Results from a public records request submitted to the Louisiana State Police by LouisianaVoice for emails related to the now notorious amendment to Senate Bill 294 did not produce any communications between legislators and Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson or his staff but a couple of the emails we got did reveal a rather defensive mode on the part of the powers that be at state police headquarters.
Not that we really expected full disclosure in releasing any damning emails in light of the response to a similar public records request by both the House and Senate that public business conducted by the legislature via emails and text messages is none of the public’s business.
Considering the brand of “transparency and openness” exhibited by the Jindal administration and the legislature’s willingness eagerness to roll over and play dead at the governor’s command, we should not have been surprised.
Typical of the attitude of this administration from top to bottom, including the Department of Public Safety and state police, is one particular email from Capt. Jason Starnes of the State Police Operational Development Section to several administrative types, including Edmonson, Ronnie Jones and Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy on Wednesday, July 16.
The subject line of the email said, “RE: Advocate news story,” but Starnes’s message focused instead to the presence of our reporter Robert Burns at the meeting of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board which met on Tuesday, July 15, to discuss the ramifications of the SB 294 amendment which was quickly signed into law as Act 859 by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Burns videotaped that meeting as well as an interview with board member State Treasurer John Kennedy following the meeting and posted both clips online.
“Here is the link to the video footage taken by Mr. Burns (whoever he is, wherever he came from and why he is so concerned about the LSP (Louisiana State Police) retirement system I have no idea),” Starnes wrote (emphasis ours).
So, if we read this correctly, Louisiana taxpayers have no business attending public meetings and have no right to concern themselves with such matters of infinite financial exposure created by subterfuge perpetrated by Edmonson’s staff (so Edmonson claims), a cooperative legislator in the person of Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and most likely, a conspiratorial governor whose brilliant idea it was to bump Edmonson’s retirement pay by a cool $55,000 or so a year.
On Tuesday, the day before Starnes expressed his apparent antipathy toward Burns, he authored an earlier email to Dupuy, Jones and State Police Public Affairs Commander Capt. Doug Cain in which he offered suggested talking points regarding the amendment controversy which was beginning to attract widespread media attention.
“Here is a draft of talking points and other legislative precedent,” he said, apparently setting the stage for an intricate misdirection campaign by citing other legislative acts dealing with state police retirement but which were not related to the amendment to SB 294.
“Please let me know if there or (sic) any other points that I failed to include,” he added.
Starnes then proceeded to list his proposed “talking points” which he grouped under specific headings, the first of which was:
What does ACT 859 do?
- ACT No. 859 provides active members of LSP who entered DROP (before it was repealed in 2009) with an actuarially adjusted longevity retirement benefit when they retire.
- The member must have been continuously employed since completing the DROP program.
- The total retirement benefit will be equal to the benefit that such member would have received had he not entered DROP (the key element of the amendment) and cannot exceed 100 percent of the member’s final average annual salary (this corrects an earlier incorrect report that Edmonson would receive 100 percent of his salary plus $30,000 per year).
- The actuarial cost associated with SB 294 (Act 859; Starnes uses the bill number and act number interchangeably, which could be confusing to some) will be paid from the balance in the Experience Account (Notice there is no mention that the Experience Account is intended to provide cost of living increases for retired troopers and their widows and children.).
- The legislation does not rescind the DROP decision by the member and does not alter that benefit. This legislation provides for an actuarial adjustment to account for member that has continued to make contributions into the retirement system since completing the DROP program and would otherwise be eligible for full retirement benefit based on their actual years of service (This is where the financial exposure puts the LSPRS—and other state retirement systems—at risk by opening the door for others to sue for the same consideration.).
- 2001—ACT No. 1160 was passed that increased the accrual rate from 2.5 percent to 3.33 percent for all active members of (LSPRS). This legislation was retroactive to date of hire and resulted in numerous members becoming instantly eligible for full retirement benefits. The estimated cost for this benefit was approximately $9.4 million. The ACT (we don’t know why Starnes capitalized “ACT” throughout his email) included those members that (sic) had entered DROP prior to June 30, 2001. This provision provided those members with an adjustment increase to their retirement benefit after entering DROP. (This simply means that instead of computing retirement benefits by multiplying the average salary for a members top three years of earnings by the number of years of service by 2.5 percent—$100,000 X 40 years X 2.5 percent would equal an annual retirement benefit of $100,000 or 100 percent of his/her salary—the years of service would now be multiplied by years of service by 3,33 percent, thus allowing one making $100,000 to retire at 100 percent in 30 years instead of 40—$100,000 X 30 X 3.33 percent. All other state employees’ retirements remain computed at 2.5 percent.).
