Life After the FBI
It's no secret that Jim Bernazzani, the hard-charging state head of the FBI, is pondering life after a long career of pursuing foreign terrorists and corrupt politicians. The mandatory retirement age for FBI agents is 57. Bernazzani, 52, has been entertaining job offers both inside and outside New Orleans, sources say. He recently turned down a top counter-terrorism job with the bureau in Washington, telling a recent meeting of the local FBI Citizens Academy that he is dedicated to the rebuilding of New Orleans. Our sources say some heavy hitters (read: financial backers) with conservative leanings want the tough-talking Bernazzani to consider running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Bernazzani isn't talking about that idea, and federal law bars government employees from politicking. However, the prospect of a candidacy has "taken on a life of its own," says a friend of the G-man. A native of Massachusetts, Bernazzani will find that the transition from crusading cop to elective office has been tried by many here, but achieved by few. Former NOPD Chief Richard Pennington lost the 2002 mayoral runoff to Ray Nagin, and former U.S. Attorney John Volz lost a 1995 run for sheriff of St. Tammany Parish. However, the late Joe Giarrusso Sr. , moved from police chief to city councilman at-large and served several terms there. " Johnson
And the Check's in the Mail
Our periodic search of the state treasurer's "unclaimed property" records has turned up some good news for state Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, among other politicos. We found a total of $1,988 in checks for Donelon, including $600 owed his 1980 campaign for Congress (which he lost to Democrat Billy Tauzin) and $438 for Donelon's unsuccessful 1998 campaign for the U.S. Senate against then-incumbent John Breaux. Elsewhere, embattled former state Sen. Charles D. Jones of Monroe can claim a $500 check that a pharmaceutical company made out to him in 2001. Jones faces federal criminal income tax evasion charges. Former state Sen. Louis Lambert of Prairieville can claim a $500 check that is more than 10 years old " from Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. Former Gov. Dave Treen of Mandeville can pick up a $47 utility deposit from his unsuccessful 1999 run for Congress, and now that he has escaped having to testify in the trial of the "D.C. Madam," scandalized U.S. Sen. David Vitter may finally pick up that $250 campaign contribution from Pfizer Inc. " the maker of Viagra. " Johnson
Green Light for Personal $$$
Former prosecutor Karen Herman " and her husband " received a "green light" from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in regard to her campaign for judge of New Orleans Criminal District Court. In response to a request from Stephen J. Herman, the Ethics Board last week ruled that a candidate's personal funds are not subject to state contribution limits. "Further, a candidate's community property is the candidate's personal funds and is therefore not subject to the contribution limits," board attorney Alesia Ardoin wrote in an April 15 letter. Stephen Herman, a lawyer with Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar LLP, also asked the board if there are any fundraising restrictions for the spouses of judicial candidates. Judges and candidates for judge cannot personally solicit campaign contributions. The board replied that neither the state Code of Ethics nor the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act addresses the propriety of spousal solicitation of campaign funds. The board declined to opine on the Code of Judicial Conduct. Karen Herman, founder of Court Watch NOLA, a citizens' court-monitoring program, is running for the Section "I" seat being vacated by retiring Judge Raymond Bigelow. The primary is Oct. 4. " Johnson
Taxing District Envy?
State Sen. Cheryl Gray met with Uptown constituents last week to discuss proposed legislation that would put their neighborhoods on one of the fastest growing trends in government nationwide " special taxing districts. "Neighborhoods love them," says Jim Brandt, president of the nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council (PAR). There are three types " "security districts," in which neighborhood residents tax themselves for extra police protection; "improvement districts," in which residents pay additional fees for security, beautification, and other purposes; and "development districts," which have no taxing authority but can enter into contracts and accept contributions. Orleans Parish currently has 23 special neighborhood taxing districts. Eleven are security districts, nine are improvement districts, and three are development districts, according to Gray legislative aide Cheryl Napoli. Gray is asking the Legislature to authorize the creation of four more special districts " all in her Senate district. Critics say special taxing districts contribute to the Balkanization of city services, raise questions about the deployment of off-duty cops, and widen gaps between "haves" and "have-nots." Gray's bills need both legislative passage and citywide voter approval on Oct. 4. " Johnson
Earmarks to Be Debated
During budget debates in recent years, average citizens, editorial writers and good government groups have cringed at the notion of public funding via "earmarks" for pet projects and programs such as hot air balloon races and high school alumni groups. Why? Because it's your money that's supporting such questionable activities and groups. Earmarks are traditionally included in the state operating budget without explanations as to how the tax dollars will be spent or who will benefit. Many earmarks support nonprofit organizations, some of which receive virtually all of their revenue from state government grants sponsored by individual legislators. "The question isn't whether or not these organizations do some good in our state, it's how efficient is the job they are doing," says state Treasurer John Kennedy. "If the state is going to continue to give money to these nonprofit organizations, at the very least, taxpayers statewide deserve full disclosure about these projects." State Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, a Jennings Republican, has filed Senate Bill 106 to force lawmakers to reveal every detail about their earmarks. Each funding request would have to include budget information, project goals, objectives and information about possible connections to elected officials. Kennedy is among the bill's supporters and says he plans to testify for it when the Senate Finance Committee takes up the measure. " Alford
Unequal Brands of Justice?"
The chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus wants the House and Senate judiciary committees to study potential racial disparities in sentencing guidelines. More specifically, Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans, wants to know if there's a difference in the length and harshness of sentences imposed by judges for similar crimes committed by Caucasians and African Americans. LaFonta argues that the Louisiana Supreme Court has not effectively addressed, nor made any effective progress, to "change the unequal justice manifested upon the poor and economically disadvantaged, particularly minorities." Problems may exist on the local prosecutorial level as well, according to the resolution. It states: "The prosecution of crimes in district court is totally at the discretion of a district attorney who may have more bias against some accused defendants than other accused defendants, and it is totally within his prerogative whom he prosecutes and for what crime he accuses the person of committing, except when there is an indictment by the grand jury." If LaFonta's House Concurrent Study Resolution 1 gains favor with lawmakers, the joint judiciary committee would have to report its findings to the Legislature prior to Feb. 28, 2009 " just in time for next year's regular session. " Alford
Victory for Justice
Victory The Louisiana Board of Ethics has dropped a $1,000 late free against state Supreme Court Associate Justice Jeff Victory for a tardy campaign finance disclosure report. Two surgeries earlier this year rendered the 62-year-old justice "medically unable to file" a supplemental report to his 2004 re-election campaign, the panel stated in an April 17 letter sent last week to Victory campaign treasurer Robert G. Pugh Jr. , a Shreveport lawyer. The board granted Pugh's request for a waiver at the regular public meeting on April 10 in Baton Rouge. "The Justice did not appear," says Richard Sherburne, the newly appointed administrator of the ethics board. The board's 11-member Supervisory Committee for Campaign Finance includes four lawyers " one more than required by a new state law. They are board chair Henry C. "Hank" Perret of Lafayette; vice chair John W. Greene of Covington, a retired judge; Clayton Davis of Lake Charles; and Michael T. Johnson of Pineville. Because of a family emergency, Johnson was absent from the meeting at which Victory's appeal was discussed, Sherburne said. " Johnson Drug-Test-Free Zones? Although his legislation is still in the developmental phase, Baton Rouge Rep. Erich E. Ponti is working on a policy change that would exclude certain petrochemical workers from mandatory employment-related drug tests. House Bill 514 aims to remove workers in "the construction, maintenance or manufacturing of any refining or petrochemical facility" from required drug tests. Ponti, a Republican, says knee-jerk reaction to his bill, which consists of only half a page, might be adverse because it's easily misunderstood. That's among the many reasons the bill is being repackaged and investigated further by a group of interested parties. "In theory, this would allow employers to place these people in a database so they can easily be tracked from one plant to another," Ponti says. The legislation could allow workers to stay on the job and be monitored more closely. While it sounds like a radical idea, it's nothing new. Louisiana already has a similar statute on the books for employees of oil and gas exploration, drilling and production companies. Such employees are expressly excluded from mandatory testing for the presence of "marijuana, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines and phencyclidine," according to the law. A comparable provision exists in Wisconsin, where commercial pilots are allowed to fly up to four sightseeing flights a year for charity without being tested for drugs. Texas likewise has testing exclusions for certain industries. The bill is on the shelf for now while lawmakers and special interests kick the idea around. It has been assigned to the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, but no hearing date has been set. " Alford