We have learned over the past month that “quality of life” provided by the spendthrifts in Bossier City government means not just paying for operating and maintaining a tennis facility almost none of its citizens utilize, for parking at its money-losing arena, but also for diamond sports facilities that the city won’t let them use in favor of outsiders and special interests.
Last week, the City Council initially considered apportioning $3 million in debt to build additional parking at its Tinsley Athletic Complex, which has an extensive collection of fields for several sports, most prominently football/soccer fields and baseball/softball diamonds. The head of the Bossier City Department of Parks and Recreation Clay Bohannon and Louis Cook, its head of maintenance, told the Council that on weekends and nights, especially Saturdays and Mondays, the place was jam-packed. This is part came in response to around $14 million of taxpayer dollars spent on adding several fields at the end of last year.
This led to a series of questions by Republican Councilors Brian Hammons and Chris Smith as to why, with all the land office business racked up during weekends and nights, the department disallowed field rentals during weekend days, a common complaint they received from citizens. In it, the councilors kept offering suggestions while the bureaucrats did their level best, often in arrogant and condescending tones, to shoot these down and insist what they did now was the only reasonable course of action.
Which is, to fill up as many weekends as possible with tournaments that attracted mostly nonresidents of Bossier City. Allowing locals to rent fields during weekdays they said could make fields unplayable for the outsiders on weekends and they would lose the larger rental revenue, plus whatever economic spillover revenues from sales and occupancy taxes. They also claimed insufficient manpower to keep things ready for all, even as they are the only city department handing out blanket raises for next budget year, as well as alleged that other substitutes exist, including fobbing off Bossier City residents on parish fields.
Yet a number of municipalities across the state and area don’t have such restrictive use policies. And, as a couple of citizens involved in travel ball noted later during the comment phase, these other places have more creative fee structures and revenue-generating policies that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually extra that Bossier City forgoes, which should be more than enough for any extra maintenance costs. They also noted that other area places are, at best, poorly suited for regular practice, if even available. And, they noted specious objections that opening fields up for practice created additional liability was mooted if BPAR followed some simple procedures.
Worse, the facilities with fields also well suited for use, Walbrook and Clifford Almond Parks, the city doesn’t even control access to for its citizens despite its ownership and continuing maintenance of those diamonds. It turns out for decades the city has had a cooperative endeavor agreement with local Dixie and Little League organizations that allow them to determine who gets to use these fields and historically have been loath to open them up to citizens, and all these organizations do is some minor upkeep that easily could be accomplished bv BPAR.
To that, Cook insultingly suggested that, because the organizations have made recent major capital expenses to these fields. they deserve some kind of co-ownership. The solution isn’t to give away taxpayer resources while excluding taxpayers because that’s what’s been done forever and it’s so easy and familiar, but to prevent private organizations from having undue influence over public benefits by modifying or ending the ancient arrangement.
Throughout, Bohannon and Cook behaved like they were kings of a fiefdom, forgetting they were employed by and bound to serve city residents first and foremost instead of fighting every suggestion that might challenge their hidebound way of favoring insiders and out-of-towners. As one of the citizen commenters bitingly observed, they sounded more like they were running a for-profit enterprise than acting as public servants for Bossier City residents, and nobody seemed interested in resolving why it is, for example, important to keep the Bossier Tennis Center or arena operating at a loss for “quality of life” purposes yet parks – much more widely used by the citizenry and historically an area where government accepted the need to subsidize – had to make a buck.
The Council, of course, simply as part of the budget authorization process could mandate less exclusionary policies. But it won’t especially because the current powers-that-be at BPAR have a Council backer just as hidebound and insider as they, Democrat Bubba Williams, long invested personally with area baseball and who in the meeting defended their actions in the name of generating revenue at every turn despite his long history of foolish spending choices with the people’s money.
Despite that, another change avenue exists, simply by having Bohannon’s boss, Republican Mayor Tommy Chandler, explain to him the facts of life that BPAR was going to set up a regime to permit day field rentals and to do it. But as Chandler has moved into his second year at the city’s helm, he’s become increasingly an empty suit in providing policy leadership of any kind, much less reversing the city’s past free-spending ways, and gave a graphic illustration as such by leaving the Council meeting as discussion of this item wrapped up.
In fact, another of the big-spending graybeards, no party Jeff Darby who presided, seemed prepared to hit pause on the item, with which the votes of Hammons and Smith would have happened as the third of the spendaholic graybeards, Republican David Montgomery, following a pattern intensifying over the past couple of months, was absent from the meeting. However, noticing Chandler’s departure seemed a sign of his indifference to changing policy tied to extending room for parking, the motion to approve building the new lot passed 4-2.
That matter seems likely headed to final passage in two weeks and the lot expansion only peripherally is related to the issue of equal access for all residents to park facilities. Yet the issue illustrates yet again the city’s typical fiscal irresponsibility in its willingness to spend imprudently on capital projects or for insider deals while giving its residents and taxpayers short shrift. That’s life at present in America’s biggest small town.