Monday, May 25, 2009

Do Bob and Irvin read the paper?

We all know that our current mayor won't acknowledge any responsibility if the city's in bad shape in three years. If he comes with a grand vision of the city's future and personally chooses the contractors to start the work, it won't be his fault if his successor can't find the money to finish the job, it won't be Nagin's fault. But, is the rest of the city's leadership every bit as delusional? For example, do Bob Becker
City Park leaders have not secured money for the other primary elements -- a children's splash park near Marconi and an amphitheater planned for a portion of the tract where the tennis courts are now. But officials are hopeful that the flurry of activity will lead to more government and private dollars.

"Donors, as a general rule, give to successful things," said Bob Becker, the park's director. "That's because everyone likes to see progress.

"And when people see lots going on, it gives them confidence that you will use their money in a good way. So, we're hopeful that by moving all these projects along, it will make it easier to raise money from corporations, foundations and government agencies."

and Irvin Mayfield
The $650 million goal for all these initiatives isn't out of reach, said Mayfield, adding that donations have been received from such sources as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Pritzker Foundation.

realize that the economy is still pretty f***ed-up?

Last Fall, some local bloggers rightly blasted Ned Lamont for referring to the financial crisis as our Katrina, however, the "world class" crowd better realize that people who have less money due to "their Katrina" aren't going to fork over money to help us recover from our Katrina. I think might shoot the next civic leader who says "bigger and better."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Funny old quote

It was not the night's only episode in which Nagin professed to be an unwitting victim of injustice in politics. Later, he employed a part-jovial, part-indignant tone during the Alliance for Good Government 's endorsement forum.

"I hope that once I sit down to write my book, one chapter of the book won't be, 'How can a mayor, Ray Nagin -- who opened up the doors of City Hall to deal with the corruption issue, who yelled at the tips at the brake-tag stations, who stopped all this crazy contracting that was going on -- has gone through four years without a scandal, and couldn't get the endorsement of the Alliance for Good Government ,' " he said. "I hope that's not in my book."

The quote appeared in the Times Picayune* shortly before the 2006 election. The funny thing is, Nagin gave a pretty good description of the great corruption crackdown: it amounted to little more than yelling. That's a point I'll return in an upcoming post, but, in the meantime, it's a funny quote.

*It's no more Mr. Nice Guys as candidates trade attacks - ALSO: Nagin 's conspiracy theory; Five for Fielkow; Look who came with Couhig

Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Thursday, May 4, 2006
Author: Michelle Krupa and Gordon Russell Staff writers

What's entirely missing this time?

Over half the city's residents rent their homes. At least, that was the case before Katrina. Yet, neither the mayor nor the city's daily newspaper seem to care about 53.5% of the population.

Mayor Nagin:
Everyone has a right to return to this city, especially if they own property.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that the Picayune's editorial against raising the homestead exemption barely noted the fact that raising the exemption would almost certainly lead to higher rents. The Times Picayune didn't mention it at all in Saturday's editorial.

As a renter, I just feel so unwanted.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blurry memory, I suppose

The mayor claims to have been making a heroic stand in New Orleans:
I have made some tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. To lead effectively, you must sometimes tell people what they need to hear and not what they want to hear. Sometimes you have to go against the grain and upset powerful people. Sometimes you have to cuss a little to get people in power to help suffering citizens. Sometimes you have to stare greed in the face and say "No, everyone has a right to return to this city, especially if they own property."(wtf?) Sometimes you have to stand up to the double standards and do what you think is right for all people and not just a chosen few.

When he was actually lying on the beach in Jamaica:
For residents of New Orleans' most ravaged neighborhoods, there is no more pressing issue than whether they will be allowed to renovate or rebuild on their property.

Now, after weeks of only glancing discussion by state and local leaders, a group of urban and post-disaster planning experts has forced the potentially explosive issue to the forefront, saying the city must concentrate its rebuilding efforts on the highest and most environmentally sound sections or run the risk of haphazard development that results in miles and miles of blighted neighborhoods.

The panel of more than 50 land use experts, all members of the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, drafted a map to illustrate areas they believe are ripe for collective buyouts or future green space , including most of eastern New Orleans and Gentilly; the northern part of Lakeview; and parts of the Lower 9th Ward, Broadmoor, Mid-City and Hollygrove. Their draft report was presented last week.

While it remains unclear who has the ultimate power to make those decisions, it appears that the ball is mostly in Mayor Ray Nagin 's court.

The mayor was not available for comment this week because he was in Jamaica taking "much needed" family time, according to Communications Director Sally Forman.

