The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet Tuesday at 11 a.m. to consider confirmation of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reappointment of Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent just as a complaint has been filed with the State Police Commission by a retired state trooper.
Even though Edmonson has been superintendent for eight years, going back to the beginning of the Bobby Jindal administration, his reappointment for another term must be meet the approval of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee just as other gubernatorial appointees must pass muster with the committee.
Butch Browning’s reappointment as State Fire Marshal was confirmed by the committee last week.
The Edmonson confirmation hearing on Tuesday stands as the most controversial of all appointments by Edwards despite his having already served eight years as superintendent.
That’s because of reports of inconsistent and uneven discipline meted out for certain offenses to only token punishment for offenses ranging from abetting underage gambling to quotas for DWI arrests to payroll fraud to stalking by a trooper to a state trooper having sex in his patrol car while on duty—all documented by LouisianaVoice.
All those revelations came on the heels of LouisianaVoice’s story in 2014 about an attempt orchestrated by Edmonson to pad his retirement by about $30,000 a year despite his having locked in his pension years earlier.
That attempted came when Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) slipped an amendment onto SB 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) during the closing minutes of the 2014 legislative session. Morrell’s bill originally was a benign bill dealing with procedures for formal, written complaints made against police officers. Thirty-seven senators and 90 members of the House, including then-Rep. John Bel Edwards, voted in favor of the amendment.
And now comes retired State Trooper Scott Perry with his official complaint to the State Police Commission over the appointment of Maj. Jason Starnes as Interim Undersecretary of Management and Finance.
The problem with his appointment is that Starnes’s estranged wife, Tammy, is Audit Manager for LSP and Jason Starnes, with his promotion, will supervise her department.
Between them, the two earn more than $225,000 a year. Jason Starnes is paid $129,000 per year and Tammy receives $96,600.
While nepotism laws would seem to prohibit such an arrangement, and while it certainly appears to be unethical, there appears to be a loophole that has been cited in numerous opinions by the Ethics Board. That exception says if the employee, in this case, Tammy Starnes, has been in her position for a year or more, it is permissible for an immediate family member to supervise her.
When Tammy Starnes initially joined LSP after transferring from another state agency, her $92,900 salary at the time was $11,700 more than that of Jason Starnes and was in charge of monitoring LSP’s financial transactions, including those of her husband but now their lines of authority are reversed.
Jason Starnes, in addition to his $129,000 salary, also reportedly is receiving free housing, courtesy of LSP, according to one source.
Since separating from his wife, he is said to be living on the state dime in the LSP Training Academy VIP quarters.
Louisiana Title 42 covers the Code of Governmental Ethics. Part II, Section 1111 A(1) of Title 42 says in part, “…No public servant shall receive anything of economic value, other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is duly entitled, for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of his office or position.”
Free living quarters would certainly fall under the description of economic value.
Depending on whether or not the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee has the cojones to give Edmonson’s record something other than a cursory look, the debate over his nomination could spark lively debate.
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) is the only senator to vote against Riser’s amendment to Morrell’s SB 294 two years ago and she chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Adding to the intrigue, if indeed there is to be any intrigue with Edmonson’s nomination is two other members of the committee are….Morrell and Riser. And Morrell would be justified if he was still smarting from Riser’s hijacking of his bill two years ago.
Given that Edmonson was originally appointed by Republican Bobby Jindal, it’s somewhat interesting that the committee is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans.
On the other hand, his nomination for reappointment now comes from a Democratic governor, which could put the four Democrats in an uncomfortable position of having to oppose a fellow Democrat’s nomination.
The bottom line, however, is that Edmonson is neither the fair-haired boy of the Republicans or the Democrats; he is the creation of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, one of the most powerful political influences in the state.
Make no mistake about that. It was the Sheriff’s Association that dictated that Jindal appoint Edmonson, who’s only qualification was his experience as an LSP public information officer. One former law enforcement official said unless an appointee has experience supervising personnel, there is no way he can be qualified to lead an entire department, especially one as large and far-ranging as LSP.
The association’s only criteria was the appointment of someone they could control.
And they got him.
But it would not be unprecedented for the committee to at least ask probing questions. Committee members threatened to withhold confirmation of Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals in 2011 if he didn’t reveal the name of CNSI, a company he formerly worked for, as winner of a huge DHH contract. And after being grilled over his dealings with with the Regents in a fiber optics projects involving eight Louisiana research universities, Ed Antie of Carencro abruptly withdrew his name for consideration for a seat on the Board of Regents.
Here are the names and email addresses of the members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee:
- Karen Carter Peterson, Chairperson (D-New Orleans): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Wesley Bishop, Vice-Chairperson (D-New Orleans): email@example.com
- Troy Carter (D-New Orleans): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville): email@example.com
- James “Jim” Fannin (R-Jonesboro): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans): email@example.com
- Neil Riser (R-Columbia): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Greg Tarver (D-Shreveport): email@example.com
- Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe): firstname.lastname@example.org
After Tuesday, we will know for certain if the committee members have the courage to make difficult but morally correct decisions or if they will collapse in the proverbial puddle at the feet of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.