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Shreveporters expect service while Hightower grabs headlines

One frequent complaint raised about Shreveport mayor Keith Hightower in reference to the building of a publicly-financed hotel for the in-construction convention center (and some bring in the center itself as part of the criticism) is that he prefers to pursue grand, expensive schemes that probably won’t even accomplish their stated purposes while ignoring the little things in governing that makes a city work well.

Turns out more evidence supporting this view of Hightower was revealed today in two separate incidences. The Times ran a story on the long-standing problem of the city’s inability to get code violators on property standards to pay fines which multiplies when the city then uses taxpayers’ dollars to clean up the properties itself. It turns out the city is as much to blame for sloppy record-keeping as the intransigence and selfishness of the violators. How hard would it be to correct that? Let me put it this way, if the mayor cared to have discovered all of this and dealt with it, the problem would have been solved by now. But he seems disinterested in such unglamorous service to the citizenry.

More seriously, it seems that the reason why water rate increases, which have occurred to schedule nearly a 50 percent rise over five years by 2007, were phased in more quickly than planned, came as a result of an accounting error. This adds insult to injury: the rapid increase had to happen because of the quickly-deteriorating water infrastructure neglected over a series of years that could have been dealt with long ago.

While the problem predates the Hightower Administration, the fact is had Hightower acted immediately upon being elected six years ago, the problem would not have been as bad. Rate increases would have been smaller; indeed, they may have been minimal had the city tried a bonding strategy right then and there. Instead, it kept its powder dry, waiting to spend almost as much as could have solved the problem then years later on building a convention center and a hotel ….

But it’s not just bad decision-making evident here but lack of willingness to take responsibility for this. Operational Services blames Finance and vice-versa. It would be so refreshing to have Hightower just step up and say this problem happened and festered on his watch, and that he was to blame.

Don’t count on it; this administration has made the evasion of responsibility an art form. When it was discovered that sloppiness in accounting apparently was permitting individuals with connections to Hightower to receive extremely favorable treatment regarding a city lending program, the only reaction that came from Hightower was a week later to suspend the program and whine that most of the problem loans allegedly didn’t come during his watch as mayor.

It would be so refreshing when these happen, and they seem to be happening with increasing frequency, for Hightower to say that the buck stops with him, that he should have known of these things (which had gone on for years during his terms; for example, why weren’t red flags raised when borrowers stopped repaying their loans and the borrowers immediately pursued for payments?), and that he’ll do his best to rectify them quickly and to be more vigilant in the future. But that never has happened, and don’t hold your breath on it happening this or any of time in the future (because such problems seem likely to pop up time and time again with this administration’s track record).

Why does he seem to ignore overseeing (or overseeing properly those who oversee) the dull, mundane, unexciting, but absolutely necessary things of city government, and instead concentrate on the headline-grabbing, big-ticket expenditures that allow the city to award huge contracts creating lots of City Hall-dependent jobs? Does it, despite his being term-limited as mayor, have something to do with his future plans?

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