Our recent predicament with Levee decertification has resulted in page after page of finger pointing both in print and online with one resounding theme of people being unclear about which government entity is responsible for what in regard to local levees.  With the Levees, there is debate over whom actually is ultimately in charge of the structural integrity of waterway protection in Rapides Parish — The Corps of Engineers, Red River Atchafalaya & Bayou Boueff Levee District, Rapides Parish Police Jury, City of Alexandria/City of Pineville, individual property owners…who?  Any?  All?

One thing we learned after Katrina (actually we learned it after Ivan but chose not to act prior to Katrina) is that not knowing whom is in charge can lead to the most ultimate of detrimental effects.  In the same way, having too many chiefs creates nothing but confusion and bureaucracy and creates huge hurdles to development and effective management of scarce local resources.

New Orleans — the Carnival King of nepotism and who d’ya know is slowly taking the steps to rectify the mess that is their local government system. Combining levee boards (somewhat), assessors, sheriffs, etc will eventually allow them to operate more effectively and efficiently with great cost savings, unified visions, and streamlined governance.  If it can happen in NOLA, it can happen elsewhere.  We need to follow that lead in CenLA.

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I have made the argument several times before knowing in advance that the futility of such a proposal is likely to get little attention, but I think the levee situation is another time when this deserves mention:

We should REALLY consider developing a Metropolitan Government.

I was living in Lafayette when they first created their City-Parish Government.  At the time it was considered an impossible feat.  Too many local officials would become redundant, the various elected officials would never give up their power and salaries.  It would fail, blah blah blah.  Well it did happen, and it didn’t fail, and Lafayette has experienced phenomenal growth in the 15 years since they consolidated their governmental operations.

Baton Rouge has done the same.  Shreveport has done the same.  Basically, every metro area that has experienced economic growth and prosperity in our region has done so with a single government in charge.

That said, we can’t have a City-Parish government here.  We’re just too big, and too much of Rapides Parish falls outside the metro area.  However at the same time, parts of our contiguous metro area fall outside of Rapides Parish.  Jackson, MS has a metro government that governs space in two counties.  New York City covers several.  It’s not an impossible idea.

Alexandria Metropolitan Government

What we would need locally is a common metropolitan government where practical, and a parish-wide government with clearly defined and non-overlapping responsibilities where appropriate.  Certain things make sense for belonging to the Parish — roads, utility management (including things like cable, internet, phone, water, electricity, gas, sewer,etc), the penal system, parks & recreation, animal control, health, schools, etc.  These are things that affect people in Glenmora as much as they effect people in Pineville.  The community can only succeed with the residents of the cities sharing resources with the non-urban residents.

Then there are things that belong at the metropolitan level because they are metropolitan issues.  Fire, Police, urban planning, economic development, lobbying, attracting businesses, etc.  These are all metropolitan issues.  They are not individual municipal issues.  Alexandria cannot exist without Pineville.  Pineville cannot exist without Tioga. The prisons in Pollock employ the residents of Colfax.  Woodworth would not have any residents without Alexandria.  No one municipality in our metro area exists in a vacuum or bubble that allows it do operate without the cooperation of the others.

When they do try to play the role of independent fiefdom we see the repercussions.  Consider last year’s debate over the city of Ball getting its share of tax money from the Parish-wide coffers.  What was the primary argument that was missing from that debate?  The fact that almost all of those people who live in Ball work and shop in Alexandria — that even though they live in one municipality, they utilize the resources of another.  Again, there would be no people in Ball if they didn’t have jobs in Alexandria.  We are one community.

One community needs to speak with one voice.

The idea of restructuring our City and Parish governments is a daunting one, but the question really is what is NOT doing this costing us?  Well there are two levels of cost to look at — immediate and overall costs.  Immediately, having 9 (Alexandria, Boyce, Pineville, Tioga, Pollock, Ball, Lecompte, Woodworth, Creola) contiguous but fully independent municipalities means we have 9 full bureaucracies to fund.  We have 9 mayors to pay, 9 supervisors or (whatever), 9 directors of (again whatever), 9 chiefs of police, 9 fire chiefs, 9 water departments, 9 utility supervisors, 9 motorpool chiefs, 9… I think you get the point.

Not all municipalities are equal and some have more than their fair share of employees and expenses while others have fewer.  But the problem goes deeper than that.  In our metro area we have a plethora of Waterworks Districts, Fire Districts, Recreation Districts, Economic Development bodies, etc.  Every single one of those governmental entities requires people to run them, people to work for them, taxpayers to PAY for them.  When a company wants to open a business they have to first figure out which of these various governments they have to deal with, what are the local regulations, what are the taxes, forms, deadlines, contact numbers, etc.

Why do we need all of these bodies that do the same thing?  Why does Alexandria need a police department that is separate from Pineville?  Do Pineville and Alexandria criminals have a silent agreement not to cross the river?  Are they vampires and unable to travel across water?  Do Deville Meth labs only sell their drugs to people north of the Red?  If someone is at the Rapides Station exit and stands in Alexandria but shoots someone standing in Boyce, who arrests him?

