New Orleans District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey held her second series of town hall meetings last week, addressing crime and infrastructure issues among four neighborhoods she represents — the French Quarter, Algiers, St. Roch/Bywater and Treme.
In July 2014, four months after being elected, Ramsey held similar meetings with the same objective. This year, the tone was markedly different. In 2014, crime was the focus in the wake of an uptick in violence across District C, and residents complained about a lack of police protection. More than 200 people attended the French Quarter meeting last year; last week's meeting brought out about 50.
Though Ramsey stated that the purpose of the meetings was to connect residents with a panel of representatives from government agencies like the Sewerage & Water Board, Entergy and the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), some attendees were frustrated that Ramsey would not directly answer questions.
"On a regular basis, our office is contacted, we answer the questions, but we go to these people," Ramsey said during the French Quarter meeting, which took place May 11 at St. Jude Community Center on North Rampart Street. "And so I thought it was a very good opportunity for you to be able to come to them directly with your questions."
"You're not going to answer any questions?" one woman in the audience said as the meeting drew to a close. "Why were you here, then? You could have had one of your aides here introduce them."
"Normally, my crime meetings go like this: Blight, blight, blight, narcotics, blight, blight, streetlights, potholes, blight, blight — things that fester crime." — NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly
Last summer, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, then-NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas and NOPD 5th District Commander Christopher Goodly attended all four meetings.
This year, representatives at Ramsey's meetings included Alex Selico-Dunn of Entergy New Orleans, who talked about hurricane preparedness; Mtumishi St. Julien, executive director of the Finance Authority of New Orleans; Joe Becker, general superintendent of the Sewerage & Water Board; Vince Smith, city director of capital projects; Mark Jernigan, director of the Department of Public Works and Pura Bascos, director of code enforcement. The panel fielded questions ranging from sidewalk repair to traffic citations to road closures.
Goodly, who arrived at the Bywater meeting just hours after a fatal shooting at 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Melba's restaurant on a busy stretch of Elysian Fields Avenue, said crime in the area is down, despite the day's events.
"I can't predict the crime, I have to give you the facts," he said. "We're down 4 percent in persons (violent crime), 24 percent in property and 21 percent overall." Those numbers are as of May 9, he said.
"I've been here since 2011, I've been through some challenges and rough times in this district," Goodly said. "The pace of the crime, the amount of crimes — we have slowed down. I don't say we're in good shape, but we have slowed down tremendously. I'm down 30 officers, and we still have a reduction in crime."
Goodly attributes some of that to the Louisiana State Police, whose presence as supplemental law enforcers has now been extended twice. Over the past year, Goodly said, his department's size has remained low, with 74 officers instead of the 112 he started with in 2011, something he hopes will change after Mayor Mitch Landrieu's recently announced 10 percent pay increase for NOPD officers.
"The State Police have absolutely helped," Goodly said, "If I had 10 more people that's sworn in, that have arrest powers, that can investigate criminal activity — it doesn't matter what patch they have on, I would take those 10 any day. They are a tremendous asset."
In the case of the May 1 vandalization of St. Roch Market, Goodly said police are close to making arrests, aided in part to security footage from the market's surveillance cameras.
As for the change in the tone of Ramsey's meetings from last year to this year, Goodly said it doesn't surprise him — and not just because crime is down. People seem to be more interested in the factors that cause crime than crime itself, he said.
"Traditionally, I can have a crime meeting and we talk nothing about crime," he said. "Normally, my crime meetings go like this: Blight, blight, blight, narcotics, blight, blight, streetlights, potholes, blight, blight — things that fester crime.
"They think that these things need to be addressed and eradicated because that's what causes crime. That's how it goes."