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Archive for the ‘Retirement’ Category

Not only does Troy Hebert berate, intimidate, harass and even fire personnel, he keeps the pressure on even after they’re gone.

Hebert, director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, has already been shown to be an egotistical administrator who insists that his underlings rise and greet him with a cheery “Good morning, Commissioner,” whenever he enters a room.

He has contracted with 17-year-old girls in efforts to entrap bar owners into selling alcohol to underage patrons.

He has said he would rid his agency of all black employees and indeed, has already had to settle one lawsuit with an African-American former agent whom he fired and is currently facing litigation from three others.

He has ordered an investigation into the background of LouisianaVoice’s Editor and even boasted that he could have LouisianaVoice’s computer hacked if he so desired.

He even threatened criminal trespass charges against a woman who took his crippled Great Dane dog home in the belief it had been abandoned.

But most demeaning of all, he forced agents to write essays as punishment as if they were school children.

In short, he has run his agency with the impunity of an out of control despot, instilling fear in his staff…because he can. And he has done so without the slightest fear of restraint or discipline from his boss, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

Take the case of former agent Jeffery McDonald.

A veteran of 18 years in law enforcement, McDonald was summarily fired by Hebert for failure to answer charges against him that included a claim that his GPS indicated he was in one place for two hours when in fact he had been riding for five hours with another agent.

His fate was sealed, apparently, in a staff meeting in Baton Rouge when he disagreed with the ATC attorney who indicated she thought it unfair that ATC agents could have a take-home vehicle and she could not. Hebert at the time was attempting to institute a competition whereby top-rated agents would get a take-home vehicle. “They were pitting agents against each other in an unfriendly manner that was detrimental to morale,” McDonald said.

But prior to that, about two years ago, is when the real trouble started and typical Louisiana politics entered the picture.

McDonald and a Tensas Parish sheriff’s deputy raided a restaurant that was selling liquor without benefit of having obtained a permit to sell alcohol.

McDonald wisely turned the liquor over to the deputy for safekeeping at the sheriff’s office. Later, after a local mayor and a state legislator got involved, McDonald was contacted by his superiors and told “to return the evidence and to not file misdemeanor charges” against the owner of the establishment.

“I told them I didn’t have the liquor, that I had turned it over to the sheriff’s office,” he said.

State law says a law enforcement officer must be given 30 days in which to obtain legal counsel if he desires before his final termination. “But they didn’t do that,” he said. “They notified me on May 16 and ordered me to meet them on May 22 for an internal investigation,” he said. “I told them my attorney was out of town and I asked for a later meeting. I was on sick leave with a heart condition at the time. They never got back with me until they sent him his recommended termination notice on June 4. “It was hand delivered by state police on the 5th and they gave me until June 10 to respond but I was undergoing treatment was unable to respond by their deadline. They came to get my equipment on the 11th without providing the legally required seven days from receipt of notification,” he said.

“When they terminated me, they said I had not responded in a timely manner even though they did not give me the legally-required seven days.”

Frustrated with dealing with Hebert and his rules which seemed to change daily, McDonald put in for retirement. His retirement was approved on Aug. 22.

On Aug. 30, he wrote Hebert and the human resources departments of the Department of Revenue and ATC to request a retired ID commission card as allowed under state law.

A retiring agent is supposed to receive the commission upon retirement and McDonald did so eight days after his retirement went through.

Hebert, reportedly upset that McDonald was allowed to retire before he could fire him, has not responded to McDonald’s request.

Without his commission, McDonald cannot legally qualify to carry a firearm as a retired peace officer.

It’s not the first time a commission has been held up. Hebert’s policy regarding the commissions is all over the road; he issued one on the same day one agent retired while another who retired at the end of 2011 was forced to make several phone calls before getting his commission. A third waited eight months and before being given instructions to follow a vague, non-existent policy that including writing a letter to Hebert. Even after writing the letter and sending Hebert a copy of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which explains the right to the commission, it still took intervention on the part of a state senator to finally obtain the commission.

Such is the manner in which Troy Hebert runs his shop.

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The Jindal administration may have been thwarted in sneaking through an amendment giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an extra $55,000 per year in retirement income but pay raises for at least 29 mostly unclassified employees could mean additional liabilities of $25 million to $42 million over 20-30 years for the Louisiana State Employee Retirement System (LASERS), LouisianaVoice has learned.

