The Tangled Web, Four – Conclusion

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I’m getting a theory about why the built-environment reactionaries of downtown went loopy about Elisio. I can feel it beaming down from the clouds just after the rain passes, up there to the left at about ten o’clock.

Not about Costello and Deveney. We don’t know for sure what happened there, but lust for petty power, a few strands of narcissism, the joy of manipulation – things like that came into it.

I mean the ordinary folk, the me-too residents who followed the objection parade but not sure why.

Height is the fallback, the easy one. “High-rise,” and that’s all you have to say. You can cite a binary rule. No nuance required. Then join the war cry; campaign camaraderie, pat each other on the back; soon you’re back home, feeling good, watching Fox News.

The cloudbeam is telling me it is rhythm. Architecture is often compared to music – rhythm, harmony, texture. The New Orleans conservative neighborhoodies are used to the simple symmetries of the old house styles. The doubles that form most of their environment have a simple basic shape, then symmetrical placement of everything – two doors, equidistant from the edges; windows, stairs, porch rails, brackets and ornaments – a simple, soothing symmetry. They remind me of early chamber music, with a harpsichord. What Jonathan calls “powdered wig music.” (He is immersed in it, among other traditions, so has earned the right to poke some fun at it.)

Look at Elisio. It is challenging to find the balances. It is more like Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman or Eric Dolphy. Textures, levels, volumes, reflections – they vary across the surface in unexpected ways. Maybe unease with Elisio bubbles up from the same place that likes repetitive, predictable tourist music on Frenchmen Street. That prefers the “cultural economy” over creativity, exploration and art. That finds it more comfortable to turn away from a design and into a political fight, simplifying the challenge from the mental and aesthetic to the tribal.

It could explain why StudioWTA and its clients took a more conservative visual design approach on the Latrobe buildings and Stateside. Solving the technical challenges of building on Press Street was already incompatible with the fundamentalists’ beliefs. Don’t scare the horses.

Take another look, Marignards. See if there is something in it.

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With some luck, Mercato Elisio may grind some money out of Deveney, who either was happy to or was browbeaten into using the conflict to diminish the integrity of the HDLC, inappropriately influencing its decisions, and build this somewhere else. Maybe a different site on Elysian. Maybe the same site. I like an Ornette Coleman building. I am going to check out the rent.

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Marigny has two Neighborhood Associations, FMIA and One Marigny. One Marigny is unfortunately not yet large or active enough to offset FMIA on its own, and FMIA, despite its occasional boast about its longevity and maturity, is unfortunately stuck in the evolutionary stage of a residentialist vigilante group, not (at least yet) a real neighborhood association. It should be. Marigny is potentially a great neighborhood, much better and fresher than it is now, that deserves better than a sociopathic club claiming to be “the neighborhood.”

A proto-fascist presidential candidate recently told an all-white audience in the suburbs of Milwaukee that we need more police – not better policing, just more blue boots on the ground – in poor neighborhoods – very thin code for Black and Latino, for more suppression of dissent, more repression, more police violence and killing. Now egged on by Bannon of Breitbart, a nativist online comic for wingnuts, the same orange-toned ape-like creature is calling for “extreme vetting,” including of ideology. In other words, thought police. In the thankfully unlikely possibility that this buffoon of a Mussolini impersonator wins national office, we could look forward to reinstatement of the sickening loyalty oaths and ideological probes of the Red Scare McCarthy period.

Let’s not forget that Trump’s lawyer and introducer into Manhattan society through one of its seamier sewers and close friend for years was McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn (not that he believed in it, or in anything). Cohn became a ferocious New York lawyer and power broker, was eventually disbarred, and after achieving some prominence for anti-gay statements in the dark ages, died of AIDS in 1986. The New York Times article a couple of months ago is vivid on what kind of scumbags Cohn was and Trump is.

But even under that orange threat level and West Louisiana catastrophes, we have to reserve some attention for little local tyrannies, for that is where it starts. Or ends up – hard to say.

So, now change your lens to its macro setting (the tulip symbol, for extreme close-up, like pictures of little bugs). To give it a chance of rescue from its own demons and the mounting mood of fascism in the dark corners of our country, I am going to throw FMIA a lifeline.

They are looking for new directors. I am going to volunteer. It’s a sacrifice, but they need saving. Their reputation is in the gutter, Their decision processes are . . . bewildered. Their interactions with the city are confrontational and incoherent, more likely to generate stifled laughter than collaboration. They launch lawsuits without thinking it through, looking lost and desperate as the City Attorney shreds their case.

I can save them. I can help cure their internal affliction and repair their reputation. I can help them pick the right fights. I can teach them to negotiate. I can help them face real problems, not get Increasingly desperate about fantasies. If they are smart, they will accept my offer. I can lead them out of the wilderness Costello and Deveney led them into.

Only I can do this. Only I can save them.

Believe me.

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© NOLscape August 2016

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The Tangled Web, Chapter Three

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Eva Marie Campos saw the letter signed “Gretchen Bomboy” attached to Tangled Web, Chapter One, and to use the technical legal term, it pissed her off. She wrote a rebuttal. Let’s get straight to it:

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Dear Robert,

Your blog post is as usual interesting and informative; I however took great interest in the letter you posted from Miss Bomboy dated May 6, 2011. In spite of the fact that it is said to have been delivered to all FMIA members I do not recall ever having seen it. I am sending you this letter to refute the allegations made against me. Thank you in advance for listening to my side of this awful story.

Item 1
The Board has concluded its investigation into the accusation that led to Eva Campos receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace, and a second citation for Trespassing; and Chris Costello receiving a citation for Disturbing the Peace. There are NO assault charges on the police report, contrary to Eva Campos’s allegations. FMIA Board representatives spoke with both parties, each of whom have been placed on a Leave of Absence, until such time as their personal issues are resolved.”

The board never held an investigation and contrary to what Miss Bomboy wrote I have never stated that the police charged Costello with assault. However I have always SAID that he assaulted me, I said so the day it happened, and many times since then up to and including in my deposition given to Costello’s and Deveney’s attorney in July 2016. Costello was never placed on a leave of absence. That was merely a statement to appease the public. He was too important to the activity of the organization for them to take such action. They were afraid of what he would do with the power he wielded like a cudgel. They didn’t want to cross him, and they never did for fear of what he would do to each of them.

There are two issues with the events surrounding those few months, one was the assault and the other was the information I was making public. The board members did not have to believe that Costello put his hands on me to know for a fact that the information I was disclosing was true. Their reason for not holding him accountable for his actions is that they too were culpable in the illegal and unethical activity being brought to light.

Item 2:
The Board voted unanimously to remove Eva Campos from her position as FMIA Treasurer for failure to perform fiduciary responsibilities. Among them, failure to file our 2009 taxes in a timely manner.The Board then elected Ken Caron to assume the office of Treasurer immediately. Since 4/8/11 we have made multiple demands for the return of the FMIA laptop computer, passwords, software and all property of the FMIA in Eva Campos’s possession. Eva has refused thus far. An attorney has reviewed the final demand letter with a deadline of Friday (4/29/11) by 1:46 p.m. for the return of the nonprofit’s property and confidential information. Eva Campos has not complied, and we have reported the computer to the NOPD as stolen property. The FMIA will use all appropriate measures to regain the property.

The FMIA Board has arranged to have an outside certified financial audit. This can be performed with or without the said computer,still in Eva Campos’s possession, however,it will be considerably more costly. We plan to share the findings with all when we have them available and for transparency will post them on our Web site.”

While the board may have in fact voted unanimously to remove me as treasurer the one and only reason for this was my public revelations about their notorious activities. In regards to the 2009 taxes this was a matter that had been discussed between Costello and me for months.

