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I-10: Ten Things to Know in New Orleans this Week (Aug 22, 2017) 

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Photo by Cheryl Gerber

1. RENE BRUNET, KING OF THE PRYTANIA THEATRE, DIES AT 95
Rene Brunet Jr., who spent his life running New Orleans movie houses, was a familiar face at the Prytania Theatre, which he bought in 1996 while in his seventies. Brunet died Aug. 17. He was 95.

  Brunet's father, Rene Brunet Sr., built and ran several movie theaters in the early 1900s. Brunet Jr. was born Aug. 25, 1921 and started working with his father at The Imperial Theater at a young age. He took over the business when his father died in 1946. During his career, Brunet Jr. operated many New Orleans motion picture houses, including the Clabon, Carver and Gallo theaters, as well as others in the region. For several decades, he owned and ran the Joy Theater on Canal Street, which hosted the first New Orleans Film Festival.

  With historian Jack Stewart, Brunet wrote a book about local theaters, There's One in Your Neighborhood: The Lost Movie Theaters of New Orleans, published by Arthur Hardy Enterprises in 2012. It documents the city's many single-screen neighborhood theaters.

  Brunet is survived by his wife Muriel and five children. Services will be held Friday, Aug. 25 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor (2701 State St.). The family also plans a memorial at the Prytania.

2. Quote of the week
"I look at this like Edwin is an entertainer," Honeycutt said. "And I haven't been to a concert yet where an entertainer just said, 'Come on in for free.' Everyone's willing to pay to see him perform." — Former Gov. Edwin Edwards' official biographer, Leo Honeycutt, on the $250-per-head 90th birthday party for Edwards in Baton Rouge Aug. 12. Edwards, who had four trials for public corruption, was eventually convicted of 17 charges of racketeering, wire and mail fraud, money laundering and other charges.

  The crowd that gathered to fete Edwards included Gov. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco and GOP state Senate President John Alario, as well as French Quarter entertainer Chris Owens. NOLA.com's Julia O'Donoghue reported that major sponsors included "prominent lobbyists, former lawmakers and The Advocate," and that photos of the Edwards family were for sale in the lobby. The event was not for charity; proceeds, if any, benefited the Silver Fox himself. State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, called it "a tribute to corruption" and said, "We are a rich state filled with poor people to a great extent because of the Edwin Edwards philosophy and the people who honored him Saturday night."

3. Beatty out at The Lens under unclear circumstances
Steve Beatty, publisher and CEO of The Lens, "has left the nonprofit, investigative newsroom in New Orleans to pursue other interests," The Lens announced last week — a characterization Beatty, a longtime New Orleans journalist, disputes.

  Reached by phone, Beatty asked Gambit how the news had gotten out, and was unaware The Lens had announced his departure.

  Editor Steve Myers had no comment, referring Gambit to Nicholas Peddle, chairman of The Lens' six-person board of directors.

  Peddle told Gambit, "It's accurate he did resign. The Lens has grown a lot under his leadership and the board and staff of The Lens wish him nothing but the best." Asked if the board requested Beatty's resignation, Peddle said, "No, the board did not pressure him to resign." Pressed further on whether the board then would welcome Beatty back if he changed his mind, Peddle said, "He resigned. Let's just leave it at that."

  Informed of Peddle's comments, Beatty said, "No. I did not resign."

  Beatty spent 15 years as an editor at The Times-Picayune before moving to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He returned to New Orleans in 2009 and worked as an investigative reporter for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He became editor of The Lens after its founding in early 2010, moving on to the role of publisher/CEO in 2016, when Myers assumed the editorship. Under Beatty and Myers, The Lens has watchdogged the city's public school system, city contracts and criminal justice, among other issues.

  Peddle said a search for an interim publisher is underway now, and a search for a permanent replacement for Beatty would begin "in the new year."

4. City approves millions for drainage repair, flood response
The New Orleans City Council approved nearly $34 million to cover drainage repair and flood response in the wake of flooding this month. That $34 million includes $22 million for repairs through the Department of Public Works (DPW) and $11.9 from the general fund to target drainage and bulk up future flood prevention.

  More than $14 million from bond funding already is budgeted for catch basin and drainage repair. At a meeting Aug. 17, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration requested $11.9 million from the general fund, including $7.8 million for emergency drainage repairs, $650,000 for alarm systems and warning signals, $3 million for Homeland Security readiness, and $500,000 for a so-called "after-action" report to determine what went wrong throughout the city's S&WB system before, during and after the Aug. 5 floods. Landrieu opened a request for proposals for that report Aug. 15.

  Dani Galloway, serving as DPW director following the departure of Mark Jernigan, also introduced two emergency bid contracts totaling $22 million to assess and repair the city's catch basins. Under one $7 million contract, crews will assess and clear 15,000 catch basins. Another $13 million contract will cover major and minor repairs over 12 months.

  City officials say progress is being made slowly to repair the power sources for the S&WB's drainage pump systems, and DPW is beginning to clear a backlog of backed-up drains.

  DPW has cleaned and unclogged 393 catch basins since the flooding earlier this month. There still are 6,000 open calls for catch basin and drainage service from residents calling 311.

