The Bossier City Council shows it remains committed to working for its own members’ interests rather than the people’s, a recent rejection of changing its meeting times confirmed, reinforcing the necessity of term limits for the body.
Republican new at-large member Chris Smith offered up a resolution to change meeting times on the first and third (and fifth if existing) Tuesdays of each month from 3 PM to 6 PM. He argued that it would bring grater citizen participation, both in meeting access and in candidacies to serve on the Council.
Opponents – the rest of the Council – responded with a weak counterargument. They asserted that in the unspecified past the panel had met at that time but with little visible improvement in attendance, backed by almost of citizen communications advocating for the change. And, they claimed, it would cost more with overtime for city employees meeting after the normal work day ended.
Note that there’s a chicken-and-egg feature to this. Opponents claims citizens aren’t involved enough so that a time change won’t activate any latent demand. But perhaps the reason why, to them at least, allegedly so few people wanted a change – even as Smith said he received numerous affirmative requests from residents of every district – was with meetings at 3 PM few had any idea altering the time was up for consideration.
In any event, times have changed and the metric of bodies in seats as a judge of interest doesn’t validly capture public engagement. Public access television viewership and, more recently, Internet streaming also provide access, and the same constraints of work or other obligations that prevent coming to City Hall at 3 PM also keep people from turning on the tube or navigating to the Council’s web page to watch then aren’t present at 6 PM.
Smith also noted that the Bossier Parish School Board holds meetings at that time to apparent public interest and approval, a fact which also moots in part the extra cost objection; Smith pointed out spending a (relatively speaking tiny) bit more for increased public access was worth it, and clearly the BPSB agrees.
Left unsaid was the cost issue largely is fictitious. Almost all the city employees expected for business purposes to appear at meetings draw a fixed salary, not hourly wages. The only very few wage employees needed work for the Council or provide building access, and even that problem could be circumvented by flexible scheduling by giving time off such as on some Friday afternoons. Any additional costs would be incredibly trivially compared to a city budget approaching nine figures annually.
Such silly responses by councilors hide their real objection, tellingly telegraphed when none tried to counter Smith’s point that the present time discourages all but the wealthy, retirees, or those with very flexible work schedules (current elected councilors who work all essentially own their own businesses) from running for Council posts. That is, moving meetings to 6 PM opens up the field to a whole lot more challengers otherwise shut out. Every other councilor simply is trying to protect his own hide, the same reason why they haven’t instituted term limits.
That’s the next reform Smith or some other councilor should bring up. A two-term limit – with one for the mayor as well – emulating the majority of nearby local jurisdictions with plenary bodies would guarantee new blood refreshed frequently to replace the aging fossilized dinosaurs that at present comprise the council majority. And because they have plagued the Council for so long, if grandfathered in where the limit applies only starting with the 2025 term, they might actually go for it because they could serve well into receiving their Social Security benefits, if that system hasn’t emptied out by then.