The storyline is as follows. I became the treasurer when the previous treasurer Brian Frye stood up to Costello in the June 2009 board meeting to state that he would not be signing any more checks to Deveney Communications. It was a vicious verbal altercation where at one point Frye sneered, I’m not giving any more money to your boyfriend. And so as we all know once you stand up to Costello you have to go, Frye was out and I was the treasurer.

It is at this point that I would like to acknowledge that it is unfair to be speaking of Mr. Frye without giving him a chance to tell the story in his own voice and I would like nothing more than for him to be required to speak out about those days. I believe Mr. Frye to be an intelligent, well educated person and during his time in New Orleans he was employed as an engineer at NASA. But for some reason he didn’t perform any bookkeeping duties, when I got the QuickBooks file it was a complete mess, I have gone on about this at length in other places and will try to keep it short here but it was impossible for me to begin working on the data as it was given to me. In all the years of data entry into this file a bank reconciliation had never been performed. Never! Not one bank rec! For about three or four years!!

To begin my work I chose to go back to the beginning of the year 2009, get a good end of year balance from the bank and create all the entries, mainly deposits since there were not a lot of payables. Doing this work took a lot of time and energy, remember I was volunteering and it also took a lot of input from Costello. I was continually asking him questions about every transaction and the activities that occurred during the first half of 2009, specifically the Cold Storage protest that I worked on in all the other capacities but not bookkeeping. This is what gave me the insight and knowledge of how corrupt he was regarding the monetary operations of the FMIA in general and the Cold Storage protest specifically.

So when it came time to submit 2009 taxes I told Costello that I didn’t want to submit them in my name, I suggested that he should put his name on the form. Well he quickly told me that wasn’t going to happen; we discussed getting Frye to put his name on it, nothing doing. I did some research and discovered that the IRS does not require a return every year from non-profits that have less than – I think the cut off was $50,000 – cash on hand. So in reality there was a lot of discussion about this issue, Costello was well aware of and involved in the discussion of the ongoing problem of whose name would be submitted with the form, and in the end I thought the issue was resolved with the decision that there would be no submission for 2009.

And then in 2011 there was Lost Love Lounge. When Costello and company began harassing the owners of that business one of the owners, Geoffery Douville, began to ask for the FMIA’s financial information. And it was then when Costello said the 2009 tax return must be filled out. At that point in time I did not say no to him, I filled it out and put my name on it, only to be accused by Costello himself a few months later of being delinquent with the 2009 tax return and the board using that as the public reason to vote me out as treasurer.

Regarding the laptop computer: I did hold onto it, but not to be an asshole or to stop the everyday activities of the FMIA, I was in fact insisting on having an audit performed before I turned it over, and I felt that holding on to the laptop was the only advantage I had. Although Miss Bomboy mentions an audit in her letter like it is their idea it was solely mine and it was the last thing they wanted to have done. She also states that the result of the audit will be made public. It was not. I believe it was because as I was told confidentially that my work passed the audit “with flying colors”.

Furthermore I doubt Miss Bomboy or Mr. Caron were aware of this, neither one knew how to perform database accounting, but there was a copy of the database in the office. Every month when I completed the entries for the previous month and performed the bank reconciliation I printed out the financial reports and made a copy of the database file on CD. These were placed in a file folder labelled with the month and year and stored in the file cabinet. The new treasurer could have easily grabbed the latest copy and installed it on any computer with QuickBooks – Deveney Communications had many spare laptops in their office – and continued working on FMIA data entry with no problem.

Item 3:
Last week Eva Campos hijacked our nonprofit communications and social media resources including our Facebook page and Twitter account. We are taking steps to regain and secure our online property and resources as well.”

All FMIA social media were created by me and I was the administrator of the accounts, including the Cold Storage Facebook page which is still out there with me as the administrator. It was in fact Miss Bomboy’s cronies who hijacked the FMIA Facebook page when someone I know posted a video of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to the page.

On Sept 16, 2013 I had a conversation with Miles Swanson about the FMIA’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. He indicated that he was told both were in my name and would I turn them over to him. I informed him that the Facebook page was long ago taken down by Bomboy’s goons then I went to check out Twitter. And yes the FMIA Twitter account was still there, dormant, with my information on it. I changed it all to his information and had an email sent to him to change the password.

Item 4:
Some of the incorrect information revolves around the FMIA’s successful campaign to Stop Cold Storage. The Board voted to hire Deveney Communication, expending both Association funds and funds collected specifically for this campaign. For transparency, the Board voted to have all funds flow through the Association. The Board is confident that the campaign was responsibly and appropriately managed without exception as the board reviewed and voted on each expenditure. Because of Chris Costello’s leadership this campaign was highly successful against all odds. Eva Campos was not on the FMIA board at the time and has no personal knowledge of the facts surrounding these actions, therefore her remarks are purely speculative and vindictive.”

Obviously the last sentence is a complete and utter bald faced lie. Of course I was not only on the board, I worked on the Cold Storage protest. The board never voted to hire Deveney Communication and they never voted about funds flowing anywhere. Since I had to create all of the entries for that time period in 2009 (see item 2) I can tell you just how it went. Donations were deposited into the FMIA account; all expenses were paid for by Deveney Communications in spite of the fact that the FMIA had the funds to cover these expenses, even without the incoming donations. Volunteers, including myself did all the work for this protest. Costello worked on this protest while his time was being paid for by Deveney Communications. Checks were issued to Deveney Communications in various amounts through the first few months, this action was terminated and reassessed after the dustup with Mr. Frye standing up and declaring he wasn’t signing any more checks for Deveney Communications (see item 2).

In conclusion I thank you again for taking the time to consider the other side of the story. A story that I wish had been resolved all those years ago, and now hope will be resolved in 2016. I will restate that this issue with a power mad sociopath terrorizing the Faubourg Marigny could have been nipped in the bud in 2009 had the FMIA board not been terrified of him, had done their duty and removed him from his self-appointed throne. The blood is on their hands.

Sincerely,

Eva Campos

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What do you think? I love the raw, factual, no-prisoners flavor of it.

I have met Eva Marie Campos. She is straightforward, sincere and disgusted by the character and behavior of people like Costello, Deveney and their followers in the FMIA. She is at least a bit embarrassed that she was ever a member, so it took some courage for her to go public.

It will be interesting to watch the Mercato Elisio v. Deveney lawsuit play out, but again, that is a private drama. In the public arena, Deveney and by implication, the HDLC that let it slide have shown us an ethical blind spot that needs fixing. Their deliberations and decisions are suspect until they clean that up.

© NOLAscape August 2016

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The Tangled Web, Chapter Two

Marigny is under ATTACK!”

The current president of the FMIA, who seems to favor the hysterical Costello approach to neighborhoodism, launches that like a municipal missile from her Burgundy Street bunker.

Another FMIAer, Deborah Oppenheim, circulated in August 2013:

“Dear Friends

Once again the Marigny is under attack and this time by a project called the Elisio Lofts at 501 Elysian Fields. The project threatens our historic zoning limits.”

FMIA is not the accused in Mercato Elisio’s case. They just provide the environment of embattled paranoia that either peels away its activists’ judgment and ethics, or provides shelter for the kind of instinctive house protectionist who is challenged in those areas anyway.

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Commissioner John Deveney of the HDLC is the defendant. The accused. Some of our questions are:

  • Did he violate the municipal code of ethics when Elisio Lofts was before his commissions
  • And has he since compounded the alleged violation by contradictory responses which could not all be true, to the point where his position is untenable? Frequently said in politics: the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
  • These groups are free to believe their residentialist-defense stories inside their club, or even preach them to others; but can it be right that someone willing to discard truth and morality in their service can hold a public office?

