Friday, a large number of Shreveport builders, architects, engineers and real estate developers meet with Shreveport Chamber Executive Director Tim Magner to discuss the continuing difficulties encountered when working with the Shreveport Caddo Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC). The meeting was closed to the public to encourage open and free discussion, without the risk of identification to the MPC staff.
The mere fact that this meeting was held is an undeniable statement that the MPC and its Executive Director Mark Sweeney are basically out of control when it comes to business accessibility, responsiveness, and accountability.
The Chamber’s role as unified lobby will probably not be that helpful because the MPC is a separate governmental entity that is not accountable to voters.
Shreveport funds the MPC to the tune of over $800,000, plus provides office space and in kind services. Caddo Parish funds a little over $200,000 to the MPC.
In theory Sweeney reports to the 9-member MPC Board that is appointed by the Shreveport City Council and the Caddo Commission.
Sweeney has a reputation of being autocratic, controlling and stubborn when dealing with any members of the public and the building community. In testimony to both the council and the commission, he has been very evasive in answering their questions.
To make matters even worse, Sweeney orchestrated the development of the Unified Development Code (UDC) for Shreveport and the Parish and its ultimate adoption. Sweeney’s expenditure of $650,000 purchased a high-end, sophisticated development code that would be more suitable for Beverly Hills than Shreveport.
The Shreveport Caddo UDC has many more requirements that the norm, especially when compared to Bossier City. Thus, even with a cooperative staff, those seeking building permits from the MPC must do much more expensive hoop jumping than on the east side of the river.
In response to complaints about how long the permit process entails, Sweeney has complained about reductions in this budget and his staff. What Sweeney does not explain is how the Bossier MPC office with five employees hands 40 percent more volume in permits that Sweeney’s staff of 15. These numbers alone are evidence that Shreveport could operate this department with less staff and save money.
And since Sweeney’s budget is funded in part by fees charged during the permit process, there are no incentives for his staff to be more efficient, to approve permits without requiring timely and expensive changes, etc. In effect, the MPC is a separate kingdom, funded with $1 million of public money and the power to collect additional fees through the permit process.
It’s not surprising that no other city in Louisiana has a separate planning and permitting office structured and funded like the Shreveport-Caddo MPC.
Shreveport City Councilman James Flurry has been a constant and loud voice for the building community when it comes to dealing with the MPC. He has introduced an ordinance to have the planning and development office for Shreveport to be an internal department of the city. This ordinance would, in effect, internalize the MPC functions for Shreveport.
This ordinance was tabled at the last council meeting.
The reluctance of the council members to adopt this measure is both puzzling and disappointing. To continue to sit by and watch more stagnation in Shreveport development is unacceptable —totally unacceptable.
The continuing excuses of politicizing the MPC just don’t cut the mustard. Likewise, the stating that the city does not need another department to manage is also a lame excuse. And lastly, expecting the MPC board to correct mandatary change the attitude of Sweeney and his staff is totally unrealistic.
The building community should show up, in force, at the Council work session on Monday, March 12 and/or the regular meeting following day and stand in unity seeking relief from the council.
The only way out of this swamp is to internalize the MPC, replace Sweeney, and then loosen the highly restrictive UDC requirements.
Rome is burning. How long will the Shreveport City Council fiddle?
John Settle is a Shreveport-Bossier attorney and political columnist. His columns can be found at www.settletalk.com