New audit deems Caddo Parish Commission retirement system unconstitutional

Published: Dec. 2, 2015 at 12:04 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2015 at 1:51 AM CST
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CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - A new audit suggests some part-time Caddo commissioners are getting retirement benefits they don't deserve, and Caddo Parish taxpayers are paying for it.

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor just wrapped up its investigation into the Caddo Parish Employees Retirement System, or CPERS. It found that the parish paid $258,665.75 to 15 Caddo commissioners over the last 15 years. If the commissioner would have paid Social Security taxes, they only would have $122,124.97, saving them $136,540.81.

Caddo commissioners got a 16.75 percent match on their retirement accounts. According to the Louisiana constitution, appointed officials are considered part-time public servants and can't participate in any public retirement system. That includes legislators, city council members and members of a board or commission.

Political analyst Elliot Stonecipher filed a lawsuit, saying the benefits were unconstitutional and this new audit seems to back up that claim.

"CPERS retirement to elected commissioners is illegal and unconstitutional. We want our money back," said Stonecipher when he talked to KSLA News 12 in July, months after he filed the lawsuit in Caddo District Court.

In the lawsuit, Stonecipher asked the courts to stop Caddo Parish commissioners from getting any further benefits or credits from CPERS.

Recently, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor assessed the retirement system and listed 15 commissioners who have received $258,655.78 of taxpayer money into their CPERS accounts since the year 2000, which is when it was first established.

Commissioner Michael Williams is among those named in the lawsuit and the audit.

Williams said, "I think we need to remain calm and carry on, because we do know this is in litigation at the district court."

Williams questions why the retirement plan is even being debated in the first place.

"Out of all the 64 parishes in the state, I believe we're the only ones being sued or audited about our parochial retirement system. The system has been in place for a while," said Williams.

Williams has been enrolled in the retirement system since 2011. His account is valued at $8,606.89. The accounts of at least 5 other commissioners top $30,000 each.

That's money Stonecipher says Caddo Parish taxpayers should get back.

In a statement to KSLA News 12 Stonecipher noted, "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."

The Caddo Parish Commission Administration says they plan on following the court's decision on the matter.

In a statement, Caddo Parish Commission Administrator Dr. Woodrow Wilson said, "Caddo Parish is appreciative of the Legislative Auditor's report and anticipates complying with the auditor's suggestions which continue to be pertinent after the litigation regarding these matters has concluded."

Several Caddo Parish commissioners have opted not to participate in the retirement system.

At this point, no trial date has been set for the lawsuit filed by Elliott Stonecipher in Caddo District Court.

Click here to see the full audit.

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