Thursday, December 31, 2009
Deanne was a community activist, dedicated to reducing health disparities by increasing access to physical fitness and healthy nutrition. She worked tirelessly to support the health and well-being of the community, particularly African American women and their families.
Deanne was the administrative director of the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies from 1992 to 2006, and later started Studio 13 Miracle and Healing Center, an exercise and healing space dedicated to the principles of Liberation, Spirit and Wellness in the New Orleans community.
Deanne's passion for justice and her kindness will be deeply missed by her friends, family, and community.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Mayor Ray Nagin announced on December 17, 2009, that City Hall and most other city buildings and offices quartered in those buildings would be closed from the close of business each Thursday through Monday morning.
Since City Hall will be closed on Fridays and Saturdays under Mayor Nagin’s budget implementation plan, the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office, the primary early and absentee voting location, will be closed for 3 of the 7 scheduled days of early and absentee voting, resulting in a substantive change in voting procedures that requires pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice under the provisions of Section V of the Voting Rights Act. The Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office in City Hall is the most centrally located site for early voting, and the location most familiar and accessibly by public transit for New Orleans voters.
Neither the City of New Orleans or the State of Louisiana has petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance of this substantive change in voting procedures, which would have a disparate impact on minority voters.
In the last major election, the November 4, 2008, election for President of the United States, more than 17,000 voters cast early or absentee votes during the 7 days of early voting. Of the total of 17,006 early and absentee ballots cast, African American voters cast approximately 73 percent, while African Americans comprised only 62.5 percent of registered voters for that election. “This change in voting procedures is a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said Tracie Washington, Managing Director of the Louisiana Justice Institute. “The Louisiana Justice Institute and other community organizations are calling on the mayor and city council to comply with the law and immediately reverse this thoughtless, pennywise and pound foolish budgetary measure to restore full access to early and absentee voting to all registered voters in New Orleans.”
Althea spent her life actively engaged in struggles for justice, starting with her involvement in the New Orleans chapter of the Black Panther Party, where she began her efforts to help political, economic and racial prisoners. She embodied the finest and most basic ideals of empathy and generosity and inspired all that had the privilege of coming in contact with her.
Althea has long been a leader in local organizing against the Prison Industrial Complex. In the late '90's, Althea worked to create a base for political prisoner work in New Orleans, and was one of the main organizers in the campaign to free the Angola Three; three Black Panthers held in solitary confinement for their political beliefs. When Angola Three member Robert King was released in February of 2001, he moved to the home of Althea and Marion Brown, another former panther.
Shortly before Katrina, Althea was able to purchase a home-base for her daughters and grandchildren in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood. In 2005, the flooding of New Orleans ripped apart the security she had at long last established. The years since then were a tense balancing act between work in Atlanta, work in New Orleans, her children and her grandchildren. Though Althea rarely complained, she was beset with a number of crippling maladies - asthma, high-blood pressure and the incessant pressure of keeping a family together in these difficult times with never enough support.
In the months after Katrina, she was one of those who came together to form a new organization, called Safe Streets / Strong Communities. Her dedication, vision, and commitment guided the organization through several intense years of struggle over the city's criminal justice policy. Her efforts brought real reforms, from the establishment of the city's Office of the Police Monitor to uncovering and exposing the role of New Orleans police in post-Katrina killings.
When told the news of her passing, former prisoner Robert King struggled to find words to express the depth of his sorrow. Invoking Matthew 25:35, he said "I was hungry and you fed me, was thirsty and you gave me drink, was in prison and you visited me. Althea fed us with hope. She had an enormously giving spirit that we will all deeply miss."
Althea loved her daughters with the ferocity of a lioness and was so proud of their accomplishments. They were the center of her being.
Sadly, Althea had no insurance and no savings, thus leaving her daughters not only with the grief of losing her, but with the challenge of raising funds for her funeral.If you can help with a donation to the family, donations to defray the funeral costs can be sent to:
Rhodes Funeral Home
3933 Washington Avenue
New Orleans, LA
c/o Todd Taylor
7704 Benjamin St.
New Orleans, LA70118
Althea's Service will be Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 1:00pm at Rhodes Funeral Home.
Thanks to the Campaign to Free The Angola Three for some of the information above.
Monday, December 28, 2009
The irony was palpable. This member of the privileged elite of the City of New Orleans sat in his well-appointed seating area, complaining that the public is not paying for his traditional toast, at the same time citizens (read peasants) will be burdened with reduced garbage service, reduced hours at city offices (closures every Friday), and reduced services to our children.
Carnival Dude. Get a clue.
This is a question of public values and, while I'm appalled at the lunacy of this Carnival King's statement, my voice alone is ineffective.
So let's tell the mayor -- loudly and clearly -- Carnival Toast's are not a shared public value. The well-being of our children is a shared public value; restore funding to NORD. Public safety is a shared public value; restore the funding to NOPD. Our clean environment is a shared public value; restore the funding to the Sanitation Department.
Hey -- Carnival Krewe People -- you want a reviewing stand...PAY FOR IT YOURSELVES!
Too much like right?
Evidence of the city's housing crisis is all around us. With homelessness on the rise, the area around the shelter on O.C. Haley has become a new tent city, with scores of men and women around the highway overpass facing the winter nights without a roof over their heads. On a recent evening, a vigil in that neighborhood was organized in memory of those who have died on the cold streets. For impoverished folks needing health care, the hospital system has also been failing.
Meanwhile, even HANO admits that the Section 8 voucher system doesn't work, telling reporter Katy Reckdahl, that the system "is, without question, broken." The remaining homes in Iberville also remain under threat, with more than a third of the complex already empty.
