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Riley Slams Cantrell After Mayor Drops Plans To Hire Him

Former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Chief Warren Riley clapped back at Mayor LaToya Cantrell last week, after Cantrell said she no longer was considering him for a top post in her administration.

  A representative for Riley provided media with a letter from Cantrell, offering him an annual salary of $180,000 for the position of director of homeland security and public safety in her new administration. Had the appointment gone through, Riley would have overseen the NOPD, the New Orleans Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services and the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

  "Today's decision by Mayor Cantrell to reverse her initial decision and rescind my appointment is concerning on several levels," Riley said. "I am aware of the rumors and untruths being spread questioning my personal character and professional reputation."

  In a statement, Cantrell earlier had said, "Mr. Riley's qualifications are undeniable," but "I have listened to the people of New Orleans on both sides, and I have decided not to move forward with his employment."

  Two sources close to the administration told Gambit Cantrell was ready to name Riley to the job when she announced several other major appointments May 2, but she decided to "pause" the announcement minutes before she met the press. In his statement, Riley seemed to confirm this; he said he was introduced to Cantrell's team as director of homeland security and public safety and held a group session with law enforcement officials 30 minutes before her press conference announcing roles in her administration.

  Riley led NOPD after Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. He was widely criticized for not reading the incident report following the Danziger Bridge shootings, and the subsequent police coverup took place during his administration. Shortly after his departure, then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu entered into a federal consent decree to root out corruption and mismanagement in NOPD.

Quote of the week

"Although I am friends with Rep. [Steve] Scalise and have worked with him for almost two decades to support and strengthen Louisiana, I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure Republicans are in the minority next Congress." — U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Democrat in the Louisiana congressional delegation, clearing up a statement he had made saying he would do everything he could to make sure Scalise was the "majority leader" in the next Congress. Richmond clarified he misspoke and meant to say, "minority leader."

City Council calls for Entergy investigation

In the wake of Entergy's admission of an "astroturfing" campaign leading up to the approval of a power plant in New Orleans East, the New Orleans City Council announced May 18 it will change public comment cards and introduce legislation requiring lobbying groups to register with City Hall.

  The City Council will undertake its own third-party investigation of Entergy's hiring of a firm that ultimately brought paid actors into City Council hearings to support construction of the plant.

  "The use of paid actors was clearly an attempt to pervert the true process of public comment on matters before the council," Council President Jason Williams said.

  The cost of the report will be passed on to Entergy, but not ratepayers, if it finds the fault lies with the company. Councilmembers will wait until the investigation ends to determine what other actions the Council could take.

  The new comment cards will mirror those used at the Louisiana Legislature and will ask whether the person submitting comment is being compensated for testimony or receiving anything of value in exchange for their comment. Williams said the cards won't be used to prevent people from speaking but will help the City Council and public determine the weight of the comments.

  District E Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen, whose district encompasses New Orleans East, called the astroturfing reports "extremely disturbing" and said she plans to meet with New Orleans East groups who opposed the plant to "make sure they're included in the investigation."

  Meanwhile, District D Councilman Jared Brossett plans to file legislation in the coming months requiring lobbyists to register with the City Attorney's Office. "We need to know who's lobbying the legislative branch and the executive branch," he said.

  Entergy already is under scrutiny by the City Council, which wants answers from the utility about repeated outages and improvements to its distribution infrastructure. Thousands of Entergy customers were without power May 15; the company said record-setting temperatures contributed to the power loss.

More bills restricting abortion move through state Legislature

On one of the last days of their regular legislative session, Louisiana lawmakers voted to approve or hurry along several bills poised to constrict abortion access in the state.

  Supporting a bill that already has stoked controversy and spurred heated opposition from women's advocates, the state Senate voted 24-1 May 16 to forward one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws to the governor's desk. Senate Bill 181 by Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

  As reported by The Advocate, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has often stated his opposition to abortion, said on his monthly radio call-in show that he leans toward signing the ban.

  If signed, nothing will happen right away — SB 181 is set to go into effect only if a similar law in Mississippi is upheld by the courts. But it will mean new developments in the story around the already-limited access to abortions in Louisiana, where restrictions — including a 24-hour waiting period, funding rules and ultrasound requirements, plus the availability of just three clinics — already limit women's access to the procedure.

  Laws resembling Louisiana's existing ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have been struck down by courts in other states, including Idaho and Arizona.

  The Louisiana House also voted unanimously to approve Senate Bill 325, another Milkovich bill targeting abortion clinics. If signed into law, the bill will close down clinics if they are found to have destroyed records or filled out forms in advance of patient visits with identifying information or a doctor's signature.

  Senate Bill 534, another Milkovich-penned bill approved by the Legislature, defines criminal abortion, feticide and "aggravated criminal abortion by dismemberment" as "crimes of violence" and creates new penalties for an attempt to coerce a woman's abortion using physical force.

