August 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rank and homophobic hypocrisy?

A week after La. Sen. David Vitter admitted to an affair with a prostitute, he received "thunderous applause" from his GOP colleagues at a party luncheon. State Republicans were particularly supportive, and Vitter's close ally, gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal stated that, "While we are disappointed by Sen. Vitter's actions, Supriya and I continue to keep David and his family in our prayers. This is a matter for the senator to address, and it is our hope that this is not used by others for their own political gain."

But Jindal and his GOP colleagues haven't been so forgiving with another recent "family values" party member caught soliciting sex – this time from another man. Jindal has been quick to join a chorus of House Republicans calling on Idaho Sen. Larry Craig to resign following an incident in which he allegedly solicited sex in a men's bathroom.

The apparent double standard hasn't gone unnoticed. Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, released this statement: "Let's see - one Republican senator is involved in soliciting sex from a man and the Republican leadership calls for a Senate investigation and yanks the rug from underneath him. Another Republican senator admits to soliciting the services of a female prostitute and there's not only no investigation but the senator is greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers. What explains the starkly different responses? I'd say rank and homophobic hypocrisy."

by: Nathan Stubbs 12:11 PM

Sports Illustrated: Saints win Superbowl XLII

In its NFL preview, Sports Illustrated's has the New Orleans Saints going 12-4 this season, the best record in the NFC, which means they get a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They're picked to beat the wild-card Carolina Panthers in the divisional playoffs and the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC championship game. The respected publication pits the Saints against the San Diego Chargers in Superbowl XLII, with the Saints coming out on top.

The NFL's 2007 season debuts Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with the New Orleans Saints taking on the Colts in Indianapolis. NBC will broadcast the game.

by: Leslie Turk 11:22 AM

Juvenile facility heading to Acadia Parish

Associated Marine Institutes, a Tampa-based non-profit, has an agreement with a property owner in Branch to buy 30 acres to construct a residential facility for at-risk youths. The company had originally planned to build the facility off Hoffpauir Road in Judice but abandoned the project about a month ago due to strong opposition from neighbors.

AMI has a contract with the Louisiana Office of Youth Development to house young boys convicted of non-violent crimes. The facility will be 10,000 square feet and will house 36 at-risk youths who have been referred to it by the OYD, each staying for six months to a year. The school is scheduled to open in January 2008.

For the past 40 years, AMI has been helping troubled youths become responsible adults. In 2006, 86 percent of the organization's graduates in Louisiana has no new adjucations or law convictions.

by: Leslie Turk 10:51 AM

Voter purge draws NAACP lawsuit

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed suit Wednesday against state election officials after Secretary of State Jay Dardenne announced that about 19,000 people are being dropped from the state's voter rolls. The suit, filed in federal court in New Orleans, complains of discrimination, and cites the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which mandates that Louisiana, because if its history of racial discrimination, must have federal approval before purging its rolls. Louisiana's gubernatorial primary is weeks away, on October 20. Qualifying begins on Tuesday.

On June 15, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne mailed out more than 55,000 letters to Louisiana voters living out of state following Hurrincane Katrina, whose names and birth dates matched registered voters in other states. The letters told voters they must give up their registration in other states or lose the right to vote in Louisiana. One month later, on August 17, nearly 20,000 voters were dropped from the rolls, 7000 of them from Orleans Parish.

According to the Times Picayune, State Rep. Juan LaFonta, D-New Orleans and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, wrote a letter to the Justice Department calling Dardenne's action "a veiled effort to bleed the voting rolls of African-American and minority voters before an important election season in the state of Louisiana."

Dardenne is a Republican. Defendants named in the suit are Dardenne, Gov. Kathleene Blanco, Attorney General Charles Foti and Louisiana Elections Commissioner Angie LaPlace.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:03 AM

Sons of William at the Blue Moon

For two brothers from Houma - Joe and David Stark - music's always been a family affair, which is why they give the nod to their father, Bill, with the name of their band Sons of William. With bassist and vocalist Jennifer Jan'8t, the band's released their debut album, What Hides Inside. The opening licks of the first track "Message," feels like a driving power-pop number reminiscent of Louisiana powerhouse Better Than Ezra, but numbers like "Easy to Love" exhibit a sweeter and laid-back side to the group. Catch Sons of William tonight at the Blue Moon Saloon for their CD release party.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:16 AM

Thursday, August 30, 2007

LUS fiber service to include wifi "feature"

Lafayette Utilities System plans to offer a city wireless service as a bonus feature for customers who sign up for its fiber-to-the home phone, Internet and cable service. LUS is slated to begin selling telecommunications services to city residents in Jan. 2009. While marketing details are still being ironed out, Huval announced at Tuesday night's council meeting that the wifi service will likely be added to package deals for a minimal cost as an added incentive to customers. "It will be a convenience package," Huval says.

Huval says that the difficulties associated with wireless almost always result in spotty coverage for city networks. Walls and even moist vegetation can block signals. "To sell a service for wireless without having some degree of assurance that customers can really enjoy, that is not something that at this point we would want to do," Huval says.

He adds that LUS' city wifi will be more of a hotspot versus a mesh network. While there won't be blanket coverage, the network – tied directly to fiber – will provide up to 1 megabyte download speeds in certain areas. LUS is currently building out the wifi network and testing communications in its utility vehicles for mapping and work orders. Within a month, Huval hopes to have the service ready for regular use by city police and other government departments.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:12 AM

Local CW station airing Ragin' Cajuns Saturday

Cox cable subscribers in Acadiana can see UL's Ragin' Cajuns take on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday at 6 p.m. on Channel 10, thanks to the locally-owned CW affiliate KLWB. Satellite subscribers can catch the game on Channel 50, and KLWB's sister station, KLFT 21, will carry it over the air.

The season opener in Columbia, S.C., is also available to cable and satellite users who subscribe to ESPN GamePlan.

Don't expect to see Gamecocks starting quarterback Blake Mitchell on the field. The controversial redshirt sophomore and two other players were suspended from the opening game for skipping summer school classes.

by: Leslie Turk 10:31 AM

Sagging: social statement or indecent exposure?

Delcambre Mayor Carol Broussard's efforts to stop sagging have stretched beyond the borders of Louisiana. Last week, an Atlanta city councilman crafted an amendment to the Georgia city's indecency laws to ban saggy pants, calling the hip-hop fashion statement "a prison mentality." The town of Stratford, Conn. voted down a proposed dress code ordinance last week, on the grounds that it was both unconstitutional and a waste of time for the community's law enforcement officers. At least six jurisdictions in Louisiana: Delcambre, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, Mansfield (just south of Shreveport), Point Coupee Parish and Lafourche Parish have passed or are considering adopting some sort of legislation. "I'm tired of looking at behinds," Shreveport Councilwoman Joyce Bowman said after Tuesday's vote to cinch up baggy trousers.

In response to the rush to legislate attire, Dr. Benjamin Chavis former executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. and a chairman of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network says his organization will take the ordinances to court. Dr. Chavis told the New York Times,

I think to criminalize how a person wears their clothing is more offensive than what the remedy is trying to do. The focus should be on cleaning up the social conditions that the sagging pants comes out of. That they wear their pants the way they do is a statement of the reality that they're struggling with on a day-to-day basis.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:30 AM

DMX was in Baton Rouge

Apparently rapper-turned-actor DMX (aka Earl Simmons) was working on his new film Lockjaw: The Hunt for the Kulev Serpent in Baton Rouge when police recently raided his Arizona home. The Arizona Republic reported "... Maricopa County sheriff's deputies raided the home and discovered three dead dogs, 12 others malnourished, guns, cars with non-matching license plates, drug paraphernalia and a substance that deputies suspect is a drug." The rapper's attorney, Murray Richman wouldn't tell the paper where DMX was at the time of the raid.

Yesterday, the producers of Lockjaw, K2 Pictures released a statement saying that Simmons was in Baton Rouge during the time of the raid. CEO George M. Kostuch stated: "We remain very sensitive to Mr. Simmons' feelings and saw nothing but intense professionalism on the set of the film we recently shot with him in Louisiana called Lockjaw: The Kulev Serpent, a sci-fi thriller where DMX plays the hero and saves the day."

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:03 AM

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Brain gain floods into the Big Easy

The storms that whip through the Crescent City -- levees not nearly ready to withstand another hurricane, violent crime, political corruption -- are soul-crushing reminders that today is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It takes acts of heart and soul to counter those ill winds. A migration of young professionals, 20- and 30-year-olds are making their way to New Orleans, filled with optimism, willing to stake their careers on rebuilding the city. "I literally quit my job, bought a car, packed it up, drove down," Kate Schneiderman, a 24-year-old New Yorker who worked on Wall Street told CNN. Schneiderman now works as a political aide to a New Orleans city councilman. "It's the best decision I ever made."

According to Richard Campanella, associate director of the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University, 2,000 to 3,000 college educated young people are working in New Orleans, counteracting to some degree, the "brain drain" that was occurring before the storm. They bring with them the kind of energy and hope that even those of us of a certain age, who dearly love New Orleans, cannot provide.

I know this firsthand, because my 22-year-old daughter, Katie, newly graduated this spring, packed up her car and moved to New Orleans without even having a job. Her motivation was to be part of the rebirth of the city at the ground level. Her new job, in tourism, lets her be an ambassador for the rich culture that drew her there in the first place. "This is where I need to be," she says, along with her three roommates, all new college grads, all there, deliberately there, with the intent of rebuilding New Orleans.

by: Mary Tutwiler 11:17 AM

Nancy Landry drawing Republican heavy hitters

Nancy Landry, a registered Independent running for District 31 state representative, is drawing in some notable GOP donors in her bid to unseat Republican incumbent Don Trahan. Last night, her campaign pulled in approximately $10,000 at a fundraiser hosted by Don Briggs, President of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, at the Jimmie Davis House, where LOGA's office is located in Baton Rouge. While not a LOGA affair, the $250 per couple event drew in contributions from several oil industry consevatives including Mark Goodyear, Mark Miller of Merlin Oil, landman Todd Fontenot, and Neil Buckingham, a lobbyist for Shell Oil. Landry has reported raising more than $100,000 for her campaign thus far, with a list of Republican contributors including former state Rep. Ron Gomez, River Ranch developer Robert Daigle and Dwight Andrus. Trahan, who has been endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, reported having $32,000 in the bank on his last campaign finance report, filed at the beginning of the year.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:12 AM

KXKC's hoax exposed

Mornings are mild at Acadiana country radio station KXKC. In between country favorites like Kenny Chesney's feel-good "When the Sun Goes Down" and Tim McGraw's poignant "If You're Reading This," a tribute to the families of soldiers who have died, morning show hosts Scott Daniels and Casey Carter - "The Breakfast Flakes" - engage in innocuous banter befitting a country radio station in a conservative market.

Last Thursday, Aug. 23, the flakes - along with 20-something-year-old morning show producer and Erath's Miss 4th of July DeLannie Langlinais (a self-professed "Festival Queen") - enraged local listeners who were left wondering if they'd stumbled across shock jock Howard Stern's satellite radio show.

Read the rest of the story and hear the audio in this week's issue of The Independent Weekly.

by: admin 10:50 AM

KATC promotes Walker to news director

She's best remembered by viewers as Letitia LaNasa, but Letitia Walker's more recent work has been behind the scenes as producer of the 10 p.m. news at KATC-TV3. Yesterday, the local ABC affiliate announced Walker's promotion to news director, replacing James Warner, who left the station several months ago for a similar position in Arkansas. Walker and executive producer Wally Pierce had both been serving as interim news directors.

Walker worked as a reporter at KATC from 2002 to 2004 and in various news department roles at KLFY-TV10 from 2001 to 2002 and WBRZ in Baton Rouge from 1998-2000.

A Chalmette native, she left Acadiana in 2004 to work as a middle school teacher in St. Bernard Parish and returned to Lafayette after Hurricane Katrina. Her husband is an educator with the Lafayette Parish School System.

by: Leslie Turk 10:15 AM

Two years later

In his Leadoff column in this week's issue, Independent Weekly editor Scott Jordan marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

by: admin 9:37 AM

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What's behind Kennedy's GOP switch?

State Treasurer John Kennedy announced yesterday that he's seeking re-election as a Republican, a move that is fueling speculation he plans to challenge U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu next year.

Kennedy, who has been clashing with top state Democrats, including Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, has served two terms as a Democrat. He says he spent more than a year on the decision to switch parties, which comes as little suprise. In recent months the state treasurer met with White House political strategist Karl Rove, who has since resigned, and state Republican leaders.

The state treasurer has $2 million in his campaign war chest and no opposition thus far. He had considered running for attorney general but decided to seek re-election. The primary is Oct. 20.

In 2004 Kennedy ran for the U.S. Senate, losing to David Vitter.

by: Leslie Turk 10:50 AM

Microsoft offering "software relief" to La. small businesses

The world's leading software provider is partnering with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center in offering a new program to assist small businesses still reeling from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Microsoft announced the initiative, dubbed the Software License Relief Program, yesterday at the Hope & Recovery Summit in New Orleans. The program promises one year of free software licensing from Microsoft but does come with several stipulations, including an obligation to buy a three-year Microsoft Open Value License. Businesses can then be reimbursed for one year's worth of payment, which Microsoft says can be up to a $12,000 value. Eligibility requirements also require a business to have been in operation before Katrina and Rita's landfall, have less than 200 employees, and to have applied for some type of state or federal assistance.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:11 AM

Matthew Cormier funeral arrangements

The MySpace page for Travis Matte and the Zydeco Kingpins has been flooded with fans offering condolences and remembering Matthew Cormier, who passed away Saturday at the age of 22.

