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An eternal lesson: keep close watch on all govts

As 2011 approaches and observing that Bossier Parish seems to have no difficulty, even in trying economic times, in finding money to service road construction, as well as reviewing the past year and digesting the renewed enthusiasm that the people have acquired courtesy of over-reaching national government to monitor the activities of government, it makes me think back some years ago about an object lesson concerning how government operates. The specific example is Bossier Parish's, and the apparent whimsy of situation might amuse save for the unsettling consequences implied had things turned out differently.

Perhaps somebody remembers in the days leading up to the 2006 fall elections that a sign touting an affirmative vote for Bossier Parish raising property taxes essentially threefold, at what was then the southern end of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, was moved a short distance away only a few days before that election. Blame me for the consternation.

I first noticed the sign on Sep. 21 and became simultaneously curious and concerned. It didn’t state who sponsored it, and it was in a spot I thought might be part of the public right-of-way, and certainly was on public property (Bossier City’s). Obviously, it was an attempt to encourage passage of the measure which should bring pause to anyone who believes in fairness by government: Bossier City was permitting a pro-vote sign, supporting a Bossier Parish measure which would enrich the parish coffers by $2 million a year, to be placed on its property, regardless of whether its citizens supported such a measure.

According to the Unified Development Code for both the city and parish, this is permissible under certain circumstances. Article 9 Section 10 states: “Temporary signs containing no commercial message and related to an election or other event or matter of public interest may be erected in any zoning district of the city or parish but not within the public right-of-way.” Note, however, that the Code does not mention placement on government property.
After a couple of phone calls I got hold of Parish Engineer Joe "Butch" Ford, who said a private entity had put up the sign (and a similar one elsewhere). At least no government was using taxpayer dollars to try to influence its citizens voting behavior. Still, apparently it was on city property and the right-of-way question he couldn’t answer, so on I called the Bossier City engineer to find out the answer to the latter.

He took time out of his busy day to relay to me that the public right-of-way extended to the back side of the barricade blocking the end of the pavement (about 25 feet from the roadway). However, the sign was located on the front side of the barricade, meaning it was in the public right-of-way and therefore illegally placed.

I then placed another call to the Metropolitan Planning Commission (I had placed one the day before but, like the call to Ford, had been close to the end of the workday and, unlike the one to him, was not answered). The employee there said they would deal with the situation, once I informed him of it. Since this was early Friday afternoon, I didn’t know whether anything would happen before the weekend.

Early the next Monday, now five days prior to the election, I got a call from the Bossier MPC director Sam Marsiglia, who said it was legal to have the sign there because “it’s a public sign.” He alleged that a government had put it there, and that was legal. I informed him that the parish engineer had said otherwise and tried to explain that wouldn’t look very good if a government was using taxpayer dollars to sway their votes so a government wouldn’t do that, but he was insistent and said I should call Parish Administrator Bill Altimus about the matter.

I had duties to attend to so it was about 20 minutes later that I dialed Altimus. He cheerfully informed me the sign would be moved. As soon as I hung up, Marsiglia called, saying it would be moved to the Reeves Marine property (adjacent east of the barricades) and to check back with him if it wasn’t done. (It would have been out of the right-of-way simply by moving it behind the barricades, but would have remained on city property.)

This, I might add, is simply wonderfully neighborly behavior by the city and parish and Reeves Marine. Silly me, I thought whenever illegal campaign signs were discovered they either were destroyed or confiscated to a location where their owners could liberate them. Instead, not only were the interests behind the sign being allowed to move it, within only minutes of being informed of that necessity Reeves Marine graciously volunteered to host the sign. What a friendly place! Future candidates for office, now you know, if you place a sign on Bossier City property and/or illegally, it won’t be destroyed or removed, they’ll let you move it, maybe even to Reeves Marine. (If you ask nicely, maybe they’ll even move it for you!)

(Note: in a subsequent communication, even Bossier City elected officials seemed confused over the incident. At my request, city councilman Scott Irwin wrote to Mayor Lo Walker, whose office’s reply did not even discuss the legal issue and did not address the propriety of an electioneering sign on city property, adding “With your concurrence I will consider this ITEM CLOSED.” Maybe not; maybe this issue of propriety is something that ought to be addressed by the city.)

Regardless of the sign’s position (or of any others; there were several other similar ones touting the bond issue around the parish), the proposition narrowly failed. It took one concerned citizen to make the system work properly regarding the sign. Sep. 30, 2006, it took a majority of concerned citizens voting to make the Bossier Parish Police Jury see the truth that it didn’t need to raise taxes to make sure the parkway was extended expeditiously and, even with deteriorated economic conditions, then to proceed to fulfill the other projects that had argued could be completed only with the increased taxation.

And confirmation of this came earlier this month, when the extension to the Parkway opened (through where the sign originally had been) without the extra tax dollars having gone into its construction. Lesson: watch government very closely lest it take what it does not need nor deserve from the people.


Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because everybody knows that you are a nut.

Jeff Sadow said...

No doubt being one, you think you know them when you see them. Wrong again.