Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, September 23, 2014

BR business executives bankrolling new media campaign for local school board races

A political action committee with ties to the local business community has launched a media campaign for the upcoming school board elections in East Baton Rouge Parish. Better Schools for Better Futures, a PAC formed in August by Lane Grigsby and three veteran business lobbyists who work with him, has spent about $40,000 on TV and radio ads that began airing last week. A print media campaign is still to come. The commercials do not promote or mention by name the nine individual candidates who were recently endorsed by the organization, but instead focus on the broad goals the PAC has outlined to improve the district. Those include hiring a reform-minded superintendent, giving principals more autonomy in the classroom, giving parents choice and promoting STEM programs. "The business community needs students who have been trained in STEM," says Josh Howard, a spokesman for the group. Another goal of the organization is to engage the community, which Howard says the PAC hopes to do by driving people to its website—betterschoolsbetterfutures.com—and through forums. Clay Young, whose media firm is producing the spots for the campaign, says the tone of the commercials is meant to be informative, not adversarial. —Stephanie Riegel

Long-awaited DPW reorganization up for Metro Council vote

A plan to reorganize the city-parish Department of Public Works that took two years to develop may get a chance to be vetted by voters in December, if the Metro Council gives it final approval at its meeting Wednesday. City-parish officials have long looked to restructure the sprawling responsibilities of DPW and last year hired two consulting firms that helped produce a new structure made up of six offices. "We finally got it fleshed out," Mayor Kip Holden's Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel says. Since the study was produced, officials have been working to map out the details of how each department will be structured and where each employee will go, Daniel says. The city-parish wanted to find a role in the new system for each of the 800 employees currently working under the DPW umbrella, but some roles will change slightly, Daniel says. The six new departments would have authority over the following:
• Sanitation and the ongoing sewer improvement projects
• Road and bridge maintenance and traffic engineering
• Maintenance of city-parish right-of-ways and drainage clearing
• Permit review
• Maintenance of city-parish buildings and grounds
• Service of city-parish vehicles
Daniel says this could be one of the council's last chances to approve the measure for the December ballot before the Oct. 21 deadline. Daniel recognizes that the reorganization process has been slow, but says they've found the structure that will best fit the city going forward. "This is something that hasn't changed since 1940, so we want to make sure it's 100% right because it probably won't be altered for another 50 years," Daniel says. The Metro Council meets at 4 p.m. on Wednesday on the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. See the full agenda. —Kelly Connelly

Today's poll question: Do you want the Metro Council to place on the December ballot a reorganization of the EBR Department of Public Works?

Alford: Women voters move to the front this election cycle

While still underrepresented in every level of government in Louisiana, women—from candidates and wives to voters—are moving to the forefront of federal races this fall as headline-grabbers, possible trailblazers and, of course, talking points, says Jeremy Alford in his latest column. Not only are there more women voters in Louisiana than men—nearly 1.6 million compared to 1.3 million—but Alford notes registered women voters also outnumber men in every single congressional district here. "To tip the scales, both parties are pointing to a 'war on women,'" Alford writes. "The stakes are high and margins thin." In Sen. Mary Landrieu's re-election campaign against leading Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, Alford says, "women voters represent a segment of the electorate that pollsters contend Landrieu must gain traction with to win." And over the past week alone, he notes Landrieu has attacked Cassidy for his stance on the Export-Import Bank, claiming he's hurting women-owned businesses. She has announced endorsements from the Independent Women's Organization and the National Association of Women Business Owners, in addition to holding a "Women's Leadership Luncheon" in Ruston, one of 11 scheduled leading up to Election Day. "But by no means do Democrats have the market cornered when it comes to appealing to women voters," Alford notes. In the 6th Congressional District, state Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, is preparing to release a television commercial that speaks directly to the voting bloc. And then there are the wives of former governor and 6th District candidate Edwin Edwards and Rep. Vance McAllister of the 5th District, both of whom are also in the spotlight this campaign. Read the full column.

(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.)

Case Study: What can be done to manage online reviews of my company or product?

