Retired troopers hint lawsuit over Edmonson Amendment
Another case of “insider manipulation of the system” was revealed by Tom Aswell and LouisianaVoice recently that deserves close scrutiny . If any department in Louisiana government had key workers whose pay raises disproportionately exceeded all others in the department, auditors should have reason to question. Four state police officers closely affiliated with the Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police (LSP), Colonel Mike Edmonson, have enjoyed not only rapid advancement through the ranks, but they have been rewarded with combined pay raises totaling more than $115,000 (an average of $28,750 each) in the 6 ½ years since Edmonson was appointed superintendent on Jan. 14, 2007, the same day Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor.
Those pay raises, it should be pointed out, were for promotions and do not include the $42 million appropriated this year by the legislature for pay raises for all state troopers. The alarm raised by a group of retired state troopers point out inconsistencies in Edmonson’s version of events surrounding the amendment to a Senate bill that bumped his retirement income up by $55,000 per year while at the same time, calling on Edmonson to demand that the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board take “immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.”
In their letter, the retired troopers even dropped a thinly-veiled hint that they would file legal action to have the new law declared unconstitutional in the event that Edmonson and the LSPRS board do not take it upon themselves to have the new law stricken.
LouisianaVoice obtained the records about the pay raises and made the connection that are critical in bringing this to the public.
Senate Bill 294, passed as Act 859 when Jindal signed the bill, was authored by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) and dealt specifically with disciplinary procedures to be taken in cases in which law enforcement officers came under investigation. The bill was never properly advertised as a retirement bill as required by the State Constitution.
That’s because the bill in its original form did not address retirement issues but when it was referred to a conference committee of three senators and three representatives, conference committee member Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted what has come to be known as the “Edmonson Amendment” because it allowed Edmonson and one other trooper to rescind their decisions to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which had frozen Edmonson’s retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s pay grade of $79,000 and allowed him to retire at 100 percent of his current colonel’s salary of $134,000.
All other troopers, teachers, and state employees who entered DROP years ago and subsequently received promotions or pay raises do not have that option available to them and still have their retirements frozen at the pay level at the time they entered DROP.
LouisianaVoice recently received a series of emails from State Police headquarters through a public records request that revealed that Capt. Jason Starnes, while questioning the motives of LouisianaVoice reporter Robert Burns in attending last month’s LSTRS board meeting, also issued a laundry list of talking points as a response to the controversy arising from the Edmonson Amendment.
Starnes was a state police sergeant in 2007 but on Feb. 3, 2009, he was promoted to lieutenant. Less than four years later, on Oct. 19, 2012, he was again promoted, this time to captain. Over that period of time, his salary has gone from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase of nearly 36 percent.
And then there is Paul Edmonson, Mike Edmonson’s brother. He has done even better than Starnes.
A state police sergeant when his brother was named superintendent, Paul Edmonson was promoted to lieutenant on July 25, 2008, just six months after his brother was appointed superintendent by Jindal. He was promoted again on Sept. 7, 2011, to captain and again just two years later, on Oct. 9, 2013, to major.
During his brother’s tenure as superintendent, Paul Edmonson has seen his salary jump from $63,500 per year to $93,000, an increase of 46 percent.
But even that pales in comparison to Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy.
Dupuy was already a captain when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent and was promoted to major on Jan. 28, 2010—two years after Edmonson’s appointment. But less than a year later, on Jan. 10, 2011, Edmonson moved him up to Deputy Superintendent for Operations Planning and Training.
Edmonson kept Dupuy on the career fast track, promoting him again on April 9, 2012, to Assistant Superintendent and Chief of Staff.
Over that span, Dupuy’s salary went from $80,000 to $122,000, an increase of 52.5 percent.
Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, even has gone along for the ride. A state police sergeant making $59,800 a year when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent, her acceleration through the ranks in a relative short time has been equally impressive. She was promoted to lieutenant on Oct. 27, 2009, just three months before her husband was promoted to major. She made captain last Oct. 25 and now earns $80,500, an overall salary increase of nearly 35 percent.
Charles Dupuy, it should be noted, represents his boss on the LSPRS board and might seem predisposed to look the other way on the Edmonson Amendment issue. Others who might be expected to take a similar “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to the amendment are Andrea Hubbard who represents Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee. State Rep. Kevin Pearson is chairman of the House Retirement Committee but has expressed surprise at the content of the Edmonson Amendment. Other unknown qualities on the board are board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, Kevin Marcel, vice chairman, and Thurman Miller of the Central State Troopers Coalition.
