Well, Agriculture Secretary Bob Odom wins the first round. The Senate Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee shot down state Sen. James David Cain’s SB 43 which would have forced the Louisiana Agriculture Finance Administration to follow the same law that every other government agency in Louisiana must, in terms of bids to perform public services.
This has allowed Odom to use public professional employees, some with advanced degrees and holding upper-level managerial slots, to perform unskilled construction work. In addition, this lets Odom award contracts to whomever the panel likes (read: him) without any oversight.
This arrangement has been criticized because of the injuries on the job that state employees not hired for construction work have sustained, costing the state millions in claims, as well as the fact that if such employees have time to perform such work in addition to their state-specified jobs, it raises the question whether the Department of Agriculture is overstaffed.
But the most serious problem was raised by panel member Sen. Jay Dardenne, who argued the ability of LAFA to unilaterally hire whoever they pleased opened up the potential for abuse of authority. Odom’s clever rejoinder: “But you have to show the abuse, and it's not there.”
OK, tell you what, why doesn’t Odom, and every other elected official in Louisiana hand over their power to Gov. Kathleen Blanco? We can’t point to any abuse she committed in office, so that means she deserves unlimited power without any oversight, because surely she would not commit any abuses? Of course, the idiotic fallacy in Odom’s retort is that, as James Madison showed long ago, unless you have a government providing proper oversight, with different power centers checking each other, abuse will occur whether we can detect it. It doesn’t matter if we had Pope John Paul II running LAFA, government still should have proper oversight in place, as Dardenne tried to argue.
Odom tried to explain away the exceptional treatment of this agency in other ways:
(Whoa! I’m sitting listening to the House of Representatives audio feed and on HB 789 representatives are questioning whether the bill, which allows contracts for certain water treatment facilities, will allow for the “Bob Odom treatment” of not having to let out public bids for contracts. Which makes this next statement even more disappointing to write:)
Unfortunately, only Dardenne and Sen. Chris Ullo voted to send Cain’s bill on. Sen. Cleo Fields ducked the issue by saying more study was needed about “emergencies” (what is so crucial that it can go through a 30-day wait for LAFA but can’t go through a 90-day public bid process?) and Sen. Reggie Dupre said the current court case involving this authority needed to be resolved first (doesn’t the Legislature make the law, not the courts?). Sens. Charles Jones and Noble Ellington flat out voted against it without reservations. So this bill will not see the light of day barring a miracle.
Maybe there will be better luck on HB 232 which essentially would restrict the powers of Odom. Don’t count on it, being that the bill got referred to the House Agriculture Committee chaired by Odom’s bootlicker Rep. Francis Thompson. With time expired for new bills to be introduced, maybe the best course simply is for Blanco to line item out money for LAFA if the Legislature doesn’t have the guts to remove this money itself.