Nagin also failed to show up last week at the ULI presentation, widely viewed as the cornerstone of his Bring New Orleans Back Commission's master planning efforts. Forman said at the time that the mayor couldn't attend because he was in Washington. On Tuesday, however, she said he was in Baton Rouge at the time of the presentation, and left the same day for a weeklong vacation.

At least, that’s how the Times Picayune reported it on November 25, 2005* . When he returned a few days later, the paper reported his strong opposition:
Elected officials and residents from New Orleans' hardest-hit areas on Monday responded with skepticism and, at times, outright hostility to a controversial proposal to eliminate their neighborhoods from post-Katrina rebuilding efforts.

Even Mayor Ray Nagin , whose own commission asked the Urban Land Institute to devise the restoration plan, said he is reserving judgment on the most radical aspect: to abandon, at least for the near term, some of the city's lowest-lying ground.

"I'm not ready to concede that neighborhoods need to be demolished," Nagin said after an emotional three-hour public hearing on the Urban Land Institute plan that was unveiled this month. During the meeting, Nagin reiterated his intention to ultimately "rebuild all of New Orleans.**"

In fact, the talk of a "reduced footprint" and "green spaces" had begun two months earlier, almost as soon as residents were allowed back into the city, and that’s the first record that I can find of the mayor taking anything even remotely resembling a firm stand on the issue. He had, as I recall, made vague statements along the lines of "You know man, I think we should rebuild all of New Orleans." But, I don’t recall the mayor taking a stand until it became obvious that feelings were stronger among residents who wanted to return home than among the mix of residents and outside advisers who thought that a reduced footprint might be better. If anybody can find any record of the mayor actually saying a firm "No" to talk of a reduced footprint before it became the politically expedient thing to do, I’d love to see it.

I guess it not’s that big a deal (breaking news: Nagin exaggerates), but the suggestion that the mayor made a tough, unpopular decision strikes me as just another example of Nagin bullshit.

*Experts include science in rebuilding equation - Politics noticeably absent from plan
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Friday, November 25, 2005
Author: Martha Carr Staff writer

**Don't write us off, residents warn - Urban Land Institute report takes a beating
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Author: Frank Donze Staff writer

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

There's more than one queen of mean in this deck

Once again, Lolis Eric Elie:
Presumably, public officials realize that Louisiana law allows for few exceptions to the documents considered public records. But average citizens -- who might e-mail a public official about criminal activity or a personal issue -- might not realize their correspondence is subject to public records law.

If, for instance, a constituent wrote to his or her council member to complain about the crackhouse next door, the criminals would be able to learn who reported the nuisance.*

Washington brushes aside such concerns, preferring to view her creation as a teaching moment, a chance to inform the citizens of their rights and responsibilities.

"It's responsibility both on the government side and on the citizen side, " she said.

"I could not imagine that a citizen who has been energized and has been invited to engage would not know that, just as records you receive from the government are public records, so are all the records you send."

Perhaps because of my own personal concerns, my immediate reaction was: "Fuck bitch, have the guts to say 'The private life is dead,' if you just don't care who gets hurt in your personal pursuit of justice. Don't give us bullshit reasons that contradict each other."

Of course, it's possible that Washington's no Strelnikov, just a well-intentioned political activist who forgot about the real human impact of her actions. If that were the case, though, I would have expected an entirely different reaction. Seven words: "I'm sorry. I hadn't thought about that." Nobody would have expected her to drop the matter, just to proceed a little more cautiously.

When I consider Washington's Austin background, her connections to the Jefferson machine, her possible abuse of the attorney/client relationship and the unusual circumstances under which Washington came into possession of the council emails, I have trouble thinking of her as just an overzealous, but well-meaning, community activist. Then again, I'm biased. I've emailed Stacy Head, but the only personal information that I included in that email was my pay at a university library. The pay was embarrassingly low, especially before a step up in rank, but nothing to make me hate anybody. I also mentioned this blog, which is semi-anonymous, but that's also not reason for me to hate anybody.

However, not long after Katrina, I emailed other council members and mentioned a medical treatment that I would not want to have turn up anytime somebody Googles my name. It was a stupid move, but I was dealing with post-Katrina stress (like everybody else in the city) and perhaps looking for any outlet to vent, and the medicine had strong psychological as well as physical side effects. In other words, like probably hundreds of other New Orleanians, I had a lapse in judgment. I certainly wasn't engaged enough to think about public records laws and I seriously doubt that most people who write their city council representatives are either. Now, I'll worry about what people will find when they Google my name after other council emails are released. Thanks for the teaching moment Tracie.

