In The News › Party or not, let’s hit the polls Saturday

Sep 30, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

Party or not, let’s hit the polls Saturday

Party or not, let’s hit the polls Saturday
by Mark Singletary

Don’t forget. Saturday is Election Day.

Many of us will vote in a closed party primary for the first time. Until this year, we’ve voted on a nonpartisan blanket ballot known affectionately in the world of politics as a “Louisiana primary.” No more.

Last spring we dipped our toes in the progressive spring of modern politics and held closed party presidential preference elections. We chose John McCain as our Republican nominee, and Barack Obama won the Democrat vote. Unfortunately, as a registered Independent, I didn’t get to vote.

I don’t belong to the American Independent Party, the Independent American Party or the Independence Party — I’m just independent and want to stay that way. Trouble with being independent is you don’t get to vote in primary elections.

Primary elections are held so the party faithful can select nominees to run in general elections. Our general election will be Nov. 4 when I (or i) get to vote.

I can show up at Democratic voting booths, metaphorically prick my finger and become a blood brother if I really, really want to vote in a party primary. I’ll decide that Saturday.

But there are a couple of things I can vote on.

Orleans Parish residents will decide to spend some of our own money to tap into a whole lot of everyone else’s. And we’re also going to deliver permanent status to the New Orleans Office of Inspector General.

The non-partisan issues are whether to provide capital funds to build or rehabilitate certain criminal justice facilities in Orleans Parish, and proposed charter amendment to make the Office of Inspector General a permanent part of city government.

Certain sheriffs in Louisiana, including Orleans, were made chief executive officers of special districts created in 1989 by our Legislature. According to a Bureau of Governmental Research report, there is no other voice in determining funding or operational questions for these special districts except for the sheriffs. That means no governing board, no advisory board and no override votes from mayors or councils.

With that authority and with a very detailed plan, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman wants to leverage $63.2 million in general obligation bonds to build more than $200 million in capital projects. Previously committed and hopefully still-committed FEMA funds represent the lions’ share of money for the projects.

I can run through the laundry list of these projects but if you don’t know what they are by now, you probably don’t really care.

The bottom line is this bond issue can be funded from existing tax millages that Orleans Parish property owners are now paying, with a rate set at 2.9 mills. In case things don’t work out as planned, the sheriff has the ability to raise millage rates up to 10.

If the bond issue fails, we then continue paying the 2.9 millage until an existing debt is retired and then the property tax goes away.

Unfortunately by then, the sheriff will have to call on you and me to house the criminal inmates for him, as his jail cells will be full or falling down.

How big are the leveraged FEMA funds? A new jail with 1,500 beds will cost $130 million. FEMA has committed to paying $120 million and we can use bond proceeds to pay for the additional $10 million — 12-to-1 leveraging seems like pretty cheap money.

The city charter change is really New Orleans eccentric.

Citizens voted, in 1995 mind you, to create an independent authority within city government to watch how things get done. That vote overwhelmingly authorized the City Council to create the Office of Inspector General.

Because things are the way they are, it took 12 years and several city councils before City Hall got around to authorizing or hiring an inspector general. No money; no computers; no IG — no good.

Now we have Robert Cerasoli as IG and his team finally has desks and chairs and even some computers. The inspectors are working fast and furious to see that those responsible for the laws aren’t breaking them.

So we create the office and it takes 12 years to hire someone to do the job. Here, after only a couple of years in place, we can vote to take the politics away from the process and fund the office through an allocation of the city’s general fund.

Saturday’s vote will establish permanent funding for the IG and give the office enough power to investigate elected officials, municipal employees and the police, if necessary.

Even we independents get to vote for these issues, and I’ll be there for sure.

Please join me.•

Publisher Mark Singletary can be reached by at 293-9214, by fax at 832-3570 or by e-mail at mark.singletary@nopg.com.

Sep 30, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: On the Ballot, Orleans Parish

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