James Gill: Jindal gives Edmonson a big thank-you

It may be State Police Chief Mike Edmonson’s job to protect Gov. Bobby Jindal, but simple manners still require a big thank-you.

A gift is appropriate, too, and Jindal delivered. Displaying the generosity that always comes with control of other people’s money, he signed a bill drafted with the sole purpose of handing Edmonson an extra-fat retirement. The terms of the bill also happen to fit a state trooper in Houma, but the boost to his pension is collateral.

The total cost to the taxpayer is $300,000 over the next five years, according to the “actuarial note” that was supposed to be filed when the bill came up in committee but did not surface until a few days after the session ended.

Edmonson says he didn’t ask for the bill, but his staff, with his approval, did. What difference that made will have escaped legislators. That the purpose was to do a favor for a blue-eyed boy was obvious to anyone who read the bill, which lets most legislators out.

It is not uncommon for legislators to pass bills without a clear understanding of what is in them, but this one was heavily amended in secret and sneaked through at the last minute in what looked like a conspiracy to ensure they were kept in the dark. Legislators are always running round in circles in the last few hours of a session, so it was pretty much bound to work. Only later was it possible to count the number of times the state constitution had been flouted so that Edmonson could pocket the loot.

Whether the plot originated in Jindal’s office or the legislature is impossible to say, as all parties have run for cover since it came to light. The truth may finally come out, but Edmonson, if we can take him at his word, won’t get the pension boost anyway. He says he won’t accept if any impropriety occurred, and Jindal would hardly have put him in charge of the State Police if he didn’t have the investigative skills to establish that in a jiffy.

Edmonson, who has been with State Police for 34 years, said in a radio interview Monday that the bill was just an exercise in fairness. He and the Houma trooper, a 32-year veteran, are the only ones left on the force who participated in the old DROP plan, under which they elected to retire early, with pension contributions over their last three years paid into a savings account. DROP participants were free to continue to work after accumulating their nest eggs, and earn more retirement benefits, but they were calculated according to the salary earned at the date of retirement. Edmonson, who was a captain at the time and is now a colonel, would thus have been much better off in the long run if he had elected not to participate in DROP.

Many current and former state employees also regretted their decision to join DROP, but it was too late; the rules said it was “irrevocable,” and nobody had the stroke to gain an exception until Edmonson, or his staffers, demanded it. Edmonson said on the radio that the bill ensures that he and the Houma trooper are put on the same footing as everyone else, which is manifestly untrue. No other current trooper tried to weasel out after pocketing the DROP money.

Edmonson’s line that this bill merely corrects an injustice is hard to square with the surreptitious manner of its passage. In its original form, it dealt only with police discipline procedures, but was hijacked by a six-man conference committee. When it emerged, it had been reborn as a guarantor of Edmonson’s golden years in blithe disregard of the state constitution, which requires that bills have a single purpose and that amendments are germane and advertised before they are introduced.

When objections were raised later, even members of the conference committee said they had failed to understand what they voted on, and, given the end-of-session confusion, at least some of them were probably telling the truth. Certainly it is easy to believe that the full House and Senate gave their approval without thinking.

That cannot be said of Jindal, however. His was a most thoughtful gesture.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.