Update: The committee couldn’t reach agreement on a firm, so now a federal judge will have to pick one.
On the eve of deliberations that will lead Thursday to selection of a firm to monitor an extensive — and expensive — overhaul of the troubled New Orleans Police Department, Councilwoman-at-large Stacy Head has suggested a novel way to pay for it.
She proposes that a newly created tourism marketing fund could be tapped to partially finance the consent decree with the federal government, one that is expected to cost the city $55 million over five years.
The committee tasked with selecting the monitor holds its last public meeting on Thursday. If the five federal and five local members can’t reach agreement on which of two remaining monitor candidates gets the multimillion-dollar contract, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan will make the choice herself. The Lens will live-blog the meeting below.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has fought to delay and overturn the consent decree, arguing that its cost imposes an undue burden on a strained city budget.
Head, however, has proposed a way to pay for it.
“I am in favor of the adoption of the consent decree and believe funding is possible through the current general fund or a new fund that may be established via the State Legislature this year ($12-16 million per year),” reads a June 7 letter from Head to Morgan.
The councilwoman was referring to Senate Bill 242, approved in the legislative session that just ended, said Lauren Hotard, Head’s director of communications. The bill allows the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to levy a 1.75 percent “hotel assessment” on daily room charges to be used primarily to promote the city as a tourism and convention magnet.
If members of the Greater New Orleans Hotel & Lodging Association vote to approve the assessment, the money it generates would be controlled by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation.
“Just a portion could be dedicated to NOPD and the consent decree,” Hotard said, adding that Head has not suggested any specific figure. “It’s just sort of the general idea that there’s a big pool of money there.”
Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the hotel assessment is already spoken for.
“Of that 1.75 percent, 1.5 percent will go to marketing the city to visitors. The .25 percent will go toward French Quarter infrastructure improvement,” Schulz said. Along with marketing, the language of the law allows the organizations to use the money for “other matters” deemed to benefit the local economy, if their boards of directors allow it. Infrastructure improvements are not required by the law as written, but the organizations have promised them.
Deadline to pick court monitor
The letter comes as the city prepares to commit to one of the most expensive individual costs outlined in the 492-point consent decree: the monitor.
The meeting and the accompanying deadline were last scheduled for May 31. But the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay on consent decree deadlines while the city’s appeal of the consent decree is pending. The court lifted the stay last week.
The monitor will oversee the city’s progress implementing the consent decree, a sprawling legal settlement mandating an overhaul of nearly every facet of police work, including its use-of-force policy, employee evaluation practices and management of paid off-duty details.
The monitor will regularly file progress reports to federal court, and the court will ultimately decide whether to lift or extend the consent decree past its predicted term of four to five years.
Consent decrees for reform of police departments in Oakland, Calif. and Detroit — both predicted to last five years when they were enacted in 2003 — are still in place today. In Los Angeles, a federal judge partially lifted the police department’s 2001 consent decree in 2009, placing the department within a “transitional” federal oversight plan. Federal oversight was lifted entirely in May of this year.
In its first meeting in March, the evaluation committee whittled 12 bidders to five, then down to two in April, whereupon the city and the feds reached a stalemate. The two remaining bidders are the Chicago-based consulting firm Hillard Heintze, the city’s choice, and the Los Angeles-based law firm Sheppard Mullin, which the federal government prefers. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement by 5 p.m. Thursday, Morgan chooses.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who came into office calling for a federal investigation of the troubled police department, supported the consent decree when it was first unveiled in July. He now says the estimated cost — combined with the estimated $22 million annual cost of a recently approved federal consent decree covering Orleans Parish Prison — could force the city to lay off or furlough essential employees.
Morgan signed the consent decree in January, and the city quickly moved for her to vacate the order. Morgan denied the city’s motion in May and a subsequent motion to delay implementation. Proceedings in the appeal of the consent decree continue, and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has tentatively scheduled oral arguments for the week of Aug. 5.