SADOW: Times Change, Bossier Illegal Behavior Doesn’t

A whole generation goes by, and nothing changes for Bossier Parish apparently playing fast and loose with the law when it comes to squeezing money from the citizenry.

The Bossier Watch transmission of Apr. 16 contained a couple of minutes of commentary and video of a sign reading “VOTE SATURDAY, APRIL 27, 2024 BOSSIER PARISH LIBRARIES” planted near a roadway. The hosts recounted they had seen some around, although the exact location of this one was unknown. On that date is the spring municipal runoff elections in Louisiana, where a 7.43 mils property tax renewal to fund Bossier Parish libraries reengaging in 2026 for 10 years is the one item that will appear on ballots parish-wide.

What follows is a reprint of a post I made at my Louisiana-centric blog site, Between the Lines, on Dec. 30, 2010 that reviewed events of four years previous. (Keep in mind nearly 18 years ago that the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway stopped at the southern end of the now-Brookshire Grocery Arena). It’s amazing how little things (and people involved) change:

As 2011 approaches and observing that Bossier Parish seems to have no difficulty, even in trying economic times, in finding money to service road construction, as well as reviewing the past year and digesting the renewed enthusiasm that the people have acquired courtesy of over-reaching national government to monitor the activities of government, it makes me think back some years ago about an object lesson concerning how government operates. The specific example is Bossier Parish’s, and the apparent whimsy of situation might amuse save for the unsettling consequences implied had things turned out differently.

Perhaps somebody remembers in the days leading up to the 2006 fall elections that a sign touting an affirmative vote for Bossier Parish raising property taxes essentially threefold, at what was then the southern end of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, was moved a short distance away only a few days before that election. Blame me for the consternation.

I first noticed the sign on Sep. 21 and became simultaneously curious and concerned. It didn’t state who sponsored it, and it was in a spot I thought might be part of the public right-of-way, and certainly was on public property (Bossier City’s). Obviously, it was an attempt to encourage passage of the measure which should bring pause to anyone who believes in fairness by government: Bossier City was permitting a pro-vote sign, supporting a Bossier Parish measure which would enrich the parish coffers by $2 million a year, to be placed on its property, regardless of whether its citizens supported such a measure.

According to the Unified Development Code for both the city and parish, this is permissible under certain circumstances. Article 9 Section 10 states: “Temporary signs containing no commercial message and related to an election or other event or matter of public interest may be erected in any zoning district of the city or parish but not within the public right-of-way.” Note, however, that the Code does not mention placement on government property.

After a couple of phone calls I got hold of Parish Engineer Joe “Butch” Ford, who said a private entity had put up the sign (and a similar one elsewhere). At least no government was using taxpayer dollars to try to influence its citizens voting behavior. Still, apparently it was on city property and the right-of-way question he couldn’t answer, so on I called the Bossier City engineer to find out the answer to the latter.

He took time out of his busy day to relay to me that the public right-of-way extended to the back side of the barricade blocking the end of the pavement (about 25 feet from the roadway). However, the sign was located on the front side of the barricade, meaning it was in the public right-of-way and therefore illegally placed.

I then placed another call to the Metropolitan Planning Commission (I had placed one the day before but, like the call to Ford, had been close to the end of the workday and, unlike the one to him, was not answered). The employee there said they would deal with the situation, once I informed him of it. Since this was early Friday afternoon, I didn’t know whether anything would happen before the weekend.

Early the next Monday, now five days prior to the election, I got a call from the Bossier MPC director Sam Marsiglia, who said it was legal to have the sign there because “it’s a public sign.” He alleged that a government had put it there, and that was legal. I informed him that the parish engineer had said otherwise and tried to explain that wouldn’t look very good if a government was using taxpayer dollars to sway their votes so a government wouldn’t do that, but he was insistent and said I should call Parish Administrator Bill Altimus about the matter.