The size of our problems demands not just grassroots action, but changed policies on the city, state, and federal level. Survivor's Village, a local housing rights organization, recently announced that they will be initiating a Take Back The Land Initiative on January 18. We hope this helps move forward the change the city needs.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
As we've written in this space before, the Times-Picayune is about four years late on this story. Of course, the Picayune also waited until after hundreds of other newspapers from around the world had covered the Jena Six before they felt the need to send a reporter there, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised.
Still, this is a vital story, and very well done. Our hope is that this media focus combined with investigations from the Department of Justice will create the public pressure for the real, systemic, changes the NOPD needs. It is hard to rebuild and recover if you don't have a foundation of justice to build on.
Monday, December 14, 2009
At Louisiana Justice Institute, we have convened a process called the Nola Kitchen Table as a forum to begin discussing the issues that we need our politicians to address (more updates on that dialogue soon).
We also encourage everyone to go out and ask the candidates the hard questions. A great place to start is this week, with the New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Forum on Criminal Justice.
The Forum will be this Thursday, December 17, at 6:00pm at the Treme Community Center, 900 N. Villere St, between Dumaine and St. Philip.
A wide range of organizations have worked together to make this forum happen, including Families & Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Critical Resistance New Orleans, Safe Streets/Strong Communities, New Orleans Worker Center for Racial Justice, Resurrection After Exoneration, Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE), Women With A Vision, and the Youth Empowerment Project.
According to the invitation from the event's organizers, "The 2010 Elections are right around the corner and the voice of the community must be heard! Criminal Justice issues need to be addressed to those of us who have a real stake in seeing change. Our children and our loved ones need to come home to safe communities and to schools and jobs that keep our families off the streets and out of the system. The next mayor of New Orleans must make this a priority. JOIN US!"
The protest will be at the Federal Building on 500 Poydras Street. Organizers say, "While calling attention to these deaths, we will be calling for a health care plan that covers everyone in the United States, and an end to the system of health insurance that has caused so many deaths."
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and its allies in 75 cities will again have access to millions of federal dollars to counsel people facing foreclosure, seeking IRS tax refunds, and looking for affordable low cost housing. ACORN, which has received about $54 million in government grants since 1994, will be able to apply for new federal programs just like any other organization.
The court ruled that Congress violated the U.S. Constitution “by singling out ACORN and its affiliates for severe sweeping restrictions” and that such action constitutes illegal punishment or a “bill of attainder.”
What is a bill of attainder? Even most lawyers have no idea. Bills of attainder are acts of Congress which unilaterally punish an individual or organization. Essentially Congress acts as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.
The U.S. Constitution has prohibited bills of attainder since 1787. U.S. founders objected to bills of attainder because in England Parliament passed many such bills against political enemies, used them to throw people in prison and even execute them without trial.
Congress punished ACORN without even trying to figure out if any laws had been broken or allowing the 500,000 member organization to defend itself.
What about protecting the taxpayers against fraud? As the court pointed out, there are many legal ways for the government to investigate and terminate federal contractors which have been proven to engage in fraud or illegal activity.
But Congress did not want to wait for trials or proof or to allow ACORN due process.
Conservatives developed a voting majority and imposed punishment without a hearing or anything.
ACORN has been a target of right-wing politicians for years. Conservatives hate ACORN primarily because it registered over two million people to vote since 2003 and because it has an overwhelming African American, working class, democratic-voting, membership.
Fox News is obsessed with ACORN. Google Fox News and ACORN and you will see over two million hits. Google Glenn Beck and ACORN and you get over a million hits, six hundred thousand for Rush, and three hundred thousand for Michelle Malkin.
Right wing members of Congress accused ACORN of being a “shell game” using millions of taxpayer dollars “to advertise for a political candidate” and which “helped President Obama get elected.”
After a highly dubious right-wing sting operation in September, the conservative media machine overran Congress members, including, sadly, many democrats, and passed the bill of attainder cutting off all federal funds to ACORN and any affiliates, subsidiaries and allies.
Most Congress reps knew full well this was an illegal bill of attainder as it was pointed out in the debates and even by the Congressional Research Office, but voted to let it go through anyway. Representatives Nadler and Grayson and Senator Leahy, among others, repeatedly pointed out that this was unconstitutional. Democrats who voted for the bill of attainder included many who had sought and received help from ACORN members in the past. They have some explaining to do.
Progressives who remained silent while the nation’s largest low income African American community organization was under attack also should re-think their lack of support. Did anyone think that if the right-wingers took down Van Jones and ACORN they would stop there?
What is ahead? Surely the conservative opponents of ACORN will continue to bloviate and continue to try to put ACORN out of business. There will likely be fights galore. But with this ruling the fights will be a little fairer.
ACORN won this case. The U.S. Supreme Court has called the prohibition of congressional bills of attainder a “bulwark against tyranny.” Here the bulwark against tyranny worked to stop the right-wing smear machine.
But the rule of law won too. And all of us and Congress have again been taught a valuable lesson – there are no shortcuts when it comes to following the Constitution.
Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the team who represented ACORN in their successful federal constitutional challenge. You can read the opinion at www.crrjustice.org or contact Bill at email@example.com.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
However, the producers have chosen to make their donations through an organization called the St. Bernard Project, which has invited controversy through their close relationship with the St. Bernard Parish government. Critics like Lance Hill, the executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University, have pointed out that the racial discrimination practiced by the local government in St. Bernard has actually set Gulf Coast recovery back, and that organizations like St. Bernard Project actually exacerbate the problem by refusing to take a stand against racial discrimination.
“The main reason that these relief groups have had to disproportionately rebuild Black rentals,” explains Hill, “is because the Parish is tearing down or blocking construction of affordable housing faster than the relief groups can rebuild.”