Even as merit pay increases for rank and file civil service employees has been frozen for the last five years, top tier employees, mostly unclassified supervisors and agency heads, have realized pay raises ranging from a one-year increases of 12.5 percent for the governor’s director of communications and 118.7 percent for the CEO of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) to nearly 127 percent for the press secretary for the Department of Health and Hospitals.

No fewer than 10 of the pay bumps not surprisingly benefitted gubernatorial appointees and employees in the office of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana), who has devoted much of his time while in the state to firing state employees, slashing medical benefits and trying to destroy the state retirement system.

Retirement for state employees is computed by multiplying the average salary for the top three earning years times the number of years employed times 2.5 percent.

Thus, in the case of Susan West, who was promoted from State Risk Administrator at a salary of $83,200 in 2013 to the $170,000-a-year position as CEO of Group Benefits, her retirement, should she remain at OGB for three years, would be based on the higher amount, a difference of $86,800.

Thus, if she retires after 20 years at her present salary, she will receive 50 percent of $170,000, or $85,000 per year as opposed to $41,600—an additional $38,600 per year—had she remained at the $83,200 pay level. That would mean an additional $1.158 million in retirement income over 30 years.

In her case and in the cases of a few others, the salary increases were the result of major promotions but in others, pay increases went with lateral moves or new assignments and some of the other promotions would appear to be just for the purpose of implementing pay raises for favored employees.

In the case of 20 employees, the pay increases were $1,000 or more bi-weekly, or at least $26,000 a year while 10 others’ pay increases ranged from $500 to $999 bi-weekly, according to records obtained from the Office of Civil Service.

And it’s all legal—as opposed to the backdoor attempt the Edmonson to revoke his decision to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), which locked in his retirement at his captain’s rank level when he entered DROP.

In that case, Jindal, his executive counsel Thomas Enright, State Sen. Neil Riser, Edmonson and his chief of staff, Charles Dupuy all appear to have conspired to sneak an amendment, aka the Edmonson Amendment, onto a law officer disciplinary bill on the final, hectic day of the legislature. The amendment sailed through both the Senate and House and Jindal promptly signed it into law only to have a state district judge rule the procedure unconstitutional.

By granting generous pay raises, a procedure known as pension spiking, retirement benefits are automatically ratcheted upward, even if the employees does not stay a full three years at the higher level.

If, for instance, an employee who made $75,000 two years in a row gets a $25,000 raise to $100,000 and stays for only an additional year, his retirement still goes up. Say the employee retires after 40 years. He automatically retires at 100 percent of his salary. Not the $100,000 level, but not the $75,000 level, either. Two years at $75,000 is $150,000. Add the one year at $100,000 and you get $250,000. Divide that by three years and his retirement is $83,000. So, by jacking his salary up by $25,000 for one year, he gets an additional $8,333 per year for the rest of his life.

In California, pension spiking could increase public pension costs as much as $796 million over the next 20 years the state controller said recently.

Besides West, here is pay raise information for a few other Louisiana employees since 2010:

