Carlson: Evaluate Bossier City Council from your computer

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The Bossier City Council’s diligence in employing today’s technology to provide greater public access to Council proceedings allows Bossier residents to become or stay informed about the Council’s work.  Few citizens regularly attend Council meetings – unless some hot button issue draws a rare crowd.

So the Council has worked to bring their meetings and proceedings to the public, and move beyond follow-up newspaper reports or perusal of the latest meeting minutes.  Today, interested citizens can access the live streaming of the Council’s regular meetings and view past meetings from whatever computerized device that’s handy by simply accessing the city’s bossiercity.org website.

Bossier citizens should take the opportunity to experiment with this method of keeping up with their respective Council members’ work by viewing last Tuesday’s Council meeting, the majority of which was dedicated to addressing an issue raised by city utilities director Jeffrey Anderson.  And after said review, interested citizens can use the same website to provide feedback to Council members with the handy e-mail option on the website.

But a little background on that issue first … At the Council’s previous meeting, Anderson had provided members a comprehensive written report concerning the issue of employing and retaining Class IV license holders in the city’s utility department.  The state requires that every municipality in the state with a population exceeding 25,000 employ these Class IV operators to oversee utility system operators.

Anderson’s review also detailed the process for obtaining such a license, noting that while the process might be completed in two years in a perfect world – the reality was more along a four to six year schedule.  Anderson explained, “… the requirements for obtaining a Class IV license are rather arduous, time consuming and expensive.”

For Bossier City, that means nine Class IV operators each day – one for the city’s water plant and two for the city’s two waste treatment plants – for three eight hour shifts per day.  In order to staff that schedule and provide for absences due to illness, vacation and training, the city’s utility department should employ 20-22 of these operators, Anderson said.

The problem, according to Anderson, is that there are only 554 Class IV Wasterwater Treatment license holders in Louisiana, and 603 Water Treatment Class IV license holders in the state.  As a result, this has become a competitive employment field that’s seeing municipalities and industry vying for a limited number of trained operators.  Already the city’s utility department has lost two Class IV operators – one to Bentler Steel and another to a local municipal system – and others are understandably looking at improving their work and financial standings.

Moreover, the competitiveness puts the city at a disadvantage in hiring new Class IV operators – and as above noted, training is a long-term proposition.

So bringing this issue to the Council had two purposes.  First, Anderson requested the Council’s approval to very moderately adjust the pay of three of the city’s Class IV operators, a move that would have zero net effect on his department’s budget as he would simply take the funding from a vacant position.  Second and very important, Anderson’s goal was to bring to the Council’s attention the competitiveness of this employment field, and the necessity to develop a long-term strategy to address the issue.

After four Council members responded to Anderson – three negatively and generally not responsive to the issue at hand – the Council voted 4-3 to deny the proposed pay increase, which was the actual agenda item.  Only At-large Council member David Montgomery argued that while the Council had passed an ordinance prohibiting pay increases (in 2010), the Council retained “the latitude not to by-pass the law, but to make an amendment in our careful judgment and analysis on these unique situations.”

This is a unique situation particularly because the other half of the conversation to address how the city will compete to retain these employees did not occur.

So this video of meeting, available on the City’s website, provides an opportunity for citizens to evaluate how their respective Council members addressed what is likely to become a more significant issue in the near future – and then shoot an e-mail to those Council members with a little constituent feed back.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the BPT. She may be reached at martycarlson1218@gmail.com