by Elliott Stonecipher
As many readers are aware, I have been continuously researching our Caddo Parish Commission since 2013, focusing particularly on its financial management and the bountiful compensation with which members reward themselves. As a result of the increasing public awareness of these facts, Caddo voters and taxpayers have strongly pushed back against both the Commission’s fiscal abuses and now infamous self-dealing.
First, on October 19, 2013, voters rejected both the Commission attempt to extend their “limit” of consecutive terms in office from three to five (related article here), and the renewal of a 1.75-mill property tax for capital projects (related article here). The property tax was then defeated by only 59 votes.
Next, when the Commission brought the 1.75-mill property tax renewal back for a re-vote on May 4, 2014, the voters veritably screamed their resentment of being forced to vote again: the tax was crushed … 77% “No” to 23% “Yes.”
As with the recent Caddo Parish School Board tax plan vote, the “campaign” against the Commission spent no money, and was heavily dependent on social media. The content of the anti message was the intensive research into the Commission’s loud and proud disrespect of Caddo property tax payers.
Most recently, last December, my research discovered that a retirement system the Commission had established for itself in 2000 – the Caddo Parish Employee Retirement System, “CPERS” – is explicitly prohibited by the Louisiana Constitution. (Related two-part article here and here.)
After confirmation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor of the system’s apparent unconstitutionality (article here), the Commission hired Shreveport attorneys Tom Arceneaux and Jerry Edwards to sue in Caddo District Court to preserve the benefit. In response, on March 16, 2015 (related article here), the Pesnell Law Firm of Shreveport filed a related suit to strip those and other benefits Commissioners have apparently illegally voted themselves.
I am the Plaintiff in the lawsuit opposing the Commission. My work and that of Whitney Pesnell and the Pesnell Law Firm is on our own time and dime, strictly in the public interest. The Caddo Parish Commission’s self-serving opposition is handled by two staff attorneys, plus Arceneaux and Edwards, and has most recently added the Keane Miller law firm.
Fishing with Michael Williams: A Compulsory Video-Viewing Assignment for Caddoans Who Care
It is against this backdrop that the Commission’s most recent embarrassment was unveiled. What has long been a whiff of public corruption wafting from the body is turning to stench.
A lengthy investigation by the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office and FBI led to the indictment some six weeks ago of Commissioner Michael Williams on twelve counts of wire fraud (Times article here). Williams is set for arraignment today in our United States Court of the Western District of Louisiana.
In last Thursday’s regular Commission meeting, Williams cut loose with an attack on what he believes is a racial double-standard in investigations of such wrongdoing. His attack was aimed at fellow Commissioner John Escude, the recipient of a job tied to Elio Motors, a company supposedly set to manufacture three-wheeled vehicles at the former General Motors plant that Escude and other Commissioners voted to buy.
The opening paragraph of a related story (here) by Alexandria Burris in The Times sums up the Escude issue this way:
“One Caddo commissioner who voted to bank roll the purchase of the former General Motors Assembly plant so Elio Motors could set up shop there is now working at the facility for the automaker’s manufacturing partner.”
For his part, Escude claims innocence, asserting – without any publicly known proof – that he has asked the Louisiana Ethics Administration to issue an opinion on his job with the Elio partner, Comau.
In his Commission meeting diatribe, Williams talks of “going fishing” for other Commission corruption, referring to himself as a “black bass” and Escude as a “white perch.” With six black and six white Commissioners, the body is undeniably supercharged with racism from multiple sources and directions. William’s claim, however, is more than merely weak given the facts of his actions and resulting charges.
Here is the video of the subject Commission meeting segment. It is not easy to watch.
In my years of research involving the Commission, my take on it has worsened. Never in my experience has a local governmental body been so garishly devoted to self-service and self-enrichment. A Commissioner tapping all available public money can take nearly $50,000 a year, regardless that much of that pay is legally forbidden.
Commissioners serve four-year terms. Except term-limited David Cox, all are up for re-election this fall.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)