  • Kathy Klebert, Assistant Secretary, Department of Health and Hospitals from July 1, 2010, to Jan. 21, 2011 at salary of $140,000; promoted to Deputy Secretary on Jan. 22, 2011 at salary of $145,000; named DHH Secretary on April 1, 2013, at salary of $236,000 upon resignation of Bruce Greenstein. Overall increase of 68.6 percent since 2010.
  • Ruth Johnson, former head of the Department of Children and Family Services—retired at salary of $130,000 per year on June 21, 2012, re-hired on May 27, 2013 as Director of Accountability and Research in the Division of Administration at $150,000; promoted to Assistant Commissioner on Sept. 30, 2013, at $170,000; promoted to Director’s title in the governor’s office on Feb. 24, 2014, at $180,000. Overall increase of $50,000 (38.5 percent) since June 21, 2010.
  • William Guerra, hired as State Budget Management Analyst 3 on May 3, 2010 at $48,500, promoted to Chief Operating Officer for the Office of Group Benefits on Feb. 20, 2014, at $107,000 per year, a four-year increase of $58,500, (120.6 percent).
  • Courtney Phillips, hired on Oct. 1, 2010, as a Program Manager 2 at a salary of $93,000, was named DHH Deputy Secretary at $145,000 per year on May 10, 2013, a three-year increase of $52,000 (55.8 percent).
  • William Jeffrey Reynolds, named DHH Medicaid Deputy Director on May 31, 2011, at a salary of $113,700, promoted to DHH Undersecretary on March 10, 2014 at $145,000, a three-year raise of $31,300 (27.5 percent).
  • Calder Lynch, hired on Oct. 25, 2010 as DHH Press Secretary at $52,000, on Aug. 26, 2013, was named Kleibert’s Chief of Staff at a salary of $118,000, a raise of $66,000 (126.9 percent).
  • Thomas Enright started on Mar. 8, 2010, as Executive Counsel for the Department of Veterans Affairs at $104,000 and on Feb. 4, 2013 was hired as Jindal’s Executive Counsel at $165,000, a $61,000 increase in only three years (58.7 percent).
  • Jane Patterson was an IT Telecommunications Technical Services Administrator on Nov. 18, 2012, at a salary of $126,000 and an IT Telecommunications Administrator on Oct. 1, 2013, at a salary of $131,500, a raise in less than a year of $4,900 (3.9 percent).
  • Christopher Guilbeaux was an $85,200-a-year Section Chief for the Governor’s Office of Home Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) on June 29, 2011. Two years later, on Oct. 1, 2013, he was a $130,000-a-year Deputy Director, a raise of $44,800 (52.6 percent).
  • Stephen Chustz was appointed as Section Head at the Department of Natural Resources on Aug. 9, 2012 at $129,200, up $25,600 (24.7 percent) from his $103,600-a-year salary as Deputy Assistant Secretary on Sept. 30, 2011.
  • Jerome Zeringue has gone from Deputy Director of the Governor’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority at $126,250 in July of 2011 to advisor to the governor at since last Feb. 28 at $160,000, a $33,750 (26.7 percent).
  • Thomas Barfield came on board as Jindal’s Executive Counsel in July of 2009 at $167,000 per year but by July of 2013, he was the $250,000 per year Secretary of the Department of Revenue (DOR), a three-year increase of $83,000 (49.7 percent).
  • What’s the difference between an Assistant Secretary and a Deputy Secretary? Apparently, about $19,100 a year. Jarrod Coniglio went from Assistant Secretary of DOR on Oct. 15, 2010 at $107,800 to Deputy Secretary on July 1, 2013, at $127,000 (a 17.7 increase).
  • In just over a year, Andrew Perilloux went from Assistant DOR (May 27, 2013) at $90,000 to Under Secretary on Aug. 18, 2014 at $107,800, an increase of $17,800 (19.8 percent).
  • Joseph Vaughn, Jr. was making of $69,000 on Jan. 29, 2012, as an Assistant Director of DOR and was named Assistant Secretary on Jan. 30, 2012 at a salary of $107,800, a raise of $38,800 (56.2 percent).
  • Noble Ellington (you remember him, the legislator who retired and went to work as Deputy Commissioner of Insurance) is making $162,100 in that position, up $6,200 (up 4 percent) from Oct. 1, 2012.
  • Kyle Plotkin, the New Jersey import started out in the governor’s office on Nov. 19, 2008 as Press Secretary and on July 26, 2011, was named Special Assistant to the governor at $85,000. Less than three years later, on Mar. 4, 2014, he was named Chief of Staff at $165,800, a three-year increase of $80,800 (95 percent).
  • Michael Reed of Boston began as an $80,000-a-year Deputy Director of Communications on Feb. 4, 2013 and a year later was Director of Communications at $90,000 (12.5 percent).
  • The difference between Administrative Assistant and Executive Assistant apparently is $24,000. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Rayford Bossier was making $30,000 on Sept. 10, 2012, as an Administrative Assistant in the governor’s office. By July 22, 2013, she was making $54,000 as an Executive Assistant, an increase of $24,000 (80 percent).
  • Melissa Mann has gone from Executive Assistant in the governor’s office in February of 2010, at $54,000 to Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs on March 3, 2014, at $95,000, a $41,000 (75.9 percent) increase.
  • Elizabeth Murrill went from being the governor’s Executive Counsel on Nov. 5, 2010, at $110,000 to Executive Counsel and Chief Texter for the Division of Administration on Oct. 16, 2012, at $165,000, an increase of $55,000 (50 percent).
  • Ileana Ledet was making $63,300 a Public Information Director 2 for the Department of Insurance (DOI) on Feb. 7, 2011, and on Oct. 1, 2013, whe was earning $127,400, an increase of $64,100 (101.3 percent).
  • Keith Lovell was making $83,300 as a Coastal Resources Scientist Manager for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in May of 2010, and by April 1, 2013, he was making $109,200 as Assistant Secretary of DNR, an increase of $25,900 (31 percent).
  • Barry Landry was making $70,000 a year as a Public Information Director 1 for the Department of Education (DOE) on Jan 27, 2014 and less than five months later, on June 2, was making $85,000 as Press Secretary, a $15,000 (21.4 percent) increase.
  • Marian Lee Schutte was making $60,000 as a Coordinator for DOE on Dec. 2, 2011, and on July 22, 2013, she was a director earing $75,000, an increase of $15,000 (25 percent).
  • Robert Keogh has been a Procurement Director for DOE’s Recovery School District (RSD) since June of 2012 but his salary has also jumped $15,000 (25 percent) in two years, from $60,000 to $75,000 on May 12, 2014.

