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Archive for the ‘Exemptions, Incentives’ Category

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.

 

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“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.

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State Treasurer John Kennedy told fellow members of the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Wednesday that he wants answers to a laundry list of questions pertaining to legislative passage of an amendment to an otherwise minor senate bill that increased State Police Commander Mike Edmonson’s retirement benefits by $30,000 per year.

http://www.auctioneer-la.org/Kennedy_LSP.htm

In asking for a thorough investigation of the amendment that was slipped on Senate Bill 294 on the final day of the legislative session, Kennedy said his main concern was with New York bond rating agencies, though he also questioned the fairness of the amendment’s applying only to Edmonson and one other Master Trooper from Houma.

“I was in New York when this story first broke (LouisianaVoice ran the first story about the amendment last Friday) and we had discussions about the $19 billion unfunded accrued liability (UAL) of the state’s four retirement systems,” he said. “These rating agencies read our newspapers and our blogs and they know more about Louisiana than we do.”

As State Treasurer, Kennedy sits on some 30 different state boards, including the State Police Retirement System Board but he said his interest in attending Wednesday’s meeting was in protecting the state’s bond rating. “If our rating goes down, our interest rates go up,” he said. “I spent 12 or 13 hours with them and they are worried about our Medicaid situation, our use of non-recurring revenue and our retirement systems’ UAL.”

Another state official, an attorney, told LouisianaVoice that he had another constitutional violation to add to C.B. Forgotston’s list of five constitutional violations of the amendment: “The amendment impedes an existing contract,” he said. 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.”

Kennedy said there are two sides to every story. “I’d like to talk to Charles Hall (of Hall Actuaries, which did a study for the legislature earlier this year). I’d like Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) who authored the original bill to come speak to us.”

Kennedy said the two men benefitting from the amendment also have a right to address the board. “They have every right to due process,” he said.

Other answers he said he would like include:

  • How many people are impacted by this amendment?
  • Who are they? (The identities of the beneficiaries of the amendment);
  • Who sponsored the amendment in committee? (so they might come before the board and explain their motives);
  • What is the total cost of the amendment? (so he can report back to the rating agencies);
  • What are the remedies, litigation or legislative relief, allege the bill is illegal or simply refuse to comply?
  • What are the legalities of the bill? (Can an amendment be done dealing with retirement issues that is supposed to be advertised?);
  • Has special treatment been given?

“Years ago, we had anywhere from 10 to 15 bills introduced each year to give special treatment to one, two or three individuals without appropriating any money,” he said. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

“Gov. (Mike) Foster finally said ‘Enough, we will do this no more.’ And now here we are again. The rating agencies are appalled at that.”

Kennedy, in a private interview after the meeting, said he was concerned with everyone being treated equally. “I don’t believe in special treatment for those who have the political power or (who) know the right people. I think it’s stupid economically and it is what has contributed to the UAL. This amendment has implications far beyond the two men affected. I want to see how much it would cost to give everyone the same treatment.

“We have the sixth worst-funded retirement systems in America and the rating agencies have told us over the past two years to get our business straight or they will downgrade us. If that happens, we’ll be paying higher interest on our bonded indebtedness.”

Kennedy saved his harshest criticism for the legislature when he said, “Someone didn’t read this bill or they’re not being candid. They should be doing these amendments in a more transparent way. These last minute amendments are done and no one know what they’re adding and suddenly, it’s an up or down vote.

Kennedy asked LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps, Jr. if the board could meet before the next scheduled meeting on the third Wednesday of September. “It’s important that we address this issue,” he said.

“There’s no excuse for this. This amendment didn’t just fall from heaven. Somebody has a lot of explaining to do and if I find preferential treatment, I will vote to rescind the amendment.”

Kennedy’s claim of a lack of transparency and the sudden “up or down vote” was illustrated when Rep. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans) explained the amendment on the floor of the House during the final hectic hours when lawmakers were hurrying to wrap up business:

“The new language to the bill applies to those paying more into the system since 2009 for benefits they cannot use,” he said. “It makes people whole but does not give them a larger benefit.”

Don’t believe us? Watch and listen for yourself as Arnold explains the new legislation in all of 15 seconds.

Then you can decide for yourself if the amendment’s sponsors were being completely up front with their colleagues—and with Louisiana taxpayers.

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“What about all the other troopers who retired under the old system?  If Edmonson and the Houma guy are the only ones left on the payroll, what about the ones who already retired?  Shouldn’t they now sue for equal treatment?  I wonder what that would cost?  A lot more than the minimum of $300,000 this bill will cost.”

