All Volunteer Blight Army
I am sure you will be impressed that both Councilman Arnie Fielkow and City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields responded on a Sunday. New Orleans is blessed with many dedicated people here in our neighborhood and throughout New Orleans who only want to see New Orleans be the best it can be. (the email thread below begins at the bottom and responses follow on top of each other)
From: Penya M. Moses-Fields
Subject:Re: All Volunteer Blight Army
Date:Dec 13, 2009 2:24 PM
Similar to you, several local media organizations have inquired about the cuts being made by the City Attorney's Office as it implements the City Council's 2010 Budget. I would like to first offer a basic primer on the responsibilities and caseload of the City of New Orleans City Attorney's Office. Such an understanding will assist news organizations in educating the public so that they will be able to better understand the many functions this office provides and the impact of the cuts it faces.
Below are some basic facts that you may find helpful:
· Today, there are approximately 115,000 current and active legal matters in the various areas: General Litigation, Municipal & Traffic Court, Federal Litigation, ABO prosecution, Transactions, Housing & Finance and In-House.
· There are pending federal court matters that require, the City of New Orleans City Attorney's Office, to retain experts and incur other additional expenses. This is an additional cost. Other costs to manage the approximately 115,000 legal matters include depositions, research, payment of federal court filing fees, processing sheriff sale lien foreclosure proceedings, and retaining attorneys to assist with matters of ethical conflicts of interest. All of these costs must be paid through the "Other Operating" funds in the budget for the City Attorney's Office.
· Today, there are 46 Assistant City Attorneys. In order to handle all 115,000 legal cases, each Assistant City Attorney would handle approximately 2,500 legal cases each.
Aside from the costs of personnel, 2010 City Council Adopted Budget for the City Attorney's Office includes $4,857,023 for insurance and other costs related to risk management and an "Other Operating" amount of $700,822. Mayor Nagin's proposed budget for this office included $1.7 million for "Other Operating," but the City Council reduced the amount by $1 million.
As a result of this limited and insufficient appropriation of $700,822, the City Attorney's Office was forced to cancel contracts with all law firms, including some that assisted the City of New Orleans in taking advantage of revenue generating opportunities.
The following firms were sent notification of cancellation:
Goins Aaron, APLC
First Southwest Company
LeBlanc Butler, LLC
Bryant Miller Olive
Kelley Drye & Warren, LLP *
*All of the above contractors were included in the proposed 2010 budget except Kelley Drye.
Recovery has been a priority as the City Attorney's Office has worked to rebuild following Hurricane Katrina, when we lost more than 50 percent of our staff and even more of our funding and resources. One of our roles is in supporting Code Enforcement in the Administrative Hearing process where blight determinations are made. Please note that the total number of administrative hearing cases and resets handled through October 2009 is 11,070. In conjunction with their current duties and job responsibilities, the volume of hearings exceeds the capacity and resources of the existing city attorneys.
Just as importantly, the City Attorney's Office was advised in an earlier matter by a Federal Court judge that in an effort to remove any appearance of partiality by the City, it is prudent that the determination of blight, which in many instances may result in the expropriation of property, is determined by third-party attorneys rather than by assistant city attorneys. For example, the City of New Orleans cites, prosecutes, and defends appeals that may result from a determination of blight.
There are three firms that provide administrative hearing officers -- Leblanc, Caraway and Montgomery Barnett. Montgomery Barnett's contract expired in June 2009 and the firm has not executed the amendment sent to them by the City. The total costs to continue these services for 2010, based on anticipated increase in the volume of administrative hearings, is $250,000.
As you can clearly see, $700,882 is insufficient to ensure that the City of New Orleans, including all departments, boards and agencies remains compliant with all local, state and federal laws.
Again, the Law Dept was forced to cut contracts. As City Attorney, I manage the limited dollars that the City Council appropriates to the Law Department's budget. Priority must be for those pending federal court matters, such as the Youth Study Center, that mandate the City Attorney's Office, to retain experts and incur other additional expenses as a requirement in resolution of the litigation.
If the Law department or any department had been informed in advance of the additional cut adopted by City Council, some of these matters would have been discussed and, I am confident a reasonable resolution would have been achieved. Unfortunately that did not happen.
Despite that, the Law Department has worked with Code Enforcement to reschedule all January hearings for 60 days--the hearings are not cancelled.
These cuts we are forced to make are difficult, especially in the area of blight, where we have had so many successes thanks in part to dedicated citizens like yourself.
Penya M. Moses-Fields, J.D., LL.M.
City of New Orleans
1300 Perdido St., Ste 5EO3, New Orleans, LA 70112
Phone: 504-658-9910 Facsimile: 504-658-9869
Margaret Johnson, Executive Legal Assistant, majohnson@...
This message is confidential and governed under attorney-client privilege and/or attorney work product. This message reflects the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions or theories of an attorney and is in anticipation of litigation or in preparation for trial.
From: Arnie Fielkow
Sent: Sun Dec 13 09:33:15 2009
Subject: Re: All Volunteer Blight Army
Charlie, I believe the entire council desires that the blight administrative hearings need to continue without delay. Thanks for your suggestion and hopefully the city atty, copied above, will work to find a creative solution to ensure the progress the city has been making in this area is continued. Thanks.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Device
----- Original Message -----http://fsjna.org
Sent: Sun Dec 13 09:19:55 2009
Subject: All Volunteer Blight Army
As I understand it, the Mayor is electing
to discontinue blight hearings in 2010 because
his budget was cut.
Do you know what positions will be cut?
What the qualifications are for those positions
and if there is any legal reason why those positions
could not be filled by enthusiastic volunteers?
I am quite sure we could get at least one volunteer
from each neighborhood organization that would do
the research and leg work on blighted houses in their
area so we can keep those hearings going.
60,000 blighted properties are festering scabs
on the progress of New Orleans.
Thank you for all you do to move New Orleans forward.
It is genuinely appreciated!
P.S. Please join us next Sunday....