Shreveport Commons Funding Demands Transparency

Decision ahead
Decisions ahead

by Marion Marks

Shreveport’s claims of concerns about our perceived character, growth, assimilation and legacy as far as working with others should be as much a concern to citizens as our concern about how we use federal, state and parish funding in development contracts. Jane Jacobs in addressing change in American cities in her 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as well as in other works, understood that urban planning guidelines gave her and all other citizens affected by changing city transportation routes and economic development a mechanism to fight improper use of government funding. Abusive tactics that bullied citizens cause Jacobs and her followers to use all available tools to demand transparency and public input before funds were spent. Jacobs understood that what was at stake was the very character of historic neighborhoods in the cities that she loved. She also understood that powerful force sought to use the system to steal the very soul of those cities as well as the public purse.[Prior Jane Jacobs article]

The Shreveport Commons plan seems too full of comparisons to the New York plan Jacobs fought that demand greater study and transparency. Just like the New York plan Jacobs opposed, “city planners” came to the table with plans and a cobbled together timetable to use public funding to create change that would seemingly fit the federal guidelines and mollifynay sayers who understood many of the wrongs in the process of the processes. The city (New York in the case of Jacobs) economic posture in the plan supported one developer over all others and only select property holders would share in the benefits, where the general public was the loser.

money-manners-morals-integrityBlatant greed in continuing to utilize federal funds that made select local interests the beneficiaries is nothing new here, just like in New York. In New York, Jacobs supporters proved a lack of transparency and used public records to sink the project that almost destroyed much of a historic section, and the same lack of transparency may also sink Shreveport’s potential “Windfall. Some Shreveport “managers” seem to believe that lessons learned long ago won’t apply today for our use of federal dollars. But as in New York, we must demand transparency. Government money is NOT really Free!!

Messengers who cry out to demand transparency are generally the recipients of scorn and ridicule. As with anyone who properly stands against the powerful and authoritarians, the facts must speak for themselves and bear scrutiny for appropriate examination.

The facts that must be put in the record for the public to examine, as these are Public Records that are and should be required to see are ALL:

  1. Communication
  2. Bid Preparation Documents
  3. RFPs
  4. Contracts
  5. Payments
  6. Expense Records
  7. Staff lists with salaries and associated records related to contracts,
  8. Architectural documents, drawings, including preliminary plans that were utilized in obtaining grants, and
  9. New personnel added whose jobs relate to federal or state grant contracts.

These are the records that have created the current Shreveport Common project that public tax dollars are being asked to underwrite.

Shreveport has struggled to move forward; great pains have been made by long-time supporters through many periods of turmoil. However, a few people continue to drive us along a path that many feel they are just “along for the ride.” Shreveport citizens are grateful when others offer assistance in making our city a better place to live and raise the next generation, but too often we feel the help comes with too many strings attached.

We want our best and brightest students to go out into the world and bring back talents that will help us learn and progress, and we also feel that too many go out and never return. But we must ask ourselves if there is reason bright minds to not return. It may be that they find a better or more transparent world elsewhere, and they see that Shreveport continues to destroy those who ask too many questions or won’t go along to get along.

frustrationNationally we understand frustrations which have evidenced in the presidential primaries. Negativity is at an all time high. We can’t keep generating the same unpopular products and expect consumers to accept them.

The Shreveport Commons development is the elephant in the room that the Caddo Commission today is expected allocate funds to continue. Another request has been made by local artist, activist and supporters of the arts Debbie Hollis. Her words also echo this demand. Hollis’s email to Caddo Commissioners:

Dear Commissioners:

Millions in government funding has already been wasted on SRAC’s pet project, and the “Common” area looks as bad or worse than it did before the influx of public money.

I challenge you to view these photographs I shot back in 2014, and find any substantial improvement in the Shreveport Common area 2 years later:

Briefly stated: the Shreveport Common is a boondoggle. It is a prime example of massive government funding and waste. A decision to add Caddo Parish dollars for a park project in the Common area constitutes “throwing good money after bad.” 

The Texas Avenue area was just beginning to show impressive artistic & community activity before the Common plan came to light; let’s continue to encourage organic development in the area by allowing artists and creative professionals to invest their energy in creating a cultural haven there. Relaxing property standards, funding innovative creative endeavors, and crafting a UDC that allows for flexibility in the Texas Avenue area will serve our parish (and our cultural sector) better than building a park in a part of town that is largely uninhabitable and has no real amenities that are conducive to public gatherings.

SRAC has been trying to sell us the idea that “if we build it (the Common), they will come” for years now. To date, they have only wasted our money, built nothing, and usurped nearly all of the organic, community-based arts activities in the Texas Avenue area. Adding a parish-funded park to the mix will not magically make the Common a successful – or popular – project.

No more pet projects. Caddo Parish has more important issues that demand our attention – and our investments.

Thank you for your service,

Debbie Lynn Hollis

I have seen documents that portend to be communications regarding grants, RFPs and expenses related to the planning and development of the ShrAbraCadabra-Moneyeveport Commons. All issues regarding the use of funds, wherever public monies are use or co-mingled, the public has the responsibility and the agencies that use these funds have the obligation to provide to the public ALL RECORDS other than personnel files that are within the public records laws.

At this time I would hope the Caddo Commission and other agencies will demand and obtain proper documentation. Without the records all being provided the use of any public monies should be denied and all work must cease.

If the parties that have offered private monies see this as an improper request and want to take their funds and withdraw support, then they never intended to be transparent about the project at the outset. Either we follow good government guidelines or we have no business projecting ourselves as an open community who seek to foster the arts and become known as a place outsiders should want to visit and live.

What do you see?
What do you see?

I would hope the sunshine of good government would bring out our better selves and the arts district would flourish because we have developed the area to foster and support all who come in good faith. But if the source and objective of those behind the project was no more than the scheme that some accuse, I believe we would be better off with a clear conscience and shuttered storefronts. We can’t sell ourselves to the bidder who demands that we sell our souls.

LOUISIANA’S PUBLIC RECORDS LAW (From the Louisiana Revised Statutes)
RS 44:1
General definitions

A. (1) As used in this Chapter, the phrase “public body” means any branch, department, office, agency, board, commission, district, governing authority, political subdivision, or any committee, subcommittee, advisory board, or task force thereof, any other instrumentality of state, parish, or municipal government, including a public or quasi-public nonprofit corporation designated as an entity to perform a governmental or proprietary function, or an affiliate of a housing authority.