A wake will be held today at

Former film head pleads not guilty

Yesterday, the former head of the Louisiana Film Commission, Mark Smith, pled not guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy and was released on $25,000 bond. The Times-Picayune reports:

Prosecutors say Smith accepted envelopes of cash passed by the movie industry executive through a third party, collecting more than $65,000 in the alleged bribes. They were the first charges resulting from an investigation of the movie industry incentive program conducted jointly by federal prosecutors, the FBI and the IRS.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 18, and the trial date set for Oct. 29.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:25 AM

Gone fishin'

Evidently, former Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais' idea of home incarceration is not the same as the judge who sentenced him to six months probation wearing an electronic bracelet monitoring his movements. After numerous complaints from people who saw Langlinais fishing in Vermilion Bay, Judge John Conery issued a order modifying Langlinais' probation, specifically prohibiting Langlinais from "going to Cypremort Point or participating in fishing or any recreational sports activities, going to the home or camps of friends, attending fairs and festivals or social activities outside the home, except the home of family members, and then only if that activity is strictly a family function. Activities prohibited include but are not limited to movie theatres, restaurants, bars, casinos, football games, athletic contests or any type or any other type of social or recreational activity."

Part of Langlinais' sentence is 480 hours of community service. However, Langlinais' hours working under Mayor Carol Broussard of Delcambre also seems to have caught Conery's attention. The judge ordered that "none of the community service done for the City of Delcambre shall consist of any political activity or attendance at any fairs, festivals or social events of any type." (Delcambre celebrated their annual Shrimp Festival the week of August 15-19.) Conery has extended Langlinais' period of home incarceration for two additional weeks.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:11 AM

Lafayette native takes over Basin program

For the first time since the Atchafalaya Basin Program was created in 1998, a true local is at the helm. Dave Fruge, a UL graduate and resident of Lafayette, was named interim director of the program last week following the retirement of longtime head Sandra Thompson, who called the piney woods of north Louisiana home. Fruge, who will retain his position as deputy assistant secretary of coastal restoration and management, says there isn't an ongoing national job search to fill the position permanently and he may be serving in the role until Gov. Kathleen Blanco leaves office. "But I'm sure the next administration will want to fill this position permanently," he says.

Since he may only have a few months to make an impact from the top, Fruge says his goals are very specific. "I've been looking at the master plan for the basin and looking at ways to sharpen our focus on natural resources in the basin, improving water management and trying to address sedimentation issues," he says.

The ABP was established in 1998 by state law to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other entities for the federally sponsored Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System, Louisiana Project. – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 8:46 AM

Monday, August 27, 2007

A vote for Edwin

Despite being locked up in a federal penitentiary, former Gov. Edwin Edwards is still at the forefront of state politics. The effort to win a presidential pardon for Edwards has picked up notable supporters like former Senators Bennett Johnston and John Breaux, and now has a gubernatorial candidate making it the centerpiece of her campaign. Mary Volentine Smith, a 66-year-old retired hairdresser from Winnesboro, says she is running for governor with the No. 1 priority of freeing Edwin from jail. Smith says people should know a vote for her is "a vote for Edwin." If elected, Smith says she would also work to replace aging bridges throughout the state and build a new mental hospital in Pineville.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:37 AM

Romero adamant about not running for office

Term-limited Iberia Parish senator Craig Romero says he's definitely not going to get into the race for parish president. Despite persistent rumors that he is planning to jump into race for the top local job, or switch chambers and run as the state rep. from District 49, Romero says no. "I'm not running for anything," he says. "I'm enjoying life and taking care of my children." A poll conducted two weeks ago pointedly inquired how Iberia Parish voters felt about Romero's tenure as Parish President in the 1980s, and his work in the state senate. Romero says he knows nothing about the poll. "I got calls at the beginning of the summer and earlier in the year. This is the third time this year, people wanted to know if I'm running a poll. I'm not running a poll."

After an unsuccessful race against Democrat Charlie Melancon for Congress last year, Romero says he is going to stay home and raise his seven children. While he says constituents are constantly asking him to stay in politics, he's serious about giving more time to his family. "There's not a place I go, day or night, and that's [politics] all people want to talk about, but I got to think about my kids at the end of every day. And the beginning of every day. That's what really governs my life right now. I've got to spend as much time as I can with my children and my wife. I've been lucky I've had her 26 years in government, lucky because Pam doesn't get into politics. She doesn't care about any of that. She says take care of your kids. That's number one."

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:19 AM

Musician Matthew Cormier dies at 22

Travis Matte says of Matthew Cormier: "He was smiling all the time. He was happy-go-lucky. That's just how he was." The 22-year-old musician had played bass for Matte's band, the Zydeco Kingpins, since its inception in Jan 2005.

On Thursday, while on the job in Church Point, Cormier sustained head injuries that resulted in a coma. His family later removed him from life support, and he died Saturday at Lafayette General Medical Center, and his organs were donated.

Cormier came from a family of musicians - his father, Barry, and his grandfather, Elton "Bee" Cormier - are respected Cajun musicians. The elder Cormier formed the Church Point Playboys in 1949, and Matthew played in a later version of that outfit, as well as with the band Feufollet.

Funeral arrangements are pending and will be posted today on the websites of Guidry Funeral Home in Church Point and Travis Matte and the Zydeco Kingpins.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:14 AM

Obama latest Dem with big promises for N.O.

Democrat Barack Obama, visiting New Orleans this past weekend for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, said Sunday that as president he would keep the Crescent City in mind every day. "Part of the problem, I'll be honest with you, I just don't think there is a sense of urgency in the White House, where the president is cracking the whip, day in, day out, and saying, 'Why is it that we're not getting this done?'"

According to a story in today's New York Times, he outlined a plan to help restore the region by:
—providing grants for community policing in New Orleans, which has struggled with violence since Katrina;
—offering incentives such as loan forgiveness programs to try to attract doctors and college students;
—ensuring displaced residents who want to return have a place to stay; and
—creating a national catastrophic insurance reserve, which he said would help homeowners struggling with their premiums.

The other two leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards, also have outlined rebuilding plans with similar themes.

Presidential hopefuls from both parties are expected to visit New Orleans this week for Katrina's Aug. 29 anniversary; President Bush also is scheduled to visit the Gulf Coast.

by: Leslie Turk 9:29 AM

The Ragin' Cajun goes to bat for Landrieu

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of New Orleans is supposedly the top-targeted Democrat up for re-election next year, so some of the Democratic Party's biggest names are rallying for Landrieu. Last week, uber-consultant James Carville signed a letter on behalf of Landrieu asking supporters to stay strong and pony up the dollars. "Mary Landrieu will be one of the most important names on the 2008 ballot, and she needs our help," Carville writes. "She deserves our help. She's at the top of my priority list of Democratic incumbents to support in the 2008 elections, and I'm hoping that she'll be on the top of yours… If there's a single race on the 2008 ballot where your contribution can make a difference, this is it." Donations are asked in the form of $25, $50 and $100 political gifts, although there is a postscript pointing out that a simple "$35 contribution will go a long way toward returning Mary Landrieu to the U.S. Senate in November 2008." – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 8:57 AM

Friday, August 24, 2007

Heart Hospital, Lourdes take another shot at merger

Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center and the Heart Hospital of Lafayette are close to finalizing a partnership agreement, according to sources close to the negotiations. Should the merger come to fruition, sources say strong consideration is being given to shutting down the 3-year old Kaliste Saloom Road heart center, a small, 32-bed facility, and moving those services to Lourdes' planned complex on Frem Boustany Drive. In April, Lourdes purchased a 45-acre tract near the intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Verot School Road for $14 million. Lourdes is planning to relocate most of its services to the new site.

"We're hopeful in the very near future we have an announcement to make," says Lourdes spokesman Berch Stelly, who characterizes the potential deal as a "merger [or] joint venture." A Heart Hospital official could not be reached for comment.

The Heart Hospital is a for-profit specialty — or "boutique" — facility owned by local physicians and an out-of-state company. Located at St. Landry and St. Mary streets, Lourdes has operated as a not-for-profit community hospital for almost six decades.

This new arrangement between Lourdes and the Heart Hospital comes after a failed takeover of the specialty hospital by local doctors who own 49 percent of the facility. Included in the local group of Heart Hospital physician-owners are primarily cardiovascular surgeons and cardiologists, among them Drs. Ed Nagem, Edgar Feinberg, David Baker and Jon Leleux. Nagem, however, is retiring and relocating to South Carolina. In February the physicians signed a letter of intent to buy out their North Carolina-based partner, MedCath Corp., but the deal soon began to crumble. The physician-owners then rekindled

Crabcakes, the other burger

The warm waters of Vermilion Bay are producing a bumper crop of big blue crabs right now, and seafood markets have lots of fresh crabmeat in their cases. In step with the season, the August issue of Gourmet magazine has a sure-fire Creole Crab Burger recipe that will meet any hurried cook's 20-minute limitations. Gourmet sandwiches the burger, what we call a crab cake, in a Kaiser roll, for a simple summer supper. Lots of crab cake recipes bind the crabmeat with a bechamel sauce, a white thick culinary glue made with butter, flour and milk. This recipe, a very close cousin to Richard and Rima Collin's crab cakes from their 1982 classic New Orleans Cookbook, binds the crabmeat in a white remoulade mixture of mayonnaise, egg, green onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne. The crab patties, rolled in a bowl of French bread crumbs, pan fried in butter or olive oil, are dynamite on their own, or served on freshly baked rolls. Double the recipe; people are sure to ask for seconds.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:29 AM

The Nation looks at New Orleans

Less than a week away from the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, national publications are again turning their attention back to New Orleans and refocusing on its efforts to rebuild. The recent issue of The Nation features a piece by Michael Tisserand, who addresses the issues facing New Orleans' schools in "The Charter School Flood." Tisserand is the former editor of New Orleans' alternative weekly newspaper, Gambit Weekly, and the author of Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher & His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember and The Kingdom of Zydeco.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:05 AM

LRA orders review of Road Home Program

The Louisiana Recovery Authority is contracting with the Rand Corporation, a global research nonprofit, to conduct a review of the state's much-maligned Road Home Program and ICF International. In June 2006, ICF won a landmark $756 million contract to manage the Road Home Program, which issues federal housing loans to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The company has been under fire for a wide array of problems with the program, including issues with qualified homeowners being denied assistance and long delays for grants that were approved. The review will focus on how ICF has complied with the policies set up by the state and the LRA, and how the company may further improve on its management of the program. LRA Chairman Norman Francis says, "While it appears the contractor has hit its stride - delivering more than $3.1 billion to 42,542 Louisiana homeowners in little more than a year since Louisiana received sufficient funding to launch the program - we know there is still room for improvement." Walter Leger, Chair of the LRA's Housing Task Force, adds, "While the LRA doesn't run the Road Home, we designed its broad policies, fought to see it funded, and are committed to doing everything we can to continue moving the program forward as expeditiously and fairly as possible and stressing that all homeowners should be treated with respect throughout the process. The LRA's Housing Task Force will be working hand-in-hand with RAND in partnership with the Office of Community Development and their contractor ICF to review every aspect of the program and develop common-sense solutions that can be implemented immediately."

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:38 AM

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Gubernatorial candidate Georges mulling party switch?

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Georges got some encouraging signs in the latest poll conducted by Dr. Verne Kennedy's Market Research Insights. Kennedy's statewide poll of 600 likely voters, conducted Aug. 13-15, shows Georges with 56 percent name recognition; 24 percent of voters identified Georges as their second choice for governor and 44 percent said they would consider voting for Georges. "This is the first trial heat with any kind of movement, with more than 10 percent support and 50 percent name recognition after only three weeks of television.

Successful businessman Georges is the wild card in the governor's race, in no small part due to his massive $7 million campaign war chest. And he's clearly unhappy with the Louisiana Republican Party, making the next two weeks leading up to Sept. 4-6 qualifying especially interesting. "The state Republican Party refuses to do any mailouts with my name on it," says Georges. "They're promoting only one Republican, and that's probably why Walter Boasso switched parties."

With that in mind, Georges is considering all his options. "I'm certainly keeping the party switch open," he says. "It depends; we're going to do a poll and see how many Republican votes I'd get.

"The big question," Georges continues, "is whether Louisiana voters would support an independent candidate." Georges also notes, "I'm getting a lot of love from the Democrats."

by: Scott Jordan 11:02 AM

Lafayette Parish outpaces state in tourism growth

The Economic Impact of Travel on Louisiana Parishes 2006 ranks Lafayette Parish fifth with $338 million travel spending from domestic visitors, up 27.2 percent from 2005 — the biggest increase in the state. This post-hurricane spending generated $58.2 million in payroll and more than 3,100 jobs. The Louisiana Office of Tourism's annual report on travel, the study is conducted by the Travel Industry Association of America. The 2006 report also provides projected visitor impact statewide and for every parish in 2005 and 2004. Here's how the state's top three tourism parishes fared the year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita:

Orleans Parish, which includes the city of New Orleans, was the most severely affected area by the hurricanes, and domestic travel spending declined 35.5 percent from 2005 and 50.7 percent from 2004 to $2.2 billion in 2006. Travel-generated employment, payroll and tax receipts declined dramatically as well.

East Baton Rouge Parish posted $678 million in domestic expenditures to rank second, up 16.9 percent from 2005. These expenditures benefited parish residents with nearly $124 million in payroll as well as 6,300 jobs.

Jefferson Parish, located adjacent to New Orleans, ranked third with $514 million in domestic travel spending in 2006. This parish was heavily hit by the hurricanes. Travel spending declined 28.4 percent from 2005 and 45.7 percent from 2004. Similar to Orleans Parish, travel-generated employment, payroll and tax receipts in Jefferson Parish dropped off dramatically.

by: Leslie Turk 10:41 AM

Ed Poullard: Creole accordion maker

A recent Houston Chronicle article features Ed Poullard. Born in Eunice and raised in Beaumont, the Creole accordionist has added another talent to his repertoire – building diatonic accordions. He built his first single-row accordion for his daughter when she picked up the instrument, and he's since built another 10 of them with five more in production. Based in Beaumont, Poullard's the first Creole known to produce the accordions, which also bear his name.

