by Marion Marks
The voters spoke, and tax millages have been renewed in Caddo Parish to support the Caddo Parish School Board [all children] and the Port of Caddo-Bossier. But, if ever a critic states that a city, a neighborhood or a district is a “bargain,” those seeking to experience a unique cultural experience should run as rapidly as possible in the opposite direction. Developers or politicians who seek to fashion Shreveport and Caddo Parish in the image of other southern cities should reevaluate the message they are peddling. Shreveport citizens need to study again what happened to other cities to guarantee Shreveport doesn’t fall victim to any similar schemes.
The concept of a unique cultural experience for a city cannot be packaged as mass marketers attempt to sell fast food or a vacation destination experience. The very concept of a neighborhood or a community that possesses a unique heart, soul and cultural identity or a measure of definable culture must recognize the slow, eclectic and necessarily old-side of the community, one devoid of a repackaged definition. All communities have some quite difficult to define positives and negative that form their character.
Tax money in Shreveport and Caddo has been quantified as the highest of any parish or city entity in Louisiana, and we are getting very little for our exorbitant taxes. My question is “What are we doing to remake our identity that renewed money will help?” And, I believe we need to look at what others have done as we seek to answer this question. We must demand accountability, but change requires costs and time in often difficult to define quantities and calendar measures.
Shreveport is experiencing some of the same efforts of redevelopment with the inner-city corridor politics of the Interstate 49 developers who are jockeying potential routes through the city in hopes of greed driven questionable goals. Shreveport is still attempting to weigh the potential fundamental strengths of small, local businesses, as opposed to the known strangling effect of any single dominant industry and national chains. There are clear the parallels between the ecology of nature and the ecology of a city, and Shreveport citizens must voice their concerns regarding the balance that must be paid for by them for several generations.
Shreveport has invested millions in an attempt to revitalize the downtown, and leadership has succeeded in many ways in making this a reality. But, much more must be done before citizens truly “Live, Work & Play Downtown.” Many businesses and residences have come to life in recent years that make Shreveport certainly appear to be moving in the right direction, but grocers, pharmacies and many services are still unavailable short of taking transportation to find such establishments outside of the downtown district.
The money generated by the recent tax renewals should be scrutinized in the same manner by citizens that any public entity’s tax dollars should be accounted to citizens. Clear budgets, audited reports and goals consistent with long range plans must be regularly reviewed. With the CPSB, audit issues of the past should teach watchdog groups what must be scrutinized in the future. And with all public moneys, reports must be reviewed and if improprieties are spotted, and criminal issues are not properly processed, answers must be demanded. Certainly there must be accountability!
With the Port bond monies, the demands for accountability must be based on sound public records responsibility, proper auditing and regular demands for reports – not limited to tax elections – since we just approved a TWENTY-FIVE YEAR RENEWAL! Citizens may have bought a “Pig in a Poke,” but the responsibility of the administration is a daily, weekly, monthly record requirement that citizens have the responsibility to demand accountability.
In the coming weeks citizens will have opportunities to take “Walks” around downtown at festivals as well as guided tours to show off some of the uniqueness that is downtown Shreveport. Our Downtown Development Association and director, Liz Swain, do an excellent job of showcasing many of the great things there are to see and do downtown. Between the DDA and the Convention and Tourist Bureau citizens need to understand what the message is we are broadcasting to citizens and tourists. At that point you can get involved and learn what can be done to help Shreveport move in a constructive direction and become the city you proud to claim.
We must take a measured look at Shreveport, and identify what we say and have that reflects what Shreveport actually reflects. And, we must understand what changes we are committing resources to make in the current political culture, as constructive or destructive as we may believe the culture to be. Citizens must codify what is real rather than what we believe exists, and we must agree on measures for changes that we believe we can make if Shreveport is to become the city we want it to be. And, on common ground and with a common understanding of issues from the past, we must begin to take steps that will allow us to move forward, reconcile and appreciate the unique qualities of our people and our culture that make us a community we and future Shreveporters will be proud to call our home.