By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
James Carter, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s criminal justice coordinator, got an earful Tuesday at his very first meeting with the city’s Criminal Justice Council.
The panel, comprising judges, the sheriff, the police chief and the occasional City Council member meets annually to allot state and federal grants that this year were just shy of $2 million.
It’s irresponsible to be approving big bucks for agencies they’ve barely heard of, members told Carter. They should have gotten the agenda well in advance.
If the criticism was harsh, the surprise was this: Carter, a former Council member, embraced every word of it and immediately pledged to revamp procedures.
The group will meet four times a year, not just once, Carter vowed, and while he complimented himself on having circulated an agenda a day ahead of Tuesday’s meeting – “a big step forward,” he called it — he yielded on the need for earlier identification of potential recipients.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who co-chairs the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee – not to be confused with the Criminal Justice Council, on which she also serves — had been outspoken last week about still not having an agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
“What it feels like is being a rubber stamp,” Guidry told The Lens. “And I know that’s not what’s intended, and I’m new to this process, but we’re making decisions about spending taxpayer money somewhere down the line without the information.”
Guidry said she was optimistic about Carter’s ability to develop more thoughtful decision-making rules, but meanwhile she said she found the process deeply flawed. As one example, she questioned the decision to award $61,000 to the Apex Youth Center in Broadmoor without the panel having adequate time to assess the merits of the center’s request. Told there were only two applicants for the grant, Guidry said, in that case “there’s a problem with the process.”
$10,000 of the money will be spent on equipment like nonviolent video games, pool tables and ping-pong tables, Apex’s Executive Director Lisa Fitzpatrick told the panel. The rest will be divided amongst supplies, salaries, and social service contracts.
Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray also expressed concern about the award of the grant to Apex, saying she had never heard of the center despite her prominent role in juvenile justice.
“We have a children and youth planning board that has been on the books for several years,” Gray said. “And part of the purpose of that board is to map out a program for funding for particular programs.” The alternative, she said is a flawed, piecemeal approach in which “the one that happens to get the word gets the grant.”
Apex was not the only beneficiary of Tuesday’s meeting. Among a variety of other grants was $55,000 for a new inmate barcode system at the Sheriff’s Office, $197,000 to equip 41 police cars with video cameras, and $929,000 for a variety of counseling and advocacy programs targeting the victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.
Carter was duly contrite about asking the panel to make awards on short notice.
“All of this is going to change in the future,” he said. “Part of my job here is to make sure that going forward, we have the proper planning to deal with proper outcomes.”
He promised to invite committee members to a planning meeting within two months.