Saturday, August 21, 2021

Congo Square

It's not just Congo Square,  it's the totality of Armstrong Park.  For that matter...it's Treme.  

Whatever the city's diatribe may be...it should not be conflated with the sacred space that is Treme.  

The last place you put City Hall is in Armstrong Park. 

No.  

You don't do that. 


Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Part Une - Blurred Lines, Big Egos and Batshit Bike Lanes

There is probably no more contentious subject in New Orleans than the epic battle between developers and preservationists.  I honestly think this subject rises even above that of race in this city, although race is always at the crux of land use conflicts.  

With public land, it's especially heated.  

Despite all of our governmental inadequacies and cultural clashes, I honestly think New Orleans has done a pretty good balancing act in respect to preservation and development.  I know there are those reading this from one side or the other with mouth agape at that sentiment but hear me out for one second.  

From the late 70s to the present if you look at the history of development in the heart of the City, the CBD/Warehouse District and the French Quarter, I think the balancing act between the two sides has been rather impressive. 

Don't get me wrong, there have been major faux pas as well, i.e. the Hard Rock (and anything Kalais does for that matter), the lack of development on the Riverfront from the crumbling Governor Nichol's Street Wharf to the derelict Market Street Power Plant, to the most expensive radio tower platform in history - the Plaza Tower - eventually falling in to such a state of disrepair they couldn't even put antennae on it.

There is a lot of neglect but there is still a lot to admire.


The French Quarter speaks for itself.   There is nothing else like it in this country and there will never be anything like it because it has been religiously guarded and preserved for decades. 

Almost as impressive...look at our Warehouse District.  Pre-1984 World's Fair, the area was largely a dump which could have easily been razed to clear the way for cheap fabricated crap that is all too familiar now in many urban landscapes across America.  Instead, it was both revitalized and preserved and at the time that vision was pioneering in the U.S. as we slipped into the reality of post-industrial urban landscapes.  Much of the Warehouse District's rebirth can be accredited to two developers, Pres Kabacoff and Ed Boatner, and their company Historic Restoration Incorporated (HRI), that leveraged "Public-Private Partnerships" with the city to restore and repurpose many of the derelict factories, mills and warehouses into livable spaces. New Orleans Warehouse District actually became a model for other cities facing post-industrial blight.

I know some of my friends just read that and said, "This can't be Jason writing this."  Well....it is.  You have to give credit where it is due and I don't think anyone can look at the New Orleans Warehouse District and say it isn't a triumph.  I have other issues with Kabacoff as I'm sure many people do but he and Boatner deserve credit here.

Now, on the flip side of the coin, look at Daryl Berger's sweetheart public/private deal he finagled at about the same time (early 80's) on Decatur Street in the Quarter.  He managed to land about a four block stretch of the most valuable real estate in the city...on the Riverfront....in the heart of the French Quarter....for about a million bucks.  The original agreement with the City was that he would develop the land into businesses that would serve as job creators.  While he did build the Jax Brewery, he kicked the can down the road on the remaining plots of land claiming financial hardship due to the oil bust that saw an exodus of big petroleum companies flee New Orleans for Houston and Dallas.  As much as I've looked into this deal I still don't understand what the oil industry had to do with development in the heart of the French Quarter.  Regardless, he was eventually let off the hook after then Councilperson Jackie Clarkson (self-ascribed real estate expert) got a resolution passed through Council to absolve him of the original terms of the deal. 

...maybe....not exactly sure about that...  

I've looked into it and I still think the he's in breach of the original contract and there is no statute of limitations on a civil contract of this nature.  Not that the City would ever pursue it but I'd be curious if any lawyers weighed in on it.  

Original point being....we now have the exact opposite of what the deal was designed to do...create jobs.  Instead, most of that once public land was converted into private open-air parking lots for nearly half a century that may employee one person at minimum wage while generating millions annually.  I can't begin to fathom the ROI on this initial one million dollar investment in what was undoubtedly the sweetest land grab in the history of the city.  I mean mad props to him for pulling that off but we are still publicly paying the price for it, exponentially, as time progresses. 

While the HRI Warehouse development was one of the first successful public/private ventures in the city, even the country, the track record for public/private partnerships in New Orleans since then has not been so rosy.  In fact, developers quickly realized the benefit of using public money to develop private real estate ventures and.....you know where this story goes.  Politicians...handouts....back room deals....the only business that never falters in New Orleans. 

I could spiral off into a tangential void on so many examples of public/private chimeras that have not served the best interest of the city and how it's become it's own "game"....I mean LaSalle Street/LSED/Champion's Square for fuck's sake....but I must resist to get to my actual thesis here. 

