Inside the News Room
 

The Lens’ Week in Review: OPSB suspends four troubled schools from enrollment system

Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy may soon have to make cuts to stay within its budget for the rest of the school year. The Central City charter school faces a $264,000 deficit, its chief financial officer told Harney board members at a meeting on Monday.

The reason for the projected shortfall, he said, was the school doesn’t have enough students. And it doesn’t appear it will be able to fix that problem because the Orleans Parish school district has cut the school off from OneApp, the district’s centralized enrollment system.

Principal Ashanta Wyatt said a family interested in transferring to Harney because it is closest to their house came in last week. But the kids couldn’t enroll.

“When we send them to OneApp they say we’re full,” she told the charter’s finance committee.

“We are not full,” Board President Rev. Charles Southall III said.

Group introduces short-term rental ordinance that would limit licenses to hosts’ residences

“We did not get this right in 2016,” said Breonne DeDecker, program manager for the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, among the most vocal opponents to the short-term rental law passed in 2016.

“We left our neighborhoods and our communities extremely vulnerable to short-term rental speculation and rampant investment that’s fueling a lot of gentrification,” she said.

A city planning commission study on the effects of short-term rentals is due later this month. At that point, the City Council may choose to overhaul the way the city regulates short-term rentals. DeDecker is making sure that community groups like hers, rather than platforms like Airbnb, are leading the conversation with city officials.

Working with community members and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Jane Place has drafted an ordinance that would create a far more prohibitive regulatory structure for short-term rentals. The proposed ordinance would require applicants to show proof of residency at the property they intend to rent out. And it would also require the platforms — Airbnb, HomeAway and others — to obtain city permits.

Emails: Mayor held private phone meetings with majority of water board directors, appearing to violate law

In the days before Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced major changes at the Sewerage and Water Board, she held at least one private phone meeting with a majority of  the utility’s board of directors, an apparent violation of the state Open Meetings Law. Cantrell also scheduled a second phone meeting, hours before holding a press conference to announce the staff shakeup. It appears that a majority planned to participate in the second call as well.

On August 16, Cantrell sent an email to board members asking them to join her for a conference call the next morning. The email came hours after Nola.com/Times-Picayune published a report showing that former S&WB Executive Director Jade Brown Russell had approved the deputy directors’ pay raises.

Between then and the next morning, seven of 10 board members confirmed that they would join the call. Including Cantrell, who serves as board president, it appears that eight board members participated. Cantrell told board members that Russell would also be on the call.

Under state law, when a majority of public board members meet to deliberate or receive information about any matter within their jurisdiction, they are required to announce the meeting and allow the public to attend. Circumventing open meetings by conducting public business in private is also prohibited by the law.

This is the second time in recent memory that Cantrell’s administration appears to have skirted the Open Meetings Law in advance of major staffing decisions. Last month, Cantrell demanded that the city’s 911 board meet to fire the agency’s director. Though the law requires specific public notice in advance, a notice for that meeting did not show what the meeting was about, listing only a “personnel action.”

Opinion: Puerto Rico one year later: Will the island be as lucky as we were post-Katrina?

Thirteen years after Hurricane Katrina, we tend to forget what, by my lights, was the biggest factor in the New Orleans recovery. Also, the least expected.

No, not the billions the feds finally poured into the flawed but pivotal Road Home program.

Not the $14 billion that brought the federal levee system back up to the “100-year storm” strength it had when it failed.

Yes, it helped that we eventually got a mayoral administration instead of a looting operation at City Hall, but that wasn’t until 2010.

The change I’m thinking about was already accelerating by then. Defying all odds, New Orleans had become a powerful magnet for a generation of young people from all over the country, eager to save the city, make a buck, feed the poor, and take on the world. They didn’t do it alone, but they certainly powered our recuperation.

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.