Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

State Treasurer John Kennedy has sent a second letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) to emphasize his wish that a thorough investigation be conducted into the last second amendment to Senate Bill 294 which gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and one other state trooper huge increases in their state police pensions.

Kennedy wrote to Irwin Felps on Tuesday (July 29), saying, “I strongly oppose any delay or discontinuation of the system’s investigation of Act 859.”

SB 294 became Act 859 when Gov. Bobby signed the bill into law soon after it was adopted by the legislature on the last day of the session last month.

At first blush, it would appear that Kennedy might be responding to push back or resistance to a continued investigation but he assured LouisianaVoice that was not the case. “To my knowledge, no one has suggested that we terminate the investigation,” he said. “I just wanted to make certain that the board (the LSPRS board) understands that we still have this law on the books and we need to see what our options are in order to carry out our fiduciary responsibility to protect the system.”

Cynic-in-Chief C.B. Forgotston isn’t convinced. Observing that a majority of the LSPRS board is comprised of those who work directly for or are allied with Edmonson or Jindal, he says that a legal challenge is the only way in which to dispose of the issue once and for all.

Kennedy, in his capacity as state treasurer, is a member of the board and in his letter to Felps, he listed several reasons why he feels the board should continue its investigation to find a solution to the situation that benefits just two state troopers—Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Master Trooper Louis Bourquet of Houma.

Felps, contacted by LouisianaVoice, also said the board plans to move forward with its investigation. “We (the board) will be meeting in a couple of weeks,” he said. “Meanwhile, our legal counsel is considering options open to us in order to determine a course of action.”

Felps also said that attorney Bob Klausner of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, has been retained to serve in an “of counsel” capacity (a term usually applied to an attorney who has been employed to aid in a particular case but who is not the lead attorney).

“He is one of the pre-eminent authorities on pensions and has worked with us in the past,” Felps said.

While the increases to the retirements for the two law enforcement officers are substantial (as much as an additional $55,000 a year in Edmonson’s case before he finally said he would not accept the increased benefits), there may be retired state troopers who, like Edmonson and Bourquet, may have entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), thus freezing their retirement benefits only to receive substantial promotions or pay increases which would otherwise have increased their retirements.

Kennedy listed several concerns in his letter:

  • Because the act requires that funding for the benefits would be paid from the LSPRS Experience Account, apparently to avoid increasing our unfunded accrued liability (UAL), it would appear to adversely affect the system’s ability to provide cost of living adjustments for retired members and their families. “This must not be permitted to happen to our current and future retirees and their families,” he said.
  • Should the board delay or terminate the investigation, there is no guarantee that the legislature would adequately repeal the act or even consider it and even if it did, there would be no certainty that the governor would not veto any new legislation enacted to remedy what Kennedy calls a “bad law.”
  • Assuming that Bourquet, like Edmonson, rejects the increase, either or both could change their minds, die or become disabled, either of which would trigger the benefits at such time.
  • It is unclear how a recipient of the increased benefits could effective declare that he will not accept them, which would raise other complicated procedural questions.
  • There are several questions concerning the legality and constitutionality of the amendment to SB 294 which was originally authored by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) to deal only with disciplinary procedures when officers are accused of wrongdoing.

The unanimous passage of the amendment has caused a furor over the propriety of such tactics on the last day of the session when both houses are working feverishly to wrap up business before adjournment. As one member who voted for the bill said, “We’re all running around during those final hours trying to get our own bills through conference committee and these things can slip through.”

Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) was a member of the conference committee comprised of three senators and three representatives that recommended passage of the bill. After first denying any knowledge of the amendment, he finally admitted last Friday that he was the one who had the amendment drafted and inserted into the bill.

Because Edmonson appears to be a constant companion of Jindal (he appears in the background in virtually all of the governor’s in-state photo-ops which, granted, are becoming more and more rare because of Jindal’s near constant travels out of state in pursuit of his vanishing presidential aspirations) many legislative observers remain convinced that Riser took the action at the direction of the governor’s office.

That is precisely the kind of back-door deal that Jindal swore he would never tolerate and indeed, would make state government more transparent and accountable. In truth, his every action as governor reveals the lie in that empty promise by Jindal the candidate.

But, after more than six years of his brand of transparency, the real surprise would have been if anyone had been surprised.

And that’s precisely why Forgotston remains unconvinced that anything will get done without a legal challenge to the new law.

“The only issue remaining is who will file the lawsuit,” he said. “The board of LSPRS has the primary fiduciary responsibility to do so. The legislators, especially Senator Neil Riser, have an obligation to the taxpayers to fix the fiscal mess they created.

“The only interest being neglected in this matter is that of us taxpayers.

“It is time for the legislature to join Kennedy and others in calling for LSPRS to litigate SB 294 or to do so themselves.  The taxpayers should not be left holding the bag.”

Even Clancy DuBos, a columnist for New Orleans’ Gambit magazine and WWL-TV has joined the chorus of those demanding a lawsuit to challenge the “Edmonson Amendment.”

http://www.wwltv.com/news/DuBos-Legislature-must-challenge-state-police-chiefs-secret-raise-269100661.html?ref=prev

To read the entire text of Kennedy’s letter, go here:

Treasurer Kennedy Letter to State Police Retirement 07 29 2014

Read Full Post »

By Stephen Winham

I was among a distinct minority of people in state government who thought adding DROP to our state retirement systems was a bad idea for the state from the outset. It clearly provided a good benefit for employees at a time when state salaries were not nearly so generous as today, but I was concerned about the real costs, not just to retirement systems, but to agencies’ active payrolls. I was also concerned about real and perceived inequities resulting from employees making decisions they would later regret. In my opinion, the existence of DROP in state retirement systems has generally failed to benefit the state financially or otherwise – And I find the whole concept of “Back DROP”, the State Police Retirement System option recently publicized in conjunction with the controversy over SB 294 of 2014, ridiculous on its face.

DROP for our state retirement systems seemed to at least have sensible goals when originally implemented and estimating the fiscal impact seemed relatively easy for an actuary. Simply put, an employee, who would otherwise be entitled to retire, continued working and drawing a pay check. The amount that would have been paid the retired employee in monthly retirement checks was frozen at that level and went into a DROP account each month while the employee continued to draw a salary. The employee did not have to make contributions to his/her retirement system while in DROP, so s/he got an immediate increase in net pay and could continue to get raises, though they would not increase the retirement benefit amount. When the employee actually retired s/he could get the balance in the DROP account and begin to receive monthly retirement checks.

