Gaslighting

Gaslighting or gas-lighting[1] is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Are you interested in the NOLA Patrol? I am trying to kick an addiction to it. Not to what it is supposed to do. Nobody is too sure exactly what that is yet, but all the multiple choice answers are pretty boring, unless you are one of those French Quarter dandies whose bow tie curls up at the sight of a mule dropping or a rude T-shirt. NOLA Patrol is supposed to help relieve VCPORA’s Quality of Life indignation, which builds up like gas and just needs to come out. You can see the result at the Perdido Drama Centre on show days. NOLA Patrol can help the doom-sayers of Downtown express themselves in the form of fines and citations. They will feel so good at tea parties.

I have to dust off my old sausage grinder X-Ray machine from the Sound Ordinance days to see how this particular bowl of boudin is being ground. The usual French Quarter drama queens – sorry, groups – are in the cast. Look for middle aged ladies sneaking around in back passages, going out of the room to take phone calls, significant glances, coded messages – probably not .gov emails this time, due to the Webster effect – small buckets of sleaze measured out with silver spoons, steamy meetings in Rampart Street conference rooms – time-tested NOLA techniques of special-interest political manipulation, all leading to a trivial outcome. Or a dead end.

If there is something like truth in the story, it is elusive. NOLAscape has to look for clues, using specialized instruments like our sausage grinder scope.

Here’s one. At Thursday’s Council session, Meg Lousteau came to the lectern at an undramatic slot in the middle, took less than a minute to say she supports – “fully supports” might have been the political catch phrase – NOLA Patrol. What an excellent thing it will be, she said, with a smile reminiscent of Sylvester the Cat when he thought he had finished off Tweety for good.

Meg is happy. The snail’s on the the thorn. Have we stumbled into the wrong court room? Or has something been covered from public view?

Let’s open the curtain.

Round Two of NOLA Patrol was staged in Council Thursday, admission free, and can be seen any time on the Granicus Home Entertainment Network.

It was more like WWE than boxing though, because the deal had been done and the votes were in place.

Round One three weeks ago was more of a brawl. The votes were supposed to be in place, but the best laid plans . . . so let’s start there.

Council President Stacy Head looked exceptionally tetchy as the Patrol session opened. She usually looks edgy in the new council, without the backing vocals she used to have.

Stacy used to look so happy, fronting a team of Jackie Clarkson, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and occasionally not-quite-trustworthy Kristin Palmer. The Councilettes. Sometimes they had to let veteran Clarkson stand in front, some kind of seniority ritual, but I think Head was pulling the strings. The logic was often entertainingly Through-The-Looking-Glass. Kristin Palmer, a very physical kind of council member, might flash through a series of expressions from eye-rolling to lip-curling, and Susan Guidry – like almost all of us – often looked confused trying to connect the moving dots. And James Gray just kept silent.

Now Stacy is President, but on her own. Williams, Ramsey and Brossett just don’t seem properly deferential. LaToya Cantrell might have signaled a new departure last meeting when she took a detour from the self-indulgent Old Squares QoL-speak and brought people’s attention to real quality of life: flat or falling incomes and steeply rising rents, reducing discretionary disposable income and increasing poverty. Let’s hope she sticks with it. A legal adviser keeps the Council Members from making up rules as they go along, and CM James Gray, in a saner assembly, finds it worth his while to speak now, and when he does, listen, because his is usually the voice of wisdom.

President Stacy has grabbed the agenda. Schedule management seems to be her new power base. Council Clerk Lora Johnson used to manage the sequence and introduce the topics. The CMs discussed, heard argument and public comment if the subject was one of those; vote; next. Now with Ms Head moving ordinances and appeals around the checkerboard, the players are often confused, while Ms Johnson struggles to re-jig the order a few times per session. Is Mme Council President possibly using sequence and timing to show favor to some and put others in their place?

It even led to one of the Strangelove moments that make New Orleans city government fun to watch.

Chris Young, exec director of FQBL, had entered the chamber. I thought I heard Fistful of Dollars playing faintly in the distance.

Somebody, possibly Mrs Johnson, said, “Should we tell the administration that the people are here?” In one of her redeeming moments, Stacy said, “No need. They know. They know everything. They have people here, tweeting . . . .”

Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin duly appeared, with extra weight from police superintendent Harrison, the ink hardly dry on his new appointment.. They took seats at the VIP table inside of the gate, where you have to look up at the Council on their semi-Kafka raised platform. Armed with slides, Kopplin introduced the NOLA Patrol plan, its glories and promise of salvation, supported by Deacon Harrison. You can’t argue with a Power Point.

