Getting on Their Case

 

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Something really fun dropped into the in-box last night.

A friend sent me a copy of View, the VCPORA newsletter, of September 2007.

The title is the obvious pun on Vieux Carré, the twee name for the French Quarter the clubs like to use. It sounds more authentic. ‘Vieux’ in French sounds like ‘view’. Get it? In New Orleans Anglo-frog, it has morphed into ‘voo,’ but okay. VCPORA’s emphasis on the French version unsuccessfully disguises the final destruction of New Orleans Creole culture that the Anglo-hoodies and their revisionist idea of history are presiding over. Post-Civil War brute politics accelerated the Creole exodus. Having occupied their territory physically, these uptight myopics are burying the last of its culture.

The newsletter is a bit creepy. It was only 2007, which most of us consider part of the 21st century, but it is weirdly old-fashioned and unctuously self congratulatory. VCPORAn nabobs mention each other and their favorite politicians. “Our gratitude to Argon Robicheaux, loyal butt buddy and coke connection, for his tireless labors on behalf of quaint signage and horse posts.” They give themselves credit for all sorts of things. I found myself looking for the part where they first recorded Elvis and coached Brando how to do the Stella scene in Streetcar.

Something jumped off the page in the first article. Let’s have a recap, to build the suspense.

Remember the T-shirt Shop Sagas?  The Twitch Hunt and follow-up articles on the Riverview injustice.)

In September last year, VCPORA’s Meg Lousteau did a show-and-tell about the scourge of insufficiently quaint shops in the Historic Gem. Stacy Head and Kristin Palmer got quite flushed. Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, CM for Wonderland, cried, “Off with their heads!” They stopped short of issuing assault weapons to Meg’s gang and sending them out on a spree, but they laid a scare on Jared Munster’s Safety and Permits, who sent inspector Devra Goldstein out on T-shirt patrol to get some shops into the dock and Munster off the hook.

Meg set the dogs of war (mostly pugs and poodles) on T-shirt and souvenir businesses in the French Quarter. Shops selling harmless merchandise, T-shirts and souvenirs, to the visitors the city assiduously courts to come and enjoy the city, then occasionally turns on like a dog with emotional confusion, biting the hand that feeds it.

VCPORA is a resentment accumulator. From time to time, indignation builds up a head and bursts like a boil into litigious pus. They have turned bugging people into a way of life, with legal and PR assets ready to hose malodorous gunk all over City Hall and selected victims.

Who do they think they are, these upstarts, these . . . foreigners. Opening shops We Do Not Like. Don’t they know Who We Are? They are not People Like Us. Selling stuff people want in the Historical Gem!

And it is against the law! Against THE LAW! Okay, it’s a VCPORA law pushed through with the help of a few compliant CMs. But a law is a law! Isn’t it?

They managed to catch Riverview, a boutique, in their dragnet, a thoroughly preventable and then correctable piece of dumbassery of the civil service sort.

There was a lot of publicity about the Riverview case, here, on WWL radio, in mainstream papers, on TV. In April, the self-appointed Righteous of the Voo Carray who had ratted Riverview out, Goldstein and lawyer Michael Martin knew to a certainty that proprietor Ed Azemas should not be in this, but VCPORA applied its standard Teflon morality: We are not responsible. There is nothing we can do.

Sure there was! You could have behaved with normal human decency. The top table and every rank and file member and fellow traveler associated with the Old Squares could have said, “Riverview has been caught up in this in error. Please let Ed off the hook; we apologize to him and to the BZA for the inconvenience and expense.” They could have insisted that Michael Martin, representing them in the cases, say that to the BZA in session, on the record. After six Kafka-esque months, Ed and Riverview were finally allowed off the merry go round this week, but VCPORA never found the courage to make a public statement.

Whatever the supine law says, VCPORA will never get off the Nolascape hook. They push bad ideas and bogus cases all the time, but Riverview is different – a small business, operating only a month and still financially fragile when they got on its case. VCPORA has put a stain on its moral history forever by failing to speak out against an injustice to an individual person which they contributed to.

T-shirt detective Devra seems to have said that the five T-shirts were “illegal merchandise.” – bit of hearsay here, but that tough red judge above is over at City Hall frowning at Michael Martin, so we should be safe. This seems to be a concept in S&P: T-shirts are “illegal merchandise.” I can’t find any support for that notion in the zoning ordinance, but that is what Devra told Ed and Jared Munster once told me. Jared Munster has a PhD, so he must be right. A recording of her conversation with Azemas suggests strongly to my suspicious ears that Ms Goldstein had been instructed to keep that charge in place, no matter what. “Conditionally guilty”, she said. Great way to run a law – the cops get to declare their victim guilty.

