City Council won’t override Landrieu veto, and other N.O.-area political notes

Even before the New Orleans City Council voted 4-3 on Nov. 7 to delay for one year a new age limit for cabs, it was clear that Mayor Mitch Landrieu would veto the ordinance, and that proponents of the change probably could not muster the five council votes it takes to override a veto.

Sure enough, Landrieu vetoed the measure as soon as it reached his desk that same afternoon, and it became clear at Thursday’s council meeting that the veto will stand.

The veto override was on the council’s agenda Thursday, but Councilman James Gray, lead sponsor of the ordinance, asked that the issue be deferred until Dec. 19 — past the council’s deadline for acting.

In other words, the veto will stand.

In a statement explaining his veto, Landrieu said, “Rolling back or delaying any taxicab reforms sends the wrong message. New Orleans deserves clean, safe, reliable and accessible taxicabs. On behalf of the nearly 80,000 people working in the cultural economy and the 75 percent of taxicabs that have already embraced the reforms, I am vetoing” the ordinance.

Among many other new regulations approved last year, the council set a maximum age for cabs of seven “model years,” but with a temporary grace period: vehicles as much as 10 years old could continue to be used through December. Gray’s ordinance would have extended that grace period through 2014.

When Gray introduced the measure in September, it had three co-sponsors, and he was unable to win over any of the three remaining council members: Kristin Gisleson Palmer, Susan Guidry and President Jackie Clarkson.

Supporters of the age limit, including leaders of the city’s hospitality industry, said newer cabs are safer, present a better image for the city and “enhance the customer experience,” as Taxicab Bureau Director Malachi Hull put it.

Ordinance supporters said it is the condition, not necessarily the age, of a cab that matters, and the city can reject vehicles that are in poor condition during required semi-annual inspections.

Public blames energy companies, poll finds

Poll results released Friday by a group supporting a local levee authority’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies show public support for laying the blame for wetlands destruction on energy companies.

About 72 percent of the 1,000 residents surveyed said they agreed that oil and gas companies had contributed to the loss of wetlands, which, in turn, contributed to flooding, according to the survey funded by the newly formed Restore Louisiana Now. That nonprofit group was formed to advocate for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s lawsuit, which blames energy companies for wetlands devastation in the New Orleans area.

The poll was conducted by Silas Lee and Associates and surveyed residents in 20 parishes in south Louisiana.

About 74 percent of those surveyed said they did not want the Legislature to intervene to stop the suit.

The poll came the same week as a Southern Media and Opinion Research poll found a majority of residents support the flood authority’s suit.

Other findings in the Restore Louisiana Now poll include:

Nearly all those responding, 96 percent, agreed that the loss of coastal wetlands and marshes is an issue that needs to be addressed.

63 percent of the respondents said they had little or no confidence that energy companies would voluntarily repair the wetlands after though their permits required them to restore those areas.

68 percent said restoration work using money won through the lawsuit should be managed by an “independent, non-political body composed of scientists and engineers,” with about 16 percent saying it should be handled by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and 11 percent saying the Legislature should be in charge.

About 39 percent of the people surveyed said they were Democrats, 28 percent Republicans and 24 percent independents.

Sheriff starts his reelection campaign

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman will formally kick off his re-election campaign Monday with a reception at the Pavilion of the Two Sisters in City Park.

In the wake of numerous news stories about problems at Orleans Parish Prison, the sheriff faces uncertain prospects in February’s elections. His approval rating was just 33 percent in the latest University of New Orleans “quality of life” survey, which pegged his disapproval rating at 56 percent.

Former Sheriff Charles Foti and Orleans Parish School Board President Ira Thomas are looking to unseat him.

On the other hand, Gusman’s feud with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has strong poll numbers, seems to have cooled lately. The two managed to get through this past month’s budget hearings without trading any of the barbed accusations — about conditions at the jail Gusman runs or who should have to pay to improve them — that had become typical in recent months.

Bank changes its mind on fiscal agent proposal

Just weeks after the Jefferson Parish Council scrapped an ongoing search for a new fiscal agent because Iberia Bank, which now holds the contract, failed to reapply in time, the company announced it would not put in a proposal to stay on the job.

In a letter to parish officials, Iberia Bank Regional President Karl Hoefer and Executive Vice President Jim Hudson said the company appreciated the Parish Council’s willingness to extend its contract so that a new solicitation for proposals could go out. But they said the bank will not participate in that bidding or accept a contract extension.

Hoefer and Hudson’s letter suggests bank officials were worried it would look like the bank received special treatment.

“We are certainly disappointed to have to make this difficult decision, but under the circumstances, we believe it is the best interest of our company as we remain committed to upholding only the highest standards of integrity in all that we do,” Hoefer and Hudson wrote.

Hudson had appeared before the council earlier and persuaded it to let Iberia participate in a new solicitation, even though the deadline had passed and four other banks had applied for the contract. He told council members that the bank had not seen the notice that the contract was being put out for bid.

Councilman Ben Zahn, who pushed for Iberia to get the extension and a chance to reapply, said in an email to other parish officials that he blamed President John Young’s administration for Iberia’s withdrawal from the process.

“It is regrettable that a vendor with such tenure would be subjected to unsubstantiated ‘behind the scenes,’ ludicrous character assassination, without even the courtesy of due process,” Zahn wrote. “My office had sustained a virtual ‘full court press’ from the administration in trying to sway my proposal away from the customary courtesy of an extension for Iberia Bank.”

Compiled by Bruce Eggler, Jeff Adelson and Andrew Vanacore