See the article to also watch a video of Poullard and hear clips from his CD with Cedric Watson and James Adams, Les Amis Creole.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:15 AM

New Orleans flood risk maps released by Corps

Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers released flood risk maps for New Orleans that project increased flood protection, neighborhood by neighborhood, once improved levees and flood gates are completed. While this might give home owners and insurance companies a better sense of the pros and cons of rebuilding, some lawmakers called the maps ludicrous. The maps take into account better flood protection from overtopping levees along Lake Pontchartrain, the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet during a 100-year event, but factored in is a complete failure of all the city's pumping stations. That means accumulated rainfall during a storm would pool in low areas, potentially increasing flood risk in some neighborhoods.

Donald Powell, federal coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding, lauded the release of the maps. He told the Times Picayune, "If I were in the real estate business, or if I were anticipating coming to live in New Orleans, the first thing I would look at are these maps we're releasing today."

Some city and parish officials however felt that depicting a total failure of the pumping system, which has been upgraded since Katrina, is misleading and does not help the image of the Crescent City. The increased flood protection system depicted in the new maps is projected to be completed by the Corps in 2011.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:13 AM

Manning vs. Bush: bring it on

We're now only two weeks away from the Sept. 6 NFL season opener pitting The New Orleans Saints against Super Bowl champions The Indianapolis Colts, and the NFL is hyping the matchup with a new TV commercial featuring two of Louisiana football's favorite sons: Colts quarterback and New Orleans native Peyton Manning and Saints running back Reggie Bush. Manning and Bush try and one-up each other with some pre-game hotel pranks in the ad; Bush gets off the best line when he impersonates Manning asking for a 30-foot-long catfish po-boy and requests it "extra cheesy, just like me."

by: Scott Jordan 9:39 AM

Going after go cups

Several city officials want to put a stop to downtown bars handing out disposable to go cups to patrons who want to leave with their drinks. Police Chief Jim Craft has asked downtown bar owners to discontinue the practice of handing out to go cups, believing that by doing so the city could curb downtown litter and drunk driving. Public Works Director Tom Carrol and City-Parish President Joey Durel also expressed support for doing away with to go cups. The issue was raised as part of a meeting between downtown bar owners and city leaders at Keith's Ballroom yesterday afternoon. Other issues raised at the meeting involve improving public lighting downtown and increasing the penalties for underage drinking. Councilman Chris Williams, who called the meeting as the representative for the downtown area, says he is in the process of polling bar and restaurant owners on all the issues and will likely be bringing some recommendations before the council by October.

by: Nathan Stubbs 9:36 AM

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Attack ads heat up in governor's race

With the Oct. 20 election fast approaching, Louisiana voters are getting a heavy dose of ads pronouncing who NOT to vote for. The Jindal campaign, which has been the barb of cardboard cutout jokes in state Sen. Walter Boasso's ads, struck back this week with a commercial that depicts both Boasso and his fellow Democratic rival Foster Campbell as clowns not capable of turning around Louisiana's dysfunctional government. Meanwhile, the Louisiana Democratic Party is throwing everything it can at Jindal in hopes something will stick. Its latest ad dredges up religious essays Jindal wrote while studying at Oxford, selectively picking out phrases and taking them out of context to portray the Republican front runner as being anti-Protestant. The Jindal camp has denounced the religious attack as a twisted ad that will only serve to anger voters. This morning, the state GOP sent out an email proclaiming that the backlash had already begun, citing an editorial in today's Ouachita Citizen titled "La. Democrats sink to new low." The state Democratic Party has defended the "Jindal on religion" ad by saying they are only pointing out Jindal's own writings, but this low blow could cross the line for many voters.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:52 AM

Acadiana Business launches today

"Acadiana's Best Companies to Work For," profiles of extraordinary homegrown businesses like The Schumacher Group and C&C Technologies, is the cover story in the debut issue of Acadiana Business, a monthly publication of The Independent Weekly. Find out why keeping their employees happy — and on their payrolls in a tight labor market — is driving these companies' success.

Also inside this week's issue is veteran reporter Angela Simoneaux's look at Lafayette Parish's housing sector, along with local columnists' take on commercial construction, business politics and the stock market.

Acadiana Business' goal is to provide in-depth analysis of commerce in south Louisiana. You can find it bundled with The Independent Weekly's fourth issue of each month and on its own at dozens of targeted locations around the market.

by: Leslie Turk 10:08 AM

Abita goes nuts

Here's a nutty idea: Take a Louisiana ale and add real Louisiana pecans. That's exactly what the folks at Abita Brewing Co. have done with their latest seasonal specialty brew, Pecan Harvest Ale. The nuts give the smooth amber ale a light pecan finish and aroma that works particularly well with seafood, red meat, and, of course, nuts. (Abita's last limited edition beer, Strawberry Harvest Lager, was so popular that the brewery sold 27,500 cases in 12 weeks.) Abita President David Blossman says the Pecan Harvest Ale is also being produced in a limited quantity. "We won't brew any more until next year, and when it's gone ... it's a gone pecan." Look for it wherever fine beers are sold.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:54 AM

Whitewashing history

From Independent Weekly editor Scott Jordan's Leadoff column in this week's issue:

Bishop Gerard Frey sure loved his 8 a.m. cup of coffee.

He could be a demanding boss, too, when he needed letters sent to other bishops or the wristband broke on his watch. Otherwise, he was sensitive, calm, remarkable, humble, strong, kind, gentle, unruffled, stable, understanding, cool and collected, extremely family-oriented, even and balanced and had a firm and sturdy character.That's how The Daily Advertiser remembered Frey, who died last Thursday at the age of 93. In three successive days of coverage, The Advertiser wrote of Frey's long service to the Catholic Church and the Lafayette Roman Catholic Diocese, also highlighting noteworthy Frey accomplishments such as his extensive work with the Second Vatican Council and tenure as a pastor with churches in Houma, New Orleans and Taft. ...For too many people, Frey's passing and The Advertiser's coverage provoked a terrible sense of déjà vu.

Read the whole column here.

by: admin 9:53 AM

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Downtown restaurants could win exemption from alcohol ordinance

The Lafayette City Parish council is scheduled to take up a controversial ordinance at tonight's meeting aimed at assisting downtown restaurants. The ordinance would exempt restaurant businesses on Jefferson Street from complying with city regulations that prohibit liquor licenses from being granted to any establishment within 300 feet of a school, public library or playground's property and within 175 feet of a church's property. The amendment, sponsored by councilmen Lenwood Broussard and Randy Menard, is being pushed by several downtown business interests who feel the rules are too restrictive. Victor Bernard's family owns the property at the corner of Johnston Street and Jefferson Street, formerly the Jefferson Street Café, and has struggled for years to get a liquor license to open a new restaurant. Kimberly Florsheim, a partner with the new Juliet Hotel across from T-Coon's on Jefferson Street, is also a proponent. The Juliet hopes to lease out space in its building for a new restaurant. The old South Central Bell building across from Keller's has also been eyed as a possible restaurant location. All of these buildings are within the proximity of First Baptist Church and Ascension Day School.

The proposed ordinance has already drawn the ire of Downtown Development Authority and First Baptist Church, both of which wrote letters to the council opposing the ordinance because of the precedent it may set. Councilman Bruce Conque, who favors the bill, says he is planning to offer up an amendment tonight that he hopes will assuage some of the concerns. He says his amendment will allow restaurants to appeal to the council for an exemption on a case by case basis – without a letter of approval from the impacted church or school, as is now required. "The concern is," Conque says, "the way churches and schools have been expanding downtown, they are removing commercial property from the possibility of operating as a restaurant."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:42 AM

Carencro's Faulk buying up Burger Kings

Carencro product turned New England Patriot Kevin Faulk is now a Burger King franchisee. The Boston Globe reported that Faulk has pooled his money with four other current and former black professional athletes to buy 18 stores in Norfolk and Richmond, Va., most in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Burger King is trying to make inroads in areas with high minority populations and is also trying to increase its minority ownership. Faulk's partners are NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Caron Butler of the NBA's Washington Wizards and Donnie Edwards of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Though he is venturing out into the business world, Faulk has remained close to his roots, generously supporting fund-raising efforts of United Way of Acadiana. Let's just hope this role model is able to help young children understand that you don't make it in the big leagues on a regular diet of super-sized Whopper meals.

by: Leslie Turk 10:24 AM

Ambassador Ross lecture slated for next week

The Independent Weekly's Lecture Series brings in distinguished speakers throughout the year to address pressing issues facing Acadiana and the state. Once a year, we also present The Outlook Lecture, which focuses on a national or international issue. The 2007 Outlook Lecture is slated for next week, and features renowned Middle East Ambassador Dennis Ross.

For more than 12 years, Ross played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process. A highly skilled diplomat, Ross was U.S. point man for negotiations in both the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. He was instrumental in assisting Israelis and Palestinians to reach the 1995 Interim Agreement; he also successfully brokered the 1997 Hebron Accord, facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and intensively worked to bring Israel and Syria together.

A scholar and diplomat with more than two decades of experience in Soviet and Middle East policy, Ambassador Ross worked closely with secretaries of state James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. Prior to his service as special Middle East coordinator under President Clinton, Ambassador Ross served as director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff in the first Bush administration. In that capacity, he played a prominent role in U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany and its integration into NATO, arms control negotiations, and the 1991 Gulf War coalition. During the Reagan administration, he served as director of Near East and South Asian affairs on the National Security Council staff and deputy director of the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment. Ambassador Ross was awarded the Presidential Medal for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service by President Clinton, and Secretaries Baker and Albright presented him with the State Department's highest award.

Ross is now counselor and a Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His new book, Statecraft: How to Restore America's Standing in the World, has been excerpted internationally in news magazines, including U.S. News and World Report, and was called "important and illuminating" by The New York Times. Ross is also an analyst and contributor for Fox News.

Ross' luncheon lecture is slated for next Tuesday, Aug. 28, at The Lafayette Hilton at 11:45 a.m. Copies of Ross' new book will be available for sale and for signing. Individual tickets are $35 each; sponsored tables for eight are $320; the lecture is free (with limited general admission seating) for those not wanting to purchase lunch. Reservations may be made by phone or e-mail with a credit card; contact event coordinator Drue Kennerson at 988-4607, ext. 118 or via e-mail at [email protected] for more information.

by: Scott Jordan 10:06 AM

Volunteerism key to recovery

Just when you're ready to give up on believing that the rest of the nation really cares about rebuilding New Orleans a story like this comes along. The Times Picayune reports today that volunteerism is up nine percent this year over last year, and groups like Habitat for Humanity continue to commit long term to help stricken parts of Louisiana recover. There is less urgent call for gutting houses and clearing debris these days, but construction skills, medical workers and tutors are desperately needed.

Donald Powell, federal coordinator for rebuilding the Gulf Coast, addressed a gathering of volunteers yesterday in St. Bernard Parish. "The generosity of the American people has been overwhelming," he said.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:01 AM

Public meeting tonight on LINC

The Lafayette City-Parish Planning Commission will hold a public hearing this evening to discuss proposals for managing growth and the sewer infrastructure in Lafayette Parish, as well as the Lafayette In a Century plan. The LINC plan is comprised of 258 recommendations proposed by a steering committee to guide the parish over the next century. The meeting takes place tonight at 6 p.m., at the Holy Rosary Institute's Windolph Hall at 421 Carmel Drive in Lafayette. For more information, visit LINC's website, call 291-8016, or e-mail Lafayette Planning Manager Mike Hollier at [email protected].

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:42 AM

Monday, August 20, 2007

Craig Romero eyeing Iberia Parish President race

Sources close to term-limited state Senator Craig Romero-R, District 22, have verified that he is exploring a run for Iberia Parish President. Romero met with some city and parish officials last week to discuss his candidacy. Residents of the parish polled over the weekend were asked if the race were to be held this week, who they would most likely vote for--announced candidates Ernest Freyou, a former secretary-treasurer of the Iberia Parish police jury and retired Regions Bank president, Ronnie Migues, who works for an oil field service company, or Romero. People who responded to the telephone poll were asked to rate Romero's performance as Iberia Parish President for 10 years, from 1984-92 after he succeeded his father Francis Romero in office. The poll also asked about his effectiveness as state Senator from 1992 until the present. The poll concluded by asking if the respondent were Democrat or Republican, and whether he or she were more likely to vote for gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal, Walter Boasso or Foster Campbell.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:53 AM

LRA sees state being shortchanged again

Despite taking the brunt of damage from both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana remains on almost equal footing with its Gulf Coast neighbors when it comes to the federal dollars trickling down to aid recovery from the storms. The latest example comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's proposed allocation for $85 million in disaster relief funds for Gulf Coast fishing and shrimping communities. Louisiana is slated to receive approximately $40 million, with Mississippi receiving $37 million. The Louisiana Recovery Authority is once again calling on the federal government to make sense of its funding formulas, and base recovery allocations on its own damage assessments. In a letter to NOAA, LRA Directory Andy Kopplin writes:

"According to the currently proposed allocation for distributing disaster relief funds to the shrimp, oyster, and fishing industries devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana stands to receive less than half the amount of funding available. This proposed allocation directly contradicts NOAA's own assessments, which estimate Katrina's financial impact on Louisiana's fishing industry to be $2.1 billion. That's two and a half times more damage sustained in Mississippi, and nearly 75 times the amount estimated in Alabama.

"While we do not begrudge our neighbors, we have been left once again asking for equity. Louisiana generates more than 76 percent of the annual catch landings in all the disaster declared parishes and counties in the Gulf Coast, and we bore the brunt of two storms in 2005.

"While Louisiana is grateful for the limited relief these recovery funds will provide to our devastated industry, we call on the U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA to reconsider their proposal to make these allocations fair and consistent with the congressional directive PL 110-28, which explicitly states that the allocation of these funds should be based on need."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:30 AM

The problem with Jena? Outsiders

Today's issue of The Town Talk takes another look at the controversy over the Jena Six and again points the finger at outsiders.