—State retiree who possesses considerable knowledge of state fiscal matters, commenting on the amendment to Senate Bill 294 that gives State Police Commander Mike Edmonson an extra $30,000 in addition to his earned $134,000 retirement.

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State Police Commander Col. Mike Edmonson has been rumored to be priming himself for a run at public office and his latest “Who, me?” pronouncements would seem to indicate that he’s finally ready for the big jump.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Retired Troopers Association is not happy and appears ready to leap into the controversy surrounding a special amendment giving Edmonson and one other state trooper hefty retirement benefit increases.

Edmonson says he is not getting special treatment, that he did not seek nor was he aware of the $30,000 a year retirement bump he got from an amendment sneaked into an otherwise nondescript bill on the final day of the session.

So, here’s the deal: everyone in the room who believes Edmonson please line up against the opposite wall. Now. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. We’re waiting. C’mon, people…

All right, let’s try a different tactic: everyone who does not believe his tooth fairy story, please leave the roo….Hey! Whoa! Not so fast! Someone’s gonna get hurt!

Edmonson also says that he and a Houma-based state trooper are the last holdovers from a defunct retirement plan and that the amendment allows them to retire in the current State Police Retirement System.

Are we to believe, then, you would have had no pension whatsoever had this amendment not been slipped in? Seriously?

Forgive our skepticism, Colonel, but that seems something of a stretch. First you deny knowledge of the amendment and then you go to great lengths to defend it.

Such self-serving denials/non-answers (bureaucratic two-steps) round out the qualifications for political office for Edmonson who, before moving upstairs to shadow Gov. Bobby Jindal for all those photo-ops, spent much of his career on the sidelines of LSU football games protecting the Tiger head coaches from…what, Hostile fans? Groupies? Reporters?

So now, as the State Police Retirement System staff prepares to take up this issue today at 1:30 p.m., the Retired Louisiana State Police Communication Network is abuzz about the sneaky way in which the amendment was tacked on by the Legislative Conference Committee on the last day of the session.

Word is there are retired state troopers scattered across the state who are not at all happy with the news that Edmonson, in addition to 100 percent retirement (his salary is $134,000 per year), based on more than 30 years of service, he also now becomes eligible for longevity benefits and the three Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) years, boosting his retirement income another $30,000 per year over and above the amount at which he qualified at the rank of captain when he entered DROP.

And if anyone was of a mind to file a lawsuit to halt the special treatment of Edmonson, any retired state trooper would have sufficient legal standing to do so.

The actuarial notes prepared by the Actuarial Services Department of the Legislative Auditor’s office, calculate a fiscal impact on the retirement system of $300,000 but that’s only over a five-year stretch because that’s as far out as the notes may project. That calculates to $30,000 per year for each of the two troopers.

We can only speculate, of course, but it seems reasonable to assume the two will live more than five years beyond their retirement, which of course, will only add to the cost.

(The actuarial notes, by the way, were prepared on June 5, three days after the legislature adjourned, which gives us some idea of the surprise element involved with this amendment.)

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=913382

But back to those disgruntled retired state troopers: What might it cost the state if a retired trooper—or several retirees—got their backs up sufficiently to file suit?

While it might be a windfall to Jimmy Faircloth, it also might cost the state a lot more to defend the action than the $300,000, especially if the state should lose as it very well could. Such a lawsuit, after all, would be about fair and equal treatment.

One observer in a position to know said fiscal notes are required for bills affecting a pension plan’s unfunded accrued liability (UAL). “I don’t imagine one was prepared for this bill, but somebody knows what it will cost and the law requires any acts with the effect of increasing the UAL to have to be funded so that they don’t (affect the UAL).”

State Sen. Jean Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), who submitted the bill, said it was intended to address routine changes in the law governing police officers under investigation and had nothing to do with retirement benefits. He said he was unaware of the impact of the amendment, a claim that most of the legislators who voted for the bill can probably make with a high degree of honesty considering the last minute crush of business in the session final days.

“Assuming Morrell is not lying,” our observer said, “I read into this…that Edmonson himself got him (Morrell) to do this amendment (after) having been tipped to its enrichment potential for him.”

Thus far not mentioned in all of this, but something that should certainly be considered:

How can Edmonson, after this furtive move and his lame denials, realistically expect the men and women under his command to continue to respect him as a leader?

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Apparently our story about the furtive amendment that boosted State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by a whopping $30,000 a year (note: that’s a $30,000 increase; most state retirees don’t even make $30,000) got the attention of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS).

Our friend over in Hammond, C.B. Forgotston, the “King of the Subversive Bloggers,” according to Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill (a pretty fair political observer and writer in his own right), sent us a memorandum that went out to LSPRS staff members by Assistant Director Kimberly Gann.