DROP was sold as a way to retain experienced employees for a period of time beyond when they might otherwise actually retire by providing them with an additional incentive. It was also supposed to accomplish the almost contradictory goal of encouraging higher paid employees to actually retire at the end of DROP participation. This would reduce the amount of money necessary for salaries overall and/or create additional promotional opportunities and openings for other employees.

So, DROP was viewed by most as a simple, predictable benefit for both the state and its employees. But, guess what?   It has rarely worked that way and the reality of the way it does work begs the following questions:

  • How many people who participate in DROP would have really retired, when eligible, in its absence? Based on experience, the answer is very few. Therefore, the major ostensible advantage of DROP to the state, retention of experienced employees, would not seem to have actually been a state issue.
  • How many state employees with retirement eligibility are indispensable? Again, my answer would be very few. A significant percentage of indispensable employees would indicate gross understaffing, poor management planning, or both.
  • How many people who enter DROP actually retire at the end of DROP participation? My guess, again based on experience, would be significantly fewer than originally projected.

Because employees can come out of DROP and continue to work without skipping a beat, any expected salaries savings can evaporate quickly. In fact, high salaried people not already eligible for the absolute maximum in retirement benefits often continue to work an additional minimum of 3 years so they can start to accrue additional benefits to be paid as supplements to their “frozen” regular retirement checks. So, ultimate liabilities of the retirement systems are harder to project and salaries on the active payroll are often higher than they would have been otherwise.

The new option Colonel Mike Edmonson apparently wanted to take advantage of via SB 294 only exists in the State Police Retirement System and is called “Back DROP”. I had never heard of this before and still find it hard to believe it exists and was actually recommended by an actuary. It does absolutely nothing DROP was intended to do except encourage some people to simply work longer.

If I understand it correctly, under “Back DROP” the employee starts thinking about retiring and how to game the retirement system to his/her best financial advantage. As retirement eligibility approaches, s/he gets the system to run numbers so s/he can make the best choice when s/he actually retires between the following:

1. Pretending s/he entered DROP up to 3 years ago (going back to the future, in other words); or

2. Getting a lifetime benefit based on the highest average salary

Does that sound anything like DROP to you? Me, neither. It sounds like having your cake and eating it, too. Those eligible can’t possibly make the wrong decision – for them – and no pesky actuarial reductions in benefits like the Initial Benefit Option (IBO) that is available to all retirees.

Go to the following link, scroll down to “BACK DROP Plan – Only for Members Eligible for DROP after 10/01/2009” and see how you interpret the option: http://lsprs.org/retirement/options/

Now, think about it. How is it possible to get in the ballpark of figuring out how to adequately fund a benefit that doesn’t actually defer anything and lets those eligible choose the best option for them at the last possible moment?   How must the thousands of people who retired under regular DROP plans in all state retirement systems feel about the ability of anybody else to have this open-ended option?

Our retirement systems have total unfunded accrued liabilities of some $19 Billion. These liabilities did not crop up overnight but must, under existing law, be liquidated by 2029. How can any legislative action that extends state retirement benefits to those not previously eligible for them possibly do anything to help address this problem?

As Everett Dirksen said, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.” In Louisiana, we don’t seem to get the simple truth of that, and not just in our retirement policies.

Read Full Post »

(Editor’s note: this is our 1,000th post since we started LouisianaVoice a little more than three years ago. We have also surpassed the one million-word milestone. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10 full-length novels.)

 

Were two separate announcements made late Friday by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) designed to neutralize State Treasurer John Kennedy’s calls for an investigation into the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that increased Edmonson’s retirement by $55,000 a year?

If so, Kennedy said, the tactic won’t work.

Without going through all the details of the amendment, there is one additional development that has gone unreported to this point (until it was pointed out to us first by reader Stephen Winham and then Kennedy):

Funding to pay Edmonson’s extra retirement income, which could cost the state more than $1 million over Edmonson’s lifetime, would come from the state’s Employee Experience Account (R.S. 11:1332) http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-11/rs-11-1332 which set aside funds to provide cost of living raises for retired state troopers and survivors of slain troopers.

In other words, he would be taking from retirees, widows and orphans in order to increase his retirement from the $79,000 per year, or 100 percent of his salary, at the time he entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), to 100 percent of his current $134,000 a year salary.

In those two announcements, issued separately, Edmonson reversed his field and said he will not accept the increased pension benefits because “It’s been too much of a distraction.”

Riser, one of six members of the Legislative Conference Committee that brought the amended bill back to the House floor on the last day of the session, meanwhile, did an even bigger flip flop in admitting that he did indeed instruct a Senate staffer to add the key amendment to the bill authored by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans).

On July 17, Riser emailed blogger C.B. Forgotston who had sent Riser an email asking what he knew about the origin of the amendment. Incredibly, Riser said in that email, “I first saw the amendment when I read the conference committee report drafted by staff. As the language was explained to me, I believed it fixed a retirement problem for the law enforcement community.”

Basically, it was a denial without his actually denying he knew about the amendment.

But on Friday, Riser fessed up that he did indeed instruct staff (in this case, Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee which Riser chairs) to add the amendment. He still, however, stuck to his story that he saw the amendment on the “last hectic day of the session” and did not know the amendment would benefit just two people—Edmonson and a Houma trooper.

No wonder he was recently named Legislator of the Year by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association—for the third consecutive year.

RISER AND EDMONSON

Supt. of State Police Mike Edmonson, left, and State Sen. Neil Riser (BFF)

Taken together, the Friday statements by Edmonson and Riser appear suspiciously coordinated to neutralize Kennedy’s letter of one day earlier to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) in which he posed 13 questions he said needed answers.

Riser’s belated admission of his part in the amendment addressed only one of those questions and Kennedy said Friday that the investigation “must go forward” because “we still have a bad law on the books that we have to deal with.”

That’s because Gov. Bobby Jindal put his frequent flyer miles in abeyance long enough to sign the bill into law as ACT 859, prompting some to speculate that Riser’s actions may have been dictated by the governor’s office.

