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   Lee Zurik, investigative reporter at WWL-TV and the media's biggest thorn in the side of Mayor Ray Nagin, will be leaving the station when his current contract expires Nov. 5. Both Zurik and WWL news director Chris Slaughter confirmed the departure, saying renegotiations fell apart over Zurik's desire to move from weekend anchor to a weekday position, something Slaughter says is unavailable.

   Zurik says he intends to remain in television news in New Orleans, but due to the stipulations of his contract, Zurik has not contacted or been contacted by any other local stations. Asked if anyone had negotiated on his behalf, Zurik referred the question to his lawyer, Rick Carr, a Denver-based attorney.

   "I've been representing Lee and trying to find the best situation for him," Carr said Sept. 1, stopping well short of the word "negotiations." "We've been having conversations but nothing that rises to the level of a signed agreement. He has decided to end his tenure with WWL, but what he will be doing is still not decided." Asked if he had approached or been approached by other New Orleans television stations, Carr declined to comment: "It's never a good idea for a station or an individual to say anything before anything is final. I'm looking for a situation that best takes advantage of his ability."

   If he does stay in New Orleans, Zurik will be bound by a "non-compete" clause, a piece of boilerplate in TV reporters' contracts that prohibits them for going to work for a competitor immediately after leaving a job. Most non-competes are three to six months in duration; Zurik's non-compete is six months, which would mean that any local TV job would keep him off New Orleans airways through the beginning of May 2010.

   This would keep Zurik — a Peabody Award winner for his expose of the NOAH housing scandal and one of New Orleans' best City Hall reporters — from reporting on the mayor's race, which has been slow to start but will kick into gear just as Zurik leaves the station. Candidates must qualify for the ballot by early December, and the primary is Feb. 6, 2010. Zurik will also not be on the air for Nagin's departure and the installation of the new mayor.

   Zurik has crossed swords with Nagin many times in the past, not only over the NOAH revelations, but also over a 2008 report that the city overpaid for its 311 nonemergency information service. His repeated requests for the mayor's email records and personal calendar under the Louisiana Public Records Act ended up in court when Zurik sued Nagin and city attorney Penya Moses-Fields; Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet upheld Zurik in that case.

   Slaughter told Gambit he was willing to reopen negotiations if Zurik approached him, but Zurik made it clear his decision was final: "That door is closed," he said. — Kevin Allman


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