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Bossier City squanders without term limits

Contrary to what Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker asserts, that municipality desperately needs term limits.

Asked a question at his inauguration for his fourth term about the value of this, Walker declared himself opposed to the concept at the local level of government. He argued that having people serve potentially lengthy periods in office led to a knowledgeable continuity in city government.

Bossier City could stand as the poster child for little refreshment in government. The current lineup of him and the seven-member City Council boasts 108 years of collective service – not including the 16 years Walker spent as chief administrative officer prior to his first election. City incumbents who served a full term have not lost a regular election in 16 years. In fact, they don’t see much of a way in challenges; from 2005, just 41 candidates ran for 32 available slots, only about two contested races of eight each cycle.

This sclerosis stems from several factors. A disproportionate segment of the adult population comes and goes, courtesy of Barksdale Air Force Base, and those few transients who actually vote in city affairs have little motivation to look beyond incumbents. The same applies to the significant portion of the population who treat the city as a bedroom community, whose business, social, and political focuses remain on Shreveport but who refuse to live there out of quality of life concerns. The faster than typical population growth also brings in a number of outsiders with limited knowledge or interest in local politics, at least initially, who willingly default to incumbents.

Without much in the way of indigenous significant business presence in the community – the large employers almost exclusively are governments or casinos with faraway owners – leadership defaults to political elites largely connected to families who have lived there for a long time or those with connections to Barksdale. It makes for a clubby clique with business interests backing it.

Officials spend dearly for their elections but find more-than-adequate backing while challengers have little opportunity to raise money. The only contested race this past fall, for the city council seat of Scott Irwin, illustrates this nicely. He raised before the middle of February this year over $22,000, the majority from businesses, other elected officials, or relatives. He tacked on a little more after that, but began spending up through the election, almost $13,000 worth. On election day, he received only 618 votes, meaning it cost him an astounding over $20 a vote.

But considering his opponent spent nothing to poll only around half that total, this fell in line with the typically poor turnout for city elections, in this case around 11 percent (Shreveport city council contests attract usually four times this proportion). While the Walkers of the world might spin this to say people seem so satisfied with their officials that therefore most stay home, instead it indicates widespread apathy if not disgruntlement at a city government that keeps on presenting the same tiresome faces in office.

Worse, it’s not like governance by this very few has set the world on fire. While Bossier City elected officials might prattle on about the significant population growth over the past three decades, that’s come more from a desire to escape Shreveport than anything else, which on the whole has had more bad management over there than even they have provided at home.

Over the past quarter century, Bossier City made a series of poor financial decisions based upon a belief of government serving as venture capitalist, throwing away well over $100 million on items such a hospital city fathers refused to sell until competitors drove it into the ground, a money-losing arena, a parking garage for a retail landlord that went into receivership, and on a high-tech office building which provided a fraction of the thousands of jobs promised to the public. It could have used a bounty of gaming revenues and oil royalties to engender a low-tax environment, but instead spent it on baubles that the private sector could have created.

In fact, among the nine Louisiana cities above 40,000 in population, Bossier City has turned into one of the more over-taxed. Its city millage ranks fourth highest, almost twice that of Baton Rouge or Monroe; third highest if comparing the total millage rate paid by city property owners. Its sales tax rate also ties for fourth highest.

And in at least one policy area, it doesn’t deliver a lot of bang for the buck. Reviewing crime rates, Bossier City lands in the middle on violent crime, about double the rate of Jefferson Parish (Kenner does not report separately from the parish), and one spot better regarding property crime, again about double Jefferson Parish’s rate. In fact, its rates hardly are lower than Shreveport’s.

Term limits refreshing the wielders of political power hardly could do any worse. Rather than providing quality in governing Bossier City, lack of this instead has enabled political elites to squander opportunities that could have made their city the subject of admiration and envy.

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