Thursday, November 8, 2012

City budget hearings day 2: Ryan Berni's out of breath

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Day 1 was slow, but that was unavoidable. We began with grants, a long parade of underfunded nonprofits, each trying to secure a slightly larger tiny piece of a tiny piece of a shrinking pie. Then we had Safety and Permits. City Council cares about Safety and Permits, a lot, because code violations and permitting issues encompass a very large number of the complaints they hear from their constituents. This is understandable and fine, but it also means they tend to get caught up in minutiae.

Today, on the other hand has been — snappy is an inappropriate word for anything having to do with municipal government so I'll use one of municipal government's own words — streamlined.

(Summary follows after the jump)

Law Department

The Law Department/City Attorney's Office is looking at a 45 PERCENT CUT next year, from $11.5 million to $6.4 million. My God! Except it's not really a cut so much as a shuffling. The office's division of risk management is being transferred to the Department of Miscellaneous, to be administered by the Chief Administrative Office. Once it gets there, it's actually up for a $300,000 budget increase, from $3.9 million under Law this year to $4.2 million as Miscellany. Law will likewise not be responsible for NOPD consent decree litigation, which was budgeted at $1 million in 2012.

However, funding for general police/federal/civil service litigation is doubled in 2013. City Attorney Richard Cortizas said today that the increase will help pay for litigation and negotiations related to the new consent decree.

Civil Service Department

Civil Service gets cut about $160,000 ($1.62 to $1.46M). It will lose two positions (from 18 to 16). That will mean one civil service employee for every 330 city workers. (Personnel director Lisa Hudson said the national average is about 1:100) The city denied the department's requests for a number of programs, including police sergeant exams and an extra position to process employee discipline appeals. That latter one is a problem, Hudson said, because appeals processing is mandated by the state constitution. The department was funded for 21 full-time positions two years ago. Given the overall cuts to the department, appeals could drag on for an unacceptably long time. Notably, the Landrieu administration has identified reducing appeal times as one of its goals in reforming the department.

Ray Burkart, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, urged City Council to restore funding for sergeant exams, which Civil Service hasn't done since 2007. Empty supervisor slots have to be filled, Burkart said, and without the exams, he worries how they'll be apportioned.

"This will allow the administration to get provisional supervisors," Burkart said. "I.e. people that they pick and they like ... That's what happens when we don't fund these tests."

Office of the Inspector General

I'm going to skip past the overall budget here because most of the discussion focused on Independent Police Monitor (IPM) Susan Hutson. Hutson, who has a broad mandate — including oversight of internal affairs investigations and complaint intake — but is only funded for a staff of three four, including herself.

"I want you to do more," said City Councilwoman Stacy Head to Hutson, adding that she wanted to give her more resources with which to do more.

Discussion moved to the New Orleans Police Department's consent decree, specifically the process for identifying a federal monitor. The point here: Council members wanted Hutson to have a greater part in that process, rather than virtually none, which has been the case. Some even wondered if she might put in a bid on the RFP.

(Note: There's various reasons that would be unlikely. 1. Perhaps the most important is the consent decree itself identifies the monitor and the IPM as two distinct entities. 2. Hutson also referenced some "legal issues" that she believes would bar IPM from contracting with the city. 3. The consent decree says the monitor is to be identified through the city's purchasing process. 4. The document says the monitor is not a public agency or an agent of one.)

Apparently, and I missed this, Councilmembers erroneously referred to that process as a city-led search, which brought a breathless Ryan Berni — the mayor's chief spokesman — running into the room to clarify. It's a joint process between the US Department of Justice and the city. Absolutely, but again the real point of the conversation was whether Hutson should have a greater involvement.

City Council also went through the Juvenile Court's budget. It's a tough one. They're facing a cut of about $1.1 million, 32 percent from their current budget of $3.7 million. The city argues that the court is bloated, six judges handling the casework of one, according to a Supreme Court-commissioned study and a recent, city-commissioned audit of the local criminal justice system, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said. But meanwhile, the city can't reduce judgeships. Only the state legislature can. So those six judges are momentarily there to stay. And the court's probably going to have to lay off staff, as well as reduce or cancel the type of programs that work better than detention, and much better than nothing, said Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier.

I've spent a good portion of the day sitting on the floor in the back of City Council Chamber so I can charge my computer at an electrical outlet. I have to sit on the floor because of the local media pecking order. The media seats (up at the front near another electrical outlet) are reserved in this order: Bruce Eggler, other Times-Picayune reporters, The Lens, The Advocate, the Gambit, myself. Other than the Bruce Eggler part, I invented this pecking order and it is neither recognized nor enforced by anyone but me. But I'll live and die by it.

The point is I really don't have the energy for a full explanation of the Juvenile Court budget right now, though I'm quite sure it will be covered more than adequately by another news outlet before I can get back to it.

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