In what's widely viewed as a breakthrough in relations between New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, city and suburban officials have inked a deal to enhance fire safety at the Louis Armstrong International Airport while increasing water pressure for 70,000 residents of nearby Kenner and parts of Metairie.
Requested by New Orleans Aviation Director Roy A. Williams on Jan. 27, the cooperative agreement was unanimously approved by the Jefferson Parish Council on March 17 and, three days later, by the New Orleans City Council. Jefferson Parish President Tim Coulon and Councilman John Lavarine paid a rare visit to New Orleans council chambers for the signing of the joint "cooperative endeavor agreement." The deal allows Jefferson Parish to pay for and construct a $1.8 million water main across airport property, a project estimated to take nine months to complete. In return, the parish will furnish two fire hydrants at the end of a runway to the city-owned airport. The deal ends seven years of bureaucratic gridlock and political inaction.
"I have been in office in 25 years, including 17 years with the city of Kenner ... and I have never had the cooperation that I have now," says Lavarine, a frequent critic of the previous city administration's operation of the airport. "[Aviation Board Chair] Dan Packer and [aviation director] Roy Williams said, 'Man look, forget about the past, we're going to do it now.'"
Lavarine said he had been trying to get the city to approve the waterline since he joined the parish council in 1995, but the proposal was dogged by engineering issues and bureaucratic delays. Lavarine said he first broached the issue with Mayor Ray Nagin informally at a cocktail party hosted at the home of political fundraiser Bennett Powell, of Metairie. "When Ray Nagin and Roy Williams came on, they got the ball rolling in no time flat," Lavarine says.
Maggie Woodruff, deputy director of community and governmental affairs for the Aviation Board, says the inter-parish agreement is just the beginning. "I think we will see big action on (airport) governance-type issues, regional cooperation," Woodruff says. During his campaign for mayor last year, Nagin vowed to boost business in the region by restructuring the governance of the airport and to "do what is necessary" to build a third runway.
Battle of the Benches
New Orleans City Council members Jay Batt and Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson are defending themselves against separate citizen allegations that they violated state laws governing the release of public records. Both complaints stem from the council members' roles in unrelated but protracted battles over outdoor benches in the French Quarter and Lakeview.
Clarkson, who represents the Quarter, heads to Civil Court this week to respond to allegations by Brad Ott that she violated the state Public Records Act by failing to provide in a timely manner public records concerning her controversial decision to alter benches at Jackson Square. Ott alleges that after he hired a lawyer to enforce his request, Clarkson gave him press releases and other "fluff," but no documents that "shed any light" on the issue. Ott charges that public records he obtained separately from the French Market Corporation shows Clarkson was working "behind the scene" with other governmental agencies on to prevent people from sleeping on the benches. Clarkson could not be reached for comment at presstime. Civil Court Judge Roland Belsome will hear both sides beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, April 4.
In Lakeview, Batt is denying allegations by constituent C. B. Forgotston that the councilman violated the law by failing to comply in a timely fashion with his March 14 public records request for public information concerning a bench at West End and Robert E. Lee boulevards. Batt aide Esther Moody disagrees, saying the office consulted with the City Attorney to ensure compliance with Forgotston's request. "We have been completely in compliance; we bent over backwards for him," says Moody, who says her office responded to Forgotston's request within the three days required by state law, informing him that his request was being processed. On March 26, Moody says, the office sent him a notice saying he could pick up the information he requested.
The bench was removed at the request of Mayor Nagin's administration. Batt is considering an ordinance to replace it, after hearing from neighborhood groups. In a letter to one neighborhood group, Batt wrote: "This corner will be on the RTA route with or without a bench. The bench tends to discourage disorderly loitering at the stop and provides an ad space for local businesses."
"We have real stand-up loiterers out in Lakeview, whereas [sleeping] loiterers are frowned on in the French Quarter," Forgotston deadpans.