Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Mon, July 21, 2014

Kean Miller targeted by lawsuit alleging divided loyalties in sinkhole litigation

Vulcan Materials, a longtime client of Baton Rouge-based Kean Miller, is suing its former law firm in Baton Rouge district court. Vulcan alleges Kean Miller breached its duties to Vulcan while working for Texas Brine, the firm blamed for the Bayou Corne sinkhole. Vulcan says Kean Miller failed to advise Vulcan of the sinkhole’s emergence or the fact that Vulcan was being accused by Texas Brine of contributing to the cause of it. “Elevating the duties owed to one client over the duties owed to another client is the hallmark of a conflict of interest,” the suit says. Texas Brine supplied a Vulcan-owned plant in Geismar with brine from its operations near where the sinkhole appeared. Texas Brine alleged Vulcan was involved in decisions that may have contributed to the failure of the well cavern, the suit says. Without giving an estimate, Vulcan is seeking expenses related to finding new representation on other unrelated matters, the cost of investigating Kean Miller’s conduct, and the “adverse effect on Vulcan’s position in litigation,” among other things. In a prepared statement, Kean Miller says Vulcan’s allegations “of bad faith and prejudice have already been thoroughly rejected by the Court in related litigation in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.” “We look forward to the facts in this matter being presented again, and we are confident the Court will come to a similar conclusion,” Kean Miller says. See the lawsuit. —David Jacobs

Metro Council to consider update to downtown parking feasibility study

Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer will request approval from the Metro Council at its meeting Wednesday to enter into a $49,500 contract with AECOM, a professional engineering corporation, to update the 2005 Downtown Baton Rouge Parking Feasibility Study. Considering the study is almost 10 years old, Rhorer says, the update will help DDD to evaluate current parking demands, downtown traffic conditions and future planned development. Although DDD is already in the process of adding up to 500 free parking spaces downtown under the Interstate 110 and Interstate 10 overpasses, Rhorer says additional parking may be necessary. "It's a sizeable amount," he says, "but IBM alone is 800-plus employees. I know they're incorporating parking, but you've got to think in terms of people coming to do business with them." Other new developments, such as the Holiday Inn Express, will create even greater parking demand in the area, Rhorer adds. Striping for the new free parking is currently underway, he says, but DDD is still working on finding funding for lighting in the covered area. Meanwhile, AECOM will get started on the study update as soon as council approval has been secured. Rhorer says the update should take about 60 days to complete. In 2009, AECOM acquired Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart Inc., which conducted the original study in 2004 and presented it in 2005. —Rachel Alexander Read the full story here.

Lawsuit filed to stop Common Core use in La.

Seventeen state lawmakers are heading to court to try to stop Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards in public schools. Rep. Brett Geymann, a Republican who opposes the standards, tells The Associated Press the lawsuit was filed today. He says the state education board didn't follow Louisiana's administrative procedures law for rolling out new standards in classrooms. The legal challenge is part of a continuing struggle over Common Core, which has become controversial since the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the standards in 2010. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a one-time Common Core supporter, now opposes the standards as a federal intrusion into local education. But he and other Common Core critics have been unable to persuade BESE to change course. Lawmakers also upheld use of the standards.

Library board to hire two consultants to evaluate potential south branch sites

The library board is expected to sign two contracts this week with firms that will help the board evaluate in more detail five potential sites for a new south Baton Rouge branch library. The contracts—one for a desktop engineering assessment, the other for a desktop wetlands assessment review—together total about $10,000 and will be awarded to SJB Group and CK Associates, respectively. Desktop assessments are general and relatively inexpensive studies that do not involve in-depth site visits or core samples."This will help us get a better view of what kinds of challenges may be associated with these five sites, if any," says Library Director Spencer Watts. The five sites were whittled down from a list of 19 identified earlier this year by LEO, a site selection firm hired by the board to help in the years-long search for a suitable south branch site. The board turned to experts after negotiations broke down late last year with developer Tommy Spinosa, who had agreed to donate land in his Rouzan development for the construction of a new library. "It has certainly been a longer process than we would have hoped for," says Watts. "So many of the sites that have the kind of access and visibility we would want have already been commercially developed one way." Meanwhile, plans for the new downtown branch—currently in the design development phase—are running slightly behind schedule. Watts says construction will likely not begin until early next year, later than the year-end date that was originally hoped for. —Stephanie Riegel

Supporters of smaller school board push back against opposition

A smaller East Baton Rouge Parish School Board could be more efficient and effective with less discord, says Baton Rouge Area Chamber Senior Vice President of Economic Competitiveness Michael DiResto, citing research from the Georgia-based Commission for School Board Excellence, the Council for the Great City Schools in Washington, D.C., the University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University and other sources. Large school systems nationally tend to have boards with seven to nine members, he says, compared to EBR's 11. DiResto says he wouldn't expect running for school board to become significantly more expensive. The Parish Executive Committee of the Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish voted 13-1 on Sunday to oppose the reduction. Party chairman Woody Jenkins issued a statement saying the move "would allow BRAC to pour money into the campaigns of its hand-picked candidates and attempt to control the school board," adding that BRAC is "pushing for the school board to reapportion itself ONLY THREE WEEKS before qualifying begins for this fall's election!" School board and party Parish Executive Committee member Connie Bernard voted against the resolution opposing reduction. She and DiResto say the nine-member Jefferson Parish School Board proves a smaller board can effectively govern a large system. While the Louisiana Legislature this year voted down a bill to shrink the EBR board, Bernard expects some delegation members to support reduction if the board doesn't act and says such decisions are better made locally. She says the board employed a top-notch consultant to ensure the five possible maps to be discussed by the board Thursday will withstand legal scrutiny, although critics say reapportionment could dilute the strength of black voters. Thursday's meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at the school district central office, 1050 South Foster Drive. —David Jacobs

