by Elliott Stonecipher
Monday opened this seven-day march with the no-surprise announcement by Edwin Edwards that he is back in the political wars, an old solider who, contrary to General MacArthur’s belief, just won’t fade away. Then, by yesterday’s mid-week, a handful of Shreveport and Caddo Parish politicos outdid Mr. Edwards in the remember, things can always get worse competition by – get this, now – gathering in secrecy to kill a public forum celebrating Sunshine Week, which is to say, government transparency.
No. I did not make that up. Our government really did do precisely the opposite of what Sunshine Week exists to celebrate. Two Caddo Parish Commissioners joined with our Shreve Memorial Library administrator and Board in scotching a Sunshine Week public panel discussion, long set to happen the next day. The forum had been organized to promote citizen use of the Louisiana Records Act to enhance government transparency and accountability. (We thank Vickie Welborn of The Times and Elsa Gillis at KTBS Television for their coverage.)
Included in the story is the bullying of Shreve Memorial Library employees doing the right things, along with the excoriation of some of the event’s volunteers in at least one remarkable library staff and board meeting. In getting down to the motivations of the doers, here is the most pertinent piece of the report by Vickie Welborn at The Times:
The Times submitted public information requests to the library and the Caddo Parish Commission, and an early review of documents returned by the library revealed emails from commissioners Ken Epperson and Stephanie Lynch objecting to the lack of blacks on the panel and also to the event’s format.
Specifically, Epperson voiced concerns that panelists would be critical of government.
“You need to cancel and reschedule this. Who set the agenda, why are all of those radical critics of government the only ones on board? Are there any blacks on the panel, if so, who?” Epperson said in an email to Ivy Woodard-Latin, a library representative. “My opinion your program is a direct affront to the most targeted politicians in Caddo Parish! And I’m sure that you know who they are, if you don’t shame on you.”
The truth is, I am front-and-center in Mr. Epperson’s consideration of who among us are Caddo Parish’s “radical critics of government.” (For those who remember the reference, such is closely akin to being on Nixon’s White House enemies list.) To be thus accused, tried and found guilty one need only be a critic of a handful of things Commissioner Epperson does … that’s it … nothing else. Here are a few of the things that mean the proverbial Zip Zero Nada to such so-called public servants: I was born and reared here, brought up a son here, started and run a business here, pay (too high) taxes here, and volunteer out the wazoo here. It was easy to volunteer for this Shreve Memorial Library-sponsored event. I first worked there at 15, and have always supported it.
Too many public officials and employees here aggressively oppose transparency and accountability, triggering the efforts of others of us who abhor intimidating, inept and corrupt government, regardless … of anything. Put simply, these public officials seem to have little if any respect for freedom of speech, the rule of law, constitutional guarantees, or the actual meaning of the Oath of Office they swear on their Bibles when elected.
OK, bear with me. I do not want to mess up this most important part.
There was no greater disappointment in all of this than one particularly distasteful fact. Those behind this community outrage hold particularly ill will against good-government radicals who are white, clearly evident in the media coverage.
Such was the race of the five people on the originally selected Public Records Act panel. We did not, of course, pick ourselves or any of our fellow panelists. In fact, those who did that picking tell us such never even came up. We were picked because we are Public Records Act practitioners, either as Requesters or Requestees. Our panel last night – we went ahead without the pols and their library pals – included a civic activist, a business owner, a newspaper reporter, a public official and an attorney. (One African-American civic activist not in the Public Records Act community was invited to join during the day, and was an excellent choice.) All involved agree that we know of no Caddo resident who is both African-American and a Public Records Act practitioner. As it turns out, neither did those who did the original picking.
About this I am certain: many of us residing in Caddo Parish have been long known for our strong commitment to righting racial wrongs. As it has turned out over these many years, we are not among those who required any schooling in the matter. In what I believe is a gift of Grace, we received no racism gene. For me, as I recently discussed with my three siblings, that fact stands out among blessings of my upbringing.
To many of us, such things as those which wracked us here in the past few days were and are never about race. Such simply is not possible, for many of us, I believe. I and untold numbers of others, no doubt, wish and pray for the day when such is the truth about each and every one of us.
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.