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I-10: Ten things to know in New Orleans this week: November 24, 2015 

Tax amnesty, a new march against Confederate monuments and Syrian refugees in Louisiana

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Photo by Brian Jarreau

1. A Confederacy in Beantown
A big-budget stage adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces opened last week in Boston, with Parks & Recreation star Nick Offerman (pictured) playing the lead role of Ignatius Reilly (often portrayed on local stages by Spud McConnell). The Huntington Theater Company is presenting the production, and "developmental partners" include LSU Press and Baton Rouge-born filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who has tried for years to get a film version off the ground. Producers say there are no current plans to take the Boston production to Broadway.

2. The final countdown
"I think voters are glad there are no more debates after this. How can you top this? It was bizarre with the studio audience cheering and jeering and both candidates taking very personal jabs at the other." — Political analyst Jim Engster, dissecting the final gubernatorial debate for Baton Rouge's WAFB-TV. State Rep. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter spent much of the hour taking potshots at each other and occasionally shouting, while a riled-up audience cheered and jeered as though they were watching a daytime talk show.

3. Louisiana tax amnesty begins
Owe the state some cash? Louisiana Tax Amnesty 2015 began last week, allowing people and businesses to file overdue returns and pay past-due taxes with having to pay all interest and penalty charges. In some cases, installment plans are available. Last year's tax amnesty program brought $142 million into state coffers. This year's amnesty ends Dec. 15. For more information:

4. 10,000 Syrian refugees in New Orleans?
On the day of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris — and a week before the Louisiana governor's election — a strange meme emerged on some websites, claiming the "first load of 10,000 Syrian refugees has arrived in New Orleans." (The photo "proof" was actually a photo of refugees in Hungary, taken by Reuters in September.) The 10,000 number seemed drawn from a speech by President Barack Obama months before, when he indicated the administration would take in 10,000 refugees in the next year — not all on one day, and not all in New Orleans.

  WWL-TV reported that the total number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. over the last year was less than 2,000, and quoted the U.S. State Department as saying that the New Orleans metro area is home only to 14 — not 10,000.

5. Tobias retiring, Murray running
State 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Max Tobias will not seek re-election next year, after serving on the appellate court since 2000. Tobias previously was a judge at Civil District Court for 14 years. Already one major political figure says he'll run for Tobias' seat — state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans. Murray is term limited in the Senate and did not seek political office this year. The 4th Circuit covers Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, but Tobias' successor must run in New Orleans only.

6. March against monuments
The brouhaha over New Orleans' Confederate monuments has been on the back burner for a few months, but on Nov. 28 a group called Take Em Down NOLA plans a march "to demand the removal of ALL white supremacist monuments from our city." The group may have a receptive audience, as the march begins in Jackson Square at the height of Bayou Classic football weekend. Southern and Grambling universities — two historically black colleges — will battle each other in the Superdome at 4 p.m. that day.

7. Know your rights
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MACCNO) formed in the wake of venue closures and noise ordinance debates in 2012 to give voice to performers, venue owners and other culture bearers. It has evolved into a policy-informing group that holds regular meetings on performers' rights and upcoming city actions.

  Now, as the city takes its latest noise ordinance enforcement to the street with Soundcheck, a "public health education initiative," MACCNO has followed with a public education campaign of its own. MACCNO's "Guide to New Orleans Street Performance" brochure offers a "know your rights" checklist; "7 steps to stay out of trouble"; a guide to decibel levels and color-coded maps. The brochure is available at

8. Furloughs avoided at public defenders' office
The New Orleans City Council approved a $250,000 budget increase for 2016, filling a budget hole that prevents the office from having to furlough staff next year.

  The office will retain a hiring freeze in 2016, however.

  OPD has complained of underfunding for years, recently threatening to furlough staff in 2016. The office, which is funded by the city and state, is seeking $5.9 million, and earlier this year attempted an online crowdfunding campaign that was spotlighted on HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

9. Getting help for 911
With New Orleanians' emergency calls to 911 going unanswered and high turnover among call operators, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams wants to add another $1 million to the call center and boost salaries up to $34,000.

  There are currently 54 call operators, with 14 in training. Col. Jerry Sneed, adviser to the Orleans Parish Communications District, which oversees the call center, said the operation needs at least 59.

  The city spends $7.9 million on its 911 call center staff — but in 2016, the city will begin consolidating police, fire and EMS calls (911 currently transfers calls to respective agencies) and the budget will increase to $8.6 million to cover overtime while operators are training for the new system. Williams says a $1 million increase will add another dozen operators and increase dispatchers from 25 to 32 and supervisors from 5 to 12.

  At a public safety meeting in Bywater last month, one person recounted calling 911 during a break-in, getting no response and then becoming a victim of sexual assault. Williams has brought up that person's harrowing experience in several meetings as an example of 911's decline.

  "We are one mistake away from disaster and tragedy," Williams said last week. "And it is unacceptable."

10. The Rob report
His leonine mane, his impressive belly and his fondness for beer may have endeared Rob Ryan to New Orleans Saints fans, but good will couldn't save his job. Coach Sean Payton announced the firing of the defensive coach Nov. 16, one day after the defense stunk up the field in a 47-14 thumping by the Washington Redskins. Ryan's hapless defense put the New Orleans Saints 31st in the NFL in 2014.

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