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Morial, others blast council for relaxing domicile rule

22nd April 2014   ·   0 Comments

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial and others took shots last week at the New Orleans City Council’s decision on April 10 to tweak the city’s domicile rule, changes co-authored by councilpersons Susan Guidry, who heads the Criminal Justice Committee, and Jackie Clarkson.

The 6-1 vote to allow for the recruitment of First Responders from neighboring parishes was sold as a solution to the NOPD’s manpower shortage.

“This ordinance is only the first step in bolstering recruitment and retention of our officers,” Guidry said after the vote.

“I felt we owe this to the police already on duty,” Clarkson is quoted as saying in nola.com. “They’re out there without enough backup. They’re out there without enough manpower to do the job they’re sent out there to do.”

Although she voted for the changes to the ordinance, Council­woman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who has two sons on the police force, told NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas, “Reten­tion of your seasoned employees will solve your problem.”

Morial, who served as mayor of New Orleans from 1994 until 2002, echoed the sentiments of a number of civil rights leaders, community activists and residents who said that the ordinance that requires city employees to live within the confines of Orleans Parish is not responsible for the New Orleans Police Department’s personnel woes and rising concerns about the upsurge in violent crime.

“To blame the domicile ordinance ducks and avoids more systemic conditions,” Morial said. “When pay remains low, benefits uncertain, looming changes to civil service regulations, and there is no consistent aggressive recruiting — at job fairs, with retiring military, on college campuses and through social media online jobs boards as well as other creative means — a manpower shortage is inevitable,” Morial said.

The New Orleans City Council on April 10 voted to lift part of the city’s residency rule in an effort to enlarge the pool of qualified NOPD applicants. The only council member who opposed the change was District E Councilman James Gray, who said he had concerns about how the changes would impact the city’s property tax base.

The vote lifts the domicile ordinance to allow for inter-parish recruitment of public-safety employees — policemen, firefighters and EMS workers.

“The City Council has been attempting for years to retain the emergency measures taken after Katrina where hiring from any parish was legalized,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “The arguments have always been the same: Quality and quantity of recruits from outside the city proposed better city employees. I find it interesting that many people want to work for the city but refuse to live in the city. Throughout the country, this problem has stood out in several urban cities where Black inhabitants were positioned to reap the rewards of employment for surviving urban removal of white families.

“The New Orleans City Council has effectively caused a zero- growth potential for the city it serves by exporting potential rejuvenating incomes to neighboring parishes that continue to surpass the economic growth potential of Orleans Parish,” Johnson continued. “What makes this scenario even worst is the fact that the fuel for financial resources is generated by property owners and residential inhabitants through the taxing structures that are based on the Orleans Parish residents’ ability to generate the necessary income to pay for city services.

“By employing residents from outside of Orleans Parish, the New Orleans City Council has effectively created a poverty- stricken class that cannot survive economically and will eventually cause the poverty-stricken residents to seek shelter elsewhere,” Johnson explained. “With five Black members coming on the new City Council, the council felt it necessary for this vote to be made before the new council could be installed. This was a vote that should not have been entrusted to a lame- duck council. Obviously, the need to push this vote through was initiated by fear that the new council, with more to lose, would not be as sympathetic to the proponents of dropping the domicile (residency) rule.”

The council is also considering, among other things, raising police pay, to boost NOPD recruiting efforts.

“The issue is and has always been competitive pay, working conditions and a consistent, well-staffed recruiting effort,” Morial, who now serves as president and CEO of the National Urban League, said.

“The best efforts were in the 90s when we fixed the pay system AND had the DOMICILE ORDINANCE — mistakenly called the residency rule — and it was fairly and consistently enforced,” Morial added. “This coincided with a safer city, substantial increases in home ownership and a historic significant and sustained reductions in overall violent crime as well as murder.”

New Orleans City Councilman James Gray voiced the concerns of many of the city’s residents when he said he was hesitant to support a measure that would impact the city’s property tax base.

“Because of the potential damage to the property owners and residences of New Orleans, the new City Council needs to revisit this issue and repair the damage by reinstituting the domicile rule — the same way proponents of the ban on the domicile rule revisited the issue from March 2013 just a few weeks ago,” Johnson said. “The fact that the council granted a 180-day grace period in 2013 for new First Responders indicates that property owners and residents don’t have to live with this ill-gotten rule change for more than six months. If the new council refuses to address this issue and change the rule, this should be the last term on the City Council for every member of the current City Council.

“But wait, with the reelection of Mayor Landrieu, that leverage has been lost and the power of the people has been compromised by the lack of utilizing the power of the vote to protect the people’s interests,” Johnson added. “If the people were to enforce the leverage of the vote, all of the advocates of white supremacy would have to pack-up their tents and find a new host to leech off of.”

Johnson said that research has shown that utilizing police personnel who live outside of the jurisdiction where they work has not proven to be a fruitful arrangement in the past.

“Several research projects have examined the cause and effect between police living outside of the jurisdiction they work in higher incidence of unconstitutional policing,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “The majority of the studies have shown negative results and corruptive behaviors because police live outside of the communities they serve…

Without singling anyone out last week, Morial criticized members of the City Council for supporting such a far-ranging change to a city ordinance even though their terms on the council end next month.

“It’s quite curious that a lame-duck City Council is dealing with this when a new City Council deserves the absolute right to debate it, and consider fully all options to ensure more effective recruitment and sustainable retention of police officers,” Morial said.

“This is a classic case of getting while the getting is good,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “Somebody wanted to get this done before the racial makeup of the City Council changes dramatically next month.

When the council members are sworn in next month, the current 4-3 majority-white council will convert to a 5-2 majority-Black council, which some political observers could have meant a more difficult task convincing the council to relax parts of the domicile rule.

Longtime council member Jackie Clarkson was defeated by former Judge Nadine Ramsey while term-limited Cynthia Hedge Morrell was defeated by attorney Jason Williams in her bid for an at-Large seat on the council. Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who is white, decided not to run for re-election.

The new-look council will consist of current state legislator Jared Brossett, Jason Williams, Nadine Ramsey, James Gray and LaToya Cantrell, all of whom are Black, and incumbents Stacy Head and Susan Guidry.

“Three of the City Council members leaving the council have a thorn to place in the backsides of the people of New Orleans. Why not pay back the people for not supporting their positions? It makes for good theater,” Johnson said.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the April 21, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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