comment
C. Ray's Bad Info
Mayor Ray Nagin demurs when asked if he's running for governor, insisting he's "focused" on being mayor. But a check of the city's Web site may leave skeptics unconvinced. (http://www.cityofno.com/portal.aspx?portal=35&tabid=22&tabindex=0) Under the link to the "Mayor's Office," the "Staff & Contact Info" page still lists Sherry Landry as the City Attorney; Landry resigned on Nov. 30, 2005. Charles Rice is listed as the mayor's chief administrative officer, but he resigned the No. 2 position in June 2005. Dr. Brenda Hatfield has been Nagin's CAO since then, but she's still listed under her old job as the mayor's director of intergovernmental affairs. The directory also retains Greg Meffert as the mayor's chief technology officer. Meffert resigned July 17, 2006. Interestingly, Sally Forman is still carried as the mayor's communications director. She resigned Feb. 7, 2006 -- after her husband, Audubon Institute CEO Ron Forman, decided to run against Nagin in the spring of 2006. On June 27, 2006, the mayor announced the departures of Don Hutchinson as the city's economic development director and Alberta Pate as city housing director, but they were still listed in their old jobs on the mayor's Web page late last week. A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment by press time. -- Johnson

Foti-Jordan Rift Could Be Worse
Chaos roiled anew in New Orleans' struggling criminal justice system last week, but it could have been worse. Imagine if state Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. had begun a performance audit of District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr.'s office, as requested by Mayor Ray Nagin on July 12. Jordan's office initially welcomed Foti's proposed 10-year review after a public uproar over the DA's dismissal of a quintuple murder case. Instead, Foti stepped aside after Jordan embraced an independent review by the National District Attorneys Association, a recommendation of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission. The AG's relations with the DA quickly soured last week after an Orleans Parish grand jury refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou in the deaths of four elderly patients at Memorial Medical Center on Sept. 1, 2005, during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Foti immediately blasted Jordan's handling of the controversial case, saying the DA failed to call five expert witnesses to testify before the grand jury. Foti arrested the doctor and two nurses on second-degree murder charges last year and called a press conference to trumpet his role in the case. All three women have since been cleared of criminal charges. A year ago, Jordan was the only local DA listed on Foti's campaign finance committee. -- Johnson

The Veto Aftermath
Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, wasn't shy about using her veto pen after the recent legislative session adjourned June 28, and she managed to unnerve all sorts of conservatives -- no doubt with a tickle as she prepares to leave office. For starters, the Louisiana Republican Delegation has formally asked Blanco to assign any new state money identified this year to a barrier island maintenance program that suffered a $64 million setback after an administrative veto last week. The delegation asked that the money for the Barrier Island Stabilization and Preservation Fund at least equal the "amount of the Governor's irrational funding plan," which was approved in a variety of spending bills passed during the recent regular session. While Blanco, a Democrat, did veto $64 million intended for the state's barrier island maintenance program last week, it didn't completely eliminate the possibility of a huge payoff for the initiative by year's end. The money is tied to the pending sale of the state's 1998 tobacco litigation settlement. That sale has no timetable, however. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Family Forum slammed Blanco for axing legislation by Sen. Rob Marionneaux, a Livonia Democrat, which would have created an income tax deduction for families with children enrolled in private or parochial schools. "It is unfortunate that Governor Kathleen Blanco has chosen, once again, to protect Louisiana's status quo by vetoing Senate Bill 45," says LFF Action President Gene Mills, who estimates that 124,000 families would have benefited from the deduction. -- Alford

Experts A-Coming
The National District Attorneys Association is putting together a team of experts to evaluate the office of embattled DA Eddie Jordan Jr. If public comments by other officials are any indication, the outside experts of the NDAA can't get here soon enough. State Attorney General Charles Foti last week ripped Jordan's handling of the Memorial Medical Center case. In a separate case, Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo last week acquitted a former NOPD officer of second-degree battery in the videotaped beating of a retired teacher in the French Quarter -- then blasted prosecutors for failing to indict two FBI agents also involved in the Oct. 8, 2005, arrest. "They're already starting to work on assembling a team of technical assistance experts with experience in various aspects of operating a district attorney's office, such as relations between the DA and the police department," Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says of the NDAA. "They will come down and spend a week here and [produce] a written report within four to five weeks after they leave. So you are talking about a very, very quick turnaround -- two months from now until completion." The report will be made public, Goyeneche says. Jordan has said he welcomes the review. The NDAA (www.ndaa.org) is a national standards-setting organization for some 30,000 state and local prosecutors. -- Johnson

Preaching to the LRA
A New Orleans activist group comprised of civic, faith-based and community leaders is lobbying the Louisiana Recovery Authority to restore $21 million cut recently from a far-reaching rental program meant to provide alternative housing to 2005 storm victims. Named for the Old Testament prophet whose warnings went largely unheeded, the Jeremiah Group can be credited with helping steer a few of the initial changes made to the contract the state has with ICF International to manage the Road Home program. But now the group has a new challenge. "We've got a rental crisis on our hands, with rents increasing by 50 to 200 percent," says Jeremiah spokesperson Rev. Jaime Oviedo. "Now is not the time to be cutting funding to help resolve that crisis." To support his argument, Oviedo accuses the LRA of not cleaning up its own backyard by instituting a 5 percent cut for administrative costs, which accounts for $189.9 million over a 10-year period. "Right now, the LRA appears to be prioritizing non-budgeted administrative costs until 2016, [rather than] restoring affordable rental units this year," he adds. "That's not a choice we think is defensible." In D.C., U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, came off the bench after his involvement with a call-girl ring became public and filed a strongly-worded amendment that would allow the LRA to use $1.2 billion from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for Road Home costs. Vitter's amendment also would expedite and streamline bureaucratic regulations that have slowed the approval process in the past. -- Alford

Art, Ethics & Volleyball
In Louisiana, politicians often blow off the requirements of state campaign finance laws -- and any penalties that result. So, by comparison, newly elected Covington City Councilman Marty Benoit's recent request of the state Ethics Commission may have seemed a tad over-scrupulous. Benoit, who also is a professional artist, asked the ethics board if he could give some of his art works to an "over-50 volleyball team" from his area that was competing in a national tournament. It is customary for participating teams to exchange gifts, Benoit stated in his written request. The ethics board approved, ruling the donation did not violate the state Code of Governmental Ethics. "It was the right thing to do -- asking for permission," Benoit told Gambit Weekly by email. As a result, the Covington volleyball team, which included the clerk of the Covington City Council, used several of Benoit's ink prints for the customary exchange of gifts at a national senior Olympics tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. The team placed seventh. Benoit (the name rhymes with "Renoir," according to his Web site) paints Louisiana nature scenes. -- Johnson

LRA Flack is Convention-Bound
Natalie Wyeth, who has figured in some of the most controversial Louisiana news stories in recent years through her role as press secretary for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, is moving on to a new gig. If her party affiliation was ever in question -- she was hired under a Democratic governor -- her farewell email cleared everything up. "I'm shipping out to Denver to be the press secretary for the Democratic National Convention in 2008," she writes. "This will be my third convention but the first time I've had an opportunity to help put it together from the very beginning. The last two were amazing, but I'm hoping this one will be different -- by accomplishing its mission for once!" LRA Deputy Communications Director Melissa Landry will be taking over Wyeth's post. As for what she will miss most, Wyeth picks the people, with one caveat: "The 'shrimp on a stick' at the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge may run a close second." -- Alford

Add a comment