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By ROBERT BURNS

Everyone by now is aware that Gov. Jindal has been concerned with little else since he became Governor of Louisiana beyond self-promotion and his own political advancement to the White House.  What isn’t so obvious to most Louisiana citizens is that many of his appointees to Louisiana boards and commissions are equally ego-driven with little or no regard for the citizens they are supposed to serve and protect.  Prime examples are Gov. Jindal’s appointees to a little-known board overseeing auction regulation in Louisiana, the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB).

Now, if it were only that such ego-driven appointees have included a past chairman who was “demoted” to mere member while another “consumer” member simultaneously resigned as evidence of travel voucher irregularities on the parts of both members surfaced, that would be one thing.  If just the mere fact that certain LALB members believe that they have a right to freely engage in racist roll calls, that would be one thing.  It would also be one thing that, despite the fact that LouisianaVoice readers may revel in hearing a lambasting of Gov. Jindal, it nevertheless is an act of unprofessionalism in a public meeting (anger over Jindal’s stripping of LALB per diem payments notwithstanding).  The member doing so, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims, is the same one who made the first “I’s here,” roll call response at the first link above.  Sims went further on the preceding audio clip to relay on November 5, 2012 (the day before the Presidential election) that “it ain’t gone happen” regarding Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (had he prevailed) appointing Gov. Jindal to a cabinet position.

It would be yet one more thing that these members felt they had the right to permit its sole employee to vacation all over the country and routinely conduct personal business while declaring herself to be “on the clock,” thus prompting Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera to release this damning report.  That report, in turn, was subsequently followed by this report by the Louisiana Inspector General’s Office (OIG) in which the sole employee lied to investigators about taking vacations while being “on the clock.”  The OIG likely figured there was no chance LALB members would accede to their recommendation of “appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination,” and, in fact, OIG officials would have been right as LALB members unanimously approved a third pay raise for its executive director four months after the release of the report.  Also, two of those three pay raises transpired, as noted in Mr. Purpera’s report, during a period of salary freezes for rank-and-file Louisiana state workers.   Further proof that Jindal facilitates his LALB appointees who, in turn, facilitate irresponsible payroll practices is evidenced by board members and legal counsel relaying Jindal has said “all is fine and you cannot recover any funds.”

No, all of the preceding egregious acts entail general ego-centered individuals who feel as though they have “power from on high” vested in them through their appointments by Gov. Jindal.  Essentially, they merely entail their beliefs that they have little or no fiduciary duty regarding auctioneer licensee funds with which they have been entrusted.  While being oblivious to their fiduciary duties certainly affects auctioneers, the public, because of a lack of coverage by the media, is understandably unconcerned by the practices.  The general public’s concern is (or at least should be) heightened, however, when Gov. Jindal’s LALB appointees are so brazen and arrogant and dismissive of their core duties and function that they literally force an 84-year-old widow to file a pro se lawsuit to compensate her for the LALB’s overly-protective stances regarding auctioneers.  Such stances have routinely transpired in the six (6) years I’ve observed the LALB, very much to the detriment of the general public whom they ostensibly serve to protect.  Thus far, auction victims have just “licked their wounds” and left disappointed at what they often correctly perceived as a very corrupt industry.

That was all, however, before a lady named Ms. Betty Story entered the LALB’s den of foxes.  In a mere five-page pro se lawsuit filed in 19th JDC in Baton Rouge on August 27, 2014, Ms. Story alleges that she encountered a “nightmare” regarding her November 17, 2012 auction.  She relays that her auctioneer, Marlo Schmidt, at a time when she was 82 years old, failed to explain to her that she could place reserves on certain of her items being auctioned.  She outlined the items which she specifically wanted to set reserves upon:  a mirror ($300), an Ethan Allen wetbar ($4,000), a set of sterling silverware ($5,000), and an antique saddle ($5,000).  She further averred that Schmidt didn’t inform her that she would owe 40% of the final bid prices as commissions, in addition to a 10% buyer’s premium assessed against buyers (which itself lowers bid amounts).  Additionally, Ms. Story avers that Schmidt pleaded with her to cancel two real estate listings with ReMax (including her personal residence) so that they could be included in her auction.  In fact, Ms. Story avers that, as an incentive for her to do so, Schmidt “promised” her $42,500 for a rental home she owned and $120,000 for her personal residence.  Based on his “promises,” Ms. Story relayed she appealed to ReMax to cancel her listings, and ReMax reluctantly agreed as a favor to her for her past business. Accordingly, the two real estate properties were included in the auction with Ms. Story anticipating $162,500 minimum for the two houses based on Mr. Schmidt’s “promises.”  The only way any auctioneer can “promise” a result is if he or she is willing to buy the properties personally if the bids fail to reach that pre-set amounts at auction.

