Search This Blog


Bossier Jury must answer for unlawful behavior

The Bossier Parish Police Jury, and particularly Parish Administrator Joe E. “Butch” Ford, are back in hot water because an elected parish official, normally an establishment ally of theirs, carried out his sworn duties.

Ford has been mired in controversy ever since, without a formal search, he was named administrator at the start of 2022. State law mandates that such officials register to vote in the parish that they helm, but since the mid-1980s Ford had maintained a residence in Caddo Parish, had a homestead exemption attached to it, and had registered to vote there.

In fact, Ford didn’t change his registration to a Bossier Parish address until ten months into his contract, violating the law throughout. And when he did, he ran into another problem: his registration didn’t match his exemption, which state law said had to happen if a registrant declared a homestead. That took another three months to occur.

Thus, to serve legally, as Ford declared the Bossier property his homestead – while retaining ownership of the Caddo one – that property had to qualify as a homestead according to Art. VII Sec. 20 of the Louisiana Constitution, which would be assessed during the normal spring assessments by parish assessors, in Bossier’s case Republican Bobby Edmiston. And in May, public records show Edmiston’s office voided Ford’s homestead retroactively to the time he declared it, meaning he owes thousands of dollars in taxes for this year and last.

Ford protested, to no avail. In an appeal executed as a legal document, he listed a plethora of reasons, mostly irrelevancies insofar as the law goes in these matters. Edmiston pointed to the Constitution in both his original reasoning and denied appeal, focusing on Sec. 20(A)(1) that states “The bona fide homestead … owned and occupied by any person or persons owning the property,” because his assessors had good reason to believe the owners did not occupy the property.

As proof, they went onto the property, which has a heavily overgrown yard and to describe as ramshackle from the outside would do it credit. Views through the windows revealed an enormous amount of clutter littering habitable space and no sign that anybody resided there.

Ford tried to buttress his case by referring to the Civil Code, Art. 42, although he probably meant Art. 38 from the verbiage he used. But this doesn’t help his cause either, as that article states unambiguously that “The domicile of a natural person is the place of his habitual residence.”

Insofar as this appertains to his legal ability to serve as parish administrator, it’s not directly relevant. You don’t have to have a homestead in order, for the purposes of statute that defines where you may register to vote, to register at a location if not having a homestead anywhere. However, the law does define for registration purposes a resident as “a citizen who resides in this state and in the parish, municipality, if any, and precinct in which he offers to register and vote, with an intention to reside there indefinitely.”

Ford’s problem is that the assessor in the parish in which he is registered to vote does not consider him as occupying that property. If he doesn’t occupy it, he cannot reside there (except under unusual circumstances such as pursuit of higher education, emergency displacement, or nursing home residence elsewhere). That the assessor denied him an exemption doesn’t automatically disqualify him from registering to vote there, but it does challenge his residency there as defined for registration purposes.

This puts the ball back into Registrar Stephanie Agee’s court, who at the end of last year faced a similar situation under statute that states if she had a reason to believe his registration was illegal she had to go through a process soliciting the registrant to “show cause” as to why his registration should remain on the rolls. Back then, at the beginning of the year Ford attested he resided there although that now appears to have been fraudulent.

Yet that investigation came because late last year Ford didn’t have a mail receptacle at the address and mail bounced back to Agee in the new registration confirmation process. There’s no evidence that when the information about his registration in Caddo, then his continued homestead declaration there after the registration in Bossier, became public that Agree acted for that reason.

If Agee doesn’t know of Ford’s loss of exemption already – and word spreads quickly about these matters at the courthouse – and hasn’t launched the process to scrub Ford from the rolls, she knows now. That she acted last time doesn’t guarantee she will this time, and keep in mind her appointment for life came from the very body insistent on having Ford as administrator.

Whether Agee can emulate Edmiston with enough fortitude to do the job she swore to do, very much against the wishes of the remainder of the courthouse crowd, won’t be easy for the public to verify. Unlike other public records law, in order to make such inquiries public a simple request won’t do but rather at least 25 registered parish voters must attest that they want this information.

Any objective reading of the situation points to Ford, unless he rushes to clean out the place and does some remodeling and ships over some furniture denoting at least the illusion of habitation, being illegally registered there and, thusly so, ineligible to serve as parish administrator. Whether the processes of government confirm this or if the matter heads to litigation and whether he retains his job, here and now after the assessment one thing is certain: Bossier Parish has as its chief administrative officer somebody who has engaged willfully in a pattern of deceit to have that job. That’s not exactly what citizens expect, or deserve, out of a public servant, much less the highest-ranking administrator in the parish.

And this leads to another certainty: police jurors have colluded in this deceit. It’s impossible that, as their employee of almost two decades, that jurors did not know where Ford lived when they appointed him initially, and they certainly all knew about it when they reappointed him for 2023 on Jan. 18 – 12 days before he even attested, whether truthfully, to Agee’s satisfaction that he resided in Bossier.

It's all a part of the lawlessness that the Bossier Parish Police Jury has exhibited for a number of years – contrary to state law putting themselves on the parish’s Library Board of Control, contrary to state law appointing the executive director of the Cypress Black Bayou Water Conservation and Recreation District as its representative to its Board of Commissioners, and now winking and nodding at Ford’s appointment. All along it has taken the attitude that its members are above the law in that they can do whatever is illegal as long as they don’t get called on it, then judicially sanctioned for it.

That’s something to which every single incumbent running for reelection this fall must answer. And it has to stop, whether voluntarily or involuntarily with voters throwing out the bums who think the law doesn’t apply to them.

No comments: