Another Clerical Error
Now that Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Williamson Butler is out of jail, she needs to amend apparently erroneous financial reports showing her campaign for mayor is deep in red ink, a state auditor says. On March 2, Butler reported a $92,706 campaign deficit -- one day before her stunning announcement that she would run for mayor and not seek re-election as clerk of court. Further review by this newspaper found Butler reported the same deficit in Feb. 14 filings, even though her campaign reported repaying nearly $100,000 that she had loaned her own campaign. At Gambit Weekly's request, a state auditor for the Louisiana Ethics Commission reviewed Butler's recent filings and found the clerk of court had miscalculated. "She made a $100,000 loan from herself to her campaign then she repaid it, then she 'repaid' it again on the report, which [erroneously] gave her a campaign deficit," the auditor said. Butler actually had $9,800 in her campaign coffers on March 2, the auditor said. Butler's campaign must correct the filings or face possible civil penalties by the state ethics board. As clerk of Criminal Court, Butler is the chief record-keeper for the local criminal justice system and the city's top election official. -- Johnson
Eye of the Storm
As attorney for Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Butler, Yancy A. Carter has been in the eye of Butler's stormy dispute with a battery of judges at Tulane and Broad. But Carter has his own court fight coming up -- with the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Carter, a candidate for a Criminal Court judgeship in the 2003 primary election, owes nearly $10,000 in late fees and penalties for two separate campaign finance violations, according to the state ethics board. The board has already won a $1,300 court judgment against Carter for late filings of one campaign report from that 2003 race. Now, the board is suing him for $8,500 for failing to file a supplemental report from the same campaign. Both suits were filed in the 19th Judicial District Court at Baton Rouge. Carter could not be reached for comment. Ironically, the board on Feb. 27 won a court judgment against Franz Zibilich, chief deputy city attorney for the City of New Orleans. Zibilich, like Carter, was a candidate in the October 2003 primary for the unexpired term of the late Judge Patrick Quinlan. State Judge William Morvant of Baton Rouge ordered Zibilich to pay the ethics board $1,100 in late reporting fees. -- Johnson
Just before the start of last week's Alliance for Good Government forum featuring candidates for mayor, moderator Jeff Crouere intoned an unusual request of the candidates. "Watch your language," he pleaded, noting that "we've had a few problems with this in the past." The request for civility and decorum was triggered by the fact that the forum was being videotaped for rebroadcast on Cox Cable. The candidates obliged, although Crouere couldn't resist making a wisecrack about Clerk of Court Kimberly Williamson Butler, who was a no-show. When it would have been Butler's turn for opening remarks, Crouere looked at her empty chair and asked if "Gandhi" was ready to speak. Earlier that day, upon her release from jail for contempt of court charges, the embattled Butler compared herself to Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi -- all of whom had been jailed during their human rights crusades. -- DuBos
The Alliance for Good Government has issued the first round of its endorsements in the April 22 citywide elections. The respected group threw its support to Audubon Nature Institute CEO Ron Forman in the mayor's race. In the contest for two at-large City Council seats, the Alliance endorsed incumbent Oliver Thomas and newcomer Arnie Fielkow, formerly of the New Orleans Saints organization. The group's support of Fielkow dealt a blow to Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson, who gave up a safe district seat to run at-large. In other council races, the Alliance is backing incumbent Jay Batt in District A and Stacy Head in District B. In citywide parochial elections, the group has endorsed incumbent sheriffs Marlin Gusman and Paul Valteau Jr. as well as incumbent Civil Court Clerk Dale Atkins. In the open race for clerk of Criminal District Court, attorney Nick Varrecchio won the Alliance endorsement. -- DuBos
No Gas-Price Gouging?
