The plaintiffs in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) consent decree case today dismissed the argument that a consent decree for the jail would force city government to write a "blank check" to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, the city's main objection to a proposed consent decree for the jail. In contrast, the plaintiffs say in a new court filing, the decree will ensure that the city actually knows what it's spending its money on.
"As opposed to a 'blank check,' the Proposed Consent Judgment is giving the City, perhaps for the first time, a clear idea of how and where funds for OPP will be spent, says the reply, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates.
The plaintiffs argue that the city has thus far chosen to keep blindly funding the prison without demanding better accountability — through the annual budget process or through its party status in Hamilton v. Morial, a lawsuit that resulted in the current per diem rate — even after it had been made aware of the alleged abusive conditions there.
"The City has been formally on notice of deficient conditions at OPP since at least the United States’ 2009 Findings Letter. Since that time, the City has shelled out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to a constitutionally deficient facility, where people continued to be seriously injured and die. The City took no steps to protest, intervene, seek relief or remedy the conditions."
(More after the jump)
The city of New Orleans yesterday filed a pleading in federal court opposing the final approval of the Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decree. While the city is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of inmates in OPP, it says, it objects to being tied to a consent decree while funding remains a question. The court has scheduled a hearing to determine the fairness and necessity of the consent decree for April 1. A hearing on paying for it — how much and who is responsible — is not scheduled until late May.
"...it is respectfully submitted that review of the proposed Consent Decree cannot be cleanly segregated from the funding hearing," reads the filing.
In July, the sheriff's office informed the city that estimated additional costs to bring the jail into compliance could run as much as $45 million in city dollars for the 2013 fiscal year, an increase of about $23 million from its current per prisoner per day general fund allocation. The filing says such and increase would force it to "lay off more than 600 employees or begin furloughing employees for periods in excess of thirty days."
(More after the jump)
The three-word phrase has been tossed around City Hall for more than a year as the user-friendly answer for business owners to have access to all they'll need as they navigate permitting bureaucracy.
It was supposed to roll out by fall 2012, yet it remained to be seen whether it would surface in 2013. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office of cultural economy released a draft of "Permits and Licenses for Cultural Businesses: A Basic Guide" late last year, a sort of prelude to a "one-stop shop." Today, Landrieu announced a website, a beta mobile app, and a physical office opening inside City Hall to function as a "One Stop Shop to improve and streamline the customer experience related to securing permits and licenses." The departments sharing the space include the City Planning Commission, Historic Districts Landmarks Commission, Safety & Permits and Vieux Carre Commission (VCC), and will be moved in "by the end of the week" with a formal ribbon cutting next month. The space is room 7W303 on the seventh floor of City Hall.
From the press release:
This physical site enhances the customer experience by providing an easier, single point of entry for applicants and by improving the review process through cross-departmental collaboration. Permitting and licensing agencies that remain offsite will be able to receive, review, and process applications using a recently introduced enterprise system, and with the benefit of new, updated digital zoning information. The application for other permits and licenses, including occupational licenses and mayoralty permits from the Bureau of Revenue, will also start in the One Stop Shop.
Activist group Community United for Change (CUC) yesterday submitted a brief opposing the city of New Orleans' recent attempt to cancel the New Orleans Police Department federal consent decree. The group even goes a step further than the consent decree, asking the court to consider placing the NOPD under federal control.
"CUC urges this Court to consider placing NOPD in receivership or under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice. The most recent actions of the City of New Orleans illustrate why they are not capable of self-governance in a constitutional manner," the brief says. "In the meantime, the Court should deny the Motion to Vacate."
CUC cites recent precedent in Oakland, Calif., where the police department has been under a consent decree since 2003. Late last year, plaintiffs claimed the department had failed to come into compliance after nearly 10 years, even though the decree was originally intended to last just five years. They petitioned a judge to place the department under federal control, rather than U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight under a mutual court agreement as in a consent decree. The department avoided receivership in name, but a December deal puts it under the authority of a federal compliance director, who has the power to fire the police chief.
The city claims the NOPD decree, coupled with another consent decree over Orleans Parish Prison, would be prohibitively expensive. The group, like the DOJ, dismisses the argument on the grounds that the city has a responsibility to ensure both constitutional policing and constitutional jail practices.
"It is shocking that the City of New Orleans takes the position that people are only entitled to a constitutional police force or a constitutional jail," the CUC memorandum says. "This latest attempt to avoid responsibility is proof positive that the NOPD and the City of New Orleans are incapable of policing themselves."
CUC previously attempted to intervene as a named plaintiff in the consent decree lawsuit. Judge Susie Morgan denied the motion in August. CUC is appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Read CUC's brief: CUC.pdf
Attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) today asked the Civil Service Commission to stop approving provisional promotions — made at management's discretion without normally required testing and training — in the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD).
Superintendent Ronal Serpas and the Landrieu Administration did not recommend $147,000 the Civil Service Department requested for sergeant exams in this year's budget. That budget item has gone unfunded for the last several years. During budget talks in November, personnel administrator Lisa Hudson told City Council that the department has not performed promotional exams for sergeants since 2007. As a result, sergeant and captain registers have expired and the NOPD has made at-will appointments, FOP attorney Donovan Livaccari said today.
"And the register for lieutenants is on life support," he said, as a result of requests from the department to eliminate it.
Livaccari said the lack of funding for tests and the elimination of promotions lists constitute and "end-around" the city's civil service rules.
New Orleans City Council's Utility Committee today held a special meeting with officials from Entergy and the Superdome to investigate the cause of a power outage that led to a 30-minute interruption in play during the Super Bowl. The meeting came shortly after the company issued a statement placing fault with an electrical relay device that mistakenly triggered during the game.