Commissioner Deveney and his company, Deveney Communications, worked on the campaign against Elisio Lofts.

Mr Deveney has both denied and affirmed that, so let’s look at evidence. If one set of his statements was true, the other must either have been a deliberate lie to win an undeserved award for aiding a non-profit, or a false statement in a sworn deposition.

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In ordinary circumstances, we would probably think that if FMIA or any club wanted to assemble in a church basement and pretend the Visigoths are at the gates with smelly bearskin cloaks and battle axes, and their members are the doughty Spartan defenders and our only hope – let them do it. Let everybody have his hobby. People get together and tell themselves they are upholding a noble, imaginary tradition that confederate flags don’t represent white supremacy. (Or do.) Others study witchcraft or William Faulkner or play with model trains.

But what happens when the boundaries dissolve between a residentialists’ defense club and a private company whose products are persuasion and influence, a municipal Commission required by law to meet ethical standards, and the people employed in two or three of these?

Eva Campos served as treasurer of the FMIA and did its accounts from September 2009 to May 2011. She also worked for Deveney Communications in accounting from May 2010 through April 2011.

We met Eva in the letter, supposedly from Gretchen Bomboy of FMIA, said to have been written by Deveney and Costello. The letter not only denies any wrongdoing by Deveney, Costello or the FMIA. It paints them as saintly beings, too virtuous for the wretched rest of us; and Eva as the mother of lies, the Jezebel obscuring the inner light of Marigny’s heroes. Tomorrow we will publish Eva’s reaction to that letter. Today we will look at some other documents of the case.

Who comes out ahead in the lawsuit against Deveney is dependent on court rules of evidence, lawyers’ skills, money and risk and more. It is a private battle with public implications. In the public space what we have to decide is, has this guy blotted his copybook enough that his fitness to be a public official, even a volunteer one, is too questionable to continue.

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Following her battles with Costello over erratic record keeping, transactions she considered questionable, and the FMIA in and about the Cold Storage campaign, Eva Campos signed a sworn affidavit on May 28th 2014.

After 15 numbered paragraphs naming and defining the entities (FMIA, Deveney Communications, the HDLC) and the people (herself, Costello, Deveney) Ms Campos says:

16. Because of these close relationships by and among Chris Costello, John Deveney, Deveney Communications, the FMIA, and John Deveney the HDLC Commissioner, the lines between them became non-existent.

17. For example, during my time with the FMIA, this neighborhood association worked exclusively out of the offices of Deveney Communications, at the direction of Chris Costello.

28. The Cold Storage Campaign serves as an example of the conflicts of interest (both personal and financial) that exist by and among John Deveney, his company Deveney Communications, the FMIA and Deveney’s life partner and employee, Chris Costello.

29. There were other examples of Chris Costello using his position with FMIA and his relationship with John Deveney, a public official, to oppose or intimidate business owners into getting his approval before they would move forward with their respective projects.

30. For example, when building projects and renovations were discussed at FMIA meetings, it was openly stated by Chris Costello that John Deveney, as a Commissioner on the HDLC, would vote as the FMIA directed.

31. When there was a dispute among the members of the FMIA, Chris Costello openly stated that it was his view that mattered most, as John Deveney would cast his vote as a Commissioner on the HDLC as Costello directed.

33. The activities of Chris Costello, John Deveney and Deveney Communications resulted in a deprivation of honest services for many businesses and residents, as the normal course of applying for permits and conditional use applications to the City of New Orleans Was co-opted by Chris Costello and John Deveney, on multiple occasions to their financial benefit.

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Deveney Communications loves awards. Look at their web site – you will see how they show off awards.

Until a few days ago, I naively thought companies got awards because they did something good, the organization or publication that awarded prizes and trophies noticed, and gave them a prize. Nope: they apply for awards. They hustle like beauty pageant contestants. Put on old fashioned swim suits, flash your teeth and write an essay about World Peace. Maybe they don’t have to get groped by Trump in the process.

Deveney Communications applied for first prize in PR News’ Nonprofit PR Awards Program in the category: Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts, PR on a Shoestring Budget, for services to their client, Faubourg Marigny Infiltration (oops, sorry, Improvement) Association, specifically for the FMIA Size Matters campaign, specifically citing Mercato Elisio LLC as the opponent. Some quotes from the application:

Strategy, Tactics, and Execution:
• Create a brand identity for the campaign

o Logo and slogan: Size Matters; Out of Scale – Out of Touch, No High Rise in the Marigny
o Promotional pieces: Yard signs, bumper stickers, t-shirts, flyers, and buttons
o Internet presence: Webpage, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube accounts
o Size Matters Rally: A public event in which we raised a balloon 75 feet into the air, the day before the final City Council decision was made for the community to fully understand the proportions of the building

The list goes on in this vein.

The application leaves no doubt whatsoever that Deveney Communications was not only a player in the Elisio battle  – the company claims credit for its strategy, tactics and success, naming FMIA was its client. You will see in the deposition following, a sworn deposition which as far as I know is equivalent to testimony on the stand, that Commissioner Deveney says that neither he nor his company were players in the Elisio fight, implying that his partner Costello was a heroic warrior out there on the line, offering up his life on a strategy and resources completely planned and executed by FMIA.

One of these is true. Depending on which you pick, give me a call. I have a majority stake in the Brooklyn Bridge you might want to invest in.

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Now the game gets afoot. We are going to turn to Mr Deveney’s statements in a deposition dated 20 February 2014. You might think you are about to get into some dry legal dust, but as we track the contradictions and put some police tape around the BS, I think you will find it fun.

P.26 line 15:

Q: The Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, which I’ll refer to as FMIA . . . is that a client of Deveney Communications?
A. It has been a client before.
Q. Where are the FMIA offices located?
A. I’m not certain.

Line 25:

Q. And do any of Deveney Communications people work on or contribute services to FMIA?
A. I have been a member and a donor and a volunteer since 1998. Chris has been a member, a donor, a volunteer and a board member since – I’m not certain of the start date. I know that over the years employees have volunteered and attended FMIA events. We’re very active in our neighborhood and the neighborhood association.

Eva Campos’s testimony says several employees of Deveney Communications worked mostly on the FMIA project during the Cold Storage campaign, and also at other times, during their company work day.

P.27 line 12

Q. You indicated you did – Deveney Communications did work for the FMIA on two occasions, you said?
A. Correct.

Q. Was Deveney Communiccations paid for those services.
A. Not the first one. The first one was pro bono and the second one was a paid project.
Q. Can you tell me what those two projects involved?
A. The first one was we facilitated a strategic analysis . . . . . Then the second one was for a specific campaign that FMIA was leading to stop Cold Storage, which was a proposed industrial plant on the river at the . . . .

This is a clear denial of Deveney Communications’ involvement in the campaign against Elisio Lofts, which the Commissioner proudly takes credit for in the PR News award application.

P. 30 line 4. (Fasten your seat belt.)

Q. And you opposed this development, is that correct?
A. Are you asking me if as a commission [sic] I opposed it. As a commissioner, I was not at the meeting, so I had no vote or action when the HDLC considered it.
Q. So is it your testimony that you did not oppose this project?
A. No. I was clarifying that I was not present when it came before the HDLC. If you’re asking me as a neighbor, as a citizen whether I was for the waivers, I was not for the height. I was not for the 75 foot height of the project.

Editorial time out: the significant background of this is the letter Commissioner Deveney wrote to all the HDLC members opposing ElisIo. Mr Commissioner claims that not showing up at the meeting is “functional recusal.” Of course, it is not. Commissioner Deveney misses lots of HDLC meetings. His attendance record is not stellar. Recusing is recusing: disclosure and a statement. “Functional recusal” does not exist.

