\By Jeremy Alford State Police Commission Director Audited The State Inspector General's Office has finally issued its audit investigation of Debra Johnson, the former executive director of the Louisiana Police Commission who was arrested in May for allegedly boosting nearly $12,000 in electronics and other goods using the commission's purchasing card. The audit paints a picture of a public employee who saw her salary continually increased over a six-year period, from $50,400 to more than $108,000.
The hike becomes even more embarrassing when Johnson's work ethic is revealed. According to interviews recounted in the audit, "every employee" told investigators that Johnson worked only two or three days a week. Additionally, auditors discovered Johnson showed up to work only 14 percent of the time from 2005 to 2006. How could such a gross miscarriage of public trust occur? The investigation revealed that in 2001, Johnson sued the commission and alleged merit pay increases were withheld due to racial discrimination. The commission eventually settled the case, giving her $13,224 as compensation for general wages. "It appears that fear of another such lawsuit by Ms. Johnson hampered the level of oversight by the commission, making it possible for her to engage in systematic misconduct over a significant period of time without detections," the audit states.
As for what Johnson was able to make off with before being detected, the audit's catalog includes laptop bags, computers, software, cameras, cell phones, BlackBerrys, a television and more. Most of the items were photographed inside Johnson's home and are displayed in the audit (www.doa.louisiana.gov/OIG/pdf%20reports/2008/1080009.pdf).
An Acadian Robin Hood Despite being unopposed this fall, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon still managed to raise more than $49,500 during the third quarter of the year. But rather than blowing it all on his campaign, Melancon used the dough to back Democrats in 24 other states, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission (http://query.nictusa.com/pdf/931/28933511931/28933511931.pdf).
In a move that smacks of a political Robin Hood, Melancon, who represents portions of Acadiana, raised most of the money $47,000 from political action committees, or PACs, before turning most of it over to the needy candidates. In total, he sent $42,000 to other Democratic campaigns in recent months. But the figure pales in comparison to Melancon's total cash on hand. He has more than $828,000 in his own campaign war chest. As Democratic campaigns enter the final stretch heading into the Nov. 4 election, Melancon will be a good friend to have.
So, aside from being unopposed, why is Melancon inserting himself into other races? "I'm trying to get more PLUs elected, which means "People Like Us,'" Melancon says. "I'm looking for conservative Blue Dog Democrats who understand pay-as-you-go and who want to get the budget where it should be." Melancon says the contributions also give him an opportunity to lobby other members of Congress on issues important to the Third Congressional District, such as coastal restoration, hurricane protection, oil production and a fair approach to redistricting. He likewise admits that the money gives him political leverage and allows him to build influence and clout. "It certainly doesn't hurt, but that's not my objective," says Melancon. "Donating money like this to other Democrats isn't uncommon. A lot of people are doing it right now." So far, Melancon is financially backing candidates in Missouri, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Wyoming, Michigan, Wisconsin, Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Indiana, Maryland and Colorado. Melancon also gave another $5,000 during the third quarter to PACs that back Democratic candidates around the country.
Shale Game The state Mineral Board finally wrapped up its eagerly anticipated lease sales earlier this month, collecting about $43.5 million in total for both September and October (the latter was postponed due to hurricanes Gustav and Ike). It took officials two days to sort through 367 tracts, the most ever handled during a one-month period since 1947. The historic snapshot, however, was overshadowed by the fact that the craze over the Haynesville Shale area has peaked. Nonetheless, Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle says interest in mineral leasing remains high, despite the recent downward trend in natural gas prices. Prices have fallen from $12.94 per million BTUs during the first week of July to roughly half that amount in recent weeks. "We, as a state, are bullish on the Haynesville Shale," Angelle says. "Energy exploration companies are still showing their willingness to work here and to be a part of our state economy, and still expressing their confidence through investing in developing the state's natural resources." Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen points to one particular transaction as proof: Northwestern State University received about $4.4 million in lease bonus money and secured $12,000 an acre for the land it had up for bid. Last year, prices averaged about $532 an acre in the region. Overall, the Haynesville Shale area is still outperforming other areas of the state, officials say.