Incoming Bossier City Republican Mayor Tommy Chandler got his man. In the process, he may have let slip away his agenda’s success.
Chandler surprised political watchers by tapping Bossier Parish School Board member Republican Shane Cheatham to serve as the city’s Chief Administrative Officer when Chandler’s term commences Jul. 1. This will send the City Council’s District 1 voters back to the polls in the fall at least once, for Cheatham soundly defeated incumbent Republican Scott Irwin for that spot in last month’s elections.
Cheatham, along with incoming at-large Republican Councilor Chris Smith, would have served as an ally of Chandler’s on the seven-member body. The Council seldom deviated from initiatives springing from outgoing Republican Mayor Lo Walker over the past 16 years, nor even the previous 16 years to that when Walker served as CAO, with the large majority of its decisions made unanimously across this era of low Council turnover.
Whether Walker applied the glue to hold it together – a free-spending regime that squandered a now-disappearing revenue bounty on numerous infrastructure items, some of which acted more as forays into venture capitalism rather than responsible decisions – whose departure would lead the panel to fragment will become the biggest storyline over the next four years. Regardless, Chandler will need every friend he can find on the Council as he tries to reorient the agenda away from this approach and for the city to shed its insider-driven, small-town mentality in policy-making.
(As an example of this, right after the election Walker forwarded to the Council an ordinance reviving the idea of building a $30 million senior citizen center with no demonstrated need. The architect behind it, Shreveport’s Mike McSwain, donated $2,500 to Walker in each of his last two elections, as well as gave $1,000 to Irwin in 2017. A bare majority, not including Irwin, of Councilors rebelled, buffeted by complaints that a major project of this sort shouldn’t be decided by a lame-duck administration and Council, and yanked the item. It could reappear at any time.)
Losing a councilor but gaining a CAO might turn out as a net negative. The Charter specifies that the Council appoints a placeholder for the nearly four months until the election – closer to six if it takes a runoff. This will include the period during which Chandler proposes, if not the Council would pass, his first budget.
It has been 18 years since a councilor cut short a term – Irwin in fact came onto the Council that way, when his predecessor Republican Mike Slemp vacated and he won the subsequent special election. That time, the Council ignored the Charter’s mandate of a replacement within 10 days of the vacancy, although it likely will carry through this time.
Typically, in this situation a municipality will solicit applicants, and often the input of the outgoing individual (if alive) plays a disproportionate role in the selection. As well, whether the person wants the gig permanently also can matter, as sometimes a body doesn’t want to have someone interested in that.
These dynamics create an interesting situation. Chandler will want to leverage the appointment into giving an ally a leg up for the election, and will have some time to figure out who would could run well enough to win.
But the Council, still full of old guard allies, might act with obstinacy. They could go out of their way to put one of their own in place. Such a majority even might consider letting its deposed fellow traveler Irwin continue for a few months by claiming his experience is needed, although whether this could translate into a comeback is up to Chandler and Cheatham. Such was the thrashing that Cheatham gave to Irwin that if they backed a serious candidate for the fall, Irwin wouldn’t want to go through with it again.
Still, the Council could ignore that request and put in its own old guard-compatible temp to combat the Chandler/Cheatham choice, and, although Cheatham showed what it took to win in South Bossier and Chandler defeated Walker disproportionately in District 1, that ally has no guarantee of prevailing in a special election. Some voters even may be turned off to a candidate connected to Cheatham, feeling frustrated that as soon as they voted for change the guy promising them that bails out.
So, the move carries risk. Two sure allies beats one, and if after all of this Smith turns out as the lone Chandler loyalist, Chandler’s first big decision may predispose those to come to fail.