How your business leverages positive comments while managing negative reviews, and learning from them, is crucial to its success. Digital reviews are becoming increasingly influential, so Business Report recently asked three local business professionals—BlinkJar Media founder and CEO Jared Broussard; Covalent Logic CEO Stafford Kendall; and Gatorworks founder and President Brian Rodriguez—for their thoughts on the best way to manage an online reputation. Broussard suggests five tips for managing negative reviews, the first of which is just being aware of your online presence and reputation. Along with using tracking software and claiming your business profiles on review sites to best manage what people are saying, he says you should have a process in place for responding to negative reviews. "When your business responds to a negative review, it shows that your business cares and values feedback from the consumer," he says. The task of managing everything that's being said about you or your company online may seem daunting, but Kendall says it's actually much easier than it used to be. "People with complaints now generally post them online for all to see," she says. "This is a blessing and curse, but at least you can start managing your reputation with Google Alerts and other notifications." And while your natural reaction to bad publicity or criticism may be to immediately lash out at the poster or deny it, Rodriguez says you need to think twice. "But as we've seen with celebrities, it's best not to add fuel to the fire," he says. "You need to address the problem but must do so with a cool and level head." Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

Limits on overseas mergers prompt renewed debate

The Obama administration's decision to curb the ability of U.S. corporations to skirt taxes by merging with foreign companies kicked off an immediate election-season debate over when and how to tackle the nation's complex corporate tax code. Following through on a populist appeal from President Barack Obama for a new era of "corporate patriotism," the Treasury Department stepped in Monday with new regulations designed to limit the ability of U.S. firms to seek refuge in lower tax countries. The Treasury will make these so-called corporate inversions less lucrative by barring creative techniques that companies use to lower their tax bill. Additionally, the U.S. will make it harder for companies to move overseas in the first place by tightening the ownership requirements they must meet. "This action will significantly diminish the ability of inverted companies to escape U.S. taxation," Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says, adding that for some companies considering inversions, the new measures would mean inverting would "no longer make economic sense." The Treasury steps sparked a prompt partisan reaction. Democrats generally supported the action as the best the administration could do without action from Congress, while Republicans faulted the administration for not making a greater effort to work with Congress to enact comprehensive corporate tax reform. The Associated Press has the full story.

All over the planet, countries missing emissions targets

When President Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit, The Washington Post reports, he will be able to make a decent case for what the United States has done to help. His administration has tightened fuel efficiency regulations, followed through on mercury rules for existing coal plants, pressed India and China on controlling potent hydrofluorocarbons, and used tax breaks and Energy Department funds under the stimulus act to promote wind and solar energy. He will also boast about a smattering of other new initiatives—including an order that federal agencies factor resilience to climate change into international aid and investments. And he can also highlight the formation of a public-private partnership to figure out how to voluntarily lower the release of methane by natural gas producers. Yet it isn't enough. Not nearly. Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, driven by a hunger for energy as economies grow. Even many industrialized countries are going to blow through the 2020 emissions targets they agreed to meet at earlier climate summits. Read the full story.

News roundup: Heavy rains slow harvest, planting for La. sugarcane … BESE chairman talks Common Core with central La. business leaders … La. chefs taking over Birmingham restaurants tonight

Not too sweet: This year's sugarcane harvest season has been delayed due to heavy rains and a freezing winter, and there is expectation that next year's crop may also be affected by current weather conditions, industry officials tells The Daily Advertiser. Most Louisiana farmers head to the fields to harvest their crop in mid- to late-September, but it looks like much of the yield won't be fully mature until October, says Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League. Planting next year's crop has also been delayed, Lafayette Parish sugarcane farmer Chad Hanks says, adding some growers haven't even started planting. Read the full story.

Making his case: Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chairman Chas Roemer met with central Louisiana business leaders on Monday in hopes of helping them make sense of the "noise" surrounding Common Core education standards. "We have one major problem, and it's a problem we face daily," Roemer said at a meeting of the North Rapides Business & Industry Alliance. "The biggest hurdle we have in this state is low expectations. ... Common Core is about higher expectations for our students. That's all it is." The Town Talk has the full story.

From the bayou to Birmingham: Eight Louisiana chefs, including one from Baton Rouge, are in Birmingham today for the "Louisiana Restaurant Takeover" at some of the city's top restaurants. The event, which is being sponsored by the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association and Birmingham-based Hoffman Media, will feature Ryan Andre, who was formerly with Le Creolť and has been tapped to be the executive chef at City Pork's second Baton Rouge location. The Birmingham News has the full story.

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