Ms. Story further averred in her lawsuit against the LALB that Schmidt went so far as to buy her rental property prior to her auction, and he advanced her $25,000 ($17,500 short of the “promised” amount) so that she could move into an assisted living facility ahead of the auction and thereby be exempt from having to pay a deposit on her room.  The subsequent auction was an unmitigated disaster, with Schmidt’s nephew ending up high bidder on the rental home.  His nephew then adamantly refused to honor his bid (likely because his nephew was a shill bidder, which is illegal in Louisiana but many auctioneers, as well as the LALB, ignore that illegality and actively encourage the practice).  In fact, LALB Vice Chairman James Sims, during the LALB hearing on the matter, said of that situation, “This board could easily think something else,” (of the fact Schmidt’s nephew dishonored his bid — clearly referencing shill bidding without saying the dirty words).  Although Ms. Story had to threaten to sue Mr. Schmidt for the balance of the $42,500 purchase price on the rental home, he did finally remit the balance for the home that he already had title to even prior to auction!  However, her personal residence auction was a flop, resulting in a “no sale” rather than the $120,000 he’d “promised” her.  Furthermore, because of the fact no reserves were set on her high-end items and Schmidt instead had Ms. Story bid (and pay commissions) on those items in order to retain possession of them, Schmidt submitted a final bill to Ms. Story for $201.11 as her “net proceeds” from the sale of her personal items!  In other words, Ms. Story’s commissions for retaining her treasured items exceeded the proceeds of the items Schmidt sold, which constituted the vast majority of her personal belongings!  So, Schmidt claimed Ms. Story owed him $201.11 for the “privilege” of having most of her personal belongings vacated from her home at what Ms. Story contended were below bargain basement prices.

As if all of the preceding events aren’t bad enough, Ms. Story had to leave the assisted living facility after only three nights because of the disastrous auction results, and she was charged $1,500 for her three-night stay.  Ms. Story filed a complaint with the LALB, and her LALB hearing transpired on September 10, 2013.  Like many other auction victims, Ms. Story naively believed the LALB would be sympathetic to her plight and work to remedy the wrong she’d endured.  Even though the LALB’s own attorney, Anna Dow, relayed there was “clear deception” and that “the auction should have been conducted in a very different manner,” and one of the board members, Darlene Jacobs-Levy, an attorney with 44 years of practicing law said, “Mr. Schmidt, you clearly owe Ms. Story more than the $1,300 you’ve offered her to settle this matter,” the LALB once again officially found auctioneer Schmidt not guilty of any auction violations.  After the hearing’s conclusion (as reflected on the video), Ms. Jacobs-Levy instructed Schmidt to “go out in the hallway and work this out with Ms. Story.” She also informed Schmidt that she felt the 40% commission he charged Ms. Story was “usurious.” Instead of “working it out with Ms. Story in the hallway,” Schmidt, with the hammer gone from over his head, proceeded straight to his vehicle and back to DeRidder and refused to have subsequent negotiations with Ms. Story.  Consequently, Ms. Story had to sue Mr. Schmidt in small claims court in DeRidder to try and recover at least some of her damages.  More importantly, however, is the fact that, by officially finding him “not guilty,” the LALB effectively blocked Ms. Story from being able to pursue Schmidt’s $10,000 bond which is a requirement for auction licensure in Louisiana.  No bonding company is going to pay a claim when the regulatory body of a state has failed to find an auctioneer guilty of an auction violation.  Hence, Ms. Story’s lawsuit seeks to recover the $10,000 from the LALB that she would have otherwise been able to recover from Mr. Schmidt’s bond had the LALB found him guilty.  Of course, to find him guilty, LALB members would need to have shelved their self-centered, steadfast resolves to stay popular among auctioneers irrespective of the consequences to victims like 84-year-old widow Betty Story.  In failing to do so, they exhibited many of the same traits of the gentleman who appointed them:  Gov. Bobby Jindal!

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“Despite the special counsel’s recommendation, I would strongly urge that as chairman, you ask the board to authorize the system attorneys to file the necessary documents to obtain a final declaratory judgment on this amendment. That judgment will provide the necessary finality to this matter.”

—State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, in a letter to Frank Besson, chairman of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board.

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State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson did a sudden about-face, the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board was unanimous in its decision to allow board member and State Treasurer John Kennedy sue the board, and before the board could adjourn, State Sen. and 6th District Congressional candidate Dan Claitor filed his own lawsuit but Kennedy said he would go forward with his litigation anyway.

Just another day in the soap opera we know as Louisiana state government.

And it could only happen in Louisiana.