Kennedy said the LSPRS board has already retained outside legal counsel to determine what legal action is available to the board which is required by law to protect the fiduciary interests of the system.

“The board will meet in August to discuss our options,” he said. “We will invite Col. Edmonson to attend to present his side of the issue. We will also invite Sen. Riser and Thomas Enright, the governor’s executive counsel.”

He said that Enright, as the governor’s legal counsel, reads every bill and makes recommendations to Jindal as to whether the bills meet legal standards and if they should be signed or vetoed.

Without waiting for that August meeting, LouisianaVoice has a few questions of our own:

  • Why did Riser first deny his culpability and appear willing to throw his legal counsel under the bus?
  • What happened to compel him to cleanse his conscience?
  • Does he feel his constituents should trust him when he comes up for re-election after this despicable lapse of moral principles?
  • Who made the decision to fund this questionable (and most likely unconstitutional) appropriation from money intended to pay for retirees’ and survivors’ cost of living adjustments…and why?
  • Did Jindal direct that this amendment be inserted on the last day of the session?
  • If not, why did Enright not catch one of several possible constitutional violations contained in the amendment?

We’re glad that Riser, even belatedly, admitted his part in this farce of legislative procedure and we feel that Edmonson did the right thing in deciding to refuse the additional retirement money.

Suspicious by nature, however, we can’t help wondering about their motivations.

 

 

Read Full Post »

State Treasurer John Kennedy has forwarded a two-page letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) that itemizes 13 questions Kennedy said need to be addressed concerning the $55,000 per year pension increase awarded State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the closing minutes of the recent legislative session.

An amendment to Senate Bill 294, quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, allowed Edmonson and one other state trooper to revoke their decision made at lower ranks to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). In Edmonson’s case, he entered DROP as a captain, which effectively froze his retirement calculated on his salary at that time.

He was subsequently promoted to Superintendent of State Police which carried with it a substantial pay increase that made the DROP decision a bad one—like many other state employees who made similar moves and were later promoted.

The amendment was inserted into an unrelated bill dealing with disciplinary actions to be taken with law enforcement officers under investigation by a six-member conference committee, none of whom will claim credit—or blame—for the action.

Even worse than the furtive action, most probably taken at the direction of Gov. Bobby Jindal, five of the six conference committee members appear to be unwilling to man up and discuss their actions.

Kennedy, who by virtue of his office is a member of LSPRS, wrote to Executive Director Irwin Felps:

“In furtherance of our board meeting, other discussions regarding this matter and our fiduciary obligations to all of the people the system serves, I wanted to set forth in writing, as a board member and the State Treasurer, the issues that I think must be fully investigated and answered by you, our counsel and other staff, for the board so that it can make the necessary decisions and take appropriate actions, if any, to meet its fiduciary duties. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and there may be others to be included from other members, you, counsel and others, which should be answered too and which I welcome.”

Kennedy then listed the following 13 questions which he said needed answers:

  • How many people does the act benefit?
  • Who are the people it benefits, so that they can be invited to address these issues and their involvement with our board?
  • What are all of the costs of the act to the system and its members?
  • Is it true the actuarial note setting forth the cost of the act was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would be the costs to give the same retirement benefit increase resulting from the act to all troopers and their dependents that are similarly situated?
  • What is the opinion of the act of the Governor’s Executive Counsel who reviewed the bill before the Governor’s signature approving it?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting conference committee amendment, so that they can be invited to address why it was offered with our board?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment in question meet the legal requirement of “germaneness” (relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment in question violate the state constitutional prohibition against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligations of contracts?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the state constitutional requirement of equal protection of the law?
  • Does the process by which the amendment in question was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules or procedures?
  • What are the board’s legal options?

Copies of Kennedy’s letter were sent to State Treasury Executive Counsel Jim Napper and board members of LSPRS, Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System (LSERS).

Records denied LouisianaVoice by House, Senate

The six conference committee members who met to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of SB 294, to which the controversial amendment was added, include Sens. Jean-Paul Morrell (who authored the original bill), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

We attempted to obtain records of emails between conference committee members, Edmonson, the governor’s office and the Division of Administration but the wagons were quickly circled and we got the standard runaround from both the House and Senate.

It seems by some convoluted logic that communications of legislators about legislative business that affects taxpayers is not public record.

This is the response we received from both the House and Senate:

“You request: ‘all emails, text messages and/or any other communications between Col. Mike Edmonson and members of his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser and/or any of his staff members, any other legislator and/or members of their staff, specifically Reps. Jeff Arnold, Walt Leger and Bryan Adams (and Morrell, Riser and Walsworth) and between either of these (six) members and Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or any of his staff members, including but not limited to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and/or any members of her staff, concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.’

“Any communication by or with or on behalf of a Legislator ‘concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System’ falls under the ‘speech’ protected by LA con. art. III, § 8, clause 2: ‘No member shall be questioned elsewhere for any speech in either house.’ Our appellate courts have held that ‘the speech privilege extends to freedom of speech in the legislative forum; when members are acting within the “legitimate legislative sphere,’ the privilege is an absolute bar to interference. The courts have further held that conduct which falls within this ‘sphere’ of privilege is ‘anything generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.’ Copsey v. Baer, No. CA 91 0912, 593 So.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir. Dec. 27, 1991), Writ Denied 594 So.2d 876, (La., Feb. 14, 1992).

“Your request to review records concerning retirement legislation falls directly within the ‘sphere’ protected against disclosure by the Louisiana constitution. All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination.”

So there you go, folks. You have no right to pry into the business of the State of Louisiana if it’s discussed by a legislator. How’s that for the gold standard of ethics and for accountable and transparent government?

Only Walsworth responds to LouisianaVoice email

LouisianaVoice also sent each of the six an identical email on Wednesday that said:

“Because there has been nothing but deafening silence from the six members of the conference committee that approved the egregious retirement increase for Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, I thought I would contact each of you individually to give you the opportunity to explain your thought process in enacting this legislation to benefit only two people to the exclusion of all the others who opted for DROP but would now like to revoke that decision.

“To that end, I have several questions that I respectfully ask you as honorable men with nothing to hide to answer. Your continued silence will leave me no alternative but to believe you are not honorable men and that this action was taken in the session’s dying hours in a deliberate attempt to do an end around the public’s right to know what transpires in Baton Rouge.”