While newspapers across the country have reported out of Jena with such headlines as "Racial demons rear heads," a number of the city's residents are ready to stand up and defend the community they call home.

In a July 31 editorial, The Town Talk wrote:

News organizations, editorial writers, television stations and Web sites with all kinds of agendas have zeroed in on the trials and the community as being the epicenter of all things racist. They are wrong, of course, and they need only look in their own front yards to see that. But it is so much easier to go to Small Town, America, deep in the heart of Dixie, to find and point at ugliness.

LaSalle Parish Sheriff Carl Smith tells The Town Talk today:

One of the main things I see and hear in both the black and white community is that there are so many people that are voicing their opinion that don't know what is going on, on either side of the issue. … They don't know the people in Jena, black or white, yet they have their grand opinion about what to do in the situation.

The article also introduces Jena residents who say the situation is being blown out of proportion by the "international and national media, national civil rights activists and Internet bloggers." Most believe Jena's "a safe, nice place to raise a family."

Crissey Hart of Jena doesn't agree. She said race is definitely an issue in Jena -- enough of an issue that she sent her 16-year-old son to South Carolina to live with family instead of having him go back to Jena High this year.

Read how The Town Talk's readers are responding.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:56 AM

10 Time Inc. mags revisit New Orleans

Time Inc. Editor in Chief John Huey's unusual decision to take 12 editors on a two-day tour of New Orleans in May, possibly a first-ever event in the history of magazine publishing, has put the journalist weight of 10 of those publications squarely on the Crescent City's struggles. Huey, who oversees the content of 150 magazines, told The New York Times in a story published today that he could not recall a similar jaunt, nor could others who were involved.

It was 10 of the individual editors' decision to assign stories when they returned home, but once they did, the magazine group coordinated a package to coincide with next week's two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Time's story tackles the misguided policies and bureaucratic bungling that left New Orleans defenseless; Essence profiles three families that had been displaced by the storm, Fortune Small Business catches up with area business owners, and Fortune explores why billions in relief money is not reaching the local economy. The package also includes Web exclusive stories from Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated.

The idea for the trip sprung from People Group Editor Martha Nelson, who attend a wedding in New Orleans. "I came back thinking that the Katrina story really wasn't over — and while some people had moved on, the city of New Orleans was still dealing with it in every aspect, environmentally, socially, politically," she told The Times. "It was still a really important and unsettling situation."

To keep New Orleans in the spotlight, Time Inc. hopes to sponsor a presidential debate there next year, The Times reported.

by: Leslie Turk 9:12 AM

The state vs. the Corps: the saga continues

There are mounting concerns that the federal version of the state's master plan for the coast may not include any recommendations at all for future construction, says Sidney Coffee, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Instead, there are early indications that the plan being drafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be nothing more than a matrix of how decisions will be made and priorities are organized. "I don't think there are going to be any recommendations in the plan at all," says Coffee. The Corps report is scheduled for release this December.

Various Corps representatives have promised Louisiana officials in the past that the state's master plan would be relied upon heavily for the development of the federal plan, which will undergo a lengthy public-comment period before being presented to Congress for authorization in the summer of 2008. The CPRA, the state's guiding recovery agency, spent considerable resources developing Louisiana's master plan for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and flood control, and the Legislature endorsed the blueprint earlier this year, Coffee says. It includes regional and local projects that have been prioritized following months of community meetings. If Louisiana's priorities are not spelled out in the Corps report, the state could face a never-ending road of feasibility studies and bureaucratic hurdles to overcome in order to bring vital projects to construction, adds Coffee.

The state's master plan cannot be presented to Congress; only plans presented by federal agencies like the Corps can be introduced and authorized.

Despite the disparities in what the state is expecting and what the feds might produce, Corps spokesperson Vic Harris says any concerns at this point in the process are unwarranted. "Critiquing a plan that hasn't come out yet is like critiquing a book that hasn't been written," he says. – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 8:54 AM

Friday, August 17, 2007

Former La. film head charged with bribery

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announced today that Mark Smith, the former head of the Louisiana Film Commission, has been charged with bribery and conspiracy.

According to the Bill of Information filed today, between 2003 and 2005, while serving as Director of the Louisiana Film Commission, SMITH approved fraudulently inflated movie budgets submitted by a film production company in order for the film company to receive state tax credits. In return, SMITH accepted cash bribes totaling over $65,000.00. The Bill of Information further alleges that a businessman wrote corporate checks to a third party who cashed the checks and passed the cash to SMITH.

The Times-Picayune reports that Smith is expected to plead guilty and cooperate with the investigators. The charges come as a result of a federal investigation into Louisiana's film industry. If convicted, Smith faces up to 10 years in prison on the bribery charge, five years on the conspiracy charge, and a fine of $250,000.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:55 AM

Cockerham running unopposed for school board

Interim school board member Mark Cockerham is thus far the only announced candidate in the upcoming special election for District 7's school board seat, but that isn't keeping him from campaigning. Cockerham recently began putting campaign signs out, and last week held a fundraiser at Grant Street Dance Hall that netted more than $1,000. "It's hard for me to sit back and just hope no one else gets in [the race]," he says. "So, I'm giving it everything I have this last month."

Cockerham has represented District 7 since April, when the school board appointed him as an interim replacement to the late Dr. David Thibodaux. The seat will be up on the Oct. 20 election ballot to determine who fills out the remaining three years of Thibodaux's term. Cockerham, who announced his intentions to run for the seat at the beginning of the summer, says it didn't take him long before he knew he wanted to remain on the school board. "Within one meeting I knew," he says. "I just started loving it. Granted, it's been a tough year but nothing has deterred me from wanting to do this." The 31-year-old, who works with his family's oilfield supply company, Land and Marine Supply, is one of the youngest board members to ever serve in Lafayette Parish. "I think it benefits me," he says. "I bring a youth to the board that hasn't been there for a long time."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:49 AM

Score tailgating touchdown with new handbook

With the Ragin' Cajuns getting ready to kick-off their season, it's time for a few test runs of rusty tailgating technique. Before the first attempt though, pick up the playbook that highlights the gear, the food and the stadiums tailgaters are likely to encounter this fall. Advance copies of the FOX Sports Tailgating Handbook by Stephen Linn will be available at Barnes and Noble on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 6 p.m. Contributing Cajun Fried Turkey and Crawfish Etouffee recipes to the book, Lafayette chef Pat Mould will be at Barnes and Noble signing books and demonstrating his cooking chops. Don't pass up the opportunity become a cooking champ to a cheering crowd of hungry food fans. The Tailgating Handbook retails for $16.95.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:20 AM

Corps of Engineers acknowledges piecemeal work in New Orleans

As Louisiana keeps a wary eye on Hurricane Dean's westward path, today's New York Times story on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' floodwall restoration work in New Orleans doesn't inspire much confidence in the Corps' efforts to protect the Crescent City:

Col. Jeffrey A. Bedey, commander of the corps' Hurricane Protection Office, acknowledged that the work so far has been piecemeal, because the scale of project is so enormous. The drive to provide protection against that 1-in-100 storm by 2011, Colonel Bedey said, is more thorough.

And so, he said, the analysis that many people will have to make is, "Am I really willing to take the risk between 2007 and 2011" that no big storm will overpower the work done so far?

That requires more than an analysis of risk; it requires a calculus of hope. And it is not a question that needs to be asked only in New Orleans. It is the same question that comes up when a steam pipe in New York City explodes or a bridge 1,200 miles up the Mississippi from New Orleans collapses. Getting infrastructure right is hard, and keeping it strong takes vigilance. And that means safety, uncomfortably, is a relative thing.

One of the people quoted in the story is engineer Matt McBride, who's led a crusade to hold the Corps accountable. McBride relentlessly catalogued Corps documents, projects and missteps in his "Fix the Pumps" blog, and recently made the decision to leave the city because he felt the Corps' work was unacceptable. But all of McBride's extensive work can still be viewed at his blog, and should be required reading for anyone interested in reviewing the Corps' work.

by: Scott Jordan 9:18 AM

Bishop who presided over pedophilia scandal dead at 93

Gerard Frey, the former bishop who presided over the Diocese of Lafayette's pedophilia scandal in the mid-1980s, died yesterday. He was 93.

The high-profile scandal involved former priest Gilbert Gauthe, who in 1985 at age 40 pleaded guilty to molesting altar boys and served 10 years in prison. Gauthe admitted under oath to sexually molesting 37 youngsters in hundreds of incidents while a priest in Broussard, New Iberia, Abbeville and Henry. He is believed to have had many more victims.

Deposed in the civil proceedings before the trial, Frey testified that he learned of the molestation at least a decade earlier but thought that counseling has resolved the problem.

Gauthe was again accused in 1997 of raping a 12-year-old Vermilion Parish girl, but his earlier plea bargain granted him immunity for crimes committed before the date of the plea agreement.

by: Leslie Turk 9:06 AM

Thursday, August 16, 2007

One school board member leaving, another staying put

Yesterday's school board meeting yielded two surprise announcements from board members. Russel Meyer, who just began serving his first term on the school board this year, announced he will be stepping down effective Nov. 1. Meyer is planning a move to Grand Junction, Colorado to take a new job with an oilfield supply company. Meyer, a former school principal who runs Romero's Grocery store in Ossun, says the job will be something entirely different for him and that yesterday was the first that many school system officials and board members heard of the news. "They were very surprised," Meyer says, "and like I told them afterward, I was surprised myself because this was something that just came out of the blue. It wasn't expected but sometimes it happens and I just couldn't pass this up." Prior to Meyer stepping down, the school board will appoint an interim replacement to serve until a special election can be held for Meyer's seat.

Following Meyer's announcement, board member Mike Hefner broke the news that he is dropping out of the race for the District 5 city-parish council seat and committing to filling out his current term on the school board, which ends in Dec. of 2010. Hefner, who is entering his final year of law school with Concord, a correspondence school out of California, says the rigors of learning a new office would stretch his time too thin. "I've got a lot of background with [the school board]," says Hefner, who is now in his 18th year on the board. "I can keep up and take care of problems that constituents have. The thing that was concerning me was you got seven out of nine possible new members on the council and it's going to be a lot of meetings and orientation and getting up to speed on issues. If I'm trying to do that in the middle of trying to prepare for the bar exam, I'm not going to do my constituents any favors. It's just going to take too much."

With Hefner out, the race for the District 5 city-parish council seat will now be between planning commissioner John Barras, landman Jared Bellard and Linda Duhon, owner of Acadian Food Mart in Scott.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:55 AM

Plans for birding tower hatched at Lake Martin

By next spring, viewing the courtship dance of the resident roseate spoonbill at Lake Martin will become even more close up and personal. The Nature Conservancy, which already owns 9,500 acres at the lake, has just acquired two additional acres at the entrance to Lake Martin. A triangular piece of property, right at the intersection of Cypress Island Road and Rookery Road is slated to become the Conservancy's Visitor Center. But even before the center breaks ground, a much needed boardwalk with a viewing tower will break water. Plans are to build a boardwalk loop near, but not in, the heron, egret and ibis rookery, with a tower designed to give visitors a tree-top view of nesting wading birds.

Cypress Island program manager Kacy Kobrin has already met with Breaux Bridge architect Eddie Cazayoux. She says the boardwalk is slated to be built this winter, when the wildlife population at the lake is dormant. Preliminary designs for the Acadian style visitors center and adjacent picnic pavilion which will offer much needed public rest rooms are already on the drawing board. The Nature Conservancy is a private organization which obtains high-priority natural places world wide and acts as stewards of the land, often in partnership with government, non-profits, local and indigenous peoples and corporations. Currently the Cypress Island program is fund-raising for the visitor center and boardwalk project, and welcomes local members to the organization. For more information call Kobrin at 337 356-1373, email her at [email protected], or check out the Conservancy's website.
photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:18 AM

Free legal seminar Saturday at Hotel Acadiana

Aiming to help local residents get answers to their legal questions, the Lafayette Parish Bar Association is launching a free community education initiative called "Advice, Attorneys, Answers!" The first AAA workshop is this Saturday, Aug. 18, from 8 a.m. till noon at the Best Western Hotel Acadiana on Pinhook Road. Topics include divorce, auto accidents, expungement, child custody and more.

For more information on Saturday's schedule, click on this pdf file.

by: Leslie Turk 10:03 AM

Made in the shade

Eight UL architecture students have spent the summer fabricating some shade for the Granberry Boys & Girls Club. The students constructed a 7,600-square-foot canopy to shade the club's basketball court from Louisiana's summer sun for the 100 kids who utilize the facility. The project's been dubbed "Shades of Blue."

The Building Institute, under the UL School of Architecture and Design, allows university students to take their design ideas and apply them in the real world. Director Geoff Gjertson says that with grants and the work of the students, professors and local architects like Mark Stielper of the MBSB Group, the $200,000 project was created at a cost of only $60,000. Shades of Blue will be unveiled today at 5 p.m. at the Granberry Boys & Girls Club at 121 S. Washington Street, two blocks off of Cameron Street.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:54 AM

Tauzin No. 6 on GQ's "50 Most Powerful in Washington" list

The lobbying power of former U.S. Representative, Democrat-turned-Republican and Charlie Melancon predecessor Billy Tauzin has earned him the No. 6 spot in GQ magazine's "The 50 Most Powerful People in Washington" list. Tauzin tied with AARP's Bill Novelli, AIPAC's Howard Kohr and the NRA's Wayne Lapierre. Chackbay native Tauzin is currently president and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and lobbies on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. Here's what GQ had to say about Tauzin, whose legacy is forever intertwined with his leadership role in the controversial Medicare Prescription Drug Bill:

In 2006, the four interest groups [Kohr, Novelli, Lapierre and Tauzin] command spoke for 40 million members and thirty-two drug companies, racked up $43 million in lobbying expenses, and threw their considerable weight around to keep a slew of unpopular laws on the books and uphold the status quo. … Thanks to the influence their groups wield that's both detectable (money given to campaigns) and subtle (the personal relationships built with committee members of both parties), don't expect any big changes to our Israel or prescription-drug policies in coming years.

by: Scott Jordan 8:51 AM

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dodging the debates

From Independent Weekly editor Scott Jordan's Leadoff column in our current issue:

Earlier this week at the Lafayette Hilton, Every Child Matters in Louisiana held a gubernatorial forum on children's health care issues. The two-hour forum boasted a number of major sponsors, and KLFY's Darla Montgomery moderated the event. Republican gubernatorial hopeful John Georges, Democratic candidates Walter Boasso and Foster Campbell, Independent Tony Gentile and Libertarian Lee T. Horne were all present to offer their vision for health care in Louisiana.