Forgotston also forwarded information listing additional perks enjoyed by Edmonson as well as calculations of what his retirement income will be, thanks to the amendment tacked onto SB 294 on the last day of the recent legislative session.

Forgotston (don’t let the name fool you; he rarely forgets anything), an attorney who previously worked for the Legislature, also said the amendment by the Legislative Conference Committee to the bill that became Act 859 when it was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal “violates at least five provisions of the State Constitution.”

“We were notified yesterday than an article was written about a piece of retirement legislation that passed the legislature,” Gann said in her e-mail. “Irwin (LSPRS Executive Director Irwin L. Felps, Jr.) wanted you to know about the article and have an opportunity read it. Please let us know if you have any questions. We will discuss this at the meeting on Wednesday (July 16).”

While the copy of Gann’s e-mail provided by Forgotston did not contain the names of the addressees, the message is presumed to have been sent to retirement system staff members. They include Retirement Benefits Analyst Tausha E. Facundus, Administrative Assistant Shelley S. CPA Stephen M. Griffin, accountant Kristin Leto.

Edmonson, upon his appointment, sold his home and he and his family moved into the “Colonel’s Home” on the Department of Public Safety campus which is also equipped to be the governor’s “Safe House” and command center for disaster relief.

That means he is residing in a four-bedroom, four-bath home completely furnished by the state. And because he has worked more than 30 years at retirement calculated at 3.3 percent per year based on his highest three years of earnings, he would already be eligible for retirement income of 100 percent of his salary. By adding the additional years above 30 (he has worked 34 years) and the three Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) years, he will not only receive the full $134,000 (100 per cent of his salary), but an additional $30,000 per year when he retires.

The amendment allowed Edmonson to revoke an otherwise irrevocable decision to enter DROP, which allows his retirement to be calculated on his higher salary and to add years of service and longevity pay.

Forgotston, in listing the constitutional violations of the bill amendment giving Edmonson the $30,000 retirement increase, cited each section of the State Constitution he said the amendment violated. They are:

  • It was not introduced 45 days prior to the opening day of the 2014 Regular Session. (La. Const. Article III, Section 2, Paragraph (2)(c));
  • It was not advertised prior to being introduced. (La. Const. Article X, Section 29C);
  • It does not contain a recitation that it was advertised. (La. Const. Article X, Section 29C);
  • As amended contains two objects. (La. Const. Article III, Section 15, Paragraph A);
  • Language to provide the extra benefits is not germane to bill as introduced. (La. Const. Article III, Section 15, Paragraph C).

“The legislative process is often compared to watching sausage being made,” Forgotston said. “That is meant to convey the idea that the process is ugly, but the end product is worth it. In this case, even the end product is horrible. This is the type of legislation that is referred to by insiders as ‘snakes’ that crawl out in the last days of a session. For most, snake is much less appetizing than sausage.”

Forgotston said there “are only two ways to prevent these unconstitutional benefits from being paid and (to restore) integrity to the legislative process:

“The head of the State Police (Edmonson) can refuse the benefits or by someone filing a lawsuit,” he said, adding that the six members of the Conference Committee should initiate such litigation.

Forgotston can be quite cantankerous—and clever—when he wants to be, which is most of the time, and this action is no different.

He suggests that if readers who know an active or retired member of the Louisiana State Police, “Please pass this (information) onto them.”

He also listed the names and e-mail addresses of the six members of the Legislative Conference Committee who approved the action which has been denied to many others making similar requests in recent years:

Rep. Bryan Adams: badams@legis.la.gov

Rep. Jeff Arnold: larep102@legis.la.gov

Rep. Walt Leger: wleger@legis.la.gov

Sen. J.P. Morrell: jpmorrell@legis.la.gov

Sen. Neil Riser: nriser@legis.la.gov

Sen. Mike Walsworth: mwalsworth@legis.la.gov

 

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He is on the cover of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ghost-written book Leadership and Crisis. In case you don’t remember that very forgettable book, it’s the one purportedly written by Jindal but in reality, hastily slapped together by Hoover Institute flak Peter Schweizer.

You’ve seen him standing solemnly (never smiling) in the background at virtually each of those rare Jindal press conferences as well as during the governor’s staccato briefings whenever he pretended to exhibit leadership, usually during a hurricane or oil spill.

One of those events may have even been when the governor pitched his ill-fated state pension reform legislation a couple of years ago that, had it succeeded, would have slashed retirement income for thousands of state employees—by as much as 85 percent for some.

But the next time you see Louisiana State Police Commander Mike Edmonson, you may see a trace of a smile crack that grim veneer.

