In The News › Council approves funds for Blakely

Sep 7, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

Council approves funds for Blakely

Council approves funds for Blakely
But there are rules on how money is used
Friday, September 07, 2007
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

Despite questions about whether it was giving too much authority to recovery director Ed Blakely, the New Orleans City Council on Thursday unanimously approved an ordinance appropriating $117 million in federal money to Blakely’s office and spelling out in broad terms how the money will be used.

The $117 million will be used as part of a $1.1 billion recovery plan that Blakely is leading the effort to implement.

The city became eligible for the federal Community Development Block Grant money after it submitted the Unified New Orleans Plan, a plan for rebuilding the city after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, to state officials in June.

The law approved Thursday does not list any specific projects that will get money but sets limits on how much of the money can be spent on any category of projects, such as $25 million for roads and infrastructure, $20 million for schools, $20 million for economic development, $20 million for “community facilities,” $14 million for recreational facilities, $10 million for blight reduction and $5.8 million for “program delivery” costs.

Forty percent of the money is expected to be spent in 17 targeted recovery zones and the rest across the city. The money will be spent over two to three years, Blakely said.

He told the council that a list of specific projects will be made public soon and the council will be asked to approve it “in one fell swoop,” not project-by-project.

“We are eager to get moving,” Blakely said in asking the council to approve the ordinance. “We have waited far too long. . . . The public has waited far too long.”

All the projects on the list will be among those proposed in the Unified New Orleans Plan or other post-Katrina planning efforts, Blakely said.

The state’s Office of Community Development and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development also need to approve the list of projects.

Before voting on the ordinance, Councilwoman Shelley Midura wanted reassurance that the council was not giving up its final chance to help decide which projects will get money. Told that it was not, she joined the measure’s supporters.

“What I have seen (of the projects to be financed) is entirely consistent with the planning that has been done,” Midura said. “People will be tremendously excited when they see the plans.”

The only explicit opposition to the ordinance came from Peter Reichard, a research analyst for the Bureau of Governmental Research, who repeated the criticisms the nonprofit group made Wednesday in a news release.

The BGR release urged the council to delay voting on the ordinance until it has seen a detailed breakdown of the specific projects and the public has had a chance to review and comment on the list.

“Appropriating funding prior to the release of a detailed plan and public review places the cart before the horse. It also poses the danger that the public review would bear the significance of an afterthought,” said a statement read by Reichard.

Council President Arnie Fielkow disagreed with the organization’s advice. “We have to stop the talking and get to action,” he said. “We need to see the bricks-and-mortar projects and the cranes in the sky.”

Interim Councilman Michael Darnell said the council “won’t allow money to be spent willy-nilly.”

After approving the ordinance, the council passed a motion calling on Blakely’s office to report “at regular intervals” to the council’s Recovery Committee on the status of the projects that will get money.

The motion asks for a written report “detailing the expenditures of the preceding month and providing projections for expenditures for the upcoming three months.”

Like the ordinance, the motion was approved 6-0. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell did not attend the meeting.

Sep 7, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

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