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