The LSPRS Board was meeting to wrestle with the problem of Act 859 which started out as Senate Bill 294 by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), a bill ostensibly dealing with police officer disciplinary matters but which morphed into what retired state trooper Robert Landry described as an “underhanded, unethical, unconstitutional” amendment giving Edmonson an extra $55,000 per year in retirement income.

Special legal counsel Robert Klausner, a renowned pension system authority from Florida, advised the board that it had no legal standing to file suit in an attempt to have the new law declared unconstitutional but added almost parenthetically that any citizen of Louisiana could file suit.

“Could I file?” Kennedy asked. “I’m a taxpayer.”

Klausner said that Kennedy could indeed initiate litigation and if the board failed to defend it, legal expenses would be minimal and the matter could be settled once and for all as opposed to waiting to see if the legislature would repeal the act next year and if Gov. Bobby Jindal would sign such a bill.

While the board was tossing the issue back and forth and speculating whether or not Attorney General Buddy Caldwell would take it upon himself to defend such a suit should the board refuse to, Claitor left the meeting and apparently called his attorney to instruct him to file suit on behalf of Claitor.

Earlier, Claitor had spoken to the board, saying that passage of the Edmonson Amendment was not open or transparent. “It was an unconstitutional act because it was not published in advance, and was not germane to retirement issue. “I would ask that you exercise your fiduciary duty,” he said. Apologizing for having voted for the amendment because he was told that conference committee had addressed his earlier concerns about police disciplinary matters, he said, “I’m sorry to ask you to clean up this mess.”

The “mess” occurred when State Sen. Neil Riser, a member of the conference committee composed of three members each from the House and Senate, inserted the crucial language that gave Edmonson his financial windfall.

Basically, the amendment allowed Edmonson to revoke his decision years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s salary of $79,000. The revocation would have allowed him to instead retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 colonel’s salary.

LSPRS actuary Charles Hall told the board that the upfront cost of fully funding the benefits at their present, or discounted, value would be a $359,000 investment to cover the increased benefits for Edmonson and a Houma trooper who also happened to qualify under language of the amendment. That amount is $59,000 more than the original $300,000 estimated cost provided three days after the amendment’s passage. Kennedy pointed out that the actual cost would be in excess of a million dollars and he asked Hall to provide him with a computation of those figures.

Hall said he received a request to “call a trooper to discuss a bill” on the Friday before the Monday, June 2 adjournment of the legislature.

He said it became clear in his conversation with the state trooper that “they wanted to introduce an amendment to enhance (Edmonson’s) benefits.”

After a few routine questions, Kennedy asked Hall if he knew the name of the trooper whom he was asked to call and to whom he subsequently talked.

“Charles Dupuy,” Hall answered.

Dupuy is Edmonson’s Chief of Staff who has benefitted from a 52 percent increase, from $80,500 to $122,200, since Edmonson’s appointment as State Police Superintendent by Gov. Bobby Jindal in January of 2008. Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, also has received increases in salary, from $65,000 to $80,600.

It was the first time that anyone has officially identified Dupuy as the source of the Edmonson Amendment.

Dupuy, a member of the LSPRS Board, was not in attendance at Thursday’s board meeting.

Riser, who first denied any involvement with introducing the amendment during the conference committee meeting in June but later admitted his complicity but said he did not realize it would benefit only two people.

Hall, however, in speaking to the board on Thursday cast doubt on that part of Riser’s story as well when he said it was believed that the amendment would affect only one person—Edmonson.

“This act has hurt the reputation of the state,” Kennedy said. “Someone pushed hard for this law. If I sue and the attorney general decides to defend it, I will begin taking depositions. I will send out subpoenas and we will find out who was behind this.”

Kennedy said he would foot the cost of the litigation which he said would be minimal provided the attorney general does not opt to defend the law.

The board, which had been seen as heavily stacked with Edmonson and Jindal loyalists, had been expected to display reluctance to go against the two. Instead, board members were unanimous in authorizing Kennedy to proceed with personal litigation in his “individual capacity.”

But even as Kennedy was making his offer, Claitor was already setting in motion his own litigation which he obviously had instructed Baton Rouge attorney Jack Whitehead to prepare and to stand by to file with the 19th JDC clerk’s office.

In fact, Whitehead even prepared a press release to accompany Claitor’s lawsuit, making it obvious that Claitor had planned the move well in advance of the board meeting.

Claitor, in his petition, asked the court to find Act 859 unconstitutional on four grounds:

  • Act 859 failed to meet the “one object” requirement of the Louisiana State Constitution;
  • The act did not meet the germaneness requirement of the state constitution;
  • No public notice was provided as required by the constitution for retirement-related legislation and the bill itself never indicated proper notice was given, also in violation of the constitution;
  • The source of funding for the increased benefit is the LSPRS “Employment Experience Account,” which is reserved as the source of future cost of living benefits and payments toward the system’s unfunded accrued liability.

