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Sorry, Not My Station
Even after devastating hurricane-related floods, levee boards in south Louisiana do not have to maintain and record levee elevations. Subsidence and other factors can cause levees to compact and sink over time, and that's a big concern. House Bill 452 by Rep. Gordon Dove, a Terrebonne Parish Republican, would require levee boards in the coastal zone to submit regular elevation reports every three years. Some lawmakers want the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) to get more involved in the effort, which is expensive and technical. The department used to play a big role in overseeing the state's levees, but it moved away from that responsibility in the 1970s. Only recently have some of those duties returned to DOTD. When asked by a legislative committee if the department could get involved with the elevation issue, Edmond J. Preau, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Works, offered a series of excuses for keeping DOTD out of Dove's legislation. It would be too costly, he said, and the department could incur liability as well -- meaning DOTD might be held responsible if anything goes wrong in connection with elevations. The department also has insufficient manpower and funding right now, Preau added. Rep. William Daniel, a Baton Rouge Republican, noted that DOTD is the engineer of record for levee districts, and he ripped Preau for being "scared of a little liability" and not responding to a public need. Daniel also suggested that engineers be pulled off road projects to help levee districts. "Why is DOTD shirking their responsibility?" Daniel asked. "You should be there side by side with the parishes. ... You should step up and be responsible." The tongue-lashing accomplished little. DOTD officials agreed to offer "technical assistance and guidance" to levee boards, but not manpower or on-the-ground expertise. -- Alford


Remembering Katrina

State Rep. Cheryl Gray, a New Orleans Democrat, is proposing an official Hurricane Katrina memorial somewhere in the city to commemorate all of the lives lost in connection with the events of Aug. 29, 2005. Gray's House Bill 1354 would create the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Commission within the governor's office. The group would investigate grants, donations and other means of financing the memorial, choose an appropriate location and decide what the memorial should be -- then report back to the Legislature no later than March 1, 2007. -- Alford


Relevancy of Residency
Hurricane Katrina has given residency a different kind of relevancy in political circles. Since the storm, many New Orleanians have lived wherever they can. A record number of candidates qualified for the April 22 primary, with many listing addresses from LaPlace to Georgia -- in addition to their required New Orleans addresses. Only two candidates were challenged for alleged residency violations, and just one -- a candidate for City Council District B -- was disqualified, according to the Secretary of State's office. Louisiana election laws waive residency requirements if a candidate's residency is not challenged within seven days after qualifying closes, according to election officials. Council at-large candidate Roger Wilson freely admits that he had not lived in his hometown for the last two years, as required by the City Charter. Because no one challenged his candidacy, he was allowed to run. Wilson, a Hollywood screenwriter, moved back to New Orleans in early September after leading a Katrina relief effort. -- Johnson


Congressional Cash
It's that time again, when congressional campaigns start receiving donations like manna from heaven. The Nov. 7 primary election is seven months away, and it is prime time for padding war chests. In the First Congressional District, freshman Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican, reports having $1.5 million in the bank -- more than anyone else in the delegation. Jindal's seat is his to lose, but everyone says the newbie is eyeing the 2007 governor's race. In the Second District, the ongoing investigation of Rep. Bill Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat, has had an obvious impact on fundraising. Some already are lining up for the seat, and it could take more than Jefferson's $328,000 war chest to fend them off. Rep. Jim McCrery, a Shreveport Republican in the Fourth District, is second-place only to Jindal with his $1.3 million cash on hand. By far the hottest contest going is in the Cajun Third District, where incumbent Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat, is set to face off against Republican state Sen. Craig Romero of New Iberia. The two men have been trading hits in recent weeks, but Melancon trumps Romero with nearly $1 million in the bank -- roughly $400,000 more than Romero. In the adjacent Seventh District, Rep. Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican, has about $665,000 in hand with no challengers of note. -- Alford


Relevancy of Residency
II Before Katrina, the private New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation touted relaxation of the city's tough residency requirement as essential to recruiting and retaining cops. After Katrina, the City Council passed an ordinance waiving the requirement for a three-year trial period -- and applications for NOPD have increased sharply. "We have had somewhere around 1,200 inquiries since Katrina and we have not even begun a recruiting campaign," says Foundation president Robert Stellingworth. "We had averaged only 700 inquiries a year, pre-Katrina." Cops hired or promoted during the next three years will be guaranteed they do not have to move back into the city, Stellingworth adds. Meanwhile, the residency waiver has not stopped an exodus of veteran cops, who have been leaving NOPD at a rate of one a day since Katrina -- via retirements, resignations, dismissals and other job offers. NOPD recently graduated a class of 50 recruits, but that may be offset in June, when more veteran cops are expected to retire, sources say. -- Johnson


Get Specific
One nonprofit organization wants to hear the two candidates for mayor in the May 20 runoff debate how to reform the city's criminal justice system, widely considered dysfunctional even before Katrina. "We want specifics, not generalities," says Robert Stellingworth, president of the newly renamed New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation (formerly the New Orleans Police Foundation). The Foundation (www.nopf.com) outlined three key issues for the debate -- accountability, working conditions and infrastructure -- in an open letter sent to mayoral candidates one week before the April 22 primary. "NOPD is currently averaging the loss of one officer every other day, according to the letter, signed by Stellingworth and Foundation chair Henri Wolbrette. "What must be done to keep our criminal justice professionals from leaving?" The candidates also will be asked how to improve "functionality, communication and accountability" among the many components of the criminal justice system, from the cops to the Clerk of Court. Titled, "The Future of Criminal Justice in New Orleans," the debate will be held sometime in mid-May at Loyola University, Stellingworth says. -- Johnson

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