Lee Zurik Investigation: Riser’s amendment could cost state millions

Updated: Apr. 13, 2017 at 8:28 PM CDT
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A photo of State Sen. Neil Riser from his Congressional campaign web site
A photo of State Sen. Neil Riser from his Congressional campaign web site

A local attorney and legislative watchdog says a state senator responsible for a controversial amendment owes the public and his colleagues an apology. That senator did not publicly take responsibility for introducing the amendment until after FOX 8 aired a story, naming him.

C.B. Forgotston spent 13 years working in government. Now, the local attorney spends part of his time serving as a watchdog.

Last Wednesday, he emailed the six lawmakers who made up the legislative conference committee that first approved the amendment to Senate Bill 294 – the amendment boosting the retirement pay of the head of Louisiana State Police, Col. Mike Edmonson, by at least $30,000 a year. It was introduced in a closed door committee and never discussed in public until well after its passage.

"I sent the same questions to all six legislators," Forgotston tells us. "They all responded similarly."

Forgotston asked the six lawmakers which of them initially pushed to amend the bill, who gave the amendment to them and who drafted it. Neil Riser responded to Forgotston's email a week and a half ago.

"I have been trying to reach Neil Riser for seven years on various topics," Forgotston tells us. "He refuses to respond to me. This is the first time he ever responded, in seven years."

When Riser responded to Forgotston, he didn't take responsibility and actually said he "first saw the amendment when I [Riser] read the conference committee report drafted by staff."

"He denied any knowledge of the amendment," Forgotston says. "He didn't know where the amendment came from, he didn't know what it did."

One week after Forgotston got his reply from Riser, we reported that sources were telling us Riser himself was responsible for the amendment. One day after that report, Riser confirmed to NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune that he sponsored the amendment.

"Riser has now said, 'Yeah, it was me…' He should have apologized to the public," Forgotston insists. "He should have apologized to the other five members of the conference committee. He threw them under the bus. He definitely owes an apology to his staff member - he threw her under the bus."

The State Police Retirement Board thinks Edmonson's retirement would go up by about $30,000 a year because of the bill. Forgotston believes it's more like $55,000 a year, following an analysis by a former state budget officer.

Edmonson said last Friday he would refuse the extra money. But Forgotston warns, "As long as this bill is constitutional and remains on the books, he can take it any time he wants… He can claim it 20 years from now. So, that doesn't solve the problem. And Col. Edmonson can't speak for all the others that may benefit from this."

That's why State Treasurer John Kennedy wants to continue investigating. He still wants the SPRB to call a special meeting next month.

"If this were just a simple bill in the legislature, somebody says, 'Well okay, we're going to pull it down,' that's one thing," Kennedy told us Friday. "But this is a law that has been signed by our governor. So it seems to me the board has got to go forward, find out who's impacted, how many, what the cost is. And if we're giving an extra benefit to somebody or some bodies, we have to talk about the cost of offering that extra benefit to everyone else in the same situation. You can't treat people differently under the law. It's in our constitution and it's a part of being an American."

We sent Sen. Riser an email over the weekend, asking him to comment on his week-long silence on this amendment and why he didn't take responsibility until our story aired. We received a read receipt, showing he opened the email – but he didn't respond.

He may be asked to speak publicly on it again, if the SPRB holds that special meeting.

Forgotston says, even if Edmonson doesn't take the money, this mysterious amendment is now on the books. And he thinks it could end up costing the state millions of dollars.

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