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LouisianaVoice has not posted a story on last Thursday’s House Appropriations Committee hearings on the Office of Group Benefits because we did not want to do what the mainstream media under the pressure of a deadline must necessarily do: get the story out quickly and without going into a lot of detail—in short, an overview.

This is not a criticism but simply an observation of the nature of the job. Reporters must report the highlights of such lengthy hearings without going into too much detail. Both time and newspaper space (air time for TV news) dictate this.

We are not bound by such constrictions. Nor are we always tied down to deadlines. While the story is important, we would rather review the entire seven hours of testimony and give you the mood of the hearings, both the adversarial sparks and the heart-wrenching emotion of some of those who gave their testimony.

Accordingly, we will offer two installments on the hearing. The first will concentrate on the testimony of state employees and retirees who will be adversely affected if the proposed plans are implemented, with retirees taking the hardest hits. The second installment will relate the exchanges between the administration representatives and members of the legislature, most of whom ignored the warnings of three years ago when the administration first proposed firing about 150 OGB employees and hiring a third party administrator (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana) and now must deal with the consequences of an angry constituency.

The hearing was one of repeated confrontation between legislators and the administration, and while both sides attempted to adhere to legislative protocol and professionalism, there were times when each side’s contempt for the other surfaced, albeit briefly. But it was sufficient for observers to see that members of the legislature, after six and one-half long years, have finally reached a point that they no longer trusts or have any real patience with the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa, R-New Hampshire, R-Anywhere but Louisiana).

In 2011 then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater said the state did not need to be in the insurance business but now, a short three years later, the administration has embedded itself in the day to day operations of the Office of Group Benefits, even to the point of bringing in two former BCBS executives to assist CEO Susan West in finding her bearings.

The following year, in 2012, Jindal attempted to “reform” state employee pensions. Our best example of what those reforms would have done, a story we’ve told several times now, is the one of the state employee who planned to retire after 30 years. If she never received another raise before her retirement, her pension, under the current retirement plan, would be $39,000 per year. Under Jindal’s plan, her retirement would have been slashed to $6,000 per year—a $33,000 per year hit—with no social security.

The courts ruled his retirement plan unconstitutional, so now he’s coming after health care benefits.

Rainwater’s successor, Kristy Kreme Nichols and West (the third or fourth CEO since the administration fired Tommy Teague—to tell you the truth, we’ve lost track) alternated in dodging questions, fumbling explanations and being generally unsuccessful in providing simple yes or no answers in their sparring with legislators. Division of Administration (DOA) Executive Counsel Liz Murrill, meanwhile, spent much her time sitting behind the witness table texting, seemingly oblivious to heartbreaking testimony of those who are seeing their coverage costs skyrocketing.

She texted, for example, while Janice Font, an art teacher from West Baton Rouge Parish, told the committee that she must take eight medications daily and can barely make the co-payments on her prescription drugs now. “And now you tell me I’ve got to pay double?”

Murrill continued texting as Font said she had to take five months disability “making $200 a month less than my house note” and how she “can’t even call the company to fix my air conditioning.”

The texting continued as Font implored legislators to explain to her what she had done to deserve such treatment. “I am a good teacher. I do a good job. And I’m barely making it. I don’t deserve this. I would like for somebody to come down here and tell me why this is being done to me.”

Henry Reed, a retired State Fire Marshal’s office employee, said he fought FEMA for hurricane recovery money on behalf of the state but has seen little in the way of gratitude on the part of that same state since his retirement. A victim of both epilepsy and narcolepsy, Reed said he has to take one medication that costs $2,000 per one-month supply.

His doctor prescribed two pills per day of that medication. “OGB changed to Medimpact (a San Diego company OGB contracted with in January to pay prescription drug claims) and Medimpact informed me they would pay for only one pill per day. Apparently someone sitting at a desk in California knows more about my condition than my doctor.

