Monday, July 10, 2006

All (need to) Fall Down: New Orleans City Council edition

Schroeder at People Get Ready has been writing about this should-be scandal for days--"Being incredibly selfish is not a criminal act unto itself," "All the Way," "Hey look-a me--I'm a 'local entity' "--and I give him his props for jumping on it and demanding ethics reform for New Orleans. (Which we've needed since before my lifetime.) The basics: After Katrina hit and the levees failed, DaimlerChrysler donated 40 trucks and SUVs to southeast LA governments through two of our area representatives, Reps. Jindal and Jefferson. Rep. Jindal transferred the cars allotted to him to government agencies in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. Rep. Jefferson, already under a (seemingly more and more justified) cloud of suspicion, handed responsibility for the New Orleans metro area vehicles to council member Renee Gill-Pratt, a longtime crony of his brother Mose Jefferson. (There are side should-be scandals to this, including exhorbitant office rent paid by Gill-Pratt to Mose Jefferson and years of state money funneled to Mose Jefferson's organizations, companies and pet projects.) Gill-Pratt contends that she was told the vehicles were to be donated to "non-profits" despite written and verbal notice from DaimlerChrysler specifying the vehicles were to be used by government agencies, not "non-profits."

While New Orleans council members were expecting to give away all 16 of the vehicles allotted to them, only six were ever fully transferred, the city said, including the four cars assigned to Gill Pratt. Batt was the only other member of the council to complete a successful transfer: He directed one vehicle to the Lakeview Crime Prevention District and the other to the Audubon Nature Institute. Because both are "quasi-public" agencies, the titles remain in the name of the city, while the agencies have permission to use the cars.

The hangups in transferring the cars appear generally to be due to a bottleneck in the city attorney's office in getting the legal paperwork done.

Batt, for instance, said he announced his donation of to the Lakeview crime district in November, but the paperwork took almost six months, during which time the car, frustratingly, went unused.

But apart from Gill Pratt, it seems that only former Councilman Eddie Sapir sought to donate a car each to two groups with whom he had close personal ties: Friends of NORD and Victims and Citizens Against Crime, though neither donation has been completed yet.

Friends of NORD's executive director is Nancy Broadhurst, who is married to lawyer and Sapir political confidant Bill Broadhurst. In preparation for using the car in her official capacity, Nancy Broadhurst took out insurance on the car, her husband said, but she has been unable to drive it because the city never transferred the title.

...

Former Councilwoman Clarkson was apparently the first council member to give her cars way. But though she did so in the first weeks after the storm, the paperwork never followed, and the vehicles she sent to two churches in her district have been idle as a result. She gave one each to St. Paul Lutheran Church in Faubourg Marigny and Greater St. Mary Baptist Church in Algiers, each of which was operating food-distribution centers after the storm.


Gill-Pratt originally said it was God's will she ended up driving the Durango after she failed to win re-election to the city council--"But sometimes God puts things in places for you. It just happened. It wasn't something that was planned intentionally." She still asserts that she and the other council members did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong at all, according to the rules the council and other elected and appointed officials down here live by. Money pours into City Hall and never seems to come out. The city for generations has been a trough for a select few families and their circle of friends who have gotten and stayed rich on the people's money.

I'm too mad to even think. And I am insulted this woman thinks God wanted her to keep driving a SUV donated for governemnt use, not a self-designated charity and especially not for her personal use and I am not Christian or a believer. Giving the cars back means nothing. The problem is she and others thought that whatever was donated to the city government was meant for their personal use, as gifts to them for being...what? What have any of the re-elected or former council members done for anyone but themselves? Gill-Pratt and the others should be prosecuted or at the very least publicly embarrased. The mayor, who signed off on the treansfers of the trucks and SUVs, and the city council members still seated--Oliver Thomas, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis--should be recalled.

I need to add: I have seen in some NO blogs much scorn and hate dumped on Gill-Pratt as if she is the only ethically-challenged person on the council or in any government in the state. I cannot help but divine, having lived here most of my life and understanding far too well the atmosphere here, that some of the scorn is racially based, that it exemplifies the growing implied chorus that it is black politicians who have corrupted the system and need to go so they can be replaced with people who are ethical simply because they are white. (Just like folks keep implying that the buildings of the housing projects somehow cause crime and tearing them down alone will decrease crime in NO.) Corruption comes in all sizes and flavors here. Greed knows no color. And "getting rid of" black people will not solve any of the city's problems. Black people built this city. It is not the color of skin that makes one valuable or not.

And there's wonder why 11 months post-Katrina nothing has been rebuilt but hotels and the Superdome?


additional reading:

Ex-official steers cash to nonprofits


FBI to investigate ex-councilwoman with strong ties to Jefferson


New Orleans City Attorney Addresses Cars Controversies


FBI investigating donated cars


Donated vehicles returned amid outcry

all but one at Nola.com (You'll need to register at Nola.com to read their articles; little national coverage on this one. Yet.)


