The recent lashing Mother Nature gave to northwest Louisiana also struck a blow against Bossier City politicians running for reelection.
Nearly a week’s worth of some of the coldest temperatures combined with some of the most voluminous wintry precipitation in Bossier City history paralyzed the city. During its worst couple of days, travelling major thoroughfares became impossible except for drivetrain-enhanced vehicles with experienced drivers, the city suffered rolling but short blackouts, and some residents lost water service entirely while the entire city underwent an extended boil order because of breaks in city water lines that reduced water pressure to half normal.
Things were so bad that the Bossier City Council cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting on Mardi Gras. It wouldn’t have to do that absent the negligence of Republican Mayor Lo Walker and the Council through their failure to prepare for these circumstances.
Although weather such as this might come around once every few decades, typically at least every other year snow falls and more often ice can build up from other less-severe weather systems. Yet Bossier City – unlike parish government, which hired contractors to clear as many roads as they could – was caught absolutely flatfooted. The city has no capacity on its own to clear roads, and if it did anything basic such as spread salt on major roads before the bad weather arrived that wasn’t in evidence, as side roads became impassable to most vehicles and larger thoroughfares behaved like ice rinks. With the city impotent to mitigate the hazards created, Walker was reduced to issuing pleas for people to bunker down and to use water sparingly.
It’s not like the city hasn’t the resources to provide for dozens of tons of salt that will keep indefinitely or even outfitting a couple of medium-duty trucks with detachable scoops that could plow away snow under more severe conditions after de-icing. Arkansas pays about $95 a ton for salt and uses 14,000 a year, so if Bossier City used every year even 14 tons on average that’s not even $1,500 annually. Gearing up these trucks to plow would cost only in the thousands of dollars, maybe five figures, and their operation would be under $150 an hour.
Rather than making this small investment in motorist safety and an open economy, consider what Walker and the Council chose to do late last year. As by custom, they set up slush funds of a half million dollars annually for each district councilor, pledging to continue this for the next few years, and carved out a million more for city-wide sidewalks. A tenth of the latter total set aside for plows and salt could have kept the city’s major arteries passable last week and for the next five years.
Instead, citizens find their capital outlay monies going to “sidewalks to nowhere,” to use as just one example the millions of dollars in expenditures in Republican Councilor Scott Irwin’s district for burgeoning concrete footpaths that often traverse across vast expanses of empty land. Across the city, councilors encourage implementing largely nonessential but visible projects to serve as eye-candy for their reelections. Meanwhile, a city of 70,000 was brought to its knees by their ignoring the basics of competent governing.
The water system’s troubles also might cause a headache for incumbents Walker, Irwin, and the two at-large councilors seeking reelection who drew opponents, Republicans Tim Larkin and David Montgomery. In 2014 they voted to hike city sewerage rates 41 percent, then two years later turned over sewerage and water operations to Manchac Consulting. In the past, all of Walker, Irwin, Larkin, and Montgomery received campaign donations from Manchac or its chief executive officer Justin Haydel and supported the move.
The city’s unprepared and helpless response to the weather incident plays right into the hands of their challengers. A common theme from Walker’s opponent Republican Tommy Chandler, Irwin’s challenger Republican Shane Cheatham, and from Republican Chris Smith who looks to unseat one at-large councilor, is that city leadership has grown too fat and comfortable from lacking term limits, leading to sclerosis and insularity, thus rendering the incumbents incapable of displaying forward-thinking leadership while they waste city tax dollars (Walker, 87, has served as city chief administrative officer or mayor for 32 years, while all of Irwin, Larkin, and Montgomery have served for over 18 years).
Challengers now have another issue to leverage this message of incumbents’ policy failures to voters. Bossier City soon will dig out and have the taps on fully, so the most lasting damage wrought by the Mardi Gras storm of 2021 might end up being to the careers of a few city politicians.