The retired troopers, in their letter to Edmonson said the perceived reluctance on the part of the LSPRS board to act on the amendment is “seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of the state police.”
“That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf,” the letter said.
“We look to you (Edmonson) to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.”
Here is the complete text of the retired troopers’ letter to Edmonson:
There is much attention on and discussion of anticipated action by the LSPRS regarding legislation passed during the recent (2014) session of the Louisiana Legislature. We specifically refer to Senate Bill 294, now Act 859. While there are still unanswered questions regarding when and how the amendment evolved, and who the participants were, what is clear is this bill as amended provides for you and one other Trooper to now revoke a previously irrevocable decision to enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). The effect of this change increases substantially your retirement benefits, and most disturbing, the funding for it is from the same fund that provides cost of living adjustments (COLA) to state police retirees, surviving spouses, and orphans.
You have been quoted in various reports as saying you “didn’t ask for the change to state law” and you “didn’t know who initiated it.” Later that same day you revised your statement to say you “did not request the change”, but your “staff” told you there was legislation available that would ‘fix not only you but other members,” (We would find out two weeks later from State Senator Neil Riser, who had mounting pressure from media investigations that he “was asked by Louisiana State Police Deputy Superintendent Charlie Dupuy to offer the amendment, which became part of a bill to address rights of law enforcement officers. It was presented to me as addressing broad retirement issues”.) If, as you and Senator Riser have publicly stated, Dupuy provided false information, what he has done is at best unethical and possibly illegal.
You have also said, “Let’s let the board review it and make sure things are the way they should be, if not, let’s correct it.” A little over a week after your initial comments you issued a statement, “…regardless of what comes back from the review by the attorneys for the retirement committee, I’m going to follow my heart and not accept it…” noting that you want to let the legislature review it next session based on any proper protocol.” Contrary to erroneous briefing points provided to you by Captain Jason Starnes, as reported in the media, this bill was not advertised as a retirement bill. It does not meet constitutional requirements; the same Constitution you have sworn to uphold, therefore things ARE NOT “as they should be.”
Every legislator that has commented on this issue has said they were unaware of what they had voted for and expressed concern and outrage that the true facts and impacts of the bill were hidden from them. Some have vowed to introduce changes to ensure in the future, this process is transparent. Additionally, several attorneys familiar with federal and state retirement laws and court rulings have agreed this is blatantly unconstitutional and suggested that the unintended consequences of this bill as it remains today could likely lead to a class action suit by all other state retirees who had the same decision as you regarding DROP, under federal equal protection guidelines.
If they should prevail, the results would be catastrophic for all state retirement systems and detrimental to the state’s credit rating. This would in turn ensure significant impact on the citizens of Louisiana with most likely drastic cuts in public services and higher education along with tax increases. In the face of all this, Colonel, it is being reported, and we have been told that the LSPRS may not be planning to conduct a meeting to hear the results of the investigation and take action.
Other reports concern us in that board members who work for or contract with the department are purportedly being pressured by your “staff” to be loyal to you at all costs. In your statements, you encouraged an investigation, and further declared you would not accept the benefits provided for in this legislation. Therefore we don’t understand why action by the board would be of concern to you or your staff unless your intent is other than you’ve stated. In fact based on your previous statements it would appear that board action to challenge and enjoin legally this unconstitutional, ill-conceived and poorly thought out law is consistent with what you have said publicly and is in the best interests of the other state police retirees and all citizens of Louisiana.
This matter and the subsequent actions surrounding this law are seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of state police. This affects not only department trust from the legislators, essential to the future success of state police, but also the trust of the public that reflects on every trooper who puts on that uniform and badge each day. That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf.
Colonel Edmonson, you have said this is a distraction to our troopers. We agree and therefore call on you to openly and publicly demand the Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board take immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.
If your intent is to pursue this openly next year in the legislature, this action will clear the air for that to occur in an open forum without the hint of impropriety. You know that should Act 859 remain as law, the legislature could simply not act next year, or should some change occur (even not of your own making) to require you to retire before you plan, the law as passed is binding on the LSPRS and on you. To ignore this subjects the state to liability.
We look to you to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.
NOTE: Thanks Tom for great investigative coverage!