Last Friday I went the Budget presentation that was scheduled for 9:30. The Chambers were about 3/4 filled with people there to hear the budget presentation for ORDA
At around noon Councilwoman Clarkson left to attend a luncheon which begs the question who schedules these things and did they not look at a calendar to see if there may be a conflict? The small crowd began to dwindle as people scurried to fill parking meters, call work and figure out if they had time to stay and speak.
By 1 people were exchanging cell phone numbers and asking those who were staying to call them when the time was right.
Finally at 1:30 Councilwoman Clarkson returned with a bouquet of roses and Blakley reentered the chambers. What followed was a budget presentation like no other. It was a cascade of words unrelated to reality. It seems that Councilwoman Clarkson does not read the paper as she asked where Patricia Robinson was, fired is where she was. Clarkson then went on to loudly ask who was the go to guy for blight. The answer was Troy Body…really? That Troy Body?
The presentation churned to a frustrating conclusion and the public was invited to comment. 3 minutes is the norm but not today. On Friday at 3 the people in the audience who had subsisted on chips and popcorn so as not to miss the 3 minute chance to speak where told they now had one minute. The group of women from New Orleans East had cleverly bargained for 3 by pooling the comment cards. Those of us who came to speak and listen had not thought to play this civic softball game. We had not thought to stuff the comment card box and then trade out minutes to each other. We had expected the same sort of half assed democracy that normally passes for public comment in City Council chambers. Instead we got one minute.
When one of the attendees got up and asked where the money was tucked into the budget to fund the demolition of lower Mid City Mr. Blakley shook his head no in response to the question of would they take questions
So much for transparency. Speaking of transparency here is a portion of an e mail I just received.
An important parallel which members of the New Orleans City Council are justly complaining about is the lack of transparency and access to public records from the administration of Mayor C. Ray Nagin. A key document which we managed to acquire through a Louisiana Public Records Act request of a state agency in Baton Rouge November 14th uncovers why the public hearing process on the VA / LSU project profoundly has been a sham from its inception. The “MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING Between the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and The City of New Orleans “was signed over a year ago on November 19, 2007. Effectively it has contractually bound the city to the demolition of Lower Mid-City, in advance of required public consultation under the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] as well as the National Historic Preservation Act …making months of public hearings as well as exploration of real site alternatives moot.
I had attended the NEPA hearings and I can only describe them as a tortured day spent negotiating verbiage and protocol. The outcome like most public events is predetermined by people not in the conversation. People who walk the fringe and and have the inside track. People who don’t live in the Neighborhood but rather see it as an economic engine.
Friday’s budget hearing was like most public hearings, Caitlin Cain from the RPC and Jeff Thomas from Blakley’s office standing up in the back of the room. Discussing who knows what? Maybe your neighborhood is the next one to be demolished in the name of Economic Development.