Government & Politics

Landrieu cool to money for Citizen Participation Project

In his final meeting to get public input on next year’s budget priorities, Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Tuesday questioned whether the city should pay for a new program to encourage public input.

David Welch of the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association asked the mayor to fund the Citizen Participation Project, an effort included in the city’s recently approved master plan. As envisioned, it would set up a new series of neighborhood councils to solicit and pass on to city leaders the residents’ comments on myriad issues facing the community.

“Do you want to pay for this?” Landrieu asked skeptically.

Addressing a standing-room-only church in Gentilly, Landrieu asked rhetorically why people would pay for a program that lets them talk to him through a paid intermediary bureaucracy.

Nothing in the Citizen Participation plan prevents individuals or existing neighborhood organizations from taking concerns directly to officials.

Keith Twitchell, president of Citizens for a Better New Orleans, the organization that has fostered the creation of the Citizen Participation Project, did not attend the meeting. Reached by phone Wednesday, he said,  “We are actively working with members of the city council and Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant to identify a specific funding source.”

The proposed project is projected to cost $2 million,  but Twitchell said that “people want a dedicated funding source” to ensure that the project does not become a victim of political whim.

Though City Council members and Landrieu say they support the civic-engagement concept, they have not found a firm source of money to pay for it. Those involved have considered redirecting an existing property tax dedicated to civic improvement, or seeking an additional tax.

As he did most of the evening – and at similar gatherings in the other four council districts – Landrieu reinforced the message that money is limited and residents must set priorities.

The administration last week reported that an already-imposing $67 million deficit facing the city this calendar year has grown to $78 million. Because the city can’t run a deficit – and because the administration of Mayor Ray Nagin burned through all the reserve money the city once had – Landrieu must cut expenses to eliminate that gap.

One controversial move among Landrieu’s tactics to address the shortfall was to furlough city employees, requiring them to take an unpaid day off in each of the remaining two-week pay periods this year.

To avoid the same budget-gap problem next year, Landrieu this month initiated a series of priority-setting meetings across the city, with one in each of the five City Council Districts.

Each was well attended, with residents eager to not only push their priorities, but to vent about an array of problems with the city, from broken streetlights and potholes to police misconduct and lousy customer service at City Hall.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • Gin Murphy

    the article kind of ends abruptly – where’s the rest of the story about King Mitch floating the idea of raising property and sales taxes? or how about the fact that they just hold 5 meetings to set budget priorities… there’s got to be more engagement then that.

  • Erin Laine

    The meeting I attended didn’t seem focused on input towards setting budget priorities. It was just a whine fest, where everyone complained about problems on their street or such. Maybe you could set priorities that way, but there must be a better way.

  • mikenola

    Fund the Citizens Participation Project so it won’t be political? are you NUTS!

    That 2 million dollar tag will guarantee that every greedy pastor in the parish will be vying for a paid position!

    The definition of Citizen Participation is a volunteer action NOT a way to suck at the teet of the parish!

  • Sarah

    It is a start. People need to have a place where they can vent in full view of those who have the ability to fix things and Landreau seems to be making promises he can keep. I find that encouraging.

    Excellent article, btw.

  • Thank you Karen for the article.
    I would like to add that I spoke with the Mayor after the meeting and he agreed that a meeting with the leaders of neighborhood groups and other non-profits would be a good idea. Nick Kindel, who is currently heading CPP efforts and I will be contacting major non-profits to help host such a meeting.
    To give a brief answer to comments above: Funds do not go directly into Neighborhood organizations, hiring of personnel is done by the CPP’s District Councils – representatives from neighborhood groups. These staff people will do the work that neighborhood groups can only attempt – surveying to the resident level and researching qualitative solutions to local issues – as well as advising municipal decision-makers with information that filters out the “whining” that has dominated Master Plan meetings since the beginning.
    Let us all participate at the neighborhood level – as planners – not as plaintiffs.

  • Deborah

    The master plan mandates that New Orleans have a CPP – so its happening. Most of the well governed cities in the US have them: Portland, Seattle, Houston, Memphis, ATL, Baltimore, WDC, Los Angeles, etc… The model developed by local residents with the help of CBNO is standard and in many ways more streamlined than many of the CPPs cited in the aforementioned list. People that criticize the model either haven’t done the research into what other urban cities are doing with regards to CPP; are still stuck in some belief system that New Orleans is too “unique a culture” too fit into some prescribed model of functionality; or are tightly wedded to the gate-keeper hierarchy that serves as its own layered bureacrazy (misspelled but the z stays) that is more costly than the price tag on the proposed model since it serves to keep the community playing field uneven.

  • Susan

    The CBNO CPP plan is simply not workable, and I for one to not want to pay for it with higher utility bills or property taxes. The CBNO while hopefully well-meaning, deviated from the Portland model and it created a new model with more layers of bureaucracy AND no clear “chain of command”. Also, there has been no public outreach, like the CPC did with the Master Plan. PLEASE MAYOR LANDRIEU AND COUNCIL MEMBERS STOP THE ILL-CONCIEVED CBNO CPP PLAN. Give us a CPP Plan that is workable…which the CBNO Plan is not!