Once again, and for the sixth consecutive year, State Civil Service employees are being forced to go without a pay raise.
And on the heels of this, the Office of Group Benefits is raising premiums by about 7.5 percent.
But not to worry: what Louisiana State Police (LSP) Superintendent Mike Edmonson couldn’t accomplish two years ago via what was literally a last-minute amendment to an obscure legislative bill, State Police Maj. Jason Starnes has done for him—and for himself and other high-ranking troopers, as well.
The tactic was pulled off so quickly and with such surprise that it could be considered a variation of the old smash and grab move where you strike suddenly, grab what you can and make a fast getaway.
Edmonson got a healthy salary increase of $43,100 (32 percent), from $134,350 to $177,450, effective Aug. 1, LouisianaVoice has learned.
Edmonson says several sheriffs, national guard officers and some State Police majors were making more than he did and that the increases were needed to make state police salaries more competitive.
But Edmonson also receives free housing, meals and furnishings, free butler, cooks and lawn care (courtesy of prisoners of the Louisiana Department of Corrections), a state vehicle and fuel—all at taxpayer expense.
So, just how competitive does he need to be?
Edmonson’s Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy also got a 14.5 percent raise, from $140,900 to $161,300, a jump of $20,400.
Starnes, promoted to LSP Chief Administrative Officer on Aug. 15, received a $21,850 (17 percent) raise, from $128,900 to $150,750.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning received a raise of $33,500 (32.2 percent), from $104,000 to $137,500.
The Baton Rouge Advocate, which broke its story an hour before ours went up and which cited the same sources (State Civil Service), listed two other LSP Deputy Superintendents who received raises: Glenn Staton and Murphy Paul, who got raises from $140,890 to $150,752 (7 percent). http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_4b9471c4-76e0-11e6-ab44-ffb987ff581f.html?sr_source=lift_amplify
It’s also worth noting here, since we’re talking about getting the records from Civil Service, that The Advocate also made a request to LSP for the records on Sept. 1 and The Advocate is still waiting. It’s not certain when The Advocate made its request to Civil Service but LouisianaVoice made its request to Civil Service about 3:30 p.m. on Friday (Sept. 9) and the records were produced within an hour. LSP, meanwhile, was busy doing the Kristy Nichols Shuffle, i.e. delaying providing the most basic of information. The Advocate story said the official LSP position was that it was still checking for redactions. Paraphrasing former New Orleans and Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Jim Mora, we can only respond with incredulity, “Redactions?! REDACTIONS?! Are you kidding me? REDACTIONS? Don’t talk to me about redactions! We’re not thinking about redactions; we just want basic information.”
Starnes, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the LSP ranks, apparently is the one who usurped legislative intent by signing off on the raises of Edmonson, Dupuy and Browning, each retroactive to Aug. 1.
You’ll remember that in 2014, in the closing minutes of the regular legislative session, State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) tacked an amendment onto a bill that would have given Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement benefits. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/11/generous-retirement-benefit-boost-slipped-into-bill-for-state-police-col-mike-edmonson-on-last-day-of-legislative-session/
Here is a copy of Amendment 4, which was passed but subsequently struck down in Baton Rouge state district court pursuant to a lawsuit filed by State Sen. Dan Claitor. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=911551&n=Conference
Earlier this year, the Legislature, through passage of House Bill 1, set the salaries of statewide elected officials and the governor’s cabinet members. Edmonson’s salary, like that of the governor, was set at $134,400.
But thanks to even more creative maneuvering by Edmonson (he continues to insist he had nothing to do with that retirement gambit but it’s our contention the amendment didn’t write itself and since it applied only to Edmonson and one other trooper….well, you do the math), certain select LSP personnel are getting generous pay bumps over and above last year’s two separate raises that amounted to 30 percent or more across the board.
Edmonson said last year that pay raises would not be going to troopers of ranks higher than major but with this latest round, which went into effect on Aug. 1, that promise appears to have been conveniently forgotten—as was Edmonson’s salary, supposedly set by HB 1.
The whole affair appears to have stemmed from Edmonson’s determination to promote Starnes. He first attempted to move him into the position of Interim Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/02/29/dps-undersecretary-jill-boudreaux-retiring-for-real-this-time-6-years-after-taking-incentive-buyout-at-governors-directive/
But retired State Trooper Bucky Millet filed a formal complaint, claiming the appointment was illegal. The move, Millet’s complaint said, 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.
Edmonson subsequently pulled the appointment. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/
But last month Edmonson came before the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC), the equivalent to the State Civil Service Board, with a proposal to create a new classified position, Chief Administrative Officer, apparently with the same duties and powers as the unclassified—and still vacant—Undersecretary position.
On Thursday (Sept. 8) of this week, the formal approval of the new position came before the LSPC, which immediately went into an illegal executive session.
Upon emerging from that closed-door session, Townsend recommended no action on Millet’s complaint and explained away Millet’s complaint by claiming Edmonson never actually appointed Starnes because that can only be done by the governor. Townsend failed to explain how the “non-appointed” Starnes’ appointment was posted briefly on the LSP Web page before quietly being taken down after Millet filed his complaint.
First of all, LSPC legal counsel Taylor Townsend (who has become a major disappointment as a $75,000 contract investigator who twice in as many “investigations,” has recommended no action by the commission while conducting no interviews and without introducing any pertinent recordings in his possession and writing no reports of his “findings”) said the executive session was to discuss “personnel matters” when in fact, the smart money says it was to discuss the legality of Edmonson’s move. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/08/calling-out-the-hayride-pseudo-investigations-backdoor-contracts-and-executive-sessions-cloistered-in-subterfuge/
Here are the guidelines for an executive session to discuss “personnel” matters:
La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings
- 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.
The closed-door meeting was illegal on at least three levels:
- To our knowledge, there was no discussion of the “character, professional competence, or physical or mental health” of Starnes.
- If that was what was discussed, the commission again violated the law by not complying with the requirement that “such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.” By failing to notify Starnes, he was denied the opportunity to say whether or not he desired a closed meeting.
- Moreover, the public meetings law says, “Nothing…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.”
Besides Townsend, the commission has one other full-time attorney who sits at the table during LSPC meetings. Between the two, someone should advise the commission of it legal obligations when trying to conduct its business away from the eyes and ears of the public.
Here’s the short version: Guys, there’s no app for that.
But then it was Townsend who in August attempted to tell LouisianaVoice (incorrectly, it was pointed out to him at the time by LouisianaVoice) that the commission was not required to give a reason for an executive session. And this from a man who once served in the Louisiana Legislature where our laws are written.
For Mr. Townsend’s enlightenment, here is that law:
La. R.S. 42:16 Executive Sessions
A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by R.S. 42:17 (see above-quoted statute); however, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting. Nothing in this Section or R.S. 42:17 shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of R.S. 42:12 through R.S. 42:2 (Emphasis added).