Caddo Commission Meeting: Good, Bad and Mainly Ugly!
(NOTE: This first-hand report is in no way arranged at the request of anyone. Some media reports apparently have been.)
February 5, 2016
In what easily qualifies as the most bizarre meeting of a governmental body I have ever witnessed, Caddo Parish Commissioners last night voted to ban future members from personally hitting taxpayers for a retirement benefit. At issue is now-infamous Commissioner participation in the Caddo Parish Employees Retirement System (CPERS).
There was no mention, by any Commissioner, of the nearly $300,000 illegally taken from taxpayers since Commissioners voted themselves into the system in March 2000. Neither was there mention of the taxpayer money – some $50,000-plus – Commissioners are paying a team of outside lawyers to preserve their years-long gorging on self-pay.
Commissioners also voted to cease pilfering from taxpayers the same annual cost-of-living adjustments – COLAs – they set for other employees. These pay raises – banned by the 1984 Caddo Parish Home Rule Charter – have gone on since 1994. Annual salaries, now just under $23,000, were last legally set at $14,400. There was no mention of the huge amount of taxpayer money Commissioners have illegally taken from us since 1994.
Those voting for the CPERS change were Commissioners Jim Smith, Mike Middleton, Doug Dominick, Matthew Linn, Steven Jackson, Mario Chavez and John Atkins. Voting against were Commissioners Ken Epperson and Stormy Gage-Watts, with votes to abstain from Commissioners Lyndon Johnson, Lynn Cawthorne and Jerald Bowman.
Voting for the change in salary COLAs were the same Commissioners who voted “Yes” on the CPERS change, plus Commissioners Jerald Bowman and Lynn Cawthorne. Again voting “No” were Commissioners Stormy Gage-Watts and Ken Epperson. Although he led the charge to keep the illegally inflated salaries, Commissioner Lyndon Johnson abstained / weaseled when it came time to set the public record.
Through the entire 90-minute debate on these two ordinances, only three Commissioners gave full-throated support for doing the right thing: Commissioners Chavez, Middleton, and Jackson:
… Mario Chavez noted my lawsuit against the Commission – a hedge often used in the meeting to push back against doing the right thing – meant nothing: “Litigation doesn’t matter when it comes to integrity. My constituents don’t want it (official acts of self-pay).”
… Mike Middleton openly declared at one point that the Commission resistance has culminated in my lawsuit seeking to force Commissioners to do the right thing. To make sure no one misunderstood him, the former Deputy Sheriff said, “I agree with the merits of the suit.” No other Commissioner directly acknowledged its existence.
… Steven Jackson authored and argued for these ordinances throughout the debate. At one point, he specifically used the “i” word – “… repeal illegal retirement …” – and was hooted down by other Commissioners.
With one exception earlier detailed, Commissioners made it all the way through last night’s performance with no mention that CPERS for Commissioners has been banned in the Louisiana Constitution since January 1, 1997. Neither did they mention the two reports by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor detailing that fact, nor any of the many self-pay violations of its own Home Rule Charter. Some Commissioners actually proclaimed that they are due such self-pay.
Now, The Real and Rest of the Story
In a meeting which began at 3:30 yesterday afternoon and ran until after 7:30, presiding Commission boss man Matthew Linn somehow managed to hold the CPERS and illegal salary increase debates until the end. When the meeting opened, a crowd peaking at something near 50 folks were on hand to “debate” I-49 alignment, and hear lengthy presentations by University Health, United Way, and citizens on a variety of other subjects.
Then, another good chunk of clock was burned in the noxious and embarrassing “Communiques and Committee Reports,” an awful-to-witness chance for Commissioners to preen and shine their political / personal apples.
In one notable and memorable soliloquy, Commissioner Jerald Bowman attacked his fellows for the meeting’s real and obvious stalling to run-off as many witnesses as possible before the self-pay vote. He did so by explaining how his mother sometimes called some unworthy thing “poo-poo,” until facts warranted calling it “excrement,” until more facts warranted calling it “bullshit!” Audience reduction by attrition was his point, and it was well-taken.
Heartfelt citizen testimony notwithstanding, the Commission has no legal right to say or do anything on or about I-49 route options. As if to foolishly spotlight his own abuse of process, Linn admitted the point in a bizarro harangue at meeting’s end. He forgot to do so when citizen testifiers were present, i.e., when he was burning the clock.
Only about 30 attendees remained when the debate that counted finally began at 6:00, with only 10 still there when the final vote on illegal self-pay was cast, some of whom were Commission staff. Ultimate citizen survivors were this writer and three who attended with me, plus a couple of others.
Any (relative) good which came from yesterday and last night’s display has come in spite of Commissioners and their mainly hidden supporters. Gains trace to several years of research and reporting by our bedraggled band of citizens on our own dime. A Commission majority last night proudly demonstrated their contempt for our work …
… proof that it has been worth the (high) costs we have paid.
(Readers may go to RealSheveport.com to read articles on these and other related subjects concerning the Commission. I began writing them more than a year ago, with associated research beginning two years earlier. My lawsuit against the Commission is being litigated – also pro bono – by Whitney Pesnell and The Pesnell Law Firm.)
(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.)