Last year, one of the only two members of the St Bernard Parish Council to speak out against the actions of the Parish told reporter Lizzy Ratner, "They don't want the blacks back… What they'd like to do now with Katrina is say, We'll wipe out all of them. They're not gonna say that out in the open, but how do you say? Actions speak louder than words. There's their action."
In September, a wide coalition of relief and recovery organizations and individuals concerned about this issue signed an open letter on this issue, designed to put pressure on both the Parish and on the St. Bernard Project. “It is time that we take a stand against housing discrimination in St. Bernard and throughout the Gulf Coast,” the letter states. “And make clear what the moral imperatives are for all organizations that seek to rebuild the Gulf Coast as a fair and just society.”
Monday, November 30, 2009
One of the major goals of Survivors Village is to fight for the right to return for every resident who lived in public housing before the government-caused disaster forced them to be displaced around the country. The birthplace of both Survivors Village and the post-Katrina public housing struggle was the St Bernard community. Currently the developers of the "new St Bernard" are building cheap, high density/higher profit apartments and creating al types of obstacles to prevent former residents from ever being able to return.
In order to begin to fight what we know will be a protracted struggle, we are building a base to organize from inside the community. The former New Day Community Center which previously was the heart of service to the St Bernard neighborhood will be renamed the Fight Back Center and will serve as a base to fight for people's return.
Thanks to donations of time and money by many members and supporters, the process of rehabbing the center has begun moving forward. During workdays in August and September, the yard around the center was cleared. This past week, we took another huge (and expensive) step forward with the removal of the debris that resulted from a building collapse caused by a hired contractor. We can now begin the work of making the standing building functional and reopening the center.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
According to the article, these properties "are among the 432 residential, commercial and vacant parcels the state is in the process of expropriating to make way for the hospitals."
Bobbi Rogers, who moved into the neighborhood post-Katrina, told the Picayune "I'm 100 percent sure we would not have bought this house had we known we couldn't stay, and I'm 99 percent sure we would not have bought in New Orleans at all . . . . We're leaving if they take our house."
For more news and updates from the fight to save Charity, see the Save Charity blog, which last week had an amusing (and sad, if you want a functioning city government) item about two City Council members' battling alarm clocks.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
And the bottom line is swearing is not an effective communication skill. An educated person should be able to make her point, persuasively, without denigrating herself or her audience.
I’m disappointed in the now viral James Perry campaign video, mostly because I know the candidate and he’s better than this.
The lesson for all mayoral candidates should come from the negative public reaction to Perry’s commercial. Folks aren’t just saying they don’t want profanity laden campaign advertisements, they are also saying this election is serious business, and we will not countenance gimmicks.
Don’t curse at us. Don’t inundate us with negative commercials. Don’t treat us like children.
New Orleanians are issue educated, and they want a Transformative Leader, who will move this city to the prosperity it was promised and so richly deserves.
Swear at your own peril.
New Orleans' Congress of Day Laborers (Congreso de Jornaleros) has been organizing to pass a City Ordinance to combat the rampant wage theft in New Orleans. Today, they will join organizations across the country who are engaging in demonstrations and vigils to commemorate National Wage Theft Day.
According to members of the Congress, "the urgent need for this ordinance was demonstrated all too dramatically in a recent case that has shocked and saddened us. On Monday, November 2nd, a member of the Congress of Day Laborers approached his employer in an attempt to recover several weeks of unpaid wages. The employer refused to pay. When the worker attempted to negotiate, the employer pushed him and threatened the worker with physical violence – brandishing a hammer. Terrified, the worker called the New Orleans Police Department. When police officers arrived, they took it upon themselves to punish the worker instead of protecting him. They interrogated him about his immigration status, and issued a citation for disturbing the peace."
On September 9, Police Superintendent Riley announced that the New Orleans Police would not be asking about the immigration status of victims of crimes, saying, "We are not going to make someone a victim twice." Today, at 3:00pm at 715 S. Broad Street (near Orleans Parish Prison, at Tulane and Broad), the Congress of Day Laborers will hold a demonstration, joined by clergy, to ask Riley to fulfill his promise.
Then, later tonight, a new organization called the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New Orleans (ROCNO) will be holding an interfaith prayer vigil in front of Tony Moran’s, a Bourbon Street restaurant that workers say has engaged in a pattern of nonpayment of wages and created a discriminatory workplace
Members of ROCNO are asking supporters to meet at 7:30pm at the 100 block of Carondelet Street, near the intersection of Canal, to then walk over to Tony Moran’s Restaurant together by 8:00pm.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
How Many New Orleans Mayoral Candidates Does it Take to Find Out That the Youth Study Center is a Prison?
According to a transcript of the debate from the James Perry Mayoral Campaign:
Gina Warner, CEO of the Afterschool Partnership: “What is your position on the Youth Studies Center?”
Troy Henry: I am in favor of the Youth Studies Center. I am in favor of using the youth studies center in collaboration with all the revised library systems that are also being built. So we want to be smart and prudent about how we use our current resources today so where it makes sense to consolidate let’s do that but where it makes sense to keep them separate and individual, let’s do that. But we need to make sure we have the Youth Studies Center.
John Georges: I’m for them as well. We have to be about our facilities. Libraries are certainly one group. It’s all about budgeting and available dollars and the idea is to do like the board of regents … it’s also a budgetary issue.
Leslie Jacobs: I think it’s critically important for kids, our students to have a place to go outside of school. Schools have a $1.6 billion rebuilding plan, we need to look how to locate each of these youth studies centers inside our of our school buildings. I think they are important but given the budgetary crisis the more we can co locate with a library, school and other civic centers the easier it will be to staff them and the easier it will be to maintain them.”
Edwin Murray: I, too, am in support of youth study centers. I think it would be great if we could somehow figure out a way to put them in schools and figure out how to just keep the schools open a little longer and also use library systems across the city. It’s important also to try to work in in recreational activities some kind of way to make sure that after school Youth Study Centers to be involved as well to encourage kids in extracurricular activities
James Perry: I want to be clear because I think some folks misunderstood this issue. The Youth Studies Center is a jail. It is a prison. The subject of some very difficult litigation. Children have been imprisoned for long periods of time with no access to quality education at all. We need children to have access to education despite incarceration. If you are locked up for 23 hours of a 24 hour day there is no chance we can decrease the recidivism rate. It’s about how we define success. When it comes to juveniles in this system, making sure they have a real educational opportunity so that the prison they are in does not define the outcomes of the rest of their lives.
Photo by Abdul Aziz.
From the folks at SaveCharityHospital.com:
"The Commission on Streamlining Government, by a 7-3 vote, moved to order the first independent evaluation of the proposed LSU/VA medical centers, weighing all possible alternatives with regard to location, size and financing. The vote is a stunning victory for advocates of Charity Hospital, Lower Mid-City residents and business owners, in addition to healthcare access activists. An independent evaluation of the hospital proposals represents a critical demand of a growing coalition of more than 80 organizations, and over three quarters of registered New Orleans voters..."
The Save Charity organizers invite you to come join them for a celebration at a block party this Saturday, November 21st from 6:00pm – 9:00pm on the 200 block of S. Tonti (between Cleveland and Palmyra). The party will feature food, drinks, and live music from Charmaine Neville, the Hot 8 Brass Band, and others.
Photo by Taslim VanHattum.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
According to James, "I was the passenger in a car that was pulled over in Harahan for minor traffic violations. Apparently, I angered the officer by asking why he wanted my driver's license rather than the driver of the car. Next, the officer ordered me out of the car in a visibly agitated manner and proceeded to both verbally and physically abuse me. He then arrested me without telling me - or the driver of the car – the reason. I was later charged with "Battery on a police officer" and "Resisting Arrest," although I did not fight with or resist any officer on that night."
According to a list of Frequently Asked Questions from the Justice for James campaign, "Too many police behave in the low income neighborhoods as if they are above the law and untouchable by community members. Racial profiling, wrongful arrest, and officer misconduct are injustices that strain family structures and drain finances in the form of bail, fines, and lost work hours. We should support James because you or a loved one could go through the same thing next week."
You can read the full story, as told by James, here, or see James explain the case on youtube, here.
Monday, November 16, 2009
With more than 150 people in attendance, the sponsoring organizations presented an amazing array of local talent and an enlightening living history lesson on the integration of New Orleans schools, presented by the real people who made it happen. The event also brought together tremendous participation on the part of young people and adults from around the city.
The assembled crowd broke into town hall discussion groups and produced reports that were then crafted by a policy panel into a solid document that will be used as the basis of the youth agenda for equity in New Orleans schools campaign.
This campaign will be kicked off in 2010 by the New Orleans Youth Collab, which is made up of Fyre Youth Squad, Rethink, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) and Young Adults Striving for Success (YASS).
Below are the 15 recommendations/demands for New Orleans Schools that were made by the Town Hall Discussion groups:
We, the students demand...
* Teachers should receive excellent pre-service and continuing education that allows them to develop better interactive relationships with students, excellent learning opportunities for the students, high expectations for all students, and appropriate classroom management strategies.
* Teachers should learn to be mentors of students inside and outside the classroom rather than just distribute information so that the students’ voices can be heard and valued.
* Students believe that education should reflect a participatory democracy where students are involved in decision-making in the schools. Administrators and students should work together.
* The focus in schools should be on education.
* The large number of armed guards in schools and an over-emphasis on non-instructional issues such as dress codes create an environment that is not conducive to educational achievement and responsible decision-making
* Each school should increase activities in outdoor and open spaces.
Learning and Instructional Resources
* To ensure a smaller student: teacher ratio, implement a mandatory cap on class sizes.
* More technology and computer classes to learn current software, including but not limited to, web design and management.
* Expand the art and music programs to include diverse musical styles, increased and better quality instruments and supplies.
* More afterschool and extracurricular activities that are not just sports.
* More and better qualified school counselors
* Instruction in life skills
Curriculum and Assessment
* Rather than use standardized tests to punish students or hold them back, design tests to inform students and teachers about strengths and weaknesses
* Prepare students for the ACT and the SAT so they can compete nationally instead of state standardized tests that can hold kids back.
* Develop collective student/parent/ teacher assessment to set goals and make improvements for the year.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Friday, November 13
Responding to public calls for accountability and efficiency, Eduouard Quatreveaux, the new Inspector General of the City of New Orleans, agreed today to return nearly $500,000 in budgeted funds and to give unneeded computers, weapons and one vehicle to the Chief Administrative Office for appropriate assignment to another city department or agency.
Since it's inception, controversy has surrounded the City of New Orleans' Office of Inspector General (OIG). Louisiana Justice Institute, believing that this city needs oversight that is reliable and accountable, has worked hard to provide the people of New Orleans with the tools that they need to oversee the OIG. Today we won an important victory in that struggle.
On October 27 and 29, Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) filed public records requests from the New Orleans Ethics Review Board (ERB) and Office of Inspector General, seeking information about the Office's budgets, expenditures, and inventory for 2007 - 2009.
What we found was shocking. More than 20 Assault Weapons (the same kind used in the recent shootings at Fort Hood); High-Tech Surveillance equipment; and computer hardware and software far disproportionate to the number staff hired (including the purchase of 86 individual licenses for MS Office, at a total cost of almost $50,000).
Today, at the New Orleans City Council hearings on budget, representatives of the OIG offered to give the city back many of these excessive purchases. We believe this came as a direct result of the work of LJI to document and expose the waste in this office. The OIG also agreed to return approximately $500,000 in unspet funds to the city general fund, where it will be available to the city council to address critical budget shortfalls in public safety, health and human needs agencies of city government.
"Decisions and other actions taken by the ERB and OIG have been shrouded in secrecy, which defeats the principles of transparency and governmental accountability that these offices were established to uphold in the public interest," reports LJI Managing Co-Director Tracie L. Washington. "Today was a step in the right direction - towards accountability and effectiveness."
Louisiana Justice Institute's most recent report - PUBLIC QUERIES: Request for Answers from Public Officials - highlights these and other discoveries about the OIG and ERB. You can see the full report, plus the documents we've received from the ERB and OIG, online at nolapublicrecords.org.
While it remains to be seen if the OIG will address serious concerns about the management practices and personnel policies in LJI's report, we hope that today's announcement is the beginning of a new era of accountability from the OIG and ERB. But to make sure, we plan to keep honest eyes on the operations of the OIG and keep the pressure on for the OIG and ERB to meet the highest standards of accountablity, transparency and fairness.
For more information contact: Saia Smith, Louisiana Justice Institute, 504.872.9134
The Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) is a nonprofit, civil rights legal advocacy organization, devoted to fostering social justice campaigns across Louisiana for communities of color and for impoverished communities. LJI understands that as a state-based civil rights organization, it can and must serve as an agent for social change in Louisiana. Its creation is responsive to a specific and urgent need to resurrect capacity for statewide, systemic, legal advocacy on behalf of those most in need of assistance - Louisiana's minority and poor residents.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Student Performance This Weekend Commemorates Douglass High School, A Site of Struggle Against Segregation in New Orleans Schools
Creative Forces is hosting a Variety Show called "Show What You Know," happening this Saturday at 6:00pm at the 1600-seat Art Deco-style Frederick Douglass High School Auditorium. Charmaine Neville hosts a wide array of brilliant performers.
The evening also coincides with 49th anniversary of integration in New Orleans schools, and Douglass High School - with its important history as a site of Civil Rights Movement struggle - is a great place to gather on this important evening. According to organizers, "This event is a symbol of unity in the face of gentrification. We are not only featuring our students, who are from all over the Recovery School District, but Douglass students, and members of the community. There will be a couple doing tango; a sister brother act singing and rapping; poetry; and much more. Please come out to support the community. Tickets are only $5."
Organizers say that the event is possibly the last performance by Creative Forces, as well as potentially the last year of Frederick Douglass High School. Come out to celebrate with these students, as we struggle for better choices and opportunities for all of our young people.
The report reads, in part, "As in the case with policies for homelessness, criminalization has been the main response to social problems in subsidized housing, instead of a focus on protection for those who are most vulnerable. In designing solutions, tenants, residents, and community members have been excluded from decision making processes regarding their housing and wider communities."
Among the many recommendations from the preliminary findings are several that will resonate strongly with people from New Orleans, such as, "New housing should be available for displaced residents before any unit is demolished;" and "Following demolition or rehabilitation, residents' right to return must be ensured to the area where new developments are located."
More updates from the Special Rapporteur's visit to the US can also be seen at the blog restorehousingrights.org, and more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur can be seen here.
To see more about the US and its reporting on the international treaties it has signed, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has a page dedicated to updates on the status of the US.
Thank you to the many organizers, locally and nationally, who made the Rapporteur's visit happen, especially Mayday New Orleans, who coordinated locally, and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative who worked to coordinate the trip on a national level.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
During Hurricane Katrina, we received militarization instead of relief, with then-Governor Blanco declaring that she was sending in troops, adding, "They have M-16s, and they're locked and loaded...These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will." While people were still stranded on rooftops, the first city function to restart was a jail, run by Angola warden Burl Cain.
As historian and WWII veteran Howard Zinn has said, "Veterans Day...used to be Armistice Day, because at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I came to an end...Now, Veterans Day, instead of an occasion for denouncing war, has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches...Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feeling for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honor militarism."
Tonight, the New Orleans chapters of Military Families Speak Out and Pax Christi have organized a Veteran's Day Forum, Coping with the Aftermath of War, at 7:00pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 5212 South Claiborne, by Jefferson. The event features a screening of the award-winning documentary “Leave No Soldier," a brief talk by Gilda W. Reed, Ph.D. and an audience discussion about veterans’ health care issues.
Another grassroots effort to fight violence in our communities happens this weekend. Hip-Hop for Hope seeks to highlight conscious music and bring people together to benefit youth programs. This year's event benefits the Roots of Music, 2-Cent Entertainment’s “Change We Can Create” Summer Camp and other youth programs. Hip-Hop for Hope has raised over $19,000 in the past three years for various educational programs in New Orleans. This year's event is this Saturday, November 14, at Tipitina’s Uptown.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
For years, young people detained in New Orleans' detention centers have reported a wide variety of unsafe and inhumane conditions and the denial of basic services. Recently, the City of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish School Board reached an agreement with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana to implement changes to the Youth Study Center that will dramatically improve conditions for youth housed at the juvenile detention center.
Now advocates must ensure that funds are allocated to support those improvements, as well as spent appropriately and with community input in the rebuilding efforts of the local youth detention facility.
Come out to City Hall and support the Juvenile Justice Project and other concerned activists in:
- Ensuring funds for rehabilitative and therapeutic programs and to meet young people's basic needs
- A new facility with clearly defined treatment spaces - and an end to the over-incarceration of New Orleans youth!
