The old bureaucratic shuffle appears to have landed the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in trouble with a Baton Rouge district judge.
Anyone who deals with governmental agencies at any level knows all about the familiar dance in which acts, sections and sub-paragraphs are thrown at vendors in rapid succession in order to eliminate from consideration those lacking the political ties in favor of those with the proper connections.
If you believe that’s a little too jaded, you’re invited to take a gander at the current list of state contracts. If you have the patience to wade through the seemingly endless list of contracts, you will notice the same vendors pop up with considerable regularity. You can see for yourself by clicking here:
Perhaps that’s why LDOE terminated an agreement under which a faith-based ministry in St. Landry Parish had been allowed to provide meals to children under the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) under the auspices of the LDOE’s Division of Nurition Support and the US Department of Agriculture.
In the SFSP, a sponsor – in this case, Restoring God’s Glory Ministries (RGGM) of Eunice – requests to provide meals to children, then agrees to submit a claim for reimbursement for a portion of those meals to LDOE which may decide to approve or deny reimbursement claims or even to terminate the sponsor from participation.
Rules provide the sponsor the opportunity to appeal any adverse agency decisions. In this case, LDOE issued a Notice of Action (NOA) letter to RGGM terminating RGGM’s agreement and also ordered the ministry to repay $116,528 in what LDOE claimed were excessive claims.
RGGM immediately appealed and the matter was assigned to administrative law judge Tyrell “Ty” Manieri (any relation to LSU baseball coach Paul Manieri?) and the administrative hearing was scheduled for Jan. 13, 2021.
The only problem with Manieri’s participation was that he was formerly employed as an attorney for LDOE until his resignation in 2012. Moreover, he revealed that he had a personal relationship with current LDOE counsel Troy Humphrey in that the two played Fantasy Football together and occasionally communicated with each other.
Despite those connections Manieri said that he felt he could be a fair and impartial judge. RGGM on Jan. 11 filed a written motion for more time and for the disqualification of Manieri, claiming that Manieri was biased toward LDOE. That motion, of course, was denied because Fantasy Football or no, Manieri’s friendship with LDOE’s lawyer would have no effect on his decision.
So, the Jan. 13 hearing went forward despite RGGM’s not having sufficient time to call witnesses on its behalf.
That prompted 19th Judicial District Judge Ron Johnson to rule that Manieri’s declaratory judgment to proceed with the Jan. 13 hearing without affording the ministry being afforded the opportunity to subpoena witnesses violated the RGGM’s right of due process.
In negating Manieri’s ruling, Judge Johnson also approved RGGM’s request for injunctive relief enjoining LDOE from seeking to collect the $116,528 from the ministry because LDOE had not established standards to terminate sponsors and to seek reimbursement.
Johnson’s order was signed on March 30 but as late as May 21, Shanna Legier, of the LDOE Division of Nutrition Support, reiterated in an email to RGGM’s Kayla Givs that the ministry had been determined to be “seriously deficient” on Nov. 13, 2020 which she said “would disqualify RGGM from meeting the requirements of being a sponsor.”
With LDOE and Judge Ron Johnson at loggerheads over RGGM’s qualifications, it’s going to be interesting to see how this drama plays out.
Simply saying RGGM is “seriously deficient” isn’t going to be good enough unless LDOE can show some hard evidence to support its position.
Meanwhile, RGGM apparently will not be reimbursed for feeding indigent children under the program.