Just when it seemed things had quieted down somewhat for Shreveport Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins in a reelection year, he had to start self-inflicting wounds again.
Perkins endured a rocky first couple of years in office after coming from complete obscurity to win. He defeated the incumbent precisely because with no background in politics and almost none in civilian adult life he could appear as a blank slate onto which he invited voters to write their hopes and aspirations.
Then he began to compile a record fraught with questionable decisions, both ethically and in policy output. That appeared to ease up after an electorally-disastrous bid for the U.S. Senate, but after about a year-and-a-half this spring he began to create himself problems again, starting with hiring a chief financial officer with a thin and controversial background that prompted an equally, if not more-qualified applicant to complain to the state about discrimination in hiring and prompted a Louisiana Legislative Auditor review.
Now he’s back in hot water – warm pool water more precisely – over another instance of potential discrimination, in this case in city contracting. For a decade the nonprofit Rock Solid ran the city’s pools during the summer, not just providing employees but also running swim classes. The organization grew out of an effort to address a tragedy when six youths drowned in the Red River.
Earlier this month, the city announced that Rock Solid was out and that the contract would go to a non-local firm, USA Management that, according to web and social media postings, has an uneven performance record. Apparently, USA Management scored higher because on the evaluations submitted by three city employees it did significantly better conforming to the city’s Fair Share requirements. This program seeks to promote racial minority- and female-owned (under the rubric of “disadvantaged business enterprises”) small business participation in city contracts through publicizing opportunities, and has a “goal” of 25 percent such participation in contracting.
In essence, even though it was local company with a demonstrated history of success and which had hired many minorities to work for it, Rock Solid lost the gig to an outsider because that company could demonstrate greater minority participation in the upper ranks of its administration and operators. The Fair Share program, in place for almost a quarter century, can give the city the chance to convey advantage to some contractors over others simply because of race.
Further confusing matters was Fair Share supposedly applies only to for-profit entities. And USA Management certainly appears to be a going concern far larger than the $750,000 business assets ceiling. It appears that different standards were used to evaluate each of the only two applicants to run the pools for a flat $125,000 for the season.
Rock Solid’s complaints after being eased out didn’t go unnoticed. After local television station KTBS, overcoming some Perkins Administration resistance, gained access to the public records involved showing how the scoring went, complaints began to fly. Even Democrat state Rep. Cedric Glover, mayor when Rock Solid began providing its programming, questioned the decision.
Undoubtedly digesting all of this and wishing to avoid hurtling into a hornet’s nest, USA Management then promptly rejected the offer to work for the city. The conclusion turned farcical when the city sheepishly offered the deal to Rock Solid and put things back the way they were after retrospectively generating needless controversy for a couple of weeks.
Throughout it all, Perkins deflected from his involvement by saying the matter had been in the hands of city employees. But he had to have had some oversight capacity for a contract of that size and impact it would have on city services.
Regardless, the buck stops with him and this incident created just another reminder of a chain of past decisions under his administration seemingly made on bases extraneous to ensuring maximum taxpayer return. At this point, only Perkins can cost himself reelection, and this appears as yet another misstep to do exactly that.