Days of dysfunction have returned to the Caddo Parish Commission, with some commissioners more eager to launch filibusters than to govern.
Over a quarter of a century ago, the Commission became hijacked over personal issues centered around the performance and policy choices made by the parish’s then-administrator. This led to lengthy meetings where members would launch soliloquies both about various issues of the day, some having nothing to do with the body’s responsibilities, and personalities involved. Elections in 1995 swept out or forced into retirement some involved, and others who remained quieted down afterwards.
That tendency has made a comeback, as last week’s meeting exemplifies. Two weeks earlier, half of the commissioners – all black Democrats – refused to adopt a resolution proclaiming National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (set nationally for Jan. 9), with one explaining some law enforcement actions of the prior year made it impossible for him to vote for blanket laudatory language. Earlier in the meeting, several last-minute resolutions consisting of current leftist talking points never made it to debate, with Republican Commissioner Todd Hopkins consistently preventing these from making it onto the agenda (late agenda additions require unanimous consent).
After that meeting, Republican Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator sent an e-mail message to his deputies mentioning the failure to pass the proclamation, assuring them of the esteem that he and the community had of them. This rubbed some of the opposition the wrong way, as Democrat Commissioner Roy Burrell (a former Shreveport city councilor and state representative) made clear during last week’s meeting.
When a resolution that condemned unrest at the U.S. Capitol was brought up for future discussion – this time with text attached, as opposed to the effort two weeks earlier where Democrat Commissioner Ken Epperson simply announced the general concept without any text made available to the others – Burrell took the opportunity to launch a stemwinder.
Burrell claimed the Prator letter contained “misinformation,” alleging it led to “false information” being spread by local media. He said a vote against the appreciation resolution meant support for local, not nationwide, law enforcement – although the Commission, given the chance, didn’t take up such a supportive resolution at that time. He then asked for a letter to Prator to be read into the record.
That letter said the resolution “should have been previously vetted by Mr. [Republican Commissioner Mario] Chavez with all Commissioners to determine their support for the measure, just as most are if there has been unrest detected from various members.” Whether Chavez did individually, the fact is he submitted the document far enough in advance for it to make the agenda provisionally, including online publication. Burrell and every other commissioner (and the public) had a chance to read it and communicate concerns well in advance of the meeting. Thus, such complaints ring falsely.
Burrell also wrote that “Hopkins has also denied black Democrat Commissioners through resolution by Commissioner Epperson, the opportunity to weigh in on the horrible tragedy to our nation that just had happened on June 6, orchestrated by our own POTUS Trump and his right-wing political allies, including homegrown terrorists.” Setting aside that the evidence shows Trump had no association with elements triggering that unrest, and that his allegedly inciteful speech actually instructed listeners away from violence, Hopkins stated why he would not allow the Epperson’s resolutions onto the agenda: unlike with Chavez’s, there was no text, public or private, made available prior to the vote. Burrell attempted disingenuously to link the two.
Then, he professed to be disturbed that in an “interview on the conservative talk show KEEL Radio,” Prator wasn’t “pointing us out as black elected officials but Democrat officials, which apparently and strategically meant to be a not-so subtle partisan ‘dog whistle’ call to the local radical ReTrumplican base. A political base that 75% supported the Capitol insurrection, and one that you and Commissioner Chavez are rumored to be a part.” One might be forgiven for thinking Burrell had taken leave of his senses with that passage, but even more remarkably he complained that Prator didn’t inject race into his very mild on-air critique (although Prator did err when he said all Democrats had voted against it; white Democrat Commissioner John Atkins had voted in favor), in essence saying “Democrat” had become an epithet and complaining that Prator was popularizing that conceptualization.
Burrell days later appeared on the Robert & Erin Show on KEEL (the forum to which Burrell apparently referred). There, he claimed he didn’t intend for the message to get into the public domain – even though he asked it to be read into the Commission’s record saying explicitly he wanted it to be public, which one host called him on. He replied, contradictorily, that since Prator’s message had gained circulation across social media, that he needed to make his rejoinder public.
He defended his characterization that three-quarters of Republican former Pres. Donald Trump’s “base” supported the unrest – despite no verified public information establishing that. And when asked whether he had inserted his own “dog whistle” – Trump supporter = white supremacist – into his letter, he defended that inference in saying that white supremacists generally supported Trump. Of course, that association doesn’t mean at all what Burrell hinted at: a tiny sliver of the Trump coalition believing in white supremacy tarring all Trump voters as white supremacists.
Burrell closed the interview by continuing to insist that the Chavez resolution and Prator’s reaction were political, and that he was a big supporter of law enforcement, proven by the “millions of dollars” he had “given” to law enforcement as an elected official – presumably meaning appropriations bills he had voted for. All in all, he sounded like a stuck pig squealing after he had received numerous inquiries and complaints about his vote and his letter, as if he was being unjustly persecuted, seemingly unaware that after 21 years in various elective offices that he is a public servant accountable to the people for his actions and statements. And, if he if he finds that burdensome or unfair, he is free to tender his resignation; nobody is forcing him to serve in office.
Burrell’s actions exemplify in the extreme a growing trend of the Commission ever since it went to all remote meetings almost a year ago (no other major local government in northwest Louisiana has persisted in this, instead weeks and months ago going back to in-person meetings) to use Commission meetings to push agendas largely unconnected with parish responsibilities and as forum to try to score political points (which also causes meetings to last three to four hours or longer). This steadily moves it toward its 1994 siting, a path towards dysfunction that it needs to avoid.