Monday, March 04, 2013

The Wisner Trust - Battle for the Bayou - Committee Meeting, Feb 18, 2013

Last Tuesday, I attended a committee meeting for the Wisner Trust.  This was a particularly interesting meeting for me because the Committee had invited Executive Director of Port Fourchon, Chett Chiasson, to deliver a presentation on the Port's future plans and how the Wisner land affects them.

I have uploaded the entire Chiasson presentation at the bottom of this post if you are so inclined to watch it.  It's fascinating stuff and it will give you a good idea of just how important the Port is to the state as well as to the country itself.

For those who don't have the 42 minutes to spare, I have edited what I thought was the most interesting exchange from the presentation in the following video.  One of the heirs, Stephen Green (not a Committee member), asked Chiasson what they would like to see happen with the Wisner land after the agreement expires in 2014:

The Wisner Trust - Committee Meeting, Feb, 18, 2013 - Chett Chiasson Comments on Port Fourchon's intent for the Wisner Land from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

Mayor Landrieu's appointee and Committee Chair, Michael Sherman, gave a closing response to Chiasson from the City:

The Wisner Trust - Committee Meeting, Feb, 18, 2013 - Closing remarks by Michael Sherman to Chett Chiason from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

This was a really interesting dialogue from Chiasson.  You can tell he's walking on eggshells here and he didn't want to say anything that would upset either side of the table but he did give a big clue as to the Port's intentions if the trust dissolves and the land goes up for sale.  He essentially stated that the land is simply too important for it to fall into the hands of a private landowner or worse multiple landowners.

This makes sense, think about it...a private landowner could not only potentially put the Loop and Fourchon at risk, they could hold the Port hostage every time the lease agreement comes up.  It would be a nightmare scenario for the Port.

But the real juicy part that I want to point out is that Chaisson stated that the only reason the Wisner land has any real value to it is because of the Port itself.  He then went on to say that if it went up for sale the Port would most likely be forced to act but...and this is a really big but....they would not expect to purchase the land at market value because the Port is the only real catalyst that drives the value of the land in the first place.

What does that mean?  I'm not exactly sure but I have a hunch.  I think he was suggesting the State of Louisiana may be forced to exercise eminent domain over the property if the City of New Orleans is intent on carving it up and selling it.  That could get interesting...especially if Mayor Landrieu makes a run at the Governor's office.  If eminent domain is invoked, it most likely would make the sale of the land a losing proposition to all the parties involved.

In Part 1.5, Ryan Berni stated that the City was exploring its options on what their intent for the land is and they would make no decision until they got a valuation on the land.  But that valuation may be useless if the State invokes eminent domain.

Another issue came up in the meeting which draws into question the City's true intent for the property.  I didn't understand what this question was when it was posed in the Committee meeting but I later had a discussion with one of the heirs, Mark Peneguy, outside the meeting room and it was explained to me.  The Committee appointee for the Wisner heirs asked Michael Sherman if he had been talking to Chett Chiasson and a Mr. Chouest about their interest in purchasing the land after the trust expires in 2014.  I was later told the Mr. Chouest being referred to was Laney Chouest, son of ship building magnate, Edison Chouest, and proprietor of NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale.

Here is the exchange:

The Wisner Trust - Committee Meeting, Feb, 18, 2013 - Peneguy asks Sherman about shopping the sale of the land from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

I called Mr. Chouest to ask him if the conversation had taken place but he didn't return my call.  Michael Sherman denied that he even knew Mr. Chouest so I haven't been able to confirm that this conversation took place.

However, if true, this is pretty disturbing.  If the chair of the Committee is already shopping the property it would imply the City is intent on its sale.  The timing of Chiasson's presentation and comments is also interesting because it may take the wind out of the sails of the Mayor's designs to sell the land.  I don't know, I'm speculating here.

Also, Sherman's claim that he doesn't even know Mr. Chouest is a head scratcher.  If you haven't been following Kevin's line of investigation that he is posting in the comment section of Part should check it out.  His posts deserve a blog unto itself.   He has posed a series of questions to Mr. Sherman that need to be answered about potential conflicts of interest he may have in regards to real estate investments vis-a-vis his position on the Wisner Committee.  Kevin has confirmed that Sherman had some dealings in a large plot of land located adjacent to Wisner property called Churchill Farms (Slabbed has blogged extensively on Churchill Farms).  In fact, it appears that Churchill Farms made a $3,096,032 real estate transaction with Motor Realty, LLC which turns out to be Laney Chouest's company.

Another interesting exchange took place in the meeting regarding the funds that have been deposited in the City's account from the Trust.  Originally, the agenda for the meeting had this item listed as a topic for discussion but it was removed by Michael Sherman before the meeting started without the knowledge of the other Committee members.  This is the conversation that ensued:

The Wisner Trust - Committee Meeting, Feb, 18, 2013 - Agenda Item argument from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

I will address the City's portion of the funding in Part 3, I'm still trying to acquire some information I need to publish.

