Col. Mike Edmonson didn't use up his nine lives, but before he announced his retirement this week, he had gotten a third of the way there.
Edmonson, a career trooper who'd spent nine years at the helm of the Louisiana State Police under two supportive governors, stepped down amid growing concern over questionable overtime spending and out-of-state travel by high-ranking employees. And while Edmonson is an admired figure in some law enforcement circles, this isn't the first time he's been linked to a stinky situation.
One came in 2014, when an amendment that would have allowed him to boost his pension somehow got attached to an unrelated bill in conference committee during the legislative session's final hours.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the embattled State Police superintendent, announced his retirement from…
A court hearing later determined that Edmonson's top aide had requested the change, and that state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, had added it, saying he didn't know it would have affected just Edmonson and one other person. Once controversy erupted in public, Edmonson said he wouldn't accept the additional money, and while the story ended when a judge blocked payment at the request of state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the lingering stench remained.
Still, Edmonson not only survived that incident, but held on to his job when Gov. Bobby Jindal left office and John Bel Edwards, who has close ties to law enforcement, was sworn in. That says something about both his professional skills and his political savvy.
But a new gubernatorial term brought new scrutiny of incidents on Edmonson's watch.
Federal authorities are investigating campaign contributions made by the nonprofit Louisiana State Troopers Association, including to Edwards and the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Active troopers are barred from making political contributions, but the state ethics board fined the association after determining that its executive director had acted as a "straw donor."
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Then there's the travel controversy that blew up recently, after The Advocate reported that several state police officials, including the head of internal affairs for the department, had pocketed thousands in overtime while driving cross country to a conference in San Diego via an indirect route, staying overnight at public expense the Grand Canyon and a Las Vegas resort and casino.
Edmonson quickly ordered an internal review, but the news focused attention on department's travel expenses in general. More than 15 people went to the San Diego conference, for example, at a cost of more than $33,000 for airfare, lodging, meals, registration fees and other expenses, not including salaries or overtime.
To say that this doesn’t reflect well on Edwards at this point is to state the obvious.
For one thing, the governor kept two high-profile holdovers from the Jindal administration, and both have had controversies erupt on their watch. The other is Corrections chief Jimmy LeBlanc, who has held on to his job despite a series of scandals involving former Angola warden Burl Cain and his son and daughter-in-law.
And questions over free-spending state agencies are really not something the governor needs right now, as he prepares for yet another tense legislative session focused on the state's dire budget situation, and as he continues to insist that he's been a prudent steward.
When the news of the road trip broke, new U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was ready to point a very public finger, just as he always was back when he was treasurer. Edwards' GOP adversaries in the Legislature and outside, who are eager to paint him as a tax-and-spender, surely won't keep their mouths shut on this one.
Face it. Apparent money grabs by public employees never look good, even in flush times.
But they're particularly damaging these days, when state officials insist they have no choice but to slash spending on services people care about.