Richmond: yes to HANO plan Vitter opposes

The Housing Authority of New Orleans has picked up another supporter of its controversial plan to partner with private developers to turn its abandoned scattered-site properties into mixed-income housing.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said the plan will put HANO on a more stable financial footing and create affordable housing that the city “sorely needs.”

HANO Executive Director Gregg Fortner has proposed using the more than 200 scattered sites the agency owns for mixed-income residential developments. HANO will also consider selling some of the sites, but its first priority will be to have them developed into something that would bring continuing revenue to the agency.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell have offered public support for the plan.

But U.S. Sen. David Vitter has attacked the idea, urging HANO to stick with an earlier plan to sell all the properties outright to private bidders.

City Councilwoman Stacy Head also wants the properties placed in the hands of private owners so the city can begin collecting property taxes on them. She has said HANO is ill-equipped to take on the role of co-developer.

Richmond said he has met twice with Fortner to discuss the director’s plan.

“The strategy HANO has in place to repurpose vacant properties for mixed-income housing is the right way to go,” Richmond said in a written statement. “This plan is a smart and prudent path to ensuring HANO can secure consistent revenue rather than a one-time influx of cash. The practice of selling off government assets with no possibility for future earnings has caused many of this state’s financial problems. This new direction will allow much greater flexibility.”

Regan says AG’s Office defamed him

New Orleans criminal defense lawyer Martin Regan is not making many friends in the state Attorney General’s Office.

Weeks after a state prosecutor blamed Regan for causing a scene outside a Baton Rouge grand jury’s meeting room that halted the testimony of his client, embattled St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta, Regan has filed a defamation lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court that names Attorney General Buddy Caldwell; his son, Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell; and the AG’s Office itself as defendants.

Regan’s lawsuit, filed Friday, includes copies of polygraph tests in which he denies allegations made by David Caldwell to The New Orleans Advocate that Regan intentionally caused the commotion and swore at a prosecutor. The suit seeks court costs and damages for “mental anguish” Regan says he suffered from the remarks.

Regan has a different view on how the grand jury situation played out. In a motion filed May 8, two days after the grand jury voted to indict Peralta, Regan argued that the charges should be tossed out because Peralta’s civil rights were violated by Caldwell’s office.

He claimed Peralta was not allowed to finish his testimony; was denied access to pertinent documents during his testimony; and was twice threatened with removal and arrest “in front of the grand jury” if he “did not get down from the witness stand, did not stop testifying and did not leave the grand jury room immediately.”

Previously, David Caldwell called Regan’s claims “a complete waste of time.”

It’s the second lawsuit Regan has filed against the AG’s Office in as many months. He also filed a suit on behalf of Peralta, alleging that prosecutors knowingly relied on false testimony to indict him last year on a charge of sexual battery against his then-wife in an attempt to help a potential rival in this year’s parish elections.

New DA claims long list of accomplishments

Warren Montgomery is still measuring his tenure in days rather than years, but the new district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes is already claiming a stack of accomplishments.

He has issued a list of changes made since his swearing in on Jan. 13, including 26 new hires, a new screening process for cases and a new policy manual.

The new DA said that Friday marked the 100th working day since he took office. He hit that mark a month after his longtime predecessor, Walter Reed, was indicted in federal court on corruption charges.

Montgomery didn’t mention Reed in his three-page wrap-up of his first few months in office, but he made it clear that he wants the public to see his tenure as a stark shift from past practices.

“From Day 1, I have focused on building a team that operates with the highest degree of ethics, professionalism and competence,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are taking the politics out of the District Attorney’s Office and creating a true meritocracy.”

Montgomery said that increasing diversity on the staff was one of his goals. He said he has hired four African-Americans in “crucial, professional, decision-making roles” and also has hired three women as section heads.

One of those hires, Francesca Bridges, is head of the new Screening Division, designed to evaluate cases earlier in the process and decide whether there’s enough evidence to support prosecution.

The sheriff’s offices in St. Tammany and Washington parishes and the Slidell Police Department have agreed to provide electronic access to their police, jail and crime lab reports, Montgomery said, and those records will be available to prosecutors as soon as the agencies complete them.

Montgomery, who criticized Reed’s administration for its lack of written policies, said the new policy manual was undergoing a final round of employee feedback and should be approved by Monday.

Among other things, it forbids assistant district attorneys from representing civil clients who have any matter pending in the District Attorney’s Office. The manual discourages secondary work outside the office and requires assistant district attorneys to get prior approval before taking any outside work.

Compiled by Jaquetta White, Richard Thompson and Sara Pagones