Forces were lined up for argument: ubiquitous Meg in her usual place on the far right, surrounded by her entourage and ring men, and Mr Young on the left, looking no-nonsense this day.

But when Ambassador Kopplin from the Great State of Landrieu rested his case, President Stacy called for a vote! Tipping your hand, isn’t iit?

And the other CMs actually voted! Then I think it was Ms Johnson reminded them of an extensive public argument lineup, so they had to walk the vote back. Was this performance rehearsed, but the actors were flubbing their lines? Mme President became very brisk, trying, I suspect, either to cover for her faux pas, or heighten the drama if it had been an intentional theatrical gesture.

First to the mic was Ally Conley, saying she cedes her three minutes to Chris Young. Squadron Leader Head, undaunted by the awkward turn barely a minute before, stops her. Pointing out that Ms Conley was an employee of Chris Young’s firm, that would not be allowed. Mr Young would get three minutes.

Fistful of Dollars was getting louder.

Chris Young stood up to approach. President Head calls . . . Meg Lousteau!

The distant strains of Morricone are coming closer.

One of the CMs interrupts. “Chris was first.” Trying to cover the slight, one of them said, smiling, “Chris likes to go first.”

Chris Young represents the French Quarter Business League, an organization of entertainment and bar businesses centered on and around Bourbon Street, who with research and persuasion by the FQ Management District’s Security Task Force chaired by Bob Simms, had agreed to subsidize police details to increase security to the tune of $10,500 a week, or $546,000 annually. Chris had come to Council to make the point that if the administration could find about $1.7 million to enforce minor infractions, why should FQBL pony up such a big chunk of money for extra police the city says it can’t provide, for protection against real crime? Let’s try to achieve some clarity here, because the Bourbon Street businesses are considering whether they should reconsider.

At the three minute mark, President Stacy interrupted. It seemed like she was calling time, but turned out she was saying that she had been advised that Ms Conley’s time cession was in fact the custom, but she did not think it was the intention, so she was going to fix that. All sentient beings in the chamber must immediately have thought of the many times she had allowed VCPORAns who never intended to speak to put in cards and give their three minutes to Meg and to Nathan Chapman, back when he was a regular player in the Perdido Amateur Theatricals. As a color commentator on municipal government as a spectator sport, I am calling the interruption gamesmanship. The procedure referee should have given Head a yellow card.

Wondering whether he was being stopped, Chris was quiet for a few seconds, and (cue Ennio Morricone) President Stacy called Meg Lousteau! Again! The observant could see Kopplin, Jared Brossett and even Jason Williams getting worried. Was Stacy missing that this was not just public kvetch? Chris Young represented an important private security subsidy, that might just go for a walk if she kept disrespecting its contributors?

With some edge in his voice, Chris said, “Don’t you want to hear what we have to say.” That cut through some of the waffle. He wrapped it up in a minute. Kopplin, Harrison and Brossett, realizing that Stacy was dangerously close to doing serious damage, jumped in to smooth feathers. The NOLA Patrol does not compete with police, they said. It is another fund. It does not diminish the City’s police recruiting drive and commitment to increasing fully trained peace officer forces, everything will come up roses . . .

I’m still hearing Fistful of Dollars.

It’s all money. You have some dollars. You can spend them on peanuts or on jelly beans. Cops or kids. Chris Young and the members of FQBL can handle subtraction. More peanuts, less jelly beans. Is the city going to spend all the FQ fund on toy cops while FQBL picks up the tab to cover the city’s default on the necessary higher level security, which had already been paid once in taxes? I suspect Kopplin and Harrison knew that, and they knew that Chris Young knew it, and knew that they knew it.

It wasn’t over.

The done deal was visibly fraying. The guys at the top tables could see it, except maybe  the Prez, still pressing on down the same track.

Meg Lousteau comes to the lectern. This must be serious: tight black skirt, tailored white linen jacket, bright red hair down and silky instead of bunned up. Leaving behind the old schoolmarmish fingernail-and-blackboard manner, her voice was going for the early Lauren Bacall mode, low and soft velvet. Media training or personal? Do we have to invest NOLAscape’s scant resources on a detective?

Meg says, We understand some people’s concerns about police rolls and violent person crime, but the French Quarter is plagued, plagued, I say! by serious mule dropping infractions, T-shirt offenses and restaurant bars. (She did not bring throwing up into it. Digestive issues are Coco Garrett’s and Stuart Smith’s area.) When these things are allowed to go on, says Ms Lousteau, it communicates a lawless atmosphere where Anything Goes. (Don’t change the record. It’s still Fistful of Dollars.)

