by Marion Marks
Matthew Linn has raised more issues in his first month as President of the Caddo Commission than any commissioner in modern memory. One of three possible results will probably be the end product of issues raised.
#1 – An embarrassed Linn will reverse course, perhaps even step down, because his actions were based on erroneous interpretations of the law.
#2 – The Caddo Commission will have to reverse course because illegal actions have been “business as usual,” because they have broken or they ignored the law and have illegally conducted business in this manner for years. Or,
#3 – NLCOG, as well as other bodies, have ignored or failed to recognize the law as Linn and other attorneys are now interpreting it, and their prior actions will be under the microscope for years to come.
Linn has taken the position that commissioners have delegated the parish’s obligation far too much to the parish administrator, Dr. Woody Wilson, and that the bylaws of the commission clearly state that, “… all relevant governance documents, the Caddo Parish Commission representative shall be “the President of the Caddo Parish Commission or its designee…” And, in taking his position that the President of the Commission should actively participate in more of the committees and boards that the bylaws establish their obligation to not always send a surrogate.
Documentation Linn has set forth to defend his position seems to clarify his reasoning, but the court now has to determine if he accurately interpreted these documents. Local attorney/activist and sometime agitator, John Settle, has asked good questions regarding Linn’s actions, and the litigation may clarify the accuracy of the interpretation of past parish decisions. Bossier Parish may feel repercussions based on the decision in Settle’s case.
Additionally, Linn has stepped out on the limb in the past to cut back on “junket” travel that others have taken as their “gratuity” for serving in public office. The lone exception some question was Linn’s expense of going to the government leadership workshop in Boston at the Harvard executive training program for four weeks at taxpayer expense. Linn did take time away from his business to successfully complete this program. Other local elected officials have had taxpayers pay for their participation, yet they failed to complete the program. Linn successfully attend the complete program and the parish only paid for his basic participation.
New Commissioners Influence
The four new members to the commission, who have already influenced major changes, may find that Linn’s work will take credit or blame for decisions Linn and past commissioners have made. Some consider Linn to have been totally out of control, but scrutiny of documents he is basing his decisions is causing great consternation in Bossier and adjacent parishes, where interpretation of the 2014 federal guideline changes may create far-reaching problems on the proper use of federal funds and local projects.
John Atkins, Mario Chavez, Steven Jackson, and Mike Middleton have already made strides to accomplish goals they set in their campaign platforms. They are fulfilling promises and helping force other commissioners to accept a better way of doing the people’s business.
The 7-2 vote by commissioners to approve Steven Jackson‘s ordinance to take commissioners out of the Caddo Employees Retirement System (CPERS) was a clear sign that old ways will not be part of the new commission.Those Commissioners, Jackson, Atkins, Chavez, Middleton, Doug Dominick, Matthew Linn, and Jim Smith, who voted for the change stated clearly that they would make the change, even if the issue is still in litigation. Commissioners Ken Epperson and Stormy Gage-Watts voted to stay in the CPERS, but were the only two who voted dissent. Commissioners Jerald Bowman, Lynn Cawthorne, and Lyndon Johnson chose to not vote, even if their voice was for a losing cause. Their failure to vote is troubling.
Elliot Stonecipher, who has always been carefully scrutinizing political officials who treat the public purse as their personal credit card, clearly was the first to expose the abuses the commission has voted or allowed members to abuse taxpayers. The obvious abuse should have been resolved immediately by the legal department within the parish, but admitting past wrongs is not easily accomplished. The CPERS program, at the inception, should have created a series of red flags from legal in the parish. Only when Stonecipher filed a lawsuit, stating that participation by commissioners, part-time employees in the system, was illegal did the majority of commissioners realize they may have been in trouble, To Linn’s credit, he was the only current commissioner who wrote the administration asking to be taken out of the CPERS program prior to Stonecipher’s litigation. And, since the case is still in court, and Linn does not have access to his own CPERS account, he can’t even return the money he admits he believes was improperly paid.
By a 9-2 vote of the commission, annual cost-of-living raises for commissioners became history. Thank you new commissioner Steven Jackson! There had been votes by commissioners in the past to stop this abuse, but along party lines it always failed.
Some have attributed Linn’s action to any number of personal motivations or agendas. Some have always looked for the sinister aspect of all politician’s actions. I chose to read the facts, ask as many probing question as I can of the parties involved or have a surrogate research the facts. But when the decisions have been made, the Monday morning quarterbacks will always look for the smoking gun, even when none exists. Linn was restrained from moving forward with his plans to follow the law, as he and his attorneys have interpreted it.
The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) signed by District Judge Ramon Lafitte may be the most wonderful thing Linn could have to validate his executive decisions, regardless of the public scrutiny. The best the public can expect is a clarification of the various interpretations of the laws that govern millions of dollars of federal and local money that go in to the infrastructure of Caddo and adjoining parishes.
The February 16 court date may be a red-letter day or the beginning of more long-term problems for the Caddo Commission and NLCOG. Let’s hope Judge Lafitte’s guidance helps us find some sense of closure (although it may be only temporary.)