To read the full text of Claitor’s litigation, click here: Press Release Letter & Petition

Baton Rouge Judge Janice Clark issued a temporary restraining order until she can hold a hearing on Sept. 16. To read her order, click here: CLAITOR VS LSP

The real kicker came when a two-page letter from Edmonson to the board was read. In that letter, Edmonson said he fully supports assertions “from legislators and others that the bill should be repealed.”

Then, addressing board Chairman Frank Besson, Edmonson said, “Despite the special counsel’s (Klausner) recommendation, I would strongly urge that as chairman, you ask the board to authorize the system attorneys to file the necessary documents to obtain a final declaratory judgment on this amendment. That judgment will provide the necessary finality to this matter.”

That represents a complete 180 from Edmonson’s earlier admission that a “staffer” had originally approached him about the prospects of the amendment’s benefitting him and his instructions to proceed.

It was a move of necessity brought on by a groundswell of sentiment against the amendment by retired state troopers which forced Edmonson to have a change of heart in an effort to save face and to avoid further embarrassment to his boss, Gov. Jindal. Because make no mistake, he wanted that money and Dupuy, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, did not take this upon himself as a solo act. It’s pretty obvious that Dupuy initiated the amendment at the direction of his boss who in turn had the blessings from the Fourth Floor and Riser was simply the instrument by which the amendment was inserted. That makes Jindal, Riser, Edmonson and Dupuy all complicit in a devious little scheme to reward Edmonson at the expense of every other state employee, including state troopers and retirees across the board.

That’s the way this governor and his band of sycophants work.

To read Edmonson’s letter, click here: EDMONSON LETTER

Kennedy, when told after the meeting adjourned of Claitor’s lawsuit, said, “That’s great. I’m glad. But I’m still moving forward with my own lawsuit. This is a bad law and it must be addressed.”

 

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If anyone has any hopes that the matter of the Edmonson Amendment will be resolved Thursday when the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board meets, it might be worth your while to consider a few developments in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) on the watch of Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, aka “Precious.”

We have already examined the placing of “consultant” Kathleen Sill on the state payroll and paying her $437,000 plus $12,900 in air travel for 21 flights for her between Baton Rouge and her Columbia, S.C. home.

And we told you about DPS Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux’s taking a $46,000 cash payout incentive to retire at her $92,000 per year salary as Deputy Undersecretary, plus about $13,000 in payment for 300 hours of accrued annual leave and then re-hiring two days later—with a promotion to Undersecretary and at a higher salary of $118,600—while keeping the incentive payment and annual leave payment.

We even told you about then-Commissioner of Administration Angelé Davis ordering her to repay the money but resigning before she could follow through on her instructions. Under her successor, Paul Rainwater, the matter was quietly forgotten.

But we didn’t tell you about Boudreaux’s son-in-law Matthew Guthrie who, while employed in an offshore job, was simultaneously on the payroll for seven months (from April 2, 2012 to Nov. 9, 2012) as a $25 per hour “specialist” for the State Police Oil Spill Commission.

Nor did we tell you about John W. Alario, the son of Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) who serves as the $95,000 a year director of the DPS Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission. (We had earlier told you about his wife, Dionne Alario, who was hired in November o 2013 at a salary of $56,300 to work out of her Westwego home supervising state police personnel in Baton Rouge—something of a logistics problem, to say the least.)

Or about Danielle Rainwater, daughter of former Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, who works as a “specialist” for State Police.

And then there are the spouses brought into the fold.

Jason Starnes has benefitted from two quick promotions since 2009 as his salary jumped from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase of almost 36 percent.

As if that were not enough, his wife Tammy was brought in from another agency on Jan. 13 of this year as an Audit Manager at a salary of $92,900. So not only does she now make nearly $11,700 a year more than her husband, she also is in charge of monitoring the agency’s financial transactions, including those of her husband.

In January of 2008, just before Edmonson was named Superintendent of State Police by Gov. Bobby Jindal, State Trooper Charles Dupuy was pulling down $80,500. Today, as Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, he makes $122,200, a bump of nearly $42,000, or 52 percent. Dupuy, it should be noted, is the Edmonson staffer who originated the drive to push the Edmonson Amendment through the Legislature on the last day of the session that gives his boss a $55,000 pension boost because the amendment allows Edmonson to revoke his decision to freeze his retirement at 100 percent of his $79,000 captain’s salary some 15 years or so ago to 100 percent of his current colonel’s salary of $134,000.

Kelly McNamara and Dupuy, both troopers, met at work and eventually married and Kelly Dupuy’s star began ascending almost immediately. Her salary has gone from $65,000 in 2009 to $80,600 today

Doug Cain serves as State Police Public Affairs Commander at $79,000 per year but the position appears to have been created especially for him, according to payroll records.

