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Week in Review: ‘I had no choice but to move out. It was not livable.’

Kerry Nix / The Lens

Shawanda Holmes lived with her children at this house in 2015, when a blood screening showed that her son had extremely elevated lead levels.

Shawanda Holmes took her two-year-old son Louis to the doctor in 2015 for what she assumed would be a routine check-up. He was about to start school at a Head Start center, which required its students to get a blood lead test.

But his result came back more than four times the level that indicates lead poisoning. He was so severely lead-poisoned that he needed to go to the hospital.

The state Department of Health would have to inspect the Central City house the family had rented for about a year to find the source of the exposure.

“[The inspectors] said [lead] was on everything that he touched. They tested the walls, they tested the floors, they tested the windows, they tested the mantelpiece, they tested everything,” Holmes said in an interview with The Lens last year. More testing showed her then-five-year-old daughter Saniyah had also developed lead poisoning.

Then the Department of Health gave her more news: The state had found lead hazards in the house two years earlier.

Council votes for potential $5 million fine on Entergy, some councilmembers open to revoting on power plant

At a special meeting on Wednesday, the City Council passed two resolutions that aim to, in the words of one of the resolutions, engender a “sea-change in the corporate culture” at Entergy New Orleans.

The special meeting was convened two days after the Council released the damning results of its investigation into Entergy’s “astroturfing” campaign, which concluded that Entergy “knew or should have known” that actors were paid to attend City Council meetings and support Entergy’s proposed power plant in eastern New Orleans.

The Council voted unanimously to initiate a sanctions process that could impose a $5 million fine on Entergy. Councilwoman Helena Moreno said that this would be “the largest single penalty ever imposed by the New Orleans City Council.” The resolution prohibits Entergy from passing that fine onto ratepayers.

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Harney charter school board suspends newly hired principal

Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy Principal Ashonta Wyatt was suspended from her job by the school’s governing board at a special meeting on Friday, WDSU reports.

Earlier in the week, Wyatt spoke to The Lens’ Marta Jewson, saying she feared the board was trying to get rid of her and planned to use what she said was a weak defamation claim from lawyer Juan LaFonta as a pretext.

Last week, LaFonta sent the board a cease and desist letter regarding what his lawyer says were defamatory statements made by Wyatt. The lawyer, Douglass Alongia, wrote that LaFonta has received threats from outside parties because of the remarks.

The letter included a Facebook post written by a friend of Wyatt’s that read “With or without you Juan LaFonta ……. WE WILL GET THIS DONE!!!!!” The post urged people to donate athletic supplies to Harney and linked to the school’s Facebook page.

Wyatt, who was tagged in the post, commented with a screen grab of what appears to be an earlier Facebook message exchange where she asked LaFonta to donate equipment.

The image shows LaFonta, or someone using what appears to be his personal Facebook account, responded, “Very informal and not proper to solicit.”

Under her comment, Wyatt wrote, “Unfortunately, this was his reply seconds before he blocked me.”

Alongia did not answer The Lens’ questions regarding what exactly is defamatory, saying he had no comment.

Orleans DA wants State Supreme Court to review appeals court’s order to produce fake subpoenas

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro is asking the Supreme Court of Louisiana to review a state appeals court decision that ordered his office to produce fake subpoenas, the legally worthless documents used for decades to convince reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors.

The DA’s office maintains Lens Editor Charles Maldonado’s April 2017 public records request is overly burdensome, even after a district court judge narrowed the request in his order. The district and appellate court have both argued the public agency’s duty transcends the workload it will require.

Now, Cannizzaro argues the state’s highest court must weigh in on what he describes as two fundamental issues. First, he asks the court to clarify whether public records requests must match the way public entities store their records. For example, during testimony in 2017, Assistant District Attorney Donna Andrieu, said Maldonado’s request — for all DA subpoenas over a period of time— didn’t match how the office kept its files — by case number.

The office organizes its files by case, she said. “We don’t have a filing cabinet full of DA subpoenas—or any other document.”

As Crescent Leadership Academy closes, city lacks alternative placement for middle school students

With Wednesday’s closure of Crescent Leadership Academy, an alternative charter school for students in 7th grade and older, the city now lacks an alternative setting for 7th and 8th grade students.

Like the city’s other alternative programs, Crescent Leadership was used to educate students who had been expelled from other schools.

The West Bank school’s 66 students, the vast majority of whom are in high school, have all received a new placement, Orleans Parish school district spokeswoman Dominique Ellis wrote in an email this week.

But achieving that means the district is taking a new approach to dealing with middle school students who have been expelled from other schools.  Instead of placement in an alternative school, they’ll be sent to traditional elementary schools.

Behind The Lens episode 5: ‘There should never be a declaration of war against the people of this city’

This week on the podcast, host and producer Tom Wright interviews reporter Michael Isaac Stein on Entergy and paid actors. Kerry Nix talks about a state lead poisoning prevention program. And Charles Maldonado discusses the latest in The Lens’ fake subpoena lawsuit.

Opinion: Coming Together after Pittsburgh. Our faiths have watered the same ‘Tree of Life’

Columnist William Barnwell*, an Episcopal priest, writes about last week’s tragedy in Pittsburgh:

“When I heard about the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, I called or emailed Jewish friends, including my brother-in-law, to thank them for being Jewish and to let them know that my wife, Corinne Barnwell, and I are among the legion of Americans offering our undying support.

“Friends responded to our emails with expressions of appreciation. Here is some of what Rabbi Edward Cohn had to say about the horror that has befallen Tree of Life Congregation: ‘At this difficult time of such pain, when we cannot help but question the bitter fruit which has taken root from the Trump tree, your words bring comfort to the wound that hatred has wrought.’ “

*Correction: As originally published, columnist William Barnwell was incorrectly identified as “Tim Barnwell.” (Nov. 3, 2018)

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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.