The forum was an opportunity for Republican frontrunner and U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal to highlight his extensive health care knowledge. In 1996, Jindal was appointed secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. Two years later, he was named executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. After serving in that capacity for two years, Jindal was appointed Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and became a senior health policy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Jindal, however, was conspicuously absent from the Every Child Matters forum, and his campaign waited until last week to inform organizers that Jindal would not be participating. His decision is particularly disappointing, considering the back story. …

Conventional political wisdom holds that frontrunners have the most to lose by debating, as they risk opening themselves up to opponents' barbs and unexpected questions. But if there were ever an election that warranted throwing away the script, it's this one.

Read the full column here.

by: admin 11:11 AM

Alley Broussard heading to Bama?

Lafayette native Alley Broussard disappointed many LSU fans when he announced last month that he would not be returning to the Tiger football team for his senior season. The former Acadiana High standout, who holds LSU's single game rushing record (250 yards vs. Ole Miss in 2005), stated that his heart was no longer in the game, and that he wanted to focus on getting his degree. The move had many speculating that Broussard was planning a transfer to a smaller school in order to have a better chance at a starting role, and a possible shot at the NFL. At LSU, Broussard struggled to recover from a torn ACL suffered in '05, and was used sparingly by coach Les Miles last season, facing stiff competition for playing time from a stable of up and coming Tiger running backs. The latest report on Broussard is that he may attempt to revive his football career with the Division II University of North Alabama Lions. According to the Florence, Ala. Times Daily, Broussard visited the Lions practice yesterday and is expected to make a decision on transferring this week. Under NCAA rules, he still has one season of eligibility remaining.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:09 AM

Abbeville's Shucks sold for $1.2 million

Known for its fresh seafood - especially its salty, raw oysters - 12-year-old Shucks in Abbeville is now under new ownership. The restaurant sold last week for $1.2 million.

Owners Jack Phares, his wife Diane Hebert Phares and Linda Hebert sold the restaurant Friday, Aug. 10, to locals David Bertrand and Bert Istre, who took over Saturday. Bertrand owns Meche's Donuts in Abbeville, and Istre manages Golden Corral Family Steakhouse. - Tonya LaCoste

by: admin 10:50 AM

Abbeville theater star of historic restoration plan

A group of preservationists has signed a purchase agreement to buy the historic Frank's Theater in downtown Abbeville. A recently formed civic organization, the Allumé Society (Friends of Historic Downtown Abbeville) was created to promote arts and culture in the Vermilion Parish town. Their first project is to restore the 1913 theater on Magdalene Square. Frank's Theater was the site of the Southern premiere of Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story. The February 1949 premiere included a gala parade and a huge crowd eager to see the movie filmed on Avery Island with a cast of locals. The theater remained open until 1983.

Vermilion Parish has been the location of a number of films. Glen Pitre's Belizaire The Cajun was shot there in 1986. Still talked about is a 1988 Hollywood remake of The Blob that was filmed in downtown Abbeville and included many residents as extras. Scorchers, a 1991 movie with Faye Dunaway and James Earl Jones, was shot in town, as was the comedy Jail Birds with Dyan Cannon.

"We're hoping to make the theater available for performing arts, classic movies and meetings," says Allumé Society treasurer Lloyd Dore. "The theater has 990 seats; restored, it will be the largest auditorium in the area." The society will have a public meeting tonight at the Vermilion Parish Library, 6 p.m. For information call 893-5400 or check out their website.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:41 AM

One of Jena Six appeals conviction

Seventeen-year-old Mychal Bell - the first of the Jena Six to be tried and convicted on charges of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy - is appealing his conviction. Bell has retained a team of defense attorneys from Monroe. His former attorney, Alexandria public defender Blane Williams, presented no evidence and called no witnesses at Bell's trial. One of Bell's new attorneys, Bob Noel tells The Town Talk they have filed an appeal to Bell's conviction and a motion to throw out his conviction in adult court.

Yesterday, Martin Luther King III visited the Antioch Baptist Church with Rev. Al Sharpton and vowed to continue to return to the small central Louisiana town until all of the charges are dropped against the Jena Six. Here's a video of some of King's remarks.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:29 AM

LHC Group's CFO resigns

After a year on the job, LHC Group's CFO, Barry Stewart, has resigned his $163,000 position effective today. He will act as a consultant for the local company for two years.

Stewart joined the Lafayette based health care provider in June of 2006 as CFO, executive vice president and treasurer. Prior to accepting the LHC Group post, he served as CFO of Rotech Healthcare, a provider of home respiratory care and durable medical equipment and services to patients with breathing disorders. Before that, he was CFO at Evolved Digital Systems, a health care technology solutions company.

Citing personal reasons, Stewart said in a press release that he and his wife have decided to relocate. He could not be reached for comment this morning.

Corporate Controller Pete Roman has been named acting CFO.

LHC Group provides post-acute health care services primarily in rural markets. Its common stock is traded on the Nasdaq market under the symbol LHCG.

by: Leslie Turk 8:56 AM

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

National Day of the Acadians tomorrow

The National Day of the Acadians is tomorrow, Wednesday, August 15. The commemorative celebration to honor the Nation of Acadian people primarily living in Louisiana and Maine, in the Canadian Acadian provinces, and France was chosen to fall on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in the Catholic Church. France was consecrated to the Virgin Mary during the reign of Louis XIII, the same period of the founding of Acadia.

Beginning at 10 a.m., the city of St. Martinville will throw open its doors, welcoming visitors and pilgrims to some of the most significant sites in the settlement of Louisiana by the Acadian deportees of Nova Scotia. All day long, speakers, films, restaurants, theatrical performances and a French Mass will pay homage to our Acadian roots. All museums will be open free of charge. At 11:30 a.m., at the Acadian Memorial, the maps of the Atchafalaya Trace, a Federal Heritage Area encompassing a 328-mile driving route circling the Atchafalaya Basin, will be unveiled. Long in the works, the trace will be marked with road signs and information about the culture, environment and history of the basin. Significantly, the Atchafalaya Trace begins at the doors of the Acadian Memorial. The new brochures will be available there. For more information, call the Acadian Memorial at 394-2258, or check their website for a complete schedule of tomorrow's events.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:47 AM

Mall of Acadiana launches unique Internet service

The Mall of Acadiana has taken the guesswork out of Internet shopping by offering shoppers the opportunity to search items available at mall before heading out the door. This new tool eliminates the main drawback to shopping over the Internet — waiting for the item to arrive to know if it's right for you (and going through the pain of sending it back when it's not). This unique service is powered by California-based NearbyNow Inc., the first company of its kind to provide Internet and mobile search technology for shopping centers and retailers to drive in-store foot traffic.

Now, Acadiana shoppers can visit the mall's Web site to find more than 600,000 items and brands at its stores (sales, coupons and promotions, too). When you find the product you want, you can reserve it, prompting the store to hold it until you arrive. Also, when you're at the mall, you can send a text message — text the letters "TA" to "NEARBY" (632729) — to receive instructions on how to find stores selling a specific product.

by: Leslie Turk 10:37 AM

Blanco still keen on selling tobacco settlement

Even though the Legislature voted down Gov. Kathleen Blanco's plan to sell off the remaining portion of a tobacco settlement it won for one lump payoff – it's currently channeled into the state through scheduled payments – the administration is poised to bring the topic back up at any moment. In that case, Blanco would need to send out a mail ballot to legislators.

Jim Baronet, a spokesperson for the Division of Administration, says there is no deadline in particular, but staffers are monitoring the bond markets. "We still have plans to do it," he says, "we just don't know when. It's a simple matter of monitoring the markets and making a decision that's appropriate."

Largely opposed by Republicans and fiscal conservatives, the settlement sale would possibly generate billions – the tally is a moving target, sometimes ranging upwards to $3 billion – for education, health care and coastal restoration. Opponents argued during the recent regular session that the timing was poor and Louisiana stood to lose money due to market conditions. - Jeremy Alford

by: admin 10:23 AM

GO Zone benefits Tuscaloosa

GO Zone tax breaks intended to help rebuild the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita are being used to build luxury condos for University of Alabama football fans in Tuscaloosa. The city is 200 miles north of the Gulf. The Associated Press reports:

About 10 condominium projects are going up in and around Tuscaloosa, and builders are asking up to $1 million for units with granite countertops, king-size bathtubs and 'Bama decor, including crimson couches and Bear Bryant wall art. ...

"The GO Zone extends so damn far, but the people who need it the most can't take advantage of it," said John Harral, a lawyer in hard-hit Gulfport, Miss.

"It is a joke," said Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate, who has nevertheless used GO Zone tax breaks on projects that include a new hotel and a restaurant. "It was supposed to be about getting people ... to put housing in New Orleans, Louisiana, or Biloxi, Mississippi. It was not about condos in Tuscaloosa." ...

On the storm-raked shores of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, Chad Mayo, a pawn shop operator whose business was flooded by Katrina, asked: "The GO Zone? What's that? We're in the dead zone."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:05 AM

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sharpton to return to Jena with MLK III

Last Sunday in Jena, when Rev. Al Sharpton spoke to the Trout Creek Baptist Church in support of the Jena Six, he told the congregation, "We're going to have a revolving door through here until y'all get this straight." The Town Talk reports that he will return to Jena tomorrow accompanied by Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., to preach at Antioch Baptist Church.

Here's a clip of Sharpton's last visit to Jena:

The Town Talk has also posted an edited video of Sharpton at the pulpit, as well as a longer 16-minute version.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:47 AM

Candidates focus on children

A gubernatorial candidate forum starts today at 1 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel, hosted by Every Child Matters. The forum will give Louisiana families an opportunity to ask Louisiana's candidates for governor about their positions on the needs and issues facing Louisiana's children. Candidates who will attend include Walter Boasso, Rev. Raymond Brown, Foster Campbell, Anthony "Tony G" Gentile, John Georges and T. Lee Horne III. U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal was invited but will not participate. The forum is free and open to the public.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:44 AM

Tell it like it is

With the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina looming on Aug. 29, news media from across the country is drawing a bullseye on New Orleans, reporting everything from the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers to adequately protect the city to the fabulous locally-focused cooking going on in newly opened restaurants all over town. The Times-Picayune's Sunday editorial is addressed to all the news media who "parachute into town ahead of the storm's second anniversary," noting "it's important they avoid common misconceptions that are hurting our recovery."

The T-P in particular seems to be responding to Time's Aug. 13 cover story, "Special Report: Why New Orleans Still Isn't Safe," by listing what they see as three troubling "myths" about the city that are being perpetuated in the media.

Myth 1: New Orleans is not protected from flooding and--worse--it can't be protected.
Myth 2: New Orleanians are foolish to rebuild in areas flooded by Katrina.
Myth 3: The city is still a mess.

The T-P's response is that New Orleans' flood protection is already better than pre-Katrina, that people are rebuilding smartly and that 80 percent of the metro area's 1.3 million residents have returned. Get it right, tell the full story, the paper implores.

New Orleans is far from normal and...we have a formidable task ahead. Residents here know that well. But they deserve that the nation gets the full story as well. One that highlights our challenges as well as our progress.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:06 AM

Stirling Properties' north Lafayette center filling up

Stirling Properties, the development company that successfully negotiated Lafayette Parish's first tax increment financing district along Interstate 10 and Louisiana Avenue, has a host of new tenants for the Target/JCPenney-anchored center. The 450,000-square-foot Stirling Lafayette Shopping Center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2008, has lined up national retailers that will offer discount, entertainment, and lifestyle components. Among those confirmed are Rack Room Shoes, Ross Dress for Less, Office Depot, Petco, Lane Bryant, Cacique, Hibbett Sports and Dagwood Subs.

Last year, the Lafayette City-Parish Council approved a 1 cent sales tax to create a TIF district for the new Target development. The State Bond Commission then approved the TIF bonding in October, the last regulatory hurdle in the lengthy approval process for the north Lafayette center. The 1 cent sales tax will be levied only in the district, and the state will match the TIF tax with 1 percent of the 4 percent tax it collects on retail sales in the district. In addition to $8 million in TIF bonds, which will be paid off by these local and state sales taxes, the project also was approved for use of $40 million in Go Zone bonds, the private portion of the financing guaranteed by the developers.

No sales tax is currently being collected in that TIF district because it has no retail stores.

Funding from the TIF district will pay for public infrastructure like access and service roads, traffic signals, water, electricity and sewer service to the site.

Stirling officials say small shops on outparcel pads are available from 1,200-3,200 square feet while in line space available ranges from 4,000 to 30,000 square feet.

by: Leslie Turk 9:31 AM

Lafayette Parish School System's 2007-2008 school year kicks off

The summer days of weekday water-park outings, a Wednesday afternoon Ratatouille matinee and sleeping a bit later in the mornings are over. Today's the first day of school for the Lafayette Parish School System, and the 2007-2008 school year is officially underway. Best wishes to all Acadiana parents, students, teachers and administrators for a successful school year as we prepare our children for the future. With hard work and dedication, we trust that our kids won't find themselves getting called into Dean Wormer's office later in life:

by: Scott Jordan 9:27 AM

Friday, August 10, 2007

Starry night on Sunday

Make a date with the stars Sunday night. Shooting stars that is. The annual Perseid meteor shower will be at its height early Sunday morning, August 12, late Sunday night through Monday morning before dawn. Luckily this year, the moon will be new on Sunday, leaving the skies dark for the fiery display.

