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Simple Caddo-Bossier bill belies political import

At first glance, one may wonder why all the fuss over SB 333, state Sen. Max Malone’s bill to rejigger the composition of the Caddo-Bossier Parishes Port Commission. Why would Malone want to do this, and why does there seem to be some vociferous resistance from Shreveport officials to do it?

We need a brief overview of the Commission to understand this. Presently, each of the parish legislatures appoints one representative while the mayors of Shreveport and Bossier City select five and two members, respectively, with City Council approval. Two port officials also serve on it. They finance their operating activities with a property tax levied on parish landowners as long as it is approved by parish voters.

Among the members presently, all Shreveport designees are allies, if not close friends, of Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower. Among Bossier City designees, they are the incoming Mayor-elect Lo Walker and CAO-designate Lynn Austin.

Malone’s bill, which has as co-authors all the area’s legislative delegation except for state Rep. Hoppy Hopkins (who has had to miss a good bit of this legislative session) and the black Democrats, would make two changes. First, the method of selection would change where each area senator would nominate individuals (District 37’s – Malone – getting two because his district is divided equally between the two parishes) for all but one spot each for the allocated representatives of the cities (the parish representatives would remain the same), with the two other spots being one each appointed by each mayor without a fixed term (unlike all the other appointees, who have overlapping six-year terms).

The practical effect of this is salutary. The Commission, an entity created by the Legislature for statewide economic development purposes, presently is too much a parochial creature of the local governments. Have some state input into the nomination process creates a better balance between state and local perspectives.

(It might also create greater public input and transparency to the Commission. It meets monthly at Shreveport’s swank University Club, does not publicly publish its budget, and conducts its meetings in record time – its last published minutes involving the budget were from 12/11/03 and it dispatched that and everything else in 16 minutes.)

Its political impact, however, is to reduce the patronage possibilities for Hightower since this bill would go into effect in 2006, a resource Hightower would like to have to support his political ambitions (it is no accident that two of the commissioners, James Pannell and Scott Pernici, have been at the center of recent corruption allegations levied at the Hightower Administration).

Second, the bill would change the Shreveport-Bossier City representative ratio from 5-2 to 4-3. The former ratio is more reflective of the distributions of population and economic activity between the two. Despite this disproportionate advantage to Bossier City, Shreveport city lobbyist, Commissioner, and Hightower loyalist Michael Wainwright reported that the two Bossier City commissioners and incoming administration opposed the idea even if they would pick an extra appointee.

Note, however, that Walker and Austin’s opposition probably stems from the fact that Bossier City will now have just one directly appointed representative instead of two. It also has drawn the ire of the only senator whose district is in the bill who is not supporting it, Lydia Jackson, who wants to amend the ratio to its previous status. Note that the original ratio in the bill appeals not just to Malone’s status as equally representing both parishes, but also helped bring on board all Bossier legislators.

Another black Democrat, former Shreveport city councilman (who served there with Hightower) State Rep. Cedric Glover is on record opposing the bill. Also a Hightower loyalist who has carried his water more than once, with Shreveport’s emerging black majority Glover is a prime mayoral candidate in 2006 and likely does not want to see the power of direct appointment lost to the city.

Regardless whether the ratio is amended back to the current balance, the idea of allowing the state more influence is good, not just from an economic development standpoint, but also to create more checks and balances over the Commission.

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