Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, October 24, 2014

BR hotel included in $1.1B portfolio sale, to be fully renovated

The Homewood Suites by Hilton in Baton Rouge is one of 52 hotels included in a $1.1 billion portfolio sale that Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. has entered into with a joint venture by affiliates of Northstar Realty Finance Corp. and Chatham Lodging Trust.

A spokesperson for the joint venture buyer confirms the Baton Rouge hotel is included in the deal, adding that full renovation of the hotel will take place sometime in 2015. The Homewood Suites, at 5860 Corporate Blvd., includes 115 rooms. No other changes to the hotel are planned at this point, the spokesperson for Northstar and Chatham says.

The $1.1 billion deal for the 52 hotels is expected to close sometime this quarter, pending customary approvals and closing conditions. Once it does, the Homewood Suites will be managed by Island Hospitality Management, which is based in Palm Beach, Florida—also the headquarters of Chatham. Northstar is headquartered in New York City. —Steve Sanoski

LaPolitics: Democrats continue early voting push

For the third day in a row since early voting commenced on Tuesday, Democrats produced a record midterm turnout on Thursday. So far 96,126 people have voted early in Louisiana, with a racial breakdown of 67% white and 31% black. The partisan shares are 53% Democrat and 34% Republican. John M. Couvillon, president of JMC Enterprises of Louisiana, says this outpaces the first three days of early voting in 2010 and 2011, when black turnout by day two was just 19% during each year. It also exceeds the early turnout of recent presidential years, at least so far. If the pace continues, Couvillon says, it could be a sign of higher than expected turnout overall, possibly 45% to 56% come Nov. 4. Secretary of State Tom Schedler says he believes total turnout will be closer to 45% to 50%, probably on the higher end. Black turnout is not dropping off as early voting progresses, as it has done in some previous years, which is a sign that Democrats are taking the early voting process very seriously.

—Two blows have been dealt to efforts to kill the lawsuit filed against 97 oil and gas companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East. First, Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to restock the board have failed. Opponents of the suit seeking recompense for coastal damages were hoping to get a friendly enough membership to squash the legal action. Additionally, District Court Judge Janice Clark has ruled that legislation passed during this year's session to do the same doesn't apply to the flood protection authority. The energy industry, however, doesn't sound discouraged. Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, insists that a settlement is not on the table and a consent decree in exchange for a new processing fee is highly unlikely. "The path forward doesn't change at all," says Briggs. "We're going to appeal that ruling, on the basis that she had no right to make that decision. She's overseeing a completely different case. We'll have a ruling from either the Supreme Court or federal court, where the coastal suit is. This is going to be a very long legal battle and this is just the beginning. This could all take several years to figure out." With such an extended timeframe, Briggs adds that the strategy of reshaping the flood protection authority's board will always remain viable. "That will continue," he says.

—Voters in the 6th Congressional District received a blast from the past last week. It was pop singer Pat Boone, the '50s and '60s teen idol, on their phone asking them to support state Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma. On the recorded call, Boone touts Whitney's anti-abortion and pro-gun stances. "Lenar Whitney is the kind of conservative who would have made my friend Ronald Reagan very proud," Boone says in the recording. Chris Comeaux, Whitney's campaign manager, says Boone reached out to them after viewing the candidate's web video in which she calls global warming a "hoax."

They said it: "Rob Maness is one of these candidates who was born on third base and now believes he hit a triple." —Consultant Bernie Pinsonat in BayouBuzz

(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 [email protected].)

'Business Report': When a worker leaves on bad terms, is a non-disparagement clause in order?

After Carol Bartz was fired from Yahoo! over the telephone in the fall of 2011, she uttered some choice words in an interview with Fortune magazine that made headlines around the world. She characterized the then-troubled company's board of directors as "doofuses" and employed a profanity to describe its treatment of her.

Just as newsworthy, however, was the speculation as to whether Bartz might lose $10.4 million in compensation—as well as vesting stock options—given that she was apparently bound by a non-disparagement clause intended to keep her lips sealed. The outcome was never made public.

Few professionals will experience such a dramatic public exit from their jobs. Even so, many will go on to sign a non-disparagement clause—a promise not to bad-mouth their former employer once they're gone; the company may agree to reciprocate.

"Non-disparagement clauses are commonly found in a separation agreement between an employee and an employer," Jennifer Anderson, a partner at Jones Walker law firm, tells Business Report in a feature from the current issue. "By agreeing to non-disparagement, a party agrees not to publicize anything negative about the other, usually in connection with an agreement not to litigate any disputes in court."

Often as part of a severance package, a company will pay an exiting professional a certain amount of money with the understanding that the employee will refrain from negative action, such as a lawsuit. Similarly, the company will not make any negative comments about the employee, including giving a negative reference.

Non-disparagement clauses are more common than one might think, including in the Capital Region. Read the full feature. Send your comments to [email protected].

'225 Dine': All Star Catering to take over Frankie's Dawg House

Fans of Frankie's Dawg House will be happy to hear the local restaurant is reopening next Saturday, Nov. 1, under new owners Brian Medlin and Stuart Ourso, 225 Dine reports.

