The voters of Caddo Parish certainly sent a message to the Caddo Commission with the recent defeat of 4 parish wide tax renewals, along with a special sales tax renewal in a rural district. Listening to many of the Commissioners one would think that it was simply bad karma, not their performance, that was the sole and only cause of the voters’ rejection. But then those that complained the loudest also happen to be the biggest spenders on the Commission on travel expenses, prior retirement plan (CPERS) contributions, and votes for social welfare programs.
A good example of the free spending habits of the Commission is the little known Summer Youth Worker Program. Initially funded for $130,000, the Commission recently upped this pork barrel project by $30,000 last month. The program was originally funded for the employment of 48 summer workers for 8 to 10 weeks; the extra money will now fund an extra 12 workers. (To his credit Commissioner John Atkins made a motion to reduce the number of student interns which failed.)
The Parish information package states that the program is designed to allow Caddo students—high school or college—the opportunity to "learn how their local government works, explore possible careers, provide employment opportunities, and develop essential work readiness skills." The 10 week program will pay high school workers (minimum age 16) $7.50 per hour and college workers $9.00 per hour. The maximum number of hours permitted for each worker is 400, and the normal work week is Monday through Friday. The program runs from May 29 (which is Memorial Day) through August 4; presumably work actually begins on Tuesday, May 30th.
The job categories included Parks & Recreation, Animal Services & Mosquito Control, Juvenile Services-Probation Division, Public Works, Finance & Human Resources, and Facilities & Maintenance. The positions offered are laborers for inside and outside work, kennel workers to clean kennels and care for the shelter animals, and clerical spots in business offices. The information package advises that the program participants "will be expected to come to work daily (on time) and follow all the rules established by the Program and the departments to which they have been assigned . Furthermore, they are "expected to be active, engaged and to always put forth their best effort while on the job."
As of Wednesday (May10), the Commission had received 47 job applications; of these 21 were college students and the others were high school students. No offers of employment had been extended as of that date, although they can be expended soon. And its no real surprise that all of the applicants had been recommended by Commissioners. To their credit Commissioner Middleton and Atkins had not recommended anyone; other Commissioners may have also chosen not to participate in this kingdom building program.
At the meeting where the funding was increased two Commissioners addressed the program, and their comments were on both ends of the taxpayer dollar spending spectrum. Commissioner Dominick asked how many times this program would be extended, reminding this cohorts that originally it was only for two summer jobs; Dominick expressed concern on the financial reality of this growing pork barrel.
On the other hand, Commissioner Matthew Linn touted the expansion, saying that he had already promised three of his allotted four summer spots and was hopeful of having more jobs he could broker out.
If voters are looking for another reason to vote down any further Parish tax renewals, this job program is certainly a good one to add to the list. Seemingly the majority of the Commissioners consider the public tax dollars that the body as a whole controls as a private piggy bank that they can tap as they see fit to further build their political kingdom. How meaningful these jobs really are is an open question, however there is no doubt that this cronyism needs to stop.