Anthrax aside, nothing makes city employees jitterier than rumors of the looming budget deficit. The city charter requires Mayor Marc Morial and the City Council to balance the operating budget by Dec. 1. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent downturn in the local tourism industry, rumors have swept City Hall that New Orleans is heading toward a replay of the 1986 nightmare: budget deficits as high as $40 million, hundreds of layoffs and imposition of a four-day workweek.
City Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant, who is in charge of the budget that the mayor will present to the council, says, "It will be another 30 days before we have a clearer picture but I'm not expecting a deficit in that range. It is going to be tight. We have cut off all the expenditures that we can, including travel and hiring."
The city is heavily dependent on sales taxes and revenues from the hospitality industry. "If people don't come back into these hotels and restaurants, we're all going to have problem," Grant says. "There were certainly revenue challenges before [Sept. 11], they just got magnified (afterward)." Natives can help the city by dining out and spending a weekend at a local hotel. "If you have a vacation coming, take it in New Orleans," Grant says.
Enough Translators for Now
After Sept. 11, the local FBI called area American-Arab organizations for help in carrying out a nationwide directive from bureau headquarters in Washington: find 2,000 translators of Arabic and other foreign languages.
"We have had an overwhelming response to that recruitment effort," says local FBI spokesperson Sheila Thorne. "So, at this time we are not looking for any further applicants until we have accomplished processing the present candidates. Once that is done, we will do another recruitment effort."
In addition to Arabic, the bureau sought translators fluent in Pashtu, Mandarin and Farsi. The contract positions pay $32,500 a year and require an extensive background check by the FBI.
George Andrews, spokesman for the local chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, says he was contacted by FBI agent/recruiter Karen Jenkins about the recruiting drive, just days after the attacks. But the agent indefinitely postponed a planned meeting after the nationwide rush of applicants for the jobs.
Andrews estimates there are several thousand Arab Americans living in the metro area. The oldest local Arab population are the Syrian-Lebanese who came to New Orleans in the early 1900s. There are also a large number of Palestinian families living on the West Bank of the Mississippi River.
Arms and the Guv
Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster earlier this month revealed in his weekly radio-television broadcast just how he personally would handle a terrorist attack.
"My help is well-armed and so am I. ... If somebody comes after us, we'll take a few with us," the governor said.
Foster's press secretary Marsanne Golsby made light of her boss' remarks, which appeared in the Sunday New York Times but alarmed virtually no one at the capitol familiar with the governor's bravado.
"He's not packing heat," she says. Nor is the governor's staff.
"We're not walking around up here packing heat; too many of us would have been dead already," says Golsby, making clear that she was joking. "The staff is not walking around packing heat. The cops certainly are. And any time [Foster] is out of the office, he is surrounded by cops. He's never gotten any serious threats that I know of. He's just talking like the big, tough man he is."
Foster is a gun enthusiast and a hunter who owns several pistols. "But he doesn't walk around a committee room of the Legislature with a shoulder sling," Golsby adds.
Judge's Fundraiser/Court Battle
Orleans Parish Juvenile Court Judge Yvonne L. Hughes will celebrate the first anniversary of her upset election victory with a Halloween costume fundraiser Saturday, Oct. 27, beginning at 8 p.m. at Polynesian Joe's, 869 Magazine St. Ticket prices range from $10 to $100.
Two days later, Hughes is scheduled to resume her long-running court battle with the Louisiana Ethics Commission over nearly $50,000 in fines and fees for alleged violations of campaign finance reporting laws.
Attorneys for the state ethics board say that on Oct. 29, they will ask Judge Janice Clark of the 19th Judicial District Court at Baton Rouge to garnish Hughes' wages to satisfy $38,500 in board fines for failing to timely file campaign finance disclosure reports from previous campaigns.
In August, New Orleans Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso ordered Hughes' wages garnished to pay the board an additional $10,000 to pay off similar board fines and fees.
"She is having to pay $1,300 a month," says ethics board attorney Maris McCrory. State campaign finance laws allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay ethics board fines and fees, McCrory acknowledges. And, yes, funds from the Halloween fundraiser may be applied.