The Patrol, in this belief system, will have a “scarecrow effect.” Armed crack dealers, coke heads, pickpockets, hustlers, scammers, rapists, assault artists and the general mayhem that can so perk up a dull Saturday night will by avian analogy get the message that Bourbon Street and the FQ just are not so much fun any more and they will move to Detroit. Or see the light, change their ways and join VCPORA. I don’t know. Maybe you had to be there when they worked this out.

More people came up, some against, mostly for. The pro Patrollers were really echoing Meg Lousteau and antis could not have a lot to add to Chris and FQBL, who were holding the public carrot and the stick.

Stacy was trying to get back to the rehearsed plan, which was clearly now cracked and leaking. She was trying to call a vote again, when CM Nadine Ramsey, to what looked like the President’s frustration, stepped in to stop the process and delay the bill to next time. (Was this move prearranged as well?)

CM Stacy, looking like thunder, asked Kopplin what would happen if there was a delay of three weeks. A nice, set piece question. Was this all as spontaneous as they wanted it to look? He said infrastructure repairs could not start, and the Patrol might not be up and running by Mardi Gras. Fortunately, CM Ramsey did not back down. She forced the delay.

Morricone builds to finale.

Act II

Thursday. Enter . . . some of the people.

Word was, the Patrol session was for 2.00 PM. I don’t know how The Word gets around, but that is what everybody knew. Eric Granderson, Hizzonner’s other commando, took the hot seat instead of Andy Kopplin, but not at 2.00.

Mr Granderson informed us of a deal that had been worked out entr’acte, after CM Ramsey had called time on the set piece Chris Young and FQBL had knocked over like a house of cards made from a marked deck.

A compromise: the city would pay for four extra cops on detail for the Bourbon area, and FQBL would match funds for four. Still generous on the part of the Bourbon Street entertainment businesses, I think, considering they (and we) had been taxed for 1,500 police, but there were only a few over 1,000 active. Instead of suing the city, they had agreed to donate additional money to band-aid the problem.

CM Guidry asked good questions.

Q: Where does the money for the city’s four come from?

A: From the FQ fund, the 0.25% of the hotel levy.

Q: So that reduces the amount available for the other purposes. Is it going to come off NOLA Patrol or infrastructure?

A: Not certain yet, but most probably NOLA Patrol.

There was one more substantial piece of information.

Instead of starting at 2.00, NOLA Patrol came up early at Superintendent Harrison’s request, again throwing FQBL out of synch by an unannounced change. Chris Young reminded them that the deal with the city included Eric Granderson reading the terms into the council record, so In view of the fact that the representatives of FQBL had not yet arrived when the ordinance started, he asked for the statement of agreement to be done again.

We then heard that City Attorney Sharonda Williams said the terms of the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement were unsatisfactorily vague. She wanted meetings with the stakeholders to arrive at a more specific description of the Patrol’s authorities.

That is one of the clues to who dumped what into the top of the sausage grinder. Everybody was looking at what the Patrollers are going to do. My suspicion is, nothing much. It’s a boondoggle. They will annoy some businesses. Some of them might get beaten up or shot. If it gets off the ground, it will fizzle out within a few years.

More interesting is how did this idea get here?

ONE. It is slapdash for a real administration bill. If the City had really originated the Patrol plan and cared about it, it would have been thought through, the objective and operational detail would be clearer and the City Attorney would not be saying it can’t fly on this CEA. Somebody was behind this who cared about it more than the Mayor’s office did.

TWO: Who might that be? CM Gray gave us a clue. He said he had to explain to his constituents that the city was not favoring the French Quarter, that they were paying for it with their money, that this is what they said they wanted to do with it, so (shrug). What I heard: (a) Mr Gray doesn’t think this is a very smart way to use the money; and (b) they said. When, how and who? Implication: the “residents” of the French Quarter. Obviously not the businesses – they want real security, not code citations. Who do we know that regularly says they are the residents, even though they clearly are not, and usually manage to get a compliant city government to accept their stuff? Mr Gray’s statement is unlikely to have come just from VCPORA and its FQC cheerleaders coming to the lectern in the public home stretch, purring about scarecrows. Chunks of offal had been going into the sausage grinder before any of us, including normal, non-cult French Quarter residents, even heard of the Patrol plan. And whoever they were – we could never guess – the administration and the council covered for them, and carried water for them. Again.

THREE. What’s in it for the city? CM Brosset and Andy Kopplin told us in Act I. Brossett had asked Kopplin, “What happens to the proceeds of the Patrol?”

“Proceeds?”