Having researched the history of public/private developments in NOLA, it's occurred to me the line has become so blurred that our government officials are even confused as to their roles and job descriptions. 

Nowhere in the job description of City Council does it say "Junior Developer!"  It's not a council person's job to dream up new land developments in their districts....their job is to create budgets to maintain the existing infrastructure needed to run their districts and make sure that the work is completed.  They may vote on whether or not to allow developments but they aren't supposed to be sitting around dreaming up shit they think is cool while our electricity goes out every other day, our streets are nearly impassable and....ahhhggg!!!! You know the rest.   

Case in point,  I live on the Wank, right off MacArthur Blvd.  If you haven't heard (and most of you probably haven't because we're kind of on our own over here in Lower Algiers) the city just saw fit to put in the most ridiculously designed bike path grid on the boulevard one could imagine.  I mean...it's so gloriously fucked in respect to the actual traffic patterns and needs of the community I can't even describe it.  I can imagine some city planning dude sitting in an office on the West Coast looking at Lower Algiers on Google Earth and thinking "Oh yeah...this is just like that neighborhood in Portland...I know exactly what to do here!" 

No dude...no....we are not Portland.  We are not a city that enjoys actual functional city services.  You can't use a bike lane that is blocked with tree limbs, trash cans and water pooled up from clogged storm drains.  They decommissioned an entire lane in order to make riding a bike down the street more dangerous than what it already was.  I'm serious....I got nothing against riding a bike, I have a bike and I ride it around the hood.  I'm not joking when I tell you it was easier and safer to get down MacArthur for bicycle and motor vehicle before they did this.  

Why did our District C Councilperson, Kristin Palmer, promote spending millions of dollars on this fuck'snu?  It was developed by the non-profit Bike Easy but there seems to be an ulterior private interest at play regarding a bike rental business, e.g., Blue Bikes.  In a town hall meeting there was even a mention of "tourists" utilizing the bike lanes here in Lower Algiers. 

Tourists....in lower Algiers.  Right. 

Once again...public money being utilized to springboard private interests.  This is the disease that public/private ventures have wrought and the subsequent mindset that has developed among our elected city officials. 

Message to Council candidates: YOU ARE NOT DEVELOPERS. 

Meanwhile....the 120 acres of public land that is Brechtel Park in Algiers has been an unkept jungle since Katrina.  City Council voted to increase the millage to Parks and Parkways along with juicing up the public/private Chimera that is Audubon a few years back but we can't even get the basketball backboards put back at Norman Park, our local park right off MacArthur, since they took them out because of Covid. 

Back in November the only remaining building at Brecthel Park caught on fire, probably from a homeless person camping out there (and I'm cool with that because at least it was being used for something).  Instead of razing the building...what did they do?   They put up a chain link fence to keep people out. 

The uptown crowd has a great park, Audubon, on the taxpayer dime.  Their first world problems were whether or not to leave the golf course or turn it into more plush green space.  Our dilemma was apparently whether or not to raze the 17-year derelict golf building that caught on fire or just put up a chain link fence to save some cash....they chose the latter. 

If you can't do your job and maintain the infrastructure in your own district, you have no business dreaming up new ways to spend millions of taxpayers' dollars and trying to implement it against the will of your constituents because you think it's hip or you feel the need to leave a legacy.  I'm looking squarely at Mrs. Palmer.  And I haven't even mentioned the pedestrian mall bullshit she was pushing in the Quarter that literally NO ONE wanted but her. 

Now she's sending out the weirdest, narcissistic flyers I've seen in the history of NOLA politics (that's saying something) about how she was a little girl who grew up to be a big girl to fight crime in the city. 




Is she Batman?  Is she moonlighting as a vigilante and we didn't know it?  I mean that flyer would make Ronnie Lamarque blush.  Morris Bart would pucker.  

And what is that "Sorry, I missed you!" quip?  I'm sorry she didn't read her job description before she ran for public office and realize she isn't the police chief.   

Message to council candidates 2:  YOU ARE NOT BATMAN. 

It's not your job to "fight crime".  You have no credentials to do so.  If you want to do that, join NOPD.

But it's not just Palmer, it's our Mayor as well.  That's part deux which is about Part-Dieu...all that is sacred in this city....Armstrong Park and Congo Square.    

Monday, March 29, 2021

SOS

Don't need help...I mean it's the same old shit.

Apparently I have to address this issue because no other local media entity seems willing.  

