By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer |

City Council members appear to be falling in line in a move toward more transparent and timely budgeting – but not all of them.

Last week’s joint meeting of the Criminal Justice and Budget committees was a first of its kind. For as long as anyone can remember, the various courts and related sinecures that answer to Criminal Justice have allocated and spent their millions of dollars without allowing for much in the way of public review.

An expose by The Lens, revealed that many Criminal Justice functionaries had no idea their budgets were even subject to public oversight.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry, the member in charge of the committee, cited The Lens article in demanding  greater transparency from the courts.

When Traffic Court kicked up a little resistance, Guidry stood her ground and threatened to pull its funding.

The review of criminal justice agencies continues tomorrow with a review of budgets submitted by the sheriff’s department, the public defender’s office, the Criminal District Court, and the Criminal District Court clerk’s office. The District Attorney’s office and Municipal Court will be reviewed on July 6.

Councilman-at-Large Arnie Fielkow is urging Council committee heads to meet jointly with the his Budget Committee and to do so this summer, rather than waiting for the annual train wreck that occurs as the year-end budget deadline draws nigh.

In August, he’ll schedule “a couple of days of budget-grading sessions … to compare the 2011 budget goals with what has been delivered,” he said.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer is on board. Her Sanitation Committee is scheduled to meet jointly with the Budget Committee in August. So is Councilwoman Stacy Head, who presides over Public Works.

Head sees a joint meeting with Fielkow’s Budget Committee as a way to hold the administration accountable for its failures and illuminate successes. She said she’ll be looking for specifics: potholes filled, number of cars towed, street lights changed,  revenues from street rentals – that kind of thing.

But not everyone is stepping forward to embrace the new approach.

Asked if she intended to comply with Fielkow’s request to meet jointly with budgeters, Cynthia Hedge Morrell, who presides over the huge revenues that flow through the Airport and the Utility committees, had a succinct, one-word answer: “No.”

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...