Friday, April 24, 2009

In all Fairness

Clesus makes some good points about the Recent Six Flags Dust up. It's more complicated that it appears at first glance.

It's a little disappointing to have a local AP staffer fail to make any mention of the City's position in such an article. For once the Times Picayune seems to have done a better job of explaining the situation.

Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn. But, contrary to popular belief squirrels don't remember where they bury acorns, they just bury them. When winter rolls around they often dig up acorns other squirrels have buried. It sort of evens out in the end I guess.

It also seems Six Flags may have been overstating their losses on the insurance claim, at least their claim was defeated in court.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

BOLO* - Festista** Alert

You can tell what's happening in New Orleans by who you meet on airplanes. Yesterday I came back earlier in the week than usual to miss the craziness of the Festistas**. I wasn't entirely successful, but it wasn't unpleasant either.

I was happy to meet Terry and to talk to her all the way to New Orelans we shared a beer or two and talked about places we'd been and things we liked to do.

She has been coming to New Orleans for Jazzfest for about 20 years. This year she was meeting a girl friend from Houston and they were going together. Sounded like fun.

Then she asked me if I wanted one of her titties.

I was a llttle surprised and she whipped out a koozie and gave it to me. Apparently these are something of hobby of hers. She says she gives away something like a couple thousand a year. Being something of a koozie connoisseur I said great! She gave me several.

Pink seems a natural color but they also come in lime green. For those a little more modest, they come in camo.

If any of you you see her out at the fest be sure to ask for a tittie.

* TV Cop talk for Be On the Look Out
** is that the correct word?

The Hits Just Keep Coming

The Whole Crime Camera Saga just keeps getting better and better.

The there was a story on that said;
Randy Smith (Meffert's Lawyer), also said Meffert was paid "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in consulting fees by the firm, NetMethods, in the months following his departure from City Hall in July 2006.

The credit card and the money were given in recognition of what Smith described as "$10 million dollars or more" in business landed by NetMethods with Meffert's help across the country. He said Meffert's compensation amounted to "a pittance compared to what NetMethods made."

In an email yesterday I wrote;

This sounds like compensation for a salesman. Typically a sales commission might be 4-7 % on those kinds of deals, depending on the responsibilities after the sale. So 5% would be $500,000 on $10,000,000. Not bad for a part time job.

Today we find out I was prophetic;

"Wow, " was Nagin's response when his questioners showed documentation that Meffert made $67,000 a month from NetMethods immediately upon leaving his city job in July 2006.

During the deposition, Jones (Lawyer for plaintiffs Southern Electronics and Active Solutions) said NetMethods' payments to Meffert in the 10 months after his departure from City Hall totaled $589,238.

If Meffert were using his official position to tout NetMethods isn't that unethical?

Nagin has been fond of saying he's been a "good steward of public funds". He's said that more than once as I recall. It's one of his 'talking points", along with "busting his butt" on recovery.

Yet we find that a city official , former CIO and self styled "Deputy Mayor" who had time while moving the city from "worst to first" in technology and, after Katrina, working on the recovery to help his buddies at NetMethods sell $10,000,000 in contracts and collect nearly $600,000 in commissions.

When confronted all the Mayor can say is "Wow!". He didn't know anything, never saw anything and had no idea. I wonder what else he didn't know.

I keep thinking of Her grandmother who always said "A little lie can keep you out of plenty trouble".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Did he really say that?

Does this make any sense?

According to WWL
Randall Smith

"Attorney Randy Smith said Meffert had use of the card while technology director and was authorized to use it to help NetMethods get business outside the city. Smith said the Hawaii trip had such a business purpose."

Why should Meffert be pimping his boyz? Wasn't he supposed to be helping run the city? Isn't accepting something of value for his endorsement of a vendor a conflict of interest, unethical and illegal?

How come the Mayor didn't know the "Business Purpose" of the trip?

This gets stranger and stranger. I can't wait to read Nagin's deposition, man.

Speaking of Nagin's deposition. Was anyone else struck by the irony of Nagin, ' "not an ordinary citizen." Like high-ranking federal government officials, he should not have to participate in depositions except in "exceptional circumstances," submitting to an ' "intrusive, embarrassing and burdensome" ... request by plaintiffs' attorneys asking Nagin about the surveillance network.' While having sufficient time to accept a family trip as a gift from a subordinate who paid for the trip using someone else's credit card?

I guess going to the beach is a better use of his time than answering questions about the activities of one of his protegees.

Finally I wonder who is the Mayor's press press flak really is. The very quiet and often silent Ceeon Quiett or City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields.