That’s because a special amendment to an obscure Senate bill, passed on the last day of the recent legislative session, will put an additional $30,000 per year in Edmonson’s pocket upon retirement.

Talk about irony.

SB 294, signed into law by Jindal as Act 859, was authored by Sen. Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans) and appeared to deal with procedures for formal, written complaints made against police officers.

There was nothing in the wording of the original bill that would attract undue attention.

Until, that is, the bill turned up in Conference Committee at the end of the session so that an agreement between the different versions adopted in the House and Senate could be worked out. At least that was the way it appeared.

Conference Committee members included Sens. Morrell, 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).

That’s when Amendment No. 4 popped up—for which Edmonson should be eternally grateful:

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=911551&n=Conference

Basically, in layman’s language, the amendment simply means that Edmonson may revoke his “irrevocable” decision to enter DROP, thus allowing his retirement to be calculated on his higher salary and at the same time allow him to add years of service and longevity pay.

The end result will be an increase in his annual retirement benefit of about $30,000—at the expense of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System and Louisiana taxpayers.

The higher benefit will be paid each month over his lifetime and to any beneficiary that he may name.

Edmonson makes $134,000 per year and has some 34 years of service with the Department of Public Safety.

The Actuarial Services Department of the Office of the Legislative Auditor calculated in its fiscal notes that the amendment would cost the state an additional $300,000 as a result of the increased retirement benefits.

In the Senate, only Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) voted against the bill while Sen. Jody Amedee (R-Gonzales) did not vote.

Over on the House side, there were a few more dissenting votes: Reps. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), Raymond Garofalo, Jr. (R-Chalmette), Brett Geymann (R-Lake Charles), Hunter Greene (R-Baton Rouge), John Guinn (R-Jennings), Dalton Honoré (D-Baton Rouge), Katrina Jackson (D-Monroe), Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport), Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell), Eric Ponti (R-Baton Rouge), Jerome Richard (I-Thibodaux), Joel Robideaux (R-Lafayette), John Schroder (R-Covington), and Jeff Thompson (R-Bossier City).

The remaining 127 (37 senators and 90 representatives) can probably be forgiven for voting in favor of what, on the surface, appeared to be a completely routine bill, particularly if they did not read Conference Committee amendments carefully—and with the session grinding down to its final hours, there was the usual mad scramble to wrap up all the loose ends.

Here’s what the bill looked like when originally submitted by Morrell and before the Conference Committee members slipped in the special favor for Edmonson:

http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=878045&n=SB294 Original

But while the sneaky manner in which this matter was rammed through at the 11th hour is bad enough, it is especially so given the fact that numerous bills have been brought before the House and Senate retirement committees in the past few years which would have allowed a revocation of a DROP decision and without exception, each request has been rejected.

“This was done in Conference Committee and was done on an obscure bill with obscure references to old acts in hopes that the conferees would never have to answer any questions about why this was done,” said one observer.

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That citation of Dual Trucking Co. by the Montana Department of Environmental Equality for dumping oilfield radioactive waste from the nearby Bakken Oilfield, it turns out, is not the only problem State Rep. Gordon Dove (R-Houma) has experienced with environmental authorities, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Vacco Marine, Inc., a company owned by Dove, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, has been the subject of several investigations, negative reports, citations, and compliance orders by and from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over a period of several years, records show.

Last week, while presiding over a meeting of the Natural Resources Committee, he joined 12 other members in passing an amendment to SB 469 that made the prohibition against suing oil companies for damages to the state’s wetlands and marshes retroactive. The amended version of the bill has since been approved by both the full House and Senate and awaits the signature of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Dove also serves as a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Following are a few of the issues in which Dove and his company, Vacco Marine, have been involved:

  • May 12, 1989: DEQ, Office of Water Resources, Water Pollution Control Division inspection found evidence that various substances, including diesel and sludge, were being buried and that the practice had been ongoing “for a while.”

 

  • April 28, 1994: Same office found “several areas of limestone and ground contaminated with oil” and that a ditch which drained into Bayou Grand Caillou was “contaminated with hydrocarbons.” Dove was ordered to remove contaminated sediment, remove all contaminated ground in proximity of spills and to prevent future spillage.

 

  • Sept. 12, 1996: Vacco Marine was issued a compliance order by DEQ’s Hazardous Waste Division after an inspection in December of 1995 resulted in three separate violations relating to solid waste.