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Looping back to the fun, from the View’s lead article:

On July 6, Governor Blanco signed into law two bills authored by Senator Ed Murray: Act No. 263 strengthens compliance with Vieux Carré zoning regulations by providing that the period for taking action against illegal use begins when the relevant city agency is notified of a violation.

That was July 6, 2007. The start date of this law is July 6, 2007.

Act No. 263 amends existing law (LSA-R.S. 9:5625(G)) to provide that the period for enforcing zoning ordinances in the Vieux Carré begins only when the properly authorized city agency receives written notice of the zoning violation.

Before, the clock started ticking with the first act constituting the commission of the zoning violation. Thus, the window for stopping an illegal use of a Vieux Carré property could close before the City, or VCPORA, FQC, or anybody, knew there was a zoning violation. Act No. 263’s provision that actual written notice to the proper city agency triggers the enforcement period will help prevent legalization of illegal use by stealth.

Act No. 263 is expected to bolster compliance with the zoning ordinances applicable to the Vieux Carré. It is not, however, retroactive: it applies only from August 15, 2007, the effective date of the Act.

Firing up my reading skills and memory, I connected this dot to what Michael Martin, esq, representing VCPORA in the T-shirt assault, has been repeating frequently: non-conforming use could only become legal under the ten year grandfather clause from the first written notice to the zoning authority of non-conforming use. A very questionable bit of legislation, unlikely to withstand a serious challenge, but while it is standing, it is obvious that it could not be retro-active. It says so in the law, and VCPORA’s own vanity newsletter confirms that they know it. Not retroactive means this law can never be applied to a case of non-conforming use starting before the second half of 2007. And it could not be applied to a non-conforming use case starting after July 6, 2007 until July 7th 2017, because the subject would not have reached the ten year grandfather legitimation. In other words, the law Martin is citing does not apply. To anything.

So Michael Martin’s argument is not only wrong, it is impossible. Act 263 could not possibly apply to any of the appellants, or indeed anyone else.

Well, maybe Michael Martin, esq is just doing his best for his client, whose aesthetic sensibilities have been wounded by the sight of shirts and souvenirs in their club’s Historic Gem. I am sure you can see why it is a good thing for them to put a couple of hundred people out of work to preserve the tender feelings of those pugs and poodles. And that is Mr Martin’s lawyerly duty, right? Fight his client’s corner.

Let’s just look a little closer. Another friend literate in the law sent me this:

Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 3.3. Candor Toward the Tribunal

(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:

(1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;

(2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel;

http://www.law.cornell.edu/ethics/la/code/LA_CODE.HTM#Rule_3.3%28a%29

3.3(2) sounds like the lawyer should not cite law to the tribunal that he knows to be inapplicable.

So claiming that a rule created July 6, 2007 applies to shops opened and operating many years earlier – which Michael Martin, esq., acting for VCPORA, has been doing frequently in the course of the Great T-shirt Persecution of 2014 – is . . . what? Misunderstanding? Ignorance? Intentional deception?

So we encounter the Hannah axiom again: misinformed or misleading. Which is it this time? Martin is not looking too Perry Mason in these cases, but he is a real lawyer. The year 2007 and not retroactive are not hard to understand. We’re stuck with attempting to mislead, which 3.3(2) says is unprofessional conduct.

Could that venerable institution, VCPORA, possibly be complicit in intentionally misleading a tribunal? Can we even imagine such a thing? Please limit your replies and lists to one ream of paper, single-spaced.

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If this is Martin’s best shot, you would think the BZA would just dismiss VCPORA’s objections and grant the 14 appellants their status. Maybe Justin Schmidt, acting for the T-shirt shops, with the BZA quietly complicit, is stretching it, forcing the city to produce or back down on records going back to the 1970s and 80s, so he can get his clients off this hook forever.

If this impossible argument was all that Martin came to the tribunal with, the whole soap opera has been frivolous and irresponsible. VCPORA should have to pay the tribunal’s equivalent of court costs for wasting its time, and VCPORA and Safety and Permits should both have to compensate the appellants for legal costs in connection with defense against ungrounded challenges

Is there an authority with the power to instruct VCPORA that its standard MO of stirring up city authorities against people and businesses through compliant council members or other political allies, then stepping back and claiming they have no responsibility, is over, done, played out? A way to make them take responsibility for costs, like a normal plaintiff? They are running games without consequences. End it.

I wonder if a lawyer with a sense of adventure might consider a class action against VCPORA/FQC for the last ten or so years of malicious, largely frivolous lawsuits against restaurants, bars, retailers and others. They may not have enough in the bank, but forced sale of their office buildings would be nice.

VCPORA and its little sister, FQC passed three strikes years ago.

But let’s not be too hard on them. They throw some Absolutely Fabulous parties for charity and just generally improving the tone. We managed to get some sneaky video footage of this year’s:

http://youtu.be/alzxOwaA8EQ

 

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What is Senator Murray Playing At?


Is there a Continuing Education requirement for politicians and elected officials, as there are for real estate agents and financial advisers?

Maybe State Senator Edwin Murray missed a few classes. If what he got up to in the last week of the legislative session is career typical, he needs the kind of lesson arrogant pols get from an informed public at the next election.

Senator at work

Senator at work

Last week, Murray introduced SR183. It is a resolution, not a law. That is something like “should” instead of “must.” Still, the manner of its introduction tells us something is up.

SR 183 says the French Quarter Management District should enact bylaws, and get them done by January 1, 2015. Not an earth shaker; Glenn Greenwald is unlikely to get on its case. But the backstory shows it is not as innocuous as it looks.

Rumors and other reliable sources:

  • Did Edwin Murray meet directors of VCPORA last week, prior to introducing SR 183?
  • Was SR183 a VCPORA proposal?
  • Who wrote the bill?
  • Did Senator Murray actually discuss or plan a resolution concerning FQMD with a special-interest neighborhood association, but never discussed it with the chairman of FQMD?

Several people have asked Senator Murray these questions and more. Senator Edwin Murray, responsible elected official and public servant of the people of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, is not talking. Not an acknowledgment, not a whisper. Is our State Senator just too busy – omelettes to make, eggs to break, meetings to cover up? Or perhaps he just doesn’t care about the people asking, unless they are channeling contributions to the Democratic Committee. Or doesn’t have any answers that won’t look ugly in the light of day.

All of the above, is my guess. Can’t be more specific, because Senator Murray won’t reply. Why don’t you try, and let us know? murraye@legis.la.gov.

Background: French Quarter Management District was established by the State after Katrina to bring French Quarter businesses and residents together to coordinate on reconstruction and renaissance. Senator Murray introduced the enabling legislation and was instrumental in bringing the commercial, residential and political bodies together to form the organization.

FQMD is required to follow public body procedures: open meetings, transparency, clarity. The French Quarter is riddled with organizations – business groups and residents’ clubs, each usually pushing its own agenda, often in conflict with the others. A group with conflict resolution in its DNA was a great resource for the city. The French Quarter is a keystone area: its very large number of public businesses and role as a tourist center means other city areas are more affected by FQ politics than they would be by most other areas.

One of FQMD’s excellent services to the city has been to bring differences into the daylight for critical examination. Indications are that the business and political organizations who participate in FQMD are adjusting to openness better than the residents’ groups. VCPORA and FQC each appoint a commissioner. That is unfortunate, since they are not really two separate organizations. You would think a pro bono lawyer was in it to serve, but as is common knowledge, that table has turned, and the lawyer runs the show. He has mandated that they speak with one voice. He considered merging them, but that hasn’t happened. I guess it is better to have two seats and two votes for the one club.

“Never before has FQC broke ranks with VCPORA. It is critical that the residents of the quarter speak with one voice on significant issues. Failure to do so completely undermines our effectiveness.

. . . . I also think that the previous discussions with VCPORA about a merger should resume. We need one organization to speak for everyone, or two organizations who are joined at the hip as we historically have been.”

Stuart H. Smith, May 17, 2013

The week before Murray introduced SR 183, FQMD Chairman Robert Watters met with the co-presidents of VCPORA/FQC, Carol Allen and Coco Garrett, to explore their concerns and reasons for “suspending” from FQMD in January.

We can speak from knowledge here, because FQMD takes its state mandated responsibility for transparency seriously. Responsible Commissioners do answer questions.

The Presidents said that bylaws had always been their concern and a cause of their January self-suspension, as was the appointment of certain people to FQMD committees – specifically Linda Malin and Bryan Drude (ex-French Quarter Citizens who left. The usual suspects would say under a cloud; Linda and Bryan would say, with great relief. We will be reporting the story in long form soon.) I wonder if laying it on Linda and Bryan was Ms Garrett’s contribution. Carol is usually too smart to drip bad blood onto the meeting table.