Meteor showers are the cosmic dust shed by meteors as they streak through the heavens. When the grains of stone and metal called meteoroids hit earth's atmosphere, they light up, arcing across the night sky. While the Perseid shower originates from the Swift-Tuttle comet, identified in 1862, the shower has been seen since ancient times, and is named for the constellation Perseus, the Greek hero, which ancient astronomers thought was the source of the shower.

The best place to watch the show is in the country, away from city lights. Take a sleeping bag and some bug spray and make a night of it. The shower, at its height, should blaze with streaks of light every sixty seconds, so even if you blink, or nod off, you won't miss this show.

by: Mary Tutwiler 9:29 AM

FEMA buying back toxic trailers

Not only is FEMA halting the sale of travel trailers to disaster victims due to concerns they pose a health risk, but it is now also agreeing to buy back the vehicles, according to an MSNBC story this week. The news source reports that FEMA Administrator David Paulison wrote in a recent memo that the directive applies only to recreational-style vehicles, such as trailers and larger park homes, which are designed for short-term housing, and not to mobile homes, which are regulated and tested by HUD.

Finally addressing the issue of toxic formaldehyde in the trailers, Paulison also wrote that FEMA "will NOT continue to offer recreational vehicles as a temporary housing option in future disasters." He urged FEMA officials to "develop and implement an aggressive program" to move thousands of trailer and mobile home residents in Mississippi and Louisiana into rental apartments.

FEMA has not yet publicly announced the buy back (there is no mention of it on the agency's Web site). The trailers were sold at a rate of about 1,200 per week. Read more about FEMA's latest debacle in this week's cover story.

by: Leslie Turk 9:02 AM

Walking to New Orleans

When Bobby Charles wrote about walking to New Orleans, and Fats Domino sang about it, neither one of them was thinking about Ben Poor. But that's exactly what the 20-year-old Ball State University student did. Poor spent his summer walking from Indianapolis to the Crescent City to raise money and awareness for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Star Press of Munice, Indiana reports that Poor has made it to New Orleans.

"My body was really getting broken down there toward the end," he said. "With the humidity, and the sun beating down, I just felt like I wasn't going anywhere after a while."

The 820-mile trek took 45 days to complete, a week under what Poor had projected it would take him. He had hoped to raised $2,000 but secured $10,000 in donations for Emergency Communities, the nonprofit organization where he'll volunteer his time before returning to school.

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:22 AM

Treasurer Kennedy staying put - for now

After widespread speculation that he would challenge incumbent Charles Foti and run for attorney general, state Treasurer John Kennedy has decided to stay put and run for a third term as treasurer. "Many folks encouraged me to run for attorney general, but just as many wanted me to remain as state treasurer," Kennedy said yesterday in a statement. "In the end, it was a personal and family decision."

The announcement did little to quash ongoing speculation that Kennedy, a Democrat, might switch parties. Republican strategist Karl Rove courted Kennedy in a Louisiana visit earlier this year, and as recently as last week, Kennedy continued to publicly buck Gov. Blanco's efforts to sell the state's tobacco-settlement funds. One theory holds that if U.S. Rep Bobby Jindal wins the gubernatorial election, Kennedy would then switch parties and run for Jindal's open congressional seat.

by: Scott Jordan 8:03 AM

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Iberia Parish president's salary increased by $24,000

The Iberia Parish President's office is now a plum position. The Iberia Parish Council ratified an increase to the parish president's salary last night from $103,060 to $116,043 for the period of July 12 until August 23, when it will jump again up to $126,963. The 23 percent increase is mandated in Iberia's Home Rule Charter, which states that the parish president's salary be set at an average of the salaries of the sheriff, tax assessor and clerk of court. The legislature voted to give those elected officials raises this year. Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel makes $91,310 annually.

Former Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais' retirement, based on the highest figures he was paid over his last 36 months, will reflect the first increase. Langlinais resigned his office on July 25. Newly appointed interim Parish President Caesar Comeaux will benefit from the raises as well until he steps aside in January. Elections for Iberia Parish President will be held this fall. Qualifying is September 6, the election will be held October 20.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:31 AM

NOAA updates 2007 hurricane season forecast

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just released its latest update for the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season – and it maintains its May forecast of an above-normal season. NOAA scientists' latest predictions: 13 to 16 named storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes (Category 3 strength or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). One area of concern is signals pointing to a return of La Niña-like conditions, according to Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction center.

"The biggest wild card in the May outlook was whether or not La Niña would form, and if so, how strong it would be," says Bell. "Today's El Niño/La Niña forecast from the Climate Prediction Center indicates a slightly greater than 50 percent probability that La Niña will form during the peak of the hurricane season. But more importantly, we are already observing wind patterns similar to those created by La Niña across the tropical Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea that encourage tropical cyclone development. The conditions are ripe for an above-normal season."

by: Scott Jordan 10:18 AM

Airport Commission dismisses Fournet's escalating debt

On the recommendation of Airport Commissioner Don Bacque, who made his first appearance on the commission last night, Richard Fournet will walk away from his fixed base operation without paying the hundreds of thousands he owes for failing to maintain it. The commission voted against pursuing legal action because of the costs associated with it and Fournet's claims that he does not have the financial wherewithal to pay the money. Last night's vote reverses the commission's June decision to use the court system to recoup almost $700,000 it claims Fournet owes.

"It was like drawing blood out of a turnip," says Commissioner Brenda Burley, who voted against suing Fournet. Burley says she tried to get the commission to enforce the lease agreement with Paul Fournet Air Service a decade ago but could not get enough support. "I'm only one vote," she says. "This should have been done 10 years ago, the repairs, the maintenance, but no, people buckled to the Fournets."

Fournet's lease on 125,000 square feet of terminal, hangar and office space expires in December. His father, Paul Fournet, started the fixed base operation, which serves the general aviation population, at the airport more than 50 years ago. Today the facility is in deplorable condition; when Fournet leaves, a portion of it will be taken over by an out-of-state group, Million Air, which breaks ground on its new FBO Aug. 16.

Commissioner Paul Colomb supported the decision to forego the lawsuit, with Allen Dugas, Jim Nunn and Dr. Chuck Wyatt voting against it. The tie was broken by Chairman Carroll Robichaux.

Burley says it was apparent at the meeting that Bacque had thoroughly researched the issue and was able to make an informed decision. "The lawsuit could have been drug out in court for years," she says, noting the possibility that Fournet may have used the suit to stay in the facility beyond December. "[Don] spent a lot of time and consideration on this," she says.

by: Leslie Turk 9:57 AM

An improbable Hurricane Season

For the past three decades, Class 2A high school football in Louisiana has been dominated by one team: the John Curtis Christian High School Patriots. A family-run school in the small town of River Ridge in Jefferson Parish, John Curtis still has no campus stadium, maintains a no-cut policy where every kid gets a chance to play, and prides itself on running a predictable old-school, triple-option-based offense. It's been a formula for success for Coach J.T. Curtis, who has 21 state championships over his 33-year tenure, including in 2005 — a year that many of the team's players were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. That improbable championship is the subject of author Neal Thompson's new book, Hurricane Season. Thompson chronicles the Patriots and star player Joe McKnight, the No. 1 college football recruit in the nation last year. (McKnight devastated LSU fans by enrolling at USC this year.) Hurricane Season is now available at all local bookstores. -- Nathan Stubbs

by: admin 9:47 AM

Life after the hurricanes

A recent Louisiana Recovery Authority study indicates that Lafayette Parish may have gained 5,000 more residents as a result of the devastating 2005 hurricane season. The 24-page report surveyed 18 south Louisiana parishes and indicates that two-thirds of the Orleans Parish population now lives outside the surveyed parishes or the state and that East Baton Rouge Parish gained 19,000 new residents.

Another study conducted by LSU takes the pulse of residents still living in Louisiana's FEMA trailer parks. Eighty percent of those still living in FEMA trailer are making less than $15,000 a year. Seventy-one percent of the population was employed before the storms, compared to only 34 percent now. Now 44 percent are looking for work, while 66 percent of those not looking for work cite health limitations.

Over 500 south Louisiana residents living in FEMA campers have filed a class action lawsuit against the manufacturers for dangerous levels of formaldehyde. For more on FEMA's attempts to quell testing for exposure to the chemical, read this week's cover story in The Independent Weekly - "Running on Fumes."
(photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer)

by: R. Reese Fuller 8:32 AM

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

State Ethics Board searching for new administrator

Longtime Louisiana Board of Ethics administrator R. Gray Sexton's refusal to follow a new law that requires him to disclose clients and other business dealings and his subsequent resignation last month now has the board searching for a replacement. The board initially tried to keep Sexton by immediately voting to retain him in an advisory capacity.

House Bill 532, signed into law by Gov. Kathleen Blanco July 11, stipulates that the board's ethics administrator, a state Civil Service position, must focus his full time efforts on the agency job by August 2008 and also requires disclosure of private clients and business dealings within 30 days of the bill becoming law. The day after the signing, Sexton told the board that his resignation was "absolutely" the result of the new law, saying he wanted to keep his private business affairs confidential.

Lafayette attorney Hank Perret, chairman of the ethics board, said last month that Sexton's expertise was needed for the heavy workload during the upcoming elections, according to The Times-Picayune. Perret could not be reached for comment this morning.

However, Kenyetta Sewell of the State Department of Civil Service tells The Independent Weekly that the ethics board apparently changed its mind because her office, which would have to approve Sexton's new position, was never notified.

Depending on the new administrator's qualifications, the salary will be $67,000 to $140,000. The Louisiana Board of Ethics oversees state ethics and campaign finance laws. For more on the search and qualifications of candidates, click here.

by: Leslie Turk 10:53 AM

Boasso hits Jindal on Iraq

Gubernatorial candidate Walter Boasso believes that the low national support for both President Bush and the Iraq War is also a factor in Louisiana. In his latest campaign ad, the cardboard cutout of his opponent, Congressman Bobby Jindal, is back, this time alongside a cutout of President Bush. "Jindal has backed Bush on the Iraq war every step of the way," Boasso states in the ad, which began running last Friday across the state. "Louisiana deserves better," Boasso continues, "That's why I support bringing our troops home, especially our National Guard." Boasso spokesman Brian Welsh would not elaborate on Boasso's position, except to suggest that voters will be hearing a lot more on the issue in the near future. "Bobby Jindal's 100 percent total support for the President on the war," Welsh says, "along with his blind support for the President on a variety of issues is going to be a very significant issue in this race."

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:45 AM

Vermilionville touts Acadiana Culture Day

Vermilionville will fling open its gates Sunday August 12 for a free fête, Acadian Culture Day. The replica historic village invites guests to "two-step" back in time and experience the development of Louisiana's Cajun culture from 1765, when the earliest settlers arrived from Nova Scotia, to the present.

There will be bands morning and afternoon as well as Cajun dance lessons. Demonstrations will include building with bousillage, blacksmithing, dyeing fabric with native plants, palmetto weaving and pine-needle basket making. Louisiana Folk Roots is lending support for hands-on activities for kids such as making bamboo fishing poles to fish for sunfish and bream in Vermilionville's pond, rag-doll making, and old-timey jewelry stringing. For Francophones and those who would like to learn to converse in Cajun French, guests can take lessons in the morning, then practice their skills at a Table Française in the afternoon. Story teller Alan Simon will be on hand to discourse on traiteurs and tell stories. And of course there will be food. An authentic Cajun buffet of smothered steak, corn macquechoux, smothered okra, white beans and sausage, corn bread and peach cobbler fits the noon bill. For more information call Vermilionville at 233-4077.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:37 AM

Ernest Gaines and Barry Bonds

UL Lafayette writer-in-residence emeritus Ernest Gaines got part of his wish last night. Gaines recently wrote an open letter published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to legendary home-run record holder Hank Aaron, imploring Aaron to congratulate Barry Bonds and welcome him with open arms if Bonds broke Aaron's record. Bonds finally hit home run No. 756 last night, and here's part of The New York Times' report on the event:

Aaron, who had distanced himself from Bonds's pursuit, offered a congratulatory message in a videotape that he recorded about a month ago and that was played on the scoreboard. The message received a huge ovation, too, because, in some ways, Aaron's blessing of Bonds's performance sanctioned Bonds's achievement. Aaron said Bonds's accomplishment required "skill, longevity and determination," and said that he was privileged to hold the record for 33 years.

"I move over and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement," Aaron said. "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams."

