Monday, March 13, 2023

Billy is in trouble again

Billy is always in trouble.

The oversight of Louisiana's nine museums is plagued by lack of leadership, no coherent budget and low morale among employees that may be affecting museum operations, Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack said Monday morning. The report says the state Office of State Museum has not had a permanent director since 2016.

The review also said the office lacks a comprehensive plan for exhibits and lacks a clear budget for museum programs and exhibits. It said staff reductions totaling 42% since 2009 pose a major challenge for the sites. The Office of State Museum is part of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which is led by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

The auditor's report is available here if you feel like looking through it. 

Also for some background on that vacant director's job, Billy fired the last permanent director. Soon afterward, we had this episode where the consultant then holding the interim position resigned in protest over Nungesser's "pretty strange crap" management. 

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has been using a Lower Pontalba Building apartment and space in other state museum buildings in the French Quarter for his personal benefit and has engaged in a pattern of political interference with the agency's operations, the Louisiana State Museum's interim director said Monday while resigning in protest.

Nungesser’s interference includes attempting to override museum officials and board members who objected to plans to loan U.S. Sen. John Kennedy artworks for his office in Washington, D.C., and threatening to sell museum works of art on eBay to raise funds, said Tim Chester, a museum consultant who took the interim position in October.

“I have never encountered anything like this in the 40 years I’ve worked in the field, ever,” Chester said. “I’ve seen some pretty strange crap come down in museums, but this one takes the cake.”

There's just something about those Pontalba apartments, right? Anyway, a few years later, there was more consulting from another consultant. Their feedback was also bad. 

A 2019 report by the consulting firm Lord Cultural Resources said the current arrangement "creates political interference and tension, makes fundraising a challenge and could risk OSM losing accreditation."

Eventually (inevitably?) the FBI got involved.  In response, Billy implied the investigation was initiated by political opponents like, for example, Jeff Landry, who was expected to face Nungesser in this year's gubernatorial election.  And that's all very plausible. Although, Billy's crystal ball obviously needs a little polishing.  Here's how he saw things playing out at the time.

He also said he doesn’t believe Landry will run for governor, saying “he’s got bigger problems.”

“In an open primary, he can’t win,” Nungesser said. “I always thought John Kennedy gets re-elected and he runs (for governor). And listen, I welcome anyone to run. But let’s run in a fair race and let the people of Louisiana choose. If they close the primary you’re going to get the far right and the far left. And we got enough divisiveness in Baton Rouge.”

A spokesman for Landry declined to comment. A message to the Louisiana Committee for a Conservative Majority was not immediately returned Saturday.

Nungesser’s fiery speech came after FBI agents interviewed one of his staffers as well as legislators in a probe of his office, he said. Nungesser said he didn’t know what the probe was about, but heard it was at least partly related to grants from his office.

He added that investigators have been calling lawmakers and others who stayed at the Lower Pontalba apartments in the French Quarter, which his office operates. He said he doesn’t know whether the FBI or state auditors are looking into that.

“I'm not blaming anyone for that, but it's a coincidence that I haven't seen any polls but everybody tells me, 'They can't beat you for governor if you run in an open primary.' Because I help everybody. And I don't crucify anybody just to make a political grandstand.”

Well, here we are in March 2023 and Kennedy is not running. Landry is running. And Billy, who was told by "everybody" that he was unbeatable is the one with bigger problems now.

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