Politics blog: David Vitter plans more closed-door ‘leadership forums’ _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- U.S. Sen. David Vitter

School Board can try again to pick a member

It looks like the Orleans Parish School Board will get another crack at selecting a new member after all.

The board deadlocked three times on Tuesday while trying to select an interim replacement for Ira Thomas, who resigned earlier this month before pleading not guilty to bribery charges.

Board members believed Tuesday they had only two more days to make a choice or else the decision would fall to Gov. Bobby Jindal — a prospect that neither board faction savored.

But that belief was based on board policy, not state law, which actually gives the board until March 30 before Jindal can step in. In fact, as long as the board acts before the governor does, it can make the appointment even after that deadline passes, board President Seth Bloom said Friday.

That could provide time for the board to call a special meeting and try again to select a candidate from among the nine people who applied to temporarily represent a district that includes New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward.

The board could not settle on a candidate at its last meeting, with three members voting for motivational speaker Happy Johnson and three for John Brown, who has served as the principal of several local schools.

Bloom said the board will take another shot at selecting a replacement. “We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

Whoever gets the nod would serve until a special election can be held in the fall.

Water board wants to give customers a break

The New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board will support a measure in the upcoming legislative session that would allow the agency to adjust the bills of customers who are overcharged for water consumption because of underground leaks.

The S&WB is not allowed at present to adjust customers’ bills in response to water leaks on private property because the board doesn’t monitor those pipes for leaks or breaks.

The board adopted a resolution at its monthly meeting this week calling for a law that would make it possible to credit customer accounts when a leak has been identified on private property.

Details of the proposed legislation will be available next week, S&WB spokesman Robert Jackson said. A sponsor for the bill has not yet been selected, he said.

Vitter blasts HANO plan to redevelop sites

U.S. Sen. David Vitter is at odds with the Housing Authority of New Orleans over the agency’s plan to redevelop vacant scattered sites into mixed-use developments. Following a meeting with HANO Executive Director Gregg Fortner, Vitter said HANO’s departure from a previous plan to sell the properties “doesn’t make sense.”

Fortner announced last year that HANO would solicit plans for redeveloping about 200 scattered sites the agency owns into mixed-income communities. HANO will also consider selling the sites, but its first priority is to have them developed into something that would bring continuing revenue to the agency.

Vitter wants HANO to sell the sites outright, as had been proposed by the agency’s previous executive director.

“By completely reversing its strategy, HANO is depriving taxpayers in New Orleans of well over $6 million that could be used to revitalize the community,” Vitter said. “After fighting through HUD red tape to get approval for HANO to sell these properties, the reversal doesn’t make sense. If the properties aren’t sold, they could remain vacant and dilapidated for years to come, which is harmful to those communities and neighborhoods.”

Vitter said HANO should sell the property to its nonprofit Crescent Affordable Housing Corp., which in turn would offer them to private bidders.

Hewitt to run for Crowe’s Senate seat

Sharon Hewitt, who is chairwoman of a Slidell area recreation district and vice chairwoman of the St. Tammany Parish Republican Executive Committee, has announced that she is running for state Senate District 1, the seat held by longtime incumbent A.G. Crowe.

The district includes parts of Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes.

Crowe, also a Republican from Slidell, has not announced whether he will seek another four-year term.

Hewitt, who received an engineering degree from LSU, formerly worked for Shell as its deepwater asset manager in the central Gulf of Mexico. She said in her candidate announcement that she left the oil company at the peak of her career to devote herself full time to her family. She and her husband, Stan, have two grown sons.

The Slidell resident has been an active volunteer who has focused on parks and playgrounds and improving literacy. The National PTA gave her a Life Achievement Award, its highest honor, for outstanding service to children.

She also serves on the public policy and education committees of the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce.

“People are tired of career politicians,’’ Hewitt said in a prepared statement. “As an engineer, I am a problem solver. ... I will use my skills and abilities to help the people of this district.’’