Even though the Attorney General's Office was inundated with complaints about gas stations jacking up their prices during last fall's two hurricanes, the subsequent investigations yielded nothing. In other states where Katrina and Rita never made landfall, however, there were convictions, settlements and major fines issued for similar violations. Nearly 1,500 consumers statewide called or mailed in complaints to the office's Consumer Protection Section last year before and after the hurricanes, says Jennifer Cluck, an AG spokeswoman. "But upon further investigation, none of them rose to the level of where they would have violated that pricing statute," she says, referring to a law the Legislature passed last year to curb such abuse. The state attorney general is responsible for enforcing the law that prohibits providers of goods and services in Louisiana from increasing prices when a tropical storm or hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico. Attorneys and economists have slammed the law as vague and difficult to enforce. While Louisiana was unable to find violators following the hurricanes, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer launched a three-month probe following Katrina and fined 15 stations a total of $63,500. Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue oversaw 15 settlements resulting from gas gouging, including both consumer restitution and civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. -- Alford
Election Guide Coming
The League of Women Voters earlier this month set up a virtual "stake-out" for candidates in the April 22 primary election. For three days, League members manned a table at the entrance to the recorder of mortgages temporary office at the New Orleans Convention Center, attempting to schedule interviews with all 116 candidates who qualified for a raft of city offices. As a result, the League will publish its 2006 Election guide. "We hope to have it posted on our web site (www.lwvno.org) as early as Wednesday (March 15)," said says Walker, president of the local chapter. The primary election is April 22. However, displaced residents and locals alike may vote absentee in-person on April 10-13 and April 15 at registrar of voters and satellite voting offices around the state, Walker says. In addition, the Legislature has extended the counting of absentee votes by mail through April 21 to enable more displaced New Orleanians to vote. "Democracy has never been practiced like this before," Walker says. The veteran civic activist also says the League has seen high levels of "grass roots" activism since Katrina. "There is a new energy in this city of civic participation and it is going to be a force to be reckoned with." -- Johnson
Bucking State Workers
State Rep. Warren Triche, a Chackbay Democrat, will push legislation during the upcoming regular session to decrease the number of state jobs by offering some workers early retirement options. In the past, early retirement has been offered as an alternative to workers who had a terminal illness or a spouse taking a job out of state. "But the hurricanes last year changed everything," Triche says. "Many people who want to go back to their jobs can't because the jobs aren't there any more." Others have also been displaced or have lost everything and are exploring new options, he adds. House Bill 45 is nearly identical to two other early retirement bills Triche has pursued in recent years, and neither faced heavy opposition from the Legislature. This year's version would offer early retirement to members of the Louisiana State Employees' Retirement System who are at least 50 years old with 10 years of service. If a state employee decides to take advantage of the program, he or she would receive a retirement benefit equal to as much as 2 percent of their average compensation multiplied by the number of years of creditable service. Only one out of every three positions left vacant by the program would be refilled, Triche says, unless the commissioner of administration and the secretary of state Civil Service decide to retain the post. The program would run from Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2008. It's unclear how many state employees might take advantage of the option. -- Alford
Finally -- Daylight!
Gasper Schiro is moving up -- at last. After nearly three decades in the basement of the aging Civil District Court building, the affable register of conveyances for Orleans Parish is moving out of the courthouse and up to the sixth floor of the nearby Amoco Building. The move will take place sometime in May or June, he said. "You know how long I've been trying to get out of that basement?" Schiro asked a reporter. Answer: Schiro has won seven consecutive citywide elections, but served all 27 years in the courthouse basement. Asked what he likes about his new office, Schiro replied: "I can see daylight." He'll have some time to enjoy it. Schiro does not have to seek re-election to another six-year term until 2008. -- Johnson Broadband Faith The Washington-based newspaper Roll Call, a Beltway staple for political junkies, got a major scoop earlier this month on Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Metairie Republican. While worshiping at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday, Jindal "spent a great deal of time on his BlackBerry during service and prayer, both reading emails and sending emails," Roll Call reports. The newspaper further quotes an unnamed eyewitness saying, "I guess Rep. Jindal couldn't sacrifice his BlackBerry for God." -- Alford