State Civil Service records for most promotions indicate whether or not the person being promoted is moving into a slot previously occupied by someone else. In Cain’s case the “Former Incumbent” block on the promotion form is blank indicating there was no one in that position prior to Cain’s being named to it.

The same is true for Edmonson’s brother Paul Edmonson.

On Sept. 7, 2011, Paul Edmonson was promoted from lieutenant to Captain, filling the spot previously held by Scott Reggio. On Oct. 10, 2013, Paul Edmonson was again promoted, this time to the rank of major. This time however, he was promoted into a spot in which there was no incumbent, indicating that the position was created especially for his benefit.

His rise has been nothing less than meteoric. Since December of 2006, less than eight years ago, he has gone from the rank of sergeant to lieutenant to captain to major at warp speed and his pay rose accordingly, from $57,500 to $93,000 a year, a 62 percent increase—all under the watchful eye of his brother.

And keep in mind all this transpired while the rank and file state troopers—and other state employees—were having to make do without pay raises.

As his reward for taking care of his people in such a noble way, Dupuy and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) conspired, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal, to sneak the amendment to Senate Bill 294 during the closing minutes of the session that allowed Mike Edmonson a “do-over” on his decision to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at his pay at that time.

The major problem with that little plan is that it leaves other state troopers and state employees who similarly opted to enter DROP and then received significant promotions or raises out in the cold because the amendment does not afford the same opportunity for them.

Accordingly, a group of retired state troopers have indicated their willingness to litigate the matter should the LSPRS board not decide to challenge the amendment in court themselves.

And it’s not at all likely the board will take that decisive step—for two reasons, neither of them sound.

First, Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an authority on pension law, advised that the amendment is unconstitutional and that the board should simply ignore it and refused to pay the increased pension should Edmonson and one other trooper caught up in the language’s net apply for the higher benefits.

The board would have a difficult time justifying such action, however, because it is bound by the Louisiana Constitution to comply with laws passed by the Legislature. The only recourse to that action would be to file a lawsuit formally challenging the constitutionality of the amendment. To ignore it would solve nothing, several attorneys and State Treasurer John Kennedy, a member of the board, have said.

Second, the LSPRS board is stacked heavily with those who are unquestionably Edmonson and Jindal loyalists. It was Jindal who signed the bill into law as Act 859 and his Commissioner of Administration Kristy Kreme Nichols is an ex-officio member of the board, assigning as her designee Andrea Hubbard. No way she’s going against the administration.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee, is nothing short of wishy-washy as evidenced by his constant switching from Republican to Democrat and back to Republican. He is Jindal’s lap dog and would cut his throat before invoking the governor’s ire and potential endorsement for lieutenant governor.

Dupuy is a member as well but should be run off by a mean, biting dog if he does not abstain from voting for his obvious conflict of interest as Edmonson’s Chief of Staff as well as the one who originally pushed the amendment.

A couple of other members are active troopers and they are a lock for bucking litigation since their boss will be watching and waiting for any sign of weakness or betrayal.

The only certain vote in favor of litigation will come from Kennedy when the board convenes Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System LASERS) Building at 4501 United Plaza Blvd. in Baton Rouge.

And unless Chicken Little was correct about the sky falling, Kennedy’s will be a lone voice when the dust settles.

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Things appear to be heating up on the issue of the behavior of the upper tier of the Louisiana State Police, though the rank and file (and retired officers) appears for the most part to support our efforts to peel back the veneer to expose widespread abuse by those in charge.

For openers, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, the number-two man at State Police headquarters, has reportedly taken to name-calling as a result of revelations by LouisianaVoice and fellow blogger C.B. Forgotston.

Names like “idiots” and “a—holes” have apparently found their way into the discourse whenever Dupuy mentions us, according to a post by Forgotston. Those pet names reportedly accompanied his curious claim that the notorious Edmonson Amendment was constitutional—despite assurances to the contrary by the Florida attorney, a pension authority, brought in to examine the amendment by the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

It has been our experience that when we are able to invoke such colorful language it is usually because we’ve made someone extremely uncomfortable. And we would guess that knocking someone out of an additional $55,000 per year on his retirement income would make just about anyone uncomfortable. And calling attention to a questionable retire/re-hire in which the proponent gets to keep nearly $60,000 in unwarranted payouts could make one uncomfortable as could reporting the hiring of a South Carolina consultant as a state employee and paying her $437,000 over 28 months, plus another $13,000 in airfare to shuttle her back and forth between Baton Rouge and Columbia, S.C.

Dupuy is a member of the LSPRS board which will be discussing the amendment at the Sept. 4 board meeting.