Independent Weekly Editor Scott Jordan, a huge fan of Gaines' work, disagrees with the premise and much of the logic Gaines used in his letter to Aaron, and requested to interview Gaines in the hopes of some healthy dialogue regarding Bonds and race relations. To his regret, Gaines declined. Read Jordan's column "The Author and the Slugger."

by: admin 10:18 AM

Grammy 101

Local musicians interested learning more about the recently created Cajun and zydeco category for the Grammy Awards can attend "Grammy Awards 101" this evening at Vermilionville. Starting at 6:30 p.m., The Recording Academy hosts the informational presentation geared for music professionals - including musicians, songwriters, producers and recording engineers. Discussion will center on membership and the voting process for the Grammy Awards, as well as the organization's local efforts. For more information and to make reservations, e-mail [email protected] or call (901) 525-1340.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:33 AM

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Durel touts Blueprint to state mayors

Last Friday, Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel used his platform as incoming president of the Louisiana Conference of Mayors to promote Blueprint Louisiana, a new political advocacy group comprised of some of the state's most prominent business leaders. Durel has previously told the Independent he believes the group to be an important bellwether for change in the state. Blueprint also has its roots in Lafayette with founding directors Clay Allen, Bill Fenstermaker and Matt Stuller, all of whom have been key supporters of Durel. At LCM's annual conference, Durel encouraged other mayors to sign up for Blueprint as well as make a contribution to the organization. He recently became the first Louisiana mayor to contribute financially to Blueprint, giving $5,000 to the group from his campaign fund. Blueprint has released a five-point plan for state legislative reforms it plans to promote over the next two years. The organization will be involved in both lobbying efforts in the state Capitol and in state elections, where they will be promoting candidates who have signed on to their platform.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:07 AM

Downtown's FNB Towers now Chase Towers

More than three decades of downtown history was wiped away a couple of weeks ago, when the "FNB" on FNB Towers was replaced with "Chase." Chase, whose predecessor was First National Bank, which later merged with First Commerce Corp. and then Bank One, is one of the Jefferson Street building's main tenants. In January 2004, J.P. Morgan Chase announced its plans to buy Bank One in a deal valued at $58 billion.

Constructed in 1975 to house the Moody family's First National Bank, the downtown office building's top floor also at one time was home to the City Club, which moved to River Ranch in 2002.

Ted Menard, who manages the building, told The Independent Weekly in mid-2004 that there were no plans to change the building's name, despite that a new First National Bank (formerly FirstBank of Crowley) had begun operating in Lafayette's River Ranch and two of the nation's biggest banks, Chase and FNB Towers tenant Bank One, were in the midst of a merger.

"Some years ago, they were not open to that idea," says Barry Berthelot, president of Chase's Acadiana market. In Chase's recent lease renewal, however, Berthelot says the family changed its mind and agreed to negotiate a price for the name change. In addition to the small signage that's already been replaced, Berthelot says a large Chase sign will be added as part of an exterior facelift that's expected to take about six months. The building's interior has already been renovated.

by: Leslie Turk 11:04 AM

August is for locals in New Orleans

Times Picayune travel editor Millie Ball features the pleasures of the Big Easy as the lead story in the TP's travel section this week. August is a slow month for tourism in the steamy city, so many hotels, restaurants, bed and breakfast inns, museums, clubs, and attractions offer specials this time of year. That's a great reason to take a stay-at-home vacation this summer and support Louisiana's economy at the same time. What caught my attention is the cornucopia of restaurants participating in the COOLinary Summer in New Orleans promotion through September. "A three-course set lunch costs $20.70 and a three-course dinner is $30.07. Or less," says Ball.

Participants include 7 on Fulton, Antoine's, Arnaud's, Attiki Bar and Grill, Bacco, Begue's, Bombay Club, Bourbon House Seafood, Brennan's, Broussard's, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Cafe Adelaide, Cafe Degas, Embers (the Original Bourbon House) and Emeril's Delmonico's.

Also the flagship Emeril's, Galatoire's, Gumbo Shop, La Cote Brasserie, Mr. B's, Mulate's Cajun Restaurant, NOLA (an Emeril restaurant), Olivier's Creole, Palace Cafe, Pascal's Manale, Pat O's Courtyard, Ralph's on the Park, Red Fish Grill, Rib Room (Omni Royal Orleans), Table One Brasserie, the Pelican Club and Tujagues's.

But eating isn't everything, Ball has catalogued every adventure from saltwater fishing expeditions at Woodlands Plantation in Point à la Hache to sipping wine at Pontchartrain Vineyards in the Covington. There's clearly something for every appetite. It's a good way to fall in love with Louisiana all over again.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:40 AM

Kennedy: Blocking tobacco settlement sale the right move

It appears the Louisiana Legislature made the right decision when it stalled the administration's efforts during the recent regular session to sell the state's remaining tobacco settlement.

According to Treasurer John Kennedy, who led a high-profile opposition campaign against the move, the state would have lost an estimated $240 million in bond proceeds if Gov. Kathleen Blanco's financing plan was approved in June. "It's a good thing the Legislature didn't approve these transactions, especially because the municipal bond market for tobacco bonds continues to deteriorate," he says.

Kennedy has heard rumblings, however, that the proposal isn't dead. "There's now talk that the administration could bring a tobacco proposal up for a legislative vote by mail ballot in the near future," he says.

Blanco wanted to sell off the state's remaining payments from a 1998 tobacco settlement for a lower lump sum that could be pumped into education, health care and coastal restoration. – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 10:10 AM

Katrina's musical effect

A Sunday New York Times feature takes a look at the state of New Orleans' music scene. Focusing on the work of The Tipitina's Foundation, the article also mentions Habitat for Humanity's musicians village, The New Orleans Musicians Clinic, The New Orleans Musician's Relief Fund, Renew Our Music, and MusiCares.

But it remains to be seen how long a loose-knit band of charities can stand in for coordinated economic development in one of New Orleans's most important business sectors. Although New Orleans is one of the country's most culturally distinct cities, a large-scale recording industry never took root here, even before Katrina. Yet the informal music sector, the kind visitors find in clubs and bars, and large-scale musical events like Jazz Fest, is a mainstay of the city's tourism business.

In fact, local authorities say, music and cuisine are the twin pillars of the tourism industry here; the leisure and hospitality businesses account for almost 63,000 jobs in the city and for about 35 percent of the sales taxes. Both of those figures are larger than those of any other business sector, including the energy industry. ...

New Orleans acts like George Porter Jr., Papa Grows Funk, Big Sam's Funky Nation, Theresa Andersson and Galactic have landed more gigs recently in Lafayette, at clubs like 307 Downtown and Grant Street Dancehall.

It's an article of faith among New Orleanians that the music scene is an indelible part of the city's appeal. But the city and state historically haven't recognized the role that musicians and other creative workers play in driving tourism and improving the quality of life, advocates say. As a result, they say, the city and state have underinvested in the cultural sector of the economy.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:32 AM

Monday, August 06, 2007

Freetown receives $200,000 donation

Capstone Development Corporation has set up a $200,000 neighborhood improvement fund for Freetown, the historic Lafayette community between Johnston Street and Pinhook Road near downtown. The donation came as part of a deal with the city-parish council last year for the company to win approval to build two large student apartment complexes, which neighborhood residents opposed. The $200,000 fund will be administered by the Freetown District Commission, a three-man committee of two Freetown residents and one Capstone rep.

The commission is holding a public meeting tonight at 5:30 at the Jefferson Street Market to begin discussing possible uses for the funds. Commission member Istvan Berkeley says the committee already plans to use approximately $28,000 to commission a UL graduate history student to research and document Freetown's history. The neighborhood was settled by free men of color in the 1840s, and was the site of several legendary standoffs with the Ku Klux Klan and the Riders of the White Camellia. Freetown was also home to one of the city's first annual street fairs, as well as Good Hope Hall, which hosted jazz greats like Louis Armstrong. Berkeley says having an official history should make Freetown eligible for grant funds which can go toward further neighborhood improvements. Other ideas in the works include a possible Freetown museum and park.

by: Nathan Stubbs 11:11 AM

Vita Shaw bridge gets reprieve

The historic 1940 Vita Shaw one-lane steel swing bridge in Loreauville, slated to be replaced with a concrete bridge this summer, has been given a reprieve. Community support in Iberia Parish to designate the bridge with historic landmark protections has found an ally in the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. A directive from the preservation agency to the Louisiana Division of the Federal Highway Administration has put the replacement on hold until a decision about eligibility for historic status has been made. "This all goes back to a study that was done in 1999 that was ignored by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development," says Friends of Vita Shaw president Chris Burton. "DOTD paid for a report by an independent consulting firm hired to catalogue steel swing bridges in state. The report said the bridge was eligible to be put on the National Register because of its history and engineering qualities. It's considered a rare example of a rim-bearing high steel swing-span bridge in Louisiana."

Those who want the bridge replaced say they fear that the one-lane structure isn't safe, a concern amplified by the collapse of the Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis last week. "That's not comparing apples to apples," says Burton. "If you go out there the bridge is fine, the structure is sound. It's not about to fall into the water." For the time being, the question of safety is moot. New approaches to the Vita Shaw bridge were engineered by the parish this year, and have malfunctioned, leaving the bridge stuck in the open position. "So nobody's at risk until this thing gets settled," Burton says.

by: Mary Tutwiler 11:11 AM

Got blood?

The 8th annual KXKC and United Blood Services Tour de Life blood drive is under way to increase the blood supply at UBS, which serves 60 south Louisiana hospitals. The drive kicks off today, Aug. 6, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 11. UBS officials say donations across Acadiana have dipped this summer, so participation is critical to keep up with the growing need for blood at area hospitals. For this week's Tour de Life locations and times, click here.

Also, anyone who donates blood through September will be eligible to win a 2007 Pontiac G6 from Courtesy Motors. Twenty finalists will receive a key on Tuesday, Oct. 20, one of which will start the car.

The UBS donor center is located at 1503 Bertrand Drive. Call 235-5433 for hours of operation or to hold a blood drive at your place of business.

by: Leslie Turk 10:09 AM

Sharpton supports Jena Six

Rev. Al Sharpton visited Jena on Sunday in support of the Jena Six. Before a crowd of 300 at a morning service at Trout Creek Baptist Church, Sharpton denounced the criminal charges against the six black teenagers. The Associated Press reports that Sharpton told the congregation: "You can't have black justice and white justice."

"You cannot have two levels of justice," he said. "Some boys assault people and are charged with nothing. Some boys hang nooses and finish the school year. And some boys are charged with attempted murder."

Sharpton indicated that other national civil rights leaders intend to visit Jena as well, including Martin Luther King III, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and members of the Black Congressional Caucus.

See also The Town Talk's "Jena residents have mixed reaction to Sharpton's visit."

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:07 AM

Wildlife and Fisheries secretary running for Senate

When Scott Hammett took the job of secretary of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Gov. Blanco's administration last year, conservationists were quick to praise Hammett's qualifications. "He is a huge sportsman, and that is going to carry him far in this job," Jeff Angers, chairman of the Louisiana chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, told The Independent. "Bryant lives and breathes the outdoors, and you better believe he's always going to do what is right."

After serving 15 years in the Louisiana House of Representatives, including seven years as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Hammett was term-limited from running for re-election. He stepped down last July to become the infrastructure manager for the governor's Disaster Recovery Unit before Blanco offered him the Wildlife and Fisheries post. Now Hammett's out to fry bigger fish, and has declared his candidacy for Senate District 32. Hammett's lone declared opponent currently is Republican Neil Reiser.

by: Scott Jordan 10:06 AM

Friday, August 03, 2007

Page Cortez launches campaign for state rep.

Page Cortez kicked off his campaign for District 43 state Rep. yesterday amidst a packed house at Ema's Restaurant on Pinhook Road. The 46-year-old Republican and co-owner of Stoma's Furniture and Interiors and La-Z-Boy Furniture is making his first bid for public office. On hand to offer their support were a slew of local officials, including Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret, parish tax assessor Conrad Comeaux, Broussard Mayor Charlie Langlinais, city-parish councilman Marc Mouton, as well as state Rep. Joel Robideaux and state Sen. Mike Michot, who introduced Cortez. Cortez pledged to continue the "pro-business, pro-family leadership" the southside district has had under current state Rep. Ernie Alexander, who recently decided not to seek a third term. Cortez will be facing off against local architect Pat Leblanc, a friend and key supporter of Alexander's over the years, in the October election for the open seat. Leblanc says he will officially announce his candidacy in the coming weeks.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:41 AM

Is your company one of Acadiana's best?

So you don't get free meals at one of 11 onsite cafeterias; swim laps, work out in the gym, play beach volleball without ever leaving the office; or access free medical and health care from a doctor in your building (Google employees do), but surely your company — or one you know — goes the extra mile for its employees. With the debut of Acadiana Business on Aug. 22, The Independent Weekly will feature some of Acadiana's top employers in a special "Best Companies to Work For" issue. While we've been working on the list for some time now, we don't want to miss anyone — and that's where you come in. If you think a company should be considered for the list, e-mail or fax us a short nomination (no more than three or four paragraphs please; we'll do the followup), including the location of the company, a contact person, e-mail address and phone number if you have it. Send your nominations to Senior Editor Leslie Turk at [email protected] or fax to 337-983-0150. But you'll have to act quickly, as we'll be finalizing the list next week.

Companies of any size are eligible but must be headquartered in Acadiana, including Lafayette, Iberia, Vermilion, St. Martin, St. Landry and Acadia parishes.

by: Leslie Turk 10:05 AM

A sales tax holiday

Today and tomorrow are holidays - at least from paying state sales tax. Signed into law this year, the first Friday and Saturday of August will be days free from the state sales tax (now set at 4 percent) on most items up to $2,500, but excludes a break on car purchases and restaurant meals.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:39 AM

Attorney General documents: release or destroy?

If you were hoping to see the same public documents that a few Louisiana media outlets got hold of last week in the ongoing Memorial Hospital case, don't hold your breath. The Attorney General's Office is no longer releasing those papers, whether you file a public information request or not, according to department spokesperson Kris Wartelle. "We've been advised not to release those documents until we find out what happens at the next hearing," she says.

A special grand jury recently refused to indict Dr. Anna Pou on July 24 for a set of reported deaths at the New Orleans hospital during the early, desperate hours following Hurricane Katrina. The following day, after several media outlets, including WAFB in Baton Rouge, were provided with files related to case, Attorney General Charles Foti also asked a state judge to unseal all of the documents pertaining to Pou.

Wartelle says the defense countered by requesting that some of the records be destroyed. "What don't they want us to see?" she asks.

A hearing scheduled for Aug. 6 will determine what happens, she adds. Until then, options are limited. "You can always get a good lawyer and take it to court," Wartelle says. – Jeremy Alford

by: admin 9:33 AM

End of an era, Langlinais sentenced

"The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones."