Here are the questions I posed to each man:

  • Did you introduce, or do you know who introduced, the amendment to SB 294? (If each of you denies any knowledge of this, the implication is simple: you take issue with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s contention that the amendment did not “fall from the heavens.”)
  • Did you have any contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff prior to the amendment’s being added to SB 294?
  • At what point during the session just ended did the matter of Col. Edmonson’s retirements first arise?
  • Why was the full House and Senate not made aware of the wording of the amendment to SB 294?
  • Was it your intent that no one should know the real intent of amendment to SB 294?
  • Edmonson, on Jim Engster’s radio show, indicated it came up several weeks before the end of the session. If that is true, why was there a delay until the last day of the session to tack the amendment onto SB 294?
  • Did you have any contact relative to the amendment from Gov. Jindal’s office or the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols?
  • If you did have contact with Mike Edmonson and/or any of his staff members, the governor’s office or Kristy Nichol’s office, would you willingly release the contents of those communications?
  • Finally, do you think it fair to do this for only two people while excluding hundreds, perhaps thousands of retirees who made similar decisions to enter DROP only to regret their decisions?

With the exception of Walsworth who responded on Thursday, the response has been a continued embarrassing silence.

Here is Walsworth’s response:

“I did not introduce the amendment.  I can only answer for myself, not others.

“I had no contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff concerning this amendment.

“I believe I heard about the problems with the amendment like everyone else, through the media a couple of weeks ago.

“The last day of the session is usually very hectic.  My recollection of the events of that day was that the report came to my desk by a staffer.  I saw the amendment and asked if it effected (sic) more than one more person.

“The staffer said yes. I knew that in the past we had given this provision to several retirement systems. So I signed the report. Sen. Jody Amedee’s child was in the hospital and as Vice Chair of Senate Gov. Affairs Committee, I was in charge of the Senate going into Executive Session to handle appointments. To be honest, I do not recall what the author said when he presented SB 294 on the floor.

“I had no contact from anyone in Gov. Jindal’s office or Kristy Nichols’ office.

“It has been many years since I was on the retirement committee.  I have always been an advocate that retirees should have more choices. They should have more control of their retirement. I am sorry that this effected (sic) just these 2 individuals. I thought it would effect (sic) more.”

But the sorriest, most pathetic, most despicable thing about this entire sordid mess is that members of that conference committee are perfectly willing to throw a female staff attorney under the bus to protect their own pitiful hides.

Laura Gail Sullivan is the legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee her name is at the top of the page of the conference committee report.

Given the fact that Sen. Neil Riser was on that conference committee and, as Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with a pretty good guess as to who instructed Sullivan to insert the amendment.

But the fact is that with the exception of Walsworth—if he is to be believed—not one of the committee members came to Sullivan’s defense. They choose instead to let a subordinate who was following orders take the heat.

Their action, or more accurately, inaction, is the very definition of hiding behind a skirt.

These are men who will run for cover and let a staff member take the heat for their actions. And the fact that not one of them has the backbone to come forward, makes them, in our opinion, the lowest form of humanity to dare call themselves public servants.

It is our fervent hope that in 2015 they will draw formidable opponents who will be more than happy to let voters know the gutless wonders these cowards turned out to be and who will rat them out for the rodents they are.

Read Full Post »

One of the most frustrating things in writing about this administration is obvious wrongdoing is reported and nothing is done.

In Bobby Jindal we have a governor who is constantly bitching about Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular while turning a blind eye to corruption, profiteering and ethical violations within his own administration.

You would think that the man who, upon taking office in 2008, said, “We have zero tolerance for corruption” would make at least a token effort to keep his house in order.

Instead, he gutted the enforcement authority of the State Ethics Board, ran off members of the board, and commenced to allow his political pals to run unchecked.

The sordid episode of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and the manner in which he was allowed to increase his state pension by nearly 70 percent is just the latest in a sorry laundry list of loose enforcement of ethics rules in this administration.

We have already written about some of these:

  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Kira Orange Jones simultaneously serves as executive director of Teach for America (TFA), which in turn, has been issued contracts worth more than $3 million with the Department of Education (DOE) since she became a member of BESE in 2012. BESE is the governing board for DOE and as such, must approve all contracts with the department.
  • The resignation of the vice chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics only weeks after the Tribune, a newspaper serving the African-American community of New Orleans published a story in its May/June 2013 issue headlined “Kira, Kira on the Wall” which explained Schneider’s own conflict of interests in ruling on an Aug. 21, 2012, conflict of interest decision about Orange Jones.
  • BESE President Chas Roemer consistently votes on issues concerning charter schools even though his sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools which much apply to BESE for approval of charters and other matters concerning charter schools, including funding.

And while we have not written about it, BESE member Walter Lee of Mansfield, who recent retired as Superintendent of DeSoto Parish Schools, is currently under investigation for allegations that he billed both the school board and BESE for travel expenses to and from BESE meetings in Baton Rouge and for lodging while in Baton Rouge.

Now, thanks to public records we belatedly obtained from the Division of Administration, we learn that another BESE member’s company has reaped more than $1.5 million from contract work his company performed on behalf of a dozen South Louisiana school boards and the Recovery School District in 2013 and 2014.

Hunt Guillot and Associates (HGA) of Ruston previously held two state contracts since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that together totaled more than $38 million. The latest, for $20 million, expired on June 30 but is expected to be renewed.

Jay Guillot, of the 5th BESE District, is an HGA partner.

The HGA contract is with the Louisiana Office of Community Development for “grant management activities for infrastructure and other projects undertaken as a result of damages incurred as a result of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and to a lesser extent, as a result of Hurricanes Gustav/Ike,” the contract details contained on the state’s LaTrac web page which lists active and expired state contracts and contractors.

Though the funds to pay HGA are federal funds allocated through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the company’s contract is with the state and the state cuts the checks to HGA from the state’s CDBG funds.

Much of HGA’s work involved other branches of parish governments but in our search of records we found no fewer than 138 billings to school boards and the RSD totaling $1.58 million since January 2013. Of that amount, 17 separate invoices totaling $488,000 (30.9 percent of the total billed) was for the RSD.