For more info, contact Bridgette Butler at Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, at 504-522-5437 xt. 246
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Grassroots activists in New Orleans, who repeatedly confronted Cao on this issue, deserve at least some of the credit for this vote. As the bill moves to the Senate, it's time for activists to keep the pressure on Senator Mary Landrieu, who has also been noncommittal on the issue.
Has your insurance company not covered something (a procedure, medication, etc)? Or, have you not been able to get insurance because of a pre-existing condition? Has your insurance company dropped you or raised your premiums really high? Please share your own, a family member’s or a friend’s story... And, please be sure to include the specific company’s name.
Stories can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond with your story by Wednesday, Nov 11.
Photo by Taslim VanHattum.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Reached for comment this afternoon, Senator Landrieu’s Washington, D.C. Office personnel stated, emphatically, the Baton Rouge office had not been closed and, indeed, Senator Landrieu is in Louisiana today.
The Champions for Children’s Health Stroller Brigade Rally moves to New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, November 7th, with a rally on the steps of the Hale Boggs Building 500 Poydras and a parade to the River at New Orleans Council for Young Children Monument in Woldenberg Park. Events will begin at 9am and parade will start at 10am.
We extend, again, the invitation to Senator Landrieu to meet with our moms, dads, and children to discuss health care reform.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Below, we discuss staff dysfunction and questionable hiring and firing practices at the Office of Inspector General.
The New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) has seen a revolving door of personnel. Since January 2009, 10 of 23 employees have either been fired or have quit. Most of the terminations occurred in the aftermath of controversial events within the OIG, often involving the terminated individuals. Furthermore, all but two OIG employees are classified as civil servants and, therefore, the rules governing their hiring and termination must follow the civil service commission regulations, which carry mandates for hiring selections and due process prior to termination.
There have been several grievances filed by former employees in the OIG, alleging disturbing conflicts with senior management. In his departure letter to the OIG, Daniel Benbow stated,
“The apparent lack of organization and proper tools are extremely detrimental to staff recruitment and retention. While management may muddle around under the present conditions, any staff worth keeping will not. This office has passed the point of no return on excuses, finger-pointing, and other means of procrastination several months ago. It’s time everyone either step up to the plate or get out of the game.”
In response to Benbow’s letter, then Inspector General Robert Cerasoli stated,
“It is my understanding that [Benbow]’s title is Deputy of Audit and Review. I wasn’t aware that [Leonard Odom, Neely Moody], or I were reporting to him. He should concern himself with the functions of the Audit side…I find this e-mail highly offensive…I stepped up to the plate on Sept. 5, 2007 and have been there for one year now. I will not be getting out of the game. I would suggest if [Benbow] wants to, now is a good time."
Another example of the lack of cohesiveness in the OIG is the abrupt ousting of Leonard Odom. In an effort to quickly seat Edouard Quatreveaux as the new Inspector General, Odom’s termination occurred after a series of incriminating reports about the Office of Inspector General were published under Odom’s leadership. In an interview with a reporter of the Times Picayune regarding the abrupt departure of Interim Inspector General Leonard Odom, ERB Chairman Wildes stated, “I wanted to avoid any last minute hires or expenditures.”
Most disturbing has been the October 2009 terminations of two Auditors. These Auditors were fired from the OIG after having produced the report Assessment of the Transition of the New Orleans Office of Inspector General from Inspector General Robert Cerasoli to Interim Inspector General Leonard Odom on January 30, 2009, that was critical of Cerasoli’s management.
In July 2009, Susan Brown and Laura East were directed to prepare a performance review of the OIG to determine the position of the office from its inception through the time of Cerasoli’s departure, and in preparation for the new Inspector General. While working on this performance review, according to East and Brown, they were placed in an office separate from the regular office, given separate keys to this office, and instructed to keep the door locked at all times, for security purposes.
East and Brown uncovered information that they believed had possible implications of waste, abuse, and mismanagement, and took these observations to Interim Inspector General Odom, who directed them to document their findings and, pursuant to City Code Article XIII, Section 2-1120(11)(o), and report it to the appropriate legal authorities, in this case the State Ethics Review Board and the State Inspector General.
On August 28, 2009 the State Inspector General directed Brown and East to meet with the State Legislative Auditor, who informed them that the OIG was being placed under investigation and/or audit.
East and Brown were scheduled to meet with the State Legislative Auditor beginning September 9, 2009, but were denied access. Later, they discovered their offices had been broken into, and documents removed. The report of break-in was made to Chief of Investigations Hugh Fox, who disclosed that the office of the OIG Personnel Manager Sam Stoute had also been vandalized and locked drawers containing confidential records compromised.
The OIG Assessment of the Transition report was particularly critical of Dave Westerling, the Supervisory Forensic Engineer hired from Massachusetts by Cerasoli. It was Westerling who was named Interim Inspector General after Quatrevaux temporarily left office after only one week on the job – and one meeting with the State Legislative Auditor – and Westerling who fired East and Brown.
On September 22, 2009, East and Brown attended an approved forensic accounting conference in Orlando, Florida. However, on September 23, 2009, after Interim Inspector General Westerling received notice from the State Legislative Auditor that East and Brown must be made available for interview immediately upon return from this conference, Westerling sent notice by certified mail and overnight mail – that very same evening – of their termination from employment.
Westerling stated the reason the auditors were fired was because “they failed to show up for work and efforts to reach the two employees about their absences were unsuccessful.” Public records show that Westerling’s statement is false. Leave requests show that both employees had requested time off for a work-related conference related to their functions at the OIG.