  Advocates from women's groups including Women With a Vision, Lift Louisiana, New Orleans Abortion Fund and other groups have implored legislators not to pass this session's abortion bills, including during a May 2 committee hearing that pitted an all-female group of opponents against several male supporters of the 15-week ban.

  "Everybody that came to this table today and spoke in favor of this bill was a man," remarked state Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, calling the juxtaposition "disturbing."

Hospitality workers call for health care

At a May 15 board meeting of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, a boisterous group of hospitality workers and their supporters staged a demonstration and called for better treatment of workers in the city's hospitality and tourism sector.

  Approximately 30 demonstrators, including members of New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee (NOHWC), New Orleans Workers Group and the People's Assembly, gathered at the public meeting held upstairs at Manning's Eat-Drink-Cheer. Via a series of short statements to the board, they outlined the story of a restaurant worker who is critically ill because she couldn't afford health insurance. Organizers called for the retirement of that worker's medical debt and for the creation of a free health care clinic for industry workers, paid for by the city's 13 percent hotel occupancy tax.

  "How dare you justify that with all these millions that you're taking ... [workers have] no sick days, no vacations, no pensions," New Orleans Workers Group organizer Gavrielle Gemma said. "This is the beginning of a movement that's going to hold this city accountable."

  The demonstration was part of a series of events over the past several months that have indicated the 88,000 hospitality industry workers in the metropolitan area are organizing. NOHWC has staged several demonstrations and marches, including a march against sexual harassment that ended in a confrontation with management at a Frenchmen Street nightclub, where a worker said she had been harassed. In January, mobilized strip club workers garnered national media attention by protesting law enforcement raids that put hundreds out of work.

  Elsewhere, workers have moved to unionize at a number of hotels and restaurants, including successful union drives at Hilton New Orleans Riverside and Harrah's New Orleans hotel and casino.

  The group told the board it expected a response to its proposal of a free clinic within 10 days. Chanting, "We are the ones who make your profit; we are dying when you can stop it," the group filed out, its organizers accepting a business card from board member and New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams.

  In a phone interview after the meeting, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation President Mark Romig said he "deeply appreciated" the workers' attendance at the meeting. Though he said he had to confer with other members of the board, he said he's "very open" to meeting again with the group to discuss their concerns. "I'm glad they were here, and I'm glad they spoke their truth," he said. "I respect what they're doing, and I appreciate their passion."

Kratom bomb?

The Louisiana Department of Health has been tasked with studying kratom, the over-the-gas-station-counter supplement with a cult following, to determine whether it should be classified as a "controlled dangerous substance." On May 16, the Louisiana House unanimously approved a resolution from state Rep. Frank Hoffmann that directs the department to study the plant and products containing kratom and submit a report to the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice no later than two months before the beginning of the 2019 legislative session.

  There are no Food and Drug Administration-approved uses for kratom, so it exists in a legal limbo. Several states have banned it or are looking into banning it while the feds mull its future and warn against its use as an opioid alternative. Previous legislative attempts to ban kratom in Louisiana have failed, though current state law forbids minors from buying or using any product containing kratom. It's banned in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin. Locally, it's a minor issue on health officials' radar. While they may be skeptical of the science of its medicinal use, its impact isn't as dire as federal warnings suggest.

  A spokesperson for the state Department of Health said the agency doesn't have a statement following the resolution's passage — neither its Vital Records office or epidemiologists had any reports or statistics on kratom.

  Louisiana's Poison Control Center has received 162 kratom-related calls between 2011 and 2017, and only two so far in 2018, according to center Director Mark Ryan. Forty-two percent of those calls came from health care facilities — and the calls appear to have tapered off; there were only 22 calls in 2015, 11 in 2016 and four last year. Ryan says the apparent drop doesn't mean fewer people are using kratom; physicians likely are making fewer calls to the center as they become more familiar with it.

  Ryan clarifies that people typically are calling into the centers only when adverse effects are present. Eighty-seven percent of all those calls involved only minor, if any, effects.

Stokes to run for Louisiana Secretary of State

State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Metairie, has announced her candidacy for Louisiana Secretary of State in a fall election to fill the office formerly held by Tom Schedler, who resigned this month following allegations of sexual harassment. Schedler's interim replacement is Kyle Ardoin, who was sworn in last week. Stokes is the first announced candidate in the race.

  Stokes, a certified public account- ant, halted plans to run for state treasurer in 2017 after she announced she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. (She announced earlier this year that she now is cancer-free.) She has held her seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives since 2013.

  In a campaign announcement video, Stokes said she's running to "protect the integrity of our elections and to defend it from illegal voters and cyber attacks, because good government never flows from corrupt elections."

  "I have tremendous respect for the proud history of this office, its role in protecting the integrity of our election system and the service it provides to entrepreneurs," she said in a statement. "I will strive to improve upon what I can, remove the obstacles that drag the office back, restore morale across the entire department and ensure that our elections are fair, honest, secure and carried out with professionalism. Being a CPA, small business owner, and reform-minded legislator, I am prepared for this challenge and expect to take this office to new heights for the citizens of Louisiana."

click to enlarge Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Maj. Gen. Glenn H.   of the Louisiana National Guard at Jackson Barracks May 17. - PHOTO BY ALEX WOODWARD>
  • Photo by Alex Woodward
  • Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Maj. Gen. Glenn H. of the Louisiana National Guard at Jackson Barracks May 17.

