Jurors need spin doctor’s help on this one

Published 11:48 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If the price of a barrel of oil spikes back to $100-plus prices by the end of the week the Concordia Parish Police Jury should look into a new hire.

You see, the price of oil drives a lot of police jury decisions, whether the jurors realize it or not.

The success of the oil business in 2007 and much of 2008 has helped to pad the jury’s budget, jury finance committee chairman Randy Temple said. Because Louisiana is an oil-heavy state, local governments get a portion of oil severance taxes.

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And lately, that’s been a great thing.

The state as a whole has an $865 million surplus from last year.

And yet the state is bracing itself for a $1 billion budget shortfall in the coming year, due, in part, to decreased oil revenues. Tuesday night oil was $42.07 a barrel.

But don’t worry, Concordia Parish must not be affected by the same forces as the rest of the state, or even the country for that matter.

You see, the police jury — the parish’s highest governing body — isn’t too worried about recession.

They aren’t thinking about “the D word.”

And they aren’t crunching numbers, considering layoffs and saving paper clips like the rest of the country.

Instead, the jurors are giving themselves pay raises, all because oil padded the budget last year and sugarcoated their economic outlook for this year.

Starting in January, the jurors who want to will make $400 more per month. Their monthly salary will be $1,600 for a part-time job.

Many Americans weren’t making $1,600 a month at their full-time jobs before the recession hit. They may not be making anything now.

But the jurors will be soon.

And why? They deserve it, Red Tiffee, Jimmy Jernigan, Jerry Beatty, Willie Dunbar, Joe Parker and Carey Cook will tell you.

Being an elected official is dang hard work.

If it storms, you’ve got to get out and help with cleanup.

If your phone rings, you’ve got to answer it.

If one of your taxpayers has a concern, you’ve got to listen.

And you may just wind up working 20 or 25 hours a week.

Those were all reasons mentioned or hinted at during Monday night’s meeting when the jury voted 6-2 in favor of the raises.

But to average Joe taxpayer, those items don’t sound all that different from any other job in America.

And, on top of that, the job description of police juror hasn’t magically changed since before these men ran for office.

They knew what they were getting into.

Hence, the need for the new hire — public relations director.

Comments like “Our employees do the job for us — they make us look good,” during a discussion that resulted in decreasing the amount of an originally-proposed parish employee raise don’t come over well during a recession.

The jury’s Monday night meeting needs a PR spin.

The public relations director-to-be desperately needs to step to the microphone and explain away the apparent disregard for parish residents most of the jurors displayed Monday night.

A good PR director could tell us why the jurors are so desperately in need of taxpayer money.

And maybe, just maybe, then we’d be convinced.

But until then, we just aren’t buying it.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.finley@natchezdemocrat.com.