At a Louisiana State Police Commission meeting marked by loud arguments Thursday morning, one member tendered his resignation and a second stormed out amid continuing fallout following the abrupt resignation last month of the commission's executive director.
W. Lloyd Grafton, the commission's longest-serving member, said he was troubled by the direction the commission is headed and claimed the civil-service body for state troopers had lost its independence from State Police management and then announced this meeting would be his last.
"I've tried to keep some integrity in this commission and there is none," Grafton said.
Grafton's remarks came after a heated exchange with another commissioner, Jared Caruso-Riecke, over whether Col. Mike Edmonson, the commander of the State Police, had been forthright with the commission about the August hiring of a new lieutenant-colonel.
Caruso-Riecke objected to Grafton's assertion that Edmonson misled the commission about whether the position was created with a particular trooper in mind and whether that trooper would get a raise. Grafton accused Caruso-Riecke of "putting the best face" on "deceptive" testimony from Edmonson, something Caruso-Riecke called "absolutely false."
Calvin W. Braxton, another commissioner, also voiced his displeasure over the way the commission was being run. Braxton said he'd been kept out of the loop about the commission's business and then abruptly walked out of the meeting just before Grafton also departed.
Thursday's acrimonious meeting came less than a month after Cathy Derbonne, who'd served as executive director of the commission for eight years, resigned amid what she described as a plot by a narrow majority of the board to fire her for undisclosed reasons.
Before walking out on Thursday, Braxton said he'd also been told ahead of the January meeting at which Derbonne resigned that four of his fellow members on the seven-person commission would vote to fire her.
Derbonne said after the meeting that she'd fallen out of favor with the commission following months of disagreements and turmoil, including a controversy last year over improper political contributions that led to the ouster of three board members and an ongoing dispute over alleged illegal straw donations made by the Louisiana State Troopers' Association.
The LSTA, a group of dues-paying troopers and retirees, has faced allegations of illegally making thousands of dollars in political contributions by using its executive director, David Young, as a straw donor.
In a Louisiana Board of Ethics consent order signed in November and approved by the board on Jan. 20, Young acknowledged those allegations. Both Young and the LSTA agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.
Derbonne hired a former Natchitoches state lawmaker and attorney, Taylor Townsend, to investigate the various claims of improper donations and she reported the allegations to the Louisiana Board of Ethics and Gov. John Bel Edwards' office.
Before announcing his resignation at Thursday's meeting, Grafton repeatedly expressed concerns that the leadership of the State Police and the Louisiana Troopers' Association exert too much influence over the commission, which hears complaints from rank-and-file troopers and has final authority over civil service matters.
The State Police Commission, Grafton charged, has been "stuffed with people that want to endear themselves to State Police management," rendering them incapable of acting as independent arbiters over issues at the agency.
Major Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, dismissed those allegations Thursday and said that Edmonson and other State Police leaders have no role in the State Police Commission.
"They operate independently of us, as they have since they were created," Cain said of the commission.
The chairman of the commission, Trooper Thomas "T.J." Doss, declined to comment at Thursday's meeting, citing what he said was commission policy to refer all comments to their attorney. The attorney, Lenore Feeney, said the commission "has no comments on anything that happened today."
Following Braxton's and Grafton's departures from the meeting, Caruso-Riecke told the remaining members of the commission that between 65 and 75 people had submitted resumes to replace Derbonne as the Louisiana State Police Commission's new executive director.