The Letter JD to Commissioners says everything he could have said if he was there.

P. 41 Line 2:

Q: Were you present at the meeting, the HDLC meeting regarding the Elisio Lofts project?
A. No, I was not. In fact, your petition says I should have been recused from that meeting. My absence is a functional recusal. Isn’t that correct?

So, second time for that line of questioning. I’ll answer again: no, it is not. Not showing up is not equivalent to recusal, especially when you leave a detailed statement of what you would have said if you were there. Deveney did not recuse himself, and the fact that he tries to claim he did puts a question mark over his suitability for a public trust.

P. 49 Line 9

Q. Tell me about your participation, if any, in the “Size Matters” campaign. Perhaps you can start by telling me what was the “size matters” campaign.
A. . . . I would say it was the organized voice of the neighbors that were concerned about the damage that walling off the riverfront from the public would have if suddenly the height ordinance was disregarded in an historic neighborhood, in the Faubourg Marigny.
Q. Was that campaign organized by the FMIA?
A. Yes, I believe so.

Yes, I believe so.” “I believe so” looks like a softener or bolt-hole from the fact that Mr Deveney elsewhere proudly claims that he, Deveney Communications and Chris Costello in his role as employee of DC were responsible for organizing and running the campaign for their client on a “shoestring” budget. I have no expertise on the rules of sworn depositions, but this certainly looks like a flatly untrue answer. What we out here in normal life often call a lie.

“Walling off the riverfront” brought up a query. How could a building at Elysian and Decatur wall off the riverfront? The explanation was that it could open the gates for the Riverfront Overlay height bonus buildings. That means that one unspoken reason for opposing Elisio was because of other buildings which did not exist and had not been proposed. Pre-blaming.

Additionally, the statement is imaginary. There is no visible riverfront in Marigny. There is a wall along almost all of it from NOCCA to the electricity plant, and train tracks behind the wall. The only way to the riverfront in Marigny is by the recently opened footbridge and elevators facing Mandeville Street. The only river views would be from the upper stories of higher buildings that the residential reactionaries oppose.

A comic moment: P. 58 Line 11

Q. I’m going to mark for identification purposes Exhibit Number 9. It is a two page document with copies of two pictures. Do you know who that is?
A. The gentleman with the bull horn is Chris Costello.
Q. What does the picture depict, if you know?
A. A heroic neighborhood activist.

P.62 Line 1 (Part missing)

Q. . . . That came before the HDLC, that you would feel it necessary to recuse yourself, that is, leave the dais and not participate in the vote. Would it also be part of this recusal that you would not be allowed to communicate with the other commissioners about your support of a particular project?
A. I don’t believe that I’m prohibited from speaking as a private citizen. Really, the only time I speak as a commissioner is when I turn the microphone on, lean forward and speak from the dais. And I tell you why I think – it part of what you are saying is what is in my – what was my financial interest in your client’s development. I own a couple of pieces of property in the next block. . . . . .

We should recall that just last week, CM Stacy Head was advised by the City Attorney to recuse herself from voting on an application because she had a shared ownership in a property on the next block The matter was not a development like Elisio, occupying a square block, involving a major contribution to the area. It was just about a permit to sell one product in an ice cream store in an existing building.

Let’s imagine a Council Member or any official in a position of public trust, instructed by the Attorney or ethics office that he or she must recuse his/her self. He or she declares his interest which creates the conflict, announces his recusal, then says, “ . . . however, although I cannot speak today as a Senator, in my role as a citizen, resident and patriot, I have written a letter to each and every one of you telling you what is right and what you should do” Commissioner Deveney’s vision of ethical flexibility could certainly fill a few University philosophy seminars.

Commissioner Deveney’s letter to the other commissioners, which he says he thinks fits the description of recusal, is a matter of public record, so you can find it Letter JD to Commissioners. A few quotes for the click-averse:

“After much consideration of the application, I oppose the proposed 75-foot development at 501 Elysian Fields. The proposed development as proposed does not fit within the context of the historic district. It is wrong for a variety of reasons including that it is wrong in scale and context for the location as well as its massing and deign.”

“3. The neighborhood association which has been involved since the beginning strongly, fairly and wisely oppose it. . . . (This is a passionate, committed, selfless group who has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars to create the current zoning and rebuild the neighborhood to what we have today; and whose voice should carry great weight with our Commission.”

The Commissioner is showering praise on FMIA, of which he is a member and his partner is President.
Some conclusions:

  •  Deveney may run a good business and his friend Costello may be a fine FD, but they seem to have no idea of proper conduct in public life. They should be held to account for what they did. Deveney should resign from the HDLC Right away. You can’t trust its judgment while a guy who thinks like that is on it.
  •  Who wins the lawsuit that is bringing this stuff to light is not a public concern. Personally, I think Deveney did it, and it would be Justice if it cost him, but my opinion is neither here nor there.
  •  What is of public concern is that if HDLC commissioners and the Commission itself do not respect the municipal code of ethics, and are blind or intentionally blind to this kind of breach, the system is bust. If they were experienced pros, you might say, let’s not worry about the fine points of behavior; it’s their technical mastery of building and city design that we want. But as citizen amateurs, if they are glossing over appropriate behavior to carry water for residents’ associations, this system and the people managing it need changing.
  •  Deveney failed to disclose his commercial interest in the Elisio case resulting from his company’s management of the opposing campaign. He declined to recuse himself due to the potential conflicts of the campaign and his nearby properties. He and some others on the Commission, given their casual acceptance of his letter, seem to be comfortable with ignoring the city and state ethical rules. This should be stopped on the spot.
  •  The PR News award, the deposition and the letter to the commissioners document contradictions which place beyond doubt that some of Commissioner Deveney’s statements are intentionally untrue and constitute ethical violations.
  •  The City should arrange a better dialogue between professional planners and architects and narrow imitationists. Clubs like FMIA become tribal, defensive, stuck in their ruts. If they are going to make a contribution to the city’s evolution, they need real planners, architects and urbanists to challenge and open their entrenched beliefs.
  •  We should consider whether the grand avenues and squares should be out of reach of the NAs. Few exhibit the sophistication to understand them. They enjoy the outside café tables in St Marks Square, but want to deny them in Jackson Square; they call it “commercial exploitation.” Elysian Fields is named for and was built to copy the Champs Elysées in Paris, a great Boulevard of shops and stores, bars, cafés and restaurants with lots of streetside seating. Elysian Fields could be a cheerful NOLA version of that – but not if FMIA succeeds in imposing its superstitions on it, so it is not even comfortable to walk along. The “scale” and “proportion” of a 20 foot wide residential street should not be patched onto a boulevard of about 120 feet, burdened with an almost random assortment of open space, blighted properties and a mixed bag of leftover stuff. A linear skyline, whether 50 or 75 feet, would be boring. Develop flexible limits.
  •  Their beliefs clash with reality and stir up conflict on all the wide commercial streets – North Rampart, St. Claude, Canal, Press. The NAs (except BNA) did not understand what had to be done to make Press Street work, despite careful explanations from several architects. The reactionary clubs refer professional input back to Gene Cizek, a preservation fundamentalist and the very guy who came up with the unworkable 50 foot baseline, that drove all the designers nuts until this administration changed it in the last days of the CZO struggle.

For some extra entertainment, about FMIA’s reign of terror period, enjoy this article from 2011. http://nolaslate.blogspot.com/2011/04/fmia-strange-days.html Think of chickens coming home to roost.

Tomorrow, we are going to see a response by Eva Campos to the letter FMIA wrote to Kristin Palmer, explaining that Eva was evil and refuted by a vote of the Board, while John Deveney and Chris Costello were heaven-sent saviors of the People’s Republic of Downtown.

