How the Bossier Parish Police Jury handled its recent vacancy illuminates why it has remained the most opaque of major northwest Louisiana governments.
You don’t get much transparency or sunshine from parish government, compared to Shreveport, Bossier City, the parishes’ school districts, or Caddo Parish. Besides live cable television coverage of some of these, all have high-quality Internet video delivered live and on demand of past meetings.
Further, all provide citizens with online information about agenda items typically a few days in advance of a meeting. This gives the public a chance to review upcoming matters and facilitates its members participation in the legally-mandated comment periods during governing bodies’ open meetings.
By contrast, the Bossier Police Jury remains stuck in the 20th century. Almost no online documentation, outside of an occasional map related to some zoning decision, appears attached to any agenda. And despite plenty of pandemic-related bucks coming in and a government that spent nearly $63 million in 2019, the Jury still “broadcasts” its meetings by rinky-dink Facebook Live captured from a mobile device that often is unintelligible and doesn’t show all jurors. (Six months ago, I complained about this and was instructed to “be patient” that something better was coming. We’re still waiting.)
Yet perhaps most indicative of the indifference towards transparency inherent to Jury affairs is how it conducted its search for an interim member. Earlier this month, Republican Jack “Bump” Skaggs announced he would resign his seat to take an executive post of a new merged business and governmental coordination agency for the region. As the governor appoints a new placeholding member in such instances if within 10 days the governing authority doesn’t, the Jury moved quickly to advertise for the post and held a special meeting earlier this week to make a selection.
When faced with this last year, the Caddo Parish School Board posted on its agenda all applicants’ names and their letters of application. Also encountering a similar situation not long after, the Shreveport City Council, while not providing such information, at least sent out news releases naming the applicants for local media to disseminate and which facilitated citizens in making comments about the applicants during the meeting which selected the interim councilor.
The Jury did none of that. It sent out a request for applicants, cued up the special meeting, and announced the result, the appointment of Republican Julianna Parks. Bossier Parish residents, unless they contacted the Jury personally, had no information about the applicants or even their names and how many there were. The whole process hardly was distinguishable from waiting in St. Peter’s Square to see who emerged on the balcony after white smoke poured from the chimney.
That Parks is another of the long list of political insiders that infest and interact with governments in Bossier Parish makes the absence of publicity surrounding her appointment even more unsettling. An attorney and local party official, she is the wife of Bossier City Court Judge Santi Parks, who in her legal duties interacts with agencies funded by the Jury. At the very least, its making something beyond a token effort to inform the citizenry throughout the process would dampen the impression that the fix was in.
Earlier this year, voters began giving notice through election results to Bossier City politicians that they had started to tire of get-along-go-along insider politics. By avoiding public engagement so easily accomplished by nearby major governments, Bossier Parish gives voters every reason to do the same when jurors come up for reelection in 2023. Who knows; maybe they’ll get an early start on cleaning house if Parks runs in the special election later this year for her seat.