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“You need to talk to Lenore Feeney. She’s the attorney in the red jacket.”

—State Police Commission Chairman T.J. Doss, dodging reporters following the ouster of LSPC Executive Director Cathy Derbonne.

“I’m not been authorized to make a comment.”

—Lenore Feeney in the red jacket, to reporters moments later.

 

“Please tell me your intentions as to the re-appointment of Mike Edmonson.”

—Tom Aswell, LouisianaVoice Publisher, in email to State Rep. John Bel Edwards at 10:27 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2015, as he headed into runoff with David Vitter in 2015 general election for governor.

“I don’t intend one way or the other.”

—Email response of John Bel Edwards to Aswell at 12:50 p.m. on Oct. 27.

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Mike Edmonson got his way but Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) Executive Director Cathy Derbonne did not give him the satisfaction of having his puppet commission fire her.

She quit. But she said she did so under duress.

The commission plowed through the first three items on the agenda before Chairman T.J. Doss, the state police representative on the board, abruptly announced there would be a 30-minute recess in proceedings.

There was probably a good reason for the recess. During almost the entirety of testimony of retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet, who is one of the commission’s harshest critics, Doss was busy texting someone (we suspect it may have been Edmonson)

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He continued texting during part of the recess but different commissioners kept caucusing in corners, offices and around the coffee pot but were careful to keep their meetings down to three members or fewer. If four had met anywhere in the room, there would have been a quorum and LouisianaVoice would have politely asked to sit in. Instead, whenever a fourth entered the discussion, someone else would leave.

Just to be on the safe side, LouisianaVoice submitted a formal, written public records request for the content of all of Doss’s texts sent and received during Thursday’s meeting. On the outside chance he was texting commission attorney Lenore Feeney, we are prepared to demand proof of that by having LSPC provide us with the “To” and “From” portions of the texts with the actual messages redacted. All other messages are to be provided intact.

Millet did get Doss’s undivided attention at one point when he alluded to a report that Doss had addressed a meeting of the Louisiana State Troopers Association at which he was quoted as saying his goal was to be elected chairman of the commission and to “get rid of the executive director.” Doss, of course, denied saying that.

Upon re-convening, contract attorney Taylor Townsend read Derbonne’s resignation letter and the commission then voted on whether or not to accept the resignation (I always thought when one quit, it was his or her decision). Member Calvin Braxton and Jared J Caruso-Riecke voted no on accepting her resignation letter.

Voting to accept were members Doss, Monica Manzella, Eulis Simien, Jr., and Donald Breaux.

Caruso-Riecke, it should be noted, contributed $3,500 to John Bel Edwards and $2,000 to his brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards. Daniel Edwards is a member of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association which endorsed John Bel Edwards for governor and once elected, John Bel Edwards re-appointed Edmonson as State Police Superintendent as a condition of the sheriffs’ association’s endorsement, proving that life—political life, at least—is indeed a circle.

LouisianaVoice attempted to ask Caruso-Riecke why he voted not to accept Derbonne’s resignation and he refused to comment, choosing instead to take the opportunity to chastise LouisianaVoice for yesterday’s post that said Edmonson OWNED HIM.

Well, quite frankly, we didn’t see anything during Thursday’s meeting that would change our mind.

Why is that?

Simply because LouisianaVoice happened to learn it was Doss and Caruso-Riecke who placed the two items on the LSPC agenda that were to have dealt with Derbonne’s “professional competence” and whether she would be continued or terminated.

So, basically, Caruso-Riecke, aware that the four votes needed to end Derbonne’s eight years as executive director were locked in, he could vote “no” and come off as the nice guy by taking the high road, confident that it was a done deal.

Now if he just hadn’t been one of those who prepared the agenda and handed it to Derbonne for her signature….

The obvious question is what trigger was the commission going to pull to terminate Derbonne? Conspicuously displayed behind commissioners was a screen with a paused video of proceedings of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget at which Derbonne testified last year. The video was never shown because Derbonne resigned but what it would have shown was legislators asking her who approved the LSPA’s budget and she inadvertently replied, “The Commission.” The commission budget is actually approved by the commission before being sent to the legislature for final approval and it was that gaffe members were going to use to hang her.