Ms. Moses-Fields conveniently let it be known that her office was filing a curiously timed cross claim against Dell. It is apparently based on a filing the Plaintiff's made earlier this month citing an email to a contractor's employee working in the city IT Department. Not withstanding that these employees routinely let people think they were actual city employees by, among other things using city email addresses and business cards. The Problem with the timing is that The City Attorney's office was present for Mr. Meffert's deposition in November when this email was discussed at some length.

There is another issue some people have commented on concerning the City Attorney's conduct. The City Charter states;

Section 4-401. Functions.
The Department of Law, headed by a City Attorney, shall:

(1) Direct and supervise the legal affairs of the City.

(2) Provide legal advice to the Mayor and Council when requested and when directed by the Mayor to all officers, departments, and boards concerning any matter affecting the interests of the City.

(3) Have charge of all legal matters in which the City has an interest or to which the City is a party, with power and authority, when directed by the Mayor or the Council, to institute and prosecute or to intervene in any and all suits or other proceedings, civil or criminal, as may be deemed necessary for the assertion or protection of the rights and interests of the City.

Another section of the Charter places some responsibility on the City Attorney for some of these questionable contracting practices;
(5) Prepare or approve as to form and legality all contracts, documents and instruments creating any legal or conventional obligation affecting the City.
While nothing I know of in the current case is outside the responsibility of the City Attorney, including representing the Mayor in his official capacity regarding this lawsuit. The office of City Attorney does seem to have become an advocate for the Executive over the Council, appearing to act as the Mayor's personal legal representative, rather than as a legal watchdog of the interests of the City. Something Robert Cerasoli pointed out some time ago.

I hope that Ms. Moses-Fields will keep in mind that her obligation is to The City and not to any person. If it looks like the City's interests and the Mayor's conflict, she should advise him of the conflict and step away from those questions. As the City's Attorney, if she is aware of any wrongdoing on the part of any City official or employee, I believe she has an obligation to report it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Formaldehyde revisited

Much has been written about the 'Toxic Trailers" and other stuff. I've written about the issue before and although that post is one of my top hit getters (whatever that means) there have been no comments. FEMA has never suggested to us that our trailer should be tested.

Last fall FEMA was talking us about moving and I asked if we could get ours tested. They said sure, someone will call you and set something up. I wasn't hopeful. FEMA never returns phone calls. I was surprised when they called a couple of days later. We set a date to meet and test the trailer. That was October 28, 2008.

On January 2, 2009 FEMA taped a note to the trailer door, we were on vacation. After we got back we traded phone calls because the person who contacted us said that he needed to meet with us in person to deliver the report. Unfortunately he was out of Baton Rouge was only occasionally in New Orleans and couldn't predict when he would be back. After a couple of tries, he stopped returning calls. He probably was transferred.

A couple of weeks ago I started trying to get a copy of the report. Our New FEMA Person (the only one we've talked to more than once) called. She had the numbers, and more amazingly gave them to me over the phone.

On October 28, 2008 our trailer tested at 63 parts per billion (63 ppb).

She is going to send me a report as soon as she can find it. I'm beginning to think she might.

For perspective I'd like to offer this OSHA regulation;
Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) -


Time-Weighted Average (TWA): The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour TWA.


Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL): The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute STEL.

According to EPA

Levels in Homes

Average concentrations in older homes without UFFI (Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation) are generally well below 0.1 (ppm). In homes with significant amounts of new pressed wood products, levels can be greater than 0.3 ppm.

Looks like we off gassed down to "normal" levels.

California through the California Air Resources Board has adopted standards that apply to lumber products only, not finished structures. Unfortunately other materials may contribute to Formaldehyde levels in a structure including foam insulation, fabric and carpet, to name a few.

EPA is also proposing some controls although they seem to be following California's lead, and regulating products not finished structures.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wiz Kid unveiled.

The 900 plus pages of Greg Meffert's deposition have now been released and I have more or less read every word. It was generally a waste of time.

I wonder if one of those tapes has the Mayor's missing emails?

The Whiz Kid has a bad case of CRS*, including the names people who worked for him or what they did. He couldn't really articulate what the subcontractors he hired were actually doing.

If you read between the lines you see the outline of that old, dysfunctional city government we all love so much. Meffert seems to have made a heroic effort trying to circumvent the bottlenecks of City Government.

