Inside Metro New Orleans Politics for Feb. 23, 2013

Police unions urge end to appointments

Calling the practice a “breeding ground for political corruption and patronage,” representatives of two local police unions this week asked the Civil Service Commission to stop approving provisional sergeant appointments within the New Orleans Police Department.

Appointments have happened since Civil Service has not had money to pay for sergeant tests, the official way to promote officers to that rank. According to the city’s 2013 budget book, the test would cost $147,000, but the City Council did not provide the funding. In fact, the Civil Service Commission, like most city departments, took a budget cut this year, receiving $1.4 million as opposed to $1.6 million in 2012.

Since tests have not been given in several years, lists of officers eligible for promotions have or will soon expire.

“All this flies in the face of a merit-based system,” Raymond Burkhart III, an attorney with the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the commission during its meeting Monday.

Burkhart said he was “begging” and “imploring” the commission to work with the city to get funding for the tests while stopping the appointments in the meantime.

Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans, described the appointments as a “breeding ground” for corruption and wondered if the lack of funding was intentional.

“I don’t think it’s a funding issue but a matter of design,” he said.

Civil Service has softest of openings

It was a near literal soft opening this week for the Civil Service Commission as it moved into its new space in the Aamco Building on Poydras Street across from City Hall.

As the city prepares to open a “one-stop shop” for land-use and permitting issues, the City Planning Commission moved from the 9th floor of the Aamco Building to the 7th floor of City Hall, where it joined similar agencies. That space previously housed the Civil Service staff, who moved to the Planning Commission’s former space.

While the Civil Service Commission’s new space looked to be in good shape during Monday’s meeting, the first in its new home, Personnel Director Lisa Hudson said there is still work to do to, such as making sure computers are properly networked.

Shortly after she made that comment, one audience member piped up, asking if Hudson would see to it that microphones and speakers could be provided next time. Those in attendance spent much of the meeting cupping their ears or craning their necks in an effort to hear the proceedings.

Hudson said she has a sound system but no speakers.

“We’re working on it,” she said of the whispered meetings.

Councilman pushes for election holiday

Westwego Councilman Glenn Green thinks presidential elections and work just don’t mix, at least not for public employees.

Green has pushed for months for the City Council to give city employees a holiday from work for every presidential election. But because that might put a strain on Westwego’s tight budget, he’s found it tough to get support from his fellow board members. Earlier this month, Green said he thinks the council is being too tight with the city’s purse strings and infringing on employees’ rights.

“Every four years I don’t think we’re going to suffer any financial pain because of that,” said Green, who noted that many other Jefferson Parish offices close for presidential elections. “I guess we’re just not American now.”

But Councilman Melvin Guidry bristled a little at the assertion that having to work on Election Day was wrong. He noted that most people who work in the private sector, such as himself, find the time to go to work and vote. He doesn’t view it as a hardship, he views it as a privilege, he said.

“I know Election Day I get up early in the morning and go vote.” Guidry said. “I don’t know why I need a day off honestly.”

Green promised to bring up the issue at a later date.

NORA schedules information session

Representatives from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority will answer questions from the public next week during an information session.

The forum, part of the city’s Office Neighborhood Engagement’s “Coffee on Your Corner” program, will take place Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the New Orleans East Regional Library, 5641 Read Blvd.

Submit questions to NoraAnn Winbush at nawinbush@nola.gov before the meeting.

Compiled by

Danny Monteverde

and Allen Powell II