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Except for Walsworth, deafening silence over Edmonson amendment

Written by  // Friday, 25 July 2014 09:07 //

capitolby Tom Aswell, Publisher of Louisiana Voice

State Treasurer John Kennedy has forwarded a two-page letter to the executive director of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) that itemizes 13 questions Kennedy said need to be addressed concerning the $55,000 per year pension increase awarded State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson in the closing minutes of the recent legislative session.

 

An amendment to Senate Bill 294, quickly signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, allowed Edmonson and one other state trooper to revoke their decision made at lower ranks to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP). In Edmonson’s case, he entered DROP as a captain, which effectively froze his retirement calculated on his salary at that time.

He was subsequently promoted to Superintendent of State Police which carried with it a substantial pay increase that made the DROP decision a bad one—like many other state employees who made similar moves and were later promoted.

The amendment was inserted into an unrelated bill dealing with disciplinary actions to be taken with law enforcement officers under investigation by a six-member conference committee, none of whom will claim credit—or blame—for the action.

Even worse than the furtive action, most probably taken at the direction of Gov. Bobby Jindal, five of the six conference committee members appear to be unwilling to man up and discuss their actions.

Kennedy, who by virtue of his office is a member of LSPRS, wrote to Executive Director Irwin Felps:

“In furtherance of our board meeting, other discussions regarding this matter and our fiduciary obligations to all of the people the system serves, I wanted to set forth in writing, as a board member and the State Treasurer, the issues that I think must be fully investigated and answered by you, our counsel and other staff, for the board so that it can make the necessary decisions and take appropriate actions, if any, to meet its fiduciary duties. This list is not meant to be exclusive, and there may be others to be included from other members, you, counsel and others, which should be answered too and which I welcome.”

Kennedy then listed the following 13 questions which he said needed answers:

  • How many people does the act benefit?
  • Who are the people it benefits, so that they can be invited to address these issues and their involvement with our board?
  • What are all of the costs of the act to the system and its members?
  • Is it true the actuarial note setting forth the cost of the act was added three days after the bill passed and, if so, why?
  • What would be the costs to give the same retirement benefit increase resulting from the act to all troopers and their dependents that are similarly situated?
  • What is the opinion of the act of the Governor’s Executive Counsel who reviewed the bill before the Governor’s signature approving it?
  • Who sponsored the benefits-boosting conference committee amendment, so that they can be invited to address why it was offered with our board?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the legal requirement of proper notice for a retirement benefits bill?
  • Does the amendment in question meet the legal requirement of “germaneness” (relevance) to the amended bill?
  • Does the amendment in question violate the state constitutional prohibition against the Legislature passing a law that impairs the obligations of contracts?
  • Does the amendment in question satisfy the state constitutional requirement of equal protection of the law?
  • Does the process by which the amendment in question was adopted violate the Legislature’s internal rules or procedures?
  • What are the board’s legal options?

Copies of Kennedy’s letter were sent to State Treasury Executive Counsel Jim Napper and board members of LSPRS, Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS), Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL), and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System (LSERS).

Records denied LouisianaVoice by House, Senate

The six conference committee members who met to iron out differences in the House and Senate versions of SB 294, to which the controversial amendment was added, include Sens. Jean-Paul Morrell (who authored the original bill), Neil Riser (R-Columbia) and Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), and Reps. Jeff Arnold (D-New Orleans), Walt Leger, III (D-New Orleans) and Bryan Adams (R-Gretna).

We attempted to obtain records of emails between conference committee members, Edmonson, the governor’s office and the Division of Administration but the wagons were quickly circled and we got the standard runaround from both the House and Senate.

It seems by some convoluted logic that communications of legislators about legislative business that affects taxpayers is not public record.

This is the response we received from both the House and Senate:

“You request: ‘all emails, text messages and/or any other communications between Col. Mike Edmonson and members of his staff, State Sen. Neil Riser and/or any of his staff members, any other legislator and/or members of their staff, specifically Reps. Jeff Arnold, Walt Leger and Bryan Adams (and Morrell, Riser and Walsworth) and between either of these (six) members and Gov. Bobby Jindal and/or any of his staff members, including but not limited to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and/or any members of her staff, concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System.’

“Any communication by or with or on behalf of a Legislator ‘concerning, pertaining to or relevant to any discussion of the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson and discussion of any retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other member of the Louisiana State Police Retirement System’ falls under the ‘speech’ protected by LA con. art. III, § 8, clause 2: ‘No member shall be questioned elsewhere for any speech in either house.’ Our appellate courts have held that ‘the speech privilege extends to freedom of speech in the legislative forum; when members are acting within the “legitimate legislative sphere,’ the privilege is an absolute bar to interference. The courts have further held that conduct which falls within this ‘sphere’ of privilege is ‘anything generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.’ Copsey v. Baer, No. CA 91 0912, 593 So.2d 685, 688 (1st Cir. Dec. 27, 1991), Writ Denied 594 So.2d 876, (La., Feb. 14, 1992).