  S&WB's turbine No. 1 is back online after a reported fire had cut off power in the days after the flood. Two others are expected to come back online in September.

5. Netroots Nation coming to NOLA in 2018
The annual Netroots Nation political conference will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans Aug. 2-4, 2018, organizers announced last week at the 2017 conference in Atlanta.

  Netroots Nation describes itself as "the largest annual conference for progressives, drawing thousands of attendees from around the country and beyond." This year's conference in Atlanta featured speeches by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Al Gore; past speakers have included former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

6. Internet in Louisiana schools: getting better
In March, only 11 of the state's 69 districts applied to participate in a no-cost statewide network that would drastically improve internet access in schools. The Louisiana Board of Regents declined to move forward with the plan "due to an apparent lack of interest," it said in a statement earlier this year. The program would use "e-rate" funds through the FCC to build a statewide fiber network within the Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure and extend them to schools.

  Despite that news, Education Superhighway, an advocacy group that reports on the state of internet access in schools, says individual school districts in Louisiana have made progress with internet connectivity and that all 69 districts are connected to fiber. The group — meeting with the Louisiana House of Representatives' Joint Education committee Aug. 16 — said schools are close to meeting FCC connectivity goals, with roughly 80 percent of schools on a bandwidth of at least 100 kbps.

  But access to affordable and reliable Wi-Fi remains a cost burden for districts in lower-income and rural areas. Schools that aren't able to meet connectivity goals are finding that higher-speed internet access is cost prohibitive. The group revealed that only 42 percent of school districts meet affordability benchmarks, and only 74 percent have sufficient Wi-Fi.

7. Louisiana foster care program 'overworked'
Low staffing levels, high caseloads and high staff turnover rates have crippled Louisiana's foster care program within the state's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). An August report from the state Legislative Auditor's office finds an overworked department "which affects employees' ability to ensure the safety and well-being of children in foster care." In 2016, caseworkers had an average of 16 cases — DCFS policy is for caseworkers to have no more than 10.

  The report also found that that DCFS didn't ensure whether foster providers had required background checks. DCFS didn't perform "timely background checks" on 34 percent of non-certified providers in 2016, and nearly 30 percent had no background checks at all as of December 2016.

  DCFS Secretary Marketa GarnerWalters isn't surprised by the results of the audit. Walters was brought in by Gov. John Bel Edwards in January 2016 after Edwards' transition team found a department struggling to provide basic services. Since then, DCFS has shuffled employees to cover cases and implemented a policy preventing kids from going to homes where cases of abuse have been reported.

  Earlier this month, Louisiana first lady Donna Edwards launched a statewide campaign to help connect faith-based organizations, businesses and nonprofits with foster families that may need community support. DCFS has served 7,808 children in foster care in the last year. More than 4,000 children lived in 2,250 foster families in that time frame, and more than 50 percent of those children are under age 5. Find more information at www.louisianafosters.la.gov.

8. Free brake light repair clinics
The New Orleans chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is sponsoring two brake light repair events, where volunteers will fix broken tail lights at no cost to help prevent tickets or arrests that disproportionately impact people of color and low-income drivers who are stuck with costly fees that can add up quickly.

  According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, traffic stops made up 42 percent of contacts between police and citizens in 2011. Three percent of all stops resulted in a search of the driver, vehicle or both. In a 2017 report that scraped data from 31 states between 2011-2015, The Stanford Open Policing Project found black and Hispanic drivers are twice as likely as whites to be searched when they are stopped.

  The events are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 26 at 711 Broad St. and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 16 at Baronne and Euterpe streets. Email info@dsanew- orleans.org for more information.

9. Louisiana Children's Museum breaks ground on new City Park location
This month, the Louisiana Children's Museum (LCM) officially breaks ground on its new home in New Orleans City Park, with ambitious plans to offer groundbreaking programming to improve child welfare in New Orleans.

  The museum is expanding from its 19,000-square-foot Warehouse District space to an 8.5-acre complex in the heart of City Park across from the New Orleans Botanical Garden and overlooking a lagoon. The center, along with its expanded community partnerships, will feature five indoor exhibits and galleries, including the "Follow that Food" gallery, which focuses on Louisiana food resources from field and stream to table. Outdoor attractions include a sensory garden and an edible garden, plus Pelican's Perch and the Floating Classroom, which offer interactive ways to experience and understand Louisiana's wetlands and ecosystem.

  The Julia Street location remains open throughout construction. The City Park museum is slated to open in summer 2019.

10. Youth misdemeanor offenses could become summonses rather than arrests
New Orleans youth who commit misdemeanor offenses could receive a warning or summons instead of being arrested under an ordinance the New Orleans City Council is expected to debate this week. The ordinance — which was approved by the Council's Criminal Justice Committee — is aimed at preventing young people from entering the criminal justice system.

  Under the ordinance, police officers would have the discretion to give youth a warning or summons for 11 types of misdemeanor crimes. According to the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights, 28 percent of juvenile misdemeanor arrests in 2016 would have been eligible for summonses or warnings under the ordinance. Fourteen percent of all cases were for school-based offenses — misdemeanors that occurred during school hours on school grounds that could have been handled by the school.

  The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance Aug. 24.

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