On just about every level, this is a depressing tale to tell.
Like cities across America, Bastrop is struggling with declining revenue.
Like cities across America, a major employer and taxpayer - in our case, International Paper - has pulled the plug on its operations and contributions to the economy. So city fathers are left to figure out how to fund operations with a decline in revenue.
And while we roundly renounce its plans to take advantage of what can only be called a colossal mistake on the part of two legislators, we do give the city points for panache in their plan to quick take operations of two privately-owned utility companies.
Quick take is an authority governments often need to move public projects forward. For example: There are 10 people who own property along a roadway scheduled for widening. If nine accept - reluctantly or otherwise - the agency's offer for their property and one refuses, the government should be allowed to quick take the property, paying the owner the appraised value and moving the project toward completion.
Quick take was never intended to allow government to simply assert its right of ownership to private businesses. To say it oversteps the intended use of the action is a gross understatement.
That Rep. Sam Little and Sen. Mike Walsworth allowed themselves to be “duped” or “lied to” or however you call what happened after they crafted the legislation is something for another day.
Residents in the city - and many outside who are served by Atmos Energy and Peoples Water Service - have been asking the mayor and her advisors to answer questions about the proposal to quick take the companies. Last week, six citizens posed questions to Mayor Betty Alford-Olive and the Bastrop Board of Aldermen at their monthly meeting. Following the statements and inquiries, the mayor appointed two people certain to profit financially from the plan - city attorney Doug Lawrence and financial advisor Steve Nosacka - to address the citizens. Lawrence and Nosacka spoke, but failed to directly answer any of the questions.
While some would say its serendipity, we chose to say it was divinely inspired that the public's right to know coincided with Sunshine Week, the annual observance sponsored by media outlets across the country, to highlight the public's access to government records. Using Louisiana's Public Records Law, the Enterprise requested copies of correspondence between the mayor and officials with the two utilities. We know of at least two documents that weren't provided, the city's initial request to meet with Atmos officials and a response from Citizens that it would meet with the city to negotiate a possible purchase price.
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If the mayor and her administration want the public to have confidence in their efforts to lead the city, being anything less than 100 percent forthcoming is not the way to get there.