Shreveport Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins might still have a chance at reelection, but recent events show how he remains in hot water, of his own making.
With a questionable judicial decision allowing him to remain on the ballot, his present problem is how to advance to the inevitable general election runoff. Over three years of shooting himself in the foot on dimensions of both policy and ethics have imperiled that, and the misses just keep coming.
Just since the start of the year – after months of relative quiet after his disastrous showing in the 2020 Senate contest – through the qualification controversy the unforced errors Perkins instigated include apparent favoritism if not discrimination in hiring a finance director in trying to bury allegations of fiscal irregularities, ousting the long-time manager of city pools over the racial composition of it leadership only to have to back down and rehire it, and trying to force through a recycling contract to an entity with no experience in or infrastructure for it and which refused to take the proper steps to complete the assignment. Now a couple of other issues have surfaced which reflect poorly on the competency of the Perkins Administration.
Percolating over the past few months and now finally coming to a boil, the city went through the motions of selecting new vendors for the health care plan for city employees and retirees. However, it failed to follow its own request for proposals procedure and never produced one. That made the vendor with the current preferred rates, Willis Knighton, guess on some parameters and led it to submit a higher bid than otherwise, its chief executive officer said.
That resulted in the health care system’s main competitor in the area, Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, to win the preferred rates from the city’s health care trust fund board that ultimately recommends to the City Council, which if approved would keep Willis Knighton as a vendor but with a less-advantageous plan by cost. This means city employees and retirees either would have to switch providers in many instances or pay higher rates.
City Chief Administrative Officer Henry Whitehorn alleges an RFP existed. But to date the city has failed to produce one despite media and city councilor requests. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to have impeded Ochsner in coming up with the low bid.
Then again, the councilor member of the board and a Perkins ally, Jerry Bowman, works for Ochsner, and another, former Bossier Parish School Board member Brad Bockhaus, works for the insurer partner for Ochsner, Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Other members include Perkins, Whitehorn, and city finance director Kasey Brown – the person part of the hiring controversy earlier this year and, like Whitehorn, a Perkins appointee. Together, they comprise a majority.
One board member, the retiree representative Bill Wilson, a former assistant police chief, publicly has insinuated a fix is in. City Councilors Republican Grayson Boucher and Democrat LeVette Fuller, running for mayor against Perkins, have aired considerable doubts about process, but they may not have the votes to stop the Council from approving the board’s recommendation next week.
Now add to this a disappointing audit as a consequence of compiling the city’s required Comprehensive Annual Financial Report – turned in late – over the city’s finances. It noted several issues in 2021, a couple of which have lingered over the years, although the city resolved a majority of older issues. Those still present and the several new ones the Brown said could be fixed immediately, and offered up a variety of excuses for these that smacked more of poor management than the unforeseen circumstances cited as reasons.
Part of this could be a consequence of the chaos Perkins has allowed to persist in that department, still with no permanent director or deputy director named. And, as auditors noted, the presumed irregularities asserted by the former employee now suing the city for racial and age discrimination still are under state auditor scrutiny.
None of this paint a flattering picture of Perkins’ competence, and fits a larger pattern throughout his term. It all leaves additional fodder for his opponents to bring to voters’ attention prior to the election.