November 30, 2015
For a second time, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has issued a ruling against the Caddo Parish Commission’s self-created retirement plan for Commissioners. The Auditor’s first warning as to the legality / constitutionality of the plan was issued in his letter to the Commission earlier this year, on February 12, 2015.
As was the stated assumption of the Auditor in that first letter, a supposed move by the Commission to obtain a declaratory judgment on the matter in First Judicial District Court in Caddo quickly failed. Its February lawsuit attempted to enjoin the Louisiana Attorney General in the dispute, for which there was no legal ground. Caddo District Court Judge Michael Pitman summarily tossed the suit.
On March 16, 2015, I filed suit against the Caddo Parish Commission, its top two administrators, and Commissioners seeking to recover the hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayer dollars these officials had paid themselves in illegal CPERS benefits. After further research by my pro bono partner in the suit, attorney Whitney Pesnell, we found that Commissioners had paid themselves yet another list of benefits explicitly barred by the 1984 Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.
No trial on the merits of our lawsuit has yet been held. Mr. Purpera’s new, second ruling may be read here.
The Auditor’s February letter was written after I published online my initial articles on the subject – January 27, 2012 and February 2, 2012. Mr. Purpera and other local, state and federal officials are recipients of my articles.
In his first letter, the Auditor specifically cited the following sections of the Louisiana Constitution, and later supporting opinions of the Louisiana Attorney General, in detailing his then-opinion that CPERS “… is improper”:
1. Louisiana Constitution Article X, Section 29.1
2. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 09-0115
3. Louisiana Attorney General Opinion No. 10-0183
4. Louisiana Constitution, Article VI, Section 4
5. Louisiana Attorney AG Opinion No. 10-1083
Mr. Purpera then ended that first letter with this admonition: “… it is within the purview of the Legislative Auditor’s authority to advise on the proper use of public money. Therefore, based upon the Constitutional Amendments cited above, it appears to us that for Caddo Parish to continue to contribute public monies on behalf of Commissioners elected after (January 1) 1997, is improper. I urge you to reconsider your position and to determine whether Ordinances 3762 and 4343 should be repealed.”
Caddo Commissioners have ignored by Mr. Purpera’s advice, since paying outside lawyers $46,000 in taxpayer funds to fight to keep their many types of self-pay.
In today’s second report, Mr. Purpera adds new information from his auditors:
1. Caddo Parish Commissioners have received more than $258,665 in public money to fund their retirements, even though they are part-time elected officials barred by the Louisiana Constitution from participating in any local- or parish-sponsored retirement system.
2. Since the Commission was not eligible to participate in CPERS, Parish contributions appear to be donations (to Commissioners) in violation of yet another constitutional ban.
3. “The Caddo Parish attorney told auditors there is no conflict between the (Commission) ordinance and the Louisiana Constitution because the constitution only prohibits part-time public officials from participating in public retirement systems that are defined benefit plans, not defined contribution plans like CPERS.”
“Regardless,” Purpera said, “the Constitution provides that these part-time public officials cannot be members of a State of Louisiana-sponsored or any political subdivision-sponsored, retirement plan that contributes public funds to their retirement.”
5. The Auditor moves the matter, for the first time, into considerations of federal law and funds. Specifically, auditors found that Commissioners received $136,540 more than if they had properly participated in Social Security, noting that, “In that case, the Parish would only have paid $122,124 in Social Security taxes for those Commissioners.”
Contrary to the intentions of Commissioners, the Auditor also notes that if the ordinance is found unconstitutional in a state court, he is advising Caddo Parish to seek to recover improper contributions.
Those “improper contributions” are, of course, in the possession of the Commission and/or any Commissioners who have already withdrawn these taxpayer funds. In addition are other totals of public money Commissioners have paid themselves for years of salary above $1,200 per month, travel, and insurance which are banned by the Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter.
… developing …
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)