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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Hire the Best For the Job

The search for a new DDA executive director hits a snag

As you all may know, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is searching for a new executive director after Liz Swaine, who served in that position for 13 years, announced she would be leaving. While many may know Liz also from her many years as a local news anchor and community advocate, you may not know that the DDA is the governing body of its own special taxing district that was created in 1978 by the Louisiana Legislature, which covers a 120-square-block area in Shreveport.

It’s a bigger deal than some folks might acknowledge, especially in a post-COVID economy, where more folks are working from home and office vacancies are increasing. Not to mention safety concerns living or just being downtown at night for entertainment, plus how inflation is making it harder and harder for small businesses downtown to make payroll and keep the doors open.

Louisiana State Senator Sam Jenkins says this is “one of the most important hires in recent city history. We have to get it right.” Jenkins favors a nationwide search, adding, “That means hiring someone with the education and work experience to develop a business district that includes residential living and entertainment.”

However, only some agree with a nationwide search, especially when the local applicant list includes familiar names like Michael Corbin, LeVette Fuller and Cedric Glover.

Shreveport Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor argues, “It’s not a good look that we have local qualified persons here with experience in different areas and they’re not being considered,” Taylor mentioned in a recent Shreveport City Council meeting.

However, they are being considered, but the controversy is over whether to limit the search for a new executive director to only “local qualified persons” or to search nationwide for applicants with perhaps more specialized knowledge and working experience in developing downtown communities.

But when Councilwoman Taylor says it’s not a “good look,” what does she mean? It’s not a “good look” for whom? Is it not a “good look” for the city to show that we intend to attract the best and brightest to this position? Is it not a “good look” to seek out people based on their achievements and abilities rather than their zip code? Or to hire the best person for the job, not just the most familiar face or name?

Of course, you can focus on many other factors besides achievements and abilities. And if everything were equal, a local hire might be preferred — but everything is rarely equal. Who would feel comfortable flying with a pilot chosen by a committee because of their address rather than their training and experience?

When you feel unsafe in your neighborhood or have an emergency, does it matter whether your police chief just moved to Shreveport to take the job? If you’re in the emergency room or being wheeled into surgery, is it really important to know if the doctor was highly recruited by the hospital from a nationwide search or was hired by doctors already well known in our community?

As Senator Jenkins alluded to, the bottom line is who is best for the job. Every business struggles with this every day.

Whether you’re a local applicant or someone recruited from Timbuktu, leadership is not for everyone. Fortune magazine says 70% of CEOs fail because they cannot execute. They don’t get things done, are indecisive and don’t follow through. And yet, we keep hiring — and electing — these same kinds of folks to lead our communities and nation year after year.

As voters, we must be in the “people” business. As Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, said, “We spend all our time on people,” he said, “The day we screw up the people thing, this company is over.” Unfortunately, the exact same is true for our government, from every city hall, school board, statehouse and all the way to the White House.

So, maybe we have messed up this “people thing” in government for too long now. But we don’t have to keep doing it that way, and hiring for positions in our government based on one’s achievements and abilitieas — and not one’s zip code — is a big step in the right direction.

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 318 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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