Danae Columbus: Will New Orleanians be asked for more taxes to support reform of the jail?

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Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus

Now that Sheriff Marlin Gusman has acknowledged that he must cede day-to-day jail operations to a government-approved independent compliance director, how will the millions in reforms be paid for? The new expenses include the compliance director’s salary and benefits, other costs for new staff he or she will bring in as well as the new dollars needed to reach the federal government’s consent decree goals. It will be pricey for sure because the task is so large.

The compliance director will quickly point the finger at Landrieu and the City Council, most of whom did not support Gusman through the evidentiary hearing process. Funding options are extremely limited especially since the NOPD still needs more deputies and additional dollars must be found to support Landrieu’s recently announced housing initiative which will build thousands of affordable units.

One option might be a property tax increase, always a tough sell to the voters. Landrieu could also turn to a carbonated beverage tax which the City of Philadelphia recently approved. Louisiana’s soft drink industry, led by Coca Cola lobbyist Kel Villarubia, would fight that tax tooth and nail. Villarubbia quickly points to Coke’s recent job growth, infrastructure improvements and history of civic involvement .

Whether it’s a new property tax, soft drink tax, a World Trade Center tax or some other vehicle, the millions needed to ensure the Orleans Justice Center meets federal guidelines will have to come from somewhere. The federal government’s demands cannot be ignored.

Gusman will probably be laughing when the new compliance director squeezes blood out of the Administration’s turnip for deputy salary increases and lots of other expenses including more beds for the mentally ill. Readers might recall that Mayor Landrieu always said he would more fully fund the jail if he knew how the money would be used. Whether those remarks were true, Landrieu will soon have no choice.

One way to reduce the overall number of beds is to arrest fewer people or create more non-incarceration options for those convicted. At the other end of the spectrum, the City could build more beds and fill them with state and federal prisoners, ala former Sheriff Charles Foti who always managed to balance his budget. Either way, the public will have to get out their checkbooks.


Insiders believe that former OPSO Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin, charged with accessory to commit wire fraud under a bill of information rather than a typical indictment, may have agreed to lead the federal government to another OPSO official. Ursin was involved in an over-billing scandal.

Veteran corrections leaders are also shaking their heads as to what would have motivated Ursin to commit this petty crime, considering his sizeable OPSO and Jazz Fest salaries and multiple pensions. Ursin will get a reduced sentence but could still be wearing an orange jumpsuit during Jazz Fest next year.


Though billed as a campaign kick-off/fundraiser, it was more like a coronation when 200 people crowded into Dooky Chase restaurant last Thursday to applaud Civil District Court Judge Regina Barthelemy Woods. She seeks an open seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in the November, 2016 elections.

With Clerk of Court Dale Atkins as the MC and DA Leon Cannizzaro highlighting Barthelemy Woods’ legal and judicial career, the candidate delivered quick but concise remarks to the standing-room-only crowd that included her husband trash mogul Jimmy Woods of Metro Disposal as well as family, friends and political supporters. Amid the crowd were many judges along with such other elected officials as Seth Bloom, Lambert Boissiere Jr., Jared Brossett, Cynthia Cade, James Gray, and Darren Lombard.

Also present were Josh Rubenstein, Jim Garner, Blake Jones, Lourdes Moran, Diana Bajoie, Marie Bookman, Theon Wilson, Bunny Charbonnet, Tom Watson, Paul Beaulieu and Pat Bryant, and candidates Marie Williams, Kevin Guillory, and Caroline Fayard.

With at least three strong contenders and possibly a fourth, this big-money race will be well worth watching.


City Councilmember Jared Brossett has accepted an invitation from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to serve as a Delegate Whip during the July 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Brossett’s role is to make sure Louisiana’s delegates are “together” whenever important votes are scheduled. The coveted position will also bring Brossett closer to Clinton’s inner circle which could have other long-term benefits. Clinton delegate Lynda Woolard has been named to head Clinton’s campaign in Louisiana. Woolard, a former staffer of Louisiana’s Democratic Party, was recently re-elected president of the Independent Women’s Organization.

Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are City council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

2 thoughts on “Danae Columbus: Will New Orleanians be asked for more taxes to support reform of the jail?

  1. “But there was a third option that nobody had thought of!” Sure, it’s anathema, but when the new compliance monitor brings in competent staff, the city could terminate the employees who have “absolutely no clue” that are made redundant by the the new staff.

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