What ended up happening in Duncan Plaza at 12:05 a.m. today turned out to be theater, and really it was bad theater. We in the media didn’t get the brutal mass arrests we wanted. We only got two people in handcuffs: Mike Raso and David Dantonio, one of whom — Raso — wasn’t even put into a police car.
Raso, wisely and at the urging of fellow occupier Nadra Enzi, aka Capt. Black, founder of the group Good Citizens for Good Cops, accepted New Orleans Police Commander J.D. Thomas’ offer to go home with a court summons rather than go to Orleans Parish Prison. Raso should be grateful to Enzi today.
(Dantonio, on the other hand, doesn't have a local address and was therefore ineligible for the same deal. He was driven off in a police car but never booked. Officers ultimately took him to a hospital for treatment of a pre-existing hand injury.)
Raso’s decision was despite day-long proclamations — which he gave, along with his full life story, to every media outlet in town — that he was willing and able to brave OPP. “I’m a constitutional criminal!” Raso yelled sitting in a chair atop a hill (really) and waving his arms in the air (again, really) as 10:30, park closing time, rolled around. To be fair to Raso, a lot of this self-aggrandizement can probably be put down to nerves. So can the chair. He was trembling at times. He really didn’t want to go to jail.
(More, including videos of last night's police action, after the jump)
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux on Nov. 30 released a letter to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, which cleared New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Ronal Serpas of falsifying his pension paperwork. The letter was a response to a Nov. 21 investigation by Fox 8, which found a number of apparent inconsistencies in the documents.
The letter responded to three "allegations":
1. That Serpas dated forms stating that his starting employment date was 05/06/2010 even though his actual starting date was 05/10/2010, in order to qualify for additional pension benefits;
2. That Serpas started getting paid by the City on 05/06/2010 even though he did not actually start working until 05/10/2010;
3. That Serpas and Assistant City Attorney Victor Papai signed and notarized the above referenced document on 05/06/2010 even though Chief Serpas was in Nashville, Tennessee on that date.
But the IG's responses to numbers 1 and 2 didn't really address the allegations in the news report, as only Fox 8 itself and Gambit seemed to notice. Quatrevaux has sent a letter of clarification to Gambit.
(IG's clarification after the jump)
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux's office has reviewed a series of questions, raised last week in a Fox 8 investigation, about New Orleans Police Department Chief Ronal Serpas' pension paperwork.
The news report found that city pension documents listed Serpas' starting date as May 6, 2010, even though he was still heading up the Metro Nashville Police Department at the time. The paperwork was even dated and notarized (by Assistant City Attorney Vic Papai) "May 6" even though that would have been impossible. Serpas' move to New Orleans was announced on May 6. He stayed in Nashville to help with recovery from a devastating flood through May 10.
(Full IG letter after the jump)
The Archdiocese of New Orleans has responded to Concerned Classified City Employees group facilitator Randolph Scott's inquiry as to whether Loyola University president Rev. Kevin Wildes, a Catholic priest who chairs the New Orleans Civil Service Commission, is prohibited by Canon Law from sitting on the public body. As Gambit previously reported, the archdiocese and the local office of the Jesuit order had promised to look into the matter.
In a letter dated Nov. 10, Archbishop Gregory Aymond tells Scott that Canon Law 285 #3, which says "Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power," does not apply to Wildes' position on the Commission.
(Complete letter and Scott's response after the jump)
In a response letter to the report, New Orleans Municipal Court Chief Judge Paul Sens says New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux's assessment of the city court system, released yesterday, is "outdated and ignores the current operational realities of our court," and is "fundamentally unfair and fundamentally flawed."
Why does Sens think the IG got it wrong? It's in the first paragraph of his letter:
"We are ... disturbed by the fact that not one person from Municipal Court was interviewed during this assessment process. It was not until Nov. 3, 2011 that someone from Municipal Court was contacted, which was after the draft report was completed."
The report cites operating efficiencies, particularly in New Orleans Traffic and Municipal Courts, and recommends that the two courts be consolidated at a supposed savings of $2.5 million per year. It compares New Orleans four city courts — Traffic and Municipal, which are responsible for criminal cases; and the First and Second City Courts, responsible for civil litigation — to Baton Rouge City Court, which handles all criminal and civil cases in Baton Rouge.
Sens, however, notes that Municipal Court — designed to try violations of city ordinance — has recently been asked to take on nearly half the docket of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court — the state court.
"We respectfully question whether such charges are also handled by Baton Rouge City Court," Sens writes in his response.
(More after the jump)
Randolph Scott, the spokesperson for the Concerned Classified City Employees group, accused the New Orleans Civil Service Commission (CSC) of violating Louisiana's Open Meetings Law today when the commission voted to hold a closed executive session at the beginning of its monthly meeting.
Scott and his group have repeatedly challenged the commission, accusing it of unquestioned compliance with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration. The administration has indicated it plans to push for changes to the city's civil service rules — including procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining city employees — that many workers believe will undermine vital protections.
