Friday, August 04, 2023

I've been around

It was in mid-June that the odds-on candidate for Man of the Year 2023 emerged in New Orleans

A popular chef reported missing in New Orleans over the weekend has been found alive after his family told local media he was dead, according to multiple reports.

Family of Demietriek Scott, who goes by "Chef Scott," reported the cook missing on Saturday, New Orleans Police Department confirmed to USA TODAY.

His family later told multiple outlets including WWL his body had been found on the side of a bridge in the city's Ninth Ward on Monday morning.

But on Monday night, New Orleans media reported Scott, 47, had been found alive and well.

I’ve been around,” Scott told WVUE after he showed up at his family’s home late Monday afternoon. “I essentially just needed some time for myself.

I don't know if this is a function of the diminished capacity of local news reporting (support your local indie outlets while you still have them!) But it does seem kind of amazing that the state and city can hold months of negotiations over critical parcels of land downtown and the public doesn't hear about it until the day before the legislature takes up a bill to move it forward.  

Under the mayor’s plan, the state would give the city its share of Duncan Plaza and the Heal parking garage at the back end of the plaza.

In exchange, the state would receive the land under the courthouse at the corner of Poydras Street and Loyola Avenue, as well as two city streets that run alongside the Caesars Superdome and the green space along West Stadium Drive.

There are a ton of tricky points of contention between the city and state that threatened to (and still could) undermine the deal. But they did manage to get by the first legislative hurdle (mostly by just removing the points of disagreement from the law they had to pass.) So there's still a long way to go and we'll see what happens. 

One thing to keep an eye on will be the fate of the public space in the plaza itself. Recall in 2017 the city announced big plans to turn the park over to the DDD for a major renovation. But the goal seemed to lean toward limiting public space in favor of monetization.  Which would be a shame for reasons that then-DDD director Kurt Weigle acknowledged. 

Hundreds of homeless people took up residence in Duncan Plaza for a couple of years after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, given its proximity to City Hall, it has been a popular site for protests and rallies. That’s been particularly true in recent months, and the park has become a popular starting or end point for marches protesting various policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Weigle said the DDD will not try to curtail that part of the park’s use.

“It’s fair to say that this agreement would not be in place if we had not made a commitment to continue to support that kind of activity in the park,” Weigle said.

“Being someone who loves that part of what it means to be an American, I’d never look to curtail that in any way,” he added. “It’s something we’re looking to celebrate along with all the other uses in the park.”

It's anybody's guess at how sincere Weigle was about any of that. It's a moot question since he's long gone now. Also city officials have been especially hostile toward the homeless as of late which could inform the park design as well.

Gordan Plaza residents suffer one more indignity

It almost seems intentional. 

One of the first buyouts of a home in Gordon Plaza, a largely Black neighborhood built four decades ago atop a toxic dump, netted a $250,000 profit for the owner, who purchased it in late 2021 as a mass buyout and relocation of the subdivision’s residents was being discussed at City Hall.

The Dorsey family had lived at the ranch house on Gordon Plaza Drive since it was built in 1982. They’ve lost multiple family members to cancers they believe can be linked to living on what is now a Superfund site.

But the Dorseys sold the property 18 months ago for $55,000 to Treme daycare operator Lizzell Brooks-Williams, who owns several other New Orleans properties.

It really seems like this is something that could have been avoided in the process of designing the eligibility requirements of the buyout program. Unless, of course, they didn't want to avoid this scenario. Because it just really really seems like they didn't. 

A New Orleans truck driver who wanted to get into the real-estate business by starting with something cheap.

An air conditioning and heating company owner who lives in Atlanta.

A retired police officer who paid fire-sale prices for three deteriorating homes, which remain blighted but are now valued at $475,000.

All are among those now benefiting from the city of New Orleans’ $35 million plan to buy out owners of Gordon Plaza, the largely Black neighborhood built four decades ago atop a toxic dump.

One SWB scandal just flows right into the next

A 2021 WWLTV investigation exposed a wide range of irregularities and self dealing at the Sewerage and Water Board. The facet of that story that drew the most attention from law enforcement turned out to be permits officers with side gigs as contractors. The facet that most interested us was that the records of all of this were kept by, well, not the most modern of systems. 

