“I Will Not Lie, Cheat, or Steal or Tolerate Those Who Do.” — John Bel Edwards
By Robert Mann
Any hopes that the election of Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards would signal a change of direction at the ethically troubled Louisiana State Police headquarters were dashed on Wednesday when Edwards announced that he was re-appointing Col. Mike Edmonson to the job he held for eight years under Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Edmonson earned widespread scorn and derision for his involvement in a shady amendment, passed in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, that gave him and one other state trooper substantial increases in retirement income. It was never clear just how much Edmonson stood to gain by the sneaky, illegal arrangement, but it appears that the figure was, at least, $30,000 a year. Edmonson was eventually forced to turn down the money.
In bestowing upon Edmonson my “Villain of the Year” award last year, I noted that the ignominious honor was shared by him and “state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who feigned ignorance about the origin of an amendment that provided Edmonson and one other state trooper a generous, unearned boost in retirement income. After refusing to admit authorship, Riser finally fessed up and admitted his role in the scheme. Edmonson insisted the idea originated with his staff.”The deal stunk to the heavens, as I reported in August 2014:
The sneaky, dishonest way Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature shoveled an extra $30,000 in annual retirement benefits to the head of the Louisiana State Police should forever prevent Jindal from bragging about having cleaned up his state’s politics.
It won’t, but the events that resulted in an illegal retirement boost for Col. Mike Edmonson – Jindal’s appointed police chief – suggests that Louisiana politics remains a cesspool of cronyism.
In the closing hours of the 2014 legislative session, legislators passed legislation with an amendment granting Edmonson and another state trooper – both enrolled in the state’s DROP retirement plan, but still working and earning full salaries – additional retirement benefits.
Of course, the amendment didn’t mention Edmonson or anyone else by name. That fact didn’t give legislators pause. They passed the bill without the required fiscal impact statement. Only after Jindal’s signature did we discover the retirement honey pot and its cost.
Had they asked any questions, legislators might have realized they were giving $300,000 in extra retirement benefits to just two individuals. Actually, they spent much more money than that, as the fiscal analysis (conducted after the bill passed) only assessed the impact of the bill’s first five years. Edmonson is 55. He stands to collect the extra money for several decades.
When state Treasurer John Kennedy and the state’s news media (including dogged bloggers C.B. Forgotston and Tom Aswell) challenged the propriety of the deal, no one seemed to know where the amendment originated. After first denying authorship, Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), a close Jindal ally, finally acknowledged his role.
Edmonson says that the legislation wasn’t his idea, but rather that of his loyal staff. If you are gullible enough to accept that, you might also believe that most charismatic leaders inspire their underlings to agonize over the boss’s post-retirement comfort.
Edmonson’s role in this disturbing caper isn’t the only reason Edwards should have sent the colonel packing. Over at Louisiana Voice, journalist Tom Aswell has spent the past two years cataloging the various ethical problems plaguing the State Police under Edmonson’s misrule. (He filed this new report on Edmonson on Wednesday.)
So, why would Edwards reappoint a man with such unethical baggage? Could this have anything to do with it?
Whatever the case, chalk up one bad appointment for Edwards, which brings into question his judgment, as well as his commitment to ethical governance. In this case, the new Edwards administration will not be a break with the sordid Jindal administration but, rather, an embarrassing continuation of it.