“I thought I had a good health plan,” Reed said. “I called OGB and they referred me to Medimpact.”

Roy Clement is retired from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “I’m being asked to choose between plans that will decrease my benefits while increasing my costs,” he said. “In 2011 Paul Rainwater came before the committee and said OGB funds would not be directed to other programs after privatization. But if you cut premiums, the funds that were not earned (the state’s 75 percent contribution to premiums) go someplace else.

“Tommy Teague was forced out after he had more than $500 million (in the OGB trust fund). Now the fund is going broke.

“Our mandate at DEQ was to help the people of Louisiana,” he said. “Yet we’ve seen an administration plunder every agency for their use.”

Kay Prince, a retired school teacher from Ruston, said she and her husband “chose to work for the state because of good retirement and excellent benefits. Now that we’re older and not in as good health as when we were younger, we need these benefits and we feel we are not being treated as fairly by the state as we treated the state by giving of ourselves everything we had. This is not a good situation. OGB was a wonderful thing and that was what largely influenced us in our decision to remain in Louisiana.”

Vicky Picou said simply, “If you need one of these (proposed) plans, you can’t afford it. Most increases are loaded heavily on those least able to pay.

“It’s not open access if the costs are more than your monthly income. This administration has found deep pockets to subsidize corporations (but) has found nothing but contempt for OGB members who are ill. Under this administration, OGB has seen its CEOs come and go, its workers get terminated and now this administration wants to see its ill and elderly shoved off the OGB plans.”

Neil Carpenter said OGB is not living up to its own philosophy and goals. “Never in my career have I seen half a billion dollars played with so capriciously and arbitrarily,” he said. “I would at least think you would have an actuarial report whereby you could set premiums. From what I’ve seen, they’re based on nothing. There’s no methodology to the madness.” (We will have much more on this in tomorrow’s story.)

“I know the money was not transferred from the reserve fund to the general fund,” he said. “I know that. But if you reduce the amount coming out of the general fund by underfunding premiums that are supposed to be going to the insurance program, you have effectively done the same thing.

“Somehow, we were paying too little to fund the plans and our reserve fund got too big and now we’re broke because we had too much money.”

Ann Curry, a retiree from the Office of Juvenile Justice pointed out that because members from East and West Feliciana parishes are on the Vantage Health plan, they have been going to doctors in Baton Rouge but because of the structure of the new proposals, those members will not be eligible for the less expensive plan because the Baton Rouge doctors will not be in that network. Consequently, they would have to opt for the more expensive plan.

Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the administration’s idea of “right-sizing” the OGB plan really meant right-sizing for the administration. “The right-sizing, according to this plan, means it will be suffered by state workers and teachers only. The costs to the state stay the same. Deductibles, co-pays, out-of-network costs will be going up—way, way up. Whenever the state’s position in right-sized, it comes out on top. The last time it right-sized, it saved $95 million by decreasing premiums. That decision led to financial problems and now the state is being ‘same-sized,’ not right-sized. Members of OGB will bear the burden of that poor decision.”

Frank Jobert, executive director of the Louisiana Retired Employees Association said the administration created the crisis. “This entire conversation today would not be necessary had we not reduced premiums and created the problem that exists today that you’re trying to solve on the backs of employees and retirees.”

Jobert said he had been told some legislators do not want to get involved in the OGB discussion “because they’ll be blamed. But if you don’t get involved, you’re going to share the blame. You’re going to leave some people out in the cold.

“This program was fine,” he said. “It was functioning; we were happy with the premiums and nobody was complaining. Now we’re doing everything in a completely different manner, adding confusion, giving programs new names and no one is happy. We need your help,” he told the legislators. “It’s your job. We elected you to do this for us.”

Tommy Teague, who was fired as executive director of OGB on April 15, 2011, when he failed to embrace Jindal’s privatization plan, was one of the last non-legislator to testify. His firing followed that of his wife Melody six months earlier for testifying before Jindal’s streamlining committee. And though she appealed and got her job back, the firing of the two gave birth to the often used term “teagued” as synonymous with being fired or demoted by Jindal.

Teague now serves as general counsel and Vice President of Provider Relations for the newly formed Louisiana Health Cooperative.

“There was never a rule change undertaken at OGB without going through the Administrative Procedures Act (APA),” he said. “We followed the APA every time there was a change in a benefit plan. We allowed for complete oversight of all changes as the APA called for.”

