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Opinion: Citizen involvement lesson

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Last Tuesday’s Bossier City Council meeting included an unusual – but refreshingly welcome – interjection of citizen involvement during discussion of an agenda item.

The item under discussion concerned an ordinance to appropriate $76,000 to contract with an architectural firm for design of a new 3,000 square foot pool house for the Meadowview Pool.  City Engineer Mark Hudson fielded questions from Council members, and specifically from Council member David Montgomery, who asked about the total cost of the project.

Hudson estimated the total cost of the project to be $900,000.  Montgomery immediately found issue with such cost; Council member Jeff Free appeared to agree with his colleague’s concern that tax payers wouldn’t be too impressed with the estimated cost of the project.

Hudson explained that the current pool house was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that the structure was in such disrepair as to need full replacement.  He also noted that the estimated cost included a new fence, parking lot work and other items.  Even so, Montgomery indicated there would further discussion about the project as planning for it moved forward.

In preparation for the vote on introducing the ordinance, Council vice president Don Williams invited any further Council comment, and then asked members of the audience had any comment.

Courtney Williams
Courtney Williams

That invitation afforded the Council the opportunity to meet Courtney Williams, who confidently asked to be heard and was invited to the podium.  Williams, an Airline High School senior, attended the Council meeting as a part of a group of young high school women participating in a mentoring program sponsored by the Mayor’s Commission on Women.

Ms. Williams asked Council members if they believed the cost of replacing the building was related to making it ADA compliant – and a discussion that had only a few minutes earlier looked to be ended was reopened with a good deal more relevant information offered.

City Parks and Recreation Director Clay Bohanan reiterated Hudson’s description of the work that would be required to bring the Meadowview Pool up to ADA and city standard, and also noted that the estimated cost included demolition of the current building, significant work on the parking lot, and replacement of pool mechanical elements.

As a result of Ms. Williams’s question, the Meadowview Pool project costs very quickly became understandable and certainly more acceptable as clarity on the scope and need of the project and its cost became very clear.

Sometimes it just takes an interested citizen to make a difference in understanding how the system works, or how a project is funded, or why a project might at first glance appear overly expensive, but once details are explored look entirely different.  That interest infrequently occurs around a controversial issue, but the City Council chamber is generally absent of much in the way of citizen attendance or involvement.

After the meeting Ms. Williams said that she felt the issue hadn’t been fully explored and wanted to know just how much ADA compliance influenced the cost of the pool project.  Here’s hoping Ms. Williams continues to ask questions of her governmental representatives and invites her contemporaries to do the same.

And we older taxpayers and voters might take a lesson from her as well.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at martycarlson1218@gmail.com