Brossett just waited.

“Ah. You mean fines and citations? They go in the general fund.”

CM Brossett understood, but didn’t say any more. Council and the Admin may not always seem like the same team, but they are in the same game.

NOLA Patrol is going to be expected to pay for itself. The penalty money goes in the Mayor’s discretionary pot. So the money pump is: the French Quarter’s share of the hotel levy pays the Patrol and the Patrol’s take pays into the city. French Quarter businesses, try to keep $1.7m in reserve. The city wants it, and if NOLA Patrol comes to life, they may be coming for it. Maybe you can make it tax deductible. Mayor Mitch may be playing more than one card at a time, but one of them is, he puts up with another of VCPORA/FQC’s projects that he does not care much about, and the quid pro quo is, some extra loot in his discretionary accounts.

FOUR. What is the NOLA Patrol really going to do? My prediction: not much. The problem of long trucks and buses that wander into the small streets by accident needs correcting by good signs, not tickets. Car accidents? To do what, exactly? The French Quarter is fender bender territory. Pedestrians wander in the streets. That is an important positive feature. Telling the bars and retailers what they can and cannot do, enforcing VCPORA morality in the entertainment zones? We’ll see. I doubt it. Assist with violent crime and assault? The risk of being beaten up or shot would be pretty high. I don’t think the Attorney will allow it.

The Attorney might disallow a lot or even all of this plan. The CEA might whittle down to a few things, of consequence mostly to the self-appointed fusspots of the Voo Carray The second year that $1.7m or so of their fund money goes to this scout troop instead of infrastructure and security, the real residents, normally passive, are going to start to say, Hey! And this newest boondoggle will start to fizzle out.

Epilogue

It really was a done deal this time. The players had worked out a compromise. Nadine Ramsey was not going to block the vote again, so the comments were editorial. But the interplay, occasional incoherence, silliness and self-satire can be funny. And even a few flashes of insight.

Ethan Ellestad, on behalf of MaCCNO, a musicians’ advocacy organization, expressed concern about the Patrol’s ability to correctly enforce zoning law and the new CZO, which are complex, exercising the minds of people who have been reading them for years. Sounds right to me. Eric Granderson, speaking for the City, replies: zoning is and will continue to be enforced by Safety and Permits, not NOLAPatrol, not police, which will be the Patrol’s supervising department..

Next, Susan Guillot for French Quarter Citizens. Fascinating. FQC does seem the most easily confused of any neighborhood association. You can almost sympathize with Lawyer Daggett’s instruction to them last year, after its elected board resigned in disgust, to just say what VCPORA says. With a steely gaze, Ms Guillot stated firmly that unlike the previous speaker – Ethan – just because you can’t have 100% of what you ask for doesn’t mean the right option is nothing. This Bayou Confucian pronouncement had absolutely nothing to do with anything anyone had said, especially the previous speaker. Perhaps she had written it in advance, or was reading notes for some other Council session.

French Quarter Citizens, continued Ms Guillot, wants to ensure that the original number of NOLA Patrollers would still be employed. Here we listeners have an arithmetic problem. Granderson had explained the city had to pay for four detail police, the expense to be covered by the hotel levy’s FQ fund, to match FQBL’s contribution. The FQ fund is a finite amount of money. In response to a question from CM Guidry, he had said it would probably reduce the number of NOLA Patrollers by the amount to cover that expense. Is FQC saying they want to add more Patrollers at the expense of infrastructure repair and investment? Or that the city should provide fewer police, which would contradict the new CEA, break the deal with FQBL and cancel crime security? Or do they want the hotels to sell more rooms so there will be more money and more NOLA Patrollers? Am I missing something, or is this another of the entertainments FQC offers since they turned themselves into some kind of a day care center for the bewildered bourgeoisie?

Next their exec, Ms Gniady, repeated that the police provision should not reduce the number of Patrollers. Same arithmetic challenge. Further reducing infrastructure investment would surely arouse most of the real residents to action. The four police details are fixed by the CEA. So what mathematics are they using, FQC’s variable constant? Then, perhaps determined to top Vice President Guillot, she says she is sure the Patrollers could be trained to understand and enforce zoning, thereby contradicting Mr Granderson’s recent statement that zoning will not be in their mission, and letting us know that VCPORA/FQC did expect the Patrol to enforce zoning, so Ellestad’s point was well founded.

Albin Guillot, another Citizen, very entertainingly wanted NOLA Patrol to address rude T-shirts and cyclists violating traffic laws who are rude to him. So one Patrol objective might be nicer cyclists. He might succeed with bikes, but T-shirt texts brush up against the first amendment. Anyway, prudishness is boring. America should just get over it – and to be fair, most people have.