Though District D Councilwoman and committee chair Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said in a prepared statement that the meeting was intended for fact-finding purposes rather than a "laying of fault," she and other Council members occasionally appeared to betray frustration with the company.
"Where do you go now? You've narrowed it to the relay switch. You're now going to do something to correct that," she said to Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, requesting that the company perform third-party inspections and equipment testing. "What are you going to do to ensure the integrity is there?"
Rice and Entergy Louisiana vice president for transmission and distribution Dennis Dawsey told council members they are still determining why the device — manufactured by Chicago company S&C Electric and installed to protect Superdome equipment — failed.
"That's what we're still investigating," Dawsey said.
[1 p.m.] Times-Picayune reporter Richard Thompson got in touch with S&C. The company blames Entergy for the failure.
(More after the jump)
The two Entergy subsidiaries that provide power to New Orleans — Entergy New Orleans on the east bank (ENO) and Entergy Louisiana (ELL) on the west bank — submitted to New Orleans City Council a report on their preparations for and restoration efforts following Hurricane Isaac, which left most of the city without power for days. Council requested the report in early September in response to complaints that full restoration took too long.
The report, however, offers high praise for the utility's response, characterizing its power restoration time — more than 90 percent of 160,000 affected customers were restored by Sept. 3, day five of active restoration — as "commendable." Restoration work cost about $45.8 million, through December 2012. Problems encountered, were mostly related to the size, slow speed and unpredictability of the storm, it says.
From the report:
"The Companies were able to restore power to approximately 95% of customers in Orleans Parish within five days after it was safe to begin restoration efforts. Significantly, the restoration was accomplished without a single fatality or major injury," it reads, with only 13 "OSHA-recordable injuries."
"The Companies’ preparation for and response to Hurricane Isaac, while not without its challenges, was reasonable, appropriate, and worthy of the commendations they have received."
(More after the jump)
The New Orleans Office of the Inspector General is seeking the services of a consultant for a report on the way City Council regulates gas and electric utilities Entergy New Orleans (East Bank) and Entergy Louisiana (West Bank). Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux hopes to determine whether the current model — overseen by City Council's Utility Committee — "operates efficiently and effectively at the lowest cost to ratepayers," reads a recently released request for proposals (RFP).
The vast majority of city governments in the United States do not have regulatory authority over private utility providers. To do it, City Council hires a number of expensive lawyers and consultants. Total Entergy-related contractor costs are nearly $7.7 million this year, The Times-Picayune's Bruce Eggler reported in late December.
Data from the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that Entergy New Orleans has the second highest retail electric rates among investor-owned utilities in the state at 8.19 cents per kilowatt hour in 2011. Cleco Power had the most expensive rates for investor-owned providers, at 10.44 cents. (However, most of the state's providers are either publicly or cooperatively owned. According to the EIA, Ruston's public utility had the least expensive rates: 2.81 cents. The city of Erath's public utility were the most expensive overall: 14.02 cents.)
The IG's evaluation will consist of two parts, according to the "scope of services" section in the RFP. One is overall review of the regulatory system and analysis of contractor costs and performance. Another will compare gas and electric rates statewide.
Consultant responses are due by Feb. 25. Contractor selection is set for March 22.
Read the full RFP: OIGBidsforUtilityReview.pdf
Many drivers, concerned they'll miss out on tourism business if they're not able to get an inspection soon, say the city hasn't done enough to improve service at its inspection station in eastern New Orleans.
Just after 10 a.m. today, lines of cabs at the inspection station, stretching from the inspection building around a long curved driveway, all the way out to Old Gentilly Road. The station is open only four hours per day, three days per week for new inspections, five days if a driver has to return for re-inspection.
"If you don't have the inspection tags, you don't work," said Mohammad Ashraf. "Then you come and sit here all day."
A driver standing nearby, who declined to give his name, said he had been waiting since 3:20 a.m.
Ashraf said he was there for a re-inspection after failing an initial inspection because of his car's paint job. Along with the fares he's lost waiting for his inspection, he said he's spent between $1,600 and $1,700 so far to come into compliance with the new rules. For drivers who've had to replace cars older than the city-mandated maximum of 11 years, costs can run significantly higher than that.
“It’s a big investment for each car," Syed Kazmi said. “It’s about $15,000 per cab.”
(More after the jump)
Was former Mayor Ray Nagin corruptible from the get-go, or did he lose his way over time in a series of small missteps that escalated into the bribery schemes alleged in the 21-count federal indictment leveled against him? Gambit contributor Stephanie Grace and political editor Clancy DuBos offer different views — but perhaps each is correct, in its own way. Read both viewpoints here:
By His Own Rules
Nearly a dozen action-packed years later, it’s a little hard to put into words just how exhilarating disgraced former mayor Ray Nagin’s breakthrough moment was, and why.
In hindsight, his casually blunt assertion that “Man, I think we need to sell that sucker” — the “sucker” being the city-owned Louis Armstrong International Airport — was a silly, impractical and poorly thought out scheme to raise up to a billion dollars for badly needed infrastructure improvements. Like so many of Nagin’s big, bold ideas, it went nowhere.
But back when Nagin first uttered those words, well into a long, bureaucratic candidate debate leading up to the 2002 mayoral election, the bleary crowd jolted awake. Strange as it now seems, that zinger, as much as anything else, helped launch the little-known cable TV executive’s improbable journey from also-ran to mayor — and now, to accused crook.
It wasn’t just that Nagin was funny and charming; he surely was both. What clicked was that he was different.
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