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.
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.