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Cerasoli Unloads
After six months of fighting City Hall for offices, money and staff, new Inspector General Robert Cerasoli bristled when a reporter told him that even some local supporters are getting impatient for signs of progress from New Orleans' newest watchdog. "Can I tell you something?" said Cerasoli, a former state inspector general from his native Massachusetts. "I don't need this job. If people get impatient and they want me to leave, so be it — I could care less. I'm here to do a job and if I can't do it right, I won't do it. That's the way that I look at it. That's the difference between me and the other people who are here; I'm not going to be bullied into doing the wrong thing." He also said fighting City Hall is not easy — even from the inside. Even placing newspaper ads for staff positions can be a major headache. After receiving an invoice from Gambit Weekly, for example, Cerasoli said he returned to City Hall to learn that the $3.4 million operating budget for his office had not been entered into the city's computer system. "So, we can't get anything paid," he said. He said the only person who could load the IG's budget into the city system told him that she could only tackle the task "on nights and weekends" because the system did not have the capacity to handle so much information during the day. "This is the kind of stuff that I go through," Cerasoli said. "There's a lot of entrenched incompetence, and there's a lot of people who just don't want me to do anything anyway. I'm going to do the job the way I know how to do the job. If people are dissatisfied, just tell me and I'll leave. It's not a problem at all." — Johnson

 

'Red Flags' and Predators
In the wake of a rash of unrelated sexual misconduct cases in area schools, House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans has filed a bill to expand the scope of criminal background checks for people who supervise children. Current state law limits the scope of background checks from the Louisiana Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information to 10 years prior to the date of the request. Peterson's bill (HB426) would remove the time limit and require the bureau to provide all criminal records, in accordance with federal and state confidentiality laws. In the most egregious example of recent misconduct cases, a custodian at a Slidell public high school is in jail, booked with sexual attacks against four boys — all under the age of 12. "This is a case that cries out for review of the hiring practices of state and parish school systems," says Anthony Radosti, vice president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, which assisted law enforcement officers in the investigation. The suspect's background check by school authorities contained a bank fraud conviction and several arrests, including restraining orders filed by members of his immediate family, Radosti says. Even though the cases listed did not allege sexual misconduct, Radosti says the pre-employment records should have been "red flags." — Johnson

 

Business Happy, For Now
How long does it take a new governor and legislature to spend a whopping $1.1 billion surplus? If the recent special session is any indication, less than seven days are needed. That land-speed record surprised even seasoned lawmakers. "We made some amazing accomplishments in such a short period of time," said Senate President Joel Chaisson, a Destrehan Democrat. While it was originally floated as a session for business interests — removing state sales taxes from machinery, equipment, debt and utilities — Gov. Bobby Jindal's assembly expanded greatly to benefit many parents, coastal communities, road projects, ports, universities and others. There were even pet projects, such as $50 million for the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and $57 million for Shreveport's Cyber Innovation Center. Despite the spending spree, business interests already are looking toward new victories. Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, notes that his membership favors expanding the tax break on machinery and equipment. Other states exempt additional items in the manufacturing process from state sales taxes and even force local governments to drop their levies, he says. — Alford

 

Contractor Board Drama
According to a recent state Inspector General report, one member of the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors has engaged in a flagrant abuse of power. "After reviewing available documentation and conducting interviews," state investigators alleged that board member Donald G. Lambert Sr. , a Kenner contractor, delayed the group's handling of an examination waiver because the applicant owed his son money. The report states that Lambert "personally requested" that a staff member remove Bruce Dalrymple's application and later left a voice mail for Executive Director Charles Marceaux indicating that the debt had been paid and that Lambert "would not object to the board granting Mr. Dalrymple's request." Since Lambert's actions "may have circumvented state law and circumvented board procedure," the Inspector General's Office recommended that the case be forwarded to the state Board of Ethics for further investigation. In a lengthy written response, Lambert denies the allegations. "At no time did I ever take any action which could be deemed unethical and/or improper," he said in his response. — Alford

