Now that the Bossier City Council has dragged itself into the 21st century, it’s past time for that to happen to the last holdout among the large governing authorities in northwest Louisiana that has resisted transparency – the Bossier Parish Police Jury.
Last week, for the first time, the City Council began publishing on its web site descriptions of its agenda items, including the texts of ordinances when introduced and considered. The move brings welcome relief to citizens who now can review easily, without having to trek to City Hall, matters before the Council meets in order to give input before or at the meeting.
Perhaps the change came as a result of looming elections. Three months prior to qualification, already more candidates have committed to challenging incumbents than in 2017. One, District 1 challenger Republican Shane Cheatham who currently sits on the Bossier Parish School Board, in publicly pledged to making agenda item information available online prior to meetings, emulating the Board’s policy as well as that of Shreveport’s City Council. Then, almost simultaneously, the Bossier City Council broke its maiden.
Which leaves the Police Jury, which also, unlike other local bodies, doesn’t present live* or keep archived audiovisual recordings of its meetings available for public remote viewing. Parish citizens do benefit from online publication of fairly detailed, if somewhat delayed, minutes, but can’t view live or review footage of the actual meetings nor do they have any access prior to meetings to the texts of proposed Jury actions unless they troop to the Courthouse beforehand.
An example of where this makes parish government obscurant former juror Barry Butler provided at the start of the Sep. 16 meeting. Butler questioned why details of the Jury’s setting of 2020 property tax rates never were read into the record during the Aug. 19 meeting, either verbally or visually, yet appeared in the minutes. A lengthy discussion between him and Parish Attorney Patrick Jackson ensued, who said the Jury need only to have such documents available for public viewing at the Courthouse before meetings and didn’t necessarily have to present these otherwise, although during a meeting on public request it would.
That might have been an adequate arrangement a quarter-century ago, but today the practically costless ability to post this kind of information online makes the failure to do so inexcusable. If, as now does every other major governing authority in Caddo and Bossier Parish, the Jury would publish the text of ordinances and resolutions, along with supporting documentation, in accessible through links appearing in its web-published agendas, Butler’s question would have been moot and citizens would have known about the proposed rates prior to Jury action – which, to its credit, it rolled back.
Whether the Jury makes the leap to brings its transparency up to speed anytime soon is questionable. Jurors don’t face elections until 2023, and they might find that operating in the shadows suits them until pressured by voters.
Now, all of the Shreveport City Council, Caddo Parish Commission, Caddo Parish School Board, Bossier City Council, and the Bossier Parish School Board provide online information about agenda items and broadcast/livestream/archive* their meetings. Only the Bossier Parish Police Jury doesn’t. It’s not too much to ask for adequate sunshine at the Courthouse, which spent $63 million of taxpayers’ money last year. What are jurors afraid of?
*UPDATE. I was informed that the Jury does present Facebook Live streaming and archives it. How would anybody know, since it doesn't link to that from its website (other than a generic Facebook icon that doesn't indicate videos' presence)? And, after reviewing portions of it, the sound leaves much to be desired.