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Bossier Jury must value honesty in hiring choice

We’ll see whether this week the continuing controversy over whether Parish Administrator Joe E. “Butch” Ford legally may serve in that position has anything to do with the Jury giving him another year on the job.

Ford gained the position as the result of a unanimous Jan. 19, 2022 vote by the Jury as the only nominee and secured a one year contract. However, technically he legally could not have been appointed since he was not a registered voter in the parish, as required by state law. Not only did the Jury overlook that, it did so for 10 months until Ford brought himself into compliance, after published reports highlighted that he continued to remain registered at a residence in Caddo Parish.

However, in making this switch, Ford created another legal hassle. He registered at a Bossier address that he doesn’t own, thereby making himself unable to claim that as a homestead and has continued to maintain a homestead exemption at the Caddo residence he and his wife owns even up to this post’s publishing. This puts him in violation of state law that says if you claim a homestead exemption, you can register to vote only at that location.

In turn, this created a legal obligation for Registrar of Voters Stephanie Agee, an appointee of the Jury, to follow state law that requires her to notify Ford to appear in front of her to explain why she should not strike his registration from the voter roll because he is not following the law on this matter if she has reasonable belief that is the case, and to strike his name if he doesn’t appear or if appearing doesn’t give sufficient reason to prevent that. I have sent her office an e-mail message reminding her that now, if not already, duly notified that there is “reason to believe that the name of a person has been illegally or fraudulently placed upon the registration records” of her legal duty in this matter and requesting a reply as to its disposition.

This chain of events the Jury must consider with its decision this week to extend Ford’s contract another year. As a practical matter, it doesn’t make much sense to rehire someone who sooner than later legally might have to vacate the position, if ineligible to register in the parish. Of course, Ford could fix the matter himself, but the Jury should require proof that he has done so rather than putting the parish at risk

But there’s also a philosophical side to it. Public service is just that, serving the public, and in a way beyond reproach. Oaths of office demand that their takers in their jobs uphold the state’s laws and Constitution, among other things. Ignoring state law for months on end, followed by ignoring other for months more not only violates that oath and trust that citizens reasonably expect, but also displays a distinct lack of integrity.

It seems that in his year at the parish helm Ford has administered competently, but that’s not the issue. The Gospel tells us why it’s important that the Bossier Parish Police Jury, Ford, and Agee follow the law even on this minor if inconvenient detail: “Whoever is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones; whoever is dishonest in small matters will be dishonest in large ones.” The Jury in its hiring of a parish administrator for 2023 owes the public that it works for that faithfulness to prevent dishonesty from becoming a feature rather than a bug in its governance.

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