"They violated the law," said Scott in a hallway outside CSC board room, after it had taken a vote to close the meeting.
Jane Barney, an attorney representing Scott's group, agreed.
Stewart Juneau, owner of the Baton Rouge-based development company LeTriomphe Property Group, was selected last November by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to redevelop the Morris F.X. Jeff Sr. Municipal Auditorium in Armstrong Park. At the time, the proposed professional services agreement drew controversy, due to Juneau's relationship with Nagin (he had hosted the mayor's much-mocked "Excellence in Recovery Award" gala back in August 2008), as well as for the fact that LeTriomphe was the sole bidder on the project. In December, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux slammed the deal, urging the New Orleans City Council not to approve it. In January, city attorney Penya Moses-Fields slammed right back, saying the IG's recommendation was premature and that there was "no existing contract."
This morning, Juneau announced that LeTriomphe was requesting a "temporary suspension of negotiations" on the Municipal Auditorium deal:
LeTriomphe Property Group, LLC (LTPG) announced today that it has requested a temporary suspension of negotiations on a professional services agreement for the redevelopment of the Morris X. F. [sic] Jeff, Sr. Municipal Auditorium.
LTPG remains confident that providing a landmark home for the cultural arts and creative industry in New Orleans in the damaged and unused auditorium is one of the most important projects that will be undertaken in the city in the near future.
The letter gave no reason for requesting a suspension of negotiations, but concluded on an optimistic note:
We look forward to working closely with all segments of our great community on making the mission of providing a landmark home for the cultural arts in New Orleans a reality.
Ed Quatrevaux, a native of Metairie, has been named New Orleans' new Inspector General, succeeding the city's first IG, Robert Cerasoli, and interim IG Leonard Odom.
In a press conference this afternoon, JPSO sheriff Newell Normand said no charges or disciplinary actions are expected to be filed against the sheriff's department employee in That Photo (below), and added the picture seemed to be part of a smear campaign against the officer involved. Normand also said the photograph was two years old and just surfacing.
Erika weakened below tropical storm status, and forecast models are diverging.
The Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University and head of the city's Ethics Review Board, sounded philosophical this morning about the resignation of Robert Cerasoli, the city's first Inspector General, who is stepping down immediately due to health reasons. (For more on Cerasoli and his health issues, see The Gambit's cover story of Jan. 12, "Being Bob Cerasoli.")
On Dec. 23, while visiting family for Christmas, Cerasoli underwent surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Needham, Mass., to have some tissue removed from his neck: one a sebaceous cyst, the other a "growth the size of a lemon." ("I can verify this," he wrote in an email at the time, "because I asked to see it after it was removed.") The growth was taken for biopsy.
"Some stuff came back that was good," said Wildes, "and in the process they discovered some other things. Bob cannot do something halfway, and he just felt as if he couldnt give the job his full attention and do the job the way it needs to be done."
Cerasoli is leaving New Orleans immediately and heading back to his hometown of Quincy, Mass. His first assistant, Leonard Odom, has been appointed in the interim while Wildes and the ethics review board begin a search for a permanent inspector general. Wildes called Odom "incredibly qualified."
On a personal level, Wildes says Cerasoli's resignation is hard to take: "We do have a personal relationship. And I'm not blowing smoke when I say that we are so much better off now than we were two years ago, when this would have been unthinkable.
"Look, Im not Mary Poppins," Wildes added. "When i look at the staffing in the office and the people who are doing the work, I'm confident every investigation is going to continue. Im more upset and concerned about Bob than I am about the office. Hes built us a great organization."
The news couldnt be much worse: New Orleans Inspector General Bob Cerasoli is leaving. He will return home to Boston today (Friday, Jan. 30) for health reasons. Somehow I cant help feeling his personal cancer scare so far, the growths detected and removed from his neck have not been malignant are metaphoric of the cancer inflicted upon city government by official corruption, incompetence and arrogance. This is indeed a sad day in New Orleans, but I cannot blame Mr. Cerasoli one bit for wanting to be near his family at this time. We should instead be grateful that he gave us the time and energy that he has.
One thing I learned from Hurricane Katrina is that bad news isnt final. In the aftermath of the storm, I was constantly amazed at how, not long after bad news arrived, somehow something good came of it. I know this may sound Pollyannish, but I swear it happened time and again in those dark days after Katrina. Bad stuff would happen, it would knock me for a loop, and then usually after I decided I needed to deal with whatever was in front of me at the time something amazingly good would happen. I hope thats the case for the Inspector Generals Office and the citys Ethics Review Board.
Bob Cerasoli set a high standard. He gave us a template for what the office must become. He taught us to demand more and better from our elected officials. He set things in motion. Above all, he gave us hope. We owe it to him and ourselves to keep his drive alive. He always said this effort was not about him, but about the job and the need for transparency, integrity and accountability at City Hall. Now its up to us to make sure his words prove true.
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