Describing the antics of the Bossier City Council might draw such words as “amateur hour”, “clown show”, and “laughingstock” – except it’s no laughing matter when its elected officials provide such a stark reminder to the world that by their behavior they oversee America’s biggest small town.
If the majority cabal at present running council affairs wanted to impress upon observers just how unprofessional, inept, and petty Bossier City government is, they couldn’t have done better with the circus of a meeting they put on earlier this week. After witnessing what happened, any business wanting to set up shop in northwest Louisiana would cross the city off its list, correctly deducing that its parochial, secretive and dysfunctional government would create a toxic business environment held hostage by a few egotists and not worth the trouble to invest in.
The gory details are here, and a special meeting later this week would appear at least to iron out the appointment by Republican and new Mayor Tommy Chandler of 26th Judicial District Judge Charles Jacobs as city attorney and therefore 26th District assistant district attorney Richard Ray as assistant. But that doesn’t erase how handling this became a manufactured controversy ending with a self-inflicted wound.
As has become his wont in recent years, the chief clown involved was Republican at-large Councilor David Montgomery. Throughout the meeting, despite his no longer being Council president, Montgomery tried to control it, frequently barking instructions, but on this issue he managed to inject both sanctimony and ignorance into the discussion.
When the Jacobs nomination came up, he led a move to postpone the matter until the first August council meeting. Pressed as to why, he lapsed into the opaqueness that to date has become a hallmark of the Council. What little he said indicated something about unseemly events prior to the weekend that cast doubt on Jacobs’ fitness.
That appeared to refer to Chandler’s decision just after assuming the job reassigning former Police Chief Shane McWilliams. He insinuated that Jacobs had a hand in this and it was untoward legally. Earlier that day, the city had clarified that move by noting McWilliams had been suspended and faced discipline for unannounced reasons.
If in fact Jacobs had given this advice, it was spot on. The city charter allows the mayor to appoint a police chief as by state law, which states a chief’s term lasts concurrently with the mayor’s. That permits a mayor at the beginning of his term not to retain a chief as long as he adheres to civil service requirements, meaning that as long as somebody serving as chief does not lose rank or salary without cause, he may be reassigned from that post. (He also may fire a chief during a term with Council approval.)
But Montgomery hinted that he had consulted with private counsel who may have advised the opposite. Faced with citizens coming to the stand and criticizing this apparent dealing behind closed doors, he defended it by saying the Council had the right to convene in executive session – meet in private – to discuss personnel matters. Except that the charter says the city will follow state law in these matters, and statute expressly prohibits the use of executive session in discussing appointments.
It’s not the first time, and surely not the last, that Montgomery has been wrong on the facts. And he received another reminder about his selective, if not thoroughly incomplete, understanding of the charter, as did other Council graybeards such as no party Jeff Darby and Democrat Bubba Williams – with Montgomery all serving at least two decades in their offices – when the matter of Ray’s appointment came after the Jacobs postponement, opposed only by Republican and new Councilor Chris Smith and the continuing member least inculcated into the system, Republican Jeff Free (only there for eight years).
Ray announced, correctly, that the Council couldn’t appoint him, citing the charter’s dictate that only the city attorney could do so, which ran counter to a past city ordinance the graybeards had once passed. After some minor protest where it became clear both all the council could do was budget for the position and Ray seemed to be almost the only guy in the building who knew what he was taking about, that item also was postponed first to August, and subsequently to later this week.
As if handling these jobs made the Council appear moronic enough, there was how it dealt with the appointment of Republican Shane Cheatham’s District 1 replacement, and his nomination to be the city’s chief administrative officer. Cheatham defeated Republican incumbent Scott Irwin, only to vacate the seat in order to accept Chandler’s nod for CAO.
When announced, at the very least Chandler and Cheatham took a risk of giving up a sure Council vote for Chandler and a guaranteed role for Cheatham in city government. It turned into a mistake when, over the objections of several citizens who pointed out voters decisively had rejected Irwin, the graybeards plus their ally and newcomer Republican Vince Maggio made Irwin a political zombie in putting him back in the same seat.
Then, the Council refused to even give Cheatham a hearing, with no councilor making a second to Smith’s motion to confirm Cheatham. A Council majority wishing to govern in the people’s interest would not have had the fix in for an electoral reject to boost their numbers for the next three months and would have given Cheatham a fair hearing before tossing him aside.
Resolving the attorney appointments makes small progress, perhaps driven by the fact that the graybeards recognize how silly their obstinance looks to the wider world. However, the damage has been done by the tantrum by Montgomery et. al. over an election result they didn’t like. Grownups would have handled differently the Chandler ascension and the spanner that threw in the works of their political careers. But this is, after all, America’s biggest small town.