 

  • Oct. 6, 2004: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a complaint and consent agreement pursuant to the EPA’s compliance evaluation inspection of Sept. 23, 2003. Vacco Marine paid $6,593 in civil penalties to EPA on Jan. 14, 2005, for unspecified violations. The agreement also noted that Vacco would be subject to further enforcement action and additional penalties of up to $32,500 per day for continued noncompliance. The agreement also stipulated that Vacco could be enjoined from further generation, transportation, storage of disposal of hazardous waste if violations persisted.

 

  • Feb. 24, 2010: A DEQ inspection found 10 separate violations including incorrect logging of mercury, cut electrical and air lines, failure to log wastes received at the facility, and a lack of a Stormwater Water Pollution Prevention plan, among others. The 177-page inspection report included numerous photographs of conditions at Vacco Marine. Those included photos of open ditches that contained effluent and which drained into the Houma Navigational Canal.

 

  • April 11, 2012: DEQ compliance order and notice of potential penalty issued on the basis of DEQ finding that Vacco Marine had failed to develop and implement a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan as ordered in 2010. The DEQ order further noted that Vacco Marine had neglected to comply with other requirements, including the filing of required reports and permit applications. Vacco Marine also was found in violation of the requirement to record flow from its facility and, in fact, the flow meter was inoperable. Even when in service, the flow meter was found to have been installed incorrectly so that it could not accurate record flow rates. Other violations noted included failure to submit a noncompliance report, exceeding effluent limitations, incorrect reporting of Butyl Benzyl Phthalate outfall.

 

Even though Dove’s company was ordered to come into compliance with DEQ regulations, no penalties were imposed on Vacco Marine.

Could this have been because of his powerful position as chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment?

Could it be that he received special consideration because of his position as a legislator?

That, of course, is difficult to say. But it certainly should not be hard to see the potential danger of placing an individual as chairman of a legislative committee that oversees the very agency that regulates his business—especially when that individual has such a spotted record of compliance as Rep. Gordon Dove.

That makes about as much sense as allowing him to chair that same committee and allowing him to vote on SB 469 after he received nearly $29,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

It makes about as much sense as Gov. Jindal’s apparent belief that the state ethics laws are meant to apply to some but not others as he signed into law a bill to allow former State Sen. Francis Heitmeier to lobby the Legislature despite the fact that his brother, David Heitmeier, is currently a state senator—in open violation of the state ethics law that prohibits members of lawmakers’ families from lobbying the legislature.

It makes about as much sense as allowing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to enter into a contract with a company run by an LSU Board member to operate two LSU hospitals in north Louisiana.

It makes about as much sense as allowing Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer to vote on charter school issues despite the fact that his sister is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

It makes about as much sense as allowing BESE and the Louisiana Department of Education to enter into multi-million contracts with Teach For America (TFA) even as Kira Orange Jones sits as a member of BESE and serves as executive director of TFA Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta.

Where I grew up in north Louisiana, we called that letting the fox guard the henhouse.

In Baton Rouge, apparently it’s just called Jindaltics.

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The Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) agenda, as we have shown here on numerous occasions, promotes unyielding opposition to any legislation that smacks of benefits to workers, the unemployed and the poor.

Among other things, ALEC, led by the Koch brothers, pushes legislation that:

  • Opposes an extension of unemployment benefits;
  • Undermines the rights of injured workers to hold their corporate employers accountable
  • Promotes for-profit schools at the expense of public education;
  • Opposes consumers’ right to know the origin of food we consume;
  • Opposes an increase in the federal minimum wage;
  • Limits patient rights and undermines safety net programs including, of all things a call to end licensing and certification of doctors and other medical professionals.

While the effort to end licensing and certification of medical professionals might play into the hands of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R-D-R-Opelousas) and his affinity for witch doctors, such a move probably would not work to the benefit of the average patient.

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/12/30/louisianas-chameleon-legislator-sen-elbert-guillory-republicandemocratrepublican-is-candidate-for-lt-gov/

And while ALEC vehemently opposes any legislation that might remotely resemble benefits to the poor or which might invoke that hated word welfare, the organization’s agenda remains something of a paradox when one takes a step back and examines the spate of corporate welfare programs enacted by willing accomplices in the highest reaches of Louisiana politics.

Generous tax exemptions, credits, and incentives have proliferated to an extent not even imagined by the injured or unemployed worker trying to provide for his family—while generating few, if any, real benefits in the way of new jobs.

Probably the most glaring abuse of the incentives offered by our Office of Economic Development are the absurd tax dodges meted out to the movie industry and for what—being able to boast that we’re now recognized as Hollywood East.” That offers little encouragement to the guy trying to pay for a mortgage, a car payment, education of his kids, and health care if he’s hurt or can’t find a job.