Legislators, as we will see in tomorrow’s installment, were highly critical of the administration’s reluctance to comply with the APA.

“I do have a business motive for being here,” Teague admitted. “Louisiana Health Cooperative is a new start-up health maintenance organization (HMO).

“OGB is required to seek out any Louisiana HMOs that would like to participate in the state employee health coverage during open enrollment. We asked OGB for an opportunity and they refused to let us participate even though we believe the law requires the solicitation process to include us. We offer a plan very similar to the current HMO plan and could save the state millions of dollars.

“We would encourage the oversight process and that you push back the open enrollment (now scheduled for Oct. 1—Oct. 31) and that we be allowed to participate and offer our plan through the open enrollment process.”

Then, deliberately and emphatically, Teague said, “When I was fired (from OGB) in 2011, the fund balance was $506 million and the Office of Group Benefits was running like a top.”

And Liz Murrill texted.

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“It is to the credit of Col. Mike Edmondson (sic) and Master Sgt. Louis Boquet, of Houma, that they declined to accept the raise because of irregularities in its passage.”

—From a Baton Rouge Advocate editorial on Friday, Sept. 19, in an effort to paint Edmonson as a dedicated and noble public servant for “refusing” a $55,000 yearly increase in his pension resulting from a Senate bill amendment that he and his staff helped orchestrate—with assistance from State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), Gov. Bobby Jindal and Jindal’s executive counsel.

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It’s seldom that I disagree publicly with members of the fourth estate. Besides preferring to focus my energy on reporting on the myriad ways state government falls short of its number one priority of protecting the interests of the state and its citizens, I generally have a deep professional respect for our peers in the media.

I worked for 30-plus years in various capacities—sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, investigative reporter and managing editor—for several newspapers all over the state, including Monroe, Shreveport, Donaldsonville, Baton Rouge and four separate stints at the Ruston Daily Leader where I began almost 50 years ago. I kept returning at a higher position mostly because of my loyalty to my mentor, Publisher Tom Kelly. I even managed to pick up a few reporting awards along the way, including three for investigative reporting.

A news reporter will never get rich working for a newspaper; the pay just isn’t that good. Those who spend their time sitting through endless hours of city council, police jury, school board and even legislative committee meetings, mind-numbing courtroom testimony and who climb out of bed in the middle of the night to cover a shooting or a fire do so for the love of the profession.

So yes, I do maintain an abiding respect for these dedicated individuals.

But when I see facts deliberately being glossed over and key points ignored in order to protect or project a favorable image of a public official who has deliberately and blatantly attempted to use his position or to manipulate the political system to his financial advantage, I cannot in good conscience keep quiet.

The Baton Rouge Advocate editorial of Friday, Sept. 19, stands out as one of the most unabashedly transparent attempts to pin a bouquet on a state official who recently condoned one of the most underhanded attempts at abusing the legislative process in recent memory.

That attempt, of course, was the amendment by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) to Senate Bill 294 in the closing hours of the recent legislative session. The bill, authored by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) originally addressed procedures to follow in disciplinary cases for law enforcement officers but was amended to give State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson special treatment in awarding him an unconstitutional increase in retirement income of somewhere between $30,000 and $55,000 per year.

Riser added the amendment during a conference committee meeting on the bill. Riser was one of three senators and three House members on the conference committee and on the final vote for passage, House members were told, incorrectly, the bill’s passage would create no fiscal impact.

Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright, Jr., whose job it is to review bills for propriety and constitutionality, gave the bill his blessings and Jindal promptly signed it into law as Act 859.

LouisianaVoice broke the initial story about how the bill allowed Edmonson to revoke his decision years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement benefits at his then-pay level of $79,000 at his rank of captain. By allowing him to renege on his decision which was supposed to be irrevocable, it allowed him to retire at a rate based on his current colonel’s salary of $134,000. Because he has 30 years of service, he receives 100 percent of his salary as his retirement. Thus, the amendment gave him an instant yearly increase in retirement of something between $30,000 and $55,000.

The amendment inadvertently just happened to include one other person, Master Trooper Louis Boquet of Houma, though he was unaware of the amendment and its implications until the public outcry erupted.

A state district judge, ruling on a lawsuit brought by State Sen. Dan Claitor, said the amendment was unconstitutional on several grounds, thereby killing Edmonson’s retirement windfall.

