Settle: MPC Board has opportunity to gain credibility

Mark it down. The MPC circus is coming back to town this month.

Board chairman Theron Johnson wants to have a “Call Meeting to discuss the continuation of the contract of the Executive Director.” Jackson hopes to round up Board members on June 26.

The last MPC board meeting on June 6 was indeed a circus.

Rancorous comments were exchanged between Jackson and two board members over a failed attempt to add an agenda item. To say the video on the Shreveport Caddo Metropolitan Planning Commission website is an ugly display of civility is an understatement.

This non-elected nine member Board has had a serious split in philosophies since the appointment of Theron Jackson by the Caddo Commission and the appointment of Curtis Joseph by Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler.

Simply put, five of the nine members would walk the plank into shark infested waters with Sweeney. The other four would line up to push Sweeney and his supporters into the brink.

The contention among the members has increased since the formation of Gateway Development Consortium (GDC) by Jackson, Joseph, and Paul Pratt. GDC is the group that has presented the latest Cross Bayou development proposal.

The total dysfunction of the MPC Board is exemplified by the employment contract between the MPC Board and the MPC Executive Director Mark Sweeney. Since the MPC is a separate government entity, the contract did not require the approval of the Shreveport City Council nor the Caddo Commission who fund the MPC.

Employment contracts with public employees are virtually unheard of in Louisiana.

Sweeney’s current contract ends Sept. 30. But it has an automatic rollover provision unless it is “countermanded annually by a vote of the MPC Board, no less than 90 days prior to the anniversary date.” That means any vote to end the contract must be taken by June 30.

Sweeney is a contract employee through the end of September. If the MPC Board votes to terminate his contract, then he will become an employee at will on October 1, like all other public employees in north Louisiana.

The MPC has been under heavy public criticism since the adoption of the Unified Development Code. Additionally, many complaints have been made about Sweeney and his anti-business attitude. The MPC Board itself has been somewhat sheltered from this pressure, although many elected officials point the finger at the Board.

In addition to Jackson and Joseph, the hard line Sweeney supporters include Lea Desmarteau, Nancy Cooper and Winzner Andrews. The other board members are Ronnie Remedies, Alan Young, Dave Colvin and Bessie Smith.

The 2018 MPC funding by both the Council and the Commission was reduced from the 2017 budget. Deeper cuts could be made in the 2019 funding. Both the Commission and the Council have discussed setting up internal planning offices.

How the MPC Board will vote on Sweeney’s contract is an open question. Hopefully many businesses that deal with MPC will contact the board members to express their opinions.

Unfortunately, this non-elected group has a major decision to make that could affect development in Shreveport through September of next year.

John Settle is a Shreveport-Bossier based political columnist