by Elliott Stonecipher
The last time Caddo Parish Commissioners took a specific, publicly recorded vote to give themselves a pay raise, Bill Clinton had been President for less than a year … December 8, 1993.
If that strikes you as a bit – or a lot – counter-intuitive, it should. Too many Caddo Commissioners are now recognizable for their commitment to self-service rather than public service. The matter of precisely how Commission members pay themselves with our money is just the latest example.
The fact of the matter is that the careful and specific design of that 1993 parish ordinance meant the pay of these part-time Commissioners has since risen 165% – from $8,400 a year to today’s $22,263.
What was passed – Ordinance No. 3041 of 1993 – legislated both a huge pay jump for Commissioners on January 1, 1996 – from $8,400 to $14,400 a year – and annual “cost-of-living” raises to be set by, of course, Commissioners. In so doing – and here’s the kicker – Commissioners pointedly extinguished openness and transparency in how they raise their own pay.
In the new system, annual pay raise rates are deliberately buried in each year’s arcane “budget process.” Now, the Commission votes for or against the entire budget. Debate and recorded votes for their own raises are gone … along with accountability to taxpayers for same. Even the budget votes are sometimes cast in “Special,” not regularly scheduled, meetings.
Too, Commissioners now necessarily pay the rank-and-file, full-time employees the increase Commissioners decide to take for themselves, whether otherwise warranted or not. Thus, Commissioners’ primary duty of oversight in matters of employee pay – a duty they owe to the taxpayers – is negated.
Of today’s Commission members, two were then serving and cast “Aye” votes for Ordinance No. 3041, Commissioners Michael Williams and Ken Epperson, Sr.
When the whopper raise went into effect on January 1, 1996, three current members were serving, Commissioners Michael Williams, Ken Epperson, Sr., and John Escude. (None of the three have continuously served since 1993.)
Members voting “Nay” in 1993, and thus against the entirety of the plan, were then-Commissioners Dr. Vince Marsala, Lloyd E. Lenard and Harold Denny.
Now, Let’s Put It In Context
Annual percentage raises since the January 1, 1996 effective date of this policy have ranged from 0%, which has happened only once, up to 4%, also once. Raises have otherwise been 2% or 3% every year.
And, what if Commissioners had raised their pay between 1994 (after that December 1993 meeting) and 2014 by the actual cost-of-living, as determined by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics? Their pay would now be $13,385 per year … not the $22,263 they are getting. (SEE Bureau of Labor Statistics calculator HERE. Enter $8,400, then 1994, then click on “Calculate” for year 2014.)
The Bigger Picture
In recent years, Caddo Parish Commissioners have been blessed with an embarrassment of riches, stemming in no small part from Haynesville Shale-related revenue. In an article last March, I partially detailed how Commissioners have personally benefited from the gusher of “oil and gas” money in combination with more than ample tax revenue.
Even in their purely part-time roles, with income from many other private and public (employee retirement) sources, the combined package of taxpayer money Commissioners receive is the stuff of Louisiana’s old and awful political past. The current $22,263 a year “salary” of Commissioners is only the base of that windfall. Added to it are taxpayer funds for chunks of their retirement and health care, not to mention their new “education and travel” slush of up to $15,000 per year.
As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in the context of that slush, the Caddo Parish Commission is Exhibit A in the real effect of systemically impaired transparency in governance. Although the body is certainly not alone in such practices among Caddo Parish / Shreveport governing bodies, a majority of Commission members are definitely serial offenders.
All non-term limited Commissioners are up for re-election in Fall 2015.
More later …
(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.)