Yellow Spots on a Map

Having multiple duplicated services is a pretty clearly observable immediate cost to not having a common government.  But economic development — rather missed development is the true overall cost.

When you are planning your travels, you look at a map, and generally draw lines between the big yellow spots on that map — the cities that intersperse our country and state.  Alexandria is a pretty decent sized city.  Yet, have you noticed we don’t have a big yellow spot?  Why?

Because when Alexandria is listed on a map, only the City of Alexandria is listed.  Pineville is counted separately.  Ball is counted separately, etc.  Taken separately, not one of our municipalities (of which there is not one inch separating us) are considered worthy of a yellow spot, and guess what?  Companies like to put their businesses, stores, restaurants, etc in those big yellow spots.

Together, as a single contiguous municipality we are as much a big yellow spot as Monroe, or Lake Charles, or Lafayette.

When was the last time you woke up and said “Wow, I’d sure like to spend a few days in Kings County” or “Wouldn’t it be great to take a trip to Staten Island?”  You probably haven’t, but you’ve probably weighed a trip to New York City.  NYC is made up of 5 counties, 5 boroughs, and several additional municipalities in the metro area.  Yet when they market themselves, when they set overall policy, when they attract businesses and events, they do it as a unified front.  But not us.

Why not us.  If anything we should at least consider this.

Step 1:  A government in name only

People fear giving up any local control.  And let’s be honest, many white flight areas fear black folks.  You see this in the forums on the Town Talk in which some ignorant area residents would have you believe the Alexandria Garden District is nothing more than Compton with a few extra trees.  This is of course not the case, but change has to come slowly and in easily digestible pieces.

Step 1 could be simply forming an Alexandria Metropolitan Government in which the mayors of each municipality take turns heading a metropolitan government commission.  Even if all they accomplish is getting the metro area on the maps as a signle big yellow spot, that’s something.

This government could also act as a clearinghouse for everything Cenla regardless of political division.  AND, they could consider areas where overlapping services just don’t make economic sense.  Perhaps study combining police departments, or combining fire departments, or water districts, or even jointly managing ball fields.  Together they could look at how they could better and more cheaply serve the citizens.

Step 2 would likely be making things more official, having area-wide police and fire commissioners, single voices directing holistic programs of government service.

Step 3 could eventually be a hybrid governmental system that effective serves and meets the needs of both our urban and rural residents without anyone carrying an undue burden or getting the shaft on funding.

The first step though is admitting that our current systems of governance are not serving us effectively and will not serve us in the ways we need them to in the long run.

11 thoughts

  1. Drew, I think it is a provocative idea, but I am not sure that using the levee situation is apt.

    First, the levees are already owned and controlled by a regional consolidated government agency: RRABB. But more importantly, the decisions about certification and accreditation are made by federal agencies: FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Our levees were re-certified as recently as November 2005, allegedly for ten years. When the certification process rolled around four years later, the City of Alexandria, in order to assist RRABB (an agency with far fewer resources) hired an engineer to provide the necessary documentation for re-certification, which was then “certified” as an engineer’s report by a City engineer. It’s just a report. It’s not an indictment. It’s documentation, and the conditions it documents are nothing new. The parking lot near Rapides Regional, for example, has been there for decades.

    Now the feds say the standards have changed.

    No one has been secretive about this. There’s nothing to hide.

    To be sure, there has been some finger-pointing. Instead of recognizing that this problem was created by federal agencies and their decision to abruptly change standards, a couple of bloggers have used the situation as an opportunity to point fingers at the City of Alexandria. The implication being that because the City assisted RRABB on its certification report and because, apparently, the report documented what it was required to document, then the City is responsible.

    I guess these folks would have preferred a less thorough or even a misleading report.

    Either way, they shouldn’t cloud this issue. It will take a unified approach, and I think this can easily occur without government consolidation.

    Plus, I think consolidating municipal governments in Rapides Parish would result in a number of immediate logistical problems. We’re, geographically, the largest parish in the State– much, much bigger than Lafayette or Orleans Parishes. I’m not saying it is not feasible– just probably impractical at this time.

    I’ve seen maps that indicate the entire MSA in yellow, not just the City limits, and I think any economic development practitioner worth their salt relies on hard numbers about market areas, not what Rand-McNally says.

  2. More, duplicated, and overlapping/redundant “government” is rarely a good answer to any question. Any sort of additional layer of government will do little to impact the state agencies and will not impact the federal agencies in any way.

    The recent levee debacle is a classic example of what too much government (and too much corrupt and ineffective government, at that) can do.

  3. @Lamar

    I probably was a bit unclear in my initial post. I personally have never understood the debate as RRABB is the only governmental entity that is in charge of the levees (probably why they have the words Levee District in their name). What I meant to point out is how easily fingers started pointing regarding who was in charge. THAT is what I meant was indicative of the problem of having so many local governments. Even when one group is in charge, people don’t realize it.

    @Ace

    “More, duplicated, and overlapping/redundant “government” is rarely a good answer to any question. Any sort of additional layer of government will do little to impact the state agencies and will not impact the federal agencies in any way.”

