SADOW: Local Bills To Create More Responsive Government

Citizens on both sides of the Red River appear on the way to bringing more responsive government, despite opponents to that using misdirection in failed attempts to date to derail legislation.

HB 630 by Republican state Rep. Dodie Horton uncontroversially would update state statutes from the 1950s regarding the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District. Much more controversially, it would create a process to remove members of the agency’s governing commission, appointed for five-year terms by local Bossier governments, with the governing authorities of four being directly elected and the other filled with gubernatorial appointees. At present, no removal procedures exist beyond the constitutional impeachment provision, which limits that to malfeasance or gross misconduct.

It also changes filling a vacancy from the remaining commissioners to the appointer. And, it allows commissioners to have one of their own removed for specific causes listed.

The current arrangement creates a crisis of accountability, for citizens have no direct control over officials that can levy taxes on and put on the hook for debt taxpayers living in much of Bossier Parish. Over the past several years, complaints about cavalier and wasteful spending and particularly with about seven percent of revenues going to the Executive Director Robert Berry – who also serves as a commissioner, which has landed him in court on charges of violating the state’s dual officeholding prohibition.

By citizens having the power to file a complaint against a commissioner for the appointing governing authority to vet (although a recommendation to remove limited to just once a year per commissioner), citizens gain a means to rein in board actions that vary from the public interest, as judged by officials they elect to represent them (in four of five instances). This creates greater incentive for the board to act in the public interest.

The bill has flown through the legislative process to date. Opponents, Berry in particular, tried to divert legislators by alleging the matter dealt with personality conflicts and special interests. Legislators haven’t been impressed with that, and have sent the bill to the Senate, with Horton working overtime to ensure the language exactly accomplishes its goal when the bill is heard there.

(Curiously, at the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee hearing of the bill, “red cards” of opposition were filed on behalf of Bossier City and Bossier Parish through their shared lobbyist. Yet neither the Bossier City Council, which had brought up a resolution opposing but shelved it, nor the Bossier Parish Police Jury ever passed a formal instrument opposing the bill, which leads to the question just who arrogated the authority to declare opposition in each case to make such a declaration and from where they derived that authority.)

Also now in the hands of the Senate, HB 121 by GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh would permit Shreveport to join about a dozen other mid- to large-size cities in the state, including Bossier City, in not requiring police to work in three platoons. Otherwise legally mandated to do so, this prevents officers working a half-day three days one week and four the next, a staffing strategy recommended to help recruit and retain officers endorsed by Shreveport Police Chief Ben Raymond and backed by Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins; the Shreveport City Council passed up an opportunity to join them.

This has garnered intense opposition from one of the two organizations representing police officers, joined by one Shreveport Democrat state Rep. Tammy Phelps. But all misrepresented the bill as having to require a two-platoon system, where it merely allows the option. Regardless, other legislators with testimony from other police departments and from personal experience extolled 12-hour shifts, and the bill passed the House with only a handful of Democrats opposing.

Senators need to stamp their approval on both as well. Each will produce better use of taxpayer dollars, and should become law.

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