Sheriff borrows another $5 million for jail

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By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a six-minute meeting of a little-scrutinized agency he controls this afternoon to issue $5 million of taxpayer-financed bonds to help build his new jail.

Gusman still has the ability to issue as much as $30 million more in bonds, permission voters gave him to cover the bricks-and-mortar costs of various criminal justice facilities.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman (center) signs a bond issuance to turn over $5 million to his office for the construction of new jail facilities. He has now issued over $40 million in bonds for the new jail since 2008. Gusman was assisted this afternoon by Iberia Bank Senior Vice President Mary Guidry (left) and attorney C. Grant Schlueter with bond attorneys Foley & Judell (right). Photo by Matt Davis

The $5 million issued today is the last of $40 million in bonds approved by voters for Gusman in 2008, with Gusman having issued $10 million in 2008, $10 million in 2009, and another $15 million in 2010. Today’s bonds were issued at the lowest interest rate so far, 2.97 percent; the others  had interest rates of over 3.5 percent.

Among other things, the taxpayer-funded Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District  effectively works as Gusman’s piggy bank for construction projects such as his planned new jail, as well as renovations to city-owned buildings. The governing body of the district has one member: Gusman. That’s why he is able to sign over checks to finance his construction projects and, at the same time, withhold money the city wants for its projects.

Gusman continues to sit on $32 million for city projects such as courthouse repairs, an addition to the District Attorney’s Office and a new Coroner’s Office, all approved by voters since 2000.

Nobody from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office came to the meeting this afternoon, and Gusman made no remarks about the city’s portion of the district’s money. His bond attorney, C. Grant Schlueter with the firm Foley & Judell, said the district hasn’t released any of the bonds for the city projects because it can’t be sure the city will spend the money on time, as required by law.

An advisory group assembled by Landrieu is working to setthe final size of Gusman’s new jail, and relations between the two offices have become more strained as the group delays a final decision on the total number of jail beds.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry has also blasted both Gusman and the Landrieu administration over the past two weeks for standing in the way of criminal-justice reform by delaying a variety of policy changes sanctioned by national experts.

Those reforms include changing the way Gusman is currently paid — on a per prisoner per day basis, which reform advocates suggest gives him a financial incentive to incarcerate more people — and instituting a pre-trial services program, which would release less dangerous inmates before trial, based on a series of objective tests designed to judge their threat to public safety.

Gusman expects to get the $5 million on Nov. 30.

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