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Bridge Over Troubled Waters
After months of ignominious world press, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris met recently to try and bridge a racial and political divide that widened between their two cities after Hurricane Katrina. "We are just going to try to work together a little bit closer," Nagin said last week. "I was very pleased to finally meet with the mayor," Harris said of Nagin. "He was very attentive and asked some good questions. We realize greater cooperation is going to be needed in the future." No future meetings have been scheduled to prevent a repeat of the racially charged Katrina confrontations between mostly black evacuees from New Orleans and cops from predominantly white Gretna. Hurricane season starts June 1. Of his meeting with Gretna officials seven months after the bridge debacle, Nagin says, "We had a misunderstanding about what we were trying to do in allowing people to walk [across the bridge]." Nagin says his administration wanted evacuees to walk the Westbank Expressway to Interstate 310. However, evacuees began seeking relief from the sweltering heat by exiting into Gretna and other West Bank neighborhoods. Nagin, who last year insisted his administration tried to save lives by urging evacuees to seek drier ground on the West Bank, last week said, "They (evacuees) mostly did this on their own." -- Johnson

Political Impediments?
Three weeks after meeting Mayor Nagin in New Orleans, Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris says he met NOPD Chief Warren Riley for the first time after reopening ceremonies for Wal-Mart in New Orleans last week. In separate interviews, Riley and Harris say they chatted briefly about the Katrina bridge debacle and pledged "to get on the same page" to avoid future discord. Riley took command of NOPD in November. Meanwhile, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson says the April 22 primary in New Orleans is hampering the kind of political reconciliation needed to prepare the metro area for the next hurricane season. "I have no problem working with Chief Riley," Lawson says. "It's a damn shame because we are caught up in a New Orleans election." Several black ministers, including one Orleans Parish School Board member and a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, were expected to lead a protest march to Gretna over the weekend. Despite the highly publicized bridge dispute, Lawson says, Gretna police spent part of the first two months after the storm offloading ships on the West Bank that brought hurricane relief and supplies bound for Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. -- Johnson

Here a Fee, There a Fee

Regular legislative sessions are often referred to as "non-fiscal" because they cannot consider bills that raise taxes. But even non-fiscal sessions can consider "fees," which carry with them an age-old debate. Some new fees, such as one proposed by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for boat registration this year, walk a fine line because they could raise more money than needed to run boat registration programs. In such instances, a "fee" could actually be a "tax." C.B. Forgotston, an attorney who once served as chief counsel for the House Appropriations Committee, says such measures are illegal. "It would be considered a tax and cannot be considered during the 2006 regular session," he says. During this "non-fiscal" session, at least 342 "fee" bills have been filed, according to the Legislature's Web site. -- Alford

Forgive and Forget
While Gov. Kathleen Blanco may worry about "Rita Amnesia" -- concerns that the devastation in southwestern Louisiana is overshadowed by that of Katrina -- she likely worries less about "Special Session Amnesia." Since putting lawmakers through two tumultuous hurricane sessions, Blanco has made changes in her tone and her staff. Most notably, Brig. Gen. Hunt Downer, a former state representative from Houma, has taken over as The Governess' legislative director. When asked last week how he plans to deal with lawmakers, especially those who faulted the administration during recent special sessions, Downer reported that a new leaf had been turned. "We're now in a very different session," Downer says. "It's time to put the special sessions behind us." -- Alford

Still Waiting on FEMA
Gov. Kathleen Blanco contends that her housing plan would be fully on line if only the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would finish revising its flood maps of devastated areas. Without those documents, people won't know how high to build their homes or even where to build them. "I say, if FEMA has to keep people working around the clock to produce the flood maps, by all means do it," Blanco says. "Enough is enough." When hounded by reporters last week to cough up a completion date -- estimates have ranged from April to May -- R. David Paulison, the acting FEMA director, tap danced around the subject. "I would rather take heat for them being late than for them being wrong," he says. -- Alford

NOPD Looting Probes Continue
New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley says two former federal agents are helping NOPD's Internal Affairs Division review Katrina-related cases of police misconduct. "Of 140 cases investigated to date, 70 officers have been fired for desertion," Riley says. "We suspended another 40 or 50 for abandonment or neglect of duty." The chief also says four women were cleared of looting charges but suspended for neglecting to make arrests during the pillaging of stores after Katrina. Several other officers are still under investigation for looting. "It is not over with yet," Riley says. Given the same set of circumstances again, Riley says New Orleans police would move to prevent looting by securing permission from store owners to distribute food, water and shelter items to needy citizens -- a practice that took place at several locations during Katrina. -- Johnson

Spay, Neuter and Register
Among the anonymous victims of last fall's hurricanes were the many pets that were displaced and never reunited with their owners. To avoid that in the future, the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission is pushing legislation to create an official governmental pet registry. House Bill 772 by Rep. A.G. Crowe, a Slidell Republican, would create a voluntary, statewide database that would help link pets who become lost with their owners. "This will be of considerable benefit with regard to disasters, the likes of which we experienced last year," says Pinckney A. Wood, chairman of the welfare commission. There would be a registration fee of $15, which could be cut in half if the pet is spayed, neutered or fitted with a microchip tracking device. -- Alford

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