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Where's there's smoke, there's Hightower

The questioning became quite noticeable when Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower began a maniacal pursuit of funding to build a public hotel. Despite legislative, popular, and researched rebuffs, Hightower’s persistence continues to drive the project forward, even as it is shown the legislative delegation is mostly against it, the public doesn’t support it, and the numbers show it can’t support itself. Why?

The noise level grew further when it came out that associates of Hightower were receiving some fairly favorable treatment when it came to paying back loans guaranteed by the city for community development purposes. Hightower said he’d shut the program down, but it had been going like that for years. Why?

The buzz got louder when, most recently, Councilman Thomas Carmody questioned the curious timing and series of transactions regarding operation of the city landfill, its operator BFI, renewal of its contract, a middleman company called River Cities Disposal who counts as officers and directors Hightower’s associates, and the company’s connection with a real estate deal involving a partnership of Hightower’s and some associates, all in the context of pointing out that the deal was costing the city money.

In response to Carmody’s official request, Hightower delivered an equally official reply, defending the quality of the deal, asserted no connection between the real estate deal and the renewal of the contract with BFI nine years early, and questioned Carmody’s motives in suggesting as such. All of this happened as rumors of a federal investigation into the partnership commencing flew about.

Hightower’s response has spawned even more questions. In it, he failed to address three crucial points:

  • Why is River Cities Disposal, a “consulting” firm, so crucial to BFI’s operations that it gets a 10 percent cut off the fee the city pays to BFI? (Especially since Hightower called BFI “one of the premier solid waste landfill operators in the world” – what could a small local firm do for them worth three-quarters of a million dollars a year?) Hightower basically says that BFI is free to hire anybody they like, even his friends.
  • Why was the contract, with nine years remaining on it, without warning in 2003 (early in the new Council’s term with Carmody the only returning member – and the only one to vote against renewal) suddenly brought up for extension for 25 more years? What was so advantageous to the city to close off its options for such a long period of time?
  • Why is the deficit at the landfill growing, Carmody’s original question? Hightower wrote a bit about the mix of city and non-city business going into it, and argued the deal really kept city costs down, but never addressed the trend issue. Why ignore the primary point of the request?

    Now add to the mix the curious disappearance of Bioset, defaulting on a long-term contract with Shreveport to create sod from waste. Oddly, even though the contract was for $2 million a year, the city reported three years ago it only used $700,000 a year in sod. Back then, Hightower, who brought up the deal to the city, called it “win-win,” now city representatives fulminate about auditing the enterprise (which says its pullout is part of a company-wide restructuring).

    Hightower has not been convicted of any wrongdoing in any of these cases, much less even indicted. Which leads us to the biggest question of all: why is it when things go wrong with city dealings, the people involved always are connected to him and/or the problems are related to deals he supported that make no economic sense?

    Hightower claims publicity given to these represents a campaign by “Hightower haters” to impugn him through innuendo. If so, then he sure is giving them a lot of raw material by which to make their claims seem legitimate. Otherwise, as my mother says, “where there’s smoke ….”

    And regardless of the veracity of the claims, they have spawned individuals willing and able to investigate and publicize them which cannot help Hightower’s future political aspirations. In particular, Hightower should be very worried about the website, which has a comprehensive collection of fact and unverified opinion about questionable practices in Shreveport government.

    By way of anecdote, twice the site has linked to postings in this web log. On those two days, the traffic to my blog quadrupled into the hundreds, and that probably only represented some of the viewers of that site. With its quality of reportage and traffic, Hightower should be very, very worried ….
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