by Elliott Stonecipher
When I introduced this subject with an article the day before yesterday, I stressed the importance of the search for a new Executive Director of the Caddo Parish / Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC). I did so because that selection is an absolute key to a longstanding and critically necessary reform of the public body. I stressed, too, the open and disturbing desire and intention of some Caddo Parish Commission members to hijack the MPC board’s specific legal authority to conduct that search – and make that important personnel decision – independently.
The next chapter in this important story was written today in an MPC meeting led by businesswoman and Chair, Lea Desmarteau. After over two weeks of taking serious opposition fire from some few Caddo Commissioners, Ms. Desmarteau led the MPC board today in doing precisely what many here believe is critical to this community: acting in open and solid defense of the rule of law.
Without unnecessarily repeating ground covered in my Monday piece, all readers are urged to take a moment to consider the following Louisiana state law. As you do so, please note that the statute at issue is specific to the Caddo / Shreveport MPC, as detailed in the preceding statute, Louisiana Rev. Stat. § 33:140.6, Metropolitan planning commission; creation and appointment. Just following is the statute most directly at issue, with the red print highlighting the point:
§ 33:140.7. Organization, rules, staff
A. The commission shall elect its chairman from among its members. The term of the chairman shall be one year with eligibility for reelection. The commission shall adopt rules for the transaction of business and shall keep a record of its resolutions, transactions, findings, and determinations, and the recorded vote of each member to be included, and each record shall be a public record.
B. The commission may appoint such employees and staff as it deems necessary for its work, and where, for convenience, economy, or effectiveness in the administration of plans, ordinances, or other measures, such as zoning, the commission desires to delegate certain authority to its employees and staff to act in its behalf, it may do so when such authority is specified in the plan, ordinance or other measure.
C. The commission may contract with city planners and other consultants for such services as it may require.
Now, with that statute in mind, here is KTBS Television’s story from bright young reporter Keristen Holmes in tonight’s newscast. As shown, some Caddo Commissioners are yet working diligently to control this process, regardless of the law.
Out of an abundance of caution, the MPC today voted to ask the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to validate its interpretation of the statute. As Ms. Desmarteau notes in her comments, the broader community is urging the MPC – and the City Council and Caddo Commission – to act in accordance with the law. Though such may be a given in many places, it certainly is not here, not any longer. (Opinions from the state Attorney General are broadly known to be non-binding, and often highly political … not a good thing.)
Please note from the video in my Monday article that in the Commission meeting on February 18th, Commissioner Mike Thibodeaux specifically asked an assistant parish attorney to confirm this legal basis for the MPC board acting independently in its Executive Director search. Each of the two confirmed the statute, its meaning and its applicability.
I Must Add … Though I Do So With Reluctance
On a personal note, I urge any and all citizens so inclined to express their thanks to our MPC Board members, several of whom are new. I do so in this case because I know very well that the pressure put on some of them in this matter has been over the line, and in some instances, alarmingly so, even in my deep experience. As but one example, the Caddo Commission recently and notably cut its contribution to the MPC budget: because it could, and because it wanted these men and women to know that as this fight began. Those dollars are ours, not theirs, and the Caddo Commission is afloat in our dollars.
Frankly, I share the concern of some MPC board members that these few officials who are so disturbingly aggressive in pushing this matter will continue to do so, possibly in such actions as attempts to remove these MPC board members, or “dissolve or defund” the MPC, as one Commissioner threatened in the February 18th meeting. These mainly new-to-government volunteers deserve just the opposite from all of us, and particularly so from elected officials who asked them to do this important work in the first place.
With due respect to all those directly involved, an obvious question will not abate: what – what?! – is so important to a few Caddo Commissioners about control of this appointment?
Caddo Commissioners, as Ms. Desmarteau stressed, have their urgently desired “seat at the table” with everything the MPC board does. They obtained that seat by appointing four of the nine members, as did the City Council by appointing its four members. To top that off, the two groups cooperated in choosing and naming the ninth member. Now, they must let their appointments do the job they agreed to do … after apologies, in my opinion.
As I have known them to do in the past, our MPC Board has, to this point, withstood exceptional pressure to do exactly what we ask and desire that it do. Now, this board may be able to extend that commitment by doing the right and professional thing in its selection of a new director. Before that is possible, these strong-arm tactics by some opposing elected officials must cease.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written 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 requested and appreciated.