Here is the full presentation Chiasson made to the Committee:

The Wisner Trust - Committee Meeting, Feb, 18, 2013 - Full Presentation to Committee from Chett Chiasson from Jason Berry on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Good post, but it's "Eminent" domain. As in "his eminency" as in the manifestation of state.

Jason Brad Berry said...

Thanks! fixed.

Anonymous said...

I am confused.
Is this the same Michael Sherman that was the Vice-President of Coastal States Development (a company out of Florida, but very little information available) a company that came into New Orleans after Katrina and tried to develop the same Churchill Farms you mention in your posting? That obviously fell through and the same Michael Sherman ended up representing Churchill Farms and Mr. Joseph Marcello in a proposed contract with the Army Corps of Engineers to use the Churchill property as a borrow site?
Referenced here (Section 7.1 'Interviews'):

The above link references another funny company of Mr. Sherman's - "The Coastal Companies". I cannot find info on this company....maybe someone can help.

Jason Brad Berry said...

I believe it would be...but Kevin is still piecing together the puzzle. Hang tight.

Anonymous said...

Try this...

Mr. Sherman left the security of large firm legal work in D.C. to become Vice President of Coastal States Development, a Florida-based real estate company. Now working for himself, Mr. Sherman recently opened a law practice, Sapir and Sherman, with Eddie Sapir, a former City Council President and judge, and continues to develop real estate for commercial and residential uses in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Jason Brad Berry said...

That's a resume builder.

Anonymous said...

link posted by anon 4:42 is a 404. Is this Farms Pit A-Phase I ESA.pdf

the correct link? If so then the following:

The above link references another funny company of Mr. Sherman's - "The Coastal Companies".

is not from there. Is there a source for this reference?

Anonymous said...

How much did Mr. Sherman earn from that brokered Army Corps deal between Churchill Farms and Marcello? From your video and the Committee's line of questioning it sounds like Mr. Sherman is trying to broker another deal with Laney Chouest! All while representing Landrieu.

Is that the Marcello that is well known around these parts?

Mr. Berry - keep up the good work on exposing these weasels at City Hall.

Kevin said...

For the document identifying "The Coastal Companies" and Mike Sherman, try pages 83, 84 and 88 of this link:

Anonymous said...

AZ its interesting you brought up the Sapir & Sherman law firm. Eddie Sapir was the registered agent for a company called Jails On Demand, Inc. which is the same company that built the 500 temporary jail facility at OPSO and was part of the Jiff Hingle corruption case involving Plaquemines Parish. Jails On Demand, Inc. was owned by Robert J. Isakson and Mark Stafford. The same two individuals who run DRC Group out of Mobile, Al.

Jails On Demand Inc dissolved on 4/26/2012 after Lee Zurik ran a story on DRC/Jails On Demand/Hingle emails.

Also what really makes this post circle around is the fact that Basile Uddo and Eddie Sapir were partners in at least three companies: Garcia & Partners Development LLC in the late 90's/20s; BET'D Inc and in from 89 to 98; New Orleans Event Marketing, Inc from 90-92.

I think the connections involving Sherman-Sapir-Uddo are coincidental since you have mentioned all three of them in various stories on this website.

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why Mr. Sherman can serve on the committee in the first place. The local ordinances allow for the Mayor to serve, but nowhere speak of designees or proxies. I am not a lawyer, and there may be governing state legislation that comes into play, but the local laws clearly articulate the powers of the Mayor, not his designee.

Anonymous said...

You will please refer to "Mr. Sherman" by the moniker given to him by one Eddie Sapir - SUPERMAN!!

Anonymous said...

The Professor........
Position: Executive council of the Mayor of the City of New Orleans
Salary: $180,000/year
Job experience: Mr. Sherman is a Professor of Political Science at Tulane University, teaching courses with James Carville on the political system of New Orleans. He is the senior political analyst for WVUE, a New Orleans broadcast television station. He previously served as General Counsel and Vice-President of Coastal States Development, LLC, a Florida-based commercial real estate development company. Mr. Sherman managed the company's Gulf Coast operations. Prior to that, Mr. Sherman served as an attorney with Sullivan & Worcester LLP in Washington, D.C. His practice focused on representing clients before governmental bodies at the local levels with an emphasis on contracting.
Officer/Agent MICHAEL GREGORY SHERMAN, 4800 MAGAZINE, LLC: crescent city tattoo co. 4800 Magazine St Owner Travis Diebolt (503) 738-8220 will tell you all about Mr. Sherman.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if thats the same Mike Sherman that used to hang around Tulane. He was a quite the scumbag... Ask some of the female students he took advantage of...