Well, that brings up an obvious question: Back around October, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson appeared before the commission to ask that a new position of lieutenant colonel be created to oversee finances for State Police. He assured commission members that (a) the position was not to be created for any specific individual and that there would be no additional expenses for the position. Before anyone could say cut and dried, Jason Starnes was promoted into the position and promptly given a $25,000 raise.

Edmonson lied and he did so deliberately. Will he be fired as well?

Edmonson, back in 2014, engineered the insertion of an AMENDMENT to an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the legislature that would have given him an additional $55,000 per year in retirement income—illegally, because Edmonson had locked his retirement in years before when he entered the state’s DROP Program, which froze retirement income at his rank at that time. A lawsuit by State Sen. Dan Claitor killed the raise. Was he fired for that? Check that box No.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS, a state representative at the time, said he would seek a “full investigation” of the furtive attempt to approve the raise. Instead, he reappointed Edmonson to head Louisiana State Police (LSP).

When a Troop D State Trooper was found to be doctor-shopping in order to stockpile prescription narcotics, which he was taking while on duty, Edmonson’s solution was to first promote him to Troop D Commander and later, when the incident became public, to make a LATERAL TRANSFER.

When a State Trooper was found to have had sex with a woman in his patrol unit, he was SUSPENDED for 36 hours and reduced in pay for 18 pay periods but was allowed to work overtime to make up the reduction in pay.

When a married State Trooper escorted an underage woman into a Vicksburg, Mississippi CASINO floor to play slot machines and blackjack, he was busted and attempted unsuccessfully to use his position as a trooper to negotiate his way out of a fine. Edmonson promoted him to Troop F Commander.

When Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Undersecretary JILL BOUDREAUX was allowed to take an early retirement buyout incentive and cash in her leave time and then return to work the next day—with a promotion to Undersecretary, Edmonson allowed her to keep $59,000 in buyout and annual leave payments—and her job—despite instructions from the Division of Administration for her to repay the money.

Edmonson sat on a HARASSMENT complaint on a Troop D State Trooper for more than a year.

Louisiana State Troopers’ Association Executive Director David Young kept his job after it was revealed that he laundered state troopers’ funds through his personal bank account in order to make substantial—and illegal—campaign donations, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards. A political crony of Gov. Edwards was hired to torpedo the investigation—and did just that.

And when a handful of retirees, members of LSTA, complained about the contributions, they were politely booted out of the association. You don’t cross Edmonson’s boys and not pay a price.

Through all these disruptive incidents, Edmonson sailed right along, never receiving any disciplinary action. He will say he has no control over the LSTA, but that organization’s members don’t go to the bathroom without a hall pass from Edmonson.

He skates when he lies about how the promotion of Jason Starnes would cost no additional money but Derbonne is offered up for sacrifice when she inadvertently says the commission approves her budget.

Capping off the bizarre events on Thursday, reporters attempted in vain to get any member or either of the two commission attorneys—Taylor Townsend and Lenore Feeney—to say something, anything, about the meeting and Derbonne’s resignation. Each one, Doss, Braxton, Caruso-Riecke, Breaux, Manzella, Simien, Townsend and Feeney, seemed to have somewhere to go in one helluva hurry. Everyone was scurrying around like a bunch of rats in a burning meth lab.

Townsend, all but sprinting from the room, was pursued by a reporter who asked, “What did you guys talk about during the break?”

Townsend’s RESPONSE, made over his right shoulder as he exited the room was, “You don’t want to get into that.”

Well….yeah, we do.

The most humorous—and frustrating—exchange took place when reporters followed Doss as he entered a private room with Maj. Durell Williams, who is over Louisiana State Police Internal Affairs.

Doss, just before entering the room, turned and faced reporters who asked for a more detailed explanation of events. He referred reporters to Feeney, “the attorney in the red jacket,” saying that she could address their questions.