    That’s just my argument. I don’t want to ADD layers of government. I want to see a reduction in layers. Currently we have more layers than we need, but rather than be a single local layer of government, it’s more like a mesh of related but uncoordinated government entities woven into a generally local area.

    —————————–

    I am not proposing a City-Parish government like Lafayette or EBR. As Lamar mentions and I pointed out in my post, We’re too big. We have two issue — 1. Rapides is huge and only the NW corner of it is the Metro area. 2. The Metro area actually covers the corners of Rapides, Grant, and Avoyelles Parishes. We need some sort of shell-Governmental entity that allows us to address the needs of that contiguous metro area without having to constantly deal with a dozen municipalities and 3 parish governments.

    As for Rapides, I am simply saying that when an issue is of parish-wide import, it should be a parish government issue and fall under a single parish-wide management entity. We don’t need all these different water districts, sewerage districts, recreation, fire, whathaveyou districts. That would be a major reduction in the size of government, the scope of government, and the costs of running that government.

    As for metro issues, I’m not saying to get rid of the individual municipal governments, but rather create a metro government for issues affecting the entire metro area and leave things that are of a single-city nature to that city. The issue is that most things are not single-city issues.

    Short of building a wall around each municipality we cannot function independently (and even they the two cities would have to argue over who maintained the wall!).

  4. I wonder if current attempts to consolidate city and parish governments could survive Voting Rights Act scrutiny. In Baton Rouge, minority vote is greatly diluted in parish-wide elections (such as Mayor-President). Probably not so when the City-Parish form of government was adopted in EBR.

    I’d bet that the feds would not allow the City/Parish government as it exists in EBR if it were presented today.

    1. Very good point, Kent, and such scrutiny would also exist in any attempt in Rapides Parish. However, if it is indeed the case that EBR’s consolidation would not pass muster today, then this is somewhat belied by Kip Holden’s election and re-election as Mayor/Parish President.

    2. I actually don’t think that there would be a racial issue as whether you look at the metro area on whole, or even each municipality, there is really no major all-black or all-white area, So I don’t see that any group faces disenfranchisement.

      Plus if race is such an issue, why does majority black Alex have a white Mayor while majority white P’ville has a black one?

      I actually think this system would help keep people from being left out of the mix because certain basic services would be moved toward a holistic area-wide treatment.

      Recently on the TT comments there has been mention of problems in Pineville in which one house is on city water/sewerage while the one next door isn’t (because it’s outside the city limits) while the next one is.

      Also, currently we have this strange system where once municipality (Alex) shoulders the brunt of all the infrastructure, law enforcement, safety, etc simply becuase it’s where the vast majority of the government, retail, and service facilities are. It’s where almost everyone works, shops, and does business, yet those people (because their residence is outside of the Alexandria city limits) don’t equitably share in funding all of those resources they use.

      At the same time, this system leaves several government bodies competing for the same scarce resources when a single unified effort could easily meet all of their needs.

  5. Race would be the biggest issue. Alexandria has a white mayor because blacks split the vote last time with multiple candidates. There is a 5-2 minority majority split on the council, and there is no way that power will be given up for a city-parish form of government, where whites would be in the majority. Not gonna happen.

    1. “Alexandria has a white mayor because blacks split the vote last time with multiple candidates.”

      I disagree. Roy won the primary with 33%; Ms. Brewer received 21% of the vote. Both were white candidates, and together, their votes accounted for 54% of the vote. You seem to presuppose that whites will only vote for white candidates, and African-Americans will only vote for African-American candidates. In Alexandria, that is not true, which is made even more apparent when you consider that Alexandria is a majority African-American city.

  6. Dead on about a local Metropolitan government. As cities grow, you need more organization and accountability. This issue often comes up here in Ohio as well.

  7. Agree or not, you will not get the current council to cede power over Alexandria to a parishwide system of government.

    I certainly agree that blacks and whites cross racial lines in their voting. I just think that if you get a single, strong minority candidate for mayor, he or she is going to be tough to beat. Brewer scraped into the runoff over Johnson by the barest margin, and the ultimate result may have been different in a Roy v. Johnson runoff. We may get to find out who is right in the next election.

  8. According to the 2000 Census, the entire MSRA (which is all of Rapides and all of Grant) the racial makeup is 66% White and 31% Black. For the City of Alex it’s 43% and 55% (which excludes all the various suburbs outside the city limits).

    I’m not talking about a Parish-wide government, but rather a metropolitan government of the contiguous municipalities. Consider:

    Boyce 23% White, 74% Black
    Lecompte 25% White 74% Black
    Ball 97% White, 2% Black
    Pineville 69% White, 26% Black
    Woodworth 88% White, 10% Black

    My point is simply that the disparity isn’t so great that all the blacks live in Alexandria and all the whites live elsewhere. Even in Grant parish, Colfax is 68% Black.

    I really don’t think most voters would vote along purely racial lines. A government with a holistic mission would require an holistic approach so that everyone benefitted. I think people would vote accordingly.

    Also, the plan I was proposing was one in which the various mayors would represent their municipalities with a rotating chairmanship.

    If Europe can do it certainly we can too.

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