Inside the News Room
 

The Lens’ Week in Review: $15 an hour at OPSB cafeterias, but not most charter schools

The Orleans Parish School Board voted unanimously last week to raise food service workers’ minimum wage to $15 an hour, a step in the right direction for employees and the city, workers’ rights groups said.

But the requirement doesn’t apply to workers at charter schools that don’t use school district employees for food service. Only 13 of the city’s 87 public schools rely on the district for food service. Nearly all the others use private contractors.

The Lens contacted several of the city’s largest charter school networks. ReNEW Schools and KIPP did not respond to a request for comment. Crescent City Schools referred us to their food vendors, Fresh Food Factor and Sodexo. The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

InspireNOLA CEO Jamar McKneely said the network’s schools use two vendors, Sodexo and SLA, who set their own wages. Sodexo has a contract with the Service Employees International Union. The document, posted on the union’s website, says its food service workers start at $9.55 per hour.

“We will consult with our vendors regarding living wage,” McKneely said. “We do consult with all of our vendors regarding living wages.”

New Orleans mayor was given damning file on 911 director prior to firing

The former director of the city’s 911 call center — who was fired at Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s direction last month — was repeatedly accused of mismanagement, including payroll improprieties and racial and gender bias, according to records provided by the city.

Complaints about the former director, Stephen Gordon, were provided to high-ranking officials in Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration at least as far back as 2016, though no action was taken until last month.

Emails and memos obtained by The Lens describe a dysfunctional agency where money was moved around without authorization or documentation.In a 2017 memo, then-Operations Director Shinar Haynes said that Gordon, who is white, “on numerous occasions … has demonstrated bias against women in general and women of color.” She described an incident in which he allegedly passed over a black job applicant in favor of a less-qualified white applicant.

Haynes wrote that more than $2 million in the 2016 budget was “moved around or unaccounted for.” Haynes also described finding a $500,000 Communication District bank account that was previously undisclosed.

According to a 2017 email from Tyrell Morris, who took over as head of the agency last month, Gordon refused to hire round-the-clock information technology personnel. Coincident with Mardi Gras 2017, the radio system crashed due to a “technology glitch,” and the call center had to wait for IT support to arrive from offsite.

Company at center of Entergy paid actor scandal is implicated in alleged extortion scheme in new federal lawsuit

Crowds on Demand, the company at the center of the Entergy paid actor scandal in New Orleans, is facing a federal lawsuit for its alleged participation in a conspiracy to extort millions of dollars from the Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala.

The suit claims that Crowds on Demand was hired by Pavol Krupa, a Slovakian businessman, to publicly slander Bakala by paying people to protest in Nebraska, New York, and South Carolina. Crowds on Demand employees also sent emails to some of Bakala’s business and nonprofit partners pressuring them to cut ties, according to the complaint.

Crowds on Demand allegedly set up a website for the campaign called StopBakala.org, which features a layout nearly identical to the Crowds on Demand website. There are also accompanying Twitter, Facebook and Youtube pages.

The website and social media accounts fall under the banner of an organization called The Coalition to Protect OKD Miners. The claims laid out on the website center around Bakala’s acquisition of a state-owned Czech mining company in 2004, after which, the website claims, Bakala reneged on a contract with miners and forced thousands out of their homes.

Charter school head, ordered removed from her job for nepotism violation, gets temporary reprieve

A New Orleans charter school CEO who state ethics judges ruled must lose her job for repeatedly violating state anti-nepotism laws has won a temporary reprieve from the judgment.

One month after a three-judge panel upheld an earlier decision in the case, Doris Roché-Hicks was granted a suspensive appeal Wednesday. That effectively suspends the state Ethics Adjudicatory Board’s ruling until the state First Circuit Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge renders a decision in the case. That could take months.

Roché-Hicks has led Friends of King Schools for more than a decade. She’s remained employed throughout her appeal of the June decision. Her attorney has said they are appealing the judgment to clear her name.

He has also said she plans to retire in December.

Opinion: From the folks who brought you Brett Kavanaugh, a fight to block wildlife protection in Tammany

On a seasonally ephemeral pond, in southeastern Mississippi, the last 100 dusky gopher frogs in the wild huddle together, unaware that their fate may hinge on oral arguments that will be heard Monday in the United States Supreme Court. The case, Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the first one on the calendar in the court’s new term.

It’s a showdown that pits the survival of an endangered species against the surging power of the Federalist Society, a nationwide association of conservative lawyers who value the rights of landowners over preservation of the flora and fauna that occupy the land. If the society’s name rings a bell, it may be because they are also in the news elsewhere in the nation’s capital this week: they are the group to whom President Trump has outsourced the power to select his judicial nominees, including embattled Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

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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.