By contrast, LouisianaVoice has found a few federal farm subsidy payments to several “persons of interest” which may come as a surprise to Louisiana’s great unwashed. Then again, maybe not.

For example, we have former legislator (he served in both the House and Senate) Noble Ellington, two years ago appointed to the $130,000 per year position of Deputy Commissioner of Insurance despite his having no experience in the field of insurance.

Ellington, a Republican from Winnsboro, also served until his retirement from the legislature as ALEC’s national president and even hosted the organization’s annual convention in New Orleans in 2011 so it stands to reason that he would, on principle alone, reject out of hand any form of welfare—even such as might be to his own financial benefit.

Not so much.

From 1995 to 2012, Ellington received $335,273 in federal farm subsidies while sons Ryan Ellington and Noble Ellington, III, received $89,000 and $25,223, respectively—nearly $450,000 for the three.

Granted, the senior Ellington made his fortune as a cotton merchant so we suppose that qualifies him to the subsidies—except for his position as National President of ALEC which is diametrically opposed to welfare. Oops, we forgot; that’s diametrically opposed to welfare for all but the corporate world. Our bad.

And then there’s Ellington’s successor to the Louisiana House, Rep. Steve Pylant (R-Winnsboro), who introduced a bill during last year’s session that would have required the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “adopt rules and regulations that require all public high school students beginning with those entering ninth grade in the fall of 2014, to successfully complete at least one course offered by a BESE-authorized online or virtual course provider as a prerequisite to graduation.”

If that’s not corporate welfare, in that it guarantees a constant revenue stream in the form of state payments to private concerns offering those Course Choice courses, we will shine your shoes free for a year.

During the same time period, 1995 to 2012, Pylant received nearly $104,400 in federal farm subsidies.

His occupation prior to his election to the Louisiana House? He was sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Another ALEC member, State Sen. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi), also received $472,952 in federal farm subsidies for the same time period as Ellington and Pylant.

Thompson holds an Ed.D. Degree from the University of Louisiana Monroe (formerly Northeast Louisiana University) and lists his occupation as educator and developer.

Other ALEC members, their occupations and federal farm subsidies received between 1995 and 2012:

  • Bogalusa Democratic Sen. Ben Nevers—electrical contractor, $20,000;
  • State Rep. Andy Anders (D-Vidalia)—salesman for Scott Equipment, $34,175;
  • Rep. Jim Fannin (R-Jonesboro)—Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, “independent businessman” and also has a background in education, nearly $2600—a pittance by comparison but still indicative of the mindset of the ALEC membership when it comes to applying a heaping helping of double standard to the public trough.

To be completely fair, however, it should be pointed out that Nevers introduced a bill this session (SB96) that called for a constitutional amendment that would make health care available under Medicaid to all state residents at or below 138 per cent of the federal poverty level—an effort that sets him apart from those who parrot the standard ALEC position on medical care for the poor. Of course his bill failed in committee by a 6-2 vote today (April 23) after Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) moved to defer action.

Perhaps voters will remember Claitor’s compassion for those without health care in this fall’s (Nov. 4) congressional election.

Two other legislators and two political appointees of Gov. Bobby Jindal who are not members of ALEC also combined to receive nearly $561,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012, records show. They are:

  • State Rep. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall)— dairy and beef farmer, $38,000;
  • State Rep. John Morris (R-Monroe)— attorney, $11,625;
  • Robert Barham of Oak Ridge—Secretary, Department of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, $489,700;
  • Lee Mallett of Iowa, LA.—member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, $21,600.

All but Burford and Mallett reside in the 5th Congressional District formerly represented by Rodney Alexander (R-Jonesboro), who now heads the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.

The 5th District includes the Louisiana Delta which make up one of the largest row crop farming communities of any congressional district in the nation.

Accordingly, the $289,000 paid out to recipients in 2012 was easily the highest of Louisiana’s six congressional districts, more than double the 4th District represented by John Fleming and accounting for 50.6 percent of the statewide total.

For the period of 1995-2012, the 5th District also ranked highest in federal farm subsidies with the $23.7 million paid out representing 31.2 percent of the total and ranking slightly ahead of the 3rd Congressional District of Charles Boustany, which had $21.1 million (27.8 percent).

Of the $292.5 billion paid in subsidies nationwide from 1995-2012, the top 10 percent of recipients received 75 percent of all subsidies, or an average of slightly more than $32,000 per recipient per year for the 18-year period reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA records also reveal that 62 percent of all farms in the U.S. received no subsidy payments.

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A 22-year employee of the E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont) plant in Burnside in Ascension Parish has filed a confidential lawsuit in Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge that claims the plant has consistently been experiencing toxic gas leaks on almost a daily basis for more than two years without reporting the leaks as required by a 151-year-old federal law.