Why has Troy Carter not filed a campaign finance report during this election?  In fact, almost no one running for the damn office filed one.  

https://apnews.com/article/baton-rouge-louisiana-elections-house-elections-special-elections-74d2d298813cc092a36ac8f7839bb8b7

This is an AP article, no local newspaper or TV station has addressed the issue that I can find.  The Advocate did re-publish this from the AP but apparently no local journalism entity has made an effort to contact Carter to find out why he hasn't filed.  

This is a basic requirement to run for any office in Louisiana.  

https://ethics.house.gov/sites/ethics.house.gov/files/documents/CY%202019%20Financial%20Disclosure%20Form%20B_0.pdf

I get that some of the unknown candidates (who had a snowball's chance in hell) didn't file in the initial election but that doesn't apply to Carter.  He's a fucking career politician, he knows damn well he has to file a report 30 days prior to an election.  KCP did file one on February 18th.

I am not a huge fan of either candidate and I am certainly not telling anyone how to vote but I don't understand how you get to completely ignore campaign finance reports and not be disqualified from an election.  This is essentially breaking the law.  

I guess no local reporters or journalism resources care? 

I would love to know how far into Ike and C-note's pockets Carter really is.  Not that this report would expose the full extent but it may shine some light.  



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Requiem


I stopped posting on this blog because of the severe emotional and financial burden it became.

I also realized....there is no recourse.  You can tell people all day how corrupt things are but at the end of the day...nothing will happen to change it.

Having said that....I'm repeatedly asked "Who was the worst politician?!?!"

My answer is always the same...the politicians can't hold a candle to the Judiciary.  The amount of money involved in politics is a joke compared to Multi-District Litigation (MDL) and Class Action lawsuits which magically tend to land in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

So....who do I think is the most corrupt?

Carl Barbier, Jr.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Barbier

There are some brave lawyers who have been trying to expose what is going on with not only the BP MDL, but MDL's in general.  They have all been met with vindictive and resentful actions...with the full force and vengeance of the Eastern District and the usually impotent Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board.

See...Jeff Hughes

The BP MDL was a litany of graft...with Carl Barbier, Jr. serving as the gatekeeper.

History...possibly....will tell this story and expose it for what it is.  I hope.

In the meantime...you can read how some brave lawyers are trying to right the wrongs.

This man....





...is anathema to justice and democracy.

The height of corruption in a state famous for it....is Louisiana's  Judicial system.  And Barbier is the poster boy for that corruption.

Nothing will ever change in this state until those who call themselves "journalists" start reporting on our Judiciary. 

Nothing will change and we will be at the bottom of the barrel in perpetuity. 




Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Hacked

Hey my blogger account was hacked.  I didn't send anyone an email.  Please ignore any email you may have received from this site.

Thank you.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Plaquemines Files - Introduction


Over the past 12 years (as of July 4, 2018 ) since I launched AZ, I’ve seen a lot of stories of corruption in New Orleans and the state in general.  There are some basic things I’ve learned over this period about how the “process” works.

For example...there is almost always a real estate component involved in every instance of corruption.  It’s always the first place to look.  Thanks to unique Louisiana legal devices such as “counter letters”, real estate is far and away the best way to hide quid pro quo payouts for political favors here in our little postage stamp of the world.

Point is, I’ve come to know the culture of Louisiana corruption as a journalist and a student. In many ways, I consider this blog a twelve-year graduate thesis on the subject.  I’m not saying I'm a PhD on the matter but I certainly have my grad degree in graft from “Louisiana Scam U”.

I have seen some things….much more than I wrote about here on AZ.  Many things I simply couldn’t substantiate in order to meet the threshold of being able to publish but more often I come across stories that are simply too complicated or large for little, old me to tackle with little to no resources.

That has a lot to do with my silence over the past year.  

However….   

About two years ago I re-initiated contact with one of my sources in a neighboring parish...Plaquemines.  The stories I had originally heard from her piqued my interest and frankly I had trouble wrapping my head around many of the things I was being told.  But I listened and recorded those stories.  Now I'm at a point where I'm confident I can share them.

The End of the Earth

Plaquemines is located at the very end of the Mississippi River.  It’s the land mass that comprises the mouth of the country’s primary artery. 



Beginning at its northernmost parish seat, Belle Chase, the entire Parish is mostly a small land mass running  no more than a mile outwards from the levees, on both the eastern and western side, along the Mississippi. It’s southernmost township, Venice, is the last inhabitable area along the river before it flushes out into the Gulf of Mexico.  The parish's very existence is wholly reliant on the integrity of the federal levee system that keeps the river funneled along its manmade path.

