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Monday, Oct. 21, 2019

What Did You Just Call Me?

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Mayor has no place at the table for skeptics or questioning

Mayor Adrian Perkins’ inauguration speech lasted just 17 minutes last Dec. 29, but I had hoped the spirit of those words might have lasted a lifetime for the City of Shreveport.

“When it comes to Shreveport’s success, division is a luxury we cannot afford,” Perkins said. “Everyone must have a seat at the table. Not because it is fashionable, but because each seat provides a unique perspective, a particular take on what it means to live, to love and to struggle in Shreveport.”

Sounded pretty good, right? But when Perkins recently spoke to a civic group, pitching the perks of passing the $186 million bond and proceeded to tell the audience to tune out those who might speak “negatively about the bond,” I realized those words from that cold Dec. 29 morning – about everyone having “a seat at the table” – may never have been intended for me. Or anyone like me, for that matter, whom the mayor considers a “naysayer” for expressing any skepticism at all. The dictionary defines a naysayer as one who frequently is “skeptical or cynical about something.” But is there something wrong with that, or something of which to be ashamed? After all, it’s been said that skepticism is the first step toward truth. Albert Einstein said the same: “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Oscar Wilde, the poet and playwright, put it another way, saying that “skepticism is the beginning of faith.”

The skeptic is actually (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) “a seeker after truth; an inquirer who has not yet arrived at definite convictions.” Now, that’s different from a cynic who is “a person disposed to rail or find fault.”

In short: A skeptic is a doubter; a cynic is a disbeliever. But most Shreveporters are not cynics – not at all. They’re skeptics. In fact, most want to believe that voting for this $186 million bond will transform Shreveport into the land of milk and honey.

They want to believe those glossy images of Shreveport used in all the handouts and on social media posts to “sell” this bond to the voters are real – you know, the images of happy, carefree-looking citizens, enjoying a glowing sunset on the horizon, with children frolicking all about, and the bad guys turning themselves into police, as a shiny new fire truck races down newly overlaid roads, saving even more lives in our community. They want to believe decades-old deficiencies at City Hall can be fixed overnight, just in time for this bureaucracy behemoth to administer $186 million in new spending, when the city already is double-paying its invoices, can’t pay its current bills without incurring thousands of dollars in late fines, and has overbilled citizens for water for over a decade and is now refusing to refund our money (even after a judge has ruled they must).

We want to believe in a mayor (and city council) who will be careful with our money and not give city contracts out (like our insurance business) to the first cousin of their campaign manager, or doesn’t bristle at the idea of more transparency when City Hall negotiates high-dollar contracts, and who won’t dismiss those who ask questions as meddlesome, or assume that anyone with a different opinion obviously doesn’t want what’s best for this city.

We want to believe that borrowing more money (or taking from Peter to pay Paul) will somehow reduce our city’s negative net worth of $1 billion and that the recent audit saying that Shreveport has “commitments beyond which it has current resources to fund its obligations” is much ado about nothing.

But we’re skeptical (not cynical) – and this is our “unique perspective” from our “seat at the table.”

So when you encourage others to marginalize us or tune us out – simply because we’re questioning or being thoughtful – you seem to be reneging on your promise that everyone must have a seat at the table, while you’re pulling the chair out from under us.

You see, I’m voting against this bond proposal because if you call me a “naysayer” when you need my vote, I can hardly imagine what you’ll call me (or how you’ll spend our $186 million) when you don’t.

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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