But when FEENEY was confronted, she rushed past reporters, saying, “I’m not been authorized to make a comment.” It was a classic game of bureaucratic ping pong with reporters serving as the little plastic ball.

So there you have it, folks. The wagons have been circled; Starnes, with no accounting experience, has been put in charge of LSP finances; Edmonson has consolidated his base by eliminating another potential critic and gaining complete control of the LSPC; the Sheriffs’ Association is happy as a pig in the sunshine, and Derbonne has been sacrificed at the Altar of Deniability.

And to think, Edmonson gets away with all the above—and more—mismanagement but when I, as a five-year-old, threw a candy wrapper out of my grandfather’s truck window, I felt a pop on the back of my head and I could see Jesus at the end of a long tunnel, waving me to the light.

But not to worry. Edmonson is off to Rome with his latest benefactor, Gov. John Bel Edwards, to meet with the Pope on the issue of child sex trafficking so all is right with the world.

(But we can’t help but wonder if he will get into trouble like he did when another Pope came to Louisiana.)

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The Louisiana State Police Commission may have placed on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting an item to go into “executive session for discussion of professional competence” of commission Director Cathy Derbonne but an option that rests with Derbonne could put commission Chairman T.J. Doss behind the proverbial eight ball.

Doss is the State Police member on the commission. The remaining six members are appointed by the governor from each of the state’s Congressional districts.

Besides the item to enter into executive session, a separate item calls for “consideration of whether employment of the Director of State Police Commission should be continued or terminated.”

The entire proceeding, however could blow up in the faces of commissioners should Derbonne exercise her option to insist that all discussion be held in open session. Legally, she is entitled to make that call and if she does, there could be egg on the faces of Doss, Jared J Caruso-Riecke, et al.

In something of a plot twist, the web page of the State Police Commission was down briefly Wednesday night. Efforts to go onto the PAGE resulted in a message that the web address could not be accessed. The page was back online, however, after about 20 minutes.

Interestingly, the funneling of more than $40,000 in campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) through its executive director produced only a sham of an investigation by a political ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend was hired under a $75,000 contract to “investigate” the contributions which were approved by the LSTA board of directors, comprised of state troopers, and laundered through LSTA Executive Director David Young. Young made the contributions, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards, by writing checks on his personal account and then submitting expense invoices to the association.

Townsend, obviously taking his marching orders from up the food chain, declined to include as part of the evidence an audio recording of a meeting of troopers concerned about the contributions at which it was acknowledged that the LSTA violated the restrictions against state troopers becoming active in political campaigns, including making contributions. Townsend also failed to follow protocol in submitting a written report of his findings and instead, made only a verbal recommendation that “no action be taken.”

Townsend likewise has been silent on the issue of the manner in which commission members were appointed. When there is a vacancy, the commission chairman is required to notify the university president in that congressional district to solicit names for nominations from which list the governor makes his appointment.

Derbonne’s major transgression appears to be that she did her job, including notifying the governor’s office of the requirements for member appointments and of commission members who, like the LSTA, violated ethics rules by making political contributions while sitting on the board. Three members ultimately resigned because of that issue.

So, bottom line, what we have here is a failure to communicate (apologies to the late Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke). An attorney who is a crony of the governor shirks his duty to the job for which he was contracted but still collects his fees and stands in good stead with the commission while Derbonne followed the dictates of her job and finds her job is on the line.

Way to go, guys. You should really feel good about yourselves. Eulis Simien, I really thought you had more integrity than to let yourself be manipulated by Doss and Edmonson.

Every time I hear Doss talk, I wonder how it feels to have Edmonson’s hand up his backside.

Calvin Braxton, you’ve already seen what can happen when you cross Mike Edmonson, but you’re going along with this fiasco anyway?

Monica J. Manzella, I’m really not that surprised; after all, you negotiate contracts with the State Police on behalf of the City of New Orleans. No conflict there.

Jared J Caruso-Riecke, Mike Edmonson obviously owns you.

Donald Breaux, we know where your loyalty lies with your special LSTA-1 license plate on your car.

You’re all a real piece of work.