Executive Spotlight: James "Jim" Beard

In the new issue of Business Report, Beard Construction Group is ranked No. 63 in the Top 100 List of Private Companies, up from No. 86 in 2013. But its president, James "Jim" Beard, isn't one to rest on laurels. As he tells the magazine for its new Executive Spotlight feature: "I always seem to be focused on the next quarter or the next business year, always trying to figure out where the next job is going to come from." Still, Beard recalls appreciatively the firm's early days, in 2004, when he and his partners didn't yet have an office. "Mr. Louis Witty, the dad of one of the partners, allowed us to clean out his garage and set up shop there," Beard says. "We each took a corner and hit the ground running." Their first contract was a landfill project in Alabama following Hurricane Ivan. "After that, things took off at a much faster rate than we imagined possible," he says. The civil construction firm's headquarters went up in Port Allen in 2005, providing easy access to Interstate 10. BCG has completed projects across the Gulf South and beyond, more than 90% of them for private-sector industrial clients, Beard says. Read the full Q&A with Beard. Here's a sample of what you'll find:
What is a good piece of advice you've found useful at work?
"My dad told me at a very early age that if you work hard and do a good job, the right people would notice in time. I have never forgotten that and still try to apply it in my work today."

Edwards outlines ways he'd strengthen state budget as governor

Louisiana State Representative John Bel Edwards, D-Amite—the only announced Democratic gubernatorial candidate thus far—says that, if elected governor, he will focus on configuring a prudent state budget that doesn't require mid-year budget cuts. "As governor, I will focus on the budget in a way that quite frankly we have not been doing," says Edwards, who was guest speaker today at the Baton Rouge Press Club. "If we don't have a surge of revenue coming into the state coffers between now and December, we're going to be cutting higher education, and that's an awful way to try to move this state forward." Edwards says he will focus on improving the budget in three main ways: by growing the economy in a way that allows for net new revenue for the state; by examining all of the tax exemptions on the book and eliminating those "that aren't producing the results that were promised"; and by accepting federal funds "when it makes sense," whether it's expanding broadband Internet access, pre-K programs or Medicaid. On the issue of Common Core, Edwards called the current confusion over what tests teachers will be administering for the upcoming school year "a disgrace to Louisiana." However, though Edwards says he's okay with the standards, he says he doesn't want to just take others' word for it. "Why would we not have a Louisiana-based group review each and every standard to determine that they don't introduce material" that is inappropriate, he says. "I think that at the end of that process, if you had a group of educators and parents in Louisiana doing that, you would have a body of standards that would be very consistent with Common Core" but that parents and teachers would be comfortable with. Earlier this summer, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter—another 2015 candidate for governor, along with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, also a Republican—also spoke to the Press Club about his gubernatorial aspirations and priorities. —Rachel Alexander

'Business Report' planner: Col. Amant talks Gaza conflict at EBR chamber meeting … LSU AgCenter offers Lead Certified Renovator Training … Certified Louisiana Economic Developer Program is at LSU

Tuesday: The Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish's monthly meeting will feature Col. Phil St. Amant, former Middle East chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who will discuss the Israeli offensive in Gaza. The meeting begins at noon at Cafť Amťricain, 7521 Jefferson Highway. Reception begins at 11:30 a.m. Lunch is $15.

Tuesday: The LSU AgCenter LaHouse Resource Center is offering a Lead Certified Renovator Training course from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the LaHouse, 2858 Gourrier Ave., directly across from Alex Box Stadium. Cost is $200, with some discounts available. Get complete details and register to attend.

Tuesday-Wednesday: The Certified Louisiana Economic Developer Program will offer an elective course on workforce development at the Business Education Complex on the LSU campus. The course will present an in-depth look at workforce development and training programs in Louisiana, including workforce investment boards, the Jumpstart program, career centers, incumbent worker training, LED FastStart and Louisiana's Rapid Response program. The fee is $555, with discounts available for some associations. Get complete details and register to attend.

The Business Report planner is open to events of general interest to the Capital Region business community. Items must be submitted no later than noon the Friday before the event occurs. Email ssanoski@businessreport.com with information.

For the full list of upcoming events, click here.

News roundup: Ochsner opening Denham Springs South Clinic Tuesday … Former Senate race candidate endorses Cassidy … Shreveport researcher developing anti-cancer gum

Get the giant scissors: Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge announced today that it will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Denham Springs South Clinic on Tuesday. Hospital and local officials will cut the ribbon on the new 13,000-square-foot facility, which features 27 exam rooms, at 11:30 a.m. The new clinic—which is located at 139 Veterans Blvd., off Range Avenue next to the La Carreta restaurant—will house primary care physicians, urgent care services and multiple rotating specialists. Appointments are now being accepted for the official opening date, which will be Aug. 4, and beyond.

Backing Bill: Rep. Paul Hollis, the St. Tammany Parish state lawmaker who recently dropped out of the race, announced today that he is endorsing U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, in the Nov. 4 U.S. Senate election, instead of tea party favorite Rob Maness. Hollis issued a statement saying Cassidy will "represent our conservative Louisiana values" in the Senate. Cassidy and Maness are trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in office. Cassidy is running with support of the GOP establishment.

Biting back: An LSU Health Shreveport researcher will use a $50,000 grant to create and test cancer prevention gum. The Shreveport Times reports head and neck cancer specialist Dr. Cherie-Ann Nathan will use curcumin, a substance in turmeric, in the gum. Nathan has studied curcumin's effect on head and neck cancers for more than five years. Read the full story. Nathan is one of 15 LSU faculty members who recently received grant funds through the university's new LIFT2 (Leveraging Innovation for Technology Transfer) grant program.
Sign up for E-Newsletters