I had duties to attend to so it was about 20 minutes later that I dialed Altimus. He cheerfully informed me the sign would be moved. As soon as I hung up, Marsiglia called, saying it would be moved to the Reeves Marine property (adjacent east of the barricades) and to check back with him if it wasn’t done. (It would have been out of the right-of-way simply by moving it behind the barricades but would have remained on city property.)

This, I might add, is simply wonderfully neighborly behavior by the city and parish and Reeves Marine. Silly me, I thought whenever illegal campaign signs were discovered they either were destroyed or confiscated to a location where their owners could liberate them. Instead, not only were the interests behind the sign being allowed to move it, within only minutes of being informed of that necessity Reeves Marine graciously volunteered to host the sign. What a friendly place! Future candidates for office, now you know, if you place a sign on Bossier City property and/or illegally, it won’t be destroyed or removed, they’ll let you move it, maybe even to Reeves Marine. (If you ask nicely, maybe they’ll even move it for you!)

(Note: in a subsequent communication, even Bossier City elected officials seemed confused over the incident. At my request, city councilman Scott Irwin wrote to Mayor Lo Walker, whose office’s reply did not even discuss the legal issue and did not address the propriety of an electioneering sign on city property, adding “With your concurrence I will consider this ITEM CLOSED.” Maybe not; maybe this issue of propriety is something that ought to be addressed by the city.)

Regardless of the sign’s position (or of any others; there were several other similar ones touting the bond issue around the parish), the proposition narrowly failed. It took one concerned citizen to make the system work properly regarding the sign. Sep. 30, 2006, it took a majority of concerned citizens voting to make the Bossier Parish Police Jury see the truth that it didn’t need to raise taxes to make sure the parkway was extended expeditiously and, even with deteriorated economic conditions, then to proceed to fulfill the other projects that had argued could be completed only with the increased taxation.

And confirmation of this came earlier this month, when the extension to the Parkway opened (through where the sign originally had been) without the extra tax dollars having gone into its construction. Lesson: watch government very closely lest it take what it does not need nor deserve from the people.

And now to 2024 … the sign displayed on Bossier Watch seemed awfully close to the road, meaning it’s in the right-of-way, and the Bossier UDC hasn’t changed since making that placement illegal. Thus, it would be incumbent on either the parish or whatever municipality may have such signs to remove these.

And where are they coming from? Campaign finance disclosure law would mandate that any political committee spending money on electioneering at this date close to the election would had to have filed a report about the expenditure for signs. None has, meaning either some PAC somewhere illegally hasn’t reported this or no registered PAC has done it. That leads to a loophole in the law (R.S. 18:1501.1): any person who spends in opposition or support of a candidate or ballot item must report that – unless the aggregate contributions and expenses involved don’t exceed $500. It is possible that, if there are few enough of these signs, that their cost didn’t exceed that figure, and that someone or a few people got together and did that.

So, the public never may know who is doing this, and what their potential relationship is to Bossier Parish’s government and libraries. In fact, it may be quite close, given the wording of the sign which ambiguously doesn’t advocate for or against the ballot item. It merely exhorts the viewer to vote on that day and slips in “BOSSIER PARISH LIBRARIES.” By doing this, if discovered government employees actually were involved, the parish could claim it wasn’t electioneering but merely informing the public there was an election on Saturday, Apr. 27.

Of course, the signs’ presentation implies something critical about libraries will appear on the ballot and, further, people should vote in whatever manner available to support libraries. After all, who is against libraries?

If anybody in Bossier Parish government knows about this, they need to go public. At the very least, parish government must remove any such signs on public rights-of-way; tolerance of this denotes acceptance not only of illegal behavior but also endorsement of a political preference. And state lawmakers would do well to clarify statute to make it expressly illegal for any government to spend any dollars to electioneer, even if in a manner that doesn’t explicitly advocate for or against something on the ballot. Because when it comes to gorging themselves on taxpayer dollars, government will try any dodge available to keep other people’s money rolling in.



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