What is the world coming to in Caddo parish politics?
First an upstart not-from-here businessman (Mario Chavez) is running for the Caddo Commission spot to be vacated by termed-out David Cox. Yes, Chavez is Hispanic—and if successful he will be the first Hispanic to be elected to any political office in northwest Louisiana.
If that is not enough to shake the pillars of old line Caddo politics, then get this—at least 3 Commission incumbents will be challenged in the October primary! Yes, the days of cake walks for sitting Commissioners who hope to stay on the public payroll by merely qualifying are beginning to end—thank goodness! And if ever there was a golden year to challenge Commission incumbents this is it—probably the best time in the history of the Parish Commission. Challengers can have a field day with the voting records of and actions of Commissioners who seek re-election including, for starters, the following issues.
In 2000 the Commission voted to create the Caddo Parish Employees Retirement System (“CPERS”) which included the Commissioners. In 2013 and 2014 the Commissioners paid themselves a CPERS match rate exceeding 15%; the normal rate is 6% or less. There are very serious questions as to the legality of CPERS—the Louisiana Legislative Auditor has condemned CPERS and there is a court challenge in Caddo Parish of its constitutionality. Commissioners can be asked if they participate in CPERS, how much has the Parish “matched” for them, and if they voted to hire not one but 2 law firms to defend their participation in CPERS? (BTW, attorney fees paid with public dollars have exceeded 30 grand so far—and will probably top $100 thousand before the courts resolve this issue).
In 2013, the Commissioners voted themselves an annual travel/expense allowance of $15,000 that is unmonitored; before this vote the entire Commission had to approve travel/expenses by Commissioners. And not surprising many of the Commissioners have gorged in this public trough of tax dollars. Since January of 2014 our public servants have spent the following on political junkets: Lindora Baker – $28,264; Ken Epperson – $15,982; Matthew Linn – $14,577; Jerald Bowman-$7,999; Lyndon Johnson – $6,006 (his trip to Charlotte this month is not included; Epperson’s expenses for ths trip were $2,000); David Cox-$5,820; John Escude – $4,227; Michael Williams – $3,503 and Doug Dominick-$3,121. And for those keeping count Stephanie Lynch racked up $11.991 dollars in expenses in 2014 before her election to the City Council in October. Incumbents should be questioned on those expenses and all candidates should be asked if they will vote to revert to the policy that required prior approval by the Commissioners of such expenses by one of their members.
The Caddo Parish Charter has a provision that is, unfortunately, unique to Louisiana—if not the nation. Any pay raise granted to rank and file blue collar parish employees is automatically added to the paychecks of Commissioners. That’s the reason that the Caddo Commissioners are the highest paid part time elected officials in the entire state—over $22,000 per year plus insurance benefits and the CPERS retirement. That’s not bad for a part-time gig, to say the least. To amend the Charter the Commission must vote to put an amendment on the ballot for voter approval. This issue is also a great question for Commission candidates.
And if a voter really wants to probe into Commission actions, then asking incumbents seeking re-election hard questions about the purchase of the GM plant is a good place to start. Many questions have been raised abut the terms of the Stuart-Lichter lease that allows for the sale of plant equipment, the failed attempt of Land Rover to utilize the plant, the up in smoke Elio Motors charade, and who worked at the plant and for who.
To date four candidates have said they will challenge incumbents. Parker Ward is running against Jim Smith, John E. Atkins will oppose Mike Thibodeaux and Mike Middleton will challenge John Escude, and Steven Jackson will take on Michael Williams. All of these challengers are well qualified and are set to run strong races; they can expect support from good government advocates throughout the parish. Hopefully others who want more fiscal responsibility in the Commission will step forward to challenge other incumbents—and especially those that like to travel on the taxpayer dime. There is plenty of time to plan a campaign—qualifying for the October 24 primary is September 8-10. Good government requires concerned citizens to get involved—and this is certainly the time and the place to start!