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Updated: 2017-08-19T15:09:43.666-05:00


What did the mayor not know and when did he not know it?


An under reported bit of context to the whole drainage saga is Mitch Landrieu and Cedric Grant have been trying to dump Civil Service for quite some time now. Human Resources Director Sharon Judkins told the board of directors Wednesday (Aug. 16) that the S&WB was short 290 people at the end of July, based on its budget for 1,500 employees. It also has 240 workers eligible to retire, including 121 who are participating in the agency's five-year deferred retirement option program, or DROP.Those averages have plagued the board for months, if not years. In response, outgoing S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant earlier this year had tried to eliminate civil service requirements for all future employees. But he failed to sway the state Legislature. It wasn't just Grant trying to lobby Baton Rouge for these changes. The mayor has a hand in that too. Mitch spent last week implausibly feigning ignorance of some basic information about the status of pumps and turbines.  Here he says he was never notified of a power failure back in March of this year.  But longtime subscribers to regular water service in New Orleans find this dubious given the near constant attention these issues have gotten from one boil order to the next throughout Landrieu's term in office. Even the most casual observers are aware there have been problems.In fact, in his 2012 pitch for a rate increase, the mayor wanted to "be very clear" about the danger we were in.  "I want to be very clear about this, the city is in a position of danger right now. The power plant at the Sewerage and Water Board has broken five times since Katrina," Mayor Landrieu said in an address back in 2012.And this was after a 2010 post-boil order examination where new emergency protocols were supposedly put in place.  But at a news conference a few days later, Sneed said that message didn't arrive for several hours and that it didn't include an official copy of the advisory, which Sneed insisted was needed in order to issue the alert."In the middle of the night, e-mail is good, but it needs to be followed up by phone calls to ensure that we got those messages," he said. "All those problems have been corrected, and we feel confident that the issues won't happen again."St. Martin and Sneed said on Friday that they have changed their emergency protocols as a result. In the future, they said, they will call senior city officials at their home and cell phones -- or dispatch police to rouse them, if necessary -- when major problems occur at night.So somewhere along the line we went from, "we will send a cop to knock on the mayor's door at 2 am if necessary," to, "nobody told the mayor for months that the turbines were on fire."  It's possible this happened after Cedric Grant took over. I guess Mitch really really trusted him for some reason.Until he didn't.Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant will leave much sooner than he indicated, possibly starting his retirement as early as next week, sources told WWL-TV Friday.His departure would clear the way for a soon-to-be-named management team which apparently will be made up of at least five state and national experts from various fields.Grant will be fine, as we are all well aware by now. He's got a big pension waiting for him. That's more than we can say for most of the S&WB line employees, though. And as city leaders move ahead with plans to "reform" municipal pensions or contract more and more work out, that's only going to get worse. It's still highly likely that the incoming team of "experts in various fields" will favor more privatization, regardless of the "vehement denials" we read about here.The state senator now plans to introduce a bill to put City Council members back on the utility's board of directors, which would undo changes in state law that he had helped Landrieu and the council make four years ago.Morrell said Thursday (Aug. 17) that his proposal is a direct response to accusations that the Landrieu administration is attempting t[...]

