Sources told FOX 8 News that a state senator is behind a controversial legislative amendment that will raise the future retirement of the head of state police by $30,000 a year. And Friday afternoon, the senator himself admitted he was responsible for the maneuver.
Days after the legislative session, Senator Neil Riser took a picture with the head of state police, Col. Mike Edmonson.
"A lot of signs are pointing to Neil Riser," said attorney and former legislative staffer C.B. Forgotston on Thursday.
That picture was taken after, sources say, Riser helped introduce legislation that will boost Edmonson's retirement. Sources say Sen. Neil Riser is behind the amendment, voted on in the final day of last month's legislative session. Documents show Senate staffer Laura Sullivan inserted the amendment in the bill. Sullivan is a staff member assigned to the revenue and fiscal affairs committee, a committee that Riser heads.
Forgotston said it's odd that Sullivan would have amended this bill. "His committee does not deal with retirement issues," Forgotston noted. "Riser's committee strictly deals with taxation."
On Monday, we requested Sullivan's emails to track communication on the amendment. Wednesday, Senate officials acknowledged that "the information you are seeking pertains to the consideration and enactment of the retirement legislation that might affect Col. Mike Edmonson and/or any other members of the Louisiana State Police retirement system." But they won't hand over the emails, writing, "All of the records you request to review are privileged from your examination."
"I find it a little ironic that, for the last seven sessions, various legislators have put bills in to try to make the governor's office more transparent," said Forgotston. "And at the same time they lack transparency, just like the governor's office."
In a statement to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune Friday, Sen. Riser admitted, "I directed my staff to help draw up the amendment. I saw it for the first time on the last hectic day of the session. I am reviewing the facts now. If we need to adjust the language, I am open to that."
Riser initially declined to admit his role in introducing the amendment, which was formally introduced on June 2. He insists now that he did not realize the move would affect just two troopers, including Edmonson, and that all troopers deserve higher salaries and better benefits."
Here's what happened. In 2006, Edmonson turned 50 years old and, under the laws at that time, he was forced to decide whether to enter what's called the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP. By entering DROP, Edmonson eventually would get three years of his salary in a lump-sum payment, and his future retirement would be calculated at his pay rate around that time, around $70,000 a year. Edmonson voluntarily made the decision to enter DROP.
Lawmakers changed the law in 2009, no longer forcing anyone in state police to make that DROP decision at age 50.
The law that was passed this year would basically allow Edmonson to erase that voluntary DROP decision and let his future retirement benefits be calculated with his current salary, $134,000 a year.
"These are taxpayer dollars, ok? Taxpayer dollars and retiree dollars," said La. Treasurer John Kennedy, who sits on the state police retirement board.
"It's disappointing, maybe not surprising but it's disappointing," Kennedy told us in an interview prior to Riser's admission. "I would like to know, we would all like to know what happened. Maybe there's a completely innocent explanation for all of this. And that's what we're going to find out."
Kennedy wants the board to call a special meeting next month to investigate what happened. "So far, I mean by appearances, somebody's got a lot of questions to answer - because nobody is taking responsibility," he said. "And this provision didn't just fall from heaven, you know. Somebody wrote it, somebody put it in the bill. And I'm convinced that the vast majority of legislators did not know what they were voting on."
Kennedy wants to find out if the bill is legal, and how much it is going to cost. "If we find out that somebody got special treatment, I will tell you I will vote to challenge it," he said. "But we're not there yet."
Riser's from Columbia, about 35 miles south of Monroe.
C.B. Forgotston says it's time for the truth to come out. Our sources say Riser was behind the amendment. But Forgotston wants to know who brought the idea to Riser - an idea that could cost Louisiana taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
"Somebody brought the idea to the Capitol," Forgotston said. "It didn't just come by osmosis… It's time for us to find out who they are. There's no privilege for that. Either the state troopers are going to come forward and uphold the integrity of the State Police badge that we all respect as citizens, or they're not."
Col. Edmonson issued a statement Friday in response to these latest developments, saying he would not accept the additional $30,000 in annual retirement benefits:
There's been too much distraction on what ought to be most important and that's my men and women who carry the State Police badge and are doing remarkable work across Louisiana. The spotlight should be on them and not me. Because of that, 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...
We will let the legislature review it next session based on any proper protocol. They can make a determination whether they want to do anything with it or not. I have notified the legislature, and will notify my state police retirement committee on Monday. I have also advised Governor Jindal's administration of my decision."