The 2014 elections have placed many new faces in key leadership positions for the City of Shreveport and Caddo Parish – – a new mayor, four new councilmen and six new school board members. In the process one incumbent council representative was defeated and four incumbent school board members were sent home. And for the first time a local PAC (Political Action Committee) was organized to contribute to election efforts.
The school board and council elections reflect significant citizen dissatisfaction with the current operation of these government entities. Newbies on the Council represent a majority of the present body and the newcomers on the school board represent half its members – enough to block any actions by returning incumbents. This dramatic turnover should change the direction of both bodies.
Next up for citizen review will be the members of the Caddo Commission; only one member (David Cox) is termed out so the remaining members (with the exception of Stephanie Lynch) will be up for re-election in the fall of next year. (Lynch moves to the City Council on December 27th; an interim successor will be appointed by the Commission with an election for her unexpired term in April 2015.) Organized efforts to select and thereafter fund challengers can be expected – – much like the recent school board election.
Citizens concerns over the actions/inactions of the Commission have been building in recent years; more media attention can be expected in the upcoming months that will hopefully accelerate citizen oversight of this important government entity. Some complaints are directed to the entire Commission, while others are specific to individual members.
One continuing concern is the fact that the Commission has allowed its highest paid employee – – Administrator Woody Wilson – to reside in Bossier Parish since his selection in 2006. Another source of contention is the pay of the Commissioners – who are the highest paid part time elected officials in the state. The current salary for commissioners, except for the President, is $22,248 annually. The President receives an additional $1,200 annually ($23,448). Effective January 1st the Commissioners salary will be $22,693 with the President receiving $23,893. The Parish Charter provides that the Commissioners receive the same salary increases as commission employees; a 2% pay increase was approved this month by the Commission.
Citizens are also questioning the $7 million purchase of the former General Motors Assembly Plant. The funds, paid from the reserve trust and oil and gas funds – were directed to the Parishes’ Industrial Development Board (IDB) for the purchase the facility, land and mineral rights. The IDB leased the facility to Stuart Lickter’s Industrial Realty Group – which is contracted to assist Elio Motors in developing operations at the plant as well as filing the remainder of the facility with other firms. Most citizens believe that the real prospects of Elio production are probably between “slim” and “none”.
To date, the only reported activity on this taxpayer funded boondoggle has been the employment of Commissioner John Escade to inventory equipment for resale. Escade was not concerned with any ethical violations – – or the appearance of impropriety. Many political observers questioned the plant purchase and possible benefits to Commissioners; Escade and Ken Epperson were the leading advocates of this endeavor.
Constituents of two Commissioners – Matthew Linn and Epperson – have also expressed unhappiness with their political involvement in the Shreveport mayor’s race. Linn was the initial campaign manager for Victoria Provenza and he was integrally involved in her campaign for over six months. Epperson was the architect of Sam Jenkin’s ill-fated mayoral bid; Epperson called the shots on a daily basis in the Jenkins campaign for over 9 months. Many of their constituents believe that both Linn and Epperson neglected their Commission duties while running these campaigns; there’s no doubt they both created political enemies that will impede their efforts on the Commission.
And over the objections of Mike Thibodeaux, the Commission has continued to play Santa Clause to local non profit entities – – allocating this year over $1 million dollars to these organizations along with over $1.8 million to so-called economic development entities. The total 2015 appropriations to be paid from economic development and riverboat funds exceeds $2.9 millions dollars. Thibodeaux, who questions the basic premise of funding private entities with public dollars, has concerns over duplication of efforts by the Commission, the City of Shreveport, the Caddo School Board and the state.
Caddo property owners are the highest taxed in the Louisiana and the Commission’s taxes are part of the problem. The six new school board members will hopefully address their taxes – – which represent over 50% of the total collected. The best way to send a message to the Commission – – on taxes and other issues – – is to send some of the current crowd to the house. Hopefully 2015 will see active citizen involvement in the Commission elections, and many challenges to incumbents. Worthy challengers can probably anticipate significant contributions from concerned citizens Parish wide, including possible PAC moneys.