Jeffrey M. Simoneaux, an Ascension Parish native who served for 14 years as chairman of the plant’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, also claims he was harassed, intimidated and denied promotions after he said he complied with DuPont’s own internal procedures for reporting a leak of sulfur trioxide (SO3) gas, a known carcinogen which is regulated under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and was reprimanded for doing so.

DuPont, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., was ranked 72nd on the Fortune 500 in 2013 and reported 2012 profits of nearly $2.8 billion, down more than 19 percent from 2011, according to a report by CNN Money.

Despite profits from its worldwide operations which employ 60,000 people, DuPont has for years avoided paying any federal income taxes.

The company has contributed more than $21,000 to various state politicians since 2003, including $4,500 to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Its plants in Burnside and in St. John the Baptist Parish have been granted more than $21 million in various tax credits and exemptions by the state.

Those included, in order, the project, the year, parish, total investment, tax exemption and number of new jobs created:

  • Plant expansion, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $93 million, $1.4 million five-year tax credit, 11 new jobs;
  • Plant expansion, 2008, St. John the Baptist, $58.8 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $10.9 million, five new jobs;
  • Retrofit project, 2010, Ascension, $72.2 million, five-year property tax credit of $541,000, three new jobs;
  • Miscellaneous capital addition, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $1.3 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $232,000, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, St. John the Baptist, $6.7 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $1.2 million, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, Ascension, $45 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $6.9 million, no new jobs.

The case has been referred to Federal District Judge Shelly Dick and Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger, according to court documents.

Simoneaux terminated his employment with DuPont on Aug. 13, 2012, he said.

The most recent filing is a Feb. 21, 2014 Response to State of Uncontested Facts submitted by Simoneaux who is represented by Baton Rouge attorneys Jane Barney and J. Arthur Smith, III.

In that filing, Simoneaux claims that DuPont failed to inform the Environmental Protection Agency of the numerous SO3 leaks by the plant despite its proximity and potential threat to an elementary school, Sorrento Primary School, a residential subdivision and the Mississippi River.

He filed his suit under the 151-year-old False Claims Act (FCA), passed by Congress in 1863 because of concerns that suppliers of goods to the Union Army during the Civil War were defrauding the Army.

Under FCA, DuPont should be subjected to mandatory fines of $25,000 per violation per day plus “recovery of three times the amount of damages sustained by the U.S., and an award of attorney’s fees.”

Simoneaux claims that plant manager Tom Miller became irate when Simoneaux attempted to slow the plant production rate so as to reduce the leakage on Feb. 1, 2012. Miller, he said, overrode his decision and said he wished to speak to Simoneaux alone.

Simoneaux said he would prefer to have another operator present during his conversation with Miller, but the plant manager would not allow it.

Miller subsequently berated Simoneaux for sending an email to his supervisor, Elizabeth Cromwell, and directed him “not to send any more written communications about leaks or stack capacity.” Simoneaux said that Miller “clearly advised” him that should he send future emails to Miller about any offsite release, he would “get in trouble.”

He said he advised Miller that the leak was going offsite as they were speaking but that Miller three separate times refused to ride with Simoneaux to the rear of the plant so that Miller could see for himself the gas, visible as a light blue mist, “flowing over the fence line.”

He said he asked Miller where he thought the gas was going and Miller “looked out the door and said, ‘Who is the plant manager, me or you? I’m telling you I don’t see any gas going off the site.’”

Simoneaux said to properly repair the leaks, the plant should be completely shut down so repairs could be made. Instead, temporary stop-gap measures were attempted utilizing a rubber suction hose that deteriorated quickly because of the acid contained in the lines.

On April 11, 2012, Simoneaux again observed a cloud of leaking SO3 and entered the information in a log book, again provoking Miller’s anger. “The plant manager said he did not want someone ‘coming in her to do an environmental audit and coming across this stuff written in this log book, reading it and getting the wrong idea.”

Simoneaux also said that Miller, during an employee meeting, verbally discouraged employees from calling authorities about the gas leak. He also said an investigation was conducted by management and their report “states that there was no on-site impact and no off-site impact, giving a score of zero to both issues” despite the fact that one employee was treated for eye and throat irritation after being exposed to one leak.

A contract worker also was burned when acid dropped onto him from the rubber hose, the petition says.

A Material Safety Data Sheet was submitted as an exhibit by Simoneaux’s attorneys and provides information under both potential acute and chronic health effects of exposure to SO3.