The four-paragraph Advocate editorial on Friday noted that the matter had been “laid to rest” and noted that such furtive bills are common in the Louisiana Legislature. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/10299405-123/our-views-a-lesson-for

But it was a single sentence in that editorial that set me off:

“It is to the credit of Col. Mike Edmondson (sic) and Master Sgt. Louis Boquet, of Houma, that they declined to accept the raise because of irregularities in its passage.”

What?!! Besides the misspelling of Edmonson’s name, the editorial completely (and apparently purposefully) omitted key elements of this sordid story.

  • Edmonson defended the amendment and his additional retirement on Public Radio’s Jim Engster Show;
  • He admitted on that same show that “a staff member” had approached him about the possibility of increasing his retirement benefits via the amendment and he personally okayed that staff member to proceed with the legislative maneuver;
  • Neil Riser first denied any knowledge of how the amendment originated but later confessed that it was he who inserted the language into the bill;
  • The legislative fiscal notes (which detail the potential financial impact of pending bills) were not submitted until three days after the session adjourned, evidence that the entire episode took place on the down low, hidden from public view;
  • During a hearing on the amendment by the State Police Retirement System Board, it was revealed that the board’s actuary was initially approached about the amendment “a few weeks” before the close of the session, further evidence that the move was in the works long before that fateful final day of the session;
  • At that same hearing, it was also revealed that the “staff member” who initiated efforts to pass the amendment was State Police Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, Edmonson’s chief of staff;
  • Edmonson did not reject the raise until the heat from the public and from retired state police officers became so intense that it was politically impossible for him to go through with the charade. The added threat of a lawsuit by retired state troopers and the attacks on the amendment by State Treasurer John Kennedy only served to ensure the foolhardiness of any continued attempts to claim the money;
  • The way the entire affair played out implicated everyone concerned—Jindal, Enright, Riser, Dupuy and Edmonson—in a pathetic attempt to conceal the deed from public view.

In short, Edmonson’s decision was anything but magnanimous. Quite simply, it was forced upon him by the glaring light of public scrutiny—the one thing he feared most.

This silly effort by the Advocate to make Edmonson’s decision seem noble and to make it appear to be anything other than the hands in the cookie jar scenario that it was is a disservice to its readers and an insult to their intelligence.

Perhaps the Advocate should stick to its previous hard-hitting editorials about how nice sunshine is and how lovely the Spanish moss-laden oak trees on the Capitol grounds are.

When John Georges purchased the Advocate from the Manship family, he went before the Baton Rouge Press Club where he made the utterly bizarre statement that he was focused on “not making people angry.”

I’m sorry Mr. Georges, but when you establish a policy of attempting to publish as little offending reporting as possible, that’s a cowardly decision and you’re simply not doing your job.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”

Georges has obviously chosen the former.

And that decision has made the Advocate less of a newspaper, good only for crawfish boils and housebreaking a puppy.

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A Baton Rouge district court judge has struck down the so-called Edmonson Amendment, declaring the special retirement benefits enhancement amendment for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and one other state trooper unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has learned that a state police commander passed out a controversial “Hurt Feelings Report” to state troopers several months ago. https://www.google.com/search?q=hurt+feelings+report&hl=en&biw=1280&bih=585&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ydYYVJ_gGYSuogSpwoK4Aw&sqi=2&ved=0CB0QsAQ

(For an example of “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, click on any image, then move cursor to right and then click on “View Image.”)

Edmonson may now wish to fill out one of those reports.

Judge Janice Clark of 19th Judicial District Court issued the ruling Tuesday morning in a special hearing, bringing to an official end the question of legality and propriety of Amendment 2 of Senate Bill 294, passed on the last day of the recent legislative session.

The ruling leaves egg on the collective faces of Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, who conceived of the underhanded (as in sneaky) legislation; State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), who slipped the last minute amendment past his unsuspecting colleagues in the Senate and House; Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright Jr., who supposedly read and blessed the bill, and Jindal, who signed it as Act 859.

The effect of the bill, which was introduced by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) as a bill to address disciplinary action to be taken in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, was to bump Edmonson’s annual retirement up by $55,000, from its current level of $79,000 to his current salary of $134,000.

Edmonson had entered into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) several years ago at his captain’s pay grade in exchange for more take home pay at the time he signed onto DROP. Because of that decision, which is irrevocable, Edmonson was set to receive 100 percent of his captain’s salary after 30 years of service.

