The Feb. 1 municipal primary settled many local elections, but several important races go to runoffs Saturday (March 15). Several propositions also are on the Orleans Parish ballot. Here are our recommendations.
Orleans Parish Sheriff: No endorsement
While this is one of the most important races on the ballot, we cannot recommend either candidate. Both men in the runoff — current Sheriff Marlin Gusman and former Sheriff Charles Foti — hold some responsibility for the deplorable state of Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). Under Foti, the inmate population of OPP grew to more than 6,000 people. Under Gusman, repeated escapes, tales of jailhouse abuse and a lack of safety led to a federal consent decree last October. That decree will be very, very expensive for New Orleans taxpayers.
If there's good news here, it's that Susan McCampbell, the federally appointed monitor overseeing improvements at the jail, issued her first report last month and found progress in several areas, including inmate classification (separating chronic violent offenders from first-time and nonviolent prisoners) and expanding psychiatric care. In recent weeks, Gusman began dismantling the longtime "temporary" tent cities that held inmates. Overall, McCampbell found OPP to be in partial compliance with only a few of the long-term goals for the prison. We're hopeful that she, along with the OPP's new administrator, Michael Tidwell, and U.S. District Judge Lance Africk can shepherd the changes needed. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans City Council will need to keep close tabs as well to keep costs as low as possible. Local taxpayers ultimately will bear the burden of paying to bring the jail up to constitutional snuff.
Coroner: Dr. Jeffrey Rouse
Rouse, the longtime No. 2 in the coroner's office, was endorsed by the outgoing coroner, Dr. Frank Minyard, and last week he won the endorsement of Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Rouse, a certified forensic psychiatrist, has been an advisor to the New Orleans Police Department and has the organizational skills necessary to supervise the move of the coroner's office into its new permanent facility on Earhart Boulevard. We urge our readers to elect Dr. Jeffrey Rouse as New Orleans' new coroner.
City Council, At-Large 2:
Hedge-Morrell is the only council member to have served continuously since Hurricane Katrina. That experience gives her valuable institutional knowledge, the kind that will serve her (and citizens) well as she moves into a position of council leadership (at-large members take turns serving as president and vice-president). Morrell also has a deep understanding of public policy and the courage to make the tough decisions required of a council member.
City Council, District C: Jackie Clarkson
Clarkson's plan to retire from the council was scuttled last year when Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represents District C, announced she would not seek a second term. Palmer is supporting Clarkson, as are several other sitting council members and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. The veteran councilwoman has held the District C seat before and is well acquainted with its diverse needs, from Algiers to the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater.
Proposition — Disabled Veterans
Homestead Exemption: FOR
In 2010, voters in Louisiana overwhelmingly approved a constitutional measure that would double the homestead exemption for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, provided that local voters approve the exemptions. We recommend voting FOR this exemption.
Proposition — Audubon Commission Millage: FOR
In 1975, New Orleans voters approved millages to fund development and repair of the Audubon Zoo, which was then one of the worst zoos in the country. Improvements were so dramatic that in 1983 voters approved a second millage to fund the Aquarium of the Americas. Since then, the Audubon Nature Institute has grown to encompass many properties and attractions, including the Insectarium on Canal Street. It broke ground last year on the restoration of Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East and has major plans for the Audubon Species Survival Center on the West Bank, along with its Alliance for Sustainable Wildlife, which will feature habitats and breeding grounds for endangered species.
Opponents call the millage "a new tax," which is disingenuous. The existing taxes, at 0.40 and 3.80 mills, add up to what's on the ballot this week: 4.20 mills. Some complain that the renewal is for 50 years, but that's the term of the original Audubon millage. Moreover, this renewal will support Audubon efforts in literally every corner of town. Audubon in its current state is a well-run facility with many tangible and symbolic advantages for New Orleans. We recommend voting FOR the Audubon millage.