no.entergycouncil.110118.09 (copy)

Attorney Matthew Coman presented an investigative report centered on Entergy's paid actor controversy during a special City Council meeting last week.

COUNCIL SLAMS ENTERGY AFTER DAMNING REPORT

A lengthy report — the culmination of a monthslong investigation into the use of paid actors who spoke in support of Entergy New Orleans’ plans for a gas-fired plant in New Orleans East — revealed that “Entergy knew or should have known” that the utility had hired them as part of an “astroturfing” campaign.


Entergy claimed it didn’t know that the publicity firm it contracted to garner “grassroots” support for the project was paying actors to appear at public hearings in front of the New Orleans City Council.


Following a resolution passed Oct. 31, the City Council now is considering a $5 million sanction against the utility, along with several accountability measures, including ethics training. Council members want to ensure that the fine isn’t merely passed on to ratepayers. That $5 million, roughly 10 percent of Entergy's profit earnings from the last year, would represent the largest fine ever imposed by the City Council.


At least two council members — Council President Jason Williams and District D Councilman Jared Brossett, both of whom sat on the last City Council and voted for the new plant — said they could be open to a “revote” on the power plant in light of the compromised public hearing process.


The report shows that executives at the utility viewed the debate over the plant as a “war” with the public, one worth spending thousands of dollars fighting. The report doesn’t explicitly conclude that Entergy executives (including former Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice, who stepped down in August amid investigations) knew that their increased demands for supporters meant that those supporters would be paid. However, it’s clear the firm Entergy had hired to gin up public support sent quotes outlining the costs for bringing supporters to meetings. Entergy hired Hawthorn Group, which in turn hired Crowds on Demand, which supplied the actors.

Rice told investigators he “wouldn’t anticipate nor contemplate that they would go out and hire a third party to pay people to show up at the meeting.”

The City Council now will begin collecting public comment through November before it drafts a motion to levy the sanctions against Entergy.—WOODWARD

Cantrell budget eliminates some traffic cams, calls for installation of more surveillance cams

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s first citywide budget calls for the elimination of 20 traffic cameras in 2019, stripping the network of red-light cameras at intersections throughout the city down to 11. The budget also proposes installing more than 100 surveillance cameras, 10 in each New Orleans City Council district as well as 71 along the Lafitte Greenway. Those cameras would feed into the city’s Real-Time Crime Center, the law enforcement hub at the edge of the French Quarter that is accessed by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), Louisiana State Police and other state and federal agencies. The budget also proposes 60 additional license plate reader cameras.

The New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation’s SafeCam NOLA program, which allows residents to register their cameras with NOPD, recently launched its “platinum” program that connects cameras to the Real-Time Crime Center. Its public launch is among 2019 budget priorities with the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, along with the other surveillance camera expansions.

Cantrell plans to “phase out” 20 of 31 traffic cameras that aren’t within school zones, and the administration will eliminate camera enforcement in school zones outside school hours. There are about 80 school zone cameras throughout the city. New Orleans CAO Gilbert Montano says the city could expect to see a drop of $4 to $6 million from the loss of that camera ticket revenue.

In June, the City Council renamed newly installed cameras “Quality and Neighborhood Safety Cameras,” and Cantrell’s recently launched CleanUpNOLA program plans to install 10 surveillance cameras in several “repetitive illegal dumping locations that the [Department of Sanitation] identified,” a City Hall spokesperson told Gambit last month. That funding request is reflected in the 2019 budget, they said.

Removing traffic cameras likely will put more law enforcement on the streets, Cantrell said. NOPD’s budget outline also includes “Third Party Traffic Management to relieve burden from patrol officers having to arrive for minor accidents.” Cantrell said this initiative does not involve hiring a third-party vendor but rather changing NOPD policy to direct officers who write traffic tickets to code them to state statutes rather than city ordinances, where appropriate, so that the tickets will generate increased fines.—WOODWARD

Park millage may now include City Park, NORDC

Voters will decide whether money collected by the city’s parks should be better shared among them in a four-way split rededication of an existing millage. The New Orleans City Council approved a motion Nov. 1 that would put to a vote the reallocation of an existing millage with City Park, Audubon Park, New Orleans Parks and Parkways and the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission. The move also would put the separate parks and recreation departments into a more cohesive “parks and recreation” alignment, which is recommended under the city’s Master Plan.

The new alignment also would mean City Park gets a cut of city funds for the first time; City Park would get more than $2 million from its .61-mill share if voters approve the renewal. The proposed adjustments reduce Audubon to $6.6 million (1.95 mills, down from 3.31 mills); increase NORDC to $4.95 million (from 1.5 to 1.95 mills); and boost Parks and Parkways by more than $6 million via 1.8 mills.

District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer told representatives from the parks and agencies that the millage rededication is a “first step,” but that it’s incumbent on the boards to be “reflective of our city,” not just racially and socioeconomically but also geographically, especially when those entities assume public dollars. Palmer said Audubon and City Park boards do not reflect that.

The millage adjustment is not a tax increase; it will be on the May 4, 2019 municipal general ballot.—WOODWARD

Library offers free passes to World War II Museum

Got a library card? You’ve got a pass to the World War II Museum.

The museum is the latest to join the New Orleans Public Library’s (NOPL) Museum Partner Pass Program, which allows cardholders to “check out” admission passes to The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Longue Vue House & Gardens and the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Each of NOPL’s 15 locations has one pass available for a two-week checkout, and each pass admits up to two adults and four children.

To check out a pass, go to any library branch or visit the NOPL website (www.nolalibrary.org).—ALLMAN

Young Greatness, New Orleans-born rapper, killed at 34

Rapper Young Greatness, born Theodore Jones, was killed in a shooting outside the Waffle House on Elysian Fields Avenue the in the early morning hours of Oct. 29. He was 34. Dozens of fans, friends and family held a memorial balloon release on Oct. 30 on Claiborne Avenue.

Jones was born and raised in New Orleans, where he grew up in the St. Bernard housing project. He moved to Houston following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures (then dodged the Louisiana National Guard while sneaking back into Louisiana to grab his recording gear) and split time in New Orleans and Atlanta when not on the road.

With his signature melodic, auto-tuned vocal style, he remained on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for several weeks in 2016 with his viral single “Moolah.” He followed the hit single with the mixtape “I Tried To Tell Em 2,” appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” was on the shortlist for XXL Magazine’s Freshman list and signed with Cash Money Records for a forthcoming release.

“Life for me was no different than any other black young male growing up in the ghetto,” he told Gambit in 2016. “You're going to be facing adversity, you're going to be facing hard times. It's just about what you make of it. I made the most of it.”—WOODWARD