Less than two years after he guided and advised recently-elected Congressman Bill Cassidy on how to continue collecting a salary and benefits from LSU-HSC, Vice Chancellor Ronnie Smith retired. He’d spent 27 of his 37 years as a state employee watching over LSU-HSC’s budget and finances. But, despite his decades of service, no one threw Ronnie a retirement party, because Ronnie wasn’t actually retiring; Ronnie was cashing in and then coming right back to his $210,000 a year job.
He was retired from LSU-HSC for a grand total of two weeks, and during those two weeks, he was able to guarantee himself a $20,000 a month lifetime pension. That is not a typo: At the age of 61, Ronnie Smith retired for two weeks from his $210,000 a year job in order to begin collecting an additional $20,000 a month (or $240,000 a year) in pension funds. In doing so, Smith immediately became one of the most highly compensated public employees in the state, earning nearly four times as much as the Governor and more than the President of the United States.
As outrageous as Smith’s phony retirement may be, he did nothing illegal, and his maneuver was approved by his bosses at LSU. When he was asked about it in 2011 by Jan Moller of The Times-Picayune, Smith claimed that he was worried that if he died, his wife would only be able to collect $10,000 a month from his taxpayer-funded pension plan. “I simply cannot put my wife at this financial risk,” he said.
According to recently released e-mails, Ronnie Smith appears to be largely responsible for orchestrating and justifying Congressman Bill Cassidy’s continued employment with LSU-HSC, an agreement that has earned the Congressman more than $100,000 in salary and tens of thousands more in benefits. Smith drafted the language explaining the necessity of keeping a United States Congressman on LSU’s payroll, and Smith apparently set the terms of Cassidy’s agreement.
Cassidy, who is currently the front-runner in the Senate race in Louisiana, has largely avoided questions about the nature of his employment with LSU since records suggesting that he billed the university nearly two dozen times while working in Congress first surfaced last week. Yesterday, at the last minute, Cassidy canceled an appearance in Shreveport with former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, and on Monday, following his debate with incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu, Cassidy refused to answer any questions from the assembled members of the media. When debate moderator John Snell of FOX 8 questioned Cassidy about his employment with LSU, the Congressman claimed that his “direct supervisor” had already answered those questions. However, Cassidy’s “direct supervisor” left his supervisory position in 2009, the same year Cassidy was sworn in as a Congressman.
Thus far, repeated efforts to reach out to both Congressman Cassidy’s campaign and his colleagues at LSU have been unsuccessful, and at least two of the e-mail addresses included in the disclosed documents have been deactivated. Meanwhile, LSU has announced it will conduct an internal investigation about Cassidy’s employment.