Criminal Justice

Sheriff disses mayoral aide at tense meeting on law enforcement spending priorities

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman (right) takes on mayoral staffer Katie Dignan at Wednesday's meeting of the parish law enforcement district. Photo by Matt Davis.

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Last time he presided over a meeting of the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District, Sheriff Marlin Gusman lambasted the Landrieu administration for not tapping millions available through the district for capital improvements to the city’s criminal justice infrastructure.

At Wednesday’s follow-up meeting, where the administration proffered a long list of priority projects, Gusman had a frostier message: not so fast.

“I gotta tell you right now that there are no funds available for your projects,” Gusman said, before conceding that there are in fact millions of unspent money from a bond issuance in 2001.

The sheriff’s projects will be funded however. Gusman, the sole voting member of the district, used the 12-minute meeting to renew a 2.9 mill tax expected to yield $7.5 million for capital projects such as his new jail.

The Landrieu administration is currently facilitating a working group to decide on the final size of that jail, and relations between the two offices have been somewhat fraught as the working group delays a final decision on the total number of jail beds.

Wednesday’s meeting got off to a bad start when the Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s “project delivery manager,” Katie Dignan, showed up 20 minutes late.

Having approved the $7.5 million sheriff’s department tax renewal within two minutes of calling the meeting to order, Gusman turned to the list, which he said Dignan had emailed over before the meeting, referring to it as “this document that’s called the city of New Orleans mayor’s priority projects.”

Dignan’s list of priority projects includes two new courtrooms for Criminal District Court, a remodeling of Municipal Traffic Court, a new Youth Study Center and replacement of the New Orleans Coroner’s Office. Dignan said she had sent the list over to Gusman in an effort to coordinate funding for those projects through his district.

After acknowledging the unspent bond money available to the city, Gusman continued to bear down on Dignan in his all but whispery monotone. The mayor’s office doesn’t have  “a good handle on how this process works and how we have to work together in order for this to be successful,” Gusman said. “The point is that unless we have a real working relationship here, all of the plans that you make may really not come together.”

Dignan said she would do whatever she could to facilitate better communication with Gusman if he would only let her know what he required.

Gusman later challenged Dignan, saying he was “not exactly sure what your role is or what your position is.”

Gusman told Dignan that, even though voters approved further bond issuance in 2008, the district has not acted because it still has the unspent 2001 money.

“You’re new,” Gusman said. “I don’t know if you’re from here or not, not that it matters. Just a little background on it.”

District administrator Col. Julie Langham and attorney C. Grant Schlueter with bond attorneys Foley & Judell said the district stands ready to issue the 2008 bonds for the city once the Landrieu administration commits the 2001 money.

Gusman also raised concerns about the pace of the city’s delivery on a new office for Coroner Frank Minyard.

“It’s kinda disheartening to see that the coroner’s office is only going to be 12% complete by December 2011,” Gusman said. “It’s not moving along too fast.”

After the conclusion of the meeting, Gusman asked Dignan why a sign on the site of the new coroner’s office, near the Superdome, doesn’t mention the district as a funder.

“Maybe they found some money some place else,” Gusman said.

Dignan apologized for the omission and promised to correct the mistake on the sign.

It remains to be seen whether relations between the mayor and the sheriff will improve or deteriorate further once the jail’s size has been determined. Landrieu initially charged the jail working group with deciding on a final number of beds by Nov. 22, 2010, but the group last met in July and failed to raise the issue for discussion. No further meetings are scheduled, with the Landrieu administration saying it awaits a data analysis from consultant James Austin before the group settles on a final number.

“We have always agreed to be data driven, and we continue to follow that pattern,” said Landrieu’s spokesman, Ryan Berni, declining to comment further on Gusman’s remarks.

To listen to an audio recording of the meeting, click here.

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  • L.Mich

    Is Mr. Gusman running for Mayor? I sense a great deal of political posturing on his part. His insults to the current administration were unrelenting and transparent. His tactics with the Mayor’s representative were unneccessary and cast him as an envious bully, rather than the tactful, all knowing statesman he envisions himself to be.

  • Just Wonderin

    Who the hell does Gusman have incriminating photos of? Why is he taken seriously and allowed to throw his weight around? OPP and HOD are deathcamps full of paid rapists, and the feds are up in his business to the elbow… his record is appalling.

    His shamelessness notwithstanding, Gusman couldn’t possibly be more compromised, and yet Landrieu treats him like royalty and accords him massive leverage.

    I really feel like there’s a big piece of the story missing… but I also feel like the Lens is probably the news outfit that will sniff it out! (well, you guys or City Business)

  • you got that right

    I have often wondered that. I think his info is way bigger than naked pics. He just railroads along, unchecked. Each little bump is eventually smoothed out for him, he gets what he wants and never has to be responsible for his actions. It’s like the twilight zone…even for New’s pretty weird.

  • Dan

    Thanks for posting the audio for this.

  • mikenola

    “The sheriff’s projects will be funded however. Gusman, the sole voting member of the district, used the 12-minute meeting to renew a 2.9 mill tax expected to yield $7.5 million for capital projects such as his new jail.”

    The sole voting member of the district? exactly what moron thought this was legal and why has it not been challenged in court?

  • 1st Amendment, Really?

    This article’s title could be “Yes, Ma”am” and Now Dissing the Sheriff- Please jump in with your own comments, however devoid of facts”. Motivation is assigned with the writer’s/commentors denigration as if they asked the Sheriff how he felt. Let’s see, we have maybe the worst police dept in America with a white police chief; we have a white mayor who sent an untitled new staff person to a hearing with the Sheriff (BTW,this is a political diss, but it’s ok cause she’s white and he’s black?); we have a white D.A. who didn’t prosecute a rich white man charged with rape, even though there was typical evidence that showed that he did; the same D.A. sides with the notorious 5th Dist Police against Eris paraders, despite evidence that shows the police unnecessarily tasing paraders, a judge who favors the police and the d.a.. We have very serious Criminal Justice issues, that actually require serious media coverage. Note, Eris parade was just characterized in TP as “renegade.” None of these involve the Sheriff, who actually has one of the cleanest reputations of an elected official ever in Louisiana. While on the City Council, he had a stellar record and courageously voted to put the min. wage increase on the ballot and while on the SWB voted in another cliffhanger against privatization. After H. Katrina, he helped thousands of families. Yet, as our sole parish-wide Black elected Democrat, he is constantly dissed by a select group of whites. What is up with that? Where is the evidence that he has done anything wrong (even a low voice is dissed!) Where is the same venom for the real problems with white leaders (cops, DA, judges, and mayor) There is no counter-vailing player-hating against the real Criminal Justice problems with white leaders… Why?