We would strongly suggest that because it was he who pushed the amendment in the first place—not to mention his prejudicial comments about the messengers—he would be precluded from participation in next week’s board meeting called to discuss options regarding the amendment. His actions—and his comments—make it abundantly obvious that his mindset does not lend itself to an impartial and dispassionate discussion or vote on a course of action for the board.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) has even weighed in on the controversy, though his comments are somewhat puzzling considering that he is a candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Claitor, it seems, has been actively posting jokes on his Twitter account about our concerns over the Edmonson Amendment. It’s certainly nice to know that someone seeking elective office is so willing find humor in legitimate concerns over shady legislative practices—particularly when those practices originated in the State Senate where he currently serves. You may wish to ask him about that next time he solicits your vote.

Matthew L. Issman of Madisonville, a former state trooper and federal law enforcement officer who presently serves as police chief for LSU-Alexandria, has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Senate Bill 294, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, the bill that was amended in conference committee by State Sen. Neil Riser to give Edmonson that generous retirement boost.

Contacted by the office of Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), Issman wrote that his biggest concern with the advice received by LSPRS from that Florida attorney “is that the advice of ‘do nothing, and wait’ until someone files for the benefits and then refuse to pay, is that it will force a state board or agency to pick and choose which laws it likes or doesn’t like and which laws it will and won’t enforce.”

Schroder’s office had asked Issman to provide his rationale for litigating versus legislative repeal of the amendment.

Issman pointed out that once the governor signs the bill, it becomes law and until it is repealed or a court finds it unconstitutional, “it sets a very, very bad precedent for any agency or board to arbitrarily not comply with a state law.”

As a law enforcement officer, he said he “cannot pick and choose which laws I will enforce and which ones I will ignore. You cannot do that. It must be litigated now and a court must find it unconstitutional, otherwise other state employees who made an irrevocable DROP elect can file federal ‘equal rights’ suits against the state for the same equal status (as Edmonson). This has to be fixed now by litigation to have a court find it unconstitutional,” he said.

As a follow up to that message, Issman also sent an email to members of the LSPRS Board.

“Civics 101 tells me that you (LSPRS) are a state board in the executive branch. You carry out the laws passed by the legislative branch. The advice of your Florida counsel is in a vacuum specific to the retirement board issue of the law passed and signed by the governor (executive). I believe you are about to set a very poor precedent and are outside your charter, authority and the state constitution when you as a board decide that you have the options to pick and choose which laws you will enforce, agree with and like, and which ones you arbitrarily choose to ignore.

“You do not have the ability or authority. Hence, your options are to follow the law signed by the executive and passed by the legislative branch, or request the judicial branch review the law for constitutionality.

“I am not a constitutional scholar; however, 41-plus years in state, local, parish and federal government law enforcement have taught me the authorities and responsibilities of governmental agencies and branches.

“I am requesting you follow the law, your charter and state constitution and challenge this law through litigation in court,” he said.

Issman also is protesting the 15-speaker, two-minute limit per speaker being imposed by the board at its Sept. 4 meeting.

“I don’t believe that this meets the requirements, spirit or intent of the Open Meeting Law, nor is it enough time to hear the many concerns of the retirees you represent, unless the goal is to restrict and limit such comments,” he said in an email to board members. “I think limiting comment to 30 minutes regarding an issue that has engendered such interest and controversy is insulting to the interests of the retirees and citizens you purport to represent on this Board.

“Therefore, I am requesting that the public comment time be reasonably increased proportionately to the larger public attendance that you are anticipating.”

Meanwhile, State Treasurer John Kennedy, who, like Dupuy, is a member of the LSPRS Board, continues pressing for information about the circumstances surrounding the last minute legislative passage of Edmonson’s pension boost.

Kennedy also requested key players in the benefit becoming law appear at the Sept. 4 board meeting, including Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright, who approved the legislation for the governor’s signature.

The law that created the enhancement for Edmonson and another veteran trooper was tacked on to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement benefits. And attorneys for the pension board recently concluded the action violated the constitution because, among other issues, proper notice was not given that the change would be proposed and the pension provision was added to legislation that had nothing to do with retirement law.

Kennedy said he wanted to know Enright’s opinion.

Kennedy’s requests came in a letter to the retirement board’s executive director Irwin Felps and board chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association.

We can’t speak for any of the others involved in this back door deal, but we are willing to give odds that Kennedy will not be able to convince anyone from the governor’s office to attend that meeting. Nor will Riser dare make an appearance.

Those kinds of people never do their work out in the open for everyone to see and we feel safe in predicting they will continue to avoid the glare of public accountability.

