In A Way Shreveporters Can’t
By Dr. Jeff Sadow, Ph.D.
A month after red-faced Bossier City officials announced the distinctly unfavorable settlement in a needless lawsuit their actions created, Shreveport officials could have matched that when they announced the city finally was throwing in the towel on its notorious Bioset deal – even if they, unlike most of their Bossier City counterparts, had no direct complicity in the mess.
This saga began a dozen years ago during the first administration of former Mayor Keith Hightower as a response to Environmental Protection Agency concerns over the city’s waste treatment. One alternative was to buy technology to deal with it at a cost of $26 million. But another was to make a deal with Bioset, as the firm had a process by which sludge could be turned into sod.
Hightower did the latter – but on distinctly unfavorable terms for the city. In a total contract of $32 million over 20 years, along with the city backing a $10 million loan, low interest and tax exempt, of then-available small-issue Industrial Development Revenue Bonds from the state’s Louisiana Community Development Authority to build facilities, for an estimated value of $700,000 the city would get sod from Bioset for its use on various city properties. Over time, rumors surfaced that this had been a sweetheart deal for associates of Hightower and/or a result of campaign contributions; certainly it made little economic sense as, in this particular instance, the cost of the city doing this itself actually would have been lower and would have left it with a permanent facility to do it with.
Then, four years later the firm blew town amid reports creditors were ready to seize it. That relieved the city of the contract, minus some startup costs, but not of the obligation to pay back the loan, and it still had to deal with the wastewater problem. To add insult to injury, Bioset subsequently sued the city for patent violation and it settled for nearly $1.4 million.
Earlier this year, Shreveport’s City Council considered a deal that would wipe out the remaining debt, at around $6 million, by the end of next year, thus ending the mistake but not undoing the damage. Of course, being that this happened so long ago – no elected member of city government still is in city office, thanks to term limits – there’s nothing that voters can do to punish Hightower and others who approved of the bad deal.
But over in Bossier City, Mayor Lo Walker, first as city chief administrative officer and then as mayor, was in power to decide to build both a parking garage for a developer who could have paid for it for a property that then went into receivership and a high-tech office building that failed to land the client it was built for, created almost none of the jobs it promised, and doesn’t come close to offsetting its costs to the city. On the Council for these then as well as with Walker apparently seeking reelection now were David Montgomery, Tim Larkin, Scott Irwin, Jeff Darby, and Don Williams, of whom only Irwin is seeking reelection opposed. Their blundering away of garage’s and CIC’s costs of more than $60 million and the retrenchment of city services it eventually caused, and now the potential $25 million needlessly lost by the suit’s outcome, appropriately merits voters’ wrath on Irwin this spring.