Community support needed to help Scott Crittle purchase special van

Jan. 15, 2010

Pineville’s ‘local heroes’ honored

Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields, left, presents a honor to Don Holman for his actions during a Dec. 19 housefire. Photo by Bill Sumrall

Mayor Clarence Fields honors Councilman Nathan Martin for his life-saving actions during a Dec. 19 house fire. Photo by Bill Sumrall

Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields presents an honorary citizen certificate to Susanna Broenniman, a Swiss exhange student. Photo by Bill Sumrall

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

PINEVILLE — Mayor Clarence Fields, during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, recognized Lowe’s employee Don Holman and District 5 Councilman Nathan Martin for their actions concerning a Dec. 19 house fire on Hollymoore Drive.

Both men received certificates as “local heroes” for risking their lives by entering the burning house to clear the residence of any potential victims.

Holman made no public statement but Martin said that Holman was the first on the scene and “in my mind he’s the hero on this.”

Martin added he counted 11 different emergency vehicles responding to the fire.

Also, Susanna Broennimann, a Swiss exchange student attending Pineville High School, received an honorary citizen certificate from Mayor Fields.

Broennimann, whose host family is Ken and Lorene Christie of Pineville, in turn presented a box of chocolates from Switzerland to the mayor.

In other business, City auditor Mark McKay gave a report on the audit for the city of Pineville’s fiscal year ending in June 2009.

McKay found one minor infraction in the purchase of a new fire truck that did not follow strict bid laws.

A fire truck destroyed in an accident needed to be replaced as soon as possible but McKay said the city made assurances that all such purchases in future will be in compliance.

A 6 to 8-percent decrease in sales tax revenues was reported elsewhere, “but we (in Pineville) increased by 8 percent,” McKay said, adding “good job, Lowe’s.”

Overall for the fiscal year, McKay reported “we’re in good shape” in Pineville with a surplus but he warned to be careful in spending. “My hat’s off to you and I salute you,” McKay said.

District 1 Councilwoman Mary B. Galloway announced a meeting for concerned citizens of District 1 is set for Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Main Street Community Center.

The Council approved introducing for publication amendments to the city’s billboard and off-premise sign ordinance which will be take up at next month’s meeting.

The Council approved a resolution supporting the implementation of the Louisiana College School of Medicine in Central Louisiana.

Chief of Staff Rich Dupree said the college applied for approval last November with the American Medical Institute and enrollment is not expected until 2011.

The resolution states in part that a Louisiana College Medical School would create a $1.4 billion economic impact to Louisiana and create more than 8,000 jobs as well as directly improve the quality of health care in Central Louisiana.

City Engineer Tom David with Pan-American reported on the introduction for publication of an ordinance to issue $2 million in utilities revenue bonds.

David said this takes advantage of a low-interest government-sponsored loan program of monies available through the federal Environmental Protection Agency to fix environmental problem with the sewer system.

David noted that the interest rate on the funds loaned to the city of Pineville was below 1 percent, far below the 8 percent interest rate which funded the Revolutionary War and the 5 percent interest rates after World War II.

“It’s about economic stimulation,” David said.

The Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to state their intention to maintain permit requirements as set forth by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to prevent wastewater permit violations.

Also, the Council approved a resolution from the state DOTD for capital assistance necessary for transportation of the elderly in Pineville, which the mayor explained is done in a van operated by the police department.

Charlie Moore with the street department reported no major problems with city water lines due to cold weather but advised citizens to take precautions.

2010 looks good for the city of Pineville

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

PINEVILLE — Mayor Clarence Fields says the outlook for 2010 could include a bid opening for a new O.K. Allen Bridge.

In an interview with The Light, Fields said the state Department of Transportation and Development’s project for a new four-lane bridge to replace the aging O.K. Allen Bridge is estimated by city officials to cost $75 million.

The overall project includes the four-laning of U.S. 165 from Red River to Pineville High School, which is estimated to cost $25 million, city officials added.

“That will be a major, major undertaking,” the mayor said, describing the total $100 million project as changing the face of the cities of Pineville and Alexandria.

The new bridge will be built in about the same location across the river and eventually displace the current O.K. Allen Bridge, Fields said.

“It originally was going to be a six-lane bridge but because of funding it’s going to be cut down to a four-lane, which will still be a great asset for us,” Fields said.

The project is part of the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, or TIMED, program, which is cited as “the single largest transportation program in state history” by the state DOTD Web site.

“The TIMED Program was created by Act 16 of the 1989 Louisiana Legislature and was voted for by the people,” according to the Web site at http://www.timedla.com.

“The project is funded by a four-cent gas tax established in 1989 and in effect until all TIMED projects are complete. A series of bond sales will help accelerate construction,” the Web site states.

