It depends on which side of the Red River you live whether it’s legal. But, regardless of whether a river runs through it, it’s unethical.
Tomorrow, the Shreveport City Council will try to find a way to evade the city’s charter. Prompted by Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins – no stranger to trying to sidestep the law in various ways such as spending city tax dollars on his inauguration, double-billing on his automobile usage, and city appointments – the Council had budgeted in 2021 to give each of its seven members authority to direct $250,000 for road work in their districts. Sec. 4.32 flat out prohibits this, which begs the question whether the Perkins Administration or councilors and staff even bothered to read the charter.
With plenty of winks and nods, Republican Councilor James Flurry will try to salvage the deal by shuttling funds to the city’s Office of Community Development – which has authority over workforce development, business development, affordable housing and improvements, homelessness, public services, public facilities, and program funding for federal grants but not roads – and have him and his colleagues “pick up the phone and [ask] ‘Say can you do this? Can you help us on this? I have a need.’ And they come up with the funds. But this time we’ll have our own funds there.”
Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail. The city has both a 2021 capital improvements budget approved and what it supposedly ties into, the 2021-25 capital improvements program. These lay out city public works holistically, that the council needs to follow absent some compelling reason, regardless of what Flurry or anybody else specifically wants.
This pork barrel fest may have stemmed from a reversal of the normal pattern of Bossier City policy-maker insecurity when comparing themselves to Shreveport that leads to attempted one-upsmanship. For years, without a comparable passage in its charter, the Bossier City Council has set aside slush funds for each of the five councilors elected by district to the tune of $200,000.
However, some things never change. Whether inspired by Shreveport entering the fray with a higher pot, for next year Bossier City’s district councilors upped the ante to $500,000 each, and threw in a million more bucks for sidewalks to give the two at-large councilors and GOP Mayor Lo Walker something to crow about. They also promise to keep the $3.5 million coming for the next five years. The work on the selected projects should start in March.
By the way, city elections are next year – on Mar. 20. All eight city elected officials are expected to try for reelection, and until election day undoubtedly will remind voters ad nauseum of the road works headed their constituents’ way, if not point right at those already started and especially those they personally signed off on.
Like Shreveport, Bossier City also has a 2021-25 capital project plan reflecting citywide priorities. Again, the best and most efficient governance – granting the $1 million for sidewalk improvements if allocated in the places of greatest need – would throw the $2.5 million towards fulfilling items in this plan instead of having district councilors dole it out on a basis potentially geared more towards reaping votes than where dollars can do the most good for the most citizens.
Spending tax proceeds collected citywide should occur according to needs that take the entire city into account, or at the very least this spending should require public and majority votes to authorize. Regardless of where you live, giving equal shares to councilors essentially to direct as they wish threatens to put their wants ahead of the people’s needs.