Advocate assembles advisory N.O. panel

Six New Orleans-area community leaders will sit on a board to advise The Advocate’s owners and management on ways to improve the newspaper and tailor it to the tastes of New Orleanians.

The group includes Anne Milling, who played a prominent role in civic efforts to coax The Times-Picayune’s New York-based owners to sell rather than cease daily publication. After The Times-Picayune’s owners refused to sell and moved forward with their plan to publish three days a week, The Advocate launched a New Orleans edition that sold twice as many copies as the owners expected.

The five other members of the board are: Kyle France, Calvin Johnson, Denise Thornton, Erika McConduit and John Casbon.

The Advocate was sold on May 1 to local businessman John Georges and his wife Dathel, who have been expanding the New Orleans staff, partly by hiring several Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists from The Times-Picayune.

The board will advise the new owners as well as General Manager Dan Shea, Editor Peter Kovacs and Managing Editor for New Orleans, Martha Carr.

“We plan to succeed by relentlessly listening to the people of New Orleans, and this board will help us do that,” said Kovacs. “We are a Louisiana company so we have no one to answer to except the people of Louisiana.”

Kovacs said the newspaper is also setting up an advisory board for its Baton Rouge edition.

Already active in many community organizations, Milling after Katrina founded The Women of the Storm, which advocated at both the local and national level for New Orleans’ recovery. She is well known as a tireless leader of volunteer efforts and played a key role in planning the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II to New Orleans. Milling received The Times-Picayune’s Loving Cup for 1995 and was a member of the newspaper’s advisory board.

France, who lives in Covington, serves as president of the Kehoe-France schools, as well as camps with locations in Metairie and Covington. A graduate of Louisiana State University, France serves on the board of trustees for Children’s Hospital and is vice chairman of the board of regents for Our Lady of Holy Cross College. France also is president of the National Independent Private Schools Association and sits on the executive committee of the New Orleans Sugar Bowl.

Johnson served as a judge at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court for 17 years and created the state’s first “mental health” court. He was serving as chief judge during the storm, when the criminal courthouse was swamped by floodwaters. Johnson currently is the executive director of the Metropolitan Human Services District, which provides community-based mental health services in Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

Although she had no prior expereince as a community activist before the storm, Thornton founded Beacon of Hope Resource Center, a non-profit group that provided places around the city for people perplexed by the often thorny rebuilding process to get reliable information. In early 2006, Thornton initially opened up her own home as a resource center, serving hot meals, providing Internet and phone services, organizing volunteers and offering contractor referrals. Thornton also is a board member of the Bureau of Governmental Research.

McConduit, the interim president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, is a New Orleans native who graduated from Loyola University’s law school. Since joining the Urban League in 2009, McConduit has taken a leadership role in education reform efforts, serving on a number of state and local committees. She previously worked as the chief operating officer of the YMCA of White Plains and Central Westchester in New York. She also teaches media law and public health law as an adjunct professor at Dillard University.

Casbon is the CEO and president of First American Title Insurance Company of Louisiana. In 1995, he founded the New Orleans Police Foundation, now known as the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, a non-profit group that raises money for the criminal justice system and helps the NOPD and other agencies implement policies. Casbon serves on a number of boards, including the Louisiana Trooper Foundation, the American Land Title Association and Iberia Bank.