The American Way?
Perkins administration not so transparent
In the 1978 film “Superman,” there’s a scene where Lois Lane (up on her apartment balcony) is interviewing the guy in the blue tights and red cape.
Lois Lane: I mean, why are you here? There must be a reason.
Superman: Yes. I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way.
Lois Lane: [Laughs] You’re gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!
Superman: Lois, I never lie.
And even though Superman does lie (even if it’s a lie of omission by not telling people that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person), it turns out that Superman’s mission in life – why he’s here – “fighting for truth” – resonates with us all. None of us want to be lied to or bamboozled or to have the “wool pulled over our eyes” or made to feel like a fool.
But these days, that’s a big part of why we trust one another less and less. And with respect to our elected leaders, Americans’ trust in government has sunk to the lowest levels in more than two decades. When you’re told, “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it” (but it turns out you really can’t) or when George H.W. Bush said, “Read my lips: no new taxes” (but did so anyway), it doesn’t tend to inspire a great deal of confidence that our elected officials will always do what’s right.
It’s why a recent Gallup poll of Americans revealed the most important problem facing America is government. It’s why Ronald Reagan said, “(t)he most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’ So when Mayor Perkins was campaigning for mayor last year and presented himself as an “open-book” politician and told us that transparency enables good government, many believed him (at least wanted to believe him, that is). 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 many Shreveporters, they don’t feel this way. As far as having a “seat at the table,” these first few weeks of the new administration feels more like we’re seated at the “little kids’ table” at Thanksgiving – you know, the card table at the end of the grown-ups’ table or off in another room – where the kids could still have their conversations, and the grown-ups could have theirs.
And from the bits and pieces of the conversation we can hear at the grownups’ table, the conversation sounds anything but an “open book” or the kind of transparency that would enable any good government at all.
First there was Mayor Perkins (before he was inaugurated) changing the agent of record for one of the city’s major insurance policies to an out-of-town agency, and to an out-of-town agent, who is not only the first cousin of Mayor Perkins’ campaign manager, but who, according to the Louisiana Department of Insurance, has been cited on multiple instances of issuing fake certificates of insurance for homeowner policies that even didn’t exist.
Then there was his first official fundraiser as mayor of Shreveport at the Petroleum Club of Shreveport, where contributors didn’t make out checks to his campaign, but to his non-profit entity, which is not subject to any campaign finance laws and for which there is “no maximum contribution” limit that an enthusiastic supporter could contribute.
And contributions to his own non-profit are in addition to more funding being provided to Mayor Perkins from another non-profit, Foundation for Louisiana (from New Orleans), who is reportedly funding his transition into office, but for which we don’t know who contributes because, as a non-profit, campaign finance laws don’t apply.
Then there was almost $25,000 paid last year from the Perkins campaign to the wife of Lynn Braggs and a company owned by Lynn Braggs – the same Lynn Braggs who was 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 just last month, Mayor Perkins announced a partnership between Caddo Parish Public Schools and the University of New Orleans to pave the way for graduates of Caddo Parish to leave Shreveport and attend college in New Orleans. Many folks are wondering why Mayor Perkins didn’t partner first with our local universities (in our own backyard) instead of 300 miles away.
And now we learn that the taxpayers of Shreveport have paid for nearly $6,000 in suits and ties for police officers who were recruited to serve as part of Mayor Perkins’ security detail, all in the name of making sure Mayor Perkins is more “approachable.” Seems that nearly every other mayor of Shreveport has been quite “approachable” without ever needing to do the same.
It all seems so convoluted – and more foggy – than transparent.
But you know what? Superman had it right. And in many ways, we all think of ourselves as the superhero in our own story – fighting for truth and justice and the American way. We just shouldn’t have to fight our own elected leaders to get it, or sit way off at the little kids’ table, just to listen in.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.