- 2003—ACT No. 748 was passed to provide a longevity adjustment to members that had previously entered the DROP program. This adjustment was the greater of a new calculated benefit (per statute) or 20 percent. All members affected by this legislation received a minimum of a 20 percent increase to their retirement benefit. The estimated cost for this benefit was approximately $1.03 million.
- 2009—ACT No. 480 was passed that eliminated the DROP program and instituted the “Back-DROP” program. This was passed to improve benefits to active members who were required to make retirement decisions prior to necessarily completing their careers with the department. (Note: Edmonson said on the Jim Engster Show that he was forced into DROP. That is incorrect. While members were required to make a decision whether or not to enter DROP, no one was forced to enter the program.). This eliminated members being forced to make retirement decisions that adversely impacted their benefits. Both ACT 1160 and ACT 748 addressed those members in adverse retirement situations.
- Act No. 859 simply follows other legislative precedents to address retirement adjustments for members remaining employed with the department following completion of the DROP program. (Well, maybe, but why was it done so surreptitiously? That would seem to be the key question that should be addressed here.).
- This is an actuarial adjustment that will provide the same benefit as those who received full retirement benefits following the requisite number of years of service (Again, and not to beat a dead horse, Edmonson made a decision that no other employee throughout state government is allowed to revoke, a special benefit extended to him and one other trooper only.).
- The members affected by the legislation have continued to pay into the retirement system since completed (sic) DROP.
- Members will not receive more than 100 percent of their final average salary.
- This legislation will not negatively impact the benefits of any retiree (other than drawing down the Experience Account).
- There has been clear legislative precedent set to protect and adjust the retirement benefits for those members that (sic) have been negatively impacted by the DROP program (But again, that legislation was done openly, not sneaked in as an amendment to an unrelated bill during the final hectic hours of the legislative session.).
- Public notice regarding the retirement legislation was published in The Advocate on Jan. 2-3, 2014 (Once again, we have unanswered the question of why then, did it become necessary to do this as a furtive amendment on the last day of the session?).
- The conference committee report is deemed to be germane to the original bill in that it deals with rights of law enforcement officers which include the rights to retirement benefits per statute (This is the biggest stretch lie of all; the original bill dealt with disciplinary procedures to be used when law enforcement officers are accused of wrongdoing. That’s all. How can a pension amendment affecting only two officers possibly be germane to that?).
There also were copies of a series of email sent back and forth between Edmonson and the governor’s office in an attempt to schedule a last-minute attendance at a Sunday bill signing by Jindal that turned in something of a comedy sketch with Edmonson seeming to lose his patience in the final email.
The five bills all dealt with retirement and were to be signed on Sunday, June 1, that had everyone scrambling to round up warm bodies to attend the signing ceremony.
On Saturday, May 31, at 6:34 p.m., Shannon Bates, deputy communications director for the governor’s office, wrote, “Tomorrow we are having a bill signing ceremony for the retirement reform bill by
(Rep. Joel) Robideaux (R-Lafayette) and the 4 (Sen. Elbert) Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) COLA bills,” Bates wrote. “I know that is a Sunday but a lot of stakeholders are able to attend since the lege is in session anyway. Do you know if someone from the State Police system could attend or at least send us a quote for the release? (Nothing like waiting until the last minute to throw things together). We are having problems getting into (sic) touch with them…”
Nine minutes later, Edmonson responded: “Yes we will get somebody there.”
Three minutes following Edmonson’s reply, Shannon wrote, “Thank you – if you could let me know who it is that would be great!”
At 6:52 p.m. Edmonson Chief of Staff Dupuy wrote that he felt TFC Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, should accompany Edmonson to the event.
Edmonson, at 7:03 wrote to Dupuy, “He (Besson) needs to call Shannon for a quote.”
“Ok,” replied Dupuy 10 minutes later.
At 7:52, an apparent nervous Edmonson wrote to Besson: “Frank, have you handled?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Besson at 8:14 p.m. “I just spoke with Natalie (no last name available) to get the time, which will be 1:30.”
Edmonson, at 8:20 p.m., wrote to Besson: “Shannon is the contact. Make sure she gets a quote. I will be with you.”
“I’ll send her something tonight,” Besson answered.
At 8:25, Edmonson, apparently by now a little agitated, wrote Besson: “Get with Doug (Cain) and handle now. It should not have taken six emails.”
(Actually, including the emails from Bates, there were 11—eight between Edmonson and his subordinates—but who’s counting?)