Back in January, VCPORA had announced in a public letter “What began as an organization that united various groups with common interests has, under current leadership, become divisive, contentious and overwhelmingly time consuming for resident participants,” and went on to say that their appointee to FQMD, Tony Marino, must suspend his participation. French Quarter Citizens issued a virtually identical letter. Strangely to the normal ear but probably normal for these groups’ flexible logic, Carol Allen said at the time that she had not instructed any member of VCPORA not to attend FQMD meetings, but of course, the text does say that Tony Marino had been so instructed.

Despite the group’s withdrawal and his public instruction by the president,Tony Marino and Brian Furness for FQC do attend commissioners’ meetings, participate in discussions and vote on motions. Members of the two groups attend committee and task force meetings. Doublespeak prevails: they have withdrawn, and not. In participating, they decline; in declining, they participate.

How did bylaws become the main event? Back in January, they were never mentioned. Did VCPORA fester over bylaws for three years without highlighting their concern, then quit in protest over the issue without bringing it to the table first, then write explanatory public letters without mentioning it? We are now to accept that bylaws were always the main concern, but they kept it a secret until now. Right.

Let’s give it the benefit of a raised eyebrow. Let’s say they thought their way into the idea over the months since January, and a bit of self-adjusting memory has displaced it backwards. VCPORA is usually flexible about facts, so that would fit the pattern.

Let’s get back to centre. Fun as dissecting Hoodies is, the object here is Senator Murray and FQMD.

Watters said FQMD had thought its operating procedures were sufficiently covered by the enabling legislation and state rules of procedure, but he had nothing in principal against bylaws. About individuals on committees, people propose names, he reviews and discusses with the commission, and they select people they think will be good in the work and will be able to volunteer sufficient time and effort for this unpaid task. Specific interests do not have a veto.

FQMD must stick with that. If they enable veto for particular interests, it will be the end of FQMD as a positive force. It will factionalize instantly in the direction the neighborhood gangs are trying to take it in now. Check the UN for details of how veto works, or the US Senate for subversion of appointment process. The risk is that VCPORA/FQC is focused and effective in pursuing its sectarian ends, but free of any taint of wisdom.

State Senator Edwin Murray, employing a timeworn political trick, introduced
SR183 in the last hours of the legislative session, with no public discussion. It is one of those bills or resolutions that the rest of the legislature doesn’t care about, so they all vote for it, because they need Murray to vote for the next little muckheap squidged out of their sausage grinders.

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So if we have not gone way off the trail here, Senator Murray communicated with VCPORA about SR183, or maybe they even wrote it. But he never communicated with FQMD about it. A strange signal of disrespect, since Senator Murray was one of the original enablers of FQMD. Does he think he owns it? If what went down is what it looks like, Senator Murray thinks it is okay to propose resolutions in the legislature about FQMD in some kind of collusion with a neighborhood association with nominating authority for two seats out of 13, without informing the board. Very bad form.

At least five people that I know of, and I, have sent messages to Murray asking for some explanation of this fine example of communication with your constituency. We have asked Murray: how was SR183 written? By whom? Did he meet with Carol Allen on this subject prior to introduction? Did Murray discuss the resolution with any FQMD commissioner, who went turncoat and did not report the meeting to FQMD?

(In the still unwritten bylaws, I suggest they make that a termination offense.)

And guess what our State Senator Edwin Murray has replied so far?

Nothing. Nada. Radio silence from Murray Island.

The NOLAscape verdict:

  • French Quarter Management District is an extremely valuable forum. It is amazingly well managed, straight up and straightforward. It is all-volunteer and practically unfunded. Its focus and mandate are French Quarter, but the FQ is a keystone zone with effects that ripple outward.
  • Edwin Murray seems to be an average sort of politician who thinks it is okay to blow off constituents and FQMD. He wouldn’t be hard to replace. FQMD would.
  • VCPORA/FQC has earned a bad reputation in the Stuart H. Smith era, as a virtually all white middle to upper income group, seeking to impose residential property owners’ privilege and bourgeois taste for the quaint on us all, pushing narrow, parochial schemes against the interests of most of the city, using political arm twisting, heavy-handed exploitation of campaign contributions, and lack of candor and honesty as tools of influence.

Let’s show loud and clear that we value FQMD’s continued independence above Edwin Murray’s continuance in office, and that we will not put up with meddling with it on behalf of Boss Smith’s private political club.

Tell him: murraye@legis.la.gov.

Tell VCPORA/FQC: meglousteau@vcpora.org

Tell Boss Smith he ain’t invulnerable either. In Louisiana, populism – that means you – can bring down entrenched interest and money. They know it. Huey Long, Earl Long and Edwin Edwards are examples. Use your power. Just yank back the curtain and see if there is even a little wizard back there, or just the sound of scurrying footsteps.

