring the eroding coastline. "Even after Katrina and Rita hit and the disaster happened, we still need to shake up people to make them do something," he says. Poignantly scored by Sonny Landreth, viewers will leave the theater feeling proud of their Louisiana heritage and at the same time abandoned by their country. The free screening, hosted by Angelle, starts at 7 p.m.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:37 AM

Locals join "counter filibuster" to end Iraq war

Acadiana residents who favor ending the Iraq war are joining in a national protest aimed at Republicans who oppose setting a timetable for troop withdrawal. The "counter filibuster to end the war," sponsored by the left-leaning advocacy group MoveOn, will be held in approximately 150 cities across the country tonight. Organizers hope to put heat on Senate Republicans filibustering on Capitol Hill against a vote to begin withdrawal from Iraq. According to a press release sent out this morning by former Democratic Congressional candidate Mike Stagg, a local rally will be held on the steps of the federal courthouse at 5:30 p.m. Speakers will read statements from families of U.S. military serving in Iraq and the group will call on Sen. David Vitter to end his support of the Republican filibuster.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:30 AM

Gulf Brew doubled expectations

The anticipated crowd for this past weekend's first Gulf Brew - a beer-tasting fundraiser for the Acadiana Arts Council - was around 450 people. So you can imagine the shock of the staff and volunteers of the Acadiana Center for the Arts this past Saturday when over 1,000 people showed up on an overcast and rainy afternoon. Beer lovers crowded into an air-conditioned tent to stand in line for up to 20 minutes to taste 3-ounce samples of beer from breweries from across the Gulf South.

Rose Courville, the ACA's curator of exhibitions and event coordinator for, says the event raised over $15,000 for the arts group. By 3:30 p.m., an hour and a half into the opening of the event, some breweries were already running out of beer. "So at that point, " Courville says, "we offered a half-price ticket. But the flow of people didn't stop. That did not deter anyone from coming in the door."

Plans are already underway for another Gulf Brew event, and Courville says it might not take another year for it happen. Although it's only a few days after the inaugural event, Courville says it could turn into a semiannual - or even a quarterly - event. Other plans include moving the event to Parc International (instead of the ACA's parking lot, where hopefully a theater will be constructed by next year), doubling the number of breweries and offering 50, instead of 15, samples of beer.

"Now that we know Lafayette has a great interest in this type of event we will be much more prepared," Courville says. "But I think everyone left with a smile on their face."

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:00 AM

Monday, July 16, 2007

Most UL athletes have high GPAs

The Sun Belt Conference announced Friday that 146 UL Lafayette athletes were among the 12-school conference's 1,500 student athletes honored for achieving a grade point average of 3.0 or better. That figure represents more than half of the UL students participating in sports, says Sports Information Director Daryl Cetnar. Last year 49 percent of the school's student athletes were honored by the Sun Belt, adds Cetnar, who at press time was still evaluating the increase and did not have specific figures available.

Sun Belt schools combined to have more than 650 athletes on the Commissioner's List, which honors those achieving a 3.5 GPA or better during the 2006-07 academic year. Those with GPAs of 3.0 to 3.49 were named to the Academic Honor Roll.

The conference also announced that its 12 schools are graduating their student athletes at a higher rate than their respective school's student body.

The Ragin' Cajun football team produced 35 academic honorees, including 12 Commissioner's List members. The women's soccer team had a program-best 15 Commissioner's List members. The women's soccer and track and field teams each had 21 student-athletes on the academic lists, followed by baseball (18), men's track and field (16), softball (10), volleyball (9), golf (6), women's tennis (4), and men's (3) and women's (3) basketball. View the full list of athletes here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:47 AM

Springing Edwards from jail

With the help of some friends - like J. Bennett Johnston, Dave Treen and John Breaux - former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who's serving a 10-year prison sentence for racketeering in an Oakdale federal prison, may be getting out of prison sooner than expected. Edwards turns 80 next month and is scheduled to be released from prison in 2011. The Advocate reports that Treen is leading the charge to arrange a meeting with the White House and that Breaux is involved but not saying much about it.

Treen said he thinks Edwards has a good shot considering Bush's intervention on behalf of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Bush recently commuted Libby's 30-month jail sentence in a case involving the leak of a CIA operative's name.

The president accepted Libby's guilt but said the jail sentence was "excessive." …

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:33 AM

Tin Roof Blowdown interrupts everything

Sunday morning, warm winds lifted out of the south, tasting of salt, and sweet with the watermelon scent of bass spawning in the bayou. Sugarcane leaves like razor-edged ribbons rattled in the moving air. Sitting on the screen porch, I heard the first ping of rain on the tin roof, followed by a another, and in seconds the drumming of a summer storm beat a staccato rhythm that drowned out the noise of a car door, slamming under the portcochere. So I didn't hear the screen door bang shut, nor was I alerted by footsteps that creaked down the long hall. It wasn't until a shadow darkened the wan aluminum light of the storm that I looked up. A man with a hat brim pulled so low I couldn't see his eyes held out a tablet. "Sign this," he ordered. His breath smelled like a combination of cocktail cherries and fertilizer. I didn't have a chance to read the paper before he shoved a pen into my hand. He left behind a rectangular package. I had to get my fish knife to slice through the thick layers of brown paper and tape. Inside was something that would change all my plans. I didn't speak to anyone else that day.

By evening my eyes were rimmed with red and felt gritty. But it was over. I had done it. The Tin Roof Blowdown, James Lee Burke's new Dave Robicheaux novel, set in New Orleans and Acadiana in the aftermath of Hurrincane Katrina is slated to be out in bookstores on July 17th. I was supposed to tell you about it, but the reality is otherwise. You'll have to read it for yourself.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:13 AM

Christian Conservative group calls for Vitter resignation

The Christian Conservatives for Reform, a Metairie-based organization that has long been a supporter of Republican Sen. David Vitter, [is now calling for his resignation](javascript:void(window.open('http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/news;_ylt=Au9ih7p3_qme3EUyYuL3PF.kGjQD?ch=68276&cl=3359354&lang=en','playerWindow','width=793,height=608,scrollbars=no'));). The Rev. Grant Storms, who heads the organization, tells the Associated Press that, "when Bill Clinton fell...we said 'resign,' when William Jefferson was indicted we said 'resign,' now it's one of our people, and we need to be consistent and say, 'David, do the right thing and resign.'"

A strong advocate for traditional family values, Storms gained national notoriety in 2002 - appearing on national news programs including ABC's Primetime Live and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor - when he began circulating video he captured of public sex acts on the streets of the French Quarter during Southern Decadence, a gay pride festival.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:08 AM

Authement bid to honor Johnston denied

Don't be surprised if an Acadiana lawmaker files legislation for next year's regular session suggesting a research center at UL Lafayette in honor of an ex-Louisiana-senator-turned-Beltway-lobbyist. State lawhas long prohibited state buildings from being named after a living person, presumably to avoid any kind of dynasty being formed through this type of political product placement. (The law protects buildings, bridges, parks, game preserves and fishing locales.) But like a lot of things in Louisiana politics, there's a way around the law. Lawmakers regularly file bills exempting certain buildings and persons from the present law, allowing names to be plastered on structures regardless of the law's intent.