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8 Comments:

Blogger Save Freetown said...

It is not just in N.O. Recently, the historic Freetown neighborhood in Lafayette was sold out by our local Council to developers from Alabama. Freetown is an area of town that has been racially and economically mixed since the '40s -- the 1840s! It seems that Councilors prefer secret meetings with developers to actually listening to residents. Greedy white real estate types are the only voices that they care about. Massive opposition from residents of the neighborhood and almost all other areas of town had no effect upon most of these elected fools. For more details, see http://savefreetown.blogspot.com. It is all one big crying shame.

Mon Jul 10, 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

So I am a friend of save freetown, and I went over for the latest planning and zoning hearing. A lawyer for the developers actually whispered that the
planning and zoning commission's vote 'did not matter' (because this lawyer already knew the city council would override whatever they did).

Mon Jul 10, 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Schroeder said...

City Council overrides -- that's a big part of the problem in New Orleans as well. Fortunately, people like Jay Batt and Eddie Sapir were voted off of the New Orleans Council (well, Sapir due to term limits).

Three links G? Damn -- do I owe you lunch?

I think you're right -- I attribute it more to lazy thinking -- that Gill Pratt is targeted more than others like Eddie Sapir and Jay Batt. She was, however, in charge of the whole deal -- once Dollar Bill passed it on to her.

Notwithstanding the truly excellent reporting by Gordon Russell, there were a lot of facts missing -- like exactly how much money (millions?) Gill Pratt donated to organizations, and how much other Council members have donated.

Stephanie Grace revealed an interesting anecdote about the unflattering behavior of other Council members:

"One witness to the distribution in Baton Rouge described an embarrassing feeding frenzy, with council members demanding cars in specific colors."

Mon Jul 10, 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

Feeding frenzy? Ugh. Typical. Any elected official demanding a particular color of car donated after a catastrophic disaster like Katrina and the levees should be shot on fucking sight.

True, Gill-Pratt, with Dollar BIll behind her, led the distribution but how hard is it to say No? To do the RIGHT thing and give it to, say, the Fire Department? At least one fucking truck, huh? They are all greedy and they are all to blame. (Not the new ones; I mean the re-elected and the former members.)

Lunch? I'd settle for 3 cigarettes (American Spirit preferably) and/or a margarita. You owe me nothing. You deserved the props.

Tue Jul 11, 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger ChasingMoksha said...

I know my comment is veering off topic, however, your entry reminds me of all the years that I maintained a hidden hope that all minorities would be pure, free from any wrongdoing, and if they were to practice mimicry, it would be only “good” aspects and not “bad” ones. I know where it comes from, I want a simple defense, to keep anyone that has been in a traditionally oppressed position to be innocent of all charges so the big bad wolf (fill in the blank –any oppressor) could not divert their wrong doings with the wrong doings of the oppressed. Nevertheless we are all humans. Gill-Pratt is copying Huey Long (if I remember my LA history, he was crooked). However, her crimes will be held to a higher standard than his ever were,----which still does not make it right for her to do them though. Sigh.

Thu Jul 13, 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

I abhor the almost sole focus on Gill-Pratt. What about Clarkson? Batt? As if this is the ONLY thing any pol in NO, LA, US has done wrong or stinky in generations. I'm beyond spitting mad......

Fri Jul 14, 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger dangerblond said...

I'm one of the white bloggers piling on Pratt, but it's not because she is black. I piled on Jay Batt, too. Can't stand Eddie Sapir, but he was gone already. Pratt's connection with the Jefferson family and their group's lack of ethics is what bothers me, not her skin. I admire Civil Clerk Dale Atkins and LA Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson, among other black leaders. Johnson seems to have an incredibly strong ethical core.

I don't hold black leaders to a higher standard than whites, but I admit to being even more pissed off at black leaders who get elected and then don't do anything for their own people, or, worse, rip them off. Of course, there are white leaders who are sell-outs, but, given the numbers, each seat occupied by a black person is more important. If the power gained is wasted on corruption for personal rewards, it directly affects black people more than it affects me. I'm not still struggling for my rights, I am well-represented in the power structure.

I definitely worry that people will think I am racist, but I want to say what I think. I can't give Gill Pratt a pass because she is black. I will be all over Shelley Midura in a minute without even considering her color. I think David Vitter is an ethically challenged dunce. I don't hate these people, I am just fed up with Louisiana being so backward.

G and all G readers, please join in the Rising Tide Conference.

Sun Jul 23, 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

There is a difference, dangerblond, between criticizing Gill-Pratt for what she has done and what I have seen on blogs other than yours, snide implications and connotations. Wrong is wrong regardless of color, yes, agreed.

Sun Jul 23, 06:18:00 PM  

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