In a press release back on June 16th, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal had the following to say about British Petroleum’s plans to pay reparations: “We are asking federal officials how this new independent claims process will be established…and what degree of transparency it will have to ensure the state has access to claims information.”
Jindal’s demand for transparency from British Petroleum would seem fitting, especially for a governor who in part ran on a campaign of transparency and ethical reform, but similar to the way BP dodges every request for disclosure, since becoming governor Bobby Jindal has done nothing but shroud his dealings in secrecy, fighting every bill that would open his records. To ask the Governor, one might hear the opposite as he purports to have opened the state government up to the public more than any of his predecessors, and while this may bare some truth in regards to the state legislature, that buck stops abruptly at his door, and that door is firmly closed.
The LSU Teaching Hospital
Governor Jindal’s most recent adventures in secrecy would involve the 1.2 billion dollar LSU complex set to replace Charity Hospital in New Orleans, and more specifically, to the appointment of Chairman for the board that will control its operations, and its money.
From in article in the advocate: The LSU system president has the authority to appoint the chairman of the board overseeing the complex. Last week, LSU System President John Lombardi appointed lawyer Elaine Abell to the post. Shortly after that, LSU board chairman Blake Chantelain of Alexandria, with some other board members and backing from Jindal’s office, had LSU board member Bobby Yarborough inserted into the Chairman’s job. How an apparent LSU board majority decided on Yarborough without an offical board meeting is unclear…but to add insult to injury, nine of the eleven members of the governing board of the medical complex (Abell being significantly absent) later met at a New Orleans hotel, unannounced and behind closed doors. The public and the media were shut out of the meeting. This meeting also included two of Jindal’s top aides.
Along with the questionable change in personnel, at issue here is Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law. This law forbids members of public bodies (LSU) from forming quorums to conduct official business without holding a public meeting and giving notice to the public. Reminded of such, the board members at the hotel quickly referred to the meeting as a mere social gathering, despite participants being overheard discussing hospital business.
Why would Jindal go to all the trouble to influence the appointment of a chairman? Well, the short answer is payback and control.
Bobby Yarborough is one of Jindal’s largest campaign donors so the appointment could be construed as payback, plus it gives Jindal another tentacle inside the LSU board which will be controlling $400 million dollars of state money to help fund construction and set-up of the LSU teaching hospital. Once it opens, it will also require more than $100 million dollars from the state operating fund annually. This appointment appears to have been long in the works; Jindal appointed meat magnate Yarborough to the LSU board back in June.
While Abell did not comment publicly on her ouster, she has decried “political interference” on the board and another board member, Tony Falterman of Napoleonville, pointed the finger directly at the governor’s office in a statement quoted by The Advocate of Baton Rouge. “If Gov. Jindal undoes everything the president does, shouldn’t the LSU board just ask Gov. Jindal what he wants done on every issue and put Dr. Lombardi back in the classroom?”
“With Jindal now dominating the board of the teaching hospital, he is set to reap additional political benefits. Jindal will have the power to award contracts for managing and providing services to the hospital built with public dollars without anyone having to review those contracts. After all, who would review them? His hand-picked board members from LSU? The other board members Jindal influences or controls?”
So why do all this behind closed doors?
For one, the media might have been given opportunity to probe this change in chairman, to call into question the campaign donations from Yarborough and the relation between these donations and his appointment. The citizens of New Orleans, many none too happy with the tearing up of another historic neighborhood in Mid-City, or maybe looking for guarantees this LSU hospital will serve the uninsured as Charity hospital once did, could have had opportunity to raise issue, draw media and create the kind of headlines Jindal didn’t need on an already heated issue. Besides, Jindal knows it’s far more difficult for the public to force a change in appointment already made than it is to stop one in process.
Governmental transparency is essential to an operating democracy, citizens must be able to “see through” the workings of the government. If they are unable to watch the handshakes, the government is more prone to corruption and undue influence. This would appear to be of little concern to Bobby Jindal. His “Golden Standard” policy of ethical reform and government transparency applies to all but his own dealings. Much like BP’s relationship to the residents of the Gulf Coast, when it comes to the operations of the Governor’s office Louisiana citizens will get the information when Bobby Jindal decides they need it, if ever. The transparency Jindal demands from others is mere verbiage for his campaign platforms and political speeches. It has little to do with the way he conducts business.
For months the country has demanded accountability and transparency from British Petroleum…Bobby Jindal included. So how can he with any sense of integrity criticize those for doing what has been his operating policy all along?
The cynical answer would be, because he’s a politician.
More realistically, it causes question as to what kind of leader he truly is, one who stands by his own word or just another asshole with a million dollar smile, saying, “Trust me.”
Have a nice day.