UL President Ray Authement asked the Attorney General's Office last month if he could rename the Research Park on campus in honor of former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat, but the resulting opinion, released last week, stated that "absent legislation," such a move "would be a violation of state law." - Jeremy Alford

by: admin 9:48 AM

Friday, July 13, 2007

Woman claims to be Vitter's prostitute

The Times-Picayune reports that Wendy Cortez, the alleged New Orleans prostitute involved with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, has come forward and that her birth name is Wendy Yow. The article introduces Tait Cortez, who claims he was Yow's boyfriend and that he has photos of Yow and Vitter together, although they aren't published with the article. And strangely, Jeanette Maier, the New Orleans madam who on Tuesday claimed that Vitter was a regular at her Canal Street brothel, says the photo of Yow is not the woman she knew as Wendy Cortez.

Yesterday, state GOP leaders began rallying around the embattled and noticeably absent Vitter, nearly three days after the senator publicly confessed his "very serious sin." Lafayette Parish GOP Chairman Mark Gremillion reiterated his statement yesterday to The INDsider and issued this statement:

Senator Vitter has handled his error properly and courageously. It is the consensus of the Republican Parish Executive Committee that Senator Vitter should continue to serve his constituents of the State of Louisiana.

Vitter will likely avoid criminal prosecution, but The Advocate reports that he could face disciplinary action from the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

by: R. Reese Fuller 11:04 AM

Barras challenging Hefner for District 5 city-parish council

John Barras, who is now in his tenth year on the Lafayette Planning Commission, is making a bid for the District 5 city-parish council seat being vacated by Lenwood Broussard. Broussard is one of four councilmen prevented by term-limits from seeking re-election. Barras will be challenging school board member Mike Hefner, who announced his intentions to run for the seat last month. Without going into specifics, Barras says that he and Hefner have different ideas for the city-parish council. "I realized he might have been elected unopposed and I wasn't going to let that happen," Barras says. "I'm going to let him bring out his platform."

For his part, Barras says he wants to help the city-parish council work toward some of the smart growth principles he has helped spearhead on the planning commission. As chair of the commission over the past two years, Barras led a group of city officials to Lincoln, Neb. to learn about proactive ways in which the Midwestern city was using to carefully manage its growth. The 60-year-old Barras, who owns Cajun Wood Products on Industrial Parkway, pledges that if he is elected, he will only serve one term on the council. "I think that I can achieve what I want to do in four years," he says. "And after all, I'd be 65, it's time to go fishing after that."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:58 AM

Old Martin Mills plant goes green

After its grand opening celebration next Wednesday, Louisiana System Built Homes, which took over the old Martin Mills plant in St. Martinville, will be hiring for all construction positions. The company manufactures affordable homes built under guidelines that make them the "green houses" of the future.

Louisiana System Built Homes opened in January and in March began manufacturing homes that meet three critical standards — affordability, energy efficiency and quality construction. The company is owned by Aubrey Shoemake, who leased the facility for a few months before buying it recently from Lafayette businessman Larry Leger. Shoemake says his homes will help offset the toll rising energy costs are taking on residents' utility bills.

Called The International Trade Center, the facility will house additional tenants that are focused on products and services supportive of "green" building practices. The center is in a Free Trade Zone area, which provides potential tenants with tax credits and other benefits. The St. Martin Parish Economic Development Authority is assisting companies with those incentives. For more information about available positions, call 326-5200; applications can be picked up at the St. Martinville office, 6261 Hwy. 31.

by: Leslie Turk 10:46 AM

Moss state's first woman Dealer of the Year

The Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association has chosen Moss Motors' owner Sharon Moss its 2007 "Dealer of the Year," an honor that recognizes excellence in sales and service, as well as community involvement.

Moss is the first woman in Louisiana to receive this prestigious award and will represent the state in San Francisco at the National Automobile Dealers Association meeting in February. She moves on to compete for the Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year, a national honor.

Moss, who took over the dealership after the death of her husband, sells Mercedes, BMW and Honda lines.

by: Leslie Turk 10:39 AM

Brew crew to gather Saturday

When it comes to covering our attitude about beer, no one has sung it better than Tom T. Hall. "I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow." So it was high time for someone to come up with a celebration of all things brewed. The Acadiana Arts Council tapped into the idea, and Lafayette's first beer festival, Gulf Brew should be hopping Saturday afternoon in conjunction with the July ArtWalk. A $15 ticket gets you 15 beer samples from breweries from across the Gulf South and local homebrewers.

Breweries include Abita Spring's Abita Brewing; Houston's Saint Arnold Brewing Company; Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company based in Kiln, Miss.; Zea Brewery from Metairie; and Covington's Heiner Brau Brewery. Lafayette's very own homebrew club, the Dead Yeast Society, will also be on hand to pass out samples of four different styles of its beverages. Don't forget to raise a glass to nos amis across the Atlantic while you're at it. Saturday is Bastille Day, France's equivalent of Independence Day, and contrary to all the hype about wine, the French ferment a frothy Alsatian masterpiece, Kronenbourg, as well. Donc, allez au fest (or in English,) "I like beer. It helps me unwind and sometimes it makes me feel mellow."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:18 AM

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Who's in the bunker with Vitter?

As the fallout continues over his prostitution scandal, U.S. Sen. David Vitter has gone into bunker mode, and hasn't been seen in any of his residences or offices in Washington, D.C., Metairie or New Orleans.

The question is, who's in the bunker with him?

Not the Louisiana Republican Party – at least not yet. None of the party's top representatives, including party chairman Roger Villere and U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, have issued strong statements of support for Vitter. Villere has confirmed discussions about Vitter resigning and yielding his seat; one scenario that must be agonizing for Vitter is stepping down to make way for 78-year-old Dave Treen, the man Vitter defeated by only 1,812 votes in a nasty 1999 campaign. Opinions seem to be closely split about whether Vitter stays or falls on the sword; Mark Gremillion, chairman of the Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee, believes Vitter will stay. "He is an incredible fundraiser, and has a lot of people's confidence," says Gremillion.

Jindal can't be happy with Vitter's timing. Jindal's statewide campaign kickoff is slated for next Monday, with scheduled appearances in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Monroe, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Lafayette and New Orleans. And the last thing Jindal wants to be asked about is Vitter's indiscretions. That's one of the most intriguing subplots of this whole mess – common sense dictates that the wagons need to be circled soon to try and stop the 24-hour news cycle, but it's been almost three whole days that Vitter's been left to fend for himself. Which raises one of the biggest questions: Is the Louisiana Republican Party genuinely concerned that Jindal's gubernatorial campaign will be tainted by Vitter's baggage, or will they roll the dice and hope the Vitter furor blows over?

