Flames Over Armstrong

What's black and white and read all over City Hall? Not the emails of Friends of Armstrong Park, a citizens group opposed to WWOZ radio station's efforts to build an expanded studio and office inside the city-owned park. While city officials met twice with WWOZ representatives to discuss the park in December, Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice flashed Friends Of Armstrong Park leader Leo Watermeier early this month asking to be removed from the group's contact list for daily email updates.

Watermeier refused, sending back, "Even your request to be removed from our e-mail list reveals how little you must value our input. That is a disappointment, but not really a surprise."

Watermeier then wrote to Nagin communications director Patrick Evans, calling Rice's request "a dereliction of his duties." Evans wrote back to say he believed Rice's request was within legal limits, which Watermeier took as a legal threat. "I take full personal responsibility for keeping (Rice) on the e-mail list, and if you, he, or Mayor Nagin thinks that is breaking any law, I invite you to bring charges against me," Watermeier shot back.

The suggestion that city officials have been unresponsive on this issue frustrates Evans, who says he remembers responding to at least one Friends email late one evening while he was coaching his son's basketball practice.

As for any fuss over meetings between WWOZ and city officials, Evans suggests that's a non-issue. "We don't even have a developed plan from 'OZ," says Evans. "If there's ever a plan presented to us -- before we approve anything, before we finalize anything, there will be public input."

The emails that Rice no longer wants to see have ranged far and wide. Some set out suspicions that Rice and deputy CAO Cynthia Sylvain-Lear were keeping the group's letters and messages away from Nagin. In two blow-by-blow accounts, Watermeier described laying in wait for the mayor outside of scheduled events, confronting him, handing him written messages directly and attempting to engage him in discussion on Armstrong Park. Other messages call for Sylvain-Lear to be removed from the discussion.

"I'm a little bit like a Jehovah's Witness on this subject," admits Watermeier.

On Jan. 7, deputy CAO Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, who was point person for the park under the Morial administration and continues in the capacity under Nagin, had her own meeting with Watermeier and fellow Friends member Randall Mitchell. Also present were director of property management Ronald M. Ruiz and Elaine White, executive assistant to councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. No one from WWOZ was there. Sylvain-Lear also met with Mitchell in mid-December.

According to Watermeier, city officials have yet to answer Friends of Armstrong Park's questions about a number of issues, including the legality of the 89-year lease for space that WWOZ signed with the city in 2002. Dave Herrera, acting superintendent of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, says the National Park Service holds firm to its commitment to restore four buildings inside the park starting this summer. And WWOZ general manager David Freedman stresses that his organization is following proper channels, but has lost more than $100,000 in pledges toward its capital campaign because of delays in the project.

And the emails? It's new territory, but Joe Cook, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, thinks it might fall under the heading of viewpoint or content discrimination. "If he (Rice) is receiving other peoples' points of view by email, he's got to receive everybody's," says Cook. "If it's harassment, that's something different."

-- LeGardeur


Ekings Back on the Air

Robyn Ekings, who as a reporter for WVUE-TV exposed David Duke's map for a racially divided America during his 1988 campaign for the state legislature, has returned to television journalism after more than a decade in public relations. The Louisiana Public Broadcasting network in Baton Rouge hired Ekings, a New Orleans resident, last month as a full-time correspondent for Louisiana: The State We're In, an Emmy-award winning TV news magazine now in its 27th season. Her reporting will be showcased statewide with LPB's live coverage of the inauguration of Kathleen Blanco beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, which airs locally on WLAE-TV (Cox Cable Channel 14).

"We had two dozen applicants for the position, from as far away as Alaska, and Robyn emerged as the strongest candidate based on her experience," says Jeff Duhe, managing editor of The State We're In.

In 1988, Ekings confronted Duke on-air with a map of a racial utopia that the white supremacist had published in a newsletter for the National Association for the Advancement of White People, an organization Duke founded in the early '80s after leaving the Ku Klux Klan. Duke, who is now serving time in federal prison for fraud, then argued that he merely re-printed the map, which showed Jews being relocated to New York City and African Americans resettled in Mississippi. However, the map was consistent with NAAWP editorials advocating segregation of the races, recalls Tulane University history professor Lance Hill.

"[Ekings] was one of the few television reporters that did anything perceptive on Duke -- and she was the only television reporter in New Orleans who did anything on the map," Hill says.

Since leaving WVUE in 1992, Ekings work has included a stint as public relations director of the Tulane Medical Center. This week, Ekings will profile new Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. for LPB's inauguration special. Future Ekings reports include a profile of Lt. Gov.-elect Mitch Landrieu on Jan. 23, a look at Blanco's options for the troubled state health care system on Jan. 30, and a Feb. 6 New Orleans-based investigation of how police can skew crime statistics to improve their own image. The regular half-hour programs air locally at 8 p.m. each Friday. -- Johnson

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