Accountability & Transparency by Timothy Achan Gates, Correspondent

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The Covington Weekly Educational Series on Economic Development in St. Tammany Parish generated discussion about the accountability and transparency of the economic development process. In the course of research, this writer spoke with Don Shea (Director, Economic Development), Trilby Lenfant (Deputy Chief Administrative Officer), Representative Tim Burns, the St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce (on behalf of Larry Rase and DonahueFavret), David Folse II (Tammany West contributor) and Lacey Toledano (President of the Chamber, on behalf of Mayor Cooper, on behalf of Brenda Bertus [Executive Director of the Economic Development Foundation.])

While the series focused primarily on public and quasi-public entities with regard to economic development, the Chamber was tasked with responding, despite the organizations being Un-Related (a concept that from the respondent’s point of view cannot be stressed enough.) In the course of the various conversations, the word “accusations” kept insinuating itself into the exchanges. When asked directly to provide an example, none was available because no accusations have been made. What is asked for is accountability and transparency.

With regard to bonds issued by the Development District/EDF: The bonds are issued on Federal, State and Local Tax Dollars. Bondholders also receive generous tax incentives and exemptions in exchange for “job creation,” of which generally 30% is required for local hires. Every tax paying citizen has a stake in this bond money and should be aware of how every dollar of it is spent. The EDF’s deals are shrouded in secrecy due to confidentiality agreements. Covington Weekly has previously covered the issue of existing conflicts of interest and the question of how the bond issues create an unbalanced business climate (see “No Taxation Without Representation,” July 2, 2014.)

Economic development dollars should directly benefit the area for which they are intended. There is no mechanism in place to ensure this, because information related to the bonds is not readily available to the public. The Public, in turn, should have a say in the economic development that is pursued by the Parish by way of referendum, rather than finding out about developments after deals are made. The opportunity for a rational response to these issues is open and encouraged, and Covington Weekly will continue to investigate and publicize information that should already exist in the public realm.

Timothy Achan Gates is a local musician and writer. Contact by phone is 985-288-9609 or e-mail at codexproventus@gmail.com