by Marion Marks
Louisiana, Caddo Parish and Shreveport can only have an image as good as the service public officials and those who work in government permit. We elect public officials to represent us, enforce our laws and carry out programs funded by our monies, yet the consensus of the public is that we rate services provided at near record lows. Congress has an approval rating of well below 20%, but, I wonder how low we rate our local entities?
My recent interaction with the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) staff leads me to believe that a chief reason our approval rating for government service are so very low is that we cannot hold staff members accountable for poor and ineffective services provided. Additionally, citizens are required to jump through extended barriers, unless they have some special relationship with either insiders or oversight boards.
In my case, I raised a simple question regarding MPC code regulating the size of signage in a residential section of Line Avenue. I did not have the email address of the MPC staff member to file my original question/complaint, but my issue appeared quite clear to all parties I directed the query. The MPC staff was clearly aware of my question regarding advertising signage that exceeded MPC code limits. The staff member even restates my question in his first reply, but later lies to me and his board about the interpretation of my complaint.
This case doesn’t rise to the level of abuse of others I hear about, and the financial issues don’t exist in the penalties that are paid by the city and developers who suffer if services are not properly provided. Yet, the issue of failure to provide service and trust that is violated is evident in the failure to properly respond to the requirements of the office of a public official.
We all suffer in Shreveport, Caddo and throughout Louisiana when officials fail to provide service as expected. And, these failures chip away at the image we believe we are owed by elected and paid public officials.
I am ashamed that we cannot have higher expectations for service and demand responsive behavior from those who are expected to serve us. More citizens need to “squeak” when abused by officials and anyone who is expected to provide public service. I can only hope you will read the specifics of this case, encourage others to read them, and cry out that you won’t take it any more when you are abused in a similar manner!
My email, excerpted, of February 9th read: “Please consider this a formal complaint that the signage on Line Avenue, in my reading of the code, is not in compliance. Please email me if any further paperwork is required for my complaint to go on the record. I believe this commercial advertising sign is in violation of the maximum sized sign that is allowable in a residential zoning. Please see that the owner is ticketed and that the sign is properly removed. I think this sign has been up fore than a month.”
I included a photo of the sign I believed to be in violation.
A response from Alan Clarke, an administrator at the MPC on February 9th was: “Please set this up as a violation and visit site and take the appropriate actions. As always advise the resident of the possible violation.”
I wrote back to members of the MPC and Mr. Clarke on February 9: “Is there any further action required on my part?”
There was no action or communication with me until I noted that the sign was still in place on March 10th and I wrote to Mr. Clarke and the MPC staff: “OK, the complaint did go through proper channels, and I was informed that an inspector would go out and check. The sign has not been removed that was the subject of my inquiry and I have not received an update on this inquiry from a member of the MPC.
May I ask for a status update from a board member now? I am copying my elected officials at this time in hope that I will receive a speedy response via email. Thank you for attending to this matter at this time.
Marion K. Marks”
The response I received from Mr. Clarke was as follows: “Please note the ordinance provision for signs associated with a construction (remodeling) project.
(5) Temporary signs for the purposes listed below, which shall be removed upon completion of activity (in real estate, completion shall mean closing) or project denoted by sign:
a. Identifying the location of rummage and garage sales.
b. On-premises advertising of residentially zoned property for sale, lease or rent, including open house signs up to eight square feet.
c. Contractor, developer or construction project identification signs and limited to a maximum size of 40 square feet.
We will measure the sign again but initially it was determined that the sign did not exceed 40 square feet and a construction project was occurring at this location. Per the ordinance, the banner will be removed at the completion of activity.”
I went back to the site, took a high resolution image and actually used equipment and technology to measure the size of the sign, so I felt I already knew enough to be confident to ask additional questions.
My next email was to the point:
“Questions I would like answered:
1. How large was the sign?
2. What limit is there on length of time for construction signs that are temporary?
3. Was the original complain ever investigated, and if so, by whom?”
Next emails came from Mr. Clarke after a board member asked him a clarification:
[eMail#1] The smaller signs were thought to be the area of concern in the initial visit. I personally visited the site today and got your concerns addressed. Any oversights will be addressed.
[eMail#2] “All signs have been removed. The building permit expires July 2015. For the record construction signs although temporary are allowed to the building permit expires. Alan Clarke”
[eMail#3] “The size of the sign was found to be 72 square feet. Thanks for pointing this out and please stay involved in making Shreveport the city we all hope it will become”