Cantrell unrepentant over unannounced traffic camera changes

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell and her top deputy, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño, went before the City Council’s budget committee on Monday morning to defend the administration’s decision not to inform the public that it was lowering speed thresholds for traffic camera tickets.

Cantrell said she made the decision with safety in mind, not to increase ticket revenues. But, Montaño later admitted, her administration has yet to perform a safety study on the program. And a council analysis showed that injuries from crashes in school zones — where most of the city’s traffic cameras are located — are extremely rare, and have actually increased since 2017, when the city added dozens of new cameras.

“I didn’t disclose that because I am not advocating for people to continue to not follow the school zone laws throughout the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said. “I will not in any way apologize for that.”

The speed limit in school zones during school hours is 20 mph, but since 2012, drivers haven’t received tickets unless they went at least 26 mph. Outside of school zones, drivers were allowed to go 10 mph over the speed limit. But this month, NOLA.com revealed that the speeding threshold in school zones traffic cameras had been lowered to 24 mph since Feb. 4.

OneApp enrollment lottery results bring mixed emotions

The highly anticipated results from New Orleans’ centralized school enrollment lottery were released Wednesday afternoon as parents were picking their children up from school.

Parents’ reactions, on social media and in interviews with The Lens, ranged from elated to nervous to furious, after many spent the day eagerly awaiting text and email notifications from the district.

Parent Donna Dugue said she was feeling scared Wednesday morning. She’d only listed Audubon Charter School’s Gentilly campus for her son, assuming at the time that if he didn’t get in there, he’d simply continue to attend ReNEW McNair’s pre-kindergarten class for four-year-olds otherwise.

But for Dugue and other McNair parents, this week came with further surprise. The McNair campus on Carrollton Avenue is closing over the summer and students are being relocated to ReNEW’s other schools. The network didn’t inform parents of the decision. A spokesman told The Lens earlier this week that parents would find out about their children’s placement through their OneApp results.

“I don’t think that was OneApp’s job,” Dugue said. “ReNEW should have done that.”

Dispute between mayor, council delays homeless encampment sweep ordinance

Due to disagreements with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the City Council is delaying a vote on an ordinance that would codify some of the city’s current regulations on homeless encampment sweeps into law. The vote was set for Thursday, but it’s being pushed back at least until the council’s next regular meeting in early May, according to Katie Baudouin*, spokeswoman for the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilman Joe Giarrusso.

The news came hours after a Cantrell administration official told The Lens in an interview that the Mayor was opposed to the ordinance as written. The official, Deputy Chief of Staff Liana Elliott, told The Lens that unlike the current regulations, which set encampment sweep guidelines for the city to use at its own discretion, the ordinance would force the city to conduct sweeps and remove people’s personal belongings when an encampment is reported.

“It’s the difference between ‘may’ and ‘shall,’ ” she told The Lens.

Behind The Lens episode 29: ‘I will not in any way apologize for that’

This week on Behind The Lens, the New Orleans City Council grilled Mayor LaToya Cantrellabout her decision to lower the speed threshold for traffic camera tickets, and why her administration didn’t notify the public about the change.

Also, will text message reminders help parents dealing with OneApp verification for early childhood education programs? We spoke with the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans’s associate director to find out.

Finally, environmental reporter and Behind the Lens host Tom Wright is leaving for Mississippi. We’ll get his thoughts on the state of journalism in the Deep South, and find out where his career will take him.

No plan yet for $5 million Entergy fine

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday voted to transfer a $5 million fine paid by Entergy New Orleans to the Council Utilities Regulatory Office, where it will be held until the council decides how to spend it.

The timeline for that decision is still up in the air. But council members who spoke to The Lens this week said they expected the issue to come up for public discussion and comment before any final decision is made.

Before the council levied the fine, members said the money would be used to help with the Sewerage and Water Board’s lengthy list of infrastructure needs. Sewerage and Water Board director Ghassan Korban laid out three possible projects at a council meeting in February that would cost between $1.5 million and $4 million.

ReNEW charter network relocating McNair students, closing campus this summer

Parents of students at ReNEW Schools’ McNair campus may be in for a shock as OneApp school placement results are released this week — the Uptown location won’t be open this fall.

The campus houses an early childhood center and a therapeutic day program for students with “with complex socioemotional and behavioral needs.” Two years ago, ReNEW then-president Kevin Guitterrez said the therapeutic day program serves “some of the neediest kids in the city.”

Some parents didn’t learn until OneApp results were released Wednesday.

Opinion: Here’s help sorting out May 4 millage for parks — and be sure to vote!

Hear from Bill Ives and Julianna D. Padgett on the upcoming parks millage:

“On May 4 New Orleanians will vote on a millage that provides a new formula for financing City Park, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the Audubon Nature Institute and the Department of Parks and Parkways. If approved, the millage would take a portion of the revenues currently allocated to Audubon and share them with these other agencies.

Early voting ends this Saturday, April 27, with the final balloting set for the following Saturday.”

Opinion: Big ‘green’ mistake: dumping sewage in wetlands carries hidden costs

Ed Bodker chimes in on the Bayou Bienvenue restoration and similar projects: “There is a dangerous confusion at the core of the current debate over a seemingly “greenwashed” way to handle sewage and other kinds of effluent.

In essence, the mistaken idea is that dumping partially treated wastewater into our shrinking wetlands will somehow nourish and restore them.

It appears to be an error on the part of regulatory agencies looking for ways to cut costs and sidestep more stringent permit enforcement. Among environmentalists, the same error reflects an over-eager search for solutions that might seem to rely on natural processes.’

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.