It was clear from the onset that Judge Conery, opening the sentencing hearing of Will Langlinais with a quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, was looking not only at the laundry list of crimes the Iberia Parish president had pled guilty to, but also at his 30-year legacy of public service. A sheaf of 128 letters from family, friends, political allies and the community, outlining Langlinais' drive to help the people of Iberia Parish, begged for leniency. Two Iberia Parish council members took the stand to counteract the outpouring. Finance committee chairman Bernard Broussard and councilman Ray Fremin, citing clandestine illegal contracts, obstruction of releasing parish budgetary and financial documents, and a nearly $300,000 campaign war chest obtained in part by sending parish employees out to solicit funds on public time were the cornerstones of their testimony.

After three hours of emotional speeches, Conery sentenced Langlinais to the most extreme penalty, five years in prison at hard labor, but suspended the sentence to five years of supervised probation. He also set several special conditions. Langlinias had to report to Iberia Parish Sheriff Sid Hebert immediately to be booked, and will serve 480 hours of community service as dictated by the sheriff. He must spend the first six months of his sentence under house arrest wearing an electronic bracelet, and can only leave to visit family or go to church. He is forbidden to use his campaign monies to fund any political activity, and under CPA supervision must either give it to charity or return the funds to contributors. Langlinais has already resigned as parish president, agreed to pay $100,000 restitution, and as a convicted felon lost his right to vote and run for office. The 61 year old will keep his state retirement, approximately $100,000 a year, as well as tax-payer funded health benefits.

Citing Langlinais' remorseful attitude and willingness to plead guilty and end 16 months of political and personal turmoil in Iberia Parish, Conery closed the hearing with a benediction for Langlinais. "He is a man of compassion, a man who does not know how to say no."

by: Mary Tutwiler 8:24 AM

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Lafayette, New Orleans law firms merge

The New Orleans-based law firm of Leake & Andersson has merged with the Lafayette firm of Roy, Bivins, Judice, Roberts & Wartelle. Four of the attorneys from the local practice — Harmon Roy (who has practiced law for five decades), John Bivins, Philip Roberts and Pat Wartelle — are now practicing as Leake & Andersson, with Ronnie Judice opting to go into private practice. Wartelle says the firm and Judice will continue to work together on projects that require his commercial real estate expertise. He notes that the merger better positions Leake & Andersson to provide legal services statewide. Leake & Andersson is a litigation and general business practice law firm representing a broad range of individual, business, corporate, and insurance clients. It also acts as counsel for clients involved in class action and mass tort cases.

by: Leslie Turk 10:53 AM

Gannett's capital bureau chief to retire

After covering Louisiana politics in Baton Rouge for the last 34 years, Gannett's capital bureau chief John Hill will retire on Aug. 17. Hill began his career at the Monroe News-Star in 1969, when the Ewing family owned the paper, along with the Shreveport Times. On Halloween in 1973, Hill went to Baton Rouge to cover the capital for the two papers. In 1979, Gannett purchased both papers, and he became an employee of Gannett News Service and a contributor to USA Today in 1982.

Reached by phone at his second home in New Orleans, Hill says a replacement has not been named to fill his position. "There will be no replacement," he says. "Mike Hasten will be the single correspondent."

Just two months away from Louisiana's next gubernatorial election, Hill says he has wanted to retire since December, but just recently came of age to retire and managed to work out a retirement buyout with Gannett. "And the idea of avoiding having to cover an election campaign is really delicious," he adds.

by: R. Reese Fuller 10:46 AM

White House threatens WRDA veto

President Bush is threatening a veto of the long delayed Water Resources Development Act, the omnibus appropriations bill for major flood control and water management projects. Typically passed every two years, the last time a WRDA bill was approved was in 2000. The current $20 billion bill, overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress, contains $3.5 billion for coastal Louisiana. This includes funding for New Orleans flood protection, a 72-mile system of levees and floodwalls for Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, and up to $1.9 billion for coastal restoration. Addressing lawmakers on Wednesday, White House budget officials said the price tag is too high and that the president will veto the bill if it is not pared down. Bush's budget director Rob Portman stated that "it seems a $14 billion Senate bill went into a conference with the House's $15 bill and somehow emerged costing approximately $20 billion."Louisiana lawmakers expressed shock and disappointment over the veto threat. Gov. Kathleen Blanco issued a statement this morning, stating, "I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment expressed by Senator David Vitter regarding this veto threat. Louisiana has waited seven years for these projects critical to our fight to restore and protect Louisiana's coast. With many coastal residents still rebuilding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita - still vulnerable to future storms, I fail to understand how President Bush can choose to abandon their protection."

Vitter, who has been at the forefront of the WRDA negotiations and is often a Republican ally of President Bush, told the Times-Picayune that he was "stunned" by the president's actions and would "work enthusiastically" to override a veto. "I'm afraid the promise the president made to the nation in Jackson Square comes across as hollow today," he said.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:22 AM

Small businesses still overlooked in Gulf Coast rebuilding contracts

After conducting an analysis of contracts in the Gulf Coast rebuilding effort, the House Small Business Committee has found that the federal government continues to bypass small businesses in favor of large corporations. Despite a pledge to revamp the process to ensure small businesses get a fair share of rebuilding contracts, big business -- including companies that had already secured large contracts -- still controls the lion's share of contracts. MSNBC reports:

The committee's review found that small businesses in Louisiana had an overall net loss of $8.9 million in contracting dollars since April, when the agencies reaffirmed their commitment to give smaller companies a share of the work. The loss was due in part to a decision at the Homeland Security Department to modify several existing agreements instead of awarding significant new contracts.

In addition, the review found the five agencies — Homeland Security, General Services Administration, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Small Business Administration — had claimed falsely that 259 contracts were awarded to small businesses when in fact they went to large companies or ineligible recipients. That created the false impression that more than $95 million in contracts was awarded to small companies, when they actually went elsewhere.

by: Scott Jordan 10:07 AM

Unusual timing in latest Iberia Parish ethics questions

Revelations continue to erupt as the old-time political machine that is Iberia Parish government shifts gears. The latest scandal involves new interim Parish President Caesar Comeaux, appointed to replace 15 year office-holder Will Langlinais, who pled to one count of malfeasance in office and resigned his position last week. Comeaux is slated to appear in front of the state Ethics Board in November for alleged nepotism violations because his daughter-in-law worked for parish government from 2003-2006. The story broke on Tuesday, one day after Comeaux was unanimously ratified by the council to serve until January, when the winner of the fall election for parish president will be sworn in. Comeaux, his son Troy and daughter-in-law Vanessa have remained largely silent due to the confidentiality order which deems defending themselves in public a criminal misdemeanor until their case is heard. But others in Iberia Parish government who pressed for the investigation into Langlinais aren't constrained to comment on the timing of the media notification about Comeaux's ethics questions.

"Without a doubt it was a targeted release," says councilman Ray Fremin. "Now who pulled the trigger?" he asks, rolling his eyes at the ceiling. Two weeks ago, councilman Joe Boudoin was busted by State Police for running a gambling operation at his house. Boudoin has also been the target of an ethics board investigation for his daughter-in-law's employment by Iberia Parish Government.

At an April council meeting, Langlinais delivered an impassioned three-minute speech that ended in what some council members regarded as an attempt at intimidation. "There are some possible improprieties by some council members," Langlinais said that night, "that I feel I should have the opportunity to address."

"I'm sure this will not be the last thing," predicts council member Bernard Broussard.

by: Mary Tutwiler 8:04 AM

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dr. Charles Boustany Sr.'s sudden resignation

Less than four years after Dr. Charles Boustany Sr. was re-elected as Lafayette Parish coroner, an Independent Weekly investigation has uncovered serious questions about his competence and how the office is being run.

Dr. Collie Trant, a forensic pathologist who worked as a deputy coroner for the office for about 18 months, leaving his $130,000-a-year job in December, claims Boustany has not been in control of the office for some time due to health reasons. He says Boustany once told him he went to the gas station but had to ask for assistance because he could not remember how to work the pump. During the time Trant was with the office, the pathologist contends he had no more than a handful of conversations with the coroner, maintaining that Boustany rarely inquired about his work; when the coroner did have a question, Trant says he had to repeat himself several times.

The Independent Weekly began requesting an interview with Boustany last Wednesday, July 25, and called again Thursday and Friday to check the status of the request. Boustany's administrative assistant, Carolyn Bouillion, said she had given him the messages and also said that he and his family had not yet decided whether he would seek re-election.

The next day, Saturday, July 28, Boustany unexpectedly announced his retirement, effective tomorrow, Aug. 2.

Read the whole story from Senior Editor Leslie Turk – "Pulling Back the Sheet" - in this week's Independent.

by: admin 10:58 AM

Commentary: Corruption and Justice

In June 2005, The Independent Weekly published an investigative cover story ("Foggy Contract Breakdown") revealing that Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais had extended millions of dollars worth of parish contracts with Mosquito Control Contractors Inc. without the knowledge or approval of the Iberia Parish Council. That revelation ultimately led to the council demanding a legislative audit of all parish finances in 2006.

The findings of that investigation were released earlier this year, and they weren't pretty. Louisiana Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot's report found that Langlinais directed public funds to improve private property; was inappropriately reimbursed for meals already paid for with parish and state monies; entered into contracts in violation of the parish charter; used public funds for charitable donations and to pay for employee meals and social events; and pressured parish employees to solicit donations and work on his campaign fund-raising golf tournament during parish work hours.

Those charges were so disturbing and widespread that The Independent Weekly called on the Iberia Parish Council to impeach Langlinais and remove him from office ("Impeach Will Langlinais," March 14). Langlinais decried the audit and subsequent investigation by 16th Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney as nothing more than a political witch hunt and steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Read the whole editorial from this week's issue.

by: admin 10:48 AM

Cox adds Saints opener – for a price

Days before the NFL Network's exclusive broadcast of the preseason opener between the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cox Communications is adding the network to its digital cable offerings. The game won't be available live to basic cable or basic digital cable subscribers. To get the NFL network, channel 241, you will have to subscribe to the sports and information tier, which costs an additional $3 a month on top of the $25 a month fee for digital cable. However, Cox will include the game free of charge to all digital subscribers, accessible any time following the live broadcast, through its on-demand feature. Black and Gold nation can also rest assured that the rest of the Saints' preseason schedule will be more widely televised, with CBS picking up the Aug. 10 game vs. the Buffalo Bills and the remaining three games to be aired on Cox Sports Television, channel 37.

by: Nathan Stubbs 10:45 AM

La Fayette's 250th birthday anniversary sets sail

Lafayette, Louisiana isn't the only town ramping up for the Sept. 6 birthday of our namesake, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier-- the Marquis de La Fayette. The New York Times has a wonderful story today about the ship building town of Rochefort, on France's western coast. Located near the wine region of Bordeaux, the town has been hammering away at its historic past for a decade now, building a replica of the Hermione, La Fayette's fleet warship that launched from Rochefort and carried him to the aid of General Washington in 1780. Dreamed up at a dinner over the region's famous wines by town boosters, the exact replica of the 145-foot, 32-gun, three-masted frigate is being lovingly hand-crafted by chisel and handsaw out of massive oak timbers by a dozen carpenters who are learning their 18th century trade on the job. Once the Hermione is completed, about four years from now, she will once again launch from her cradle and ply the Atlantic with a French-American crew on her maiden voyage to Boston. For the moment, the work in progress is Rochefort's main tourist attraction and a source of pride to the town.

Here in Lafayette, La., plans for celebrating the 250th birthday of the marquis include an exhibit and Lafayette in History lectures at UL's Dupre Library on August 31, a Gala Birthday Party and the opening of the Marquis de La Fayette exhibit at the Natural History Museum on Sept. 6, a Commemorative Concert at the Heymann Center by the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 7, a Commemorative Mass at St. John Cathedral on Sept. 9, and more events through the end of the year. For a detailed schedule of events call the International Center of Lafayette at 291-5474 or check out their website.

by: Mary Tutwiler 10:17 AM

New Orleans' "perilous future"

In its latest edition, National Geographic Magazine takes another look at the Crescent City in "New Orleans: A Perilous Future." Much of the article covers familiar ground – a sinking city, the flood of 1927, faulty levees, and poor planning and funding from the Army Corps of Engineers. Then there's the issue of global warming:

Global warming is boosting sea-surface temperatures in hurricane alley - the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean - and warm seas are rocket fuel for stronger hurricanes. Before Katrina made landfall, it had exploded from a Category 3 storm to a Category 5 in 12 hours, partly because it stirred up a deep pocket of warm water in the Gulf. Only when it reached the Louisiana coast did the storm weaken again to a Category 3, sparing New Orleans an even greater catastrophe. If global warming produces stronger storms on top of the decadal cycle, 2005, with Katrina, Rita, and two other mega-hurricanes in the Atlantic, could be a stormy precursor of the coming century.

Despite increasing hurricane strengths and activity, a sinking city, and insufficient levees, Tulane geologist Torbjörn Törnqvist offers this reasoning for rebuilding New Orleans in the face of all of the obstacles:

"The situation here is a huge opportunity for the city and the nation," says Törnqvist, who says he can't imagine Holland turning its back on Amsterdam, or Italy giving up on Venice. "If we walk away, we'll miss a fantastic opportunity to learn things that will be useful in Miami, or Boston, or New York in 50 years." That kind of revival, however, would require a massive infusion of federal help, better engineering than ever before, and more social and urban planning than regulation-loathing Louisianans have ever stomached.

by: R. Reese Fuller 9:42 AM

Montesano sells Chateau apartments for $19.3 million

On July 25, controversial developer John Montesano sold his Chateau Des Lions apartment complex, located off Johnston Street across from the Mall of Acadiana, for $19.3 million. According to the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court's office, the buyer was Allan V. Rose of New York. On June 18, Rose formed AVR-Chateau Properties LLC, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State's records.

For more than four years, Montesