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Caddo Commission throws money at flimsy sob stories

If you’re a Caddo Parish resident, you have to fear for the financial health of the parish if the Caddo Parish Commission treats every spending issue as cavalierly as it did concerning increases in salaries of its justices of the peace and constables by $75 a month.

Yes, it’s not a lot of money relatively speaking – for the 20 of them (10 each) the parish tosses in (on top of the $100 monthly paid by the state) $150 a month or $36,000 a year total, which now will increase by $18,000 a year. But did any of the commissioners (all) who approved this actually do a little research into what these elected officials do and how they are doing it?

Something lost in the seeming mad rush to boost these salaries 50 percent – even if it had been better than a quarter century since the last parish increase – was these are not the only revenues generated by these officials. In fact, for some, the salary is a small portion. Reviewing the sources of funds permitted legally not only demonstrates this, but that many of these are revenues that can be collected at little cost to the official.

(From here I’ll deal on with constables, because they have the potential to have higher expenditures because of the nature of their duties. Concerning justices of the peace, the only argument I’ll make is they have even less justification for any increase.)

First, it’s helpful to know the qualifications to be a constable. Louisiana Revised Statutes 13:2583 notes one to qualify for election “shall be of good moral character, be able to read and write the English language, possess a high school diploma or its equivalent as determined by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and be an elector and resident of the ward or district from which elected.” There’s no peace officer required training due to the actual duties of the office not requiring them.

LRS 33:1732 makes abundantly clear the duties of a constable: they “shall serve and execute all process to them directed by the judges of the city courts, and shall attend the courts held by them, to keep order therein.” That’s all there is to it. Also, Caddo Parish is only one of three parishes given the privilege of having the elected constable appoint a deputy, who must meet the same qualifications as the official and can draw a salary from the constable’s revenues.

Further, LRS 33:1704 expands on this by listing the fees a constable may collect for performance of their duties; most are at least $10 and some could go considerably higher. Some involve travel, some can be performed from a desk.

The generous nature of these fees is reflected for the most part in the annual reports, required to be filed by constables all statewide, of the 10 Caddo constables (although there are no recent reports for Wards 1 and 10). In fact, six of the eight made money on the job in 2007, the highest being $8,513 which all came back to him in “salary” (constables can take any excess of revenues over expenses, which include the state and parish supplements, and declare it as “salary”). In fact, without the supplements almost all still had more revenues than expenditures to collect those revenues.

The reports also raise a number of questions:

  • Two performed less than $200 worth of fee-based duties, and reported no expenditures. Another, however, reported fee-based revenue of $2,600 plus salary to make $5,450, and then reported expenditures of the same amount meaning it cost him twice as much to gain those revenues. Contrast this with another who was the biggest fee-based revenue producer at $7,440 but who only spent $1,777 in the process.
  • Some reported huge travel expenditures (based upon mileage reimbursements) while other had little. One calculated the cost at $5,300, which at 40 cents a mile would imply, assuming 250 business days a year, 53 miles a day in travel to generate only $3,340 in fee-based revenues for the year.
  • One constable reported an expense of $228 for a radar detector. What does that have to do with the legal duties of a constable? Taxpayers give money to police for devices like that.

    To summarize, there’s little oversight over what constables actually do or determining whether their expenses truly are justified given their duties. So it was negligent of the Commission without any seeming real understanding of the situation to just open the safe and toss out money. Just because a couple of constables (a part-time job by law) might complain that in their perception they need higher supplements doesn’t relieve the Commission of its responsibility investigate the claims. And any suggestion that other expenditures of overburdened Caddo taxpayers’ dollars to subsidize constables’ revenues is ludicrous, because it’s amply clear that if they stick to their duties by statute they won’t run deficits in the offices, as exemplified generally by these reports.

    If we can’t trust the Commission to do due diligence on small matters, what confidence does the parish’s citizenry have it will do well on larger ones?

    Anonymous said...

    I don't see the point of constables. JPs now have authority to render judgments in civil matters for up to $3000, in a much faster manner than any of the city or parish courts could do. I'd hate to deprive lawyers of work, but these guys could be an excellent source of rapid and inexpensive resolution for small claims.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm not sure about the Caddo area, but in Ouachita Parish, all of the evictions outside the city wards are executed by the Constables. These evictions using Justices of the Peace and Constables are cheaper and faster than going through District Court. Also, the monitary jurisdiction of Justice of the Peace Courts is now $5000.00, not $3000.