had an interesting article Thursday about local politicians and their taxpayer-paid visits to Mardi Gras festivities in the nation’s capital. Times reporters Alison Bath and Adam Causey uncovered some things that, while not surprising, are disturbing.
Mayor Cedric Glover of Shreveport took a modest, conservative approach to the event. Glover was already in Washington for the Mayor’s Conference with the Assistant CAO. Total Mardi Gras expenses for the City of Shreveport: $4,606.40.
The Caddo Parish Commission sent the Parish Administrator and 3 Commissioners, for a cost of $14,373.
The Council of Governments sent 1 person for a cost of $4,173.78.
The Bossier Parish Police Jury paid for 9 people to attend the events. They were:
Bill Altimus, administrator
Rick Avery, district 6
Wanda Bennett, district 3 and jury president
Glenn Benton, district 2
Barry Butler, district 5
Paul Plummer, district 12
Joe E. Ford, Jr., parish engineer
Patrick R. Jackson, parish attorney
Craig Spohn, Cyber Innovation Center executive director
The cost to taxpayers: $22,809.56 and counting. According to the article “That total doesn't include the tab for a private dinner party for 75 guests (shared by Bossier & Caddo), mostly from Louisiana, at an Italian chain restaurant. Also missing are meals, cab fare and other expenses incurred by the nine officials the Bossier Parish Police Jury sent to the annual gala in the nation's capital
It took repreated Public Records request from The Times to get what information they were able to get from Bossier Parish Administrator Bill Altimus.
Wanda Bennett, Police Jury President said "I understand that some people want to believe that all government and the elected officials are crooks, but this simply is not true
As far as I’m aware, no one has accused Mrs. Bennett or other police jurors of being crooks. That is simply a disingenuous answer to unasked questions. The Police Jury is not above public scrutiny, and questioning their expenditures is not to accuse them of being crooks.
Mrs. Bennett went on to say that “"The celebration of Mardi Gras is a special celebration in Washington that was established many years ago to share the culture and food of our state with everyone and to give them an opportunity they may otherwise never have. A lot of hard work is done during this time along with the celebration
Assuming that some good contacts were made, was it really necessary to send a delegation of 9 people?
Of course, the amount spent is a drop in the bucket when you look at the total amount that the people of Bossier Parish furnish the Police Jury. The point is that, during bad economic times, does it send the right message to the people of Bossier?
Bossier Parish already has a handsomely paid lobbyist in Washington. In 2009 the Police Jury paid the New Orleans firm of Phelps Dunbar LLP
$120,000 to represent the Parish in Washington.
The Caddo Commission paid the same firm $40,000 to represent them last year. The City of Shreveport no longer has a paid lobbyist.
What this means in essence is that the Police Jury is reaching into the pockets of Bossier Parish taxpayers to the tune of $10,000 per month to pay someone to encourage the national government to reach into the pockets of taxpayers from the entire country and send that money to Bossier Parish. I know this is how the system currently works, but it is wrong on so many levels that I won’t begin to get into it here.Schmoozing with Louisiana congressmen John Fleming and Rodney Alexander as well as with U.S. senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu proved invaluable, said Caddo Commissioner Matthew Linn.
"The contact time in their office and at the dinner table is priceless," Linn said. "Out of sight out of mind comes into play, and these yearly meetings along with administrative follow ups keep Caddo and Bossier on the Louisiana state map."
There is a simple answer to this. Congressman Fleming and Senator Vitter are both running for re-election this year, and if the representatives of our local governments are unable to keep a dialogue going with them locally, then they should outline their grievances so that the people can vote in new representation in Washington.
I will note in Dr. Fleming’s defense that I don’t for a minute believe that he is ignoring Bossier and Caddo Parishes and that our local pols have to go to Washington to ‘schmooze’ with him in order to get his attention, nor do they have to go to Washington to converse with Senators Vitter and Landrieu.
As for Rodney Alexander, I’m sure that he directs any pork he can control to his own district in Northeast Louisiana.
What was the purpose of that dinner for 75 people, mostly Louisianans, held at an Italian Restaurant by the Bossier & Caddo delegations? Was it really necessary? What local government objectives were accomplished by feeding people from Louisiana who were all in Washington for a party?
What was the purpose of having the Parish Engineer and the Parish Attorney in Washington? What were they lobbying for on the trip? I’m not saying that they did not have a purpose, I just believe that it should be revealed to the people who paid for the trip.
Perhaps each of the individuals who attended can present an outline of who they met with and how their meetings benefited the people of Bossier.
They owe the people that accounting.
We look forward to The Times follow up on this.