Congratulations to Jason on taking down Steve Bannon


No idea why anybody want to write for David Brock's bullshit outlet but, well, the timing on this was pretty sweet.The Washington Post focused primarily on the bizarre fact that Bannon listed the Opechee Drive house as his place of residence, despite living in California. The article lightly touched on the state of disrepair in which Bannon left the house — including a bathtub apparently destroyed by acid.But the truth turns out to have been much worse than that.When Curtis first saw the house, the real estate agent, Beatriz Portela, told him the previous tenants “were not very upstanding people” and had “severely damaged” the property.They had “put padlocks on all the doors, installed video cameras, and had ruined the bathtub, kitchen counter, and floor.”Worse, though, was that it had been a “party house,” she said, known for frequent drug use.Carlos Herrera, who owned the house with with his wife, Andreina Morales, painted a picture of what initially seemed to be a normal tenancy but soon evolved into an almost daily parade of debauchery and drug use, including run-ins with the police.“The conclusion is she was probably cooking meth in here,” Herrera said of Bannon’s ex-wife. That would have explained the damage done to the bathtub and kitchen sink.The Wa-Po story he references was pretty famous at the time. And I don't think it's entirely accurate to say it "lightly touched" on the thing that became a major conversation piece for months.  But it certainly was worth following up on.  I'm still not sure Shareblue is the appropriate venue for that follow up. Anything that appears there tends to be delegitimized regardless of the intent or professionalism of the reporter. This is not because of anything having to do with "bias" or partisanship. It is because David Brock is a dishonest propaganda merchant who nobody should produce content for.In any case I am wrong because it clearly worked this time.President Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, multiple White House officials told CNN on Friday.Sources told CNN that Bannon's ouster had been in the works for two weeks and a source said that while Bannon was given the option to resign, he was ultimately forced out. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed Bannon's departure, but claimed the decision for him to leave was mutual. Of course, Bannon doesn't actually have to be in the White House anymore. Having won the 2016 election by helping to pull the center of American politics even further to the ultra right than it had been, his mission is already accomplished. In fact, by leaving now and setting himself up as the scapegoat he's actually helping to further institutionalize this latest re-positioning of the window. A significant segment of the press is bound to cast a post-Bannon Trump admin as more "moderate" in some way. And this,i n turn, is bound to give a newly independent Bannon room to go stake out territory further to the right. Meanwhile Steven Miller and Seb Gorka are still there.... for now, anyway.More importantly, though, Paul Ryan is still hanging around waiting to put your grandma on a catfood diet just as soon as everything calms down enough to pass laws again. And, thanks to all of the above, he represents the "centrist" wing now. [...]

Slow and store


Looks like there's a problem with the money pump.
In its most recent financial tracking report from June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development labeled the city of New Orleans a “slow spender” because it had yet to tap into the National Disaster Resilience Grant – an award the city won in January 2016 following a ballyhooed national competition.

More than $100 million of the $141 million New Orleans received is supposed to go to eight so-called urban water – or green infrastructure – projects across the Gentilly section of the city. Some add retention ponds to parks, water-absorbing landscaping and sunken-garden neutral grounds similar to those seen on Canal Boulevard in Lakeview.
The "green infrastructure" in question here is a number of projects in the city's Urban Water Plan which you can check out here. Interestingly these projects are based on the "slow and store" concept of water management which also turns out to be what's happening with the grant money.  Although, the reasons for this seem pretty understandable.
Hebert said it took a year to get a final agreement to use the HUD money. It was finally signed on former President Barack Obama’s last full day in office, Jan. 19. Then, Hebert said, the city was afraid to start spending its own money to get reimbursed by the feds because President Donald Trump announced plans to defund some HUD programs.

Hebert said the city didn’t feel comfortable spending any of the HUD money until the Trump administration gave final approval to the plan in June.

“We didn't want to encumber city funds before we got that document because we did not know what the Trump administration was going to do at HUD,” Hebert said.
That's a pretty reasonable approach given that the Trump Administration recently threatened to claw back $2 billion designated for street repairs.  But since it doesn't look like there's much of a federal infrastructure plan forthcoming any time soon, we might as well get on with things around here.

Anyway there's a fair amount of talk about this and other drainage issues in the new one of these.

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They all look the same, eh, Tom?


Finally, the details about how out of it Benson really is are starting to leak.
At one point, Henry's attorney, Chris Williams, asked Benson why he had testified that Henry had been with him during the Saints' Super Bowl victory when Henry had not been working for him at the time.

Benson acknowledged that he remembered neither where the Super Bowl had been played — Miami — nor who his assistant was at the time.

During another set of questions, apparently aimed at establishing how close Benson and Henry had been, Benson was shown a photo of the two men with Pelicans star Anthony Davis.

"Who is this?" Williams asked.

"It's Rodney and a basketball player," Benson said. "Oh, hell, I forget his name. Let me — he's a great player for us. Tell me his name, and I will tell you yes or no."

Williams said Anthony Davis.

Benson said, "Yes, that's it."
Before you get too worried, though, just remember that brain damage has been very very good for Benson over the years, financially speaking so this is probably fine.

