The sorry financial mess left by former Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Bob Odom is a cautionary tale of government overreach into the marketplace and poor oversight by those charged with the public trust.
A recent Advocate story documents Odom’s misadventures and their continuing impact on the state budget.
Among the boondoggles of Odom’s administration, which ended in 2008:
• A $72 million state-funded cane syrup mill in Lacassine in Jefferson Davis Parish went belly up, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.
• A cypress mill in Tangipahoa Parish also got lavish support from Odom’s department before closing as well. The state is selling its contents for parts, and the site will become a hurricane staging area for the Louisiana National Guard.
Odom built the Lacassine plant with help from department employees who, in many cases, had no construction experience — an expedient that threatened their safety and compromised standards. State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R- Jennings, said the plant never functioned properly because it wasn’t built by a licensed contractor.
Odom’s business plan for these projects couldn’t have passed muster as a strictly commercial venture, but he used lots of public resources to prop up grandiose schemes that eventually died under the sheer weight of their impracticality. This kind of state-directed manufacturing recalls the planned economies behind the old Iron Curtain, where enterprises grew from political expedience, not financial reality.
The lesson here: When a politician promises jobs and prosperity courtesy of the public till, be skeptical. Be very skeptical.