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Sen. Jones Skates Again
State Sen. Charles D. Jones of Monroe, a serial offender of state ethics and campaign finance laws, escaped tough questioning by the Capitol press corps last week after he admitted violating yet another state ethics law. And no one apparently asked Gov. Kathleen Blanco or Senate President Donald Hines if they had second thoughts about appointing Sen. Jones three years ago to chair the Senate committee that oversees the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Jones, a 25-year veteran lawmaker and an attorney, last week agreed to pay a $5,000 fine after admitting that he failed to file a tmely report informing the ethics board that he represented an apartment company as a lawyer before the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency. The ethics board said "absence of knowledge" was no excuse. In a series of editorials in 2004, Gambit Weekly opposed the appointment of Jones as chair of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, calling him "wholly unfit" for the job. By then, Jones had been twice suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court for lawyerly misconduct -- including failure to cooperate with an investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. As a senator, he was fined nine times since 2000 for campaign finance violations. In 1998, Jones paid a $7,500 ethics fine after admitting he and his family had profited from state poverty programs that he set up, a conflict-of-interest. In 2004, the day after Hines appointed Jones to oversee all ethics and campaign finance legislation in the upper chamber, Jones paid a $2,000 fine for late campaign finance reports -- escaping $55,112 in penalties under a tough law that Jones himself helped to pass. Gov. Blanco, who took office in 2004 with a vow to set higher ethical standards, did not oppose Jones' appointment by her handpicked senate president. -- Johnson

 

Never Saying Never
Congressman Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville acts as if he hasn't been privy to the recent onslaught of media roundups on the upcoming gubernatorial election, many of which have included his name as a potential candidate. "If I told you I've spent five or 10 seconds thinking about it, I'd be lying to you," says the second-term Democrat. "It's not even on my front-burner, but I never say never to anything." While Melancon may have mastered the art of staying relevant even when he's not, his name has been batted around endlessly ever since Bob Mann, former communications director for sitting Gov. Kathleen Blanco, also a Democrat, tossed it out there during a speech in November. At the time, Melancon's campaign staff insisted the buzz had been building for a while, just not as prominently. Melancon's Third Congressional District stretches from Acadiana to St. Bernard Parish. He is said be content with his current position in Congress, which includes a Democratic majority and a seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. The speculation is that the only way he would run, if at all, is if Blanco opts out. -- Alford

 

A Plan That Works
City pensioners recently got some good news in the long aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While public employee retirement systems across the country incur losses from some of their investments, the New Orleans Municipal Employees Retirement System now boasts $410 million in assets, says Jerome Davis, chair of the city pension board and a retired city civil service employee. The work by the board and its staff at City Hall, which considers the investment advice of 40 money managers, has not gone unnoticed. The city pension system has been nominated for Small Public Pension Plan of the Year by Institutional Investors News, a trade publication. Davis and Kim DeLarge, benefits manager for the plan for the retirement board, are expected to go to Las Vegas for the sixth annual awards ceremony on March 11. The five members of the board include Davis; Lisa Hudson, city personnel director and director of civil service; Lynne Schackai, a recently retired deputy director of civil service; city Finance Director Reginald Zeno; and lawyer Jeffery Douglas, Mayor Ray Nagin's appointee to the board. In addition to posting solid earnings, some of the plan's money managers waived their fees for six months after Katrina. -- Johnson

 

Following the Spirit of the Law (Kind of)
State lawmakers voted in 2004 to allow the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, the regulatory board that oversees hunting, fishing and conservation issues, to elect its chairman in January rather than December. In most years, the board gets one new commissioner in January as termed-out members rotate off the commission. The intent of the 2004 law was to ensure that the chairman is elected each year by the entire commission. Nonetheless, when the panel elected Earl King of Morgan City as chair earlier this month, the commission's vacating member -- Terry Denmon of Monroe -- was still able to cast a vote because his replacement has not yet been named by Gov. Kathleen Blanco. When asked about the situation, Bryant Hammett, department secretary, says the vote can always be retaken later in the year when the new commissioner is appointed. "But right now we're still waiting on the governor to appoint someone," he says. Marie Centanni, spokeswoman for Blanco, says a decision hasn't been made yet, and she couldn't supply a timeline. For now, state law allows Denmon to continue serving, even though he was given a farewell plaque at this month's meeting. "I guess I'm going to continue serving until notified," Denmon says. -- Alford

 

'Relax 'n Recharge' Clinic
Lynn Waelde
, a New Orleans-born clinical psychologist and associate professor of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in California, is returning home to offer a free citywide clinic on research-based stress-reduction techniques, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, on the corner of Harrison Avenue and Canal Boulevard in Lakeview. The event is co-hosted by St. Paul's Homecoming Center and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, known before Hurricane Katrina as the VA Medical Center. "This isn't just for veterans; it's for everyone in the community," says Madeline Uddo, manager of the PTSD program at the VA. Uddo says thousands of New Orleanians are still suffering from stress more than 16 months after Katrina. "It more than PTSD -- it is a grief reaction. There have been so many losses at so many levels." Unlike PTSD, there has been no "post" period for the angst many feel in the wake of Katrina. "It's not like you get past it, it just keeps going," she says. Saturday's clinic also offers CDs and an eight-week manual for stress-reduction techniques for $25. To pre-register, call 483-2212 or (650) 843-3519, or email your name and phone number to IR@pgsp.edu. -- Johnson

 

Baker, Boustany Land Transportation Posts
Given Louisiana's infrastructure and coastal restoration needs, it should come as comforting news that two Republican congressmen from the state have landed key roles on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Richard Baker of Baton Rouge has been tapped to be the ranking member of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, which regularly handles infrastructure bills for Louisiana. Its jurisdiction consists generally of matters relating to water resources development, conservation and management -- as well as oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "This is really an opportunity for me to take a strong role in steering policy and resources," Baker says. Meanwhile, second-term Rep. Charles W. Boustany of Lafayette has managed to retain his seat on transportation, despite the Democratic majority. The completion of I-49 and other infrastructure issues top his list of priorities. -- Alford

Congressman Charlie Melancon says he hasn't even toyed - with the idea of running for governor  but he won't - coundt himself out of the race either.
  • Congressman Charlie Melancon says he hasn't even toyed with the idea of running for governor but he won't coundt himself out of the race either.

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