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Most people probably think we oppose the existence of neighborhood associations, if not neighborhoodism itself. Not so. They are a good idea, potentially a valuable contribution to local democracy. But many have been captured by narrow, parochial residentialists with a retrogradevision of what their neighborhood must be. They become dictatorial. They want to dominate commerce through Good Neighbor Agreements, and some of our City Council members unfortunately encourage them. After Deveney, we have to stop those, too.

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© NOLAscape August 2016

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The Tangled Web, Chapter One

O, what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive!
– Walter Scott, from Marmion

Remember that? Probably from junior high or middle school.  A cliché now – but so are the villains of this piece. They may look like an Abbott and Costello tribute duo, but don’t let that obscure the damage they do. They diminish the city. Diminish us.

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The Historic District Landmarks Commission’s mandated mission is to safeguard the legacy of designated historic areas of New Orleans. Reconciling the traditional built environment and the sometimes apparently conflicting necessity of new development and facing the future can be a complex task.

The commissioners are generally amateurs nominated by “neighborhoods” – usually the homeowners’ associations, which many of our CMs haven’t given up on yet – and appointed by Council Members. The setup mirrors the council – most are members for a neighborhood; some (five, I think) are At Large. The process probably results in about as representative a group as you can expect; a different process might be worse.

An Architectural Review Comittee of professionals advises the HDLC, and should help them understand the most abused terms in homeowners’ associations’ messy discussions of buildings, “scale” and “proportions.” But it doesn’t always work.

Given the choice of citizen amateurs over professionals, ethical conduct is paramount to make sure the best interests of the city, the neighborhoods and property developers are properly served and balanced. As appointed city officials, the HDLC commissioners are responsible for following municipal and state government ethical guidelines.

Neighborhood associations are not. They are self-appointed. The rules of membership are less stringent than the Hell’s Angels. Members are self-sorting, and only members vote for officers. Unlike most Harley gangs, neighborhood associations generally have no mandated code of ethics, no standards of expertise or intelligence. They benefit fully from our American constitutional right to be total jerks. Some of them have shown themselves to be almost criminally immoral, uninformed and frankly stupid.

As a municipal agency, the HDLC cannot allow itself to be infected with that. A commisioner can carry his nominating club’s story to the table with appropriate disclosure. You can frequently see City Council members citing constituents’ positions right in their stride.

But if a commissioner steps over the ethical line, or maybe more accurately erases the line, it is like a virus let in by a figurative back door. If you allow that, the system falls over.

Without borders, disclosure and recusal when conflict of interest is clear, there would be no point to it. The NAs could just phone in their vote.

In this story, we are going to follow the trail toward and through a serious breach. Since it is now the subject of a federal lawsuit charging ethics violations resulting in undue prejudice, documentary evidence is surfacing. I don’t know whether there is a criminal charge available for what happened in this case, but one thing needs asking:

> How is this guy still a commissioner?

Are they that hard to replace?

Tracking the relationships and lines of communication is a bit like tracing a couple of strands of spaghetti through a big bowl of pasta under dollops of Bolognese sauce, while some of the players are trying to hide the bowl.

You need a program. (I should sell ads for the back pages.) Let’s set up the game board.

You know those cork boards on police shows, with mug shots, victim photos and crime scenes pinned up, with name labels and lines showing connections? Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe? Think of the next chapter as one of those.

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The Incident Room

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John Deveney, defendant and prime suspect (center of the pin board). Founder/President/CEO of Deveney Communications, a PR firm, apparently quite successful. They used to be headquartered in Marigny. Deveney was an active member of FMIA.

FMIA proposed John Deveney as HDLC Commissioner for Marigny. Considering the organization’s well-known narrowness, rigidity and frequently questionable character (alleged, alleged!) I would find that worrying, but CM Kristin Palmer appointed him, and then reconfirmed him for a second term.

Deveney’s conduct in the Elisio proposal is the ethical issue at the center of the lawsuit.

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Chris Costello. Hyperactive President of FMIA for several terms, one of which included FMIA’s wild war against Elisio Lofts, a three building apartment complex proposed by applicant Sean Cummings.

Costello’s reputation in the neighborhood has a whiff of a comedy Sopranos Lite about it. Unlike the No’t’ Joisey guys, there is no evidence that money extortion was the benefit sought. Sources and some of the people who were on the wrong end of his attacks suggest that for President Costello, petty tyranny was its own reward. Some former targets say that Costello wanted to be the go-to guy for everything a neighborhood business might need. A permit for your bike rack? Come to me. Somebody might complain about your new wood fired pizza oven – see Costello. The Godfather will sort it out for you. Or else. Some say Costello was trying to spin a neighborhood dominance game into a city power base. Others say there was no substance in it; if you stood your ground and said “No,” he would go away. Some reports say his warning shots or retribution style included things like calling police and fire marshals. Outsourced harassment. Tony Soprano’s rep is safe.

John Deveney and Chris Costello are partners. “Life partners” is the term Deveney used in his depositions. Not equal business partners, though. Costello is employed in a senior management position at Deveney’s company and shown as a director on its statements. But Deveney is the business boss.

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Sean Cummings. Plaintiff in the case against Deveney. Executive and property developer Cummings’ businesses include the International House hotel and the office building across the street, the Rice Mill Lofts apartments at Press and Chartres, the Via Latrobe project on the other side of Chartres Street, approved but construction not yet started. Through a company called Mercato Elisio, Cummings was the principal behind the Elisio Lofts project.

FMIA’s attacks against Cummings and the Elisio project in 2012 and an apparent – alleged – breakdown of propriety and ethical responsibility in Deveney’s conduct as an HDLC Commissioner are what is bringing them into court.

In an FMIA letter we are going to look at before we recess for today, FMIA solemnly informs us that they have no prejudices, no favorites, open minds and truly are, every day and in every way, the best people in the world. However, some observers say the top table there are members of a cult in which Sean Cummings is an evil demon and his father, John Cummings, is Satan incarnate, with brimstone attendant. Unless it is the other way ‘round. We are looking for a sociologist with voodoo experience to investigate these claims. (Disclaimer: Brian Luckett of Neighbors First for Bywater, a kind of junior partner of FMIA, has stated publicly that my view of New Orleans civic voodoo is insufficiently respectful of religion in Haiti.)

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Wayne Troyer. Head of StudioWTA, the architecture firm that designed Elisio Lofts.

WTA is an excellent design firm. Troyer also serves on the Architectural Review Committee for the HDLC. If he allowed his architects to present a design with a 75 foot ceiling facing Elysian Fields Avenue, it would be because he knew it was the right thing to do. Unlike FMIA, Mr Troyer does understand the words scale and proportion.

He is also in the Incident Room as a virtuous example of how you deal with a conflict of interest. When a project involves his firm, Wayne Troyer recuses himself from the ARC, correctly and completely. That means no advisory letters, no prevarications, no games.

 

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NOLAscape didn’t get rolling until the Sound Wars of 2013/14 so we  missed the opportunity to lay some verbal Punch and Judy on Costello in his prime NA gangsta period. He got to run amok with nobody hitting him in the face with pies. We will try to make up for it this week

 

imageFaubourg Marigny Improvement Association. A crotchety little club which takes itself very seriously. This is the group that brought us the attack on Café Istanbul, the time-wasting lawsuit against the Riverfront Overlay, the unpleasant attack against Troy Henry and Wendell Pierce and of course, the Size Matters comedy against Elisio Lofts and the Riverfront Overlay.

Despite an addiction to clownish costumed publicity stunts and and repeated misstatements about almost everything – hard to be sure whether from general ignorance, malice or over-excitement – FMIA manages to occasionally get some traction at City Hall. Confidential sources in the whispered conversations at the back of the council chamber suggest commissioners and CMs are not persuaded by their arguments, just want them to go away.