Now, it's entirely possible that emails will be released with enough redaction that no private citizens will have personal information revealed. If so, it won't be because Washington insisted on it. Jarvis DeBerry continues to insist that there should be no redaction at all. How can the publishers of the Times Picayune expect any of the city's residents to read their paper, when even its own writers don't?

*George Ingmire made a the same point more strenuously at Humid City:
How many lives could be put in jeopardy if Ms. White were to post these emails? Who will be in charge of selecting the emails for posting on

Everyday concerned citizens write their councilperson about everything from crime problems to zoning concerns. Releasing these emails would be the tantamount to exposing potential witnesses and would further damage the already crumbling trust we all have in our city government.

I can't find specific links but similar points were made about private health matters, can't remember if they were made in articles, op-ed columns or letters to the editor, but they did appear in the paper -- the paper that Jarvis DeBerry apparently doesn't read.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

She better not be offended

So much for ignoring a shit stirrer's shit.
The most confrontational words were aimed not at any other candidate but at Mayor Ray Nagin.

While other candidates talked of finding peace with the administration despite recent, very public dust-ups, Clarkson advocated using the budget, the council's main source of power, to even the scales.

Boulet said that the council "has the power to create a parade. If the mayor wants to be at the head of the parade, he can. If he doesn't, he doesn't...Five votes overrides a veto."

Stephanie Grace wrote that in her Oct. 7, 2007 column (not available online). As I recall the event, Head didn't quite do justice to Boulet -- the ellipsis took the place of some strong words on Boulet's part, if memory serves. Also, Boulet went first and got a very positive response from the crowd. I got the impression that Clarkson saw that the audience wanted a city council that would stand up to the mayor and decided to trump Boulet's emotion with know how. Still, she seem prepared to back up what she said. That part of the reason why I recommended a vote for Boulet or clarkson, and that's why Clarkson's been such a disappointment.

Now, read the Picayune's account of Stacy Head's emails:
In an exchange of messages with Councilwoman Shelley Midura, Head refers to Clarkson as "an ASSS" and "a disaster" and says, "I am so tired of her old time politico bs I can't stand it." Midura replies, "I know -- jackie just literally pays lip service to us, and it ain't workin anymore."

Head's not alone in being tired of Clarkson's "old time politico bs."

I think that this aspect of the email controversy is just silly, but I will be curious to see how Head's comments about a food stamp user will somehow be used as a sign of a racial prejudice. Public comments by politicians about "welfare queens' and others who take advantage are often thinly veiled racial appeals, but Head thought this was a private message, why would anybody feel the need to use "code words' in a private conversation?

I haven't posted much since the email controversy started a couple of months, but I have been tempted to comment on Jarvis DeBerry's columns on the matter (I'm sure that's a surprise). On march 12, Lolis Eric Elie wrote:
Presumably, public officials realize that Louisiana law allows for few exceptions to the documents considered public records. But average citizens -- who might e-mail a public official about criminal activity or a personal issue -- might not realize their correspondence is subject to public records law.

If, for instance, a constituent wrote to his or her council member to complain about the crackhouse next door, the criminals would be able to learn who reported the nuisance.

DeBerry has written several columns about the topic, at least two of those columns ridiculed the thought that council members should expect their emails to be private, but he never says anything about the privacy of residents. Of course, he's never felt the need to reconsider his first column on the subject. He never does. A famous quote, of indeterminate origin comes to mind whenever I read DeBerry.

Of course, it didn't help that Head, Fielkow, and company tended to discuss the matter in legal rather than political or emotional terms. They talked too much about pending legal issues and not enough about the privacy of private residents. They certainly didn't use terms like "crack house," "fear for personal safety" or "private health matters" as much as they should have. Make the legal case in court and make the political case when the a reporter sticks a microphone in your face, right? It would have been so easy to put Tracie Washington on the defensive before it got this far.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I'll bet the bikes didn't have lights.

In a conversation about crime last Winter, another local blogger said something about young guys on bikes making him nervous, especially at night. He went on to ask another person present if it was true that the problem of muggers on bikes in the French Quarter had grown worse in recent months. I don't out as much as I used to, but even I had heard similar stories. This City Business report on armed robberies in the French Quarter doesn't say anything about, but this post* about an incident in Marigny does.

