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Cash-strapped administration criticized for lavish inauguration festivities

30th June 2014   ·   0 Comments

At a time when City of New Orleans officials are scrambling to find money to pay for two federal consent decrees, long overdue street repairs, the replacement of lost or damaged street signs, upgrades to the city’s antiquated water system and a host of other line items, the Landrieu administration is being sharply criticized for spending more than $100,000 of public funds on inaugural festivities last month.

In an article dated Wednesday, June 25, Nola.com/The Times-Picayune reported that the Landrieu administration spent $118,292.51 of taxpayer dollars on inauguration festivities for the mayor and New Orleans City Council on May 5.

The funds were reportedly used to pay for the rental of 12 eight-passenger limousines for New Orleans council members, costs associated with staging at the recently renovated Saenger Theatre, the performance costs associated with a gospel choir and two high school marching bands, place cards, boutonnieres and corsages, the use of folding chairs and tables, the use of a local event planner and catering services.

The largest three line items in the inauguration budget went to New Orleans Convention Company Inc. for event planning ($91,618), the Solomon Group for stage design ($17,850) and television station WLAE for broadcasting the event ($15,925).

The pricey celebration took place amid concerns about the City of New Orleans’ ability to pay for NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison consent decrees, efforts to find public funds to pay for infrastructure improvements and the need to find more funds to boost the depleting ranks of the NOPD.

“We are in a difficult financial situation, so when you see spending like this, it really calls into question what a mayor’s priorities are,” UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak told Nola.com/The Times Picayune. “I understand you want to attach some majesty to a turnover election — but at the same time you’re almost claiming poverty and asking the city for more revenue.”

For more than a year, the Landrieu administration and the NOPD tried unsuccessfully to have a federally mandated NOPD consent decree tossed out, arguing that the city could not afford to pay for two consent decrees. The administration subsequently announced that in order to pay for the OPP and NOPD consent decrees, the City of New Orleans would have to raise property taxes and consider trimming the fat by laying off or furloughing City Hall workers. Although it is the City of New Orleans’ responsibility to fund the operation and upkeep of Orleans Parish Prison, the Landrieu administration did not include the costs associated with running OPP in the last budget it submitted to the City Council.

The City of New Orleans has also successfully raised rates at the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and is trying to avoid footing the bill for the city’s firefighters pension fund.

The Landrieu administration has endured a hailstorm of criticism for raising the salaries of City Hall employees who are considered part of the mayor’s brain trust while undermining the job security of city workers in general. The administration has countered that criticism by proposing to raise the minimum wage of City Hall workers to $10.10. but has said very little about reports in The Lens that document the higher salaries of the mayor’s administrative inner circle.

Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble told Nola.com last week that the $93,000 the city paid to NOCCI is far less than the amounts spent by former New Orleans Mayors Marc Morial and Ray Nagin to mark the beginning of their second terms in office and less than the $220,000 the Landrieu administration had set aside for this past spring’s inauguration festivities.

“Always, in our office, we’re looking for ways to keep costs down in any way we can,” Gamble told Nola.com.

This article originally published in the June 30, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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