SADOW: Touchy Attitudes Impede Better Governance In Bossier City

If the Bossier City Council were a bar, Republican Councilor David Montgomery would be that guy, as he recently reminded on the most inoffensive issue.

Drinking establishments all have one. You know, the barfly that’s always been there for decades, faithfully patronizing the joint. Sometimes he’ll be garrulously good-natured, to the point you wish you could just move on. That’s not so bad. It’s when, all of a sudden, something – a snippet from a nearby television, an overheard conversation, or maybe for no identifiable reason at all – happens that triggers him. Then everybody within earshot gets treated to some kind of harangue equal parts impassioned, inconsistently informed, and embarrassing until he finally runs out of steam, to onlookers’ relief.

The public received such an outburst from Montgomery at last week’s meeting, over the most innocuous of proposed ordinances. It would have prohibited a contractor, affirmed through affidavit, from employing an agent of any kind to land a city job, which mirrors R.S. 38:2224.

City Attorney Charles Jacobs pointed out adding it made for redundancy and inserting everything under state law that the city had to follow would add quite a bit to the municipal code. You could make a principled argument that such clutter shouldn’t weigh down the code, and vote against the measure accordingly. Montgomery, who began adjusting his tie during Jacobs’ analysis, at its conclusion began by doing so in saying city leaders followed the state and U.S. Constitution, so the replication was unneeded and he would vote against it.

Unremarkable, but lucid and pertinent enough. Then Republican Councilor Chris Smith, who proposed the ordinance, presented his case, stating he didn’t want to copy everything into the code, but that he saw this as important in this particular case to emphasize transparency to their constituents through the code that city officials were barred from taking kickbacks, thus increasing citizen confidence in city governance. Indeed, as long as the symbolic benefit outweighed the cost of extra verbiage in the mind of a councilor, what could be objectionable about it?

That wasn’t how Montgomery’s mind worked. He then went on a rant, loudly claiming Smith’s request implied something illegal of this nature had gone on in his past two decades in office – Smith won election about a year ago – and almost shouted for Smith give him one attestation where the law hadn’t been followed on this matter or “nefarious” behavior had happened. All the while, Montgomery kept forcefully jabbing his finger down on the table as if playing rapid-fire slots or video poker, except had he actually been in communion with such a machine he would have busted the button.

Smith calmly replied he hadn’t made any such implication, only that he had noted other cities in the state had incorporated that law into their codes, he explained in answer to a question, so perhaps Bossier City should do the same. He didn’t see any reason not to vote for it, since the city already followed it. The councilor who had moved for consideration, Republican Brian Hammons who just joined the Council, didn’t see a problem in the addition, but the two other council graybeards often joined with Montgomery at the hip, Democrat Bubba Williams and no party Jeff Darby, spoke essentially echoing Montgomery’s opinion in that they said since there was nothing to see here, they didn’t need this. Predictably, only Smith and Hammons ended up voting in favor.

Montgomery filibusters in this arrogant way often – witness his infamous “we don’t bid” harangue when it was suggested that the city stop its longstanding practice of not sending out bids for bond issuances, despite Legislative Auditor advice to the contrary – but remarkable about this incident is how stark the reaction came to such a trivial matter. And that, in less confrontational ways, council graybeards seem to ratify the notion that even to bring it up insulted anyone, like them, with any past association with the city.

Local media missed the real story here (focusing instead on a defeated ordinance that would have allowed hen-raising within city limits): why are long-time councilors so touchy and willing take offense at the drop of a hat? Taking everything so personally isn’t the greatest formula for best governance if Bossier City wants to evolve away from being America’s Biggest Small Town.

(NOTE: coming soon is a web site with opinion pieces about current politics in Bossier Parish. Check this space in the future for more details.)

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