Waiting on Jindal
Will Rob Couhig's endorsement of Mayor Ray Nagin be the beginning of a Republican bandwagon for the re-election campaign of the Democratic mayor -- or just a unique event? Will Congressman Bobby Jindal be the next member of the GOP to step into Nagin's corner before the May 20 runoff election? Jindal's six-parish district includes portions of New Orleans. Nagin infuriated fellow Democrats by crossing party lines to endorse Jindal in the 2003 runoff for governor, won by Democrat Kathleen Babineaux Blanco. Gambit Weekly contacted Jindal's office April 20 to ask if he planned to reciprocate for the mayor who went out on a limb for him. Chris Paolino, Jindal's press secretary, did not return a phone call or two emails requesting comment. Meanwhile, several sources say former Gov. Mike Foster, who gave Jindal his political start, has been working behind the scenes to drum up Republican support -- and money -- for Nagin as part of an organized GOP move to weaken the state's Democratic infrastructure, which would help Jindal in his expected bid for governor next year. Nagin at one time donated $1,000 to George W. Bush. -- Johnson & DuBos
Leges Get Ethics
Pass The state Ethics Board recently ruled that Rep. Willie Hunter, a Monroe Democrat, could travel to Ohio to investigate a job-training program on the dime of a private company. SIVAD Inc., a vocational equipment-supply company, will be paying for the legislator's commercial air travel. In most cases, according to the Ethics Code, lawmakers cannot accept anything of economic value from such entities, but the recent opinion cites an exception for "reasonable transportation from a private source when organized for educational or informational purposes." On another legislative issue, the board gave its blessing to lawmakers who are related to assessors voting on legislation that impacts their relatives' political fortunes. R. Gray Sexton, the board's top administrator, opined that lawmakers can vote on bills in which immediate family members have an economic interest as long as they file an explanation in writing with the House or Senate and then copy the board. The statements should be filed within three days and describe the matter in question, the nature of the potential conflict and the reason why the lawmaker is able to cast a vote that is "fair, objective, and in the public interest." Rep. Jeff Arnold, the son of Fifth District Assessor Tom Arnold, and Rep. Alex Heaton, the brother of Seventh District Assessor Henry Heaton, have come under fire for their votes against consolidating the city's seven assessor offices. -- Alford
Specks Off the Menu?
Many people can barely remember the last time they ordered blackened redfish in a local restaurant and knew with every bite that the meal came from Louisiana waters. That's because the commercial harvest of the redfish was outlawed in the '90s after lawmakers banned gill nets, which often pulled up fish above a certain size indiscriminately. Speckled trout survived the total commercial ban back then, although commercial fishermen were restricted to using only rods and reels. Now even that could become a thing of the past. The Senate Natural Resources Committee will soon hear legislation by Sen. Joe McPherson, a Woodworth Democrat, that would abolish the rod and reel commercial fishery and restrict specks to recreational harvesting. If the bill passes as is, Louisiana speckled trout would be removed from restaurant menus, market freezers and other retail outlets. The coming debate is expected to be emotional, as commercial fishermen, still reeling from the aftermath of last year's hurricane season try to save one of their last economic footholds. -- Alford
Tulane University is in position to surpass city government as New Orleans' biggest employer -- a dubious achievement if it happens. Tulane, already the city's largest private employer, reported a payroll of 4,500 employees at the end of April. The city, meanwhile, reported 4,670 employees. Both Tulane and the city have discharged a combined 4,500 employees since Hurricane Katrina, citing financial constraints. However, the hemorrhaging of jobs at Tulane has stopped and rehiring has begun at some positions, according to university spokesperson Michael Strecker. Tulane's reorganization Dec. 8 resulted in the loss of 1,500 faculty and staff from a pre-Katrina workforce of 6,000. Meanwhile, the financial future of the cash-starved city and its workforce appears uncertain. A post-Katrina hiring freeze has not thawed. Of the city's 4,670 workers, 374 are unclassified employees who serve at the pleasure of the mayor; another 948 are Sewerage & Water Board employees. Mayor Ray Nagin on Oct. 14 laid off 2,900 of 7,400 employees, nearly a third of the workforce and one of the largest layoffs in city history. -- Johnson
The city owes millions of dollars in accumulated annual pay and sick leave to hundreds of veteran city employees and workers laid off after Katrina, city officials say. "It's a major problem right now," says Jerome Davis, the employee-elected representative on the city Civil Service Commission. The Nagin Administration has said there is no money in the budget to pay city workers for their accrued "terminal leave." The term refers to the unused annual leave and sick pay which the city pays out when a worker retires, resigns, dies or is laid off. "It is another form of deferred compensation that was promised to employees; it's not that much different than a paycheck," Davis says. "Of course, it is a 'rock-and-a-hard-place' situation [for the administration], but terminal leave is both a legal and moral obligation that cannot be wished away." Davis adds that it's "paradoxical" that many of the city's best employees were hurt the worst financially because they didn't use their sick leave. Some veteran police officers say the city's failure to pay terminal leave is gumming up their plans to retire. Some cops are even beginning to use up their accumulated leave before retiring, rather than forfeit it later. -- Johnson
Streaming Bush and Clinton
Former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton will deliver commencement addresses to the first post-Katrina graduating class of Tulane University on Saturday (May 13). The speeches are scheduled to last no more than 10 minutes each and will be Web-cast live (www.grads.tulane.edu). Ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the New Orleans Arena. After Hurricane Katrina, Bush and Clinton formed the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, which has raised more than $100 million. Of that amount, some $30 million has been dedicated to 33 colleges and universities on the storm-battered Gulf Coast. Among the recipients is Tulane, which reported $150 million in property damage and $153 million in lost operating revenue during the 2005-06 fiscal year. -- Johnson
Hint: Find the Boot
A poll conducted by National Geographic magazine recently revealed that one-third of respondents couldn't find Louisiana on a map. You know, Louisiana, the state that has been receiving international press attention since last fall? Bayou diehards shouldn't feel bad, though, as nearly half of the 510 individuals polled couldn't find Mississippi either. It's all part of an upcoming multimedia campaign called "My Wonderful World" that will target children 8 to 17 and encourage parents and educators to spend more time on geography. -- Alford
The Oyster is Their World
The Louisiana Oyster Task Force wants to implement a plan that uses federal money to resuscitate the oyster industry, which was severely damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Prior to last year's storms, Louisiana harvested almost 40 percent of the nation's oysters, but the hurricanes destroyed more than the average annual harvest. The storms also damaged boats, docks and other infrastructure, and displaced hundreds of workers. "The Louisiana Oyster Recovery Plan" focuses on five areas of need: vessels and locks, harvest areas, unloading facilities, processing plants, and market development. A cornerstone of the plan is removal of debris from oyster beds. Oysters suffocated in the silt and mud that the storms pushed on top of them, and they won't be able to return until the debris is removed. "We're currently trying to secure the money to implement this plan," says Mike Voisin, chairman of the task force. "Funds are earmarked for it in a Senate bill, and we're going to Washington to drum up support." -- Alford
In a "Scuttlebutt" item last week, we erroneously reported that LIFE, the political organization, donated a total of $24,000 to the campaigns of 16 candidates in the April 22 primary elections. In fact, it was the candidates who donated the money to LIFE to help defray expenses of printing and distributing the group's ballot. Also, an editing error in a separate item caused Ron Faucheux, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, to be identified as a Republican. Faucheux has been an independent for more than a decade. Gambit Weekly regrets the errors.