Letters to the Editor

Cover story mischaracterizes

Throughout life, I have been influenced by certain individuals (especially my parents) to be a “giver,” to support good people, to expect good government, and to participate in efforts to make our communities and our state a better place. This was a driving force for my being involved in a recent campaign to reform the ethical behavior of government in Louisiana and therefore improve the image of our state, as I believe that integrity and trust are essential ingredients for Louisiana to “retain” its greatest asset — its children.

For this reason, I read with great interest Jeremy Alfords article “Pay for Play?” (May 6) in The Independent. It was headlined that “Hundreds of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top donors are reaping the benefits of state contracts and choice political appointments,” something I abhor. But to my amazement, in his attempt to link donations with appointments to boards and commissions and hold the Jindal administration accountable, Mr. Alford instead predetermines an outcome of “same ole” by placing the “patronism” tag on some who truly donate their time to make Louisiana better.

Specifically, to portray my involvement on Gov. Jindal’s I-49 South Task Force as “a pay to play” and “a potential conflict of interest worth talking about” is asinine. Yes, I did donate to the Jindal campaign (at an energy-related function), but did it to support a governor who advocates (and has enacted) strong ethics laws and a positive change in the way the state does its business.

When asked to serve, I filled out a massive conflict of interest questionnaire that was forwarded to me by the governor’s office. After a review by the governor’s office and the state Senate, my appointment was approved. It should be noted that this task force doesn’t give out or recommend contracts, isn’t funded by the state, doesn’t pay its members or reimburse their expenses, and its members certainly don’t influence or ingratiate themselves to the powers that be at the Louisiana Department of Transportation. In addition, membership doesn’t provide anyone an advantage in procuring state contracts (if and when I-49 South is ever built) because DOTD awards its contracts through a request-for-proposal process that only grades the qualifications of companies applying for the work. With a little more due diligence, Mr. Alford should have placed some significance on the fact that governors Foster and Blanco had previously appointed me vice-chairman and chairman, respectively, of their I-49 South task forces beginning in 1994. Institutional knowledge, not the campaign donation, might have been a more reasonable deduction for my re-appointment, because surely no one in their right mind would “pay” to be a member.

In this case, it appears that the cliché holds true that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that being involved can sometimes carry a heavy burden. Consequently, having to explain to my children and family that I am not part of Louisiana’s problem, as your reporter tries to portray, has led me to write this letter and tell the rest of the story, something that Mr. Alford didn’t bother to do.

As an aside, I have reviewed the ethical standards of journalism, and find they include the common elements and principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability as they apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public. I suggest that Mr. Alford do the same.

(Editors’ Note: The Independent Weekly stands by the accuracy of Jeremy Alford’s story and the public records documents he used to support it. However, we acknowledge that Bill Fenstermaker was an inappropriate example of the “pay to play” premise the story explores; we also received several e-mails and phone calls from local business people upset about Fenstermaker’s inclusion in this story. As his supporters consistently point out — and as was reported — the I-49 South Task Force is but an advisory committee with no authority to award contracts. Additionally, City-Parish President Joey Durel, who chairs the task force, says it was critical to the initiative that someone with institutional knowledge of the I-49 project  [Fenstermaker has been involved for almost two decades] be appointed.)