If we try to give the board and membership the benefit of the doubt in its Costello/Deveney period, maybe FMIA were hustled by a couple of con artists. Even so, I think they liked it. After Costello, they tried sanity for a couple of years, but it didn’t stick.

The Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC). Everything is “One Stop” now. Faded velvet ropes, stand behind the yellow line until you are called, fill in your form and sit over there. Fun’s gone out of it.

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A problem with the HDLC is – it’s New Orleans. Everybody is everybody else’s brother-in-law. The real meaning of impartiality, independence and arm’s-length have special  Louisiana meanings. But even here, there is a line you can’t cross. Evidence in the pending federal lawsuit shows that Commissioner Deveney crossed that line. Trampled that line. When you get caught, you’re caught. And you should resign.

 

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This guy is on the Incident Room board just in case you need a break from bad actors.

 

 

 

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Elisio Lofts.  A well-designed apartment complex wirth six stories on the Elysian side. FMIA calls it a “high rise.” In Haussman’s Paris, it’s a walk-up. This view is the high side, facing Elysian Fields. You are looking east down Chartres. On the right is the electric field, so more open space.

 

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Looking west on Chartres. Notice how height and “massing” is in scale and proportion to the street, the facing space and the older buildings across Marigny Street.

 

 

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Our main theme is a major ethical lapse in the HDLC by at least one commissioner, to which FMIA is either an active or passive party. But we will put a bit of time on the content of the dispute as well. This sign seemed cute or convincing to Marigny people. In fact, it is deceptive. It compares the dimensions of Elisio to lower, smaller wooden houses in Marigny’s interior streets, which Elisio was not adjacent to. To use the word “scale” properly, the correct relationships are with the wide expanse of Elysian Fields Avenue, the electricity field and plant across Decatur and the brown brick factories across Marigny Street.

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This rust belt-inspired blockhouse was a subsequent proposal for the site. We don’t think it will happen, but boring as it is, not a peep out of FMIA, because it fit the height fundamentalism by a squeak.

 

 

The Cold Storage Campaign. The New Orleans Cold Storage Company needed a new port facility. They used to load in the canal, but changes after Katrina limited its capacity. The Port Authority proposed a new site at Governor Nicholls wharf. FMIA’s denial letter that we will look at in a minute ascribes the “improbable” victory to Chris Costello, but it seems to me from newspaper reports from 2009 that pretty much everybody opposed it. Sean Cummings and FMIA seem to have been at least fleetingly on the same side. As far as I can tell, NOCS didn’t care much, as long as they had a way to load frozen shrimp into ships.

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FMIA went ballistic on the campaign. This is where John Deveney and Christopher Costello step on to the stage. They set up the M.O. that was largely mirrored in the Elisio campaign, with a significant difference: money. FMIA collected donations, then handed all the money over to Deveney Communications. Costello was an employee of Deveney, and according to witnesses, he and other employees spent most of their time on the Cold Storage job.

The letter we will be looking at says that everything between FMIA and Deveney was clean and above board, but Eva Campos was, as we shall see, concerned about corporate procedure, prudence and the risk of commingling funds. Eva Campos says Costello came up with a way to deal with her argument that is unusual in even the most cantankerous NAs – physical assault.

 

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Sidney Torres has nothing to do with this, but I saw him at City Council yesterday. He is backing a large, controversial development in mid-city. I don’t understand the political conflict about it yet, but some say he might run for Mayor, so just to stay on his good side, let’s drop a picture in.

 

 

 

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The Story

The year was 2012. Sean Cummings, a developer with an interest in the Marigny/Bywater area, who cares about good design, proposed a medium sized apartment complex for 501 Elysian Fields, a blighted site in a potentially good location – still an eyesore today, due to the misguided exertions of. Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) and the inappropriate efforts of HDLC commissioner Deveney. The reactionary club that dubiously claims to represent the people of Marigny did not like the height of one of the buildings.

Of course!

Height is the only element of design anyone ever hears them talk about. In FMIA dialect, architecture and planning are linear quantities. In FMIA’s private jargon, anything over 50 feet is called a “high rise.” Just the words are a red rag to these bulls-in-a-China-shop. Net benefit, design quality, harmony, utility, scale and proportion (correctly used) – forget it. Their founding fight that they like to brag about (they bring it into the Elisio case) was against Christopher Inn, the retirement home on one side of Washington Square, for being insufficiently imitative and too high. (I never understand why they are so proud of that battle. They lost. Christopher Inn is there, and sort-of okay. Not a great example of design, but of its time, and the contrast with the other two built sides of the square isn’t all bad.)

Elisio Lofts got their juices bubbing. The officers and activists attacked with gusto, They cooked up a witch’s brew of PR and sneaky stuff fronted and obscured by the street fight tactics. Our target is the sneaky stuff, but as long as we are here, we’ll enjoy a few shots at the rest.  Costello, President and oh so proud of it, stoked the troops and played battlefield commander. His crusade was partly guided by John Deveney and supported by the resources of Deveney Communications, his PR and marketing firm. John Deveney, founder, owner and CEO of DC was a member of FMIA, and donor. Costello and Deveney were also partners – “life partners” in the depositions, not business partners.

And John Deveney was – and curiously, still is – an HDLC Commissioner.

Elisio lost, but Sean Cummings’ lawsuit and the documentary evidence show that at least part of the reason for its defeat was inappropriate influence in the HDLC. As a member of FMIA, Deveney might have got away with it; but with him personally and his company having been players in the campaign against Elisio, it was right out of order for him to do anything but recuse himself totally from the HDLC deliberation and vote. We’ll get into this next installment. What I am seeing is that, under pressure, at the last minute, he managed to miss the meeting on an excuse, and sent a letter of opinion to the commissioners. Not a letter consistent with recusal; it was like one you send to be included in the discussion when you are going fishing.

Deveney, Deveney Communications, Costello, the FMIA, the HDLC – is that spaghetti metaphor working for you yet?

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The Letter of Denial

This letter is so funny, I have to get it out there before court recesses for the day. It’s too juicy for quotes – read the whole thing. The conflict in play was the New Orleans Cold Storage battle, which preceded Elisio. It was a righteous campaign in intention, but given the cast and their club, of course it went wrong.

NOCS needed new port facilities, because their canal loading had been restricted after the storm. The city or the Port Authority proposed a site at Governor Nicholls. It was a bad idea. It would have brought big truck raffia to the unsuitable streets of Marigny and the French Quarter. Not good. FMIA collected a bunch of money, somewhere between $23,000 and $30,000, and handed it all to Deveney Communications to run a campaign for them. Eva Campos was treasurer of FMIA and did accounts for Deveney. Deveney provided office space for FMIA, largely occupied by Costello and Eva Campos, in their dual jobs. It started to be hard to tell where FMIA ended and Deveny began. Eva did not like the way some things were done – insufficiently substantiated invoices, commingling of funds, things like that. At some point, Costello decided to take this insubordinate accountant’s insurrection in hand, using a few basic wrestling techniques. Assault, police, accusations and counter-accusations. Very undignified. In fact, open as I am to bad news about our neighborhood associations, I haven’t found another one where the President stood accused of assault and battery on the Treasurer.

Although the letter is over the signature of Gretchen Bomboy, Recording Secretary, people who were there whisper that she never wrote it. Deveney and Costello wrote it, they say, carefully explaining how great they were, and sent it out, thinking this naive text would save their reputations. Wiser heads advised them that excuses and repeated attacks on Eva Campos by name were not going to look professional, but Dev and Cos had a wisdom deficit that day.

Their use of the word “refute” is classic.

“There have been numerous and ridiculous false accusations about Chris and his leadership. The Board also voted unanimously to refute all of these accusations.”

