by Marion Marks
Understanding how “the system works” in terms of investigating, prosecuting and convicting public officials who abuse the public’s trust is often like tending a pecan orchard. With every good intention of electing citizens who will be true to their oath of service, we seasonally listen to candidates who chose to run for office, work in some campaigns and finally vote in hopes of electing the best qualified candidate to serve in making the community a little better at accomplishing the tasks required.
Too many citizens focus all their energy on electing a candidate, when in reality, although little can be accomplished by the unelected, the real work begins after the election. Just as planting a pecan tree does not guarantee you will have pecans, we all to often have found that elected officials all too often fail to accomplish most of the items they plan and also fail to live up to the oaths they swear.
Shreveport and Caddo Parish have too long been step children to south Louisiana, and the expectation that solutions will grow for the state from seed planted here is practically non-existent. South Louisiana easily forgets that Huey Long, for all his faults, began his political career in Shreveport. And many other pivotal Louisiana issues began with individuals and movements in this far north corner of the state. Agriculture and fertilizer create the proper climate here for many things to prosper!
The Broadmoor Neighborhood Association (BNA), once again, was able to initiate an open discussion [The BNA Forum Video] that rose out of community frustrations, lack of knowledge and less-adept communications because of poor media coverage of issues related to public officials alleged to have misappropriated funds or abused the public’s trust. The five issues locally that have garnered the most press have been the Caddo Commission CPERS benefits for commissioners, the Caddo Parish School Board alleged coverup and employee arrested for stealing school funds, the General Motors plant that the Caddo Commission owns the land but has lost control of the direction of the facility, the positive change in leadership of the Caddo District Attorney’s office and how prosecution of cases has changed and, finally, the Caddo Constables, whose role has been modified by the legislature and still questions exist regarding current elected officials. All of these are considered forms of sick branches of government that require attention, pruning or outright removal of diseased stock.
Most citizens, leading up to the current political campaigns, tended to accept that once a candidate became elected, the path to office and the service for the duration of the elected office were almost assured. The number of impeached, convicted or otherwise disqualified elected officials was nominal or a rare occurrence. But times have changed, the presidential primaries have certainly shaken the two-party system.
As Donald J. Trump has been the wild-card of the Republican Party, so Bernie Sanders has shaken the Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s world. The one thing we know to be constant is change! The once thing we can count on is that what we expect to happen may really not! And in change comes the opportunity to make things better as well as much worse, or as a wise grandmother said, “Be careful what you ask for, you may get it.”
The public wish in the cultivation of leaders is also similar to the proper cultivation of a pecan orchard. It takes time, training, patience and wisdom for even the best intentioned individual to step into public office and accomplish noble tasks just as a trained tree farmer must have qualifications and luck to produce a successful crop. I don’t know a single first-term official who walked into office ready to accomplish what most seasoned officials accomplish at the end of a first or second term. Term limits, with all the well-intentioned goals, tends to limit our most capable officials when they just reach their stride of appreciating their ability to do good works. But it was the fear and harm that some politicians did to the public that brought on term limits.
We all should learn from these good and bad in government office that it takes a constant focus and diligent scrutiny to determine when the public is not being served and damage is being done that may take years to undo. The longer we tolerate or accept unacceptable service or products that will come back to harm us, the greater the long term damage. There is no perfect candidate or official; there is no perfect regulatory arm of government. But transparently we must examine and review what exists, and deal accordingly as best we are able.
Citizens need to measure the words and actions by the public actors, weigh the alternatives and demand accountability. In the video at the BNA forum, we see public officials attempting to explain the limits and responsibilities of their office, but we also see apparent contradictory claims by citizens who express indignation. You can’t have it both ways, just like candidates for office who try to walk both sides of issues.
Once again, thanks to the BNA for their open forum, and thanks to those who took the time to attend. Shame on the general media for failure to appreciate this important event, but let’s hope they do a better job next time. And, let’s keep watering the trees, and prune when necessary. But, those really diseased trees, as well as officials, will have to be plucked from the orchard or isolated from further damaging society.