Gail Cavett, came up, also a Citizen but speaking here more as an independent resident and chairman of an FQMD committee. I often wonder how Ms Cavett survives FQC. Well able to deal with facts, think logically and do arithmetic, she might be suspected of witchcraft by the rest of the board. I have to say that Gail reiterated one idea that I think is silly: if the Patrol enforces the little laws, potential perps won’t be tempted to pull out a knife to resolve a dispute. I don’t get that. Do they mean if a Patroller persuades a shop manager to put the less tasteful T-shirts in the back, people will overcome rage? Do streets free of mule manure release one’s better nature? We’ll see.

Gail also said maybe the Patrollers can do something about the gutter punks and their dogs. Until very recently, I would have said, leave them alone. Don’t harass people because they look different. But I have heard too many stories recently of low level assault – stupid challenges, like my pit bull can kill your dog, seriously aggressive panhandling and setting up camp on narrow sidewalks. People suspect, probably with some justification, that the dogs may not have proper shots and carry disease that can transmit to other dogs. Not good.

Then Meg, but nothing original this time, except that Sylvester look. Just practicing, I guess.

Was this Pat Meadowcroft’s first appearance at Council as president of VCPORA? Her maiden speech? Simple, composed, brief, direct. Another plea for quality of life, probably inevitable in the circumstances. I am looking forward to finding out more about the new president.

The Quality of Life moan from some of the FQ residents’ clubs is annoyingly self-indulgent. Many of them retire in the French Quarter, enjoying the re-urbanizing pleasures of the most self-satisfied section of one of the most self-conscious cities in the world.  I think for a city in selfie mode, New Orleans could compare with Jerusalem, Mecca and Qom. They bask in a pink-tinged never-was notion of historical preservation. Let’s hope their boring vision breaks down, and one day life, kids, schools, sport, music, art and fun return.

Perhaps a qualification for insulated Quarterites or indeed any comfortable white folks using the words “Quality of Life” should be lessons sponsored by James Gray, LaToya Cantrell and Nadine Ramsey in what quality of life can look like when your starting point is just life.

Jeremy DeBleux of FQBA very intelligently said, for a pilot program, too large a proportion of the FQ improvement funds were going into the Patrol and not infrastructure improvement. He reminded the meeting that the Patrollers were civil service hires, so scaling back would be harder than scaling up. He suggested no more than 50% to Patrol to start. That is smart.

Has anyone read this far? This is probably the longest ever NOLAscape, and the headline topic one of the most lightweight.

Reprise some conclusions:

> The issues the Patrol is supposed to address are the obsessive concerns of VCPORA/FQC. Why don’t they pay for it, as FQBL is going to support extra police in their area?

> It won’t last, or will transmute into something else. They may help with some gutter punk dogs, but most of their activity will focus on trivia. If they harass businesses over finicky points of code, there will be push back.

> They may never get started. City Attorney Williams’ verdict may finally be: Are you kidding me?

> They may be at risk. Bourbon Street can look like a cheerful street party, but little spots of it can turn nasty very suddenly. The Patrol kids may become targets.

> There is a more important issue at stake here than what the Patrol is going to do, or not. How did this sausage get made? In the T-shirt cases, built on tattle-tale, prevarication and incompetent investigation, that dragged expensively out before the BZA for months; in the lunatic lawsuits against Funky 544 and Antoine’s; in the loud rejection of the foolish sound ordinance that CM Head, carried into council for VCPORA; in the VCC’s progressing of the Habana Café plans – the professionals in municipal government and tens of thousands of people are telling the legislators and the administration that they do not want to live under VCPORA rules, and they do not want VCPORA decisions. But here they are again.

The municipal government that you elect and pay for doesn’t want to listen to the public voice

Other more sober bodies were only cursorily consulted, if at all. French Quarter residents who are not members of the two Old Square clubs were ignored. In some cases, the mayor chose individuals to consult who he decided would represent the public or organizations; not through their decision process, just Landrieu picking who he thought would go along with him, so he could say they represented their consensus, or go back and tell the commissioners what he had decided they should think. And they went along with it because Hizzonner liked it, so they didn’t want to burn a bridge. The real people of the French Quarter and the businesses are getting ripped off by this unnecessary new department. It’s another Hoodie fantasy.

I thought this gang had been back-burnered for a while, and I could forget about them, move on to more interesting things.. But here we go again – the government you elect and pay for following them down a rabbit hole.  But this piece is long enough. Maybe we’ll generalize that tomorrow.

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