“Your request to review records concerning retirement legislation falls directly within the ‘sphere’ protected against disclosure by the Louisiana constitution. All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination.”

So there you go, folks. You have no right to pry into the business of the State of Louisiana if it’s discussed by a legislator. How’s that for the gold standard of ethics and for accountable and transparent government?

Only Walsworth responds to LouisianaVoice email

LouisianaVoice also sent each of the six an identical email on Wednesday that said:

“Because there has been nothing but deafening silence from the six members of the conference committee that approved the egregious retirement increase for Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, I thought I would contact each of you individually to give you the opportunity to explain your thought process in enacting this legislation to benefit only two people to the exclusion of all the others who opted for DROP but would now like to revoke that decision.

“To that end, I have several questions that I respectfully ask you as honorable men with nothing to hide to answer. Your continued silence will leave me no alternative but to believe you are not honorable men and that this action was taken in the session’s dying hours in a deliberate attempt to do an end around the public’s right to know what transpires in Baton Rouge.”

Here are the questions I posed to each man:

  • Did you introduce, or do you know who introduced, the amendment to SB 294? (If each of you denies any knowledge of this, the implication is simple: you take issue with State Treasurer John Kennedy’s contention that the amendment did not “fall from the heavens.”)
  • Did you have any contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff prior to the amendment’s being added to SB 294?
  • At what point during the session just ended did the matter of Col. Edmonson’s retirements first arise?
  • Why was the full House and Senate not made aware of the wording of the amendment to SB 294?
  • Was it your intent that no one should know the real intent of amendment to SB 294?
  • Edmonson, on Jim Engster’s radio show, indicated it came up several weeks before the end of the session. If that is true, why was there a delay until the last day of the session to tack the amendment onto SB 294?
  • Did you have any contact relative to the amendment from Gov. Jindal’s office or the office of Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols?
  • If you did have contact with Mike Edmonson and/or any of his staff members, the governor’s office or Kristy Nichol’s office, would you willingly release the contents of those communications?
  • Finally, do you think it fair to do this for only two people while excluding hundreds, perhaps thousands of retirees who made similar decisions to enter DROP only to regret their decisions?

With the exception of Walsworth who responded on Thursday, the response has been a continued embarrassing silence.

Here is Walsworth’s response:

“I did not introduce the amendment.  I can only answer for myself, not others.

“I had no contact with Mike Edmonson or any member of his staff concerning this amendment.

“I believe I heard about the problems with the amendment like everyone else, through the media a couple of weeks ago.

“The last day of the session is usually very hectic.  My recollection of the events of that day was that the report came to my desk by a staffer.  I saw the amendment and asked if it effected (sic) more than one more person.

“The staffer said yes. I knew that in the past we had given this provision to several retirement systems. So I signed the report. Sen. Jody Amedee’s child was in the hospital and as Vice Chair of Senate Gov. Affairs Committee, I was in charge of the Senate going into Executive Session to handle appointments. To be honest, I do not recall what the author said when he presented SB 294 on the floor.

“I had no contact from anyone in Gov. Jindal’s office or Kristy Nichols’ office.

“It has been many years since I was on the retirement committee.  I have always been an advocate that retirees should have more choices. They should have more control of their retirement. I am sorry that this effected (sic) just these 2 individuals. I thought it would effect (sic) more.”

But the sorriest, most pathetic, most despicable thing about this entire sordid mess is that members of that conference committee are perfectly willing to throw a female staff attorney under the bus to protect their own pitiful hides.

Laura Gail Sullivan is the legal counsel for the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee her name is at the top of the page of the conference committee report.

Given the fact that Sen. Neil Riser was on that conference committee and, as Chairman of the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, it doesn’t take a genius to come up with a pretty good guess as to who instructed Sullivan to insert the amendment.

But the fact is that with the exception of Walsworth—if he is to be believed—not one of the committee members came to Sullivan’s defense. They choose instead to let a subordinate who was following orders take the heat.

Their action, or more accurately, inaction, is the very definition of hiding behind a skirt.

These are men who will run for cover and let a staff member take the heat for their actions. And the fact that not one of them has the backbone to come forward, makes them, in our opinion, the lowest form of humanity to dare call themselves public servants.

It is our fervent hope that in 2015 they will draw formidable opponents who will be more than happy to let voters know the gutless wonders these cowards turned out to be and who will rat them out for the rodents they are.

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