The tragic accidental death of Bossier City Marshal Johnny Wyatt created a net loss for the community, yet brings an opportunity for an efficient reconfiguration of the office’s functions and greater accountability to the citizenry -- especially trenchant for the upcoming special election to fulfill Wyatt's term.
One of the enemies of good governance and the ability of the governed to understand the uses to which government puts their resources and the powers government can exercise over them is lack of clarity in who is responsible for what. Unless citizens easily can identify where their money goes, how it then is used, and who makes the decisions on how it is used, they risk having lack of input into prioritization and implementation of spending decisions. Obscured accountability also can create inefficiency, threatening to waste the public’s dollars through duplication or even by agencies working at cross-purposes.
Touted concerning Wyatt’s tenure in office was the many functions his office performed, most extensively in protecting children against predators via the Internet. But if we review what Louisiana law outlines as the function of the marshal’s office, in fact it is a much smaller portfolio.
Constitutionally, it is an arm of Bossier City because it serves as the executor of its City Court. Statutorily, L.R.S. 13:1881 gives the duties of the marshal: “he shall execute the orders and mandates of the [city] court and in the execution thereof, and in making arrests and preserving the peace, he has the same powers and authority of a sheriff.” L.R.S. 33:1704 details the required duties on behalf of the court by the fee schedule for them. Further, L.R.S. 13:1889 obligates the city to “furnish … suitable offices for the … marshal …. The expenses of operation and maintenance of the … offices shall be borne by the city, or may be apportioned between the city and parish as the respective governing authorities may determine.”
Thus, funding for the office comes from two sources. The city kicks in all of the marshal’s office space and costs associated with that including equipment, and maintenance costs including that for vehicles, but the vast bulk of its expenditures, around 90 percent, are for personnel costs even though state law requires only payment for the marshal and (in a special case for Bossier City) a chief deputy. In 2009, this contribution totaled about $1.15 million.
That cost increased almost 38 percent in the past four years and mirrors the dramatic expansion in expenditures that occurred over the latter years of Wyatt’s watch. In 1996 (excluding fiduciary funds except for the six percent the marshal may pocket for the services performed for garnishments and seizures), total revenues for the office were $78,433 which managed to put $15,009 into its reserve funds that then totaled $86,806. By 2000, revenues were $215,469 adding $39,994 to make for $233,025 reserved. By 2005, revenues were $266,942 but expenditures had increased so dramatically that $51,374 had to be siphoned from reserves leaving $162,229. Last year, revenues exploded to $630,018, but costs hit $743,049, yet, no worries, even after draining this deficit the reserve funds were $315,388.
Some expenditures areas have seen huge increases in this period where overall they were almost 11 times what they were only 13 years ago. From 1996 to 2009 travel expenses increased 1,545 percent, training expenses almost 900 percent, and “other” expenses were eight times higher. Just from 2005, expenses for supplies nearly tripled, for dues and publication doubled, and capital outlays almost doubled.
This tremendous influx of cash has come mainly from fees from performance of court-mandated duties, and it was this resource that Wyatt tapped to begin initiatives such as prowling the Internet for child predators. This is not to say that these haven’t been performed well or were not worthy tasks. But the salient fact is that none of them comprise the basic statutory functions of the marshal’s office and they are functions that can be and/or are performed by other law enforcement agencies, principally the city’s own police department.
Which is what creates the problems of efficiency and accountability. Why should there be a law enforcement agency performing certain functions that it is not empowered to but yet also is not prohibited from performing when there is another which has much greater purview to perform them? Issues of economies of scale and duplicative effort exist in this environment which can lead to inefficient use of monies that ultimately are the citizenry’s. Further, it makes it much more difficult for citizens to understand how their resources are getting used and how to affect policy in the overlapping areas.
The solution is thus: anything but the statutory functions – to serve the city court – of the marshal’s office should be transferred to the Bossier City Police Department, and with that any resources necessary to perform them. If after that, as past years have indicated would happen, there would be a substantial excess of revenues over costs, the city should reduce its budgetary assistance to the office as is permitted in state law, leaving more funds available for the mayor and City Council to steer to policing, or wherever their judgment leads them. This would make for more efficient use of resources, easier citizen understanding of how policing is done in the city, and greater ease in determining lines of accountability.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 07:00