A lot of this has been kept under wraps by the Sewerage and Water Board’s antiquated plumbing permitting system. The board told WWL-TV that no computerized database of plumbing permits and inspections exists, not even an index. The station has fought for over a year just to be able to see the room where permits are kept and maintained by Arnold and his staff during work hours.

The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors sent a scathing letter to the Sewerage and Water Board in January, blasting it for being “obstructionist” to the licensing board’s efforts to root out contractor and permitting fraud.

Arnold’s permitting office “operates on what can only be described as index cards, file cabinets and such, (and) it makes it almost impossible to for state investigators, or the public, to find information on projects,” the letter said.

Those filing cabinets and index cards were confiscated by the FBI shortly after the story aired. Jay Arnold, the main target of the investigation, pleaded guilty last month. But the problems were more systemic than just one guy's actions. As of May, McBride was skeptical that any of that had been fixed

Other problems going un-fixed this summer

New Orleans entered its fourth week of sending untreated sewage into the Mississippi River on Saturday as the Sewerage & Water Board struggles to fix a 60-year-old underground pipe in the St. Roch area.

The agency had expected to complete the job this week but said Friday that workers found an additional leak at the bottom of the force main, at the pumping station at 2800 Florida Ave. They'll keep digging to repair it.

In a tweet last week (that I cannot embed because of stupid Elon) McBride noted that the amount of raw sewage being dumped into the river is "basically all of the sewage from north of I-610," or 97 million gallons per day.

On the other hand, SWB did manage to shut some things down.  For example, it appears that the employee lounge is losing some of its frills.  

Sewerage & Water Board employees have complained to management about a host of other issues in the division in recent years, including allegations of favoritism, retaliation, unsafe working conditions and unchecked harassment. 

In 2022, a filter gallery employee filed a public whistleblower complaint that accused managers of using taxpayer dollars to build a “secret room” inside the Carrollton plant where a select number of employees would bring people to sleep with both on and off their shift.

Verite interviewed two current employees and one former worker from the Carrollton Plant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. In their interviews with Verite, they confirmed the existence of what one employee described as a “secret sex room.” One employee provided a video of it, showing couches, a refrigerator, a microwave, a TV and a shelf full of framed photos of nude women.

Naturally, the "secret sex room" got everyone's imaginations going.  We'll likely see the unfortunate results of that next Carnival season.  It may not be as salacious as what "one employee" implies, though.  I mean it's not too hard to believe that a critical piece of infrastructure requiring a 24 hour labor force and which may also require workers to make themselves available during emergencies, might induce those workers to improvise a makeshift sleeping quarters on site. Now, such a space *might* be used inappropriately. But outside of one person's vague statements, we don't actually know that it was. In any case, it shouldn't surprise anyone that such a room exists.. or did anyway until this story (which is actually about many more credible allegations of payroll fraud) showed up.  Besides, from the looks of the video shared on TwiXter, the now shuttered "sex room" has nothing on the $60,000 office Cedric Grant installed when he was there.

Anyway congratulations to SWB are in order on one point. It's been a mostly street flooding free summer thus far. Who would have guessed that the one trick to getting that to happen would be record drought conditions.

Various other things are broken

In addition to the big leaky sewer pipe this summer, residents should also be wary of malfunctioning air conditioners threatening to shut down various city offices at random times, including NOPD headquarters.  

The city's deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure, Joe Threat, said Tuesday that the Department of Property Management has struggled to develop new contracts after an Inspector General report in 2021 found that the Department of Property Management had improperly utilized an expedited contractor approval process for non-emergency situations. 

Mohan said that attempts at emergency measures were also hamstrung by city payment issues. He had deployed 45 temporary AC units within the last month, he said.

When he tried to order another 45, he said that the supplier put a credit hold on the city because of outstanding invoices from other city departments.

Councilmembers expressed dismay, but not surprise.

"Dismay, but not surprise," is, by all rights, the city motto at this point. 

Also, watch out for falling trees

Cantrell's revelation that a tree inspection was conducted shortly before the accident came a day after attorney Morris Bart, who is representing the injured teen and his family, said the city was "grossly negligent" for not roping off the area after the limb fell in June.

In a text message Wednesday, Bart, who is preparing a lawsuit against the city, said that photos of the tree after the first limb failure showed obvious warning signs.

