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Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018

Bright, Shiny Packages

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The newest and latest may cost more than their worth

There’s an assumption here, among many mayoral candidates, that the problems Shreveport is dealing with are a lack of new ideas. For example, Adrian Perkins says it’s time for Shreveport to become a “smart city” and set aside around $400 million to construct a city-owned broadband network.

Then, Steven Jackson wants to establish a “universal pre-K” program for kids, at an estimated cost of $30 million per year, plus gunshot-detection technology that costs nearly $500,000. Mayor Tyler is already forking out $3 million for a new 2.4-acre park between Texas Avenue, Crockett Street and Cotton Street, and she wanted the city council last year to spend $30 million for a new sports arena complex on Cross Bayou.

The “pie-in-sky” political promises aren’t new, of course. Former Mayor Cedric Glover spent nearly $10 million on slick “high-tech” water meters, and yet many are not even in operation today. Former Mayor Keith Hightower borrowed $110 million for a new convention center and hotel 15 years ago, and the city still subsidizes its operations – to the tune of almost $2 million this year alone.

You see, as experience shows, Shreveport does not need more bright, shiny objects, like the examples above. That’s not innovation. It’s the pursuit of the make-believe. It wastes time and energy and produces little in return.

Sure, I understand the appeal of it, though. It’s like seeing the sheer happiness on a child’s face after handing him a brand new, shiny, wrapped toy at Christmas. And indeed, to hear many of the mayoral candidates, it must be Christmas morning around here – every day.

But even Christmas morning is more than just about getting stuff. It’s about focusing on what matters most and what lasts, not so much about what we want, but about what others need most. And the next mayor of Shreveport must be mature enough, and lived here enough years, to know the difference between what we need in Shreveport for everyone’s sake and some cockamamie idea or scheme that “sounds” good, but only to a select few.

This is important because we’re facing rising violent crime, a diminished tax base, plus over $200 million in underfunded pension plans, nearly $500 million in water, streets and sewer improvement projects (in part to satisfy a consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice), plus a convention center that is generating zero net revenue for the city, while costing taxpayers about $5,000 per day to keep the doors open.

No, no, no, there’s no single, bright, shiny object to fix it all, and frankly, we don’t have time for all of that childishness.

And while there’s no panacea, we can start by electing a new mayor that has more gray hairs than wild ones, who realizes the most successful, thriving cities are those that are really efficient at doing just the basics, like sewer, water, trash pick-up, issuing building permits, repairing roads, fire, police, etc.

And someone who knows that when we get good at doing just the basics, we’ll also

Shreveporters living below the poverty line, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of feeling safe in your own home, and more and more Shreveporters choosing to leave, we need a mayor who has great regard for the long-term maintenance of what we already have and commitments already made before get good at being fiscally responsible (unlike Detroit, where they can’t pay their bills, or Chicago, where 60 percent of their tax dollars go to fund just their debt and pension payments alone).

It doesn’t sound particularly dazzling or sexy, and it may not catapult you into some higher office in the future, or get you on the cover of any magazine, but mastering the basics – the fundamentals – still remains a hallmark of responsible government.

Now, I’ve heard some candidates say, “Look at what they have done in Chattanooga,” or “see what Plano is doing” for economic development, or “how it’s done in Los Angeles” or in Atlanta, or “we’ll try what they’ve done in Baton Rouge.”

Yes, it’s important to look at best practices, wherever they may be. But with so many we start chasing new ones.

As it is often said, the devil is always in the details – and it is in this mayor’s race. But the devil doesn’t necessarily come dressed in a red cape and pointy horns, either. He comes as everything you’ve ever wished for if you’ll only give him your vote, or yet another tax, to pay for yet another bright, shiny object.

But we’ve collected a closet full of those now over the past 20 years, and now is the time to elect a mayor who will get city government back to the basics first – because they’ve lived here long enough to know that all that glitters isn’t gold.

Avallone Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac. com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.

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