Friday a large number of Shreveport builders, architects, engineers and real estate developers met 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. The simple reason is that the MPC is a separate governmental entity that is not accountable to voters.

Shreveport funds the MPC to the tune of over $800 grand, plus provides office space and in-kind services. Caddo Parish funds a little over $200 thousand 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 steadfast allies with 5 of the Board members (Theron Jackson, Nancy Cooper, Lea Desmarteau, Winzer Andrews and Curtis Joseph) who would walk the plank into shark-infested waters behind him. The remaining MPC Directors (Ronnie Remedies, Alan Young, Bessie Smith and Dale Colvin) would gladly push Sweeney off the plank.

Sweeney has a well-deserved reputation for 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 less than truthful on many occasions and he is generally very evasive in answering questions from Council members and Commissioners.

To make matters even worse, Sweeney orchestrated the development of the Unified Development Code(UDC) for Shreveport and the Parish and its ultimate adoption. Either out of ignorance or by design, Sweeney’s expenditure of $650 thousand dollars purchased a high end, very sophisticated development code that would be more suitable for Beverly Hills or Carmel California, 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 (which is not the case), 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 5 employees hands 40% more volume in permits that Sweeney’s staff of 15. These numbers alone are evidence that the City 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 dollars of public money and the power to collect additional fees through the permit process.

Its 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.

Four members will seek re-election this year: Flurry, Willie Bradford, Jerry Bowman and Stephanie Lynch. Seemingly they would realize that their votes will become campaign issues this year. And how long they will continue to listen to unhappy constituents and just wring their hands versus taking definitive action is an unknown. But what is known is that to continue to sit by and watch more stagnation in Shreveport development is unacceptable—totally unacceptable.

The remaining Council members (Jeff Everson, Oliver Jenkins, and Michael Corbin) are termed out, i.e. they can not run for re-election.

Why they have been reluctant to approve this measure is also mystifying. As their 8 years of public service winds down, one would think that the votes they take this year should be the most significant of their service. If nothing more, they will be the most remembered.

The continuing excuses of “politicizing” the MPC just don’t cut the mustard. Likewise, the statement 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 12 March and/or the regular meeting on Tuesday 13 March and stand in unity seeking relief from the Council. The only way 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?