One quit, another walked out and a third just said he wanted some answers and a fourth presented a witness who seemed a little too well-coached and in the end, nothing was accomplished because the fifth, aka the chairman, had the look of a Cervidae enrapt in the vehicular illuminating devices (deer caught in the headlights).
Just another routine meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) on Thursday.
Well, maybe not so routine. There was the shouting match between members Jared J Caruso-Riecke (the “fourth” as referenced above) and Lloyd Grafton (the “one” above) with both men invoking words like “best face,” “integrity,” and “pontificate.” Oh, number four said “pontificate” a lot.
Meanwhile, the man around whom the entire controversy swirled, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson was off somewhere out of state collecting another award to go in his trophy case or schmoozing with Louisiana politicos at the Washington MARDI GRAS.
Caruso-Riecke, of Covington, brought Louisiana State Police (LSP) Human Resources Director Ginger Krieg before the commission to explain the smoke and mirrors concept of how the appointment of Jason Starnes to the role of retired Undersecretary of Management and Finance Jill Boudreaux (even though he possesses zero accounting experience) was accompanied by an immediate promotion to lieutenant colonel and a $25,000 per year pay increase without incurring any additional expense as promised by Edmonson.
The position was created last August when Edmonson asked for the creation of an unclassified position to oversee Management and Finance. At the time, he said there would be no addition expenses to LSP and that the position was not being necessarily for Starnes.
Krieg explained that Boudreaux had retired and her $100,000 per year position was never filled so the $25,000 pay increase for Starnes actually amounted to a savings to the state.
What Caruso-Riecke and Krieg failed to mention in their exchange (which seemed so well-rehearsed that one of them should receive an Oscar nomination) was that state statute says the governor “shall” appoint an Undersecretary of Management and Finance. So, if the law is followed and an undersecretary appointed….poof! There goes that savings.
Grafton reiterated what Edmonson had said in August and said Caruso-Riecke was just putting a “good face” on the duplicity of Edmonson, Starnes, and Edmonson’s supporters on the commission. Caruso-Riecke erupted, accusing Grafton of an “absolute falsehood.” He admonished Grafton to not “sit down there and say I’m trying to put a ‘best face’ on something when I’ve gone above and beyond in trying to get to the truth.”
Here is the video link to that EXCHANGE.
“What have you done other than pontificate for the press?” he asked, practically shouting.
Grafton, in a more subdued voice (relatively speaking), said, “I’ve tried to keep some integrity on this commission and there is none. You came on this board with an agenda and that agenda was fulfilled last month when (former Executive Director) Cathy Derbonne resigned from this commission because of the harassment and the crap she was having to put up with since (pointing to commission Chairman T.J. Doss, of Shreveport) a State Trooper was TDY’d (assigned temporary duty) to Baton Rouge to hang around her office every day and to find fault with her and (who) said at a public meeting that he was gonna get rid of Cathy Derbonne. He followed through with that (and) lived up to my low expectations of him and he managed to have this commission stuffed with people who want to endear themselves with State Police management who could care less about the civil service function of this board. The Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) has absolutely helped destroy this commission.”
Grafton said the commission is supposed to investigate, among other things, claims of harassment brought by troopers but now those claims “go straight to management and that trooper doesn’t have a chance. That just destroys the civil service standing of this board.
“I have 55 years of law enforcement education experience. I know something about what is integrity and what is not. Wanting to go to a Christmas party is more important than holding management accountable and it’s going to come back to haunt you.
“The only salvation for this commission is for it to be dissolved and for the Civil Service Commission to take over the oversight of the State Police because right now we have no oversight whatsoever. The Colonel of the State Police (Edmonson) can do anything he wants to. He can lie, he can do anything and he does plenty of it and nobody holds him accountable.”
Caruso-Riecke interrupted Grafton, denying that Edmonson said there would be no pay raise for the new position. “Why don’t you listen to the tape instead of sitting up her pontificating (apparently he likes that word because he kept using it) for the press? For you to sit up here and act like you’re holier-than-thou and the only one with any integrity and character? That’s insulting to everyone else sitting here.”