Potential Acute Health Effects:

  • Very hazardous in case of skin contact, eye contact, ingestion or inhalation. Liquid or spray mist may produce tissue damage, particularly on mucous membranes, of eyes, mouth and respiratory tract. Skin contact may produce burns. Inhalation of the spray mist may produce severe irritation of respiratory tract, characterized by coughing, choking or shortness of breath. Severe over-exposure can result in death. Inflammation of the eye(s) is characterized by redness, watering and itching. Skin inflammation is characterized by itching, scaling, reddening, or occasionally, blistering.

Potential Chronic Health Effects:

  • Carcinogenic Effects: Classified 1 (proven for human). The substance may be tozic to mucous membranes, skin, eyes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage. Repeated or prolonged contact with spray mist may produce chronic eye irritation and severe skin irritation. Repeated or prolonged exposure to spray mist may produce respiratory tract irritation leading to frequent attacks of bronchial infection. Repeated exposure to a highly toxic material may produce general deterioration of health by an accumulation in one or many human organs.

DuPont, as might be expected, denied Simoneaux’s claims but in its response to Simoneaux’s first set of requests for production of documents, standard procedure in any civil litigation under the rules of discovery, the company made several glaring admissions that tend to substantiate Simoneaux’s claims and deposition testimony of several of Simoneaux’s former co-workers at DuPont’s Burnside plant:

  • Asked to produce all TSCA notifications, the company admitted it “has no responsive documents.
  • Asked to produce “every unedited ‘First Report’ pertaining to gas leaks prepared since December of 2011,” DuPont “objects to the term “unedited” as vague (and) calls for speculation and assumes facts not in evidence.”
  • Asked to produce all documents subsequent to Nov. 1, 2011 exchanged with or concerning any governmental agency, or authority, including school, police, fire, any insurance company or environmental authorities or agencies pertaining to an actual or potential gas leak, DuPont indicated it believed there were no such documents.
  • Asked to produce all documents reflecting impacts to employees or others from a gas leak at the Burnside plant, DuPont objected on the grounds that it seeks privileged medical information.
  • Asked to produce all documents reflecting complaints of gas leaks from the Burnside plant since Dec. 1, 2011, DuPont objected, claiming that the word “complaint” was not defined and is vague.
  • Asked to produce documents pertaining to communications from Dec. 2, 2011 to the present involving DuPont personnel regarding whether or not to report a gas leak to governing authorities, the need for a plant shutdown and/or precautions or responsive measures to be taken in light of gas leaks, DuPont cited attorney-client privilege.
  • Asked to produce all emails exchanged between Miller and ‘DuPont corporate’ and/or any of Miller’s DuPont superiors concerning leaks, environmental conditions and/or safety conditions at the Burnside facility from Dec. 1, 2011 to present, DuPont claimed the request was “overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”
  • Asked to produce all documents pertaining to health effects, risks, studies, tests or hazards associated with SO3 and/or SO2 gas, DuPont claimed the request was “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
  • Asked to produce the log book maintained by operators from Dec. 1, 2011 to present and to produce the “Safety Zone-Burnside Transfer Facility Security Plan” reported prepared by Simoneaux on Mar. 18, 2012, the company claimed the request were “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
  • Asked to produce all documents provided to or received from OSHA concerning gas leaks and/or employee exposure or potential exposure from Dec. 1, 2011, to present, DuPont said it “has no such documents responsive to this request.”
  • Asked to produce all documents, including emails, concerning the facts set forth in (Simoneaux’s) complaint, DuPont again invoked the “overly broad and unduly burdensome” claim.

Lonnie Blanchard, a contract worker at the DuPont Burnside facility, testified in his deposition that there were up to two dozen SO3 leaks. He described the leaks as “a real problem” and said on several occasions he could see the cloud of gas escaping from the plant from the Sunshine Bridge that connects the east and west banks of Ascension which is split by the Mississippi River.

Another employee, Percy Bell, testified in his deposition that plant management had issued a policy saying employees were prohibited from taking photographs of the mist clouds.

In his deposition, he was asked, “In the last two years, has there ever been a time when you were working (at the plant) and there hasn’t been a leak?”

“No, I haven’t,” he answered.

Simoneaux said DuPont identified gas leaks to which it will respond “only by visible assessment and (it) has no monitors at equipment sites.”

He added that the stop-gap measure used “is appropriate only for temporary use until permanent repairs can be made” because it is not made of material designed for that purpose and is “known to fail without warning.”

Employees and contractors work in proximity to the leaks on a daily basis with no warning given before there is a visible gas leak. Employees, he said, must watch a windsock at the plant in attempts to stay upwind of any gas leaks in efforts to avoid exposure.

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