It's time — no, past time — for the Shreveport City Council to establish a planning department and for the city to pull out of the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC).
The MPC has jurisdiction over Shreveport and five miles outside city limits. The MPC regulates land use, issues permits and approves subdivision plats.
Currently, the city pays the lion’s share of the MPC budget, about 83 percent. The city also provides free office space, in-kind information technology services and financial services.
All fees paid to the MPC for property in the five-mile parish area are passed through to Caddo Parish government. The city gets no MPC fees.
The MPC is “governed” by a nine-member board. The city and parish each appoint four members and they jointly appoint one member.
The MPC executive director does not report to the mayor, city council, parish administrator or parish commission.
MPC Executive Director Mark Sweeney is the only public employee in northwest Louisiana with an employment contract. Sweeney spends MPC funds to prepare his contract.
Last year, Sweeney spent public funds in excess of $15,000 to take two MPC board members and four staff members, including himself, to a four-day convention in New York City. The first two days were a Saturday and a Sunday with very few convention seminars.
Twice a year Sweeney treats the MPC board, its attorney and key staff members to a work session at Chianti’s restaurant on the taxpayers' dime. The tab for the recent lunch for six board members, the attorney and staff was almost $300.
Until recently the MPC office was closed weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. Totally closed —the lights off, door locked,phone answered by a message. After much public pressure, Sweeney reluctantly opened the MPC office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. like all other offices in government plaza.
Sweeney’s relationship with private citizens, builders and developers is spotty at best. Those who must work regularly with his office will not publicly complain for fear of retribution.
Many private citizens have complained, especially those who also have conducted business with the Bossier City-Bossier Parish MPC. All say that working with the Bossier MPC is a cakewalk and that the Shreveport MPC is an obstacle course.
The MPC office is over staffed when compared to other offices on the basis of permits issued and size of its jurisdiction. Staff reductions can be accomplished in an internal office — as in other city offices under the Mayor Ollie Tyler Administration.
Current MPC staff members could apply to work for the city planning office.
In addition to the in-kind services, the city will fund the MPC in excess of $1 million in 2017. These funds should be budgeted for an internal planning office in 2018.
The Shreveport City Council passed the Unified Development Code earlier this year along with the zoning map. This ordinance applies to all real estate within the city limits.
The UDC can be easily amended to change all references to the MPC executive director, the MPC board and the Zoning Board of Appeals to the planning director, the planning board and the appeals board.
With these changes, the planning office would be accountable to the mayor and the city council.
New Orleans, Monroe and Alexandria have internal planning offices. Baton Rouge has combined city-parish government. There are no valid reasons for Shreveport not to have its own internal office.
Citizens could then have redress to elected officials when treated rudely, when planning applications become overly cumbersome and when anti-business roadblocks are incurred. This is not the case today. Additionally, the MPC fee schedule, which has discouraged development in Shreveport, could be amended.
And for the parish goes, the city could provide planning services on a most equitable compensation basis. Or the parish could establish its own planning office. And the commission should recognize that the city is in the parish.
The city council’s duty is to the residents of the city, and to those that want to develop in the City. A much more user friendly, accountable planning office is long overdue to combat stagnant economic growth in Shreveport.
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