“The $5 billion improvement program includes widening 536 miles of state highways to four lanes on 11 project corridors, widening and/or new construction on three major bridges and improvements to both the Port of New Orleans and Louis Armstrong International Airport,” the Web site states.

The mayor said that the one goal now for the city of Pineville in 2010 is “to complete some of the projects that are in line to be completed.”

Among those projects is a new community center on Bragg Street in the Smithville/Lakeview area of Pineville, which is slated to be open later this month, Fields said.

“It will not be a full-blown community center operationally like Kees Park and Main Street is because it’s a little bit smaller,” Fields said.

The primary use for the center will be for small meetings and there are three offices available for different initiatives, which could include a community police officer working from one of those offices, the mayor said.

While he hoped more attention could be paid to senior citizens through the center, Fields said plans for its exact operation were still being formulated.

The city contributed about 20 percent toward grant funds totaling $800,000 for building the facility, which is located on 40 acres of land donated to the city by the Tutor family, Fields said.

Fields said they hoped to continue to “find ways to fund some of the major projects relative to infrastructure, particularly water and sewer,” throughout 2010.

“The Susex Drive project is the major project and it’s on track,” the mayor said, adding this “major improvement for a major thoroughfare through our city” is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Fields predicted increases in the funding of police, firefighter and other municipal workers’ pension systems statewide represent a major challenge in the future.

“All indications are that we’re going to see increases there,” Fields said.

Preliminary numbers for the city’s firefighter pension system indicate a jump of 7 1/2 percent, from 14 percent to 21 1/2 percent, for the employers’ match portion due to investment losses statewide, said city auditor Mark McKay.

McKay presented his fiscal report on the city of Pineville during the City Council meeting Jan. 12 and said the city faces an increase of as much as $500,000 to meet pension system hikes.

The mayor said that, while they have preliminary numbers about the municipal firefighters’ retirement system now, they won’t know about increases for police and city workers’ retirement system hikes for another month or two.

“And then we’ll start having to meet those challenges,” Fields said, though he believed they’ll be OK as far as health insurance and workmen’s comp.

During the Jan. 12 Pineville City Council meeting, city auditor Mark McKay reported that some $200,000 in sales taxes over a 10-year period, totaling about $2 million, are slated to be reimbursed for the Lowe’s project in future obligations.

However, McKay said the city “will benefit more than we pay” in sales taxes generated by the company locating here.

District 4 Councilman Tom Bouchie agreed, saying the city may see more than $1 million a year back.

Fields said this is not an issue because “what the city will gain overall from the Lowe’s presence here is far more than what it will do to help them relative to them coming here.”

“We still believe that potentially, particularly here in Central Louisiana, particularly in Pineville, we’re in a great position,” the mayor said.

“We just have to be very conscious and cautious of some of the challenges and not let them derail, you know, some of the things that we’ll be trying to do here in 2010, as far as improvements are concerned,” Fields said.

Red River Gymnastics of Pineville wins 3rd place in 2009 Warrior Challenge

Photo cutline: Red River Gymnastics Level 3 members, front row from left, Brittany Matthews, Abi Hoover, Jessica Wright, Abigail Miller and Harper Gunn celebrate their third-place team win with coaches, back row from left, Phil Fuselier, Robyn Ladner and Keri Beth Ellis. (Photo by Kathy Gunn)

 

The Level 3 team at Red River Gymnastics of Pineville won third place in the 2009 Warrior Challenge in Purvis, Miss., on Nov. 15, the second meet of the season. The top individual honor went to Level 3 gymnast Harper Gunn, who won the first-place all-around award in her division.

In individual events, Madison Juneau and Audette LeBlanc each won first place awards in Level 4 floor exercise competitions. Abigail Miller won first place in Level 3 balance beam competition and Brittany Matthews won first place in Level 3 vault. Harper Gunn, who won the all-around award, also won first place in uneven bars and first in floor exercise competitions.

All-around placements were: Level 4: Audette LeBlanc, second; Madison Juneau, third; Callie Spangler, fourth; Alexis Wiley, fourth; Gianna Ficklin, fifth; Alyssa Martin, fifth; Kayla Roland, fifth; Level 3: Harper Gunn, first; Abi Hoover, second; Jessica Wright, third; Brittany Mathews, fourth; Abigail Miller, sixth.

Is the VA Hospital in Pineville negligent in its care?

July 15 cover

RICO Act sought against VA doctors, administrator

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

Criminal conspiracy charges are being sought in a plaintiff’s federal lawsuit against two VA Hospital doctors and the hospital’s administrator.
Veterans and relatives of veterans gathered Friday, July 17, on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Alexandria.
They wished to call attention to complaints with the Alexandria Veterans Affairs Medical Center located in Pineville.
A lawsuit was filed May 26, 2009, against two VA Medical Center doctors and the hospital’s administrator in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
Paul Labbe with the Louisiana Veterans Advocacy Group based in Lake Charles said, “We put in a motion to amend the suit to include the laws under the RICO Act.”
RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.
“The RICO Act was created for organized crimes but it also can be used against any agency or group of people,” Labbe said.
The amended complaint alleges a criminal conspiracy to cover up malpractice or maltreatment of patients, including alteration of veterans’ medical records.
“We amended the suit but we expect the general counsel (John Broadwell, representing the two doctors and hospital administrator) to come back and try to ask the judge (Dee Drell) not to allow us to amend the suit,” Labbe said.
Labbe initially said he expected Broadwell’s motion to ask Judge Drell to rule against use of the RICO Act would be filed no later than July 17 but later amended the time estimate for filing to no later than July 21.
Then, Labbe said, the judge takes whatever amount of time he needs in order to issue a ruling, however added that no trial date has yet been set.
The case is styled Floyd Hamilton, III as plaintiff versus Dr. Shivani Negi, Dr. Hollis Reed and Ms. Barbara Watkins as defendants.
Hamilton said he filed suit on behalf of his father, Floyd Hamilton Jr.
Court documents identify Negi as head of the VA Hospital’s intensive care unit, Hollis as the VA Hospital’s chief of staff, and Watkins as the VA Hospital’s administrator.
Labbe contends Broadwell is trying to get all the affidavits tossed out that were filed in support of Hamilton’s lawsuit to prove a pattern in acts of malpractice.
“It doesn’t do you any good to have people submitting affidavits and then the court can’t hear it or put them separately,” Labbe said.
“We’ve submitted affidavits, which are sworn statements from these individuals, some of them who’ve lost lives, and some of them lost limbs they shouldn’t have,” Labbe said.
“Unless all of the information is given, you can’t get a true picture of it,” Labbe said.
“We’re not suing for malpractice. We’re suing for the cover-up — the same reason why President Nixon was removed from office was because when you cover up a crime, you’ve committed a crime — it’s called fraud,” Labbe said.
Labbe added the press conference was called to let the public know what is happening in order for the public to voice its opinion to the court that all evidence should be allowed into the case.
Labbe also urged contacting Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office at (202) 224-5824 asking her to keep her promise to veterans for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to expose wrongs by the Court of Appeals for veterans’ claims.
“The next step is we’ll be taking depositions, which is much stronger than an affidavit,” Labbe said.
Every word of a deposition, which allows for cross-examination, has to be allowed into the court records, Labbe said.
“We’re going to depose the doctors who have been opposing the actions of this one particular doctor,” Labbe said.
“It doesn’t do any good for us to submit evidence of a conspiracy, of cover-up, then it be disallowed to being heard by the jury,” Labbe said.
Both Labbe and Hamilton claimed Inspector General investigators looking into the doctor’s actions failed to contact Hamilton as the plaintiff for his side of the story about his father’s treatment.
Hamilton said he visited Landrieu’s office in Washington D.C. but was told they couldn’t make the VA release information about his father’s case.
“Sen. Landrieu is a senator, and what kind of power does she have if an agency of the government can’t respond to a senator?” Hamilton asked.
The amended complaint seeks for Hamilton and his mother $500,000 “for mental anguish and loss of consortium” plus a separate $800,000 “to prevent future conduct as described in this complaint,” according to documents provided by Labbe.

Read more stories in The Light. Click here: July 15, Pages 1-6, July 15, Pages 7-12

2009 Men of Substance Awards Dinner, June 22, Pineville, LA

Enjoy these photos from the 2009 Men of Substance Awards Dinner held Monday, June 22, at the Main Street Community Center in Pineville, LA.

All photos by Al Cotton

Pineville’s Lakeside residents: Beware of daytime home burglars

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

PINEVILLE — Two daytime breakins in Pineville’s Lakeside area have residents on the alert, a community leader said Friday, June 26.

“We’ve had some breakins here,” said Angelina Iles, who heads Pineville’s Concerned Citizens group. “The neighbors are beginning to be vigilant,” Iles said.

Lakeside area resident Kitty Harris complained that one daytime breakin occurred Wednesday, June 24, at a doublewide mobile home on Wayne Street and another occurred Thursday, June 25, at a house on Prince Street.

Harris speculated burglars have been “casing out” the area.

Lately there’s been a lot of foot traffic noticed in the afternoons and evenings, Iles said.

“These are people we don’t know,” Iles said.

There’s been much transient traffic this summer and Iles warned that new renters in the area should be aware of this problem.

Pineville’s police department has a community policing program but the area affected also falls under the jurisdiction of the parish, Iles said.

Iles added the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office no longer has an assigned contact person or deputy to provide the coverage as in the past.

However, concerned citizens can learn more about what to do during the Neighborhood Watch organization’s meeting the last Tuesday each month, with the upcoming meeting at 6 p.m. June 30 in the Main Street Community Center of downtown Pineville, Iles said.