Is Rome Burning?
When Mayor Ray Nagin first announced the appointment of Richard Ieyoub as his point man on criminal justice issues June 26, skeptics wondered how effective the former state attorney general could be. Ieyoub's unpaid position has no legal authority, and the Lake Charles native, who now works as an attorney in Baton Rouge, had little experience with the Byzantine politics of Tulane and Broad. "By the time he learns the politics alone, Rome will be burning," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, at the time of Ieyoub's appointment. Now, six months later, Goyeneche admits he has been impressed with progress Ieyoub has made with local criminal justice officials, who often squabble among themselves. "I have to admit, I spoke too soon," Goyeneche says. "He has done his homework. I respect what he has accomplished." Asked if Ieyoub's endorsement of state Rep. Karen Carter over Congressman Bill Jefferson might hinder Ieyoub's ability to work with elected officials who supported the incumbent, Goyeneche said, "If they hold grudges based on who endorsed whom, God help us." For his part, Ieyoub sounded a conciliatory tone after the election, offering to work with Jefferson and his supporters on rebuilding the criminal justice system after Hurricane Katrina. "I intend to continue to work with anyone who is interested in improving this critical aspect of our city's recovery, and I have no reason to believe that Congressman Jefferson would not do the same," Ieyoub said in a statement. Nagin endorsed Jefferson, and District Attorney Eddie Jordan is among the members of Jefferson's political family. -- Johnson
Trailer Ban Plan
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts is urging civic leaders to express support for the parish's March 31, 2007, deadline for removing FEMA trailers. Extensions will be granted only for property owners who meet "strict criteria," Roberts said in a letter to neighborhood groups last week. "It has become a great concern for us that some trailers are occupied by nonresidents and in some cases federal law is being violated with the renting out of FEMA trailers," Roberts said in the letter. The councilman told Gambit Weekly that he wants constituents of his West Bank district to report any violators to the feds. (The toll-free hotlines are Katrina-Rita Fraud, 866-720-5721 and 1-800-CALL-FBI.) "We have a lot of cases where relatives have family members or friends staying in their trailer," Roberts adds. That's fraud, says FEMA spokesperson Ronnie Simpson. "When we find out, we take the trailers away," Simpson says. "Our recertification teams are out and constantly checking on it." No statistics on violators were available. As of Dec. 14, more than 12,700 parish residents were still living in FEMA trailers. An additional 700 mobile homes have been removed as residents have returned to their homes or relocated, Simpson says. Parish President Aaron Broussard is expected to tell the parish council on Jan. 10 how he will implement the trailer ban plan. Many residents trying to rebuild still face delays with contractors, insurers and the state Road Home program. The parish trailer ban does not apply to FEMA trailer parks, which are located on the West Bank but outside of Roberts' district. -- Johnson
Hunt Still in Command
Brig. Gen. Hunt Downer of Houma, a former speaker of the House, is still serving as Gov. Kathleen Blanco's "acting" legislative director. A March 13 press release from Blanco insisted it would be an "interim" gig, but Downer remains on the job. "I do everything else in between," Downer says. In addition to being Blanco's middleman with the Legislature, Downer serves as assistant adjutant general of the Louisiana Army National Guard and as secretary of the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Downer adds that he'll "probably" stick around for next year's regular session, which convenes in April. Blanco appointed Downer earlier this year amid criticism that communications weakened between her administration and the legislative branch. Downer, a conservative Republican, has maintained a high profile since he left public life in 2004 -- after running for governor against Blanco and others. -- Alford
A coalition of Louisiana environmental groups has announced its intent to file a federal lawsuit against EnerVest Operating, a major operator of natural gas wells in the Monroe Gas Field. The groups want the company to clean up mercury-contaminated wetlands and other soils at gas fields in Ouachita, Union and Morehouse parishes. The move by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic could open the floodgates for related litigation. Backing the move are the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Louisiana chapter of the Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network and Louisiana Audubon Council. The law clinic alleges that EnerVest has allowed its mercury meters, which are attached to its oil wells and contain as much as 10 pounds of mercury, to pool in certain places and thereby contaminate surrounding soil and wetlands. Mercury meters have been phased out in other parts of the country and on federal property in Louisiana in favor of nonmercury-flow meters. "Why are they continuing to contaminate private property?" says Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council. Currently, there are 41 mercury-in-fish advisories statewide, including seven within the Monroe Gas Field. The coalition asks EnerVest to reply and to present a plan to clean up the mercury waste. If it does not, the environmental organizations say they are committed to filing a federal suit to force the cleanup. -- Alford
Jazz Fest lead sponsor Shell, as well as Jazz Fest producers Festival Productions and AEG Live, have awarded initial grants that are expected to reach $250,000 to local organizations that carry musical and cultural traditions of New Orleans. Standing among a host of Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club officials in their mustard-yellow blazers, Jazz Fest creator Quint Davis called Zulu "New Orleans' original black and gold." Davis, who is president of Festival Productions, announced the grants last week with Tom Miserendino, CEO of AEG Live, and Frank Glaviano, a vice president of production for Shell Energy Resources. The grants are intended to support New Orleans music at its roots. "I can appreciate the culture," says Glaviano, who grew up in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and whose father played drums in a local band. "This is the kind of effort that can be overlooked by large corporations." An initial grant of $30,000 will help underwrite insurance costs for Zulu's 2007 Mardi Gras parade. The Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme will receive $25,000 to renovate its building, which houses Mardi Gras Indian suits, Social Aid and Pleasure Club (SAPC) outfits and an extensive video archive of Indian, SAPC and jazz funeral events. Funds also will be distributed through the Norman Dixon Sr. Annual Second-line Parade Fund to help SAPCs defray the cost of parade fees and to help Indians buy materials to make new suits. Senior members of the Young Men Olympian Benevolent Society were on hand for the announcement. The 122-year-old society will receive assistance to rebuild its headquarters, which flooded during Katrina. Already a Jazz Fest presenting sponsor, Shell committed an additional $30,000 to the fund. AEG's Miserendino added that entertainment companies owe a debt to New Orleans for its contributions to American music. He is working with Festival Productions to identify education programs for children to benefit from the new program. -- Coviello