The Department of Education has responsibility for the oversight of RSD and cannot be considered separate entities for purposes of say, a lawsuit against the RSD. At the same time, BESE is the governing authority over DOE, thereby creating a straight line of authority between BESE and the RSD as well as the dozen school boards for whom HGA also performed work.

School boards for whom HGA performed services and the amounts billed from January of 2013 through May of 2014 are as follows:

  • Plaquemines: 17 billings for $342,726;
  • Cameron: 16 invoices, $227,126;
  • St. Tammany: 16 invoices, $142,598;
  • Orleans: 17 invoices, $116,507;
  • Jefferson: 17 invoices, $97,598;
  • Calcasieu: 16 invoices, $64,813;
  • St. Charles: 14 invoices, $56,390;
  • St. Bernard: 12 invoices, $29,539;
  • Terrebonne: three invoices, $9,202;
  • Lafourche: four invoices, $2,968;
  • Washington: five invoices, $2,222;
  • Lafayette: one invoice, $50.

Incredibly, with only a month left in its contract, HGA managed to allocate just enough work to almost exhaust the contract amounts for eight of the parish school boards and the RSD.

The last billing made available to us was for work done through May 25, 2014. Following are the total amounts billed through May 25 (with a month remaining on the contract) with the total allocated under HGA’s contract for the corresponding parish in parenthesis:

  • RSD: $786,988 ($817,567);
  • Orleans: $237,766 ($255,519);
  • Jefferson: $205,748 ($205,750);
  • Plaquemines: $831,968 ($826,970);
  • St. Bernard: $195,996 ($196,877)
  • St. Tammany: $377,372 ($382,863);
  • St. Charles: $147,763 ($148,353;
  • Calcasieu: $112,295 ($116,171);
  • Cameron: $629,750 ($639,031).

Section 1113 of The Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics prohibits public servants and their family members from entering into certain transaction. That section says:

  • “No elected official or public employee or member of such public servant’s immediate family, or legal entity in which he has a controlling interest shall bid on or enter into any contract, subcontract, or other transaction that is under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency.

That’s plain enough but for those wanting further clarification: “controlling interest means any ownership in any legal entity or beneficial interest in a trust, held by or on behalf of an individual or a member of his immediate family, either individually or collectively, which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

We do not know for certain what Guillot’s percentage of ownership is but inasmuch as his name is listed as a partner on the company letterhead we would assume he would meet that criterion.

And while the HGA contract is not specifically with DOE or BESE, the $1.5 million in work done for the local school boards and the RSD seems at best to skirt the edge of a conflict of interests for Guillot.

 

Read Full Post »

Editor’s note: House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for an investigation into the $55,000 per year pension increase sneaked onto an unrelated Senate bill during the final day of the recent legislative session. State Treasurer John Kennedy, however, thinks such an investigation is not only appropriate but necessary.

 

By State Treasurer John Kennedy

Unless you just parachuted in from Mars, you’ve probably seen media reports about the retirement bill recently passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor (Act 859) that boosts the retirement benefits for a small number (allegedly two) of Louisiana State Police Troopers.  The benefits-boosting provision, again according to media reports, was added to an unrelated bill on the last day of the legislative session by a six-person conference committee that did not meet publicly.  All six of the conferees say they did not sponsor the amendment.

It’s important we get the facts about what happened, how and why for two reasons.  First, fairness.  Whether you are a prince or a pauper, a king or a pawn, our retirement laws should apply equally to everyone.  Second, cost.  Louisiana’s four state retirement systems have a $19 billion deficit (called an unfunded accrued liability, or UAL, in accounting terms), which according to Standard & Poor’s is the sixth worst in America.  That means the present and projected future assets of the systems are $19 billion less than the retirement payments promised by law and guaranteed by taxpayers and the state constitution.  The Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) has a $323 million UAL.

I sit on the Board of Trustees of the LSPRS as State Treasurer.  My fellow board members and I take seriously our fiduciary obligation to protect the system’s assets for the 933 active state troopers, 893 retired troopers and 341 troopers’ survivors.  We have directed our legal counsel to investigate the facts surrounding the passage and signing of Act 859 and report back to us within the month.  We have asked for the answers to the following nonexclusive questions:

  • How many people will Act 859 benefit?
  • Who are the people who will benefit, so they can be invited to speak to the LSPRS Board to explain their side of the story?
  • What is the cost of Act 859 to the retirement system and its members?
  • Is it true that the actuarial note discussing the cost of Act 859 was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would it cost to give the same retirement benefit increase to all troopers and their dependents who are similarly situated?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting amendment, so they can be invited to speak to the LSPRS Board to explain why they offered it?
  • Does the amendment satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment meet the legal requirement of “germaneness”(relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment violate the state constitutional prohibition (art. I, §23)against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligation of contracts?
  • Does the amendment satisfy the state constitutional requirement (art. I, §3) of equal protection of the laws?
  • Does the process by which the amendment was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules?
  • What are the Board’s legal options?

Let’s get the facts.  I do not believe the LSPRS Board of Trustees will tolerate preferential treatment to the detriment of other active and retired troopers and their families, if indeed that is what is found to have happened. 

Read Full Post »

Editor’s note:

The following is a guest column offered by Baton Rouge teacher Fred Aldrich who, along with thousands of others, listened Monday as Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson appeared on the Jim Engster Show to defend the amendment tacked onto an unrelated bill on the final day of the legislative session which will give Edmonson an additional $55,000 (not $30,000 as first reported—we’ll explain at the end of Aldrich’s guest column) upon his retirement—a nice bonus unique to Edmonson and one other state trooper.

 

I am a long-time listener to NPR station WRKF, and I listen to the Jim Engster show whenever possible. I don’t always agree with Jim or his guests, but I usually don’t find my disagreements worthy of a response. Today was an exception.

The comments of Jim’s guests are not the opinions of Jim or WRKF, but unfortunately those comments may be spin and/or misinformation which listeners will take as truth.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was on the show this morning. I have great respect for the state police, and I have considered Edmonson one of the good guys in the Jindal administration. This morning’s interview, however, was problematical for me in several ways.

Engster congratulated Edmonson for having the fortitude to come on the program at a time when the superintendent is facing a lot of heat statewide. His performance suggested that he has paid attention during the years he has also served as a prop for the governor. He sounded earnest, sounded passionate, and sounded determined to serve his troopers and the people of the state. So far, so good, but that’s not why he’s on the hot seat. No one questions his dedication.

