A campaign finance violation by Mayor Adrian Perkins shines a light on the appearance of pay for play in Shreveport government.
With the federal order to shore up the city's sewerage system now estimated at a billion dollars -- and with years of work to go -- a flagged campaign contribution has the look of cronyism in the massive capital improvement program.
Why would a contractor in Texarkana, Arkansas care who the mayor of Shreveport is? Perhaps when there are contracts worth millions of dollars to be won.
It caught our eye that Kyle Bass, president of Belt Construction in Texarkana was a big contributor to Mayor Adrian Perkins' campaign. Too big. Louisiana campaign finance records show that his donation of $4,500 just before Perkins' runoff victory, was over the $2,500 individual limit. Mayor Perkins was recently ordered to give back the extra $2,000.
It turns out Belt Construction was also one of Mayor Ollie Tyler's biggest donors. The company gave her two donations of the maximum $2,500 for a total of $5,000. And a check of Shreveport's consent decree records shows that of the dozens of contracts awarded in the first two phases, four of them went to Belt Construction,worth $20,503,353.
Kyle Bass declined comment for this story.
We also found that Wicker Construction of Shreveport made a $2,500 donation to the Tyler campaign. It had been awarded ten consent decree contracts worth more $41,012,638 during the Tyler administration.
Wicker has not responded to our request for comment.
Back to that big contribution from Kyle Bass of Belt Construction to Adrian Perkins. The Perkins administration says if Belt Construction gets more contracts, it won't be because of that contribution.
"The Mayor doesn't award those contracts. Those contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder automatically," says Perkins' spokesman Ben Riggs.
But, says political expert Jeff Sadow, "It's never great when you have a process where contributors end up getting city work."
Sadow says Shreveport mayors have historically held sway over most of the city's Architectural and Engineering Committee, which recently recommended a new project manager for consent decree work.
The committee of nine includes these four of the administration's department heads -- Engineering, Water and Sewerage, Public Works and Airports. Plus there are two appointees by the mayor.
The other committee members are the chair and vice chair of the City Council; and the city's purchasing agent is a non-voting member.
"The way the process is in Shreveport, it's just so open ended that it does allow a greater chance for that kind of influence to be had on the committee," Sadow says.
After the contract expired with the first manager, CDM Smith, the A&E committee has recommended that Mayor Perkins hire a team of Burns McDonnell and Bonton Associates. They'll be paid $10 million dollars a year.
As for the appearance of favoritism for contractors that shovel campaign cash to mayors, Riggs says, "We're talking about the largest infrastructure project in the city's history. "Regional contractors that perform that kind of work -- practically every contractor who does that type of work is involved in some shape, way, shape, form or fashion with the consent decree at some point.
Former Mayor Ollie Tyler also weighed in, saying, "I was not involved in the process of awarding contracts. And my staff and the A&E committee followed the law. I did not know who contributed and never tried to interfere with the process."
But John Nickelson, who as Vice Chairman of the City Council is part of the A&E Committee, told us via email, "If the decision were mine, I would give serious consideration to banning political contributions to mayoral and City Council candidates by contractors who do business with the City."
Nickelson says the federal government has such a ban. He says the Louisiana legislature should do the same. He says he's looking into the possibility of a local ordinance.
Tyler says a ban should be enacted.
Riggs says there's already a great deal of oversight applied to city contracts by both the administration and city council.