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Anyone who thought retired State Police Lieutenant Leon “Bucky” Millet would eventually get tired of calling out State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) or the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) just doesn’t know Bucky Millet—or wife Vivian, for that matter.

Both have been fixtures at LSPC’s monthly meetings for more than a year now, driving in all the way from Lake Arthur, and at times have been a real pain in the posteriors for the commission. Millet has warned commissioners on more than one occasions that continuing to allow Edmonson to stack the commission with his lap dogs will eventually come to no good. Looking back, his repeated warnings have suddenly gone from the predictions of a disgruntled retiree to the prophetic words of someone with unerringly keen insight—and foresight.

Millet, fed up with the direction being taken by the organization he once served so proudly, has now fired off formal complaints to Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Inspector General Stephen Street, State Police Lt. Col. Murphy of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) Bureau of Investigations, and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore.

In his separate letter to each of the five, he called for an investigation of possible malfeasance and payroll fraud on the part of four State Troopers who took an unmarked State Police vehicle to California last October.

While LSPC Chairman State Trooper T.J. Doss and other commissioners have chosen to ignore his monthly warnings and have been generally dismissive of his questions the way a busy parent would dismiss a child’s questions, the LSPC now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of observing from the sidelines as a formal investigation gets underway of the very agency it is supposed to have been overseeing.

That investigation by auditors from the Division of Administration (DOA) was ordered by Gov. John Bel Edwards after it was learned that Edmonson had 15 of his subordinates (including the four who drove the vehicle assigned to Deputy Superintendent Charles Dupuy) to San Diego to witness Edmonson receiving an award for which a former State Trooper of the Year was originally nominated. LSP headquarters, meanwhile, is using an earlier 2015 unsuccessful nomination of Edmonson for the award as justification for stiffing Maj. Carl Saizan’s nomination.

It’s not as if the LSTA hasn’t tried to silence the affable Millet. After Millet and three other retirees challenged the association’s laundering more than $45,000 in illegal campaign contributions through its executive director’s personal checking account, LSTA took quick action. After it became evident that they weren’t going away, the association, without explanation or comment, simply revoked their memberships.

LSTA is supposed to be an association of active and retired state troopers established to work to benefit troopers, retirees and their families and to work for better conditions for troopers. But it’s evident those benefits extend only to those who keep their mouths shut. Apparently, there is some hidden clause in its bylaws that prohibits dissention among the ranks.

Again, if that move was intended to silence Millet, it only backfired by making him even more vocal and more determined than ever to ask questions and to challenge decisions. He has proven himself to be a nettlesome irritation over the pathetic, so-called “investigation” of the LSTA members who authorized the contributions, as well as the association’s endorsement of Edwards—its first-ever political endorsement.

Natchitoches attorney, former legislator and political ally of Edwards Taylor Townsend was hired by the LSPC under a $75,000 contract to conduct the pseudo-investigation after commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney said she could not conduct such an investigation. Neither, apparently, could Townsend, even though that didn’t prevent him from accepting payments under his contract. The final product of his investigation was not a written report as one might reasonably expect, but simply an oral recommendation that “no action be taken.” Not exactly the most bang for the buck.

Like the San Diego trip’s $72,000 costs in travel, lodging, meals and salary, Townsend’s contract stands as another $75,000 frittered away with nothing, repeat, nothing to show for it.

Doss and his allies on the commission must have thought they’d dodged a bullet despite fellow commissioner Lloyd Grafton’s observation that the entire affair looked a lot like “money laundering” to him. He should know. Grafton, a former federal DEA agent who was instrumental in thwarting a coup d’état in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, is no stranger to sniffing out money laundering. He eventually resigned from the commission in disgust over what he called a “lack of integrity.”

Millet, tired of constantly having to bicker with Doss and other commission members, has now taken the next logical step, spurred on by that San Diego episode, in filing his complaint.

While he is asking for an investigation of the four who drove, it is critical to remember they took a vehicle permanently assigned to Edmonson’s second-in-command—pretty clear evidence that they didn’t act on their own volition but were instructed to drive some 2,000 miles in order to help bolster Edmonson’s ego. That raises the question of who ordered the four to pile into that Expedition and head west?