As a teacher with 38 years of experience in Louisiana and one who participated in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) about the same time as he did, my understanding and experience with the program are much different from what Edmonson expressed on the program. He wanted to dispel “inaccuracies” with “facts,” but in my estimation he mostly promulgated misinformation, to wit:

  • The retirement systems which offer DROP are not “different” retirement systems than they were at the time he or anyone else went into DROP. DROP was simply a program within these retirement systems which was offered to employees for a few years, theoretically to provide valued employees an opportunity to continue working while putting three years of retirement checks in an interest-earning escrow account that could not be accessed until the employee finally retires, as which time federal laws regarding taxes and withdrawals apply. Though officially retired, the employee continued to draw his regular pay while payments were made into his DROP account. These three years do not count as service credit toward figuring eventual retirement benefits.
  • Despite Col. Edmonson’s casual use of the word, no one was “forced” into DROP. It was a choice for anyone with 30 years of service, or 25 years of service for those 55 years old or older. Those who chose to not enter DROP simply continued to work, with the three years counted as regular service credit, and allowed the employee to draw the retirement benefits he/she accrued upon final retirement. Had Col. Edmonson, and myself, and others, chosen to not participate, his, and our, retirement benefit would have been what it took him a specious legislative effort to attain.
  • The form that each DROP participant had to sign made the options and possible outcomes very clear. It states, in no uncertain terms, that the employee understands that his basic retirement benefit is frozen at that time, that the decision is irrevocable, that service credit past the exit from DROP is calculated in a different manner, and that DROP may not be the best option, depending on future circumstances. It urges employees to consider their decision carefully and seek financial counsel before they choose to enter the program.
  • The articles I’ve read and the radio program in particular fail to mention the three years of retirement pay in Col. Edmonson’s DROP account plus the accrued interest and whether he plans to return that money to the system if he gets his new benefit. In my case, and I was in DROP at the same time as Edmonson, my account balance has nearly doubled in ten years. (And my eventual retirement benefit will be approximately 65% of what it would have been had I not chosen to go into DROP.)
  • Col. Edmonson misstated the application of the $30,000 yearly bump that has been mentioned. No one I know of has claimed that this is a bonus on top of his new yearly retirement benefit. It is the difference between the benefit that he is entitled to as the result of his voluntary participation in DROP and his new benefit, courtesy of a friendly conference committee.
  • Blaming the confusion at the end of the legislative session for the “misunderstanding” is ridiculous. It’s beyond obvious that he and his allies (which could range from the governor down to legislative staffers) gamed the system and took advantage of this dysfunctional process for his benefit, then blamed the process for a misunderstanding.
  • As for the integrity in which Col. Edmonson bathed himself and the commiseration he offered a caller who found herself in a similar retirement situation, he could have demonstrated his concern by including all DROP participants in his legislation. I, and several of my colleagues, (and apparently many others) have tried to lobby for the same remedy that Col. Edmonson and his allies sneaked through (Let’s call it what it is.) We have met the runaround
  • from every source we’ve approached, and we’ve accepted that most of us will have been long dead before anything actually could be done.

Unfortunately, we’re not in the governor’s loop and teachers with 35-50 years of experience who make less than half the salary of Col. Edmonson don’t have the same voice. His assertion that everyone should get the same consideration that he does begs the fact that all troopers, state workers, and teachers don’t have the same political connections and the same willingness to go through this foul-smelling process to enrich themselves.

This is my understanding based on my experiences with DROP and my following of Edmonson’s gift from the conference committee. If anything is factually incorrect, I will readily stand corrected. As a reaction to what happened, I remain convinced that the whole action smells. There are many hard-working, conscientious, productive people in state government, law enforcement and education, who don’t get special treatment through a disgusting legislative process.

            In addition to Mr. Aldrich’s comments, we have some comments and additional information of our own to add:

During his appearance on the Jim Engster Show, Edmonson who last week said he never asked for the legislation and did not know about it, acknowledged that an unidentified” staff member” brought the matter to his attention and he authorized the effort to go forward. He also told Engster that the issue of the special legislation actually arose several weeks before the end of the session.

That being the case, why was it necessary to wait until the last day of the session, when the pace becomes hectic and confusing, to insert the amendment into a benign bill completely unrelated to retirement (the bill, Senate Bill 294, dealt with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers under investigation)? That tactic alone smacks of covert intent designed to keep the measure from the prying eyes of the media and public.

Edmonson, during his interview, acknowledged that when he voluntarily (and the word voluntarily should be emphasized here) entered DROP, he was a captain earning $79,000 per year in salary. By entering DROP, his retirement was frozen and would be calculated on that salary. The trade-off was that he earned a higher salary.

But he probably did not foresee his advancement to Superintendent of State Police at a salary of $134,000.

Based on a formula multiplying his salary by the number of years of service by 3.33 percent), he would have retired at 100 percent of that $79,000 salary instead of 100 percent of his higher salary of $134,000 after 30 years.

Until the passage of the secretive-shrouded amendment to SB 294, that is. The amendment will mean an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson during his retirement years—$134,000 (100 percent of his current salary).

Should Edmonson live for 30 years after retirement, that’s an extra $1.14 million in retirement benefits.

The amendment prompted one retired state trooper, Jerry Patrick, to express his embarrassment “that one of our troopers was so selfish that he would tarnish the badge that I and so many others worked and sacrificed to honor.”

Patrick said that it was “no stretch to believe that the governor’s office was directly involved in requesting this for a member of the governor’s cabinet.”

To that end, LouisianaVoice has made three separate public records requests. The first was to the Louisiana State Police communications director (which was handed off to the agency’s legal team) requesting the opportunity to review “all emails, text messages and/or other communications” between Edmonson, his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser, his staff, and the governor’s office pertaining to any discussion of DROP and/or retirement benefits for Edmonson and any discussion of retirement legislation that might affect Edmonson.

We made similar requests of both the House and Senate for any similar communications between members of the conference committee that approved the special amendment, Edmonson, the governor’s office and Laura Gail Sullivan, legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. Riser is chairman of that committee and was on the conference committee that inserted the amendment for Edmonson.

