Ethics Fight Drags On
The long-running battle between the Louisiana Ethics Commission and Orleans School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz will likely drag into the New Year -- despite the elected official's apparent attempt to give up the fight, court documents show. In a stunning move, the state ethics board recently rejected Fahrenholtz's offer to pay $5,500 a month beginning Jan. 1, until he has paid off more than $32,000 in fines for violations of campaign finance reporting laws -- the highest amount owed by a Louisiana elected official. The board gave no reason for its Nov. 9, 2006 decision, said ethics board staff attorney Alesia Ardoin. Instead, the board will proceed with its request for a court-ordered examination of Fahrenholtz's finances. Last October, Fahrenholtz failed to appear for a "judgment debtor examination" scheduled before Orleans Parish Civil Court Judge Piper Griffin. At the request of the ethics board, Griffin issued a "no-jail" bench warrant for Fahrenholtz -- essentially a warning shot aimed at ensuring his appearance in court. A new hearing is scheduled for Friday (Jan. 12). Fahrenholtz attorney Phil Costa could not be reached for comment. Since January 2005, the ethics board has received court-ordered garnishments from Fahrenholtz's $10,000 annual school board salary, totaling roughly $114 a month. -- Johnson
Where's My Dollar?
During the runoff campaign for mayor last May, incumbent Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu sparred over estimates of the city's repopulation since Hurricane Katrina. Nagin's projections were higher and, according to Landrieu (and others), unrealistic. During one campaign forum, Nagin plunked a one-dollar bill on a table and "bet" Landrieu the city's population would hit 300,000 by the end of 2006. Nagin won the election, of course, but apparently lost the bet. The mayor recently pegged the city's end-of-the year population at 250,000 residents -- and acted as if he has said so all along. In fact, Nagin began "crawfishing" from his higher estimate not long after the election. By the time his 2007 budget went to the City Council in November, Nagin estimated the city's population at between 230,000 to 250,000 residents, based on estimates by local demographer Greg Rigamer. In a Dec. 22 press conference, Nagin said the city's repopulation had stalled because of "a lack of federal dollars" and delays in the Road Home grant program for homeowners. "I'm still sticking with the 250,000 number," Nagin said. However, he predicted the population would increase to 274,000 this month. The mayor added that his population estimates do not include migrant workers. -- Johnson
Talk radio has a new voice in the form of Jim Brown, the state's former insurance commissioner. It's not a surprising move, as the former politico has taken an activist tack ever since he spent a few months in federal prison for allegedly lying to the feds. In public speeches and in a self-penned book, Brown has gone to great lengths to clear his name, tell his side of the story and shed light on injustices in America's criminal justice system. From there, he started publishing weekly columns in statewide newspapers and maintaining a blog of sorts. Now he's on for three hours every morning starting at 8 a.m. on 99.5 FM, which has a signal in most parts of Louisiana. "The Jim Brown Program," which is also available on the Web, is a call-in show, but Brown says he wants it to be different. "There are a number of talk show hosts who cover the waterfront of political and social issues each day and gab the hours away with local listeners," he says. "I'm making a point here." Brown considers it a major career move, one that's on the front-end of an industry turning to clearer signals and pod-casting. "Talk radio seems to be where the action is," Brown says. "And get ready for some big changes. FM talk radio is about to come on like gangbusters." -- Alford
Mendoza Appeals Firing
Fired New Orleans Police Capt. Harry Mendoza will appeal his termination by Police Chief Warren Riley in a two-day civil service hearing scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Jan. 9. The former commander of the traffic division, Mendoza is accused of playing tennis when he was supposed to be working. Mendoza attorney Gary Pendergast says his client did nothing wrong. Mendoza, like other police captains, is supposed to be "judged on the efficiency of his command, not on the number of hours he worked," his attorney says. Mendoza's allies say his firing was politically motivated. He has long-standing ties to the Landrieu political family, and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu unsuccessfully opposed Mayor Ray Nagin's re-election last year. Deputy City Attorney Joseph DiRosa could not be reached for comment, but Riley says his disciplinary actions are based solely on the merits of cases investigated by the Public Integrity Bureau, now commanded by Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo. -- Johnson
The Legislature agreed last year that the images portrayed on Louisiana's official flag and seal should be uniform, but now it's unclear who should oversee the change. Gov. Kathleen Blanco last May signed legislation requiring the state bird -- the brown pelican -- to be portrayed on the state flag and seal as feeding its young with three drops of blood. D. Joseph Louviere, a student at Vandebilt Catholic High in Houma, noticed that newer flags did not include the same number of droplets of blood that older versions did and made a presentation to the Legislature last year. The new law ensures that all future flags and seals include three droplets, one for each baby pelican depicted. The historically accurate depiction is said to symbolize the sacrifices the state is willing to make for its citizens. Now there's a discrepancy over which agency should take the lead on the project. The Attorney General's Office issued an official opinion last week to Secretary of State Jay Dardenne suggesting that an "expression of legislative will is advisable to determine which agency or state official will be responsible for the design." Rep. Damon Baldone, the Terrebonne Parish Democrat who sponsored the original legislation, says he'll file another bill during this year's regular session to charge the secretary of state with the duty, but it may not be needed. "I don't think we'll need a bill for this, though," Baldone says. "I'll be following up with Jay Dardenne soon, and I think we can just work this out on our own. There wasn't any opposition to the bill." Where the droplets are placed on the flag, however, may need to be addressed in another measure. "Some of the designs we've seen have the blood drops all over the place," Baldone says. "We may need to be more specific on the spaces where they should be." -- Alford