We’re in a Red Queen world here. “The Board” refutes by a vote (if it even met). And what the Board refutes – stands refuted!  Snicker-snack! Resist, and they will say it three times.

Have fun with the denial letter.

Now we know the players and where the battlefields are. Let’s get the story going after a break.

© NOLAscape August 2016

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How Mad is Max This Month?

I am going to do some pontificating about police (and some shameless alliteration). Everybody is doing police. And they are right to, so why not me?

It is a Penelope piece. I have been writing parts of a police series for weeks. It gets longer and shorter. Almost every day another example of brutality, insensitivity, mismanagement, injustice or on the worst of them, murder or mass murder was surfacing, and like Odysseus’s wife and her eternal tapestry, I started over.

It’s also a Boy Scout piece. No irony, no tricks, no multiple entendre. It’s just looking for an entry point to do something better. It shouldn’t offend anybody, except maybe the irredeemably pro-police nuts, out of the range of reason. They imagine we live surrounded by Tasmanian Devils just beyond the fire light snarling in Spanish and Arabic. We will be safer if cops just keep shooting, because most of what they hit will be them. And they die. So what? America is a dance of daily violent death anyway.

Enemies everywhere. We need a savior. Could it be . . . Trump, our national embarrassment? Stop – I said no jokes.

I grope around for good ideas – none of which is likely to happen, given the deep apparatchik investment in status quo.

The police killing scene was quiet for a few days. No news of police shooting or beating up unarmed people who were not committing any crime, or police being shot in retaliation. I did not unweave the tapestry for a few days, but now it has started again.

Can you believe there are people in the world against Black Lives Matter? The Trump campaign trotted out a few of them in their raggedy-ass convention: professional bigots Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, and a stooge named Sheriff David Clarke. Palin’s lizard brain spews up some ugly stuff along a screechy rhythm line that scratches an inner itch of some people of the scapegoating inclination. Giuliani is distinguished from her mainly by the ability to complete a sentence. Clarke – I don’t know where they got that guy.

Clarke and Giuliani denied there is any difference in how police treat Black and White people in confrontations, and in choosing who to stop or confront. Right there on screen in front of millions of people, they said that. Are they as dumb as they look and sound, or just paid to tell lies to gullible White people who want to take their country back?

In partnership with Ozzie and Harriet and Ronald Reagan, the audience of these primitives claims they own the country. Or used to own it until some people who didn’t look just like them started homesteads on their black and white lawns. If you don’t clear them off, they might look at your daughters funny. Do they know how stupid they sounded? Probably not, because thousands of people in silly hats clap and cheer for more people getting killed..

In any case, anything Giuliani and Palin don’t like can’t be all bad.

The undeniable in-your-face fact is that if BLM had not forced the police problem out of the depths of administrative suppression, deep and wide police reform, which the Justice Department, the President and the nation’s best police thinkers now finally admit is necessary, would not even be in the spotlight. Now members of congress are coming out to see something done – see Rep. Andre Carson. You don’t have to like every action BLM takes to understand that if it keeps working and its eye on the ball, the result will be another advance in America’s level of civilization, which is behind too much of the world.

If these deniers of what we can see every day on YouTube and the news – see, not just hear about – want to prove it’s all color blind, let’s see those videos of police abusing and humiliating White men and women as we see them doing to Black men and women. Let’s say they are right; then we can re-evaluate these nightmare pockets of American policing as less discriminatory and more – just bad.

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Until a few weeks ago, police departments, commentators, politicians, journalists, apologists were all saying, every time a new case of killing or beating up somebody who was not committing any crime emerged: systemic racism. The police culture. I was thinking: something is missing here. Who cares about the individual cop’s racism or some putrescent “culture”? Police is a very special kind of public service. Officers are sent on to our streets with lethal weapons and a badge conferring some still not very well defined authority. I don’t really want to hear about them carrying around any culture or systemic anything while carrying automatic pistols, stun guns and clubs, with, apparently, the right to stop and bug anyone whose look, or tail light, didn’t suit them. They can’t just maintain a culture, like those confederate flag fantasy clubs that came out of the woodwork when Landrieu said he wanted to to move the statues. If some people in their own time and on their own dime want to indulge Civil War fantasies instead of playing with toy trains, they can do it. But an armed cop on the street, a public employee – he better leave his systemic anything in the privacy of his own fantasy life, not carry it around the streets we have to walk down.

The missing ingredient was management. Not to worship it, like a 90s corporation cultist getting high on Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, but where was management in police forces where these crimes were being committed? Racism or systemic racism are just names not reasons, and a police “culture” involving systemic bias and cover-up is at best a description. They give a name to the disturbing sight of cops who stand quietly by while one of them beats up a Black girl with a stick, or the LA cops that watched four of their colleagues administer an almost lethal beating on Rodney King in 1992. Nobody is responsible; it’s just the way it is. The culture. Just a name, not an explanation or indication of a solution.

Management abdication had first occurred to me as an issue to be explored here in New Orleans, when Sidney Torres handed the French Quarter Task Force, the efficient, fast micro-force that he had created, over to FQMD to manage and the CVB to fund. Pretty soon, squabbling broke out about the GPS system, use of the phone app v. 911, maintenance and serviceability of the Polaris cars. NOPD seemed to be on the edge, watching.

The fuss was fun to watch, but essentially a sideshow. The need for changes was normal. Unforeseen snags and improvements for a new effort – what’s new? You would get that in a sandwich shop. A few weeks before, when Torres was footing the bill and making the decisions, management would have been a fuss-free function, not a public squabble.

The dog that didn’t bark: not once, and not yet, have I heard the top table of NOPD publicly say anything like, “Sidney’s system works. Why don’t we roll out a bigger version of it for the whole force?” Put a GPS transponder or identifier in or on every unit, whether car, motorbike, bike, horse or foot patrol. A version of the FQTF phone app would work with 911 or some other processing center. There would be a control center with screens showing the location of every police unit on duty. Incident reports would appear on the map. Dispatchers or monitors would know where the closest assets were. The software would give response ETA – that’s no trick; Google Maps and Waze do it for free on everybody’s phone. More effective action from the officers you have might even reduce the staffing requirements, probably even reduce operating costs.

I wondered: do police forces even have what a non-government public service company might call “management,” or just a hierarchy of supervisors with snazzier uniforms and more gold braid as you go up the ladder? And why do the residents of New Orleans think it is okay for the French Quarter to have a whizzy publicly funded rapid response first-responder system, while response times for some of them remain in the donut zone?

I patched that idea over to the police killings that were hitting the headlines and populating YouTube with depressing frequency.

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The talking heads said: systemic racism, police culture, etc, etc. District Attorneys, grand juries, judges and juries almost always let the cops off. Some of the exonerations were astounding. Remember the process in Los Angeles clearing a clutch of cops for firing 107 bullets into the wrong pickup truck, shooting up two Hispanic women when they were supposed to be searching for one man? Even if it had been the right truck, were their orders to execute him on sight?

Why were they acquitted? The police said they were “afraid.”

Airlines operate complex equipment and crews, and have people’s lives in their hands. Imagine an airline with 1,100 employees, something like the population of NOPD. Suppose that some of the pilots occasionally descended so fast the oxygen masks popped out. They landed hard, braked hard to get to the terminal quick, blowing out tires and scaring passengers to death. Management says, “Most of our pilots are really good with passenger planes, but some, you know – there is a culture of macho flying.” Maybe one of them finally overstressed a civilian plane and crashed it. Can an airline’s management use any excuse? PTSD? Racism, and the flight was from Nairobi? If a plane crashes and the black box recorder shows the pilot was afraid, that he (or she) “feared for his life,” is that an excuse? Is the FAA and the court going to let the airline’s money, directors and executive suite off the hook?

