Government & Politics

Building trust and keeping track

In recent months, it’s become apparent that the only thing not in contention about the New Orleans budget process is the fact that no one trusts it.

As Eli Ackerman and others have pointed out in no uncertain terms, the City Council feels like it lacks proper oversight of the city’s spending of taxpayer dollars.

“There is a disconnect between what we are told by the administration and what is really going on,” City Councilwoman Stacy Head said in a recent interview with The Lens.

Last week, the lack of trust was on prominent display at a joint meeting of the council’s economic development and budget committees. Council committee members wanted the administration to explain the whereabouts of a $2.5 million settlement won by the city in 2005 and earmarked for economic development in eastern New Orleans.

The money came as result of an agreement signed by Mayor Ray Nagin and Hornets owner George Shinn after the Hornets backtracked on a plan to build a training center in eastern New Orleans. Shinn’s $2.5 million was promised for the development of a multipurpose sports center on unoccupied land next to Six Flags amusement park, according to a story in The Times-Picayune.

In a surprising twist, the $2.5 million came with a promise that the city would put down $6.5 million in tax dollars to build a $10 million training center next to the New Orleans Arena downtown.

Katrina clearly complicated that plan, and in the years since the storm, the $2.5 million has sat in waiting. Or so the council hopes.

New Orleans Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Sylvain-Lear said the money remains, indeed, tucked under a bureaucratic pillow somewhere.  “The money is there and we understand it is for New Orleans East,” she said.

“If we were doing anything with that money or doing something that is not reflected in the original budget, we would have to pass an ordinance,” she added.

The response was the one the council wanted to hear. Yet the way it came out — a defensive explanation interrupted by several in interrogation-style questions from the council — gave the distinct impression that nothing short of a Saints Super Bowl win could get a smile between the City Council and the administration.

Yet Council President Arnie Fielkow’s desire is to see the $2.5 million moved towards the development of a sports park with public playing fields on the site of the former Six Flags, a project he has been pushing for more than a year.

And according to Sylvain Lear’s prognosis, the vision is achievable, if the city can cough up the rest of the unspecified money needed to build.

It would be a fitting end to this city’s intergovernmental impasse if the redevelopment of an old theme park became the trust exercise needed to get the legislative and executive branches working together.  Rope course, anyone?

Photo credit: Alysha Jordan

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
  • Elton Frederick

    What happened to the settlement between Six Flags and the City of New Orleans letting Six Flags out of their lease. The bankruptcy court in Delaware approved the settlement where Six Flags was supposed to give the City 3 million dollars and title to 80 Acres of extra land they owned next to the park.
    Does the City of New Orleans have the title to that property and is that money in the bank?
    Who is responsible for security and upkeep of the park now? I have seen pictures of urban explores in the park on line. I am concerned that some kid is going to get hurt in there.
    Did the City let Six Flags off the hook to soon? Why did the City let Six Flags remove rides and equipment that didn’t belong to them and move them to other parks before they did anything? Between what Six Flags moved and vandals and neglect did, the city is stuck with a bunch of junk, a health and safety issue and they still owe money on a HUD loan for the park. Is 3 million enough to even demolish or make the park safe?
    Did that deal depend on the failed Southern Star/Nickelodeon plans?

    Can “The Lens” find the answer to these questions?