Caddo Commissioners, No More Scamming, Please.
January 14, 2016
It was a big deal when Caddo Parish voters changed our form of government on April 7, 1984. Our predecessor Caddo Police Jury had governed since we became a parish almost 150 years earlier, in 1838.
When that dramatic change-over to our current Caddo Commission was accomplished, we who cared believed “good government” in Caddo, from and by exceptional public servants, was assured. Our newly enacted, voter-approved Home Rule Charter (HRC) made sure of that, we believed.
Little did we know that to some Caddo Commission top men and women, our new constitution was little more than a bound stack of page-sized paper. We now know that within fewer than ten years of our 1984 governmental rebirth, some powerful Commissioners and staff were already hard at work … in the opposite direction.
Regardless, and in spite of that outrage, our still-new Home Rule Charter was a fact, and it was true to those who designed and wrote it in the best of faith. It very specifically protected Caddoans against a body run by self-servers who sought election mainly to get as much of our money as possible for themselves. This particular legal and constitutional wall against such greed was at the heart of the HRC:
Section 3-05. – Compensation:
B. The parish commission may periodically review the compensation paid the commissioners and may change same by ordinance which must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership of the commission, provided that no ordinance changing such salary shall be passed during the last year of a term and further provided that a salary change shall not become effective during the current term of the parish commissioners adopting the ordinance.
D. No commissioner shall receive any additional compensation, benefit or privilege, direct or indirect, because of his office.
We are now in the process of learning, through our courts, if the promised guarantees of our Home Rule Charter will win the day, and reclaim Caddo’s future from Commissioners working mainly for self-pay.
Worth repeating is just how raw and ugly has been the Commission’s raid on our tax coffers, accomplished by ignoring our laws and constitution. Here is the staggering list of illegal and unconstitutional self-pay scored by various Commission majorities over the years:
1. The initial $700 per month salary for Commissioners was legally raised only once, to $1,200. In spite of law and the HRC, salaries this year are just below $1,900 per month. This taxpayer hijacking occurred because (a) raises were never set out in ordinances – as very explicitly mandated – and thus (b) never publicly debated or voted on.
2. Though explicitly banned and vetoed by (a) parish law, (b) state law, (c) the Louisiana Constitution, and (d) statewide vote of the people, Commissioners rigged a retirement system – CPERS – for their own participation. It operated without public awareness until I exposed it a year ago. Since then, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor has twice served written notice to the Commission that such is unconstitutional. Mouthpiece Commissioners attacked those as “just another opinion.”
3. Regardless of Home Rule Charter Section 3-05. D. – Compensation, various majorities of Commissioners have voted to give themselves up to $15,000 per year for “official” travel, plus health and life insurance, plus automobile mileage reimbursement. These are cash-on-the-barrelhead, requiring no public mention or vote.
4. After my pro bono partner, attorney Whitney Pesnell, and I filed suit last March against this dizzying official malfeasance, Commissioners hired at least three attorneys – not to mention the two parish attorneys for whom we already pay – to find a way to preserve their ill-gotten gains. Some $50,000 of taxpayer money has been given them, so far … to work against us and law and our parish and state constitutions.
I specifically note that some former Commissioners and top staff with whom I speak decry this corrupt behavior of Commissioners, small minority though they are.
It Can Always Get Worse
Our lawsuit now moves to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport on a range of preliminary rulings by Caddo District Court Judge Ramone Lafitte. Each, according to Whitney Pesnell and other attorneys, is contrary to many precedents.
Sadly, we should expect one or more groups of Commissioners to compound the damage with a “let’s make a deal” strategy, rolling out for public consumption their “plans” for “working all of this out.” Each such plan, history has taught us, will actually serve to preserve various parts of the Commission’s ill-gotten gains.
A good test of any such attempted scams will be any involvement in them by Commissioners already publicly identified as secretly working to keep as much illegal pay as they can. (As an example, Commissioner Matthew Linn attempted some months ago to pass an ordinance which would cut the $15,000 in illegal travel money to $7,500, completely ignoring the fact that the Home Rule Charter specifically prohibits ANY such pay.)
It is important to note that Commissioners may, at any time, (a) return our taxpayer money, then (b) publicly debate and put on a parishwide election ballot any desired amendments to the HRC. These will likely fail, of course … precisely why they are only very rarely attempted by the Commission.
Our demand is simple and direct: restoration of law, meaning no retirement for Commissioners, salaries at their legally achieved $1,200 per month, and no travel money, health insurance, life insurance or automobile mileage pay.
That would mean, necessarily, the return to taxpayers of all ill-gotten gains.
Since no Commissioner has come down on the side of that solution, we would be wise to hold onto our wallets.
(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)