Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fall from Grace

Disgraced former Councilman Oliver Thomas was sentenced yesterday for his admitted bribery. He got 37 months in prison, the maximum recommended sentence given the nature of the crime and his criminal history. This is a pathetic end to a promising career. As Judge Sarah Vance observed during sentencing, Mr. Thomas was well regarded and, by most accounts, slated to be future mayor of the City. Despite his professed love for the City and supposed desire to help people, Mr. Thomas could only help himself to a heaping serving of greed. When it came time to cooperate with the government -- which he promised to do as part of a plea deal -- he turned his back on the City and refused to talk. (There's speculation that Thomas chose silence out of loyalty to former Mayor Marc Morial, who has a prosecutor's target of his own on his back.) Just when we thought a disgraced politician was going to come clean, we got more of the same.

It's the accounting, stupid!

Sheriff Marlin Gusman admits he overcharged the City $2 million for prisoners in his custody that were actually federal inmates for which the federal government has already paid. He supposedly refunded the money (with interest?), but this is the second time in a month Gusman has had to fess up to double billing the City. Gusman blames it on the transition to a new computer system mandated by the State. I think incompetence is more apt. Gusman has a history of not having a clue who he has in custody. When it comes to generating revenue for the Sheriff fiefdom, he conveniently has more names on the rolls than he should. When it comes to knowing who's in custody and for how long, he feigns ignorance. Can the City get a refund on Gusman?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Color of Money

Bill Jefferson, the disgraced Congressman who keeps bribe money in his freezer, has weighed in on DA Eddie Jordan's resignation. Jefferson concludes that Jordan merely sought to replace the non-legal staff with persons who were loyal to his election campaign. (No white Assistant DA's were replaced.) I think there is a kernel of truth in that. Jordan indeed did what every public official has ever done, which is to hire his own cronies. The problem in this case is that Mr. Jordan's inherited staff was overwhelmingly white (a historical vestige of Harry Connick's office), which he replaced with a staff that is overwhelmingly black.

In the cauldron of racial passions, it was a foregone conclusion that a jury was going to find discrimination. (In case, you're wondering, the federal jury pool tends to tilt significantly white despite the majority black population in Orleans Parish.) The real question, however, is whether this discrimination was lawful or not: Were persons hired and fired because of, in or in spite of, race? I don't know what Mr. Jordan's real motivation was, and the jury's verdict must be respected. But I think it is unfortunate that the controversy over questions of basic competence have been overshadowed by the indelible mark of racism. Mr. Jordan should be removed from office because his competence and leadership of the DA's office is in serious doubt, not because the DA's office can't afford to pay the monetary judgment. (After all, we don't disband the government every time a court orders our public officials to pay for their mistakes.) It shouldn't be about the money. Not so for Mr. Jefferson. It's all about the money in his case, and Mr. Jefferson should take a page out of Mr. Jordan's book and make a dignified exit.