In most elections incumbent candidates have a clear advantage over challengers–but this will may NOT be the case in this fall’s Caddo Commission elections. All 12 seats are up for re-election and only David Cox is termed limited after 3 four year terms. It is presumed that the remaining 11 will seek re-election; Ken Epperson has already announced his campaign at a recent fundraiser.
In the past, Commission seats were safe bets for unopposed re-election if for no other reason that the Commission members generally dodged controversial votes. The demographics of the Commission, unlike the Shreveport City Council, lends itself to more harmonious actions–6 Republican whites and 6 Democrat blacks. Additionally the Commission has enjoyed a very stable administrative staff that generally has done their jobs well.
However recent revelations by Elliott Stonecipher have suddenly put the public spotlight on many actions of the current Commissioners that could require substantial justification by those facing opposition. Rarely do challengers have much in the way of questionable actions by incumbents that will catch any traction in the campaign; in this election there are many votes which should generate public interest in the race.
For starters, incumbents can be asked about the $80 million–yes, eighty MILLION dollars-that the Commission has squirreled away in various accounts that have been identified by Stonecipher. The existence of these funds is GREAT–but then why a 1.75 mil tax renewal for road maintenance was put on the ballot not once but twice (both times defeated) are actions worthy of exploration.
Another good question concerns pay–the Caddo Commissioners are the highest paid part-time legislative body in Louisiana at $22,000 plus per annum. Commissioners get the same pay raises granted to Commission employees under the Commission charter. Seeking commitments from candidates to vote to put a Charter amendment on the ballot to correct this pork barrel provision would certainly provide an objective standard for voter selection.
Challengers should also have field day inquiring about the lucrative $15,000 per annum travel/education allotment for each Commissioner. This Commission generously upped this allowance last year and eliminated the requirement for approval by the entire body; additionally advance draws were authorized. Many incumbents took liberal advantage of this tax funded benefit and these expenses will make good campaign fodder for voters.
The latest discovery of a very questionable Commission action, again identified by Stonecipher, is the participation of Commissioners in the Caddo Parish Employee Retirement System (CPERS). Most legal authorities have concluded that this is prohibited by the Louisiana Constitution and state statute–which presumably was known at the time the votes were cast to provide yet another very generous taxpayer funded benefit to Commissioners. Despite the fact that the Commission has 2 highly paid full time attorneys on staff it has hired outside attorneys, at the hourly rate of $225, in an attempt to get court authority, retroactively, for over $225,000 of public dollar payments into this plan for Commissioners.
Most Caddo voters have, unfortunately, experienced some “lean years” as of late–and they are becoming more focused on their tax burdens and excessive government spending. During this same interval Caddo Commissioners have taken good care of themselves and thankfully the full measure of their bounty–or greed as many would say–has become public. Those concerned about good government should take a hard look at running for the Commission or, in the alternative, encouraging fiscally responsible voters to get in these races this fall.