City preps for hurricane season; rain drenches the area

A day before torrential rain and hail damaged the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo on its opening day, Mayor LaToya Cantrell held a news conference to assure residents the city is prepareed for hurricane season, which begins June 1, less than a month into her term in office. Cantrell said residents should make plans well in advance of what weather forecasters anticipate will be an active storm season in the Gulf of Mexico. "Not only are we prepared, but we are prepared to respond to a call for evacuation," Cantrell said at Jackson Barracks May 17. "We have to take action, and the level of preparedness and the action starts now." There also remain several vacant executive positions at the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), which now is facing intense scrutiny from City Hall following pump failures and mismanagement in the wake of flooding in August 2017.

  During the news conference, Cantrell reminded residents the city doesn't have a "shelter of last resort" and urged residents to find "the best way possible for an evacuation." Residents can rely on city-assisted evacuations at 17 Evacuteer spots, where they will be transported to Union Passenger Terminal, and buses will take people out of the city.

  Residents who want to assist in evacuation efforts can join Evacuteer. Volunteer trainings begin 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 22 at the Rosa F. Keller Library, followed by a city-assisted evacuation exercise at 8 a.m. Wednesday, May 23 at the Central City Senior Center. The group's third annual "readiness ride" outreach campaign for bus riders begins June 1. More information is at www.evacuteer.org. Residents also are encouraged to visit www.ready.nola.gov.

  Meanwhile, the city's ability to combat flooding with the S&WB's pump system is at "95 percent," with 115 pumps out of 120 operating. Cantrell says she's confident the pump system is in a "better place today than where we were 10 years ago." City Hall still is on the hunt for the agency's executive director, chief financial officer and chief operating officer; interim director Marcie Edwards leaves this week.

Report: Black unemployment in Louisiana twice that of whites

The unemployment rate for black Louisianans is almost twice the unemployment rate for white job seekers in the state, according to a new analysis by left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

  In the first quarter of 2018, the black unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in the state, compared to a 3.4 percent white unemployment rate. This falls slightly below the unemployment rate for black workers nationally (7.2 percent) but is more than two points above the national unemployment rate (4.1 percent).

  According to EPI's report, Louisiana joins many other states showing a meaningful disparity between unemployment rates for black and white job seekers. In 14 states and Washington, D.C., the black unemployment rate is more than twice that of the rate for whites.

  Economists offer a number of explanations for the cause of racial disparities in unemployment rates, some of which are rooted in discrimination in hiring, lack of access to recruiting networks for people of color and other indicators of systemic bias — especially in economies that otherwise appear strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced a 1.2 percent drop in Louisiana's overall unemployment rate compared to spring of last year.

State leges provide renters some relief

Louisiana lawmakers approved a bill that would allow renters to collect a slightly larger check from negligent landlords who have illegally held on to a security deposit, along with all or part of that security deposit. The bill cleared its final legislative hurdle in the House earlier this month by a 56-23 vote and heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk for approval.

  Effective Aug. 1, the bill from state Sen. Ed Price would raise the maximum penalty renters can recover from a landlord who illegally withholds a deposit to up to twice the amount of the deposit. The change would allow renters who take their deposit claim to court and win to collect the wrongfully retained security deposit and $300, or twice the amount of whatever was illegally retained, whichever is greater. (The previous law capped the recoverable funds at $200.)

  Housing advocacy organizations celebrated the bill's passage, which the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center called a "measure of economic relief to Louisiana's 1.5 million renters."

  Davida Finger, a professor at Loyola University College of Law, which oversees the Loyola Law Clinic, says the clinic frequently represents renters whose landlords have withheld deposits. "Even after winning a lawsuit, the most renters usually receive back under the old law is the stolen deposit," Finger said in a statement. "For bad actors, that was no disincentive. Low-income people cannot easily access attorneys or the courts. Without deposit funds, there is a struggle to secure new housing."

David Byrne, Drake, Migos on the fall concert calendar

Following his impressive performance at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Talking Heads founder and pop performance artist David Byrne returns to New Orleans for an encore of his American Utopia tour, which he'll close out Oct. 8 at the Saenger Theatre. Tickets are $49.50-$129.50. Sale dates will be announced soon.

  Rapper Drake also returns to New Orleans this fall on his North American "Aubrey and the Three Amigos" tour with rap trio Migos. They perform at the Smoothie King Center Sept. 24. Tickets are $46.50-$176.50.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis of the Louisiana National Guard at Jackson Barracks May 17.

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Source : https://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/what-to-know-in-new-orleans-this-week-may-22-28-2018/Content?oid=12964459

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