 

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Thanks to the resourcefulness of C.B. Forgotston, LouisianaVoice has obtained a copy of the seven-page report on the Edmonson Amendment and it appears that State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and trooper Louis Boquet of Houma are legally prohibited from taking advantage of a special amendment adopted on their behalf by the Louisiana Legislature.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report concerning the origination of the amendment that if true, adds a new twist to the curious series of events leading up to passage of the amendment in the last hours of the recent legislative session.

The report, authored by Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board attorney Denise Akers and Florida attorney Robert Klausner, specifically says that Edmonson and Boquet are barred from accepting the retirement windfall because the amendment granting them the special exemption from the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) is unconstitutional on no fewer than three levels.

Klausner and Akers also expressed concern that the source of funding for the increased benefits would have been the Employee Experience Account “which is reserved as the source of future cost of living benefits (for state police retirees and their widows and children) and payments toward the unfunded accrued liability.”

Edmonson, under the amendment would have seen his retirement income increase by $55,000 a year. The amount of what Boque’s retirement increase would have been is unknown.

The report, however, stopped short of recommending that the board file legal action to have Senate Bill 294, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, declared unconstitutional.

Instead, it recommended that the LSPRS “simply decline to pay any benefit under Act 859” and that the matter “would only need to be litigated if someone benefitting from the act (Edmonson or Boque) filed to enforce it.” The reported added that both men “have indicated they do not desire to enforce it. Thus, LSPRS may incur no litigation cost in this matter.”

The report said that should either man attempt to collect the increase retirement benefits by challenging the board’s refusal to pay the benefits, “it would fall to the attorney general to defend the law, rather than expending (LSPRS) resources to pursue a costly declaratory relief action.”

The report noted that the Louisiana Supreme Court, in a decision handed down only last year, “made it clear that a pension law adopted in violation of constitutional requirements is void and of no effect.” That was the ruling that struck down Jindal’s controversial state pension reform legislation.

“It is our view that pursuit of a declaratory relief or other legal action seeking to declare Act 859 invalid is unnecessary,” the report said. “By determining that it will not enforce the act, the board acts consistent with its fiduciary duty.”

The board still must vote to accept the recommendations of Klausner and Akers and with Jindal and Edmonson controlling the majority of the 11 seats on the LSPRS board, such a vote remains uncertain.

The board is scheduled to take up the matter at its next meeting, set for Sept. 4 but likely to be moved up now that the report is public.

The report also noted that the amendment was not proposed in either the House or the Senate, but added during conference committee.

SB 294 was authored by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell and dealt only with administrative procedures in cases in which law enforcement officers came under investigation. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted the amendment during conference committee discussion of the bill but recent reports have surfaced that place Morrell, who also was one of the three senators—along with three representatives—who served on the conference committee, squarely at the center of the controversy as well.

Morrell authored the bill at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) but was said to have subsequently told the FOP lobbyist that he would have to “hijack” the bill to conference committee in order to accommodate state police and Edmonson.

FOP President Darrell Basco, a Pineville police officer, said he had no personal knowledge of such events and lobbyist Joe Mapes did not return a phone call from LouisianaVoice.

Jindal, meanwhile, has remained strangely silent on the issue of his signing the bill with no apparent vetting by his legal counsel.

The Klausner report said the act was unconstitutional on three specific counts:

  • The amendment “does not meet the constitutionally required ‘one object’ requirement” which says, “The legislature shall enact no law except by a bill introduced during that session…Every bill…shall be confined tone object. Every bill shall contain a brief title indicative of its object. Action on any matter intended to have the effect of law shall be taken only in open, public meeting.” Conference committee proceedings occur in closed sessions.
  • The amendment “does not meet the germaneness requirement” of the Louisiana Constitution, which says, “No bill shall be amended in either house to make a change not germane to the bill as introduced.”
  • “No notice was provided as required by the constitution for retirement related bills and the bill itself never indicated that proper notice was given, all in violation of the Louisiana Constitution,” which says, “No proposal to effect any change in existing laws or constitutional provisions relating to any retirement system for public employees shall be introduced in the legislature unless notice of intention to introduce the proposal has been published, without cost to the state, in the official state journal on two separate days. The last day of publication shall be 60 days before introduction of the bill. The notice shall state the substance of the contemplated law or proposal, and the bill shall contain a recital that the notice has been given.”

Here is the full Klausner report:

Klausner Report on SB 294

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It’s the story that won’t die, no matter how the Runaway Governor (apologies to Julia Roberts) would like it to.

While Gov. Bobby Jindal may go running off to Iowa or New Hampshire or Washington, D.C., or wherever his latest odyssey takes him in his futile attempt at resuscitation of his moribund presidential aspirations while ducking his responsibilities at home, folks like political curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston and State Treasurer John Kennedy just won’t go away.