Money for Bags


Michael Bagneris won what Tyler Bridges is calling the "Frank Stewart Primary."  Michael Bagneris has won the Frank Stewart primary, and that could pay dividends for a New Orleans mayoral candidate who has lagged in the polls and in raising money.Stewart, who built a nationwide funeral home and cemetery business that was sold in 2013, is not only supporting Bagneris but also organized a breakfast for the former judge last week with some three dozen friends and associates capable of writing big campaign checks.“My candidate knocked the socks off all 38 people,” Stewart said Wednesday. “They all said he was so impressive that they would support him. I was overwhelmed.” Stewart's profile in New Orleans politics got a lift earlier this year after he published full-page newspaper ads denouncing Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his decision to push for the removal of four Jim Crow-era monuments, including the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle I wonder does this mean we have to ask Bagneris about the monuments now? Actually, wait, we did do this. Or at least Bridges did in an earlier article. Michael Bagneris, a former Civil District Court judge, lamented that the debate over whether to take down the monuments “divides the races.” He said Landrieu should have put the decision to the city’s voters.“Everybody would have had a chance to express their view,” he said. “Whichever way it would have come down, people would have been satisfied.”Bagneris declined to say how he would have voted.Asked for a clarification of his views, he chose to have a spokesman issue a written statement. “At this time,” it said, “there is nothing further to say on the subject as it distracts from the real issue facing our city: solving the violent crime problem.”Tut tut at the "divisiveness," fail to take a stand on the issue, and go full bore into "Murders Not Monuments."  That's some bold leadership right there. No wonder Stewart and friends are impressed. They also like a guy who isn't here to coddle the damn kids today. Besides Stewart, Jay Lapeyre, another prominent New Orleans businessman, hosted a meet-and-greet with Bagneris at his Uptown home on Aug. 3 with about 20 friends. Lapeyre said that afterward he decided to support Bagneris and contributed the maximum $5,000.“Michael has the personal accomplishments needed to understand how important it is to create opportunities that are aspirational for other people,” said Lapeyre, who runs a major manufacturing company and has headed powerful business associations such as the Business Council of New Orleans. “You can’t think it’s just about what do we need to do to make it more comfortable. It’s about how to challenge people, especially young people.” Geeze. Meanwhile, here is Peter Athas's debut column at the Bayou Brief. It's a brief summary of some recent mayoral elections with some good commentary on the candidates and their coalitions. I'm not 100 percent in agreement with Peter's characterization of certain people and events but it's a very worthwhile piece.  I've been looking specifically at 2002 as a comparable scenario to this election for a few months now.  Peter seems to agree with that. There were two frontrunners at the start of the 2002 campaign: State Sen. Paulette Irons and Marc Morial’s respected police chief, Richard Pennington. Irons’ well-financed bid to be the city’s first female mayor fell apart because of a somewhat casual acquaintance with the truth, as pointed out by the Gambit‘s Allen Johnson in a piece entitled “The Perils of Paulette.” Irons was also the subject of an intense opposition campaign. As to the late Chief Pennington, he was a great cop, a nice man, and a terrible politician. His biggest mistake was allowing Dollar Bill Jefferson’s organization to run his campaign. White voters still took a dim view of the Congressman in 2002, and with [...]

Somehow Billy Nungesser is owned


Remember back in April when Billy begged for Trump's attention over monument removal? Totally ignored.  Today, though, Trump is all about some statues. Nobody ever listens to poor Billy. 

Anyway, we've just finished up our course in monument removal here. If America wants to borrow our notes, they are welcome.

Always fun to get out and play with the robot



Eh... I would say throw it back and fire up the claw machine again but I'm afraid that's enough excitement for one day.  Thanks again to Homeland Security looking out for us in case anybody happened to be doing any reading in the vicinity.

Candidates agree flooding is bad


It's a bold stance, I know.  For what it's worth, Bagneris probably has the closest thing to a point here.
The clamor grew louder after revelations that the S&WB had put out misleading statements about the capacity of the drainage system during the flood, even as Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for senior S&WB officials’ resignations and said he would hire a private firm to find out just what went wrong and to temporarily run the embattled agency.

Bagneris on Thursday urged Landrieu to hire two separate firms to conduct an assessment of the S&WB’s failures and to manage its operations in the short term.

“If one firm does both, we will never get a TRUE picture of what happened, only one firm’s analysis and how they can supposedly fix the problem,” he said.
It's still very likely that it could happen that way. 

"Former white suprmacist"


Odd little caption from the EWE birthday tribute at yesterday under a photo from 1991.
Edwin Edwards, left, and David Duke, prepare to discuss their candidacies on WDSU's "Meet the Press," November 10, 1991, in New Orleans. Edwards beat Duke, a former white supremacist, in the 1991 gubernatorial election to serve his last term. Both Edwards and Duke's success embarrassed Louisiana. Edwards had been plagued by government corruption scandals during his prior time in office. Duke was a high-profile racist.
I guess he must have come out of retirement recently.  I kind of get what they're saying, though.  In 1991, Duke really was selling himself as a "former white supremacist" in order to pretty himself up for politics. Most people didn't believe him, of course. But he still got a fair amount of "on many sides" benefit of the doubt in the press anyway. Would he even need to pretend today?  