Two days after Westerling fired East and Brown, on September 25, 2009, Hugh Fox, the OIG Chief of Investigations charged with investigating possible criminal activity within the OIG, voluntarily separated himself from the Office of Inspector General – effective immediately.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
By Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Southern Institute for Education and Research, Tulane University
This week's comments by Ed Blakely, the former New Orleans recovery czar, caused quite a controversy in New Orleans. His criticism that New Orleanians were "lazy" was not new, but his observation about the white community's efforts to "recapture the political apparatus" and "put their foot back on Black people's throats" was the first time a high-ranking recovery official said in public what is a widespread sentiment in the local African American community. It is likely that this perception of a "power grab" will influence voting in the February 2010 city election. The tendency in the white community to ignore or dismiss this Black sentiment is reflected in the Times-Picayune's editorial response that completely omits Blakely's comments on the "blood in the water."
Transcribed from the YouTube interview:
"Everyone's a racist. It's part of something we have in this country, but it's deeper, more viral, and more visible and more entrenched in New Orleans than any place I've ever seen...There is a sense, now, in the white community, [that] there's blood in the water, and they can recapture the political apparatus and kind of put their foot back on Black people's throats. And that will be explosive and very dangerous. And I think unless the next mayor is very clever, it's going to explode and there are going to be race riots in New Orleans."
-Ed Blakely, Former New Orleans "Recovery Czar"
Click here to see the Blakely Interview.
Click here to see the Times-Picayune Editorial on Blakely - which omits the "Blood in the water" reference.
As health care reform slowly moves its way through Congress, the final shape of what the results will look like is still unclear. Unfortunately, real reform - like single payer - was never on the table, and Republicans and conservative Democrats have been standing in the way of even mild improvements, like a robust public option. In New Orleans, the fight over Charity Hospital continues, while Louisiana ranks near the bottom of most indicators of health. Overall the state is 46th in access to healthcare and healthcare outcomes, with the fifth highest rate of uninsured in the country, including a third of African Americans uninsured. The state is also fifth to last in employer-sponsored health insurance
Nationwide, chapters of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) have been organizing protests called Stroller Brigades, saying, "it is astonishing that we are still begging to make sure children are better off, not worse off," in the legislation. They demand that "Congress and the President support changes that provide comprehensive, affordable, accessible care for all children no matter where they live."
The Louisiana chapter of CDF is organizing rallies in several cities across the state, including Baton Rouge, Alexandra, and Lafayette. The New Orleans protest will be this Saturday, November 7, starting at the Hale Boggs Federal Bldg., 500 Poydras St. Participants assemble at 9:00am, and the march begins at 9:30am.
Photo of Save Charity Hospital Secondline by Taslim VanHattum.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Tell the Obama Administration that the Federal Government Needs to Take Responsibility for Gulf Coast Recovery
The Long-Term Disaster Recovery Working Group is co-chaired by Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other members of the working group include the secretaries and administrators of 20 departments, agencies, and offices. The Working Group will convene a series of meetings that are detailed on the website www.disasterrecoveryworkinggroup.gov.
The Disaster Recovery Working Group website features a questionnaire for public feedback. The questions display an assumption that the federal government does not bear responsibility for Gulf Coast recovery. For example, question number ten asks, "As disaster recovery is primarily a state and local leadership issue, what are best practices for the timing (including start and end) and form of federal assistance and coordination?"
We encourage you to take the time to carefully complete the questionnaire, and please consider including the recommendations by the Gulf States Human Rights Working Group (which you can find at KatrinaAction.org) and the Katrina Citizens Leadership Corps (online at childrensdefense.org), which call on the Obama administration to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which call for the US government to take responsibility for the recovery of internally displaced people.
You can go to www.disasterrecoveryworkingroup.gov to complete and submit the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Working Group questionnaire for public feedback online.
Photo of President Obama in New Orleans by Abdul Aziz.
Monday, November 2, 2009
While the background and many details of Scearce's story remain unclear, the incident comes at a time of continued job loss and economic instability. Evictions around the US are still increasing, and anxiety about housing is everywhere.
In New Orleans, rents are now more than 50% higher than before Katrina, more than 65,000 residential addresses remain empty or unlivable, and the city's homeless population is estimated at about 12,000. This means that more than 3% of the city's population has no place to live. If New York City had a similar percentage, the equivalent proportion would add up to a quarter million people. It's for exactly this reason that our city hosted United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing Raquel Rolnik last weekend. We are in a crisis, locally and nationally.
In cities around the country, people are turning to direct action. The US Human Rights Network has formed The Land and Housing Action Group, with "an ambitious campaign to house tens of thousands displaced by the destruction of public housing, foreclosures, and other means of forced eviction." According to organizers, "the overall objective of this campaign is to compel the United States government to recognize that housing is a fundamental human right and to meet its obligations under international law." Organizations like Take Back The Land in Miami have already taken the lead, moving homeless families into empty homes in defiance of banks and local sheriff's departments, and have received wide support from their community.
Hopefully, the combination of grassroots action and international pressure will result in real change for those who need it the most.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Below, we highlight more reasons that the Ethics Review Board has squandered the public trust - questionable hiring practices overseen by the Board.
Executive Director Jill Poutré
If the ERB would serve as a catalytic agent for governmental accountability in New Orleans, no doubt there would need to be strong leadership at its helm. However, based on the recommendation of then Inspector General Robert Cerasoli, the the ERB hired Jill Poutré to serve as its Executive Director, when she was an inexperienced 22 year old college senior, who had not yet graduated. Mr. Cerasoli had been Ms. Poutré’s college instructor. The ERB did not advertise the executive director position even though the salary and benefits come to $90,000/year. The duties of the ERB executive director include management of the budget for the office, handling of evidence, scheduling hearings, reports, and investigations. However, at the time of her hiring, Ms. Poutré had no relevant job experience, and never worked in a full-time professional position. Her previous employment was working part-time at a window treatment business with compensation of $10/hour.