If the balance of power is shifting toward Jindal, something's going to give, probably by tomorrow night. Jindal doesn't want the start of his campaign next Monday associated with trying to explain Vitter's mess.

As for Vitter, his fate ultimately might rest with the number 5. The Times-Picayune reported yesterday that Vitter's number showed up five times on the D.C. Madam's phone list, which means Vitter could have made five calls but only been with one prostitute. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, however, claims he has five prostitutes who will acknowledge trysts with Vitter. If only the former's true, Vitter might survive. If the latter's true, then turn out the lights and say goodnight.

by: Scott Jordan 10:59 AM

More Sagging Pants laws

Sagging pants constitutes both indecent exposure and a public safety hazard. That's the message coming out of several Louisiana towns that appear anxious to follow in Delcambre's footsteps to pass laws that outlaw low-riding pants. Last month, Delcambre passed an ordinance that makes wearing sagging pants punishable with up to a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. Now, Lafourche parish has followed suit, passing an ordinance with lesser fines of $50 for first offense, $100 for a second offense. Two other towns are also considering the ban. According to the AP:

In Pointe Coupee Parish, just west of Baton Rouge — Police Juror Russell Young told his colleagues Wednesday that low-slung pants are both "indecent exposure" and downright dangerous. Two people have almost been hit by cars because of them, Young said. He said one youth was crossing a street in New Roads when his pants hit the pavement. The second lost control of his bicycle when a sprocket snagged his baggy jeans, Young said.

The Police Jury voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing July 24 on his proposal, which would carry a fine of up to $500.

A similar proposal was made Tuesday in Lake Charles.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:48 AM

Albarado, Borel competing at EVD Friday night

Lafayette native Robby Albarado and Catahoula native Calvin Borel return to their old stomping grounds Friday, July 13, to compete in the Cajun Jockey Challenge, a four-race event at Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino in Opelousas. The Acadiana natives are this year's Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby winners, respectively — two of 10 such successful Cajun jockeys to win legs of the Triple Crown since 1980.

Twelve jockeys will compete Friday, and the winner will be determined by a point system based on the order of their finishes in each race.

The Cajun Jockey Challenge aims to celebrate both the area's horse racing past and its place on the national racing scene, as jockeys who began their careers at EVD have gone on to succeed at the highest levels in the sport of thoroughbred racing. "Participation in the challenge has been overwhelming," says Jason Boulet, racing secretary at EVD. Boulet says Mark Guidry, who recently recorded his 5000th career victory, Corey Lanerie and former Eclipse Award winning apprentice Brian Hernandez Jr. will also compete, along with Larry Melancon, Kerwin Clark, Steve Bourque, E.J. Perrodin, Gerard Melancon, Curt Bourque and Tracy Hebert.

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and other notable riders like Randy Romero, Ronald Ardoin, Shane Sellers and Ray Sibille will join the 12 competitors for an autograph session from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., with the races at 7:12, 8:04, 8:56 and 9:48.

by: Leslie Turk 10:45 AM

Tisserand to read from Sugarcane Academy

When Hurricane Katrina uprooted Michael Tisserand and his family from their New Orleans home, they made their way to Acadiana, where they lived with Independent Weekly Editor Scott Jordan. The two had had worked with one another when Tisserand was the editor of New Orleans' alternative weekly newspaper Gambit Weekly. Tisserand's two children began attending a school set up by New Orleans teacher Paul Reynaud who had found his way to New Iberia, where he lived with Independent Staff Writer Mary Tutwiler and her family for two months. Tisserand recounts the experience in his latest book, Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and his Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember. He reads from it and signs copies tonight at Barnes & Noble in Lafayette, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:35 AM

No direction home for many Katrina evacuees

While the tourism industry of New Orleans is so desperate for hotel and restaurant help that they are bringing in workers from Central and South America, the very people who are equally anxious to fill those positions in the Crescent City can't apply for jobs because they have nowhere to live. Low-income renters, those who lived in the city's public housing or were comfortably ensconced in traditional Creole cottages in historic neighborhoods all over the city can't come home. They are trapped in FEMA trailer villages, stuck in cities where the word "evacuee" puts a negative spin on resumes, and displaced from the support of extended families and the culture that framed their lives. Today's New York Times continues with a series on the fragmentary recovery of New Orleans as the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, August 29, approaches. The NYT has faithfully kept its promise not to let the fate of the embattled Crescent City and its residents be forgotten, in contrast to another promise made by President Bush on September 15, 2005. Meanwhile a fatalism that their lives will never recover is setting in for some storm victims such as Ann Picard, who is trapped in a mobile home park in St. James Parish. "We in storage," she laments. "We just in storage."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:22 AM

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Will Vitter resign?

Is U.S. Sen. David Vitter going to walk the plank?

On the heels of his announcement that his phone number was on the infamous D.C. Madam's list and that he'd committed "a serious sin in his past," yesterday was a non-stop barrage of one embarrassing revelation after another. The news that Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine prompted Vitter's admission. The notorious New Orleans Canal Street madam surfacing and telling The Times-Picayune that Vitter also frequented her brothel. And in her unsubstantiated account, she specifically mentions that Vitter favored a prostitute named Wendy Cortez — whom Vitter has repeatedly, heatedly denied being with over the years. This is music to the ears of Vitter's old nemesis Vincent Bruno, who's now calling for Vitter's resignation.

And Bruno might be onto something.

Vitter's problem is that he's painted himself so far into a corner over the years with his denials and hard-line social conservative stances that his credibility is toast. Even high-level state Republicans seem to be acknowledging that fact; consider what Boysie Bollinger told reporter John Hill:

Vitter's relationship with prostitutes was known to insiders when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, said New Orleanian Boysie Bollinger, a major GOP fundraiser who has chaired President Bush's state finance organization.

"It seems to me from what I read is that it is old news. He pre-empted somebody's investigating it by confessing. We had discussed the exact fact that this bomb could go off any time in the campaign and it did not."

That's hardly a vigorous defense or the way a friend tries to help someone get the wind back in their sails — leaving them twisting in the wind is more like it. Because what can Vitter possibly say at this point? That he only had dalliances with Washington prostitutes, not New Orleans prostitutes? The once-powerful Louisiana senator is now political kryptonite for fellow Republicans; don't expect gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal to come within 500 feet of Vitter anytime before the November election.

