Caddo Commission approves Commissioner Cawthorne's trip to S. Africa

Caddo Commission approves Commissioner Cawthorne's trip to S. Africa
The Caddo Commission will hear Lynn Cawthorne's request at their regular meeting Thursday.
Caddo Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne wants to travel to South Africa. (Source: Caddo.org)
Caddo Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne wants to travel to South Africa. (Source: Caddo.org)
The only documentation presented at Monday's meeting is this letter written by Cawthorne. (Source: Victoria Shirley, KSLA News 12)
The only documentation presented at Monday's meeting is this letter written by Cawthorne. (Source: Victoria Shirley, KSLA News 12)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The Caddo Parish Commission has approved a controversial travel request to send Commissioner Lynn Cawthorne to South Africa.

Cawthorne submitted the request to use taxpayer dollars to help fund the trip.

The request read:

"Approve travel to Johannesburg, South Africa to establish collective business opportunities between Caddo Parish and South Africa with other business owners, elected officials and art community leaders throughout Louisiana and the United States."

The agenda item states his trip is requested from July 18-27, 2016.

Cawthorne has been relatively tight-lipped about the details of the trip, telling KSLA News 12 he wanted to present all details at once at the Caddo Commission regular meeting Thursday afternoon.

The subject was not discussed at their Monday work session meeting, nearly all members voted to put the trip request on Thursday's agenda. Only Commissioners John Atkins and Mike Middleton voted against placing the item on the agenda.

The only documentation presented at Monday's meeting is the following letter written by Cawthorne:

"Commissioners,
Proposed travel would replace NACo Annual Conference and those funds would be utilized for South
African travel.  If approved, Commissioner Cawthorne would be responsible for any balance beyond 
NACo cost allowance"

NACo or the National Association of Counties is an approved conference, according to the Commission's most recent travel policy. Trips to NACo have cost commissioners in the past between $2,294 on the low end to $3,523 on the high end.

Typical flights from Shreveport to Johannesburg, Africa cost between $2,000 - $3,493. A quick search also reveals that hotels there average around $150 a night, that multiplied by 8 nights equals to $1,350.

In an interview Thursday, Cawthorne revealed that the total cost of the trip is expected to be around $6,000. He's asked taxpayers to cover 30 percent of that cost and explained he would pay for the rest out of pocket.

In a vote, Commissioners approved Cawthorne's trip, but did not discuss how much taxpayers would be putting towards the event.

During the interview, Cawthorne said, "it's a better opportunity for Caddo Parish and better use of Caddo Parish's money."

He also said he's hoping this trip will gain Caddo Parish better business relationships with South Africa.

Cawthorne said the main purpose for the trip is to bring back business opportunities to Shreveport and Caddo Parish. Those opportunities include boosting the parish's arts, culture and heritage.

KSLA News 12 went out into the community to ask Cawthorne's constituents how they felt about the proposal.

District 6 resident Lester Walker doesn't agree with the travel, "You can do anything via Skype as far as a business meeting goes, most business meetings are conducted via phone or via internet," he said. "So why would you have to go there personally to fix something that is here, a problem that's here."

James Eames has been a constituent of District 6 for decades.

"I don't think we have any interest going to South Africa, I mean we have problems here, he needs to take care of in his own district," Eames said. "I think he needs to stay at home to take care of business here."

"This isn't like a luxury trip to the Bahamas or Montego Bay," said Cawthorne. "I can see us collaborating with them in some intuitive way to bring an international arts festival once the Caddo Commons is built."

Army Sgt. First Class Tony Williams is from Keithville, but is currently serving in Korea and says he supports the commissioners trip to Africa.

"One of our own local politicians looking to go out at make Caddo Parish international a good way for us to move forward is to open up and become global," said Williams.
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Just a few months ago, the Caddo Commission revised its travel policy to require trips outside of the pre-approved conferences to be voted on by the majority of the commission.

To take a look at Commissioner Cawthorne's itinerary for South Africa, click here.

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