If anyone ever doubted that Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler is not in a “full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes” re-election mode, the recent refunds for excessive sewage charges should answer that question.
On Friday, Sept. 7, city government sent checks to 12 local businesses totaling over $230,000.
Perhaps it's no surprise that many Shreveport voters are employed by these businesses. The list includes Benteler Tube & Steel, Calumet Lubricants, Christus Health/Highland, Hollywood Casino, Libbey Glass, Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino and Willis-Knighton Health System.
The letter accompanying the checks advised that “the payment is being made to correct sales tax discrepancies with your account and is calculated to include judicial interest for your inconvenience.”
Interestingly enough, only two of the check recipients had filed suit requesting payment of judicial interest — The Haven Property Owners Association and Briarwood Apartments.
The transmittal letter did not include any attachment explaining the calculation of the refund or the added judicial interest. It just said that corrections were made in January of this year to the sales tax calculation on the sewage portion of commercial accounts and just recently to eliminate the sales tax collected on the security fee on these accounts.
A glaring omission in this communication was any statement as to the legal impact of depositing the refund check. Specifically, would depositing the city's check preclude any further recovery of overpayment and interest? This failure is totally inexcusable and is probably the most irresponsible action by any Shreveport mayor since the commencement of the mayor council form of government in 1978.
Other questions that were glossed over include why the checks were not mailed sooner— like right after the sales tax collection correction in January of this year? Or why the tax collection on the security deposit continued through August?
To those who have closely followed this mushrooming water billing debacle, the real underlying questions are even more damning — and indicative of very poor basic governmental management. How long key administration officials have had knowledge of the overcharges is open to speculation.
The litigation filed by The Haven and the owners of the Bridgewater Apartments alleges that Barbara Featherston, director of Shreveport’s Water & Sewerage Department, became aware in September 2015 that the sales tax did not apply to commercial sewage charges. Yet these taxes were collected from July 2015 until January of this year.
Both Tyler and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Crawford admitted in February 2017 depositions that the water billing system was not operating correctly and that an audit was needed. But no audit has been conducted.
Tyler has consistently blamed former Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover for many ills that she inherited, including the water billing system.
How much longer she will “kick the Glover can” as an excuse for not addressing and solving Shreveport's water billing errors is an open question. Seemingly, Shreveport voters should be tired of the constant mantra of “blame Glover, not me.”
Tyler’s reluctance at the Southern Hills mayoral forum to commit to a full and expeditious audit of the water department is further evidence of her “leadership” style, which is to admit no mistakes, to take no advice and to exclude city council members in her decision making.
With the exception of water billing, Tyler has restored much needed accountability to city hall. But she has basically “maxed out” when it comes to improving the efficiency of Shreveport’s departments and employees. She continues in a role as an administrator, not a progressive, innovative leader.
Tyler has constantly preached that she is professionally running the third largest city in the state. Her campaign push card lists her “experiences as a CEO," detailing budget amounts and the number of employees she supervises. And she touts her “proven experience, proven leadership, proven integrity” as a campaign slogan.
If the continuing water billing fiasco is to be the standard for evaluating Tyler’s performance as mayor, then she should not be re-elected.
(This article was/will be published in The Shreveport Times on Sunday, September 16, 2018)