Inside the News Room
 

Week in Review: Entergy’s $1.3 million power plant campaign; more fake subpoenas; climate change and New Orleans

How Entergy spent $1.3 million to polish its reputation, script support and monitor opposition to its new power plant

Our reporting on paid actors who helped pack public meetings to pad support for Entergy’s new power plant was just the tip of the iceberg. This week, we take you behind the $1.3 million campaign for a new power plant.

We examined hundreds of pages of documents the utility turned over to City Council. Not only were we able to break down the costs and learn what exactly consultants did. But we also discovered councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen’s nonprofit and two advisers to now-Mayor LaToya Cantrell worked on the campaign.

Starting in 2016, Entergy spent at least $1.3 million to burnish its reputation, including about $530,000 directly tied to the plant, according to documents we reviewed.

For up to $175 an hour, consultants crafted messaging, drafted letters of support from community members, scripted what people should say at meetings, tracked media coverage and monitored environmental and neighborhood opponents.

That was separate from the $55,000 Entergy racked up for an astroturfing campaign in which people were paid to attend public meetings and deliver pre-written speeches on behalf of the power plant.

The company’s approach, however, resembled a political campaign. Consultants called environmental groups “the opposition” and gathered information that could be used against them.

A six-part series
New Orleans: Ready or not for climate change?

New Orleans is vulnerable. Even a small storm can wipe out power for thousands of homes. But big storms are just one threat. Roads, water lines, drainage pipes, and power lines can be strained by extreme weather.

This week, with our partner WWNO-FM, we explored how prepared the city is for the threats that climate change will bring in a six-part series.

Extreme weather can be disruptive. When it pours, people park their cars up on curbs, and miss work and school.

It turns out kids missed a lot of school this past year, largely because of aging infrastructure failing during extreme weather.

City officials have acknowledged that New Orleans needs to rethink how it deals with rain — by reducing its reliance on mechanical pumps and managing the water where it falls.

New Orleans district attorney unearths 249 ‘DA subpoenas’ issued over three years

We finally have a glimpse of how often Orleans Parish prosecutors used fake subpoenas.

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has discovered 249 “DA subpoenas,” many of which appear to be improperly issued fake subpoenas, after searching computer records and boxes of case files for nearly eight months.

The office also turned over 50 court filings seeking to arrest crime victims and witnesses for allegedly failing to cooperate. Almost all of those were granted; 16 people were arrested.

As The Lens first reported last year, prosecutors sent what they called “DA subpoenas” to pressure reluctant witnesses to appear for private interviews with prosecutors. Those documents were marked “SUBPOENA” and threatened jail and fines for failing to obey, but they were not authorized by a judge or issued by a court clerk, as required by law.

Legal experts and defense attorneys told The Lens that the use of the documents was unethical, if not illegal.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro ended the practice the same day The Lens exposed the practice. The office was later sued in federal court by the ACLU and the Civil Rights Corps over its use of phony subpoenas.

District attorneys in Jefferson Parish and on the North Shore used similar notices; they too immediately halted the practice.

The 249 “DA subpoenas” were issued in New Orleans cases that were closed between 2014 and 2016.

The DA’s office has said the bogus documents were used rarely and that it would be practically impossible to find them.

Opinion: Remembering Felicia Kahn: A relentless fighter who made a difference

Rev. William Barnwell remembers his longtime friend and mentor, Felicia Kahn, who strove to correct injustice all around her.

“As Felicia matured, she lost no time seeing injustice all around her, around us, not only anti-Semitism but biting personal racism (bigotry) and the institutional and cultural racism that is only more insidious. She saw women—who deserved equality and full respect from all of us—put down by an unquestioning and often hostile voting public. Early on, she devoted her life to correcting these wrongs.”

She died at age 91 last month. Barnwell penned a heartfelt tribute.

City Planning Commission hears from public on short-term rentals

Did you miss the City Planning Commission’s public hearing on short-term rentals this week?

We have a public comment play-by-play for you.

The commission eventually voted 5-1 to recommend the city council approve a temporary freeze on the most popular type of short-term rental license in historic neighborhoods throughout the city.

 

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.