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Inside New Orleans 

Hot Off the Grill

Gossip about Louisiana politicians has provided some sizzle lately to, an Internet rumor mill whose anonymous tidbits on Beltway pols range from prophetic insider tidbits to bogus hearsay.

The Web site rates its "hot off the grill" scoops with points that range from 1 ("Send It Back") to 20 ("Sizzling"). A message board, commentaries and other features give political junkies additional forums on the "hot off the grill" scoops.

The site gave a respectable 10 points ("Tasty Morsel") to a recent dish from a poster named "Mr. Big Stuff," who reports that Rep. John Cooksey, R-La., will drop out of the U.S. Senate race against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to make way for Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell. "Pretty tame for Louisiana. Where's the graft? But good scoop all the same," the site opines.

A much less likely scenario, according to the site, is a rumor submitted by "K Street Honcho," asserting that Landrieu "is being pursued to switch [parties] by GOP leadership." Capitolgrilling awarded it 2 points, with the comment "Needs Seasoning."

Brews, Schmooze and Eco-News

Activists around the city have been gathering recently to knock back a few cold ones and powwow about industrial emissions, eroding wetlands, arsenic levels in drinking water, and other casual barroom topics at the monthly "Environmental Happy Hour," held at 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at Ernst Café in the CBD. The next enviro-tossback will be June 20.

Those who frequent the monthly gatherings include activists, enviro-friendly business owners, reporters, and "folks that do environmental organizing professionally in the city," says Aaron Viles, Gulf States field organizer for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), who initiated the event.

Among the environmental movers and shakers spotted there are Linda Calvert, director of the Mayor's Office of Environmental Affairs; Gary Groesch, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy; Doug Daigle of the Mississippi River Basin Alliance; Andy Borbely of U.S. PIRG; Renee Allie of the Green Project; and Barbara Vincent, who chairs the Sierra Club's Delta chapter.

"It's mostly just hanging out and sharing ideas, and getting folks up to speed on what's happening in the environmental community -- what people should be paying attention to," Viles says.

Calvert says Viles organized the regular event a few months back after moving to Louisiana from Washington, D.C. "I think it was a brilliant idea of his," she says. "He said there were four or five of these in Washington, and there's nothing here ... there's good networking that goes on."

Benefit for Wounded Officer

The Police Association of New Orleans will host a $100-per-person fundraiser for Officer Chris Abbott, who is recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in the line of duty on May 17. PANO officials say Sunday's fundraiser will help Abbott recover critical supplemental income he will lose from missing his off-duty, private security details.

City Personnel Director J. Michael Doyle says police and firefighters injured in the line of duty receive their full city salary for up to one year -- and no deductions from their personal sick leave. In addition, there is a provision of civil service rules that permits the police superintendent to recommend that Abbott not lose any regular, recurring overtime while he is convalescing. Moreover, should Abbott suffer an unrelated injury upon returning to work, then he would be entitled to an additional year of paid sick leave.

"There is basically an unending safety net for police and firefighters that doesn't apply to other city workers," Doyle says. "These are the benefits that city gives officers for putting their life on the line and for accepting the assumption of risk. The only thing he might lose would be money from [private] details," Doyle says of Abbott.

The event begins at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 24, at Katie's Restaurant, 3701 Iberville St. For ticket information, call Rhonda McCord, 827-1386, or Sgt. Kevin Anderson, 565-7500.

Fuel for the Sunship

Teaching Responsible Earth Education (TREE), an environmental education group best known for its instructive, overnight camping trips for urban-area school kids, will host a "star-gazing" fundraiser from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at a private home in Bayou St. John. Angela Herbert, assistant director of the Uptown-based nonprofit organization, says TREE depends on grants and donations to support its four popular, outdoor education programs for fourth- through eighth-grade students.

Many TREE programs are conducted at a camp in Covington. "Because many of the students are from urban areas, the outdoor setting also helps the kids to make hands-on connections to the lessons they are learning while giving them first-time experiences with nature," Herbert says. The most extensive and longest-running TREE program is a five-day, overnight camp course for fifth graders called "Sunship Earth."

The fundraiser will include live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $25. For info, call 895-2772 or visit TREE's Web site at

Civil Service Gets a Scolding

In a blistering decision, the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal scolded the Civil Service Commission for "arbitrary and capricious interference" of New Orleans Police Superintendent Richard Pennington's authority to manage the NOPD.

The Fourth Circuit late last month reversed the commission's decision to reduce the chief's suspension of officer Jake Schnapp from 30 days to 10 days, in connection with a 1995 traffic accident involving Schnapp's patrol car and another vehicle.

But the three-judge panel didn't stop at reinstating the officer's suspension. In an opinion authored by new Appeal Court Judge Max N. Tobias Jr., the judges cited a string of recent disciplinary cases in which the commission had allegedly interfered with the superintendent's authority.

The judges told the commission that the panel could only use its authority to reduce, reverse or affirm a penalty "if there is insufficient cause for imposing the greater penalty." However, the commission may not simply substitute its own judgment for that of the superintendent: "The public puts its trust in the police department as a guardian of its safety, and it is essential that [the chief] be allowed to establish and enforce appropriate standards of conduct for its employees. ... Indeed the commission should give heightened regard to the appointing authorities that serve as special guardians of the public's safety and operate as quasi-military institutions where strict discipline is imperative."

The ruling may be viewed as a major victory for the administration of Mayor Marc Morial, who has accused the Civil Service Commission of being an impediment to police reform. City Attorney Mavis Early, Chief Deputy City Attorney Franz Zibilich and Assistant City Attorney Joe DiRosa could not be reached for comment. NOPD spokesman Lt. Marlon Defillo also could not be reached. Civil Service Department director J. Michael Doyle declined comment. Schnapp attorney Frank DeSalvo said he would need to review the ruling before making any comment.

Legal Fee Request Denied

A Civil District Court judge has denied a request by attorneys for First District Assessor Patricia Johnson to compel the Orleans Parish Board of Assessors and other property tax-recipient bodies to pay their legal fees for defending property valuations by Johnson's office.

Judge Michael Bagneris ruled early last month that his judgment addressed "only the procedural defects" and "not any of the substantive positions in the petition" filed by Johnson lawyers John D. Rawls and LeRoy A. Hartley. "We are leaning toward amending the lawsuit to meet the judge's objections, but we're certainly not dropping it," Rawls says. "The judge has no made no final decision. He didn't rule on the merits. He only ruled on a procedural technicality."

In his May 7 judgment, Bagneris ruled: "Stripped to its simplest allegation, this [petition] is merely an expedited request for the recovery of unpaid attorney fees. While the court appreciates the frustration of the petitioners and the assessor who retained them, the court cannot create an extraordinary remedy for which ordinary relief is provided by the law."

Following are defendants named in the suit and percentages of each property tax dollar those entities received from assessments: City of New Orleans, 39.8 percent; Orleans Parish School Board, 27.9 percent, Sewerage & Water Board, 12.3 percent; Downtown Development District, 8.7 percent; Orleans Levee District , 6.6 percent; Audubon Park and Zoo, 2.5 percent; Orleans Law Enforcement District [Criminal Sheriff's office], 1.6 percent; and Board of Assessors, 0.6 percent.


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