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Dubious Achievement Awards 

The fumbles, stumbles and bumbles of an accident-prone year

When Eddie Jordan became New Orleans' first African-American district attorney in 2003, he promised sweeping reforms in the office long held by Harry Connick Sr. That housecleaning came in the form of Jordan canning 43 members of Connick's support staff and replacing them with new hires of his choice. It wasn't lost on many that those sent packing were exclusively white, and those replacing them were almost exclusively black. A federal jury in March didn't buy Jordan's argument that the racially divided reshuffling was pure coinkydink, and found him guilty of discrimination. The ruling came with a roughly $2 million price tag that Jordan's office must pay in lost wages and benefits. Jordan countered by offering the wronged parties their jobs back -- if they agreed to give up their monetary claims. (The plaintiffs' attorney countered that the bitterness engendered by the lawsuit probably wouldn't foster a very pleasant work environment.) As of now, New Orleans taxpayers must cough up $2.4 million to the victims -- and more, to be determined, to their lawyers.


Despite a public-health study showing that Louisiana's condom-distribution program resulted in significant drops of sexually transmitted diseases, Rep. Gary Beard (R-Baton Rouge) made it his mission to stop it. Exhibiting the logic that keeps Louisiana consistently highest in the nation for STDs and unintended pregnancies, Beard argued -- ultimately unsuccessfully -- that Louisiana should quit using federal health funds to distribute free condoms in high-risk communities. Beard claimed the Office of Public Health program handed out condoms in schools, though the state agency made it clear that schools were never a condom-distribution point. Not that the detail mattered to Beard and the religious conservatives using him as a mouthpiece; they wanted the money to fund "abortion alternative counseling" for women who, presumably, didn't use a condom.

Jefferson Parish prosecutor Roger Jordan this year became the first attorney the Louisiana Supreme Court has disciplined for knowingly withholding evidence in a criminal trial. The high court in July censured Jordan for his actions in a 1996 case that sent a teen to death row. An Orleans Parish prosecutor at the time, Jordan won a death-penalty conviction against Shareef Cousin, then 16, for the shooting death of a Port of Call restaurant patron. In 1998, state justices overturned Cousin's conviction and death sentence, saying Jordan used hearsay evidence in his closing argument. In its review, the high court found that Jordan should have given defense attorneys an eyewitness statement that would have supported the teen's case.


When New Orleans minister Tom Watson blasted Jefferson Parish deputies for shooting three black teens in a stolen truck, Sheriff Harry Lee snapped that Watson could kiss his ass. But that wasn't the end of Lee's need to vent; the sheriff then spent $25,000 in public money to publish his thoughts in a huge Times-Picayune attack ad. Sounding more like a member of the Sharks or Jets than a law-enforcement official, Lee challenged Watson to meet him "anytime, anyplace at any venue" to resolve the conflict. In response to criticism that his ad inflamed racial tensions, the sheriff explained his motivation: "Blacks don't turn in blacks," he told the T-P. "There's something in their culture that they don't turn in a brother." The incident occurred not long after Gambit Weekly published an article about Jefferson Parish deputies using a crude wooden torso, painted to look like a black inmate, for target practice. Lee accused Gambit of race-baiting. "I don't find it offensive," Lee said of the target, "and I have no interest in correcting it."

Long before FEMA's Michael Brown pondered his fashion sense in emails to aides, the federal government was busy screwing up Louisiana's chances in the event of a major hurricane. Gambit Weekly reported last year that the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- despite calling Louisiana the "floodplain of the nation" -- repeatedly rejected Louisiana's requests for disaster mitigation funds, giving the money to states with far less demonstrated need. Long before that, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built New Orleans-area levees based on engineering equations so flawed that the floodwalls were destined to fail, independent engineers found. Through the years, the Corps spent millions of dollars in Louisiana -- not to reinforce levees, which many experts warned would breach under severe enough conditions -- but on pork-barrel projects secured by Louisiana congressional delegates. Then -- maybe because Louisiana just isn't producing enough offshore oil and gas -- the Bush administration, via U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodham, in July urged Congress to revoke millions of dollars proposed to restore the state's rapidly eroding coastline. Then came Katrina. Even after President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency here, it took three days to pry him away from vacation -- maybe because, in his own astounding words, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." While Brown and other federal officials praised each other, denied major problems in New Orleans and shopped for foxy designer shoes (great Ferragamos, Condi!) the agonizingly slow, mired-in-red-tape federal response to the accelerating crisis in the city unfolded live on TV. We learned that the phrase "You're doing a heck of a job" is apparently W's version of the Godfather's kiss, as Brown resigned in disgrace days later. The federal response since then has brought little more than finger-pointing, inertia and "Katrina fatigue" (poor souls!) in Washington.

As Katrina approached, an overwhelmed Gov. Kathleen Blanco fidgeted and fretted over the appearance of "federal control" on her turf, delaying life-and-death decisions. Though she credited the state's "Hurricane Pam" emergency scenario with the successful evacuation of a million-plus residents, the plan didn't, inexplicably, consider levee breaches in its doomsday scenario. Officials also didn't learn from the actual Hurricane Cindy, which in July exposed the precarious situation of the homebound elderly (the biggest casualties of Katrina). Since the storm, state officials complain that a "perception of corruption" plagues Louisiana's ability to get federal help. Yet they don't appear interested in changing that reputation, as self-serving lawmakers oppose rebuilding plans that challenged their personal interests. into one entit. It seems the current dysfunctional system has been a trough at which they, and their relatives, have fed for years. Nursing-home owner and industry darling Sen. Joe McPherson (D-Woodworth) tried to absolve some local nursing homes from new, stricter building codes. Legislative "business as usual" also occurs in the contracting process; deals landed by businesses connected to Rep. Gary Smith (D-Norco) and his relatives come to mind.


Though Mayor Ray Nagin and the city's flawed hurricane-response plan left thousands of people stranded in New Orleans during Katrina, we appreciated hearing him blast the federal government's stagnant response. But Nagin's chumminess with President Bush days later made us question his willingness to back up tough talk with tough action. Since then, Nagin has urged displaced residents to return -- though he can't guarantee jobs, housing, city services, environmental safety, stronger levees or anything else. Another local leader, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, has gained a reputation as a hysterical decision-maker in a crisis. Pre-K, Gov. Kathleen Blanco publicly criticized him for being the only regional leader to order contra-flow for Hurricane Dennis. As Katrina approached, Broussard told Jefferson Parish pumping-station operators to leave the pumps and flee -- a move many constituents believe cost them their homes. We said goodbye to Police Chief Eddie Compass, who resigned amid stories of some NOPD officers deserting their posts and encouraging lawlessness after the storm. And the trend of insiders getting contracts isn't limited to state-level cronies, naturally: Omni Pinnacle recently hired former city CAO Charles Rice, then won a lucrative city contract for storm-debris removal. Omni's name also came up in federal extortion charges against St. Tammany councilman Joe Impastato, accused of taking bribes from a landowner in exchange for getting him a subcontract with Omni.

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