Populism isn’t always good. The cure can be as bad as the disease. But there are times when you need to shake the tree, so the monkeys don’t keep all the fruit.

Check out The Kingfish for one of the ways it used to be done.

 

 

 

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Citizen Security

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Which one do you want to walk you to your car?

The Minutemen flap reminds us that our primary interactions with The State in all its forms, federal, state and municipal, tend to involve a badge and a gun. A pistol has become the street symbol of the land of the free, of the people, by the people, for the people. These guys think we should feel safer if they are ready for a gunfight.

Charges against Aaron Jordan that might put the brakes on the Minutemen idea are just a bit of comic chance, which may help highlight what a terrible idea this is. Sooner or later, an organization like this would attract a few variations of George Zimmerman.

Allowing real police to be undermanned, underpaid and underfunded may soon seem like the most expensive option. Next, raise their training level way up, and ditch their guns as regular street wear, and let’s see if civilization starts coming our way.

http://youtu.be/NVR3d0BGx_k

If I really need a citizen safety escort to take me home from Bourbon Street I am going to vote for a style upgrade from Aaron Jordan.

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NOPD and the Sad, Slow Apocalypse

The information in this article comes to us from Bob Simms, chairman of the Security Task Force of French Quarter Management District. The facts are Bob’s. Conclusions and any errors are mine.

  • About three years ago, New Orleans had 1,540 police officers.
  • Today, we are down to 1,100.
  • Most people who work on the issue believe we should be at about 1,600.
  • Mayor Landrieu’s administration set a target to recruit, train and activate           150 new officers in 2014.
  • The Police and Justice Foundation spearheaded a major recruiting drive which attracted about 1,200 online applications.
  • 113 applicants met the qualifications and were invited to take the entrance exam.
  • 49 applicants showed up to the entrance exam.
  • 19 passed.
  • 30 started the new training course on May 27th. The informed prediction is that 20-25 will graduate by the end of the year. Some late news from Bob Simms tells us that three dropped out of the course this week, after three days.
  • Second through Fifth training courses will graduate in 2015/2016.
  • Attrition: 51 officers have left NOPD in 2014 so far.

So instead of an increase of 150 to NOPD staffing this year, the more likely outcome is a net decrease of 26 to 30.

Is there a short or medium term solution?

Some obstacles to recruitment have been eliminated, most notably the requirement that police officers reside in Orleans Parish. Other perceived challenges, such as a tattoo ban, are possible, but they are not deal changers. Lowering standards has been tried, with terrible results. Salary levels are generally considered the biggest challenge. And it is a challenge. NOPD is a tough, high-risk job for unenviable pay. On the macro side, adding an average of, for example, $10,000 to 1,500 people is $15 million dollars. Increasing the force by 500 requires more vehicles, computers, weapons, facilities, insurance – and time.

Some neighborhoods are finding their own solutions, using private security forces and paid details of police on overtime for extra patrols. They have to find ways to pay for it, and it is not cheap. As an example, Bob Simms has proposed a plan for the French Quarter for additional patrols through some, not all, of the day which would require a levy of $150 a week for all businesses and $60 a week on residential property. In practice, it would probably not be possible to distribute the cost that way. Additional security is more valuable to a hotel, restaurant or bar open to the public long hours, than to an office-based non-cash business that closes at 5.00 PM and may have much less risk. Residents range from people to whom $3,000 a year is affordable, to people on fixed incomes who do not have any room in their budget.

If you haven’t seen the reports of the French Quarter Minutemen yet, check it out – volunteers with concealed carry permits who want to patrol the French Quarter. There are loud voices for and against. For me, it is the worst idea yet, and should be banned fast, if anybody can find a way. Bourbon Street commotion, Spring Breakers, drunks from the Bible Belt in love with their go-cup and VCPORA have not succeeded in keeping me out of the FQ at night, but this new chapter of the George Zimmerman Brigade might.

Second amendment supporters have a consistency problem opposing it. I don’t. The US private gun industry and its lobbyist, the NRA, and their battle flag, the Second Amendment, are social crimes, an unhealthy recipe for murder and mayhem. Given the rate of mental instability to be expected in a society hypnotized into accepting predatory capitalism with regressive taxation as a state religion, while being told that they are free individualists under threat from wild-eyed desert-trained terrorists; with increasing inequality leading not only to a security state under that cover story, but also a gated community private security state; people who had already chosen a way of interacting with the people around them that required state approval to carry concealed handguns now empowering themselves to wander invisibly in the most congested, most inebriated section of the city, with a bullet-based mission of salvation – I might consider a vacation in sunny Ciudad Juarez, for the peace and quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

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