NEW ORLEANS — Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman says he sees nothing wrong with writing a letter to motor carriers asking them to meet with a friend of his who sells mobile technology.
He's suggested that the letters are being turned into an issue because of election-year politics. And, he says, if the law does prohibit the type of letter he wrote for Nicholas Larussa, "the law needs to be changed."
It takes chutzpah to blame the law when you're caught doing something as ethically questionable and offensive as what Mr. Blossman did. Despite his protests, there's plenty wrong with someone in Mr. Blossman's position seeking favors from businesses that his agency regulates. The fact that he did so on Public Service Commission stationery makes his actions all the more outrageous.
The Public Service Commission has a lot of power over motor carriers, which include tour bus and limousine companies, household movers, waste-haulers, and some tow-truck operations. The commission sets rules and levies fines, and when a letter arrives in a PSC envelope, it's going to get attention.
Mr. Blossman got the names of the motor carrier businesses in Mr. Larussa's sales district — 235 of them — from the Public Service Commission and had a staff member in his district office print the letters that Mr. Larussa then mailed.
The letters identify Mr. Larussa as a friend of the commissioner's who is selling a product that uses Global Positioning System technology to track vehicles. Mr. Blossman urges the companies to meet with the salesman and says that the technology "could be a great asset to your company."
Some of the business owners who received the letters were alarmed enough to report them to the Metropolitan Crime Commission. They saw the letters as an intimidation tactic by Mr. Blossman and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. Several companies contacted by The Times-Picayune said the same thing.
Mr. Larussa, a recent college graduate, works for Acadian Monitoring Services, a division of Acadian Ambulance. His sister baby-sits Mr. Blossman's children, and he also plays golf with the commissioner. But those connections should not entitle him to anything, much less what some companies perceived as a mandatory meeting. It's completely unacceptable that Mr. Blossman strong-armed business owners into listening to his buddy's sales pitch.
Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche has reported the matter to the state inspector general as a possible abuse of public office. He questioned the use of PSC personnel, records and materials for a private solicitation.
"Mr. Blossman's disregard for public resources and the office that he holds brings the integrity of the PSC into question and undermines Louisiana's recent efforts to rehabilitate our state's reputation for cronyism and 'good old boy' networking," Mr. Goyeneche wrote.
Cronyism and "good old boy" networking is exactly what Mr. Blossman did. It's up to State Inspector General Stephen Street Jr. to determine whether he may have broken the law. He should give the matter prompt attention and a thorough investigation.
Source: The Times-Picayune