Through the grapevine, we have learned that Sullivan has already invoked the sacred attorney-client privilege to prevent releasing any of her emails. But that objection is questionable at best inasmuch as Edmonson is not her client. Neither is the governor. Nor is, for that matter, Riser.

Of course, she will probably include Riser by extension by virtue of his chairmanship of the committee for which she works but Riser, should he have nothing to hide, could always waive the attorney-client privilege.

If he does not, and if Sullivan does resist releasing the contents of her emails, we can only assume the obvious: there is something contained in those messages that the principals would rather we not know.

And to quote my favorite poet and playwright Billy Wayne Shakespeare of Denham-on-Amite from my favorite play, Hamlet Bob: “Ay, there’s the rub.”

But we are confident they would never try to hide anything from the public. This administration, after all, is the gold standard of ethics, openness and transparency. Gov. Jindal himself has said so on countless occasions in his many out-of-state appearances.

Oh, but wait. We also learned on Tuesday that House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) has refused a request by State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) for a full investigation of the secretive amendment. Kleckley said that because it was a Senate bill to which the amendment was attached, it becomes a matter for the Senate to investigate. Apparently, Kleckley neglected to note that three members of the conference committee that approved the amendment were House members.

Kleckley’s dancing around the issue, folks, is what is known as the Bureaucratic Shuffle.

 

Read Full Post »

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) Saturday told LouisianaVoice he will ask House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles) on Monday for a full investigation of the 11th hour amendment to an obscure Senate bill that resulted in an additional $30,000 per year income for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson upon his retirement.

The amendment, which was quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, allows Edmonson to revoke his decision made years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) when he was a captain. That decision, which is considered irrevocable, locked in his retirement at a rate based on his captain’s pay while netting him a higher salary but now he will be allowed to compute his retirement based upon his rank as colonel.

At the same time, blogger C.B. Forgotston revealed that the probable source of the amendment may not have been one of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee, but a Senate staff attorney.

“I am embarrassed by this entire thing,” Edwards said in an interview with LouisianaVoice. “I voted for the bill without reading it with the amendment attached.

So did 89 other House members and 37 senators.

“I know this is not an excuse, and I would never rationalize my vote this way but the truth is in the final hours most members, including myself, probably were not even at their desks. We were all running around trying to take care of conference committee action on our own bills.”

Edwards, who is an announced candidate for governor in 2015, said he will ask Kleckley to initiate an investigation to determine the origin of the amendment. “Somebody asked for this amendment,” he said. “It didn’t just happen.”

His observation echoed State Treasurer John Kennedy who on Wednesday said at a board meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System, “This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven.”

Edwards said the real irony of the overwhelming vote in favor of the amendment is that similar requests have all been rejected in the past. “I know that in my seven years in the legislature, I’ve had at least 20 constituents ask me to help them revoke their DROP decisions and I had to tell every single one of them that there was nothing we could do for them. And now I end up voting for just such a provision because it was hidden away in an obscure bill that we were told had nothing to do with retirement. I’m embarrassed.”

The bill, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), dealt specifically with disciplinary procedures for law enforcement officers who are under investigation and had nothing to do with retirement in its original form. And conference committee member Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) did little to shed any light on the true intent of the amendment.

Jindal must share blame

And while much has been said about legislators’ failure to closely examine the last-minute glut of amendments and Conference Committee reports, little has been said about Jindal’s willingness to sign such a fiscally irresponsible bill.

Though legislators may have been pressed for time in the closing hours of the session, Jindal most certainly was not. He and his staff had ample time to examine all bills passed by the legislature and to consider their fiscal impact.

Bottom line is the governor simply does not get a pass on this. He is the same governor who attempted unsuccessfully to gut the retirements of tens of thousands of state rank and file civil service employees two years ago and now he signs a bill sneaked in on the last day of the session to give a raise that exceeds the total annual retirement income for thousands of individual state employees.

Moreover, it was a bill his staff should have informed him, as Pearson, Forgotston and a state attorney told us, is unconstitutional on several levels.

The reality is that Jindal checked out as governor long ago in favor of chasing the presidential brass ring that will never be his—and that makes his signing this bill even more unforgiveable.

It also raises the question of what his role in this debacle may have been.

Senate legal counsel culpable?

Reports surfaced on Saturday that Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee legal counsel Laura Gail Sullivan was the person who tacked on the amendment without bothering to inform either of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee—if they are to be believed.

The Conference Committee report that includes the amendment, dated June 2, the final day of the 2014 legislative session, contains the name “Sullivan” in the upper left corner of the report’s first page. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=911551&n

The Conference Committee is made up of three members of the Senate and three from the House. For a bill to be reported out of Conference Committee, two senators and two representatives must vote in favor.

Conference Committee members included Sens. Morrell (the bill’s author), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

Riser is Sullivan’s Senate committee boss

Riser, besides serving on the Conference Committee to consider the bill, also is chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee for whom Sullivan works as legal counsel. As such, she takes her marching orders from him. That being the case, what are the odds that Riser was carrying the water for Jindal? If so, did Edmonson request the favor from the governor? As both Edwards and Kennedy pointed out, the amendment didn’t drop from the sky.

A lot of questions that someone should answer—and soon.

Perhaps we will get some clarification from Edmonson (wink, wink) when he appears on Louisiana Public Radio’s Jim Engster show Monday at 9 a.m. http://wrkf.org/

LouisianaVoice sent separate emails to Riser, Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), chairman of the House Retirement Committee; Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee, and Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego). Our email posed three questions:

  • Do you plan to conduct/request an investigation into how the amendment giving the $30,000 a year raise to Col. Edmonson got added to SB 294—particularly now that our sources are saying it was done by a Senate counsel for the Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee?
  • Do you believe, if true, she was acting on instructions from someone further up the food chain and if so, who?
  • Were you aware the amendment was being added?

Pearson was the only one who responded

“I’m planning to look into this next week, as I have already done somewhat,” he said. “As you know the Senate staff is a different body than the House staff, different bosses that I am not as familiar with. But yes, I plan to find what actually happened.”

To the second question on whether or not he thought the Senate counsel was acting on instructions from higher up, he said he was unable to answer. “I really do not know,” he said. “I guess it is possible. I’ve never seen them go directly to my (retirement) staff without my being aware.”