Our Valley Forge
Gov. Bobby Jindal was scheduled to deliver the keynote address to more than 500 people attending the annual Crimestoppers awards banquet last week, but he got stuck in Alexandria. That prompted U.S. Attorney Jim Letten to fill in for the governor. Strident and passionate, Letten sounded more like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument than a luncheon speaker. The New Orleans native thanked Crimestoppers for "weathering the storm after Katrina," including the crime rate. "The legacy of this city will not be a legacy of destruction like Hiroshima or Stalingrad, but more like Valley Forge — a great victory," Letten said. "If we are to muster the strength of will it is appropriate that we also recognize that we are greater than the challenge, that we are tougher than those thugs who seek to take our streets away and that we are more enduring and committed than those corrupt public officials who, like vampires, steal from our schools and democratic institutions under cover of darkness." Later, Letten was decidedly upbeat about public support for governmental reform: "In terms of corruption, we are really turning the corner. People are more demanding than they were a generation ago under Edwin Edwards — and they should be." Letten also offered some post-Katrina advice for local authority figures: "You have to be candid about the downside, but be passionate and optimistic, too. Rally everyone so they don't get fatigued and impatient. All of us need to gird ourselves continually." — Johnson

Ansardi Running for Judge
Former State Rep. Glenn Ansardi of Kenner is running for a district court judgeship in Jefferson Parish in the fall elections. Ansardi seeks to succeed retiring Judge Kernan "Skip" Hand in Division H. Ansardi represented north Kenner in the state House of Representatives for 24 years and chaired the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee. He also sat on the Insurance, Health and Welfare, and House and Governmental Affairs committees. Ansardi's announcement of candidacy cites his role in passing insurance and ethics reforms, tougher criminal laws, and bills focused on children, family law and adoption procedures. In addition to his legislative tenure, Ansardi says his experience includes service as a Judge Advocate General in the Louisiana National Guard, a magistrate and an assistant city attorney in Kenner. He recently received the "Russell B. Long Legislative Service Award" from the Louisiana Support Enforcement Association, a nonprofit that promotes enforcement of child and medical support orders statewide. The sub-district in which Ansardi will run is comprised of central and north Kenner, his old political base. The election will be held Oct. 4. So far, Ansardi is the only announced candidate for the post. — DuBos

Leges of the Year
Two statewide advocacy groups honored four women legislators recently for their support of children, families and health-care services. State Senator Ann Duplessis and House Speaker Pro Tem Karen Carter Peterson were named 2007 Legislators of the Year by the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, a nonprofit coalition whose local members include Children's Defense Fund, Children's Hospital and a pediatric clinic at Tulane University School of Medicine. On March 11, Sen. Cheryl A. Gray of New Orleans and Sen. Lydia Jackson of Shreveport were named 2007 Legislators of the Year by the Louisiana Assembly of School Based Health Care, which seeks to improve health-care delivery services to urban and rural residents. The first school-based health clinic in Louisiana opened in 1987. Some 50 state-funded sites operate today. The concept is considered especially beneficial for teenagers, who often do not seek out doctors. Meanwhile, Peterson last week pre-filed a bill that would require health insurance policies to cover annual mammograms, beginning Jan. 1, 2009. The regular session of the Legislature begins Monday (March 31). — Johnson

French-Fried Louisiana Politics
When former Gov. Kathleen Blanco isn't defending her administration's last-minute decision to boost Road Home manager ICF's pay by $156 million (with no public notice), she is giving speeches and doing a bit of globetrotting. Earlier this month, she gave the keynote address at a European Conference crisis-response convention in Aix-en-Provence, France. Blanco has been invited to address the topic of what Europe could learn from Hurricane Katrina. "We believe that her insight is valuable to other government leaders, in Europe and around the world, who may one day have to face a worst-case scenario in their own jurisdiction," Richard Biagioni, CEO of CIREEX Training Center, commented in a press release. In some respects, Blanco says she is playing an ambassador's role. "As we saw during Katrina, we must all work to create more compatible systems and better coordinated response plans," the former governor says. "I look forward to strengthening Louisiana's relationship with France and to celebrating our shared heritage." In related news, Blanco has created an "archival Web site" at www.governorblanco.com. — Alford

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