There are questions about alleged special treatment for State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson after an amendment regarding his retirement plan made its way onto an unrelated Senate bill in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session.
Edmonson says he's done nothing wrong and will get the same benefits as other troopers in the system, but now the board overseeing that system is investigating.
At their regular board meeting on Wednesday, the Louisianan State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) asked their attorneys for more information regarding an eleventh-hour amendment onto Senate Bill 294. The amendment came in conference committee, meaning it's unclear who exactly added it to the bill that was eventually signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Original sponsor Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) did not return a request for comment.
The amendment effectively releases Edmonson and one other Master Trooper from the old Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) that was repealed in 2009 and puts them in the current Back-DROP. Edmonson was a Captain when he entered DROP, meaning his pension would have been based on his Captain's salary. The decision to enter DROP is normally irrevocable, but the amendment in question allows Edmonson's pension to be calculated with his current Colonel salary of $134,000.
An actuarial note attached to SB 294 lists the cost of the amendment at $300,000 over five years, estimating the amount to be paid out to Edmonson and the other Trooper.
State Treasurer John Kennedy sits on the LSPRS board and asked for more information on the amendment after a recent meeting with the "big three" credit rating agencies in New York. He told the board that representatives from Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch expressed concern about special treatment within the system.
"I'd like to know about the legality of the bill, can you do an amendment dealing with a retirement issue that's supposed to be advertised, can you do it in a conference committee when you haven't advertised it," Kennedy asked the board. "I'd like to be able to report back to the ratings agencies that we're on this, we understand the issue. I want to know if somebody got special treatment, how much is it going to cost us to give everybody the same treatment."
In a telephone conversation Wednesday from out of state, Edmonson told 9News it was his understanding that the amendment would simply take him out of the old retirement system and put him in the current one. He said he respects the board's investigation, and will not take any extra money if it's determined the amendment is illegal or unethical. Edmonson said he does understand why the amendment looks suspicious, but pointed out that many items are passed on the final day of the legislative session.
Kennedy wants details.
"This amendment didn't just fall from Heaven. Somebody put this amendment on this bill, and we need to find out who and why," he said. "Somebody has a lot of explaining to do. I understand how it looks, but I want to get the facts first. That's the only rational way to proceed, and I want to hear the other side of the story."
The board's next meeting is scheduled for September, but Kennedy asked for a special meeting before then to go over the findings of the investigation.
"It doesn't matter if you're a king or a pawn, a prince or a pauper, when it comes to our retirement system, everybody is supposed to be treated equally," he said. "If we do find, and we haven't found that yet, but if we do find that somebody received special treatment to which he or she was not entitled, then I'm going to vote to take it away."