As to whether or not he was aware of the contents of the amendment, Pearson said, “I had no clue the amendment was being added. I’m also fairly confident my (House) retirement attorney was unaware, especially since it was not a retirement bill. I did not vote (on) the Conference Committee report (he was one of 14 who did not vote) and I didn’t even know this happened until your article came out. I wasn’t avoiding the vote since I was unaware of these actions. I can’t even say where I was, possibly working on another Conference Committee report. I just don’t recall.

“I do appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” he said. “Hopefully the board can—or someone will—challenge the constitutionality of the rogue amendment.”

Read Full Post »

 

Pick your cliché:

Collective amnesia.

Circling the wagons.

Covering your backside.

Plausible deniability.

We’re all in this together.

Lying through your teeth.

The six members of the Legislative Conference Committee to a man have disavowed any knowledge as to which of them it was who introduced the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gave State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $30,000 per year retirement increase that experts say may have been unconstitutional on six separate fronts.

Short version? Someone’s lying.

Remember the Seven Dwarfs of Big Tobacco? They’re the executives of the seven different tobacco companies who figurative locked arms as they formed a united front behind Philip Morris USA President and CEO William Campbell when he told a congressional committee back in 1994, “I believe nicotine is not addictive.”

Now you have the Six Mental Midgets (and yes, we are fully aware that is not politically correct) of the Louisiana House and Senate who individually, have each denied to C.B. Forgotston any culpability in adding the amendment to Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell’s bill that was intended to address disciplinary procedures against police officers under investigation and, Morrell says, was in no way intended to address pensions.

Forgotston refers to the amendment as the “bastard amendment” because “nobody claims to be the father. Some have suggested that the amendment came about through artificial insemination (while) others said Immaculate Conception,” he said. (We choose not to print Forgotston’s notion, though we have to admit he may well be closer to the truth than any of the other theory.)

State Treasurer John Kennedy, following a meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) on Wednesday, said simply, “This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven.”

But if you accept the word of Sens. Morrell, Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna) at face value, you are left with few alternative explanations other than Forgotston’s R-rated suggestion.

The amendment, which Gov. Jindal quickly signed into law as Act 859, allows Edmonson to revoke his “irrevocable” decision made when he was a captain to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which allowed him to take more in salary but froze his retirement at the captain’s pay scale rate. By revoking that decision, he would allow his retirement benefits to be calculated at the higher rank of his current colonel’s pay, plus he would be allowed to add years of service and longevity pay. With 34 years of service, he would be qualified to retired at 100 percent of his $134,000 salary, an increase of $30,000 per year.

While each of the six Conference Committee members denies having offered up the amendment, Arnold would appear to be a prime suspect. It was he who spent all of 15 seconds explaining the amendment to the full House before its final passage. To hear his award-winning performance, click here: www.auctioneer-la.org/edmondson.mp3

But let’s not rule out the possibility that this amendment came straight from the Fourth Floor of the State Capitol. If Jindal wanted this (and it’s looking more and more as if that might be the case), it would be a simple matter of having one of his subordinates to insert the necessary language into the amendment for the governor, who can nevertheless maintain that “plausible deniability” as he scoots back to Iowa or D.C. (Think of the old TV thriller Mission Impossible and agent Phelps receiving his assignment on the self-destructing tape with his assignment ending with the disclaimer that the I.M. team will “disavow any knowledge” of his existence if he is captured.)

And let’s not forget Edmonson’s creative explanation. First, he says the amendment simply allows him to receive benefits to which he is fully entitled and then he denies asking for the special treatment. Ol’ Earl Long had a term for that kind doublespeak: “Catfish Mouth,” for the ability to “speak outta both sides of his mouth and whistle in the middle.”

First of all, we fail to comprehend how he feels he is “entitled” to the benefits considering the indisputable fact that he made the decision as a captain to enter DROP. There are scores of retired state troopers and thousands of retired state employees who would line up at the Capitol steps for the opportunity to change their minds on their DROP decisions of years ago. In fact, there have been several in recent years to attempt just that. Each one was rejected by the House and Senate retirement committees but that does make them one scintilla less deserving than Jindal’s shadow and former bodyguard for the LSU football coach.

And none of them—nay, not one—resides in a luxurious home with cooks, butlers and housekeepers—all provided at taxpayer expense.

“As someone who once worked for the legislature,” says Forgotston, “I find this entire episode very sad. It’s especially pathetic since the current legislators consider themselves as ‘reformers.’ If they want to see why Louisiana has a reputation for corruption, they should look into the mirror.”

He said all six members of the Conference Committee “claimed to be waiting on someone else to do something about the rip-off. The fact that none of the conferees claim the amendment serves to further destroy the integrity of the legislative process.  If the legislators want to attempt to mitigate the damage to the legislative process, there needs to be an internal investigation to determine how an amendment can get into legislation without any legislator offering it.”

He said that Arnold wrote him in an email that both he and Morrell had requested an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of the amendment.

“I told Arnold the AG cannot render an opinion on the constitutionality of any legislation. The reason (is because) the AG is required by the Constitution to defend all acts of the legislature, regardless of constitutionality or how dumb the legislation is,” Forgotston said. “Therefore, it is a conflict of interest for (the attorney general) to rule on a matter in which he may be called on to defend in court.”

He said the retirement system’s board has a fiduciary obligation to protect its assets. “It’s time for them to do so,” he said.

“The only way to make sure this rip-off doesn’t go forward is for the (LSPRS) board to litigate the constitutionality of Act 859 of the 2014 Regular Session,” Forgotston said. “A first-year law student could win the case. Maybe the AG will hire Jimmy Faircloth to defend the state. That would make it the closest thing to sure winner as it gets in the courts.

“If you know any State Troopers please forward this information to them; they are obviously better at getting people to confess than I am. That said, I have to admit getting that the truth from legislators is no job for rookies.”

No wonder James Gill calls Forgotston the “King of the Subversive Bloggers.”

Read Full Post »

“The amendment impedes an existing contract. Col. Edmonson entered into a binding contract when he entered DROP and that is irrevocable. We have had a constant parade of state employees who wanted out of DROP and every single one has been denied.”

—State official, commenting on the 11th hour amendment to SB 294 which would give State Police Commander Mike Edmonson a $30,000 per year increase.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,382 other followers