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Caddo-area officials struggling to get with program

Seems a job requirement for many elected officials around Caddo Parish is absolute thick-headedness, judging by their reactions to the evolving Elio Motors controversy and daydreaming about minor league basketball.

Caddo Parish commissioners have become increasingly nervous over Elio, which continues to give signals that it won’t last much longer. The firm desires to build a three-wheel automobile and begun taking reservations to distribute these years ago. To that end, an arm of parish government, the Caddo Industrial Development Board, used $7.5 million in parish money to purchase and lease to Elio two-fifths of the old General Motors plant on the southwest side of the parish.

In response, Elio has kept delaying production while burning through cash at a high rate. That includes proceeds worth millions of dollars from sales of equipment at the site technically under parish ownership, although IDB President Gard Wayt claims only outdated equipment remains. Another entity, Glovis America, said it would lease part of the property as well and had moved closer to launching there production of automobile parts.

The Elio debacle now has members of the Caddo Parish Commission, including some who four years ago went all in for this venture capitalism, questioning it all enough to want to extricate the parish from the deal, calling it too one-sided in terms of control left in the hands of Elio and related entities. Better to get religion later than never, but even then the risk behind it seemed pretty obvious. While Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator is no dummy, neither has he any real expertise in the worlds of high finance and manufacturing, yet from the start he, as well as many citizens, figured out that a three-wheeled car would have little market appeal.

Wayt insists buying the facility will end up good for the parish, but that seems unlikely given all this time and only one partial occupant seemingly on the way. Perhaps the unfolding Elio fiasco, plus recent voter rejection of tax increases disguised as renewals, will sober up a Commission that appears to fritter away money and yet asks for more after its decade-long binge on Haynesville Shale royalties bounty, and it will dump with all its headaches the property for whatever it can get.

This lesson seems lost on Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler, who seems determined to one-up the parish by, instead of buying and thinking they will come, building something entirely new. She has started talk of attracting a National Basketball Association Developmental League team – essentially the top minor league for professional basketball in the U.S. with teams backed by NBA squads – to the city, after the New Orleans Pelicans sent out queries about area cities hosting such an operation.

Never mind that the city doesn’t own a suitable arena to host it; Tyler thinks she can swing a deal with the Caddo-Bossier Port Commission to pitch in, even though that purpose lies outside the purview of the Port and the presumed siting of the building on the north part of downtown lies almost dozen miles from it. And then there’s the presence of the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, owned by the state that has hosted professional basketball teams going back two decades, and the CenturyLink Center, across the river in Bossier City and occasionally has had collegiate and exhibition professional games, both of which because of their existence means likely the state and/or Bossier City could outbid Shreveport.

While she hustles this idea, the city talks of raising property taxes, and already soon likely will face passing higher recycling costs onto property owners after the existing vendor will walk away from its expiring contract for the city program that levies mandatory fees onto households whether people want to participate in recycling. This disconnect of Shreveport politicians with the citizenry seems impressive even by parish commission standards.

Appearing unconcerned about its spending while refusing to lighten the burden on taxpayers is what has gotten the parish into trouble. Oddly, Shreveport looks willing to make the same unforced error.

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