CADDO/BOSSIER PORT COMMISSIONERS OFF LIMITS?

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Shreveport Attorney John Settle
John Settle
by John Settle

    The Caddo Bossier Port Commissioners ostensibly oversee  the operations of the Port, including its highly paid Executive Director, Eric England and his 20 person staff.  The mission statement of the board is to “maximize the utilization of the Port’s resources to generate economic development in Caddo and Bossier Parishes, expand use and development of the area’s multi-modal transportation and distributors system, and increase commerce through the Port”.
The Port commissioners are appointed by the governing bodies of Caddo and Bossier Parishes – – the Caddo Commission, the Bossier Police Jury, and the mayors of Shreveport and Bossier.  The commissioners are Bossier Marshall Lynn Austin, Ernest Baylor (Secretary – Treasurer), Erica Bryant (President), Bossier City Attorney James D. Hall, Sam Gregorio, Capt. Thomas T. Murphy (Vice-President), James L. Pannell, Rick Prescott and Steve Watkins.
A recent public record request for the email addresses of the port commissioners was initially denied by Charles G. Tutt, the director of legal affairs.  Tutt questioned if the email addresses of commissioners were public documents as defined by the Louisiana Public Record Act.  Eventually the addresses were provided, with the admonition to “not communicate with any Commission employees or commissioners except through me (Tutt) or as arranged or agreed to by me (Tutt).”
    When asked if his communication ban applied to any communications with commissioners, Tutt advised that the prohibition applied to “any issue where you are representing a client who has an issue with the Port.  I am not suggesting you or any lawyer cannot talk to the commissioners about any political issue or any other question or issue that does not involve a matter wherein the Port could be adverse to your client.”
The backstory for this communication blackout directive is a contractual dispute between a new small minority company (Cercontec, LLC) and Weiland-Davco, the general contractor for RonPak.  Weiland-Davco, an out of state contractor with a small Shreveport satellite office, has had numerous contracts at the Port including the construction of the over the top Regional Commerce Center (the Port headquarters).
    The Port has been quick to point out that it is not a party to the Cercontec/Weiland-Davco contract, and that it only has a lease with RonPak.  Weiland-Davco is the general contractor for RonPak, and according to Tutt, neither RonPak nor Weiland-Davco are subject to the Ports minority business enterprise program.  Reportedly RonPak is receiving substantial tax benefits for relocating/building its manufacturing facility at the Port including a job training grant from the State of Louisiana.
Tutt’s position is that the Commissioners themselves are his clients, and thus he is the gatekeeper for any coffee talk of a “legal” nature.  Presumably this attitude would preclude discussions with city councilmen, parish commissioners and/or MPC/ZBA members about agenda items – which are “legal” because voted on.   A good example is the vote at its last Port Commission meeting to increase property tax milage to maximum legal rate.
    The Port regularly churns out feel good stories of its success, which are obviously generated by its outside, paid public relations firm.  It’s commissioners regularly travel on lavish expense paid trips “for research” – – and obviously they relish their seats on what is generally considered to be a plum political appointment.  One can only wonder if they have a “have my cake and eat it too” attitude, but then that may be a “legal” question if asked.

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