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Monday, Jan. 13, 2020

How Can We See Through All This Smoke?

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Transparency appears to be invisible at City Hall, Mayor’s Office

After hosting a suite full of family and friends (including his special guest, Lynn Braggs) at the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26, Mayor Perkins has now returned to Shreveport from his London holiday, where he celebrated the New Year, and by all appearances, he seems rested and ready to begin his second year in office.

A second year in office that apparently may include replacing current CAO Sherricka Fields Jones, who is now said to be in charge of the city’s Finance Department, while the mayor’s special advisor, Shanerika Flemings, and Henry C. Whitehorn (currently the U.S. marshal for our district) are said to be likely choices for being named the new CAO.

And, yes, that’s the same Lynn Braggs who has been questioned in connection with a federal investigation about whether companies seeking lucrative contracts with the city of Shreveport were subjected to outside influence peddlers promising access at City Hall. And the same Lynn Braggs whose company, as well as his wife, were given $25,000 last year from the Perkins for Mayor campaign.

And, yes, that’s also the same Shanerika Flemings that the city’s internal auditor investigated and found that the directive to change the city’s insurance last December “came from the current chief advisor to the mayor, who was not a city employee at the time” and she directed such to happen, even before Mayor Perkins had even been sworn into office.

Some say that the current CAO is being moved out to make room for a new CAO who can better “sell” a new bond proposition to the citizens of Shreveport, following the defeat last year of the mayor’s $186 million bond proposition. Apparently, the Perkins administration intends to take another “bite at the apple” with respect to borrowing money and increasing spending, despite the City Hall’s financial woes.

All of which made it even more curious last week when the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) apparently approved the costly annexation of 120 acres of vacant land into the city limits of Shreveport (near Green Oaks High School). The owners of the land claim they plan to build muchneeded housing and retail development into the area. They claim to have applied for tax credits for building an apartment complex.

But whose land, exactly, did the MPC approve annexing into Shreveport? The Caddo Parish Tax Assessor’s Office says this 120 acres of vacant land belongs to Capital One Investments, LLC, but the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office indicates their status as an limited liability company has been revoked since 2014, with the last agent of record being Michael Woods (listed with a Jordan Street address in Shreveport).

And the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor’s Office actually revealed that the property owner (Capital One Investments, LLC) is not from Louisiana at all, but Arizona.Yet the Arizona Corporation Commission has no record of Capital One Investments, LLC, whatsoever. And to add even more intrigue, some believe that the “partners” of Capital One Investments, LLC include a supporter of Mayor Perkins and a member of his “Future of Shreveport” transition team, who would stand to profit greatly if, or when, the next bond proposition passes, because of the millions of dollars that will be set aside to finally clean up the “MLK ditch” along Cooper Road, adjacent to this newly annexed property. Confusing, isn’t?

If none of this seems transparent to you, it’s because it’s not. It’s a big part of why we trust one another less and less, and why Americans’ trust in government has sunk to the lowest levels in more than two decades. It’s why a recent Gallup poll of Americans revealed the most important problem facing America is government.

It’s why Ronald Reagan said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’ But when Mayor Perkins was campaigning for mayor, he presented himself as an “open-book” politician. He told us that transparency enables good government. We were told the back-room deals with the businesses and influence peddlers who scurry around City Hall were over. We were reminded of Mayor Perkins’ West Point Honor Code that he “will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.” We were assured in his inauguration speech that “(e)veryone must have a seat at the table.”

But for too many Shreveporters, they don’t feel this way at all.

Instead of finding a “seat at the table,” I’d settle for just finding a light switch, so at least we can at least see what going on – above or under the table.

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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