Accordingly, no investigation should be held without including Edmonson (who had to have ordered them to drive the vehicle) and Dupuy, whose vehicle was used—obviously with his permission.

But Millet is more concerned about the overtime charged by each of the four, including 12 hours each for seven days of travel. Two legs of their trip, from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas, and from Las Vegas to San Diego were trips of about 250 miles or so that should have taken about four hours each but for which each man charged 12 hours. That’s 96 total hours—32 hours at overtime rates—to travel about 500 miles.

While it’s probably a waste of time to ask Street to conduct an investigation given the effectiveness displayed by his office over the past several years, any investigation undertaken by Paul would be even more fruitless; he’s being asked to investigate the actions of Edmonson, his boss. That ain’t happening.

But if Landry launches his own investigation, the results should be fascinating when compared to that of the governor’s office, given the acrimonious relationship between the two offices and given Landry’s obvious desire to run against Edwards in 2019.

But all of those will pale in comparison to the ticklish position T.J. Doss will find himself in if Millet does the expected and requests another investigation—by the LSPC.

We have speculated on this site several times in the recent past as to what Doss, a state trooper who owes his position as commission chairman to Edmonson (not to mention his job), will do if called upon to investigate his boss.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would say if he were still with us: You can’t make this stuff up.

 By Stephen Winham, Guest Columnist

“… Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”

Juvenal [circa 100 AD], Satire 10.77–81

“Bread and circuses” (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace, as an offered “palliative“… The phrase also implies the erosion or ignorance of civic duty amongst the concerns of the commoner.

—Wikipedia

 

Have these words of a Roman poet, written 1900 years ago, ever been more relevant to our country and state?  And, this is hardly satire.  In Louisiana’s government, we still get the circuses (the just-ended special legislative session, for example), but they are not nearly so much fun as they were in the past. They also no longer provide the level of distraction our elected officials expect.  Our leaders still provide the bread, too, though too many are left with the heels – and we are not always sure even they are distributed equitably.

Just as our country is clearly divided, our state is becoming increasingly partisan. Confronted with precisely the same problems, the two sides view them as if they exist in alternate realities.  The factions do not seek to find common ground.  They might compromise, but that is hardly the same thing.

In the most recent session of the legislature a purported compromise on how to best patch the state’s budget for the remainder of this year resulted from an agreement by the administration to accept the effect of a very questionable House Concurrent Resolution that will, if we believe the proponents, be a great “reform” and will magically free up almost a hundred million dollars in state general fund for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 – money, mind you, that was always there for the taking, just never captured.  Sound just a little suspicious?

How does this magic work and how does it differ from past gimmicks, you might well ask?  Well, unlike some of those, it really does free up general fund, but it also cuts other constitutional and statutorily dedicated funding, notably including the Transportation Trust Fund.  The Transportation Trust Fund has already been criticized for not being used more on roads and bridges desperately in need of repair – and now we are going to take another $15-$18 million of it to pay part of our General Obligation (not highway) Debt service?  And, lest we forget, TTF funds match Federal Highway funds so the potential impact is greater than the amount diverted. Is this your concept of “reform?”  It certainly is not mine.

The Bond Security and Redemption Fund ensures our general obligation debt service will always get paid first. It is the subject of HCR1 of the special session.  Money constantly (and somewhat theoretically) flows through it on the way to the general fund from which we have typically paid general debt service. I consider the fund a practical fiction because it would only have actual effect if somebody ever pressed the “stop” button and froze it to draw the necessary amount for debt service. However, its existence enhances our bond ratings. There is a legitimate concern that messing with it in any way can jeopardize our ratings, not because it places the payment of debt service in danger, but simply because we have started messing with it at all. The fact we have recently had to borrow short-term to meet current obligations is further evidence we should leave the BSRF alone. To the extent confidence in our fiscal status is eroded, and our ratings decline, we must pay more to service our debt.

House Speaker Barras, the author of the concurrent resolution that directs this miracle reform is a banker.  He certainly knows all these things.  Let’s put the best face possible on the resolution and assume he wanted its passage to ensure the special session did not close with absolutely no action toward addressing our long-range problems – which would have been the case in its absence.  This proposal had been made before and rejected by the administration for the reasons above and others – reasons I consider valid.

Could using the resolution as a bargaining chip have been a power play more than anything else?  Barras was not JBE’s pick for Speaker of the House.  The Republicans in the house are flexing their muscles in a faint attempt to emulate the partisanship of their national counterparts. Did they rally around the speaker to get in JBE’s face with this one?  Could this distraction have also been the center ring performance in this special session – a small act in a small session with bigger acts like those in past sessions to come when the Greatest Show on Earth returns to Baton Rouge in April?

Let’s face it.  Nobody has done anything that comes close to solving our overall budget problem.  Our roads and other infrastructure are crumbling, our state services are becoming increasingly mediocre and, in the case of some life-and-death situations, dangerously ineffective.  Worse, most everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that we face a $1.2 billion (gee, why does that number sound so familiar?) gap in Fiscal Year 2018-2019 when the temporary sales taxes used to bandage the budget the last time we hit the wall expire.

The latest of literally dozens of past blue ribbon groups tasked with providing options for fixing the state’s fiscal problems, the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, issued its final report, to little fanfare, on January 27, 2017.  Some of the best minds in our state participated in this study and it provides solid recommendations based on current information.  Our leaders need only choose among them.  I commend its reading to you.  Why has this report not become part of the circus yet – Is it too dull to have entertainment value?  Do our leaders believe we cannot be convinced by (or even understand) facts?  Do they believe illusion, misdirection and confusion are always better and that we are easily fooled?

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne was a key participant in the task force.  When the Fiscal Year 2017-2018 executive budget was presented, the governor and Commissioner Dardenne declined to say what they might ultimately suggest as the solution to our problem.  They also said, as they have in the past, this is not the budget they want to see implemented.  Well, if it isn’t, what is?

If the cuts presented in the governor’s proposed budget, most notably to TOPS, are not realistic – not something we can all live with – what cuts are?  We don’t know because, despite protestations to the contrary, we have not seen a truly honest budget in many years – one that says, “Okay, Louisiana, you don’t want to pay more taxes, here are the things we are going to permanently cut and we are going to stand behind them to the end.”  This is very different from: “Well, shucks, here’s some things that will balance the budget, but we don’t want to do them and neither do you, so what have you got to offer as an alternative?”

Representative John Schroder has taken the position the governor should present a realistic plan he is willing to stand behind to provide the legislature with a realistic starting point.  The governor seems to be saying no such plan exists.  So, if the governor doesn’t have a plan and neither does the legislature, where does that leave us?

Our governor has greater control over the budget than is the case in some other states.  Representative Schroder has a point, but the simple fact is the legislature, not the governor, holds the power of appropriation and many, including me, consider it to be its greatest power. The governor can recommend things all day long, but he cannot enact appropriations or taxes.

Speaking of taxes, why are so many of our citizens convinced they already pay too much in taxes for what they get from the government?  Look no further than LouisianaVoice, The ADVOCATE, nola.com, almost any television or radio station and what do you read, see, and hear?

Every day we are bombarded with tales of waste, corruption, theft, etc. in our state departments.  Are you going to tell me nothing can be done about this?  Am I to believe lightening would strike JBE and our other elected officials dead if they dared expect the people they appoint to run these programs as effectively and efficiently as possible and to demand accountability for their failures?  I’m not talking about the simple act of firing those who are doing a poor job.  That doesn’t accomplish anything if the replacement continues the practices of the predecessor. I am talking about expecting officials to have integrity and to know enough about the operations of their departments to stop these things from happening in the first place.

I honestly and truly believe people are willing to pay for things from which they see benefits and that they believe are providing maximum value – the marketplace proves this.  Every effort must be made to instill confidence in our government’s ability to manage our resources in the best way possible.  Sure, its goals are different – government exists to provide services, not make a profit, but that is no excuse for not performing to the highest standards possible.

I don’t know about you, but I am finding the circus less than entertaining and I can provide my own bread for the most part.  Others have given up on the circus, but need help from its owners.  It is past time those owners accept their responsibilities – and it is up to us to lean on them to do so every chance we get – beginning right now and continuing in earnest during the next legislative session.  Our leaders need to all look at what is happening to the real Ringling Brothers Circus and realize it could happen to them – and, much worse, to us.

 

 

Folks, I don’t want to claim any undue credit (after all, it was The Baton Rouge Advocate that broke the story about the trip to San Diego by 15 State Police personnel).

But I believe I can honestly say if LouisianaVoice had not broken the original story about State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s attempt to pad his retirement income illegally way back in 2014, none of the ensuing stories would ever have come to light.

If Louisiana Voice had not revealed all the other questionable practices at LSP—promotions of those with prescription drug addictions, troopers smuggling underage women into gambling casinos illegally, a trooper having sex with a woman in the back seat of his state patrol car, troopers being paid for being on the clock when in fact they were in the sack—the San Diego trip would never have been a blip on anyone’s radar.

If LouisianaVoice had not broken the story about the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association laundering money through its executive director to political campaigns—again, illegally—the practice would probably never have come to light.

And these are just the stories about State Police. We cover them all. We broke the story about Superintendent of Education John White’s plan to share sensitive student data with Rupert Murdoch. We revealed practices by White and Jindal’s staff to communicate via private email accounts in order to hide their activities from the public.

It was LouisianaVoice that broke the story about the shredding of documents at the Department of Health and Hospitals much to the consternation of the Secretary of State’s office. And it was LouisianaVoice that keeps you informed about state contracts going to big campaign donors.

It was LouisianaVoice that first revealed that former director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter was being set up by Jindal. It was LouisianaVoice that informed you of the activities of Painter’s successor Troy Hebert, including highly questionable activities involving a female restaurant manager in New Orleans.

And finally, it was LouisianaVoice that helped rein in the State Dentistry Board and to curb its illegal practices of extorting heavy fines from practicing dentists with threats of license revocations.

If you agree that we’ve done a pretty fair job of monitoring the activities of our elected and appointed officials, I ask that you consider helping defray our legal, travel, insurance, and research costs.

Doing this isn’t free even though we do not charge a subscription fee nor do we accept advertising.

We rely on your generosity and we only do this twice a year. The current fundraiser will run only a few more days.

Please help us continue our efforts. You may click on the yellow “DONATE” button to the right to contribute by credit card or you may send checks or money orders to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA 70727

Feb. 22, 2017

Dear Governor Edwards:

This letter is to serve as my resignation from the Louisiana State Police Commission.

The commission cannot function as a Civil Service Board with the people you have allowed Col. Edmonson to place on the commission.

Col. Edmonson does whatever he chooses to do. He has no credibility when it comes to the truth, lavish spending, accepting of gifts, taking credit for awards others have earned, destroying evidence, and the list goes on and on.

Col Edmonson has brought shame and disgrace to the honest men and women of the State Police. They deserve better.

I won’t be a part of or participate in a commission that has no integrity or purpose but to rubber stamp what corrupt leadership desires.

May you continue to enjoy the “hayride” for three more years.

Respectfully,

Lloyd Grafton

U.S. Special Agent (Retired)

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice

Ruston, Louisiana

LouisianaVoice has learned that U.S. Sen. John Kennedy is calling for the resignation of beleaguered Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson.

Given the strained relationship between Kennedy and Gov. John Bel Edwards, however, that call isn’t likely to have much sway with the governor.

Nevertheless, it is the first public call by an elected official for Edmonson to step down.

Edmonson was first appointed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal in January 2008 and was reappointed by Edwards when he took office in January 2016.

Before his appointment by Jindal, Edmonson was best known as the constant companion of LSU coaches Nick Saban and Les Miles as he stood ready to protect the two coaches from any hostile fans bent on doing bodily harm to the coaches and were able to first get past 100 beefy football players to get to the coaches. (Well, you come up with a better theory; that’s the best we could come up with.)

Kennedy, you might remember, even weighed in on that controversial Act 859 of 2014 which temporarily awarded Edmonson a $55,000-per-year retirement increase bump. In a special LouisianaVoice guest COLUMN, he called on then-House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to call for an investigation of the Act, pushed through in the closing minutes of the 2014 legislative session by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia).

Ironically, it was then-State Rep. John Bel Edwards who had requested that Kleckley conduct the investigation.