Riser’s amendment would have allowed Edmonson to retire instead at 100 percent of his current salary. The bill also benefitted Master Trooper Louis Boquet of Houma even though he was oblivious to events taking place in Baton Rouge.

LouisianaVoice was the first to report the real impact of SB 294 after a sharp-eyed staff member in the Division of Administration (DOA) tipped us off.

Edmonson at first defended the bill on a Baton Rouge radio talk show, saying he was entitled to the increase. He said then that at age 50 he was “forced” to sign up for DROP. That was not accurate; state employees at the time were required to decide whether or not to participate in DROP, but no one was forced into the program.

Continuing the pattern of misrepresentations, Riser said he had no knowledge of who inserted the amendment into the bill during a conference committee meeting. He later acknowledged it was he who made the insertion. Riser was one of three senators and three House members who were on the conference committee.

Jindal, of course, remained strangely quiet about the entire mess, emerging from Iowa or New Hampshire or the Fox News studios only long enough to say that the legislature should correct the matter when it convenes next spring. After making that brief policy statement, he immediately returned to his presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, retired state troopers as well as other retired state employees who had opted into DROP and later received promotions and accompanying pay raises only to have their retirements frozen at the level they were being paid at the time of their entering DROP, went on a rampage with several retired troopers offering to file suit if the State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board did not.

At a special meeting of the LSPRS Board earlier this month, it was learned that Dupuy had initiated contact with the board’s actuary several weeks before the session ended to discuss the amendment which he obviously intended to have inserted into the bill in the closing hours of the session. That pretty much shot down any deniability on Riser’s part. And Riser would certainly never have made such an attempt without Jindal’s blessings.

The board, meanwhile, was advised by an attorney with experience in pension plans that it had no standing as a board to file such a suit but board member and State Treasurer John Kennedy immediately announced his intentions to do so as a private citizen.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) saw a way to give his campaign for 6th District congressman to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy a boost and quickly filed his own suit.

It was Claitor’s suit on which the hearing on a motion for declaratory judgment served as the basis for Judge Clark’s ruling on Tuesday.

Neither Edmonson nor Boquet nor the LSPRS Board opposed the motion.

Following the hearing, Kennedy said the bill was unconstitutional on both the state and federal levels—on several different legal points. “Not only was it unconstitutional,” he said, “it was wrong.” https://www.dropbox.com/sh/erw91d3j3ivkis9/AABhtU96O_u88tVSYLfIQqPra?dl=0#lh:null-IMG_8155.MOV

“This law was patently unconstitutional,” Kennedy said. “Now it’s null and void. This is a win for retirees as well as taxpayers across Louisiana.”

In a statement released after the ruling, Kennedy said one of his objections was that the law would have drawn the enhanced benefits from an experience account that funds cost-of-living increases for retired state troopers and their families.

He testified in the hearing that Louisiana’s four retirement systems already have an unfunded accrued liability (UAL—the gap between the systems’ assets and liabilities) of $19 billion, the sixth worst UAL in the nation.

“This is not about personalities,” he said. “This was about fairness. Regardless of whether you’re a prince or a pauper, you should not receive special treatment.”

The “Hurt Feelings Report” forms, intended to intimidate or demean harassment victims or others who feel they have been slighted or who feel they have been made victims of racial, sexual, or other forms of discrimination, are parodies that attack otherwise genuine concerns of bullying in the workplace.

The commander who passed the forms out to his troopers obviously thought it was a hilarious joke and a great way to deal with potential complaints but officials in Buffalo, Wyoming didn’t think they were so funny.

A 13-year veteran Buffalo High School football coach who passed out the “survey” to his players was forced to resign after his actions became public. The survey listed several options as reasons for hurt feelings, including “I am a queer,” “I am a little bitch,” and “I have woman like hormones.” It asked for the identity of the “little sissy filing report” and for his “girly-man signature,” plus the “real-man signature” of the person accused of causing hurt feelings.

Coach Pat Lynch, as is always the case when those in positions of authority are caught doing something incredibly stupid, offered a letter of resignation in which he said, “I would like to apologize for my lack of judgment and the poor choice….” (You know the words to this worn out song by now. We’ve heard them from politicians like David Vitter, athletes like Ray Rice, even ministers like Jimmy Swaggart.)

So now we have a state police commander who has attempted by distribution of this document to ridicule—in advance—anyone under his command who feels he or she has been the victim of discrimination or harassment and to discourage them from filing formal complaints.

There appears to be no level of stupidity to which some people will not stoop.

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

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

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