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Overpaying Bossier, Caddo Parishes need to watch expenses

It seems that Caddo Parish recently hired Susie Morgan to be the first lobbyist at the federal level for the parish, following the lead of Bossier Parish which did so three years ago. According to her employer the Bossier Police Jury, they seem pleased at her performance. Whether this translated into a wise use of taxpayer dollars is a wholly different story.

In 2004, Bossier Parish started off Morgan, then a lawyer with a Shreveport firm, at $40,000 a year. In 2006, it reports paying her $60,000 annually. Caddo Parish plans on giving her $4,000 a month up to $55,000 a year (including expenses).

(Although she is reported to live in Washington, her actual employer, as of July, 2005, is a New Orleans firm, Phelps Dunbar, and campaign contribution records give her residence as being in New Orleans. A past supporter of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu’s, $3,500 of hers found its way into Landrieu’s campaign fund for New Orleans mayor; safe to say Morgan will not be representing the city of New Orleans any time soon after incumbent Ray Nagin was reelected.)

If employed for the entire year at these levels, this means Morgan would get $115,000 from area taxpayers. The size of this expense is questionable on four accounts. The first, whether is makes monetary sense for a parish even to hire a lobbyist, will not be debated here. The second, whether Caddo ought to pay that much, will be: after all, by almost matching Bossier’s level, it assumes Morgan will do almost as much work as she has for Bossier, even if much of it would be duplicative, and there are only so many hours in the day.

Third, nor do lobbying activities appear to be her only source of income. Phelps Dunbar lists her as one of its counselors on call to help navigate the Gulf Opportunity Zone program. This means some portion of the working day she cannot devote to lobbying for the parishes. Finally, her actual expenses in her lobbying activities have not come close to matching her compensation. Unless lobbying activities of Congress of an individual are trivial, individuals are required to report on their activities. In 2004, Morgan reported spending less than $10,000 on lobbying activities, while in the first half of 2005 the total was $20,000.

(Since her employment at Phelps Dunbar, Morgan has not filed any lobbyist disclosure statements, the U.S. Senate’s web site reports as of the beginning of 2007. This means either she and/or her firm have been lax in doing their paperwork, or her activities of behalf of Bossier Parish paying her $60,000 have been so trivial as to not require filing.)

While no doubt Morgan is competent in her work, and would be foolish not to accept six figures in compensation from government bodies if offered, this begs the question whether Bossier Parish, and now Caddo, isn’t overpaying, perhaps vastly, for the amount of attention that can be given to their interests considering all of Morgan’s duties. Or, to put it another way, by a parish hiring her at a much reduced level, say $30,000 a year, or by hiring somebody else at a higher level whose is deemed capable at securing federal funds and can devote more time to each parish’s interests, would this not be a better use of taxpayers’ monies? (Shreveport apparently has decided there is -- it recently terminated its $200,000 contract, saying the city could do the job internally.)

Especially egregious to both Bossier and Caddo here is that these parish governments have poormouthed their financial conditions recently to the point they asked their citizens to raise taxes on themselves. But charity begins at home first, and before Bossier and Caddo go asking for more from taxpayers, they need to make sure all parish expenditures are wise. By the looks of this incident, it’s a duty apparently they haven’t bothered to perform, and it’s something voters need to keep in mind when elections to these bodies take place later this year.

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