How can Simien and Caruso-Riecke (appointed June 6) and Manzella (Oct. 11), who between them, have barely a year’s experience on the board, make any kind of intelligent judgment call as to the competence of Derbonne? The answer is, they can’t; they can only rely on the manipulations of Edmonson and Doss.

And that $75,000 investigation by Taylor Townsend only to get a verbal “I recommend no action.” It’s a damn good thing you weren’t heading up the investigation of the previous commission executive director DEBRA JOHNSON. Even the Office of Inspector General nailed her for felony theft, fraud, and malfeasance in office.

If anyone in this tragicomedy should be called to the carpet for misappropriation of funds, it should be Townsend. I could’ve done what he did for a measly five bucks and a beer from the bar run by LSTA over at the State Police training facility in Zachary.

We can only hope Derbonne will exercise her rights and make them do their dirty work out in the open for everyone to see.

And if you think firing a single employee—for no other reason that she insists on doing the right thing despite what Edmonson wants—will make your problems disappear, you’re so very wrong.

If you think LouisianaVoice has been a pain in the ass so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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It’s no wonder the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) decided to give the boot to Leon “Bucky” Millet and three other retired members of LSTA. It seems that the retirees, particularly Millet, have been asking questions that are making the LSTA and the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) members extremely uncomfortable.

And their questions are a helluva lot more intelligent than the answers the commission has offered.

Oddly enough, all the questions Millet has peppered the commission with over the past several months seem to leave LSPC legal counsel Taylor Townsend especially oblivious—even as the meter keeps ticking on his legal fees for attending meetings while contributing nothing of substance.

But one commission member, Lloyd Grafton of Ruston, has zeroed in on the problem even if his colleagues have not and in doing so, broached a subject the others would apparently rather not discuss—apparent misleading testimony at last August’s meeting from State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

LouisianaVoice, meanwhile, has come in possession of a recording of a meeting of an affiliate troop meeting at which LSTA Executive Director David Young received a much tougher grilling than he did from commission members. Throughout the 16-minute recording, Young is questioned as to how the checks were written and who authorized the budgeting of money for contributions before anyone even knew who the candidates would be in any given race. At one point, Young was advised to have an audit conducted of LSTA expenditures. The questioning of Young, it appeared from the tone of the voices on the recording, was anything but friendly.

Millet, of Lake Arthur, has regularly appeared at monthly meetings of the commission to challenge the association’s political contributions and the commission for its failure, on advice of Townsend, to act on the contributions.

Millet has repeatedly said the contributions, decided on by the LSTA board, each of whom are state troopers, are a violation of commission rules prohibiting political activity by troopers.

The commission—and Townsend—just as consistently, has responded by saying LSTA is a private entity and David Young is not a state trooper, meaning the commission has no jurisdiction over the association.

Never mind that the contributions were made by Young with checks drawn from Young’s personal account and he in turn would be reimbursed by the association for “expenses.”

And never mind that the decisions of who to support and to whom checks would be contributed were made by LSTA board members, each of whom is a state trooper.

Millet again raised that issue at the commission’s November meeting. “This commission allowed mike Edmonson and command staff to get out of control,” he said. “The citizens of Louisiana deserve better. The agency I was so proud of has deteriorated to such a point that the LSTA has voted to excommunicate four members (retirees), including yours truly. There is no criteria for termination of membership. Most members who voted weren’t born when I retired from LSP.”

Commission Chairman T.J. Doss interrupted Millet to say, “There’s nothing pending before the commission that we can address. If you think something, please let us know.”

That’s when Grafton waded into the fray.

“We have no authority over LSTA but we do have authority over individual troopers who are being paid by the State of Louisiana. Troopers are prohibited from political activity. I know what our counsel said about LSTA. State troopers are not supposed to be giving political contributions to politicians.

“What I see in this whole process is a corrupting policy that is going on and is guaranteed that this association of state troopers is going to become more corrupt as time goes on as they invest money and continue to wallow in politics. That’s why we have a civil service for state troopers.”