Medlin is the owner of Smokin Aces BBQ and All Star Catering. Ourso is the owner of a local hot dog and sno-ball cart and Southern Dawgz catering service. Medlin says he was involved with Frankie's for about six months, doing some consulting work in 2012. He approached former owner Stephen Hightower a couple months ago to see if Hightower was interested in selling Frankie's. Medlin says a deal was brokered in early October, and he's interested in expanding on the concept, growing Frankie's with more locations and a fleet of carts in the future.

During the first week of October, Medlin and Ourso temporarily closed the restaurant to upgrade the dining room with a new paint job and make other minor tweaks. Medlin says the restaurant is almost ready, and he's excited to bring Frankie's "old school" vibe back to customers.

"We're going to focus mainly on serving the best gourmet hot dogs you could possibly have—no frills," he says. "We're keeping it simple."

Read the full story and get your fill of more local culinary news—including a story about local catering company Three Bones' appearance onCollege Gameday tomorrow—in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter.

BP shouldn't get new trial in spill ruling, Halliburton says

BP's bid for a new trial over causes of the 2010 Gulf oil spill should be rejected because the judge didn't rely on excluded testimony, Halliburton Co. says in newly filed court papers. As Bloomberg reports, Halliburton—the cementing subcontractor on the blown-out well—says BP's own lawyers are responsible for trial testimony that the London-based oil company is now complaining led to an unfair gross-negligence finding against it. "BP itself introduced the very testimony that it now claims was excluded and upon which the court relied to partially support its casing-breach findings," lawyers for Houston-based Halliburton say in a filing in New Orleans federal court. BP "mischaracterizes" the record of a 2013 trial over the spill "to remedy its own failed trial tactics," Halliburton adds. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who oversees consolidated spill-damages litigation against BP and its contractors, ruled last month that BP acted with gross negligence in drilling the Macondo well off the Louisiana coast. The well gushed more than 4 million barrels of crude into the gulf, the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. The ruling exposes BP to potentially more than $18 billion in U.S. pollution fines. That sum would be on top of the more than $28 billion BP has already paid for spill-related response, cleanup costs and damages. Read the full story.

US new home sales relatively flat in September

U.S. sales of new homes were nearly flat in September, after the government sharply revised downward what was initially an August surge in buying. New-home sales edged up 0.2% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 467,000, the Commerce Department says in a report issued this morning.

The report also revised down the August sales rate to 466,000 from 504,000. The pace of sales for newly built homes has improved a mere 1.7% so far this year compared to 2013. Only the South has experienced gains in buying year-to-date, while purchases have fallen in the Northeast, Midwest and West. Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago.

As The Associated Press reports, many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading. Construction and buyers of new homes have trickled back from the worst of the bust, but new-home sales remain drastically below the annual rate of 700,000 during the 1990s.

Analysts note that the new-home sales report from the government is notoriously volatile from month to month, yet sales have basically been stuck in place for the past few years. Over the past two weeks, federal regulators have unveiled plans to loosen down payment requirements, and mortgage rates have tumbled below 4%. Read the full story.

As reported earlier this week, total home sales in the eight-parish region tracked by the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors were also essentially flat in September, while average sales prices were up. Year-to-date, Capital Region home sales through September are up 1.9%, with 7,391 closed sales this year, compared to 6,760 through the first nine months of 2013.

News roundup: Port of South Louisiana, Panama Canal Authority renew partnership … Oil producers unite to lobby for crude exports … Defective air bags raise questions about automakers' ability to handle gigantic recall

Join together: Officials from the Port of South Louisiana traveled to Panama recently to sign an amended memorandum of understanding with the Panama Canal Authority that extends for five more years a partnership that was originally signed in January 2013. The MOU outlines a cooperative alliance, by which the LaPlace-based port and the Panama Canal Authority aim to generate new business between Asia and the Port of South Louisiana via the Panama Canal. The agreement means the two entities will partake in joint marketing efforts and share market study results, among other things. The Port of South Louisiana has more details on the announcement.

Power in numbers: The nation's largest independent oil companies are banding together to lobby for the right to export crude around the world. FuelFix.com reports the new venture, dubbed "Producers for American Crude Oil Exports," is the first formal lobbying effort solely designed to take down the 39-year-old ban on selling most U.S. oil overseas. With more than a dozen independent oil companies on board, the venture is a sign that the industry is revving up for a big, coordinated push to dismantle those trade restrictions next year, when a new Congress is sworn in and the Obama administration may have more political freedom to tackle the issue. Read the full story.

Where the rubber meets the road: More than 30 million cars and trucks nationwide are equipped with dangerously defective air bags, congressional officials say, a number that raises questions about whether the U.S. auto industry can handle what could become the largest recall in history. Federal safety authorities have recalled only 7.8 million vehicles over the defect in a few states, a limited action that lawmakers said Thursday was vastly insufficient to address what they deemed "a public safety threat." Two senators are demanding a much broader recall that would cover every affected vehicle nationwide. The Washington Post has the full story.

Today's poll question: Of the nearly 36,000 Louisianans who registered to vote in the past two months, roughly half did not align themselves with either the Republican or Democratic parties. What do you think this is a reflection of?

Sign up for E-Newsletters