I didn't push it as a topic of conversation, but during the discussion last Winter, I mentioned something that had occurred to me a few nights earlier. While walking along Bayou St.John one evening, I noticed three bicyclists turn onto Moss, heading in my direction. Before they got close enough for me to determine age, race or gender, or look for cultural clues, I had decided that they weren't bike riding muggers. It took me a few minutes to realize that because two of the three bikes were equipped with lights, it subconsciously registered that there was nothing to worry about.

So, here's the question, should riding a bike without lights at night be considered probable cause? There is a state law requiring a front light, side reflectors and either a light or reflector on the rear of any bicycle ridden at night -- can't any obvious violation of law be considered probable cause? I'm not suggesting that pulling over every bicyclist on an improperly equipped would have an appreciable effect on the crime rates for the city as a whole (in most of the city, muggers probably use cars to look for victims), but it would eliminate bias issues and at least one concealed weapon would have been found had the three Marigny muggers been pulled over -- I'd be willing to bet that those bikes didn't have lights.

I'm certainly not suggesting that everybody who rides a bike without a light should get a ticket, the last thing we is more petty arrests clogging the system. However, I'd be willing to bet that, at least at first, such a policy would lead to a considerable number of concealed weapons charges. I wouldn't consider concealed handgun charges petty. Hell, for various reasons, I sometimes find myself riding at night without a light, and I wouldn't want to get a ticket everytime that happened. But, I couldn't certainly understand getting stopped and frisked and having a records check run. If it caused me to miss the beginning of a TV program, that would be my own fault for riding without a light.

I can see a couple of obvious drawbacks to such a policy. Outside of the French Quarter and Marigny, I can't see it having an appreciable effect. Exceptions might have to be made for bicycle delivery people (who might consider it safer to ride in the Quarter at night without a light), and that could lead to the slippery slope of officer discretion. The city might not be able to resist the temptation to turn into a revenue measure, although I can't imagine there being enough potential revenue to offer much temptation. It might be that, once a police officer calls in a code violation to run a check for outstanding warrants, he's obligated to write a ticket. That would lead to the problem of time and resources being wasted on petty offenses, but, if that's the case, the law could be changed.

I'm not suggesting this would be a major breakthrough, but there's an easily defined problem, or smaller part of a larger problem, and I'm sugesting a partial, only partial, solution. Muggers use bicycles to get around in a relatively small, relatively congested area (The French Quarter, parts of Marigny, probably parts of the CBD), but the police obviously can't stop and frisk every cyclists in that area. Even if I weren't a cyclist, I'd cringe at the thought of such an obvious infringement on civil liberties, but I'll guarantee you that the thugs also break other laws that would give the police probable cause to pull them over -- in addition to laws about bikes being properly equipped with lights and reflectors, there's also riding against traffic. Sure, the muggers would adjust, but that's the way it always work. The police come up with a new traffic for combating crime, if it works there's an increased number of arrests and drop in crime. Then, the criminals come up with new tactics and crime rates go back up. So what? You take the temporary drop in crime rates and have the police come up with new tactics down the road.

*Part of a crime roundup at NOLA-DISHU.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

What's (almost entirely) missing?

Though I agree with the Times-Picayune editorial page staff that raising that raising the homestead exemption would be a bad idea, I can't say that I was impressed by Thursday's editorial. Though I'm no fan of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, it's probably correct that businesses pay too much of the property tax burden in Louisiana. However, the editorial covered that.

I also agreed that:
Raising the exemption -- even in increments, as proposed in House Bill 485 -- would wipe out millions of dollars in tax revenues that pay for services like schools, drainage and infrastructure repairs. Local governments could be forced to cut services or shift the burden to businesses and renters.

So what's my beef? Well, as The BGR points out:
The millage rate impacts would also increase the tax
burden on the owners of rental properties and indirectly on their renters. Most, if not all, of the increase is likely to be passed on to renters, making their housing
less affordable. This could undermine the ongoing efforts to increase the supply of affordable rental housing throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Yet, the passage that I just quoted contains the only mention of the effect on rents in the entire editorial -- one word.

There's also something that seems to be missing in local news. Since increasing the homestead exemption would not be in the interest of most businesses,* it's easy to find reports of business groups speaking out against. However, the poor and oppressed tend be renters and the children of the poor and oppressed tend to be public school student. So, one can reasonably conclude that the poor and oppressed would be hurt by an increase in the homestead exemption. I was sure that there were organized groups that spoke out on behalf of the poor and oppressed locally. Yet, I can't find any evidence of anybody speaking for the poor on this issue.

*An increase in the property tax on businesses could add to the relative advantage of big box retailers that have been able to obtain property tax exemptions from local governments.

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