Caddo Parish May Have Violated Louisiana Constitution Paying Retirement Benefits to
Part-Time Parish Commissioners for 15 Years
A Legislative Auditor’s report released Monday found that over the past 15 years 15 Caddo Parish Commissioners received more than $258,665 in public money to fund their retirements, even though they are part-time public officials barred by the Louisiana Constitution from participating in any state- or parish-sponsored retirement system.
Since the Commissioners were not eligible to participate in the Caddo Parish Employees’ Retirement System (CPERS), Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said the Parish contributions appear to be donations in violation of another constitutional ban on donating parish funds.
Beginning January 1, 1997, the Louisiana Constitution declared parish council members – or, in Caddo’s case, Commissioners – to be part-time public servants prohibited from participating in any public retirement system sponsored by a parish or the state.
In 1999, the legislature passed a statute allowing Caddo Parish to create its own retirement system for unclassified parish employees. Caddo Parish passed an ordinance creating CPERS, effective April 2000. However, that ordinance also defined Parish Commissioners – declared part-time public officials under the constitution – to be eligible to participate in CPERS.
The Caddo Parish attorney told auditors there is no conflict between the 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 of whether CPERS is a defined contribution plan or a defined benefit plan,” 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.”
In addition, the report notes that CPERS is a public retirement system that is used as an alternative to mandatory Social Security coverage. Auditors found that not only does it appear that Commissioners unconstitutionally received public retirement benefits, but they received $136,540 more than if they had properly participated in Social Security. In that case, the Parish would only have paid $122,124 in Social Security taxes for those Commissioners.
The Parish says it is awaiting a final judgment from the 1st Judicial District Court where a pending lawsuit against the Parish is challenging whether Commissioners are eligible to participate in or receive retirement benefits from CPERS.
If the ordinance is found unconstitutional, the Legislative Auditor is advising Caddo Parish to seek to recover the improper contributions and establish a constitutional retirement system for the Parish, as it applies to Commissioners.
For more information contact:
Daryl G. Purpera, CPA, CFE