This is why it's always good to ask what's up


Because we asked, Mitch felt obligated to come out and explicitly say, "'I do not intend to privatize the Sewerage and Water Board" today. That's good to hear even though it's still worth paying close attention to the details of the coming management reshuffle.

Anyway, a week ago, we were being told that, because the rain would have overwhelmed the pumps even if they had been at 100 percent of full capacity, that it didn't make any sense for us to ask about them.  It's true about the rain. But it turned out that it was worth asking anyway.  It's always worth asking.

So anyway, who bought Avondale?


There's so much excitement this week, it seems like this would have been a bigger deal otherwise.Two years after it was put up for sale, the former Avondale shipyard has found a buyer, but few details have been released about the idle West Bank facility's future. Huntington Ingalls Industries executives disclosed the development Aug. 3 in an earnings call with analysts. The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, where the defense giant is based, first reported the news Tuesday. "We signed a purchase-and-sale agreement for the sale of the property," Chris Kastner, Huntington Ingalls' chief financial officer, told analysts, according to the report. "While this is a positive step toward an eventual sale, a comprehensive due diligence process will now be initiated before the potential buyer is obligated to close."Beci Brenton, a Huntington Ingalls spokeswoman, confirmed the agreement Wednesday but declined further comment.Nobody is saying who the buyer is but it's obvious a lot of people know. The article points out some things a lot of us in the public already kind of know.  For example, there had been speculation that Avondale would end up as part of the deal between the City and the Port over the Public Belt Railroad. My understanding was that the occupants of the soon to be demolished Gov. Nicholls and Esplanade wharves might be relocated to Avondale. But then we read recently that they're moving to a facility on France Road.On Thursday, the port's governing board approved the broad outlines of an arrangement that would terminate TCI's current lease in favor of a new deal for property the port will purchase for $10.5 million at 4325 France Road, along the Industrial Canal. TCI's new lease will be for 20 years and will allow it to occupy the France Road property immediately. It will pay no rent for two years to cover relocation expenses.That's pretty nice for the tennant that they're making it worth their trouble.  It's also nice they were able to arrange the shipyard purchase at such a steep discount. Really helps spread the wealth around a bit.In recent months, Huntington Ingalls dropped the asking price for the Avondale property to $95 million from $125 million, Jerry Bologna, president and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, said.Speaking of which,  it also works out well for the France Road property owner that the Port is apparently able to pay almost twiced the assessed value. The France Road property is now owned by Gulf Coast Shipyard Realty LLC, land records show. That company is owned by a group with ties to Shane Guidry, the chairman and CEO of Harvey Gulf International Marine, a marine transportation company.The Orleans Parish Assessor's Office values the France Road property at more than $5.5 million.That looks like a pretty sweet deal for Shane Guidry. Wait. Who is Shane Guidry, again?During the last three years, Shane Guidry has become Louisiana’s most generous campaign contributor. In addition to serving as the CEO of Harvey Gulf, Guidry is also the special assistant to Attorney General Jeff Landry, where he collects a $12,000 annual salary and oversees the department’s criminal investigations unit. Landry was once Guidry’s personal lawyer.Please enjoy that article, by the way. Guidry has a lot of friends besides Landry. Billy Nungesser, Cameron Henry, Newell Normand... pretty much all of your favorites and ours show up in there somewhere.  Certainly can't hurt your chances of getting in on the big deals like this. Anyway, can't wait to find out who bought the shipyard.[...]

So how big as that "fiscal cliff" anyway?


About $1.5 billion, it turns out.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s looming mid-2018 budget gap is projected to be $1.5 billion. That’s the official price tag in documents to be presented to lawmakers Friday, the first update since the legislative sessions ended in June. Most of the shortfall projected for the budget year that begins July 1, 2018, is tied to the expiration of temporary sales taxes enacted by lawmakers last year.

When in doubt, just privatize everything


You know, the term shock doctrine tends to get thrown around a lot these days....
Landrieu spokesman Tyronne Walker said the administration is attempting to arrange for a private company to come in "as a temporary arrangement, for a finite time frame to be determined to allow for the stabilization of the system."
You know.. just until we can figure out what's going on..

The pumps have always been on fire


Due to certain recent events, the new official policy is to actually tell people about it. In very dramatic fashion, I might add. Thanks to a 3am text alert and emergency press conference,  a lot of us are starting today on less than 100 percent of a full night's sleeping capacity.