“The hole left after the limb fell clearly shows rot and damage to the tree,” said Bart, who noted Tuesday that he had hired a forensic arborist for the case.

Who knew you could even hire a "forensic arborist"? I guess that's why Morris Bart gets the big bucks. 

I'm sorry. That's Special Assistant To the District Attorney, Morris Bart now.  Gotta remember that. 

Oh and speaking of District Attorneys.. or DAs that could have been

Keva Landrum, who lost to Jason Williams in 2020, has been in sitting in limbo awaiting an appointment to the post of US Attorney for the Eastern District in Louisiana. But that expected call hadn't yet come as of this July. So she's removed herself from consideration

“I just made the decision on my own, based on the length of time it has taken, and no real timeframe,” she said. “I decided that for me it’s best to pursue other opportunities.”

Landrum, 50, declined to say what those opportunities might be. She has been out of public office since 2020, when she left the bench after a dozen years to run for district attorney, a race she lost to then-City Councilman Jason Williams.

She said she was unaware of who might replace her as the nominee in waiting.

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, the lone Democrat in Louisiana’s congressional delegation, said Friday that he understood Landrum “has withdrawn from consideration because of the inordinate time that the process has taken.”

It’s unclear what sank her chances, but the sources familiar with the process said that Landrum had drawn fierce opposition from some progressive groups.

Wait a minute. Look "progressive groups" could certainly find numerous reasons to rightfully oppose this nomination. And maybe they did that. But I thought it was pretty clear the matter holding things up was Landrum's ties to a political corruption scandal that would fall under the office's jurisdiction. 

Peterson was an early endorser of Landrum during her 2020 run for Orleans Parish district attorney.

Landrum, in turn, hired Peterson’s husband, Dana, to help run her campaign. She paid the Petersons’ consultancy, College Hill Strategy Group LLC, $130,590 over three months. It is not clear how much of that was profit: Landrum's campaign expense reports say that much of the money went to cover the cost of mailers, postage and other items. Karen Carter Peterson reported income of $513,772 for 2020 on a federal disclosure form when she ran for Congress last year.

Landrum lost the district attorney race to Jason Williams.

See? It was in the paper. Sometimes I wonder if the paper reads the stuff in the paper.  Which, again, is why I need to get back to keeping notes. 

Various other scoundrels on the loose

The freaking "Night Mayor" has been making friends on the streets and online recently. Actually, I'll save this for later but suffice to say the city's selective enforcement regime continues to nickel and dime struggling residents while cutting favors for landlords and bosses.  In the meantime, read this

There are other potential ethical concerns behind Kaplan’s appointment as well. In October 2021, Kaplan formed a political action committee (PAC) called the “New Orleans Cultural Economy & Nightlife PAC,” which donated $5,000—the maximum allowable amount under campaign finance laws—to Cantrell’s reelection campaign. After Cantrell won, she created the Office of Nighttime Economy and appointed Kaplan as its director.

Irvin Mayfield was convicted for a fraud in which he diverted non-profit funds intended to support the library toward his own recording studio project. He is making restitution for that now by... overseeing the use of public and non-profit funds intended to support NORD toward his own recording studio project

Ron Forman is about to get (maybe? The mayor won't say for sure) $15 million in (additional.. he already has about $11 million) public funds to build yet more limited-access tourist forward privatized public space on the riverfront. The plan also involves a scheme to build a big parking garage that Ron can split the revenue from with the other thieves at the French Market Corp. 

Other stuff upcoming

Like I said, this is all just backlog. I felt like I needed to get all this down somewhere before the interesting part of the year got rolling in earnest.  We're right on the cusp.  Soon we'll know if the mayor can pick a police chief. Soon it will be Prime Hurricane Season. Soon it will be Municipal Budget Season. Soon it will be football season.  

Oh and the statewide elections are about to get rolling. Qualifying is next week! 

And this is why I would like to remind everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious car fires. They tend to happen around this time. I have been trying to keep track over the course of many years. I think this is the most recent post to look back at it

And now we have another to throw on the pile.

Car blowed up

That's one week ago in our neighborhood.We actually heard it go off at about 3am. I don't know the whole story. As far a I can tell, it never made the news, which is weird because often these things do. But maybe in the context of so many things falling down or breaking apart this summer, it's just not surprising anymore. Dismaying, perhaps. But not surprising.

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