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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Equal Voice, Equal Representation

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City Council to vote on more oversight of the mayor’s purchases

Being a leader is more than just following the rules. Rules tell us merely what we are prohibited from doing and what we are required to do instead. Or put another way, just because we can do it doesn’t mean we should.

Just because you can afford it doesn’t mean you should buy it. Just because you can eat whatever you want without gaining weight doesn’t mean you should. And just because you can accept a large campaign contribution from someone who has millions of dollars in contracts with the City of Shreveport, and stands to be awarded millions more, doesn’t mean you should.

So when KSLA News 12 reported that the Louisiana Board of Ethics has notified mayor Adrian Perkins that a contribution made to his mayoral campaign has exceeded state campaign finance limits, some may have brushed it aside and said, “Well, that stuff happens.” The mayor’s office even issued a written statement saying that “(s)uch inquiries are common following a campaign.” But the question is, how many such inquiries also involve a campaign donor making an illegal contribution to the mayor’s campaign whose company also just happens to be receiving over $15 million in contracts from the City of Shreveport?

What’s surprising about all of this to so many voters is that Mayor Perkins presented himself as an “open-book” politician during last year’s campaign and told us that transparency enables good government. We were told the backroom deals with the businesses and influence peddlers which scurry around City Hall were over. And, we’re told, that Mayor Perkins will return just $2,000 of the illegal contribution of $4,500 (which under state campaign finance law, is capped at $2,500).

And to some extent, Mayor Perkins’ written statement, regarding the Louisiana Board of Ethics inquiry is correct: “Such inquiries are common following a campaign.”

Recently, in Atlanta, Ga., for example, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (who was also an Atlanta city councilmember for over 10 years before that) promised to return more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from a company who had received over $100 million in contracts from her city.

In Reno, Nev., Mayor Hillary Schieve recently returned over $20,000 in contributions to her mayoral re-election campaign after being made aware that casinos had contributed to her campaign above the legal limits. The former mayor of Reading, Pa., was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for trading city contracts for $150,000 in campaign contributions.

In Texas, Dallas City Council member and mayoral candidate Scott Griggs just returned campaign contributions to a Dallas real estate developer (specializing in distressed apartment complexes) who had used the names of his minor grandchildren to skirt the legal contribution limit.

The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel E. Bowser, was ordered to pay $13,000 in fines for taking campaign donations (in excess of legal limits) from developers and contractors, including a landlord that her administration has since been slow to fine for more than 1,000 housing-code violations.

But you see, just because such campaign finance violations “are common” (per Mayor Perkins’ public statement), it doesn’t change the fact that when people perceive their mayor as behaving in unethical or disingenuous ways, it erodes their trust in government; it undermines their faith that each of us is represented and has an equal voice.

We all deserve to have confidence that decisions about who repairs our streets, picks up our trash, sells us our water meters, or anything else, for that matter, are decisions based on the most qualified, competitive bid. Not who contributed the most over the campaign finance limits, or gave “anonymously” to an elected official’s non-profit organization, or may otherwise be funding the mayor’s transition team.

And just because Mayor Perkins says campaign finance violations “are common” doesn’t mean that Shreveport’s response must be “common.”

In Nashville, Tenn., for example: When questions of impropriety arose regarding the award of nearly $50 million in contracts for street paving and sidewalks to an engineering firm who has been providing gifts to city officials, Nashville’s mayor simply halted future such contracts. He then announced plans to hire their city’s first-ever chief compliance officer who will work in the mayor’s office to review governing ethics in the city’s procurement process.

Nashville’s mayor said, “We want to make sure that this procurement process is fair to everybody who wants to bid, that it’s good for the taxpayers and ethical. And there were enough indicators that I saw that led me to believe there were questions there. There was enough smoke there for me to cancel the procurement.”

And now, the District of Columbia has adopted a “pay-to-play” law (that takes effect next year) that bans political contributions from city contractors, as well as personal political contributions from their senior officers. And if you violate the law, your company may forfeit contracts, face disqualification on bidding for up to four years, and pay civil penalties.

Well, we sure could use some of that “transparency” in Shreveport right about now – that’s what so many voters thought they were voting for – in Adrian Perkins – during last year’s campaign. And with the City Council set to vote at its next meeting this month on a new purchasing policy requiring more oversight of the mayor’s purchases, perhaps the reason why is more evident than ever.

The bottom line, Mayor Perkins, is that just because something is “common” doesn’t mean your response must be. Shreveporters voted for – and you promised – so much more.

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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