If we understand the mayor correctly there, the points of particular interest are: 1) The turbine they lost last night is in addition to what sounds like one or two that were already down for repairs for quite some time now. This further underscores the insult of the "Shut up, everything is working fine" party line that just got everybody fired this week. 2) The new outage happened somewhere around 8:00 last night. This makes us wonder why they waited until 3am to sound the alarm. Maybe they did it out of spite. Or maybe they wanted to wait until the witching hour had passed in order to make James Gray happy.

Here's how you can tell which is not the serious candidate


At a recent Council At-Large forum, Keith Hardie asked candidates an interesting question about the city's "Balkanized" parks management system. 
Keith Hardie, a Carrollton neighborhood activist, reminded the candidates that a proposed property-tax to support the Audubon Institute had failed, in part because voters wanted their tax money to go to a wider range of recreation activities. The city, however, has no unified public parks system — it has individual boards that govern specific properties like Audubon Park, a recreation department, and even a Parks and Parkways department that handles other green spaces.

Would the candidates be in favor of uniting this “Balkanized” collection of agencies, Hardie asked, into a single public parks department like other cities? And would they then support a new property tax dedicated to funding it?

The worst of those individual boards serve as little semi-private fiefdoms people like Ron Foreman use to turn public subsidies into six figure salaries. The NORDC model introduced by Landrieu also engenders a kind of territorial jealousy over the best use of amenities that tends to favor friends wealthier interests and commercial partners. There are other concerns but Hardie's question was primarily about the most equitable use of public resources.  Judging from the answers only Joseph Bouie seemed to understand this.
What the parks and the schools have in common, said State Rep. Joe Bouie, is that both have suffered from the post-Katrina trend of “privatizing” governmental services — through chartering the local schools to individual nonprofit boards or outsourcing the parks to the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission.

“We are actually privatizing almost all of our public assets. I have serious concerns about that … to take the community’s voice out of their tax dollars,” Bouie said, noting that the school were open to more neighborhood events before charters took them over. “Prior to the privatization of our schools, that’s how we used the schools.”
Helena Moreno had actually brought up the schools first but in a slightly different sense than how Bouie means it.  She suggested more "partnerships" between schools and parks. That's fine if she means it the way Bouie does when he says school facilities can host community events sometimes. But, in her version, the school facilities and the "open to the public" parks facilities really ought to be the same thing. That's a less good thought. 

To be clear, though, her answer wasn't bad. It was just incomplete. Only Bouie talked about the privatization problem.  Which means, of course, he is not the serious candidate in this race.

Eat the tourists


Don't act so surprised. That's what it's supposed to do.
The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority’s largest new transit infrastructure investment since Hurricane Katrina — its North Rampart streetcar line — actually reduced convenient access to jobs in nearby areas, according to a new report.

The report was released by RIDE New Orleans, a transit advocacy group that has long argued that the RTA should prioritize buses, which carry almost exclusively local riders, over the more picturesque streetcars, which appeal to tourists.
We know that's what it's supposed to do because they told us that's what it was supposed to do when they were planning it. In this meeting, Justin Augustine didn't say anything about getting people more efficient transit. He talked about "revitalizing a corridor."
Justin Augustine, the agency’s general manager, said the project will take about two years to complete once the work gets started. As with the Loyola Avenue spur, which opened in January 2013, city officials hope the investment will pay off by generating economic development in a part of the city where revitalization efforts have proceeded in fits and starts.

“When we first introduced the concept, we wanted to revitalize and renew parts of the city, and we knew that along that corridor, you’d be touching five historic neighborhoods,” Augustine said, referring to the French Quarter, Iberville, the Treme, the Marigny and the Upper 9th Ward. “We’re hoping with all of our projects that we spur economic development.”
In this meeting, Pres Kabacoff explicitly said the way to revitalize the corridor was to make the transit slower and less reliable for people trying to get anywhere on time.
Pres Kabacoff, a real estate developer from the Bywater neighborhood, said he thinks the streetcar will help spur business. Kabacoff even argued that slowing down vehicle traffic might be a good thing, since having cars whip by "is not conducive for good retail development."

He added, "To the extent that people have a difficult time in traffic getting down the street it may cause them to want to live in the area and use an effective streetcar."
Of course nobody actually lives in the area. It's all Airbnbs um.. overnight po-boy parties and such there. But, hey, the corridor is "revitalized." Tourism is doing that. It's also killing the city.