Instead, Kennedy is staying home and demanding answers to the nagging problem of the Edmonson Amendment that Jindal so obligingly signed into law as Act 859, giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $55,000 bump in retirement income.

Act 859, which began as a bland, nondescript bill by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) that addressed procedures in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, quietly turned into a retirement bonanza for Edmonson.

That happened when State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted language into a Conference Committee amendment to the bill that allows Edmonson and one other state trooper in Houma to revoke their decisions of several years ago to enter into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which gave them higher take home pay but froze their retirements at their pay level at the time of their decision.

In Edmonson’s case, his payment was frozen at 100 percent of his $79,000 a year captain’s pay but Act 859 allows him a do-over and to act as though all that never happened so that he can retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 per year colonel’s pay instead.

Other state troopers, teachers and civil service employees who made similar decisions, meanwhile, are stuck with their decisions because….well, sorry, but this is special for Col. Mike Edmonson Esq. Swank. Riff raff need not apply.

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board is scheduled to receive a special report by Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an acknowledged authority on public retirement plans, and local attorney Denise Akers at its Sept. 4 meeting but Kennedy isn’t waiting that long.

As State Treasurer, Kennedy holds a seat on the LSPRS board and he has repeatedly voiced his concern over the amendment which he says could put enormous strain on LSPRS if other retired state police officers file suit to obtain similar consideration as Edmonson.

He has claimed the board has a fiduciary responsibility to file suit to overturn the new law that Jindal so hastily signed.

A group of retired state troopers also has signaled its willingness to enter into litigation to get the law overturned.

Both Kennedy and the retired troopers contend the law is unconstitutional because it was not properly advertised in advance of its passage.

“Talking points” originating in State Police headquarters by Capt. Jason Starnes and sent to Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, and—for whatever reason—Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones, said the bill was properly advertised but because the bill in its original form in no way addressed retirement issues, that claim appears rather weak, especially given the fact that state police should be more skilled in producing hard evidence to back their cases.

The additional fact that the amendment never made its appearance until the last day of the session even though it had been discussed weeks before adds to the cloud of suspicion and wholesale chicanery enveloping Jindal, Riser, Edmonson, and Dupuy.

And Kennedy, who already has fired off two previous letters to LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps demanding a full investigation of the rogue amendment, now has written a third.

That letter, dated today (Aug. 13), while much shorter than the others, loses no time in getting right to the point: Kennedy is demanding under the state’s public records statutes (La. R.S. 44:31, et seq.) that Felps provide him a copy of the report generated by Klausner and/or Akers.

“Please immediately email the document(s) requested to me,” he wrote. “If you cannot or will not email them, please immediately inform me, and I will send a representative to your office to pick them up right away.”

Here is the link to his letter: Treasurer Kennedy Public Records Request to Irwin Felps August 13 2014

His letter sets the stage for a probable showdown between Kennedy and the rest of the board given the fact that Felps has previously denied Kennedy’s informal request for the report.

Felps said following Kennedy’s initial request, he was advised by legal counsel (most probably Akers) to release the report to the board members but not to the general public. He added that he expected Kennedy will have the report Thursday morning.

“I don’t know why the big cloak and dagger that they won’t share with the board,” Kennedy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/john_kennedy_demands_state_pol.html#incart_river

“I’m a board member and I’m entitled to it. They can’t tell me I can’t see it,” Kennedy said. “This is a very important issue and it’s not just limited to state police. We have thousands of employees in the retirement system (who) didn’t get this treatment.

“I just want to see a report that I asked for and the board asked for. It is a public document.”

Kennedy should know better. LouisianaVoice has already received its comeuppance from the House and Senate, both of which have refused to comply with our request for copies of emails and text messages between the six Conference Committee members who approved the amendment and Jindal, Edmonson or any of their staff members.

Even though such discussions would have fallen under the narrowest of definitions of public business, we were told the public has no business peeking over legislators’ shoulders to see what they’re doing and to please just butt out.

LSPRS board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, told the Times-Picayune in a statement (prepared as talking points by Starnes, perhaps?) that he felt it would be “inappropriate and premature” for the board to take a position on Act 859 until it heard the attorneys’ report.

Uh, Trooper Besson, would that be more or less “inappropriate” than passing a secretive bill in the final hours of the session to benefit one person (well, two, since one other trooper fell within the strictly limited parameters of the bill’s language) while no one was looking?

Just as a reminder, it’s going to be difficult to get the board off dead center on this issue considering the board’s 11-person membership is comprised of four active troopers, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and one of Jindal’s legislative puppets, State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee (you can almost see Jindal’s lips move when he talks).

Just in case you lost count, that’s six members that Jindal and Edmonson control—and that’s a majority.

Folks, it’s looking more and more like that group of retired state troopers is going to have to make good on that threat to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act.

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