Vitter has only one question to answer: if the Republican Party even wants him to stay, is he going to put party loyalty over family loyalty? Does he really want to put his wife and four school-age children through three more years of uncomfortable questions and newspaper headlines? The only alternative is to become a quiet, meek man with no legislative pull, dutifully serving out a painful and dull political exile — and that doesn't sound like David Vitter.

by: Scott Jordan 11:06 AM

Sen. Landrieu advocates troop reprieve

Sen. Mary Landrieu is joining a host of Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans in the Senate calling for stricter limits in how active duty military, National Guard and reserve units are deployed overseas. Landrieu is among 29 cosponsors of an amendment by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb to set a ratio of one year abroad to one year at home for active duty military, along with a one to three year deployment ratio for National Guard and reserve units. "Our armed forces are completely overstretched with extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan," Landrieu says. "We have been fighting this war for four years, and it's time to give our fighting men and women a reprieve. This amendment will be a huge improvement to military retention for our National Guard and Reserve units by allowing these units the time they need to reunite with their families and adequately prepare for their next mission."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:47 AM

Proposed studio complex in Port Allen

In a couple of years, Port Allen could be home to a million-square-foot movie studio complex. The Advocate reports the developers of the $500 million project - River Studios and FilmPort — "could recover $198 million of their investment in claims against state income taxes."

Developers Ed Elbert and Jonathan Sanger, principals in Los Angeles-based Grand Illusions Entertainment, said the state incentives were crucial to getting their project done. ... "There's nothing magical about Hollywood," Elbert said. "If you have money, a labor pool, subsidy money and studio space, you can make movies anywhere. When that missing component — studio space — is addressed, there's no reason why West Baton Rouge shouldn't become the Hollywood of the Southeast."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:31 AM

Art classes for kids at ACA

Next week, the Acadiana Arts Council blasts into summer with a mixed bag of arts workshops for kids. Starting July 16, morning and afternoon workshops in lapidary and low-fire enameling and textile design and weaving commence for children ages 6-12. Two days later, back by popular demand, the Young Masters series offers young artists an introduction to some of the creative geniuses of the 19th and 20th centuries: Picasso, Calder and Warhol to name a few. Each workshop will focus on a single artist, exploring innovations and technique, followed by a hands-on project in the style of the artist. There are eight classes in the Young Masters series. July rounds out with two more workshops, exploring polymer clay and making mixed media clocks. Workshops are $75, Young Masters classes are $18 per class, or $120 for the entire series. For more information check out the website, or call 233-7060 to register.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:18 AM

Airport director's contract on today's agenda

Lafayette Regional Airport Director Greg Roberts' six-month contract will be ready for acceptance by the airport commission before this afternoon's meeting, according to commission Chairman Carroll Robichaux. "It won't be publicly released until it's signed," says Robichaux, explaining that both he and Roberts plan to sign the document before the 5:30 meeting. The commission is likely to approve it, he says. The contract is expected to spell out Roberts' duties, responsibilities and compensation and provide a mechanism for addressing and evaluating his job performance.

At last month's meeting, where Roberts faced possible termination, Commissioner Don Higginbotham proposed the contract (Roberts is currently an at-will employee) and a second resolution that would allow for the position to be advertised nationally three months before its December expiration. Both resolutions passed. Robichaux and Commissioner Brenda Burley, Roberts' strongest critics, believed the vote they cast that night on Higginbotham's second resolution approved advertising the position (see today's story). But this morning Robichaux wasn't so sure. "I think they pulled a 'slick Willie' on us," he says, noting that he will seek clarification on the matter at today's meeting and, if necessary, ask that commissioners support a national search to ensure the best director is in place. "[Roberts] can apply for the job," he says.

Robichaux and Burley maintain that Higginbotham also was opposed to Roberts staying on but surprised them at the June 7 meeting by proposing the contract. Higginbotham has since resigned, saying recent controversies are beginning to affect his insurance business, and has been unavailable for comment.

by: Leslie Turk 9:55 AM

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Chickens come home to roost for Vitter

The chickens have come home to roost for U.S. Sen. David Vitter, and somewhere today, Dave Treen is smiling.

After years of sidestepping rumors of a marital affair, the family values politician and social conservative Vitter's hand was forced when his telephone number showed up on the client list of the prostitution ring run by Washington, D.C. madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Vitter released the following statement:

This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.

Vitter's admission of using the D.C. madam's services also serves to reignite allegations that he repeatedly used a prostitute in New Orleans as well, a charge Vitter has vehemently denied despite multiple allegations – by fellow Republicans.

Politically, the timing is especially damaging for Vitter. While he isn't up for Senate re-election until 2010, his star had been rising in the Republican Party of late thanks to his leadership role in the Republican revolt to defeat President Bush's immigration bill, and Vitter was widely speculated to be angling for the VP slot should former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani win the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Vitter's already angered social conservatives in Louisiana by endorsing the pro-gay rights and pro-choice Giuliani, so his affair revelations are sure to cut into the 42 percent of the Acadiana vote he received in his 2004 win over U.S. Rep. Chris John.

For the immediate future, Vitter better hope that his wife Wendy has changed her stance on infidelity:

Asked by an interviewer in 2000 whether she could forgive her husband if she learned he'd had an extramarital affair, as Hillary Clinton and Bob Livingston's wife had done, Wendy Vitter told The Times-Picayune: "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me.

by: Scott Jordan 10:51 AM

Gov. Blanco ‘ready to rock'

Gov. Kathleen Blanco says she's "ready to rock" Thursday night at the Governor's Mansion as part of a special performance that will honor two rising Louisiana stars and celebrate the state's music industry.

Jimmie Davis Music Honorees David St. Romain and members of the Benjy Davis Project are part of a live performance sponsored by Louisiana Economic Development and supported by the state's music commission and LPB. The event is being held in conjunction with the governor's Mansion Cultural Series, created to promote and share the state's rich culture. St. Romain, one of three finalists from more than 20,000 contestants in the most recent series of USA Network's Nashville Star, will perform "Climbing Up That Mountain," an unreleased song just written with country legend Randy Owen of the award-winning country music band Alabama. The rock group Benjy Davis Project will perform "Louisiana Saturday Night" and "Cajun Crawfish Boil." The band's latest single, "Sweet Southern Moon," is featured in the first national TV ad for Louisiana-made Abita Beer.

The invitation only performances begin at 7 p.m.

by: Leslie Turk 10:49 AM

Atchafalaya Basin Program director plans brief retirement

Sandra Thompson, who has worked 18 years with state government, most recently as director of the state's Atchafalaya Basin Program, says she plans to retire by the end of the month. "I've worked all my life," Thompson says, "and I may do some [political] campaigning." Thompson says she will likely work on Congressman Bobby Jindal's campaign for governor on a volunteer basis. Her retirement may not last long. "I'm taking about six months off," she says, "and I hope to come back in January with the new governor." Thompson then adds, "It could mean that I'll stay retired or if whoever comes in as the next governor wants to hire me back, then that would be great too." Thompson did not specify what position she would like to come back in. With 18 years, Thompson's retirement would allow her to draw 45 percent of the average of her annual salary for the past three years, which, as the basin program director, has been approximately $85,000. Prior to working with the basin program, Thompson also worked in the Department of Transportation and Development and with the Lt. Gov.'s Office of Culture Recreation and Tourism.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:19 AM

National Hurricane Center director ousted

Here we are a month before the peak of the hurricane season, and the latest director of the National Hurricane Center - six months into his tenure - is already out the door. Bill Proenza replaced Max Mayfield, the director who had issued the dire and accurate predictions about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. The Times-Picayune reports that Proenza came under fire when he questioned the Bush administration's commitment to predicting the accuracy of tropical storms with the QuikScat satellite system, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's decision to spend $1.5 million on a public awareness campaign for its 200th anniversary. (The Washington Post reports that figure at $4 million.) Some NHC employees praised Proenza's efforts as a whistleblower, while others banded together to refute his assessment of QuikScat.

On Monday, Proenza was replaced by Deputy Director Ed Rappaport as director. Hugh E. Willoughby, a research professor at Florida International University, told the New York Times that Rappaport " … comes from the N.H.C. culture … and he'll be good at soothing the inflamed passions."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:00 AM

The crawfish toothbrush holder you always wanted

Here's a good reason to learn how to read Japanese. It comes from the Plywood store on Japan's Rakuten online mega-mall. According to technobob:

While hanging onto your ceramic tile with a sucker fit for an octopod, the aptly named CRAWFISH holds onto your toothbrushes with a grip that only a deep-sea creature could have.

There are only two problems. One, although the toothbrush holder only costs ¥714 each (appx.$6), it will cost a lot more to ship it from Japan. Two, the Plywood website is Greek, er Japanese to me.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:34 AM

Monday, July 09, 2007

Simien & Miniex new legal counsel for airport

The Lafayette law firm of Simien & Miniex has been selected as the new legal adviser for the Lafayette Airport Commission, confirms Lafayette City-Parish Attorney Pat Ottinger. Ottinger appointed the local firm, headed by Clyde Simien and Rickey Miniex, to take over the position held for almost two decades by Davidson, Meaux, Sonnier & McElligott. On May 30, Glenn Edwards, who did the majority of the commission's work on behalf of his firm, resigned as legal counsel amid controversies that have stained the commission since late last year — including allegations he gave bad advice about the legality of some of the commission's expenditures.

It's unlikely the airport commission's work will be handled by a single attorney at Simien & Miniex, Ottinger says. "Several lawyers may do work, including particularly Clyde Simien and Rickey Miniex and Todd Swartzendruber, depending on the subject matter or nature of the task at hand."

Miniex could not be reached for comment this morning.

by: Leslie Turk 10:53 AM

USA Today profiles "patron Saint" Drew Brees

In an article titled "Brees becomes patron Saint in New Orleans", USA Today spotlights the leading role that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has taken both on and off the field in the crescent city. Since moving to New Orleans, Brees, who had just undergone an improbable recovery from a serious shoulder tear, has been heavily involved in several recovery initiatives. His Brees Dream Foundation recently announced a $2.5 million initiative to help revitalize several New Orleans schools and recreation sites. The inspiration Brees and other Saints players are providing is a big reason why there's suddenly a waiting list of 30,000 for Saints season tickets. As Brees says:

"We've got a lot of competition, and I've never been part of a team where we've had so many guys willing to help with another guy's charity event. When you care about a guy beyond just the field, that's when the chemistry becomes really special. The Super Bowl is as realistic a goal as we have right now because of the type of guys we have and the experience we've gained."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:31 AM

Writers on the Teche in New Iberia

Back by popular demand, the third installment of Writers on the Teche will be held at the Sliman Theatre in New Iberia. Thursday, July 12, at 5:30 p.m., the Iberia Cultural Resources Association will meet briefly before giving the floor to four of New Iberia's memorialists, R.C. Sealy, Alfred "Smitty" Landry, Clara Lourd O'Neill and John Albert "Al" Landry. After being pestered for years by their families, each of the speakers has written a memoir of their youth in the Queen City.

Sealy plans to talk about messing around in boats on the Bayou Teche when he was a child. Smitty Landry, one of the town's most eloquent speakers, will address some of the town characters and their nicknames. O'Neill attended Mt. Carmel and will talk about her time with the Carmelite nuns. Al Landry, who grew up in New Orleans, spent his summer visiting relatives (the Landrys are one of the largest clans in New Iberia). He'll recall the joys of a city boy exploring the country. Last time around, Writers on the Teche was a sellout program at the Iberia Parish Library. The Sliman Theatre seats 200. First come first served. For more info, call Cathy Indest at 364-1603.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:30 AM

Louisiana's sales tax holiday

If you're in the market for a major purchase, then mark your calendar for Friday, Aug. 3 and Saturday, Aug. 4. Signed into law by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana's sales tax holiday, will occur annually on the first Friday and Saturday of August. The first $2,500 of purchases will be exempt from the state sales tax. But Senate Bill 3 excludes the tax break on automobile purchases and restaurant meals "including to-go orders."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:04 AM

Boasso speaking in Lafayette today

Louisianagubernatorial candidate Walter Boasso makes a stop in Lafayette today for a speech presented by the Lafayette Optimist Club. State Sen. Boasso of Arabi is the first gubernatorial candidate to speak for LOC in the organization's 50-year-plus history, according to LOC's Herman Venable. Boasso immediately accepted the club's invitation to speak, says Venable, and LOC is hopeful that U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal will also confirm a speech for the club in coming months.

The speech and meeting is at noon today at Don's Seafood and Steakhouse downtown at 301 E. Vermilion St. Admission cost is $12, which includes lunch. For more info or to reserve a seat, call Venable at 288-1523.

Then later today, Boasso will be at a meet-the-candidate event at 6 p.m. at the Anthony Fazzio Law Office at 4906 Ambassador Caffery Pkwy. The meet-and-greet is free and open to the public.

by: Scott Jordan 9:30 AM

Friday, July 06, 2007

Democratic presidential hopefuls in New Orleans

The reply was predictable: A Republican Party spokesperson told The Times-Picayune that U.S. Sen. Barrack Obama is using Hurricane Katrina for his own political gain and the Republican Party considers hurricane recovery "an important domestic priority," as the federal government has authorized more than $110 billion in aid under President George Bush's watch.

That was in response to Obama's speech in New Orleans last night at the Essence Festival. While the continued partisan fingerpointing over Katrina and hurricane recovery isn't surprising, what really bears watching is how prominently the field of Democratic Presidential candidates will feature Gulf Coast hurricane recovery in their campaign platforms. If Obama's speech is any indication, Democrats aren't going to miss any chances to remind voters of one of the Bush administration's biggest albatrosses. Said Obama:

"It was here in New Orleans that we realized we can't have a government that decides cronyism is more important than confidence, or rhetoric is more important than results. We were reminded of something America should not have to be reminded of: that the legacy of race and poverty in this country continues to shape our lives each and every day. That is what we understood here in New Orleans."

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton gets her opportunity to address Essence attendees this afternoon.

by: Scott Jordan 10:59 AM

Travelocity hightlights local faves

As summertime travel reaches its peak, Travelocity, the sixth largest online travel agency worldwide, has named Lafayette's Judice Inn and the St. Martinville Grande Boucherie hot spot destinations. "Simple but wonderful" is the on-the-money praise for Lafayette's favorite burger joint, while in St. Martinville, "fun-loving" Cajuns enjoy "the slaughter of a pig" as a "side note to the great music and fun during this festival weekend." Ouch. A tad more sensitivity about the area's pre-Lenten traditions are in order here. Dubbed "Local Secrets, Big Finds" in a 2007 survey, the Travelocity editors chose 295 winners out of 10,000 entries. New Orleans bar Port of Call, Bossier City honky-tonk Hot Rods & Hawgs and Vianne's Tea Salon & Cafe in Mandeville join the Cajun duo on the Louisiana destinations list.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:24 AM

No locals apply for UL's top job — yet

Though they're expected to be in the mix, Commissioner of Higher Education E. Joseph Savoie and UL Lafayette Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Landry have yet to apply for the university's top job. They may want to do so publicly soon, however, as the UL System is rushing to name a new president by December. It's unclear why the system has imposed such an aggressive time frame on its search.

So far seven candidates (six from out-of-state and the seventh from Hong Kong), all from academic circles with doctorate degrees, have submitted applications for the job. A month ago, Landry told The Independent Weekly he is strongly considering applying for the job, but Savoie has been non-committal.

Those in the running, according to the UL System, are Butler University in Indianapolis' provost/senior vice president for academic affairs, the chief academic officer at New Mexico State University at Carlsbad, the provost/v.p. for academic affairs at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, dean/chair professor of the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong, dean of the health college at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, dean of the humanities and social sciences college at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, and a professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The applications are available for public review in the UL library and online.

The search committee's first meeting and public hearing, held June 14 on UL's campus, is available on YouTube. The next such meeting is slated for Sept. 12, also in Lafayette.

UL President Ray Authement announced his retirement April 27. He has served for more than 33 years.

by: Leslie Turk 10:18 AM

Melancon weighs in on rural health care

Teaming up with Republicans for a bipartisan effort, Congressman Charlie Melancon is pushing legislation that would make several changes to the way rural health care providers address the challenges associated with delivering care in small communities. Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, says growing up among the sugar cane and farming operations of Assumption Parish gave him invaluable personal experience to attach himself to the Health Care Access and Rural Equity Act of 2007. "Hospitals are few and far between, and people who are disabled, or are extremely sick, or lack reliable transportation have trouble getting to see a doctor," Melancon says of his own community back home. "Underfunded hospitals struggle to afford new, up-to-date equipment and technology. Independent pharmacies suffer because Medicare takes too long to reimburse them. Clinics and hospitals face a severe shortage of healthcare providers because they often can't afford to pay doctors and nurses competitive wages."

The "H-CARE Act," as sponsors refer to the bill, would address some of these health care challenges that rural communities face every day, Melancon says. Among other things, the H-CARE Act would increase money for rural health care providers, improve lab services, create a new commission to oversee progress and establish grants for technology and other needs. The plan has already received endorsements by 12 national organizations, including the National Rural Health Association, American Hospital Association, American Counseling Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, American Ambulance Association and others. – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 10:15 AM

Lafayette home prices rank lowest in state

While affordable housing may still be an issue in Lafayette, local home prices are modest when compared with other cities throughout the state. According to Housing Predictor, an independent market forecast company, Lafayette has the lowest median home price in Louisiana at $128,000. The median home price in Baton Rouge is $151,000. New Orleans is at $152,000. Monroe tops the state with its median home cost of $164,000. Housing Predictor ranks Monroe 15th in the country in its list of top real estate markets, anticipating that home values there will continue to appreciate at 6.3 percent through the year. Bucking the national trend, all housing markets in Louisiana are experiencing appreciation, with Lafayette right at 4.2 percent.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:47 AM

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Landrieu's fundraising boost

You would be pleased as well if you were U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who raised $1.2 million for her re-election campaign during the second quarter of this year alone for her 2008 race. That outpaces the same quarter from last year and brings the campaign's estimated cash on hand to more than $2.7 million. "This total exceeds even the goals we had set internally," says Ron Faucheux, Landrieu's chief campaign strategist. "We will continue to accelerate the pace as the election draws near." Not surprisingly, Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger F. Villere isn't impressed. "Sen. Mary Landrieu has been busy soliciting money from far left interest groups while claiming that she is fighting for Louisiana," he says. "How can we expect her to do her job and represent our state when she spends so much time pandering to her out of state contributors?" He cites policy decisions Landrieu made on behalf of New York recently, including a $150,000 appropriation for the Robert H. Clampitt Foundation in the Big Apple. (Villere says Landrieu received $391,545 from residents of New York from 1995-2007.) In response, Landrieu says the national program will help Louisiana children learn critical skills. "(They) appear to have conducted little or no research into the actual program," Landrieu says. "They tried to make it look like I had secured funding for a program in New York when, in fact, it is for a program in Louisiana. Their partisan attack is both misleading and quite pathetic, really." – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 10:56 AM

DOTD head: Jones wrong to intervene at Lafayette airport

Louisiana DOTD Secretary Johnny Bradberry is perturbed by his employees' decision to intervene on behalf of Greg Roberts' keeping his job as director of Lafayette Regional Airport. Bradberry's subordinate, DOTD Aviation Director Phil Jones, wrote a May 23 letter on department letterhead to City Parish President Joey Durel and also appeared at the airport commission meeting June 7, in both instances pleading — and using language some commissioners deemed threatening — with local officials to retain Roberts. In his letter, Jones even asked Durel to "use your influence" to prevent Roberts' termination.

Pressure from Jones and other officials like Broussard Mayor Charles Langlinais, who placed phone calls to commissioners on Roberts' behalf, appears to have influenced the commission. Though a majority of commissioners wanted to see the director terminated in the days leading up to that June meeting, then-Commissioner Don Higginbotham — who had opposed Roberts — instead introduced a motion to keep him on for at least six months. Higginbotham announced his resignation from the embattled commission last week, citing the effect the recent controversy over questionable spending and Roberts' future at the airport has begun to have on his insurance business.

Four days after the airport commission made an about-face in deciding Roberts could stay on till the end of the year, it was Bradberry's turn to intervene — firing off a letter to Durel, who has been supportive of Roberts. The Independent Weekly obtained a copy of the letter from Durel's office. It begins:

It has come to my attention that Phil Jones, aviation director for DOTD, with the support of Tom Atkinson [DOTD deputy assistant secretary] acted inappropriately regarding public commentary involving your airport Director Greg Roberts. These actions, in my opinion, border on a violation of Civil Service rules and contradict the organizational culture being created in this department. ...

This department respects the authority of local governments to make decisions to govern and administrate them as they deem appropriate. Understanding the outcome as reported in the media, I sincerely hope your decision and the decision of the committee were not overly influenced. In addition, I would like to explain that in no way would federal funds be withheld from your airport by DOTD because of leadership changes that may or may not occur.

Airport Commissioner Brenda Burley, the only member to vote against keeping Roberts, says Jones, who oversees 70 public airports in the state, used language she and other commissioners considered threatening. Both in his letter and at the meeting, Jones implied that Roberts' termination could impede the progress of the airport, saying it would be difficult for the FAA to put money into an airport with such management problems. "It was like if we got rid of [Roberts] we weren't going to get any funding," Burley says. "I said, ‘now that was a threat.'"

by: Leslie Turk 10:54 AM

Athlon previews 2007 UL Football team

With less than two months to go until the kickoff of the 2007 college football season, the preseason forecasting is well under way. Athlon has just released its annual team previews, noting that the upcoming season promises to be a challenging one for UL Coach Rickey Bustle and his staff. With four new assistant coaches on board, and several new starters filling key roles on both sides of the ball, the Cajuns will need to find their rhythm early in the season to avoid another disappointing finish. Athlon is predicting the Cajuns repeat their .500 performance from last year.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:39 AM

Lafayette's Cupid shuffles into Essence Festival tonight

Lafayette recording artist Cupid, who signed a major-label deal with Atlantic Records after the success of his hit single "Cupid Shuffle," fulfills a dream tonight when he plays in New Orleans' Superdome as part of the Essence Festival. Twenty-four-year old Northside High alumni Bryson Bernard – aka Cupid – first went to the Essence Festival when he was 18 years old, and now he'll be on stage at the premier African-American music festival in the country. It's another milestone for Cupid, and Atlantic Records executive Aaron Bay-Schuck told The Times-Picayune he has high hopes for the Lafayette singer:

The label is packaging Cupid not as a super-sexed crooner in the R. Kelly mold, nor as a dancing phenom like Chris Brown. Bernard, whose distinctive musical style incorporates elements of soul, gospel, country, blues, Atlanta krunk and New Orleans bounce, defies categories and comparisons. "Cupid has a unique voice and a sound that is all his own," [Atlantic Records executive Aaron] Bay-Schuck said. "His music is all fun, all positive. There are no explicit lyrics. Nothing to bleep out."

For a taste of what the scene will be like at 8 p.m. tonight in the Superdome's Budweiser Superlounge at Essence Festival, check out the video for "Cupid's Shuffle," shot in downtown Lafayette at Parc Sans Souci:

by: Scott Jordan 10:24 AM

Pink dolphin surfaces in Calcasieu Lake

Spend too much time in the sun sipping beers and any fisherman will come home telling tall tales of the one that got away. Fortunately, Calcasieu Charter Service fishing guide Erik Rue had the wherewithal to pick up his camera instead of relying on spinning yarns. What the charter captain spotted was a rare pink dolphin swimming with a pod of the common grey bottlenose dolphins that frequent Calcasieu Lake. Rue was amazed, he told ESPN.

It was absolutely, stunningly pink. I had never seen anything like it. It's the same color throughout the whole body. It looks like it just came out of a paint booth.

While true pink dolphins are found in the Amazon, this one, according to marine biologist Dagmar Fertl, is an albino. Albinos are usually white with pink eyes, and very rare as well; only a handful have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico over the past half-century. What makes this calf such a particular powder-puff pink is up for debate--sunburn perhaps, or a full body flush from working hard in the heat? Whatever the reason, the dolphin is calling Rue's name. Like another captain obsessed with a great white fish, he intends to head out to the same waters in search of the petite pink porpoise.
photo by Erik Rue. For more pictures of the pink dolphin, click here.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:17 AM

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

State lawmakers join call for national catastrophe fund

Last week, the Louisiana Legislature endorsed a burgeoning campaign to establish a National Catastrophe Fund to assist insurers in the event of national disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Rita. State lawmakers unanimously passed two resolutions urging Congress to take up the issue and directing Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon to promote the idea with other state insurance chiefs. The concept is to have all U.S. insurance policyholders paying into a national pool that would bear the brunt of claims for natural disasters including hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados. Supporters say a National Catastrophe Fund would help stabilize the volatile insurance industry. President Bush is among the opponents of the proposal who argue it will undermine the private market. The campaign for the fund is being spearheaded by protectingamerica.org, which has enlisted the support of hundreds of businesses and organizations including AT&T, AllState Insurcance, and the American Red Cross. The organization is co-chaired by James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Clinton administration who also served as a post-Katrina advisor to Gov. Blanco. Protectingamerica also has a set up a state chapter, which is online at protectinglouisiana.org.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:01 AM

Higginbotham resigns from airport commission

Former state Rep. Don Higginbotham, who has served on the Lafayette Airport Commission for more than a decade, resigned from his seat effective June 30, saying the recent controversy has begun to affect his business. The State Farm insurance agent was out of his office today and unavailable for comment.

Higginbotham's decision comes one month after longtime airport commission attorney Glenn Edwards announced his resignation.

Both the commission and Lafayette Regional Airport Director Greg Roberts have been under fire since late last year when a group of concerned residents began questioning expenditures and possible violations of the state's open meetings law. The local group's findings led to an inquiry by the state legislative auditor's office and District Attorney Mike Harson, prompting several commissioners and airport staff members to reimburse the airport for inappropriate expenditures. The commmission also discontinued its after-meeting meal gatherings and instituted other policy changes.

Higginbotham announced his resignation in a June 28 letter to City-Parish President Joey Durel, who thanked him for his service in a statement released this morning. Durel said he would have no further comment on the matter. Read both Higginbotham's letter and Durel's statement in the attached pdf.

Lafayette Airport Commission Chairman Carroll Robichaux says he was "surprised" by Higginbotham's decision. "I didn't know about it until I got the letter Saturday," Robichaux says.

by: Leslie Turk 10:55 AM

Former UL Lafayette lineman alleges racial profiling in arrest

D'Anthony Batiste, a Marksville native who was a lineman for the Ragin' Cajuns from 2000-2003, says North Carolina police used racial profiling when he was arrested on March 25 in Charlotte, N.C. Batiste was pulled over for allegedly having tinted car windows that were too dark, and was arrested on a concealed weapons charge after police found a gun – the service weapon Batiste used during his recent tenure with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office. The charges were dropped last week, according to The Rock Hill Herald:

"When the arrest happened, I called some of my supervisors back in Louisiana," Batiste told The Herald upon leaving the courtroom. "As soon as I'd explain it, all of them said ‘D, something's not right about this.' We're all kind of under the impression I was arrested for driving while black."

Batiste is currently a reserve lineman with the Carolina Panthers. Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom says Batiste worked for his department from September 2004-August 2006, and was training to be a patrol deputy. While any disciplinary files would be confidential, Neustrom says he remembers Batiste being a good employee who did not have any disciplinary actions on his record. Batiste's law enforcement background gives his allegations additional weight, and now the question is whether Batiste will continue speaking out regarding the incident, or pursue legal action against the Charlotte Police Department -- especially since the national media is starting to pay attention.

by: Scott Jordan 10:28 AM

Wetlands restoration makes fashion statement

It doesn't take a trust fund for Louisiana environmentalists to tie up an investment in coastal restoration. Pelican Coast Neckwear, a business created by a fifth-generation New Orleans family who wanted to contribute to the rebuilding of the Crescent City and the restoration of the wetlands, is donating 20 percent of their tie sales directly to the American's Wetland foundation. The Coastal Collection features ties patterned with shrimp, magnolias, mint juleps, pelicans, oysters and an iron lamp post. America's Wetlands is the state's marketing campaign to raise national awareness of coastal land loss. Wearing the symbols of Louisiana's wetlands culture and economy is a great way to button up your fashion statement. The $75 silk ties can be purchased at a variety of stores in New Orleans, or at the Pelican Coast website.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:24 AM

Baggy pants law stretching out

When it comes to cracking down on sagging pants, Iberia Parish might have started something. Delcambre passed an ordinance last month making it criminal to wear pants that show off your skivvies. Now Lafourche Parish councilman Lindel Toups is introducing his own ordinance at a public meeting in Thibodaux on July 10, citing the "progress" in Iberia.

Only his proposal has a litmus test for low-riders – if your Dockers fall off after a policeman tells you to raise your hands, you're busted. Just like the penalties violators would face in Delcambre, Lafourche's violators would face fines up to $100, as well as 16 hours of community service.

While the Louisiana Legislature balked at a passing a similar law two years ago, Toups is hoping local governments around the state will be proactive on the saggy-pants front and follow the example of Delcambre – and possibly Lafourche. "Somebody had to take the reins and run with it," Toups told the Thibodaux Daily Comet. "I'm hoping it will run all over the state."-- Jeremy Alford, contributing writer

by: admin 9:29 AM

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bizzuka raises $1.7 million

Bizzuka Inc. has raised $1.7 million in financing from New Orleans-based Advantage Capital Partners, the Louisiana Technology Fund and several undisclosed individual investors.

A provider of Web sites, Intranets, and Web content management solutions, the Lafayette-based company is using the venture capital to accelerate its national expansion plans. Bizzuka provides custom Web site design and content management services to more than 300 small- to medium-sized companies throughout the country.

John Munsell, the local company's CEO, says the capital infusion allows for the addition of sales and development staff needed to build Bizzuka into a nationally recognized brand. Local branding specialist BBR Creative was retained about six months ago to assist in this effort. Among Bizzuka's local clients are Stuller Settings, Mello Joy and LHC Group.

Bizzuka is the first Lafayette-based company to receive funds from the Louisiana Technology Fund, which aims to bring (or retain) new technology jobs into the state. Founded in 2000, Bizzuka relocated to Lafayette in 2003 from Tampa, Fla., and has since added 18 jobs. It expects to hire about 20 more employees in the next 18 months. Advantage Capital invested its private monies in connection with Louisiana's Certified Capital Companies program, which encourages the flow of investment capital to promising companies in the state.

As a result of the Louisiana Technology Fund's investment in Bizzuka, Dr. Ron Cheek, a business administration professor at UL Lafayette who serves on the fund's board, was appointed to Bizzuka's eight-member board of directors. He joins attorney Clay Allen and Bizzuka co-founders Munsell and Lonnie Rouse — both of whom live in Lafayette — on the local company's board.

by: Leslie Turk 11:01 AM

Stone Energy sells Rocky Mountain properties for $577.9 million

Lafayette oil and gas company Stone Energy is divesting itself of most of its Rocky Mountain properties, selling them to Newfield Exploration Company for $577.9 million. Stone intends to use the sale to pay down its $109 million bank debt and evaluate other investment opportunities. As part of the arrangement, Stone also retains a 35 percent interest in several undeveloped Rocky Mountain holdings.

The announcement comes as Stone rebounds after a tumultuous year; the company was recently cleared by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after an investigation into Stone's 2005 restated reserve estimates.

by: Scott Jordan 10:40 AM

Pasta pronto

If the daytime traffic on Johnston Street has daunted you from making a noontime dash down to The Italian Food Market for one of Maurizio Principato's paninis, don't despair of ever getting a buffalo mozzarella and proscuitto di Parma fix. The Sicilian native has expanded his hours till 8 p.m., and created a dinner menu that includes classic appetizers like artichoke alla romana salad, cantelope wrapped with proscuitto, or an antipasto plate of imported salamis and cheeses. For the second course, pastas like-a mama would-a make-a will change your mind about how you think about spaghetti. Try the giant ravioli stuffed with shrimp, penne with fresh ricotta and roasted peppers or gnocchi al Gorgonzola. Desserts display the same level of simplicity, brought to high foodie art by using the finest ingredients. The cannoli are stuffed to order and the tiramisu is a coffee-flavored revelation. Dinner specials start at $10; the $16, five-course menu will feed two. Dinner must be ordered ahead, and is available for take-out or dining in, opera included. Principato has applied for a liquor licence, in a few weeks he will be uncorking an all-Italian selection of wines. The Italian Food Market is located behind the Baskin-Robbins at 4807 Johnston St. Call 988-9969 for more information.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:27 AM

Crawfish named state symbol of ... Missouri?

A group of sixth-graders have succeeded in their efforts to get the crawfish named official state invertebrate of Missouri. Merits of that designation aside, The Springfield News-Leader reports that HB 351 was the result of a class project at Missouri's Reeds Spring Elementary School, as students worked for more than a year to get the bill passed. Crawfish (officially dubbed "crayfish" by Missouri) earned the top-invertebrate nod by narrowly edging out fierce competition from the earthworm. Apparently the sixth-grade class also wised up pretty quickly on the benefits of lobbying:

They also got to make a presentation about the lesson at a technology fair that took place in the Capitol. Andrea said they offered visitors a special treat: Kit Kat bars with a special Reed Springs wrapper that showed a picture of a crayfish.

I guess it worked in Missouri, but the notion of milk chocolate and crispy wafers mixed with crawfish fat doesn't sound particularly appetizing.

by: Scott Jordan 10:08 AM