It should have been routine. But it wasn’t.
Carolyn Prator was expected to be appointed to the Red River Waterway Board of Commissioners. But she wasn’t.
Former longtime commissioner Mickey Prestridge died earlier this year. Prestridge was the Caddo commissioner.
The waterway commission enabling act requires one appointment from each of the seven parishes in the waterway district. The other parishes are Avoyelles, Bossier, Grant, Natchitoches, Rapides and Red River. The Louisiana director of public works is the ex-officio chairman.
By statute, parish vacancies on the commission are to be selected by the governor from names submitted by the parish police jury (Caddo Commission), the district levee board, and the Red River Valley Association. Prator was the nominee of the three bodies.
Sooo.. Prator’s appointment as the Caddo commissioner should have been a slam dunk, right? WRONG.
With a some bureaucratic game playing, governor John Bel Edwards appointed Ronald F. Lattier as the designated Caddo commissioner. But Lattier had not been nominated by any of the three designated bodies. He was serving as one of the four at large members that the governor appoints in his discretion.
By moving Lattier from being an at-large seat to a parish designated position, then viola—John Bel had an open at large slot. He filled it with Michael P. DeVille of Pineville.
Why is this important? For starters, the Red River Waterway District (RRWD) is a political subdivision of the State of Louisiana. Its district is governed by the board of commissioners. The RRWD is responsible for the operation and maintenance of a navigable channel in the river. It also actively participates in economic and recreational development for areas along the Red River.
Caddo Parish paid 40% of the tax dollars received by the Commission in 2017. These taxes are a dedicated milage. Bossier was the next highest at 23% followed by Rapides at 18%.
While Prestridge was alive, Caddo had 3 commissioners---Roy A. Burrell and Lattier were at-large. Now Caddo has been reduced to 2 representatives.
So what happened between the nomination of Prator by the three nominating bodies and the governor’s desk? Well, “politics” in the bad sense of the word if the only logical explanation.
Carolyn Prator is a Democrat, like John Bel. Her husband, Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator, is a Republican. Her hubby Steve has been an outspoken critic of John Bel’s early prisoner release program enacted in 2017.
Seemingly John Bel would have overlooked this fuss—especially since The Chief Republican, as in President Donald Trump, has given kudo’s to John Bel’s early release program. So much that John Bel invited the commander-in-chief to visit Angola Prison, of all places.
Additionally, the appointment of Carolyn Prator to the waterway commission would have been consistent with the governor’s policy of inclusion. The commission has always been a "boy’s club,” and Prator certainly would have changed that reality. Additionally, she would be a white Caddo member. Burrell and Lattier are black.
So, is there any remedy?
There is no legal authority for John Bel’s “bureaucratic shuffle.” Presumably, he could sign new executive orders to correct this slip-up.
Or, a lawsuit could be filed to void the governor's action. If successful, this would move Lattier back to an at-large seat, remove DeVille from the commission and then leave the designated Caddo seat open.
There’s little doubt that Prator will not be appointed by John Bel under any circumstances. This is indeed unfortunate as she is certainly qualified to serve, probably more than many of the commissioners.
Prator has served as president and vice president of the Caddo Levee Board for eight-plus years. During her presidency, she oversaw flood control during two floods of the Red River.
She also experienced the reality of the river flooding. Her home had three feet of water for 10 days. She subsequently moved due to concerns over future river flooding.
It’s an open question how this will all shake out. What is for certain is that Caddo should have three representatives on the commission. Prator would have served Caddo Parish well.
(This article was/will be published in The Shreveport Times on Sunday, August 19, 2018)