It was a year for ups and downs for the Shreveport City Council.
Perhaps more than ever before the limitations of this elected body were exposed.
Despite constant complaints, the council was virtually powerless to deal with constituent concerns over Shreveport crime, water bills, building restrictions, and street disruptions
The council has no authority to fire or hire a police chief. Nor can it mandate police strategies or staffing.
This body can only vote on funding for the Shreveport Police Department.
The council had no magic wand to correct obvious challenges with bills sent by the Department of Water and Sewage. Working with the Ollie Tyler administration the council vetted several proposals for a new water billing system and selected a vendor.
The 2019 budget adopted earlier this month funded $1 million for purchase, installation, and implementation of a new billing system. This vote did not resolve the water billing litigation nor the outstanding business claims for overbilling refunds.
The Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) was the brunt of considerate criticism by the building development committee. The furor was fueled by an overly restrictive development code and an inflexible executive director.
After intervention by the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, substantial business-friendly amendments were made to the Unified Development Code. And after the departure of long embattled MPC Executive Director Mark Sweeney, the council restored full funding to the MPC.
Street repairs was another source of constituent complaints. The court-ordered water/sewer repairs resulted in seemingly constant street disruptions.
Installations by utility companies that did not coordinate their efforts with the city and each other further exacerbated the problem. The council could not force Mayor Tyler to deal effectively with this administrative quagmire despite constant efforts.
The council continued funding and implementation of mygovernmentonline.com. This website will initially track permits and applications.
Hopefully, this will be expanded in future years to provide more transparency. Open checkbook BR tracks all expenditures of the East Baton Rouge city-parish government.
The council had to consider for the second year in a row a Cross Bayou development project. In 2017 the council refused a request by Tyler to hire bond counsel for a proposed sports arena complex.
This year a $1 billion dollar mixed-use public private partnership was presented to the council. After much debate, a resolution encouraging the mayor to sign a Memorandum of Understanding passed on a 4-3 vote. Tyler ignored the resolution.
In its last major vote of the year, the council approved the city’s 2019 budget. Based on the anticipated year-end surplus along with the anticipated revenues and expenses for the upcoming year. The adopted budget anticipates spending $6 million of the city’s expected year end reserve of $8 million.
Council members emphasized that the prior Tyler budgets had underestimated revenues and overestimated expenses as justification for their votes. In essence, they kicked the budget can to the incoming mayor and council which can, as is the established practice, amend the budget as the year goes along.
The council’s effectiveness was hindered by the 2018 elections. Three of its seven members ran for re-election. The mayor’s attitude of non-cooperation with the council was further strained by Tyler’s unsuccessful effort to return for another four-year term.
On balance it was a good year for the council. This group did as much as it could, under the circumstances, to improve city government.
Never in Shreveport’s history had the powers of the mayor vis-a-vis the council become more apparent. Hopefully, the four new incoming council members understand this reality.
(This article was published in The Shreveport Times on Sunday, December 30, 2018)