Inspector General Eduoard Quatrevaux
In the wake of Robert Cerasoli’s departure from the Office of Inspector General, the ERB launched a nationwide search to find his replacement. That search ended in early September 2009 with the hiring of Edouard Quatrevaux. As a result of the OIG’s lack of established hiring protocols, there are several major issues with the search and subsequent selection process.
From public records, it appears that the Inspector General position was advertised inconsistently in several places. The Inspector General position that was posted on the Career Builder website in the “Accounting and Audit” area, where many people with accounting backgrounds, but no experience or certification as an Inspector General, applied.
The same can be said for applicants who found the position posted on the Nola.com website, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners website, the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws website, the Association of Local Government Auditors website, and the Institute of Internal Auditors website. Thus, the applications were insufficient. The advertisement instructed applicants to send their résumé, letter of interest, three letters of recommendation, and college transcripts by August 31, 2009.
Overall, it appears that sixty-two (62) of the sixty-four (64) rejected applications were missing one or more critical items. Although the OIG cast a wide net for its job search, it resulted in few qualified applicants. Of the 68 applicants who applied, only four, according to the Ethics Review Board (ERB), were deemed qualified to serve as the Inspector General. According to the ERB, the other 64 applicants “were found ineligible due to lack of Certified Inspector General (CIG) certification and/or inability to meet the four (4) year absence from the City requirement per City Code Sec. 2-1120 (3) (h).” One of the four, Gary Weishaar, does not list CIG certification in his résumé. Another, current IG Quatrevaux, appended his application package on August 21, 2009 to include notification of his CIG certification on that date.
The office announced the hiring of its new IG on September 3, 2009, just three days after the final application deadline.
While the ERB is not responsible for the deficiencies in the majority of the applications, the decision to hire an IG from a weak pool of applicants is entirely an ERB decision. This search, which lasted more than six months, yielded only four qualified candidates. It is understandable that the office was eager to fill its top position in a timely fashion, but the rationale of the hiring committee to make a selection among only four qualified applicants is questionable.
It is unclear how many individuals have CIG status, and how large the pool of individuals qualified for the Inspector General position really is. The designation of CIG status is conferred by the Association of Inspectors General, a national organization of which certified Inspectors General are members. The Association of Inspectors General did not respond when inquired about their program and its former attendees. There is no way to know if a pool of four was representative of only a small number of people being qualified for the post, or if the search simply yielded few results from a much larger pool.
The lingering question is why Mr. Quatrevaux was selected to be interviewed for a position that he did not qualify for, while so many other candidates with equal, if not better qualifications, were not selected to be interviewed. For the public, the issue is whether the OIG has the best person at the helm, and whether there was a level playing field for every non-CIG candidate, like Mr. Quatrevaux, to be interviewed for the position of the Inspector General.
Interim Inspector General David Westerling
The ERB appointed David Westerling – a former Cerasoli colleague in Massachusetts – as the Interim Inspector General during Inspector General Edouard Quatrevaux’s leave of absence. Prior to the appointment, Mr. Westerling (pictured above) worked in the OIG as the Supervisory Forensic Engineer. However, the ERB’s appointment of Mr. Westerling may have violated the Article XIII, Section 2-1120(3)(i) proscription, [n]o officer or employee of the office of the inspector general shall hold office in any political party or political committee, or participate in any political campaign of any candidate for public office, or make any campaign contribution or campaign endorsement, while an officer or employee of the office of inspector general.”
Mr. Westerling was elected to public office as Town Moderator of Harvard, Massachusetts in 2003 and served until June 9, 2008. Westerling back-dated his resignation letter, and his notice to the Harvard Town Hall (written from his home in Harvard) was not received until June 11, 2008 – nine (9) days after he began work at the New Orleans OIG, which is a clear violation of the New Orleans municipal code. Further, there is no evidence he resigned all political affiliation associated with that position.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Loss of Public Trust
The loss of public trust is evidenced by the citizen outcry for complete system reform. To date, many troubling issues have gone unaddressed, including financial reporting by the ERB, concerns of cronyism/favoritism in hiring at ERB and OIG, and staff dysfunction and instability.
The Louisiana Code of Government Ethics, §1124.2.1: "Financial disclosure; members of boards and commissions, requires each member and any designee of a member of a board or commission that has the authority to expend, disburse, or invest ten thousand dollars or more of funds in a fiscal year, to annually file a financial statement as provided by law." Notwithstanding this legal requirement, on October 16, 2008, ERB President Kevin Wildes sought and obtained an Advisory Opinion from the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics that was premised on the ERB’s claim that it “does not have the authority to expend, disburse, or invest $10,000 or more in funds, and does not have the authority to make recommendations that must be followed on the expenditure, disbursement or investment of such funds.”
The ERB’s statement to the Louisiana Board of Ethics was materially false, however. In fact, the ERB and OIG had already received authority to independently expend $300,000 and $3,130,000, respectively, for FY 2008, and $300,000 and $3,197,300 respectively for FY2009.
Furthermore, municipal ordinance proscribes the Mayor and the New Orleans City Council from controlling the ERB and OIG expenditures.
The ERB’s claim that it is exempted from the state law financial reporting requirement is a material breach of trust by the ERB, especially considering the Home Rule Charter and Municipal Code of the City of New Orleans mandate that the ERB is responsible for enforcing a similar reporting requirement for the Mayor, members of the City Council, city department directors, and other high ranking city employees.