By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist
I was more than a little envious this week of the millions of dollars Jefferson Parish Council members are doling out to pet projects mostly in their districts — from support for festivals, community centers and churches to cheerleader uniforms, swimming classes and tutoring. Jefferson’s council members, all up for re-election in the fall, enjoy broad leeway in making those discretionary selections. The allocations are available not only because of one-time dollars from the American Rescue Plan but from ongoing funding sources such as gaming revenue and hotel/motel taxes.
Jefferson’s council recently voted to give each district council member an additional $12.5 million and each at-large member $1 million of allocate. Surely the council could have voted instead to distribute those dollars to their transit system, which is having budget problems, or toward building secure housing with wrap-around services for Jefferson’s growing homeless population.
Fortunately for them, the Parish Council enjoys the luxury of significant discretionary spending because Jefferson has something that New Orleans hasn’t had in more than half of century – a fully-functioning vibrant economy with industry beyond tourism, a healthy retail tax base, and an infrastructure system that is not about to collapse into the Mississippi River. Sure, Jefferson Parish has potholes, streets that need resurfacing and new playgrounds to build. Yet their operating budget is sufficient to plan for those needs.
Let’s not even mention Jefferson’s more victim-focused criminal justice system and its superior law enforcement capabilities. When I’m on the elevated West Bank Expressway, I don’t worry that a driver in a neighboring vehicle is about to discharge a weapon. In Orleans Parish, I’m not even confident that the NOPD is reporting all the crimes that are taking place every day. If they did, who in their right mind would go out after dark?
In the spirit of regional cooperation, if even one member of the Jefferson Parish Council shared his or her $12.5 million with a counterpart in Orleans Parish, it would make a huge impact. Just think about extra funding for early childhood education slots and down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers; new neighborhood-based mental health services; and summer recreation programs as well as job training, mentoring programs for troubled youth and paid internships. The possibilities are endless, and only a dream.
In the meantime, far too many New Orleanians still live paycheck to paycheck. With spiraling inflation and a tight economy, they struggle just to pay rent, buy food, and pray Entergy or the Sewerage & Water Board does not cut off their utilities. Almost 18 years after Katrina, we may have a full complement of nice new school buildings but our high school graduates are not fully equipped for the jobs of the future.
Our community is raising a generation of angry youth who somehow fail to value the life and property of others. Hopefully, this is a brief phase. If not, the quality-of-life gap between Orleans and other parishes will continue to grow until it becomes insurmountable, leaving behind only those who lack the resources to move on. More impactful than any hurricane, this exodus would truly signal the end for one of America’s greatest cities. Let’s pray that together our city leaders find a path out of the swamp before it’s too late.
STATE REP. PAUL HOLLIS’S RECALL LEGISLATION PASSES HOUSE WITH STRONG BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
House Bill 212 by state Rep. Paul Hollis of Covington passed the Louisiana House of Representatives on Wednesday (May 17) with a groundswell of support that included members of the Republican and Democratic parties including state Rep. Aimee Freeman as well as state Rep. Joe Marino, an Independent from Jefferson Parish. The bill, which received 71 affirmative votes in the House and 29 no votes, is headed to the Republican-controlled Louisiana State Senate, where passage is expected.
HB 212 changes the number of electors required to sign a recall petition before the issue of whether to have a recall election is placed on the ballot. Previously, that number was based on the number of electors in the parish. HB 212 calls for that number to be based upon the number of electors who voted in the contest electing the public official to office. Under the new law, 50% of those electors would have to sign the petition for an election on whether to have a recall would be scheduled.
Companion legislation by state Sen. Cameron Henry, SB 123, which delineates many of the details governing the recall process, has already passed the Senate and is pending in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. It, too, is expected to be approved by the full legislative body.
FUNDRAISER SET FOR COUNCIL MEMBER FREDDIE KING III
District C Councilman Freddie King will be honored at a fundraising Thursday, May 25 from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Basin Street Station, 501 Basin St. Tickets begin at $250.
Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was corrected May 19 to show that 50%, not 20%, of the number of people who voted would have to sign a recall petition.