How “The Mob” in Bossier City did its Thing
Some few years ago, a clique of Bossier City Hall officials who ironfistedly control that government took to calling itself “the Bossier mob.” To taxpayers, this homage to organized crime is both unfunny and unsavory, particularly after city hall’s mishandling of Walker Place, South Bossier’s intended multi-use development project. Exposed in the aftermath is the way “the mob” goes about doing what it does. Walker Place was city hall’s own bad idea that turned worse – a clinic in what happens when a town’s governmental process controls and accountability seize up, then fail.
It spotlighted, too, what happens when a self-interested few officials have far too much power. When the smoke from this fire of mismanagement, if not misfeasance, cleared, the tab to taxpayers was $27,000,000-plus, more than $5,000,000 of which paid the city’s attorneys while years of a legal war – and the city’s vendetta against developer U.L. Coleman Companies – played out then blew up. To fill-in the how and why blanks, I submitted to Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker on March 6, 2013, a public records request for “… any and all communications of any kind …” concerning Walker Place insurance, attorney actions, claims management and so forth. Walker passed the request to City Attorney Jimmy Hall. Hundreds of documents were produced. Some were withheld and have been re-requested. (Minutes of Special Bossier City Meeting)
As to which city officials had frontline roles, documents show that Mayor Lo Walker was AWOL, never writing or being copied on even an email. Likewise, Joe Buffington, the city’s finance director, participated only in a couple of emails on Jan. 18 and 19, 2012. Most importantly, the city’s risk manager, Tom Amundson, seems also to have been sidelined though “risk management” is inarguably one of the clear failures. Amundson is involved in only a few produced emails and not until January 2012. The public record unambiguously details how Hall completely controlled this scheme. He, in turn, directed Shreveport attorney Neil Erwin, the lead contract lawyer. At the time of my document request, with some attorneys still working and billing, Erwin had been paid $787,760 for Walker Place work, Shreveport’s Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway $227,808, and the Kean Miller firm from New Orleans $3,792,527. No attorney invoices were produced, only disbursements.
Though an audit of attorney billings is referred to in emails, it was not produced and has been requested. Of key importance, available records reveal how Hall directed the deliberate ignorance of the rules and coverage requirements set down by Bossier City’s insurers, National Union Fire Insurance Company and St. Paul Travelers, as well as contract claims managers Gallagher Bassett and Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services. Such designed ignorance was not, however, about control of expenses (expenses blew through insurance limits in 2011) it was about Hall’s absolute control. How insurers demand to be involved in such claims and litigation is unambiguously set out in policy contracts.
This includes not only the review and payment of attorney bills, but also, at a certain low level of expenses having been paid, apparently $100,000 in this instance, the hiring of attorneys. Hall, though, acted opposite such requirements and kept outside attorneys at bay. As early as April 27, 2009, an email from Erwin to Hall ends with this paragraph:
“Will handle this [litigation directives] any way you like, but do assume (and to submit statements to you monthly. what about Kean Miller?) should continue And should I submit reports to Gallagher Bassett as requested (and copy you), but leave any other relationship issues (like expert witness retention) between city and Gallagher Bassett up to you?”
Hall’s response was not among documents produced, but the described system went into effect.
On Jan. 9, 2012, after nearly $2,500,000 had already been paid to attorneys, Gallagher Bassett tossed an accountability grenade into the battle, informing Erwin that the city’s deliberate disregard of insurance coverage rules meant it would close out the claim file within 60 days. Erwin’s reaction was pronounced, and other city officials then appear, albeit briefly, in related communications. A Jan. 19, 2012, email to Erwin by Risk Manager Tom Admundson specifies some of the defects in Hall’s M.O.:
“1. A claim was opened for this case when it was first served to the city back in Sept. 2008.
2. All billings for the city should have been sent to Dale Dasko with Gallagher Bassett.
3. The insurers require an update every 90 days (required by contract). You should have received a notice of litigation procedures from Gallagher Bassett sometime during the beginning of the litigation process. All updates should have been sent to Dale Dasko during the entire and ongoing course of the litigation process. Questions:
1. To whom or where were the update reports sent?
2. To whom or where were the litigation budgets sent?”
In fact, (a) “litigation procedures” were detailed at the very start, on January 12 and April 13, 2009, in letters by Gallagher Bassett to city attorneys; (b) nearly every request for updates and other required information by and to claim managers was totally ignored between April 2009 and January 2012; (c) only one attorney invoice – the first one, in June 2009, for $5,703.58 – went to and through those managers for review and payment; and, (d) no litigation budgets were sent to anyone. Additional lawsuits resulted and were ultimately settled.
Of the almost $5,500,000 Bossier City paid to attorneys and experts, $2,000,000 was recovered from insurers. The $3,500,000 difference is a premium taxpayers shelled out so their city attorney could absolutely control litigation. Looming questions include these: Why didn’t Mayor Walker intervene? Was Hall’s extraordinary control necessary to hide something(s)?
Why didn’t any one of seven City Council members force the issue with Walker and/or Hall? Where were the other top city administrators? As is expected from Bossier City Hall, there are no answers. An accurate response, though, is that “the mob” simply did what “the mob” does.
Elliott Stonecipher is a native and resident of Shreveport, La. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University and Louisiana State University, he is president and owner of Evets Management Services Inc. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Stonecipher has committed to pro bono work on a range of local, state and national issues, including reform of governmental and political ethics, and reform of national policies governing the U. S. Census Bureau. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal
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