There is no excuse. Airlines train, re-train, test and re-test, to eliminate quirks and personal weakness from the decision process. The captain has to have a steady hand on the wheel and face challenges with calm, speed and determination, to be trusted with the lives of passengers. If he doesn’t, it is not only the pilot who is going down. It might be the whole company. If management knew about a weak spot, or should have known, the executives are going down, too.

You would not knowingly fly with an airline that made excuses about life-and-death issues, yet many among us are happy to see cops out on our streets carrying lethal weapons who can’t even keep cool when a few of them together, by looking scary and shouting peremptory, possibly contradictory commands, finally get a person, often a woman or teenage girl, excited and frightened enough to escalate a situation that them descends into violence. I’m sure we have all seen videos where several cops, probably 180 to 250 pounds each, decide to exercise physical restraint on a 120 pound woman, usually Black, and finally can’t find a way to move forward without brandishing or using a weapon on the already subdued but still excited detainee. The prevailing principle seems to be: the police must dominate as quickly as possible, at any cost. If you don’t respect them quietly, eyes down, they may start to fear for their lives.

What were the superior officers, who are supposed to be the management, doing about it? Usually hiding behind bland statements like “administrative leave,” “thorough and impartial investigation,” meant more to get reporters to go away than to add anything to the discussion.

If an airline’s management didn’t follow through any better than that, they would risk being grounded by the FAA. But it would be a rare case in which the chiefs, commissioners and superintendents of police were in the dock with the line officer, for allowing a cop on the street to be in that state of mind or mis-training. The process to force improvement on a local force generally involved court action resulting in a consent decree with the federal government, but some of the forces involved in recent police violence cases were already operating under consent decrees.

So police brass were not like an airline, more like Goldman Sachs or Chase.

The soft excuses have actually been reducing over recent weeks, as I daily unraveled my Penelope piece. Top cops are starting to say, we have to get this in hand. They may not know what to do. Active management can be complicated. It includes keeping an eye on the future, scanning for opportunities, weaknesses and risks, testing possible opportunities, exploring innovation, as well keeping the plates spinning and overcoming current weaknesses.

Maybe like John Doman in The Wire, they mostly polish up the brass chain of command, expect the politicians to block any calls for change, and resist them when introduced. Or given the explosive political and economic brew, and the possibility that the 99% (current jargon for what used to be called the working class) won’t be passive forever, they focus on militarized crowd control and nifty equipment for counter-revolutionary operations. From what we can see, Chief Carl Dabadie of Baton Rouge is focused on suppressing or containing protest over achieving civil behavior by officers on normal duty and the residents of his city outside of times of crisis. A military attitude.

Progress will be spotty. Many will resist and delay. But the commanders are going to have to take charge and put the rules and requirements of good policing above any “culture” that has lodged in their department or been brought in with recruits, like an infection.

A major problem is localism. In Europe, most police are national. In France, for instance, most police for smaller towns and cities are the Gendarmerie, a division of the military that does civic police work. Some cities have municipal police, but they are normally unarmed and do not carry out the same kind of duties as the nationally managed forces.

But in the US, there are over 15,000 separate police forces. Municipal forces generally report to the mayor, state forces to the governor, and sheriffs are elected, which means maybe they report to nobody. They create and run their own training programs, principles and rules.
National management is of course not a guarantee against violence. French police dealing with big demonstrations, much more frequent there than here, or with Algerians in the suburbs or cités is evidence of that. And of course localism can be handy for the movies, enabling the police force in Mississippi Burning, for instance.

If I was going to be activist in police matters, I would suggest the the Justice Department set up some very clear standards and procedures of police activity and behavior, including rigorous psychological testing, before a police officer can carry a gun as part of his work. Just because the Supreme Court’s lunatic 2008 misinterpretation of the second amendment allows some private citizens to be time bombs doesn’t mean we should pay our police to raise the craziness stakes with a badge.

The temperament of a police officer able individually to decide to use lethal force should be as steady as an airline pilot’s. Maybe the Justice Department would be influenced by the European Convention on Human Rights, which would not recognize a policeman’s claim that he was afraid for his life as justification for shooting a suspect or detainee. There would have to be a real credible threat. Armed police should be required to issue warnings, as in most European forces. Policeman are trained – at length, sometimes for up to three years – to avoid shooting to kill, certainly not to start by shooting a clip into the center of mass. Resisting arrest should be carefully defined, so it cannot be used as a blanket excuse. If somebody runs away for a petty crime, let him get away. Selling cigarettes is not a capital crime; a normal level of resistance to being arrested for it should not be either. The “disrespect” justification, recently invoked by Fox News’s comic book cop, Hauk, should be off the table entirely. The elements of the comply-or-die scenario have to be banned.

Then the local police forces would have to report regularly on everything, and be inspected and investigated regularly.

Over the top? The FAA does it.

Results: commercial airline is the safest mode of travel in the world, and US police are dangerous to be around.

A story in the newspapers last year was that US police killed more people in March 2015 (111 known) than UK police had in the entire 20th century. The final count for 2015 was 1,146 (Guardian) or 1,207 (killedbypolice.net). 2016 seems to be heading in the same direction, with 623 down so far. 153 were Black; 25 of them were unarmed. The armed category must include Philando Castile, who had a permit and was not engaged in a crime nor any threat to officers. He was armed, but no self-defense was involved.

299 of the people shot by police were white; 45 of them unarmed. The numbers suggest White people should not be opposing Black Lives Matter – they should be joining up, asking for a White section, or starting their own protest movement.

Unless the American people are stupid or sick-minded enough to elect the spray-tanned baboon who managed to hijack the Republican Party from its previous hijackers, already a radical right wing insurgency. He served notice in his ugly closing convention speech that he would turn our cities into a Judge Dredd reality show, expanding on the Addams Family sitcom he wants to install in the White House. The safest thing to do would be to leave the country until it burns out the fascism, and hope it doesn’t go the way German fascism did in the 1930s.

Management. Active management deals with racism and “the culture.” It doesn’t use them as an excuse.

The other side: the Justice department has a way to deal with police departments that go off the rails, but it is piecemeal, slow, expensive and in some cases ineffective. New Orleans is in it: the consent decree, imposed by a judge after the kill rate hit I think 27 people in 17 months.

Some references:

Federal oversight:   http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/11/13/forced-reforms-mixed-results/

The Problems With Policing the Police

With well over 15,000 distinct police forces, how is the case by case, painstaking, years long for each case going to effect improvement? Is there another option but national standards of conduct; training programs; basic rules of engagement, if that is the right word; standards of management and reporting; and oversight and investigation that do not require a court case.

Predictable problems: Congressional gridlock; resistance by States Rights states; an explosion of red tape, which can be exploited by resistant departments to bury improvement.

Downside: national rules could stifle innovation. The Torres experiment in the French Quarter might have been impossible under an overly tight federal umbrella.

I am surprised at myself for thinking through such a conservative idea. Proposals not that far off the mainstream now are saying just disband police. They don’t reduce crime. Maybe they even increase it. Another is police attendance as response only – no more random stops, confrontations, car stops, police presence or menace. Maybe next time.

Quiet for a few days.” Spoke too soon! Two officers shot, one fatally, in San Diego last Thursday night. Saturday, reports of shooting of Loreal Tsingine, Native American, five feet tall, 95 pounds, by a cop whose record shows he had been cited for being too quick to resort to a gun, had disobeyed orders, falsified reports, and had been reported as temperamentally unfit by superiors. (What would happen to an airline that let a pilot with reports like that fly passengers?) Now the Korryn Gaines case, which raises new questions.

© NOLAscape August 2016

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