Plaquemines is in a fight for its life against nature…and its losing. 
Land mass is eroding away in to the Gulf at a startling rate.  So much so that one of the most valuable commodities in the parish is  mud.  The Army of Corps of Engineers farms mud/soil from specific locations in the parish called “borrow pits” in order to fight the Sisyphus attempts to keep the parish levee system from fading into the Gulf of Mexico.  


If you’re lucky enough to have a “mud farm” you can end up making a small fortune.  

In fact, mud is so valuable in Plaquemines it’s illegal to transport it across Parish lines.  

As if the onslaught from mother nature wasn’t bad enough, government corruption has eaten away the parish from within.  Construction kickbacks, bid-rigging, voter intimidation, outright theft…even mud smuggling….you name it, it’s going down in Plaq.   

How Bad is it?


The tales of corruption are overwhelming and almost too brazen to seem true.  It's not just kickbacks and palm greasing…there are multiple stories of physical threats being made to public employees and would-be whistleblowers who attempted to come forward, complain or simply knew too much. 

The stories range in scale from thousands of dollars of public work being done on private properties to 100’s of millions of unanswered federal dollars being spent on a water system in which not only was the work not done, the expenditure paper trail seems to have disappeared quicker than the Braithwaite levee during Hurricane Issac.

Were the situation simply state and local funds being mishandled, it might not be such an interesting story but fate has bestowed 100s of millions of federal and corporate dollars on Plaquemines in the wake of two massive calamities….one natural, one manmade:  Hurricane Katrina and the BP Macondo oil spill. 
 
 Is anyone paying attention? 


Michelle Wilcox is a Plaquemines Parish Government (PPG) whistleblower.

A lifelong resident, she’s also a mother, a wife, a hairdresser and a former employee of Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser who also served as Plaquemines President.

While working for Nungesser, she found herself exposed to documents and dealings that began to ethically challenge her commitment to her job.   The corruption she was witnessing had real world consequences for the health and safety of Plaquemines residents…herself, her family, her friends and neighbors.  

Michelle is not one to remain quiet. 



The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on the make up of the parish from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.

She launched a one-woman whistleblower campaign which grew to a small support group, mostly women, to expose the corruption that was occurring in the Parish while methodically collecting documentation to back up the claims.

All of this at great cost....Michelle, her family and other people attempting to expose the corruption, including current and past government employees, have received threats and physical acts of intimidation to silence them:


The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on threats from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.
The Plaquemines Files - Michelle Wilcox on the nature of the threats against her from Spyboy Media, LLC. on Vimeo.

Two Sets of Books?

 Some of the documents Michelle kept, the PPG seems to have misplaced or have "alternate" expenditures that don't match the original ones in her possession.

In fact, Nungessor himself gave Michelle a series of expenditures, invoices, checks and financial documents when she was working for him.  She has kept that information on her computer and organized it in spreadsheets that document how the Parish spent much of the federal dollars it was receiving after Katrina.

Shortly after Amos Cormier Jr. was elected Parish President in 2014, his office decided to look into the allegations of corruption that Michelle and others had made regarding the previous administrations.  Instead of pursuing criminal charges, they decided to file civil suits against many of the former Parish employees who allegedly misspent public funds.  They contacted Michelle to get information and the financial documents she had in her possession.  She worked with them and turned over all the documents she had on a thumb drive to an attorney working for Cormier, Peter Barbee.

In June, during one of the civil cases against the Parish filed against former PPG Director of Public Works, Bryon Williams, Barbee, one of the prosecuting attorneys, made the curious move of stating Michelle was “ a liar and is nuts” in court chambers in front of the judge and the defense attorneys. Barbee’s accusation against Michelle was reported in the local Parish newspaper, The Plaquemines Gazette, and the affidavit signed by defense attorney Michael L. Mullin was circulated on Facebook in an effort to humiliate her.

For some reason, Barbee never introduced the financial records Michelle had provided him into the court record which could have made a significant impact in the case. Nor was Michelle ever subpoenaed to testify in the case.  She even called Judge Kevin Conner’s office to clarify she had the documents and would gladly turn them over to the court.

William's case was dismissed by Judge Michael Clement but it is currently under appeal.  

It seems no one, including the prosecution, wanted the contents of the thumb drive to be entered in to the court record.

What’s on the thumb drive?

This is where our Plaquemines investigation will begin….with the files no one wants exposed. 

I am going to publish these files here according to their respective year.  Then in subsequent stories we are going to look at the multitude of issues Michelle has been trying to expose over the past several years. 

Here are the links to the files:

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

Stay tuned....