Concerns about transparency were the topic of lengthy discussion at the Webster Parish Police Jury meeting Tuesday.
A motion to table the letting of bids for the courthouse annex (formerly leased to Regions Bank) was made by Nick Cox, juror for District 8, because he felt the project had not been thoroughly discussed by the jury as whole.
“Especially with the expected decline in revenue for 2017, should we be considering such an extensive project when financial times are so bleak?” he asked the jury as he explained his position. “I feel that many of these decisions are being made behind closed doors and the jury (as a whole) is unaware of what’s going on.”
Jurors received a notice of proposed budget notes, which highlighted declines in the amount of $500,000, which will affect the jury’s General Fund. In addition, sales tax was down approximately $400,000 in 2016.
Jerri Lee, juror for District 9, said the jury operates several budgets, many of which have allocated revenue streams.
“One revenue stream may go down and the budget it is tied to is affected,” she said. “While another budget’s funding is secured, often backed by state or federal funds, and that budget and its projects are secure.”
Funding for the Courthouse Annex renovation will come from the jury’s ‘Courthouse Fund.’
“We have been building a reserve for the purpose of renovation and construction projects,” Ronda Carnahan, WPPJ secretary/treasurer said. “Those are dedicated funds for construction and maintenance of the Courthouse, Annex, Extension office and Health Unit.”
WPPJ President Jim Bonsall, District 6, said he believed the process had been performed responsibly and with the best of intentions.
“We do have the committee meetings, and even if a juror is not on the committee, I have tried my best to be available for any questions and open to discuss matters,” he said. “If you feel that has not happened, I apologize for the miscommunication, and we need to address how we share information.”
Juror Dustin Moseley, District 12, shared Cox’s opinion.
“I agree that I and other jurors are not always aware of what goes on in committee meetings,” he said. “Knowing what a committee is doing or recommends would be helpful before we go to take action in the regular meeting.”
Cox and Moseley both acknowledged they do not feel that improper actions have been taken or that there are malicious intentions among jurors or committees.
“I’d like to see us have better communication,” Cox said.
Lee offered a solution, noting that Cox and Moseley are among jurors recently elected.
“Perhaps we should have a better orientation for jurors and as a body take measures to help one another understand outcomes of committee meetings,” she said.
Juror for District 7, Steve Lemmons, said he often calls other jurors when he wants to know the discussion of a committee.
“We should know that we all have the ability to call one another and ask questions,” Lemmons said. “Just because we may not sit on a committee or go to the committee meeting, doesn’t mean the information wont be shared.”
Bonsall agreed and reiterated his desire to communicate with all jurors.
Daniel Thomas, Juror for District 3, said he feels lines of communication are open, but like Cox and Moseley, he feels committees should report to the jury as a whole before decisions are made.
Cox vocalized appreciation for his fellow jurors.
“It’s not that I’m worried about what individual jurors are doing. I respected and valued the jury before I was elected and do so even more now,” he said. “My concern is more for how what we do as a group occurs- the process. I appreciate us tabling this so we can discuss it further as a group.”
Voting in favor of the motion to table the letting of bids for the Courthouse Annex renovation were Nick Cox, Dustin Moseley, Bernard Hudson, Allen Gilbert, Bruce Blanton and Daniel Thomas.
Voting against the motion and to proceed with the agenda item were Jerri Lee, Steve Lemmons, Vera Davison, Steve Ramsey and Randy Thomas.
The motion to table passed, with Bonsall abstainting.