Doss again attempted to interrupt. “Correct me if I’m wrong; we not discussing political contributions….”

“Let me finish,” Grafton shot back. “Any time you give money to politicians, you allow yourself to become corrupt. You cannot have protection of civil service and give money to politicians because you have given up that protection at that point in time. That’s why civil service was created. In Louisiana, we want to have it both ways: ‘Oh, I’m protected by civil service. I get equal protection under law.’ But you can’t because you’ve already made a choice. That is corruption and that’s where we are today.

“People who come to us, and I’m talking about the top administration of state police and they say, ‘Approve this lieutenant colonel position. It won’t cost you a dime more.’ Then I turn around and (the new lieutenant colonel slot) has gone from $125,000 to $150,000. Somebody is not being honest. This commission is a stepchild. That’s not our role. Our role is oversight, not undersight. We are to look and decide if something is fair or not. When it’s not, we say it’s not.

Commission member Jared J. Caruso-Riecke said, “My colleague’s rant notwithstanding, we have two lawyers here and another (Monica J. Manzella) who sits on this commission, but she’s new so I won’t put any pressure on her (apparently forgetting that commission member Eulis Simien, Jr. also is an attorney), so tell me, do we have jurisdiction over LSTA?

When told the commission did not, he then tried to compare LSTA to the Knights of Columbus. “If we’re being asked to go after the Knights of Columbus, I’m not gonna do it. I’m not gonna open up this commission to a civil lawsuit.”

Millet reminded Caruso-Riecke that while both the Knights of Columbus and LSTA are tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, the Knights of Columbus membership is made up of a cross section of the population while the LSTA membership is comprised exclusively of state troopers and retired troopers. Nor did Caruso-Riecke acknowledge that the LSTA board of directors is made up of only state troopers who made the decision to make the political contributions.

The bureaucratic shuffle was a perfect example of officials talking circle logic in an effort to avoid confronting the real issue. Except they weren’t very good at it, thanks to the anemic efforts of Chairman Doss.

“If what has happened doesn’t alarm you as commissioners, I don’t know what will,” Millet said.

Grafton then asked, “Do we have any authority over salaries? Did I hear Col. Edmonson say (in August) if we approve this new position (the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to lieutenant colonel and bestowing the title of deputy superintendent and chief accounting officer upon him), it won’t cost any more money? I understood him to say it won’t cost any more money. That means no raise. Yet my understanding is, he got a $25,000 raise. We did not approve any raise. It looks to me as if the administration doing as it pleases and we’ll get the word in some point in time. What part am I saying that is absolutely wrong? Did he say he wouldn’t get a raise? I don’t see a board member here who heard that.”

Simeon said, “That’s not an accurate reflection of what was said.”

“I know what I heard,” Grafton said.

At that point, members around the table suggested pulling up the recording of that August meeting and if what Grafton said was accurate, to get Edmonson back before the commission to explain the pay increase.

Commission Executive Director Cathy Derbonne told commissioners that Edmonson did indeed testify that the newly-created position would not cost State Police any additional funds.

In an effort to recover the high ground, Doss said, “We govern classified positions and we create unclassified positions but don’t govern them.

Derbonne said, “We create and we can take away. How can we create an unclassified position and not have control?”

“We have no authority over unclassified positions.”

Derbonne said, “We have jurisdiction only over classified positions that fall within pay grid. We cannot pay someone outside pay grid unless they come before the commission for approval.”

When LouisianaVoice reviewed a recording of that August, the revelations were damning to Doss and other supporters of Edmonson and showed that at least one commissioner, Grafton, was paying attention and not simply going through the motions.

In his appearance before the commission to request creation of the new position, Edmonson quite plainly said that he proposed moving Starnes into the position formerly held by JILL BOUDREAUX, but in a newly-created unclassified position. “We’re not creating any additional funding issues, no additional money,” Edmonson said. “He will be the CAO. No new funds will be needed. It is not my intention to even ask for that.”

It doesn’t get much plainer than that, campers.

At least Grafton was listening when it mattered.

Now let’s see how long he’s allowed to remain on the commission.

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co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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