Apparently at Meffert's instigation rather than hire people directly he had an existing IT contractor CIBER (who was hired under a G. S. A. contract without a bid) hire Imagine as a subcontractor, who in turn hired his handpicked "experts". This seems clearly an end run around the States Public Bid law, which is supposed to provide equal access to public contracts. It also circumvents the Civil Service system which, among other things, is designed to prevent croynism and political influence in hiring of public employees. But we already knew all of that. One of the things that former Inspector General Robert Cerasoli did was publicly demonstrate how cumbersome that system is.

In letting the first Crime Camera contract to Southern Electronic Supply and their subcontractor Active Solutions , you can see just how cumbersome the contracting process is. The RFP required three or four months to get ratified in a contract.

Once the contract was let, the City apparently began trying to push Southern to accelerate its work without apparently accelerating payments to Southern. At least that is Southern's contention. Meffert reports being frustrated by a provision of the contract that required the City to pay 50% upfront before the ordering the material. All the City had to do was write a check to solve that one. The city is notorious in business circles for being capricious and unreliable in its payments to vendors.

In fact when Meffert tried to redirect some of the camera purchases through Dell computer. Dell initially refused to extend additional credit to the City, because apparently the city had been lax in making payments for past purchases. That particular maneuver is interesting because Dell was purchasing the camera units from Veracent, one of Mark St. Pierre's companies. Although Dell had never sold these units before, they were apparently added to Dell's catalog for the City's benefit. The City was so anxious to purchase these particular units that they were trying to place an order before they were in Dell's computer systems. How that all came about is not clear.

What is clear is that the City was purchasing from Dell through a continuing purchasing contract that the State or the City was party to, again avoiding a public bid. It's not clear exactly which purchasing contract was used, Meffert couldn't remember. Eventually this blew up because Dell apparently wasn't permitted to sell "camera's" under this contract.

It appears to me that much of the delay in getting the crime cameras up and running may have been due to the City's poor purchasing and contracting practices.

In general the lawyers present had no clue about the technology and seemed to accept Meffert's techno babble at face value. They did however, take exception to being called "dude".

One point I think got seriously obscured by the lawyers lack of understanding is that the "cameras" are not simply cameras as you might think of a web came or a video camera. Each camera location was an assembly of components to house a camera, power supply and networking components. Something which apparently could not be bought off the shelf, at least at that time. When Dell discovered it couldn't sell "cameras" one person at Dell suggested that they just carry on and but rename them "video capture modules"

Interestingly, Mark St. Pierre Owner/Principal of Imagine, NetMethods** and Veracent was present for almost all of the 3 day deposition. So were attorneys for the City, so Ray probably knew everything damaging that happened.

For some of the sleuths out there Meffert did say that he and the Mayor traveled to Chicago for the Saint's Championship game on someone else's nickel, and possibly NetMethods paid for part of it but maybe not.

I can't wait to read some other depositions.

* Can't Remember Shit
** The company that paid for Ray and Greg to go to Hawaii.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Hey man, what's with you?

As the circus surrounding the current city administration continues, our Mayor has displayed an serious lack of logic in dealing with his ethical responsibility as Mayor.

I suppose any father wants to help out his sons start a new business, even to the point of steering business their way. However it seems somewhat illogical to claim that, if as Mayor he helped a major big box retailer, and coincidentally that retailer just happened to give business to his boys, that somehow since the store he helped get built doesn't do business with the boys, no ethical line was crossed. As a CPA he should be familiar the concept of "Fungibility".

The press seems to be hung up on whether a law was broken. They base that on whether as 40% owner he exceeded the 25% allowable under state law. I suppose he could argue that since the interest was community property, he actually only owns 20%.

In other news regarding his dealings with his BBF Muppet. The Mayor seems to think that since the veracity challenged "Whiz Kid" told him there was no "direct vendor" involved in the vacation, it's fine. Or since "whoever owned the yacht or whatever, " got reimbursed things are OK.

So let me get this straight, if I can get someone known for playing fast and loose with the truth to tell me things are legit, or get someone who has is an "indirect" vendor to the city to give me something of value or have a major corporation send money to my family from a different store, I have behaved ethically?

Then there is the matter of the missing email. According to the TP "Drake, St. Pierre and other subcontractors all had e-mail accounts on the server, just like Meffert and other public employees appointed by Nagin." This is the same server that had the Mayor's email deleted for a lack of space. Something the "whiz kids" could have solved for a few dollars and in spite of policy promulgated by Meppert, that called for regular backups and off-site storage of backups.

When I get involved with someone so obviously trying to scam me I always wonder if they're stupid or if they think I am. Usually they think they're so much smarter than everyone else that they don't think anyone will notice. They're usually wrong.