Thursday, May 05, 2011

Spoken like a traffic cop, Cronies at his feet

When I learned this morning that Mitch Landrieu was getting ready to make an "important announcement" I was almost certain he was going to tell us either that he had personally killed Bin Laden or that the amount of water in the river was "tremendous" or something. But no it was something else.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has suspended 8th District Police Commander Edwin Hosli and Public Works Director Robert Mendoza in light of revelations about the use of paid details to review traffic camera violations.

The suspensions come in light of an ongoing investigation by the city inspector general of the use of paid NOPD details to review violations under a program that until last fall was overseen by the city's Public Works Department. Traffic cameras now now fall under the oversight of the NOPD.

Somebody, either a T-P scribe or a city press liaison, was so excited by this news that the NOLA.com coverage of the press conference embarrassingly included a strange phonetic spelling of Mendoza's replacement, Nguyen Phan.


Landrieu, also excited, is anxious to convey the message that he is committed to making the red light camera scheme work as it fights for its political life in the state legislature. A sizable portion of the city's budget depends on it.

On top of the legislative momentum for Arnold’s bill, a whole constellation of thorny news stories have recently emerged, in relation to the cameras. So far, they seem to reflect poorly on the NOPD (and therefore the Landrieu administration), because the stories smell of cronyism and lucrative contracts. They reinforce the notion that the whole traffic camera scheme is more about money than safety.

While traffic camera critics like me are giddy about the prospects of Arnold’s legislation, we should maturely acknowledge that passage may have multi-million dollar repercussions on the city budget, and these will probably be noticeable and uncomfortable. Further, there may even be a negative effect on traffic habits and safety.

And so this is why we maturely acknowledge the pressing need for the city to confiscate more Bentleys.

Legislator-turned-lieutenant governor-turned Mayor Mitch Landrieu has a new calling: Repo Man.

At today’s meeting of the City Council’s Budget Committee, Landrieu’s Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin cited a seized luxury car as proof of hizzoner’s zeal to crack down on sales and property tax scofflaws.

Seems the city had initiated a lawsuit against an unnamed French Quarter bar owner who owed over $400,000 in sales taxes. When the tax laggard missed an installment on his repayment plan, the city swooped in and seized the Bentley Azure that had been put up as collateral.

Later we learned that not just one but several French Quarter bar owners ("the economic engine that drives the city!") were being pursued for non-payment of sales taxes (the fuel that drives the city budget!) reminding us that it isn't just the police who frequently feel entitled to flaunt the law in this town just to make a little extra on the side. See the top of that Lens post for a list of the companies involved. And see this T-P story for further details like this.
Deputy City Attorney Bob Ellis, who handled the lawsuit against the French Quarter bar owners, said 89 matters involving an estimated $4.5 million in unpaid taxes have been referred to an enforcement team of city lawyers and Bureau of Revenue employees.
So that's not such a bad start for the revenue department. Still, unless they find enough loose change in Bentley door handles across the city to make up the 12$ million hit from turning off the cameras, they may not be doing much more than weeing in the fan, so to speak.

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