At last, after a year both the Bossier Parish Police Jury and Parish Administrator Joe Edward “Butch” Ford got on the right side of the law.
Their legal missteps began early last year when the Jury promoted Ford from parish engineer to administrator, running afoul of the law in the process. State statute requires that the chief appointed officer of a parish also be a registered voter in the parish, and for nearly four decades Ford had been registered at a Caddo Parish address – facts surely inescapable to any juror.
Ford remained illegally employed for about 10 months, until just after this space published Oct. 19 details about the law and records showing Ford remained registered in Caddo when he changed it to a Bossier address on Oct. 21. This, however, created another problem in that state law mandates that a voter had to register at his homestead, if he had one, and Ford continued to declare his homestead at the Caddo address, a fact brought out in this space published Nov. 15. In fact, Ford’s Bossier registration address was at property apparently not owned by him nor was a declared homestead.
Statute also required the parish registrar of voters, in Bossier Parish Stephanie Agee, to investigate when in her belief a registration appeared fraudulent. Despite the information now in the public domain and easily accessible, her office apparently made no move to launch such an investigation. So, on Jan. 14 I sent a note to her office asking for an investigation and stating the reason why. I also asked if she would release to me the results on paper, but her response made it clear that she would follow the letter of the law on this, where such a release would occur only upon petition of at least 25 registered voters in the parish as a public information request. (The records also are open for inspection, but it was important to have a written record.)
With assistance, I gathered the signatures of 29 such voters and on Feb. 9 mailed these off with a request for documents related to investigations that had occurred in 2023 of individuals for fraudulent registration. On Feb. 24, the request was fulfilled.
The records showed that only two voters were investigated in this period for potential fraudulent registration – Ford and his wife. On Nov. 14, he had mailed to him his new registration card, a day before it became public knowledge that he had a homestead at a different address. But that came back Nov. 23 because the address had no mail receptacle, indicating that the property had not received mail for some time.
Since this had occurred, Agee’s office followed the next legal step by sending two letters trying to confirm Ford’s residence, on Dec. 8 and Jan. 26. One came back on Jan. 13 and the other went out on Jan. 26, leading Ford to make an appearance on Jan. 30 to attest he lived at that address. But before then, prior to the second letter going out, the office also sent out on Jan. 23 information about the voter challenge from my Jan. 14 request, although the petition to release the information would not arrive until Feb. 10. By Jan. 30, Ford and his wife had changed their exemption to the Bossier address, where it continues.
Without a visit to clerks’ offices, it’s unknown when the Bossier property came into Ford’s name and whether Ford paid his last year’s property taxes according to what exemption where. With the exemption on the Bossier property and it valued under the $75,000 level and not in an incorporated area, the Fords pay just the $36 annual ambulance tax. Their taxes are several hundred dollars higher without the $75,000 offset on the Caddo property. Technically, a switch back as long as they retained ownership of the Bossier property would save them a bit.
All’s well that ends well, so long as Ford stays compliant with the law and therefore the Jury also legally employs him. Following the law that elected and appointed officials swear to protect is the least Bossier residents can expect from their elected officials and the officer jurors appoint to manage parish business.