“Anyone who joined in with that lynching of Cathy Derbonne has no character and I’ll stand by that,” Grafton replied.
“Last I checked, she resigned,” Caruso-Riecke shot back, conveniently forgetting that her fate had long been decided before her resignation.
But Grafton did not forget. “She resigned because she was told she was gonna be fired.”
Donald Breaux of Lafayette asked Grafton to identify those who said she was going to be fired. He had not opened his mouth to that point and probably should not have then since the worst-kept secret in the room was that there were four solid votes, a majority, to fire Derbonne just as Doss had indicated he wanted done. Derbonne was even told that during a 30-minute break in the January proceedings. “You bring up a lot of stuff, Grafton, but you have nothing to back it up with,” said Breaux, a former sheriff.
“When you say Grafton doesn’t know what’s going on in the State Police, you have underestimated my ability to get information,” he said.
Grafton, the most senior member of the commission, subsequently announced that he was attending his final meeting. “I’m through,” he said. “This commission has become useless and the only way it can ever be fixed is for the governor to get involved. I resign.”
His rant was followed in short order by member Calvin Braxton of Natchitoches who said he was not resigning but would refuse to participate in an executive session on the agenda about which he had no prior notice.
“I’m a reasonably intelligent person and I don’t like being kept in the dark and I am being kept out of the loop on this commission. You’ve got an item on the agenda calling for an executive session to discuss a trooper’s appeal. I was told nothing about this and I refuse to be a part of it.”
Here is the link to his part of the discussion:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOMahyElYQ0&feature=youtu.be
Moments later, both he and Grafton were gone.
Then it was Eulis Simien, Jr.’s turn. The Baton Rouge attorney, who was appointed to the board last year, said like Grafton, it was his impression at the conclusion of Edmonson’s presentation last August that there would be no pay raise involved for the new position. “I said at a prior meeting that I would like for the person who said that to come to us and explain what he said,” he said. “Instead, we get the head of HR. That’s not who made the presentation to us last August. I asked for him to come before us and I want him to come before us.”
All the bantering, shouting and “pontification” of Thursday’s meeting comes on the heels of a 13-page report by the Louisiana Board of Ethics that investigated the practice by the LSTA of having its Executive Director David Young make political campaign contributions in his name to circumvent prohibitions against political involvement and then reimbursing Young for “expenses.”
It was LouisianaVoice’s initial story about the contributions more than a year ago that launched the investigation which resulted in three former LSPC members being forced to resign when it was learned that they, too, had contributed to campaigns.
The recent Ethics Board report only went back to 2014, so the $10,000 in contributions to former Gov. Bobby Jindal were not included in its investigation. It did, however reveal that LouisianaVoice‘s report that $10,000 was contributed to Gov. John Bel Edwards was considerably less than the $17,500 actually contributed to his campaign.
LSTA and Young got off extremely light with a fine of only $5,000, the document reveals. While state law allows an imposition of a penalty “equal to the amount of the contribution plus 10 percent ($35,000 plus $3,500 in this case), LSTA and Young were actually subject to fines of about $70,000, or twice amount of the total contributions, for “a knowing and willful violation.”
Young had admitted to the LSPC more than a year ago that the money was laundered through his personal account so as to allow the LSTA to get around the prohibition against such political activity. That constitutes “a knowing and willful violation.”
It was the embarrassment of the LSTA and Edmonson that forced the LSPC to conduct a sham investigation of the activity, an investigation that resulted in the recommendation that “no action be taken.” That recommendation was made by Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend, a political supporter of Gov. Edwards who was paid $75,000 to issue an unwritten, “no action” recommendation.
And on Thursday, it culminated in the resignation of a conscientious commission member, the walkout of an honorable member, and further questions from another member who appears to want to do the right thing—if someone would just tell him what was said.
But there are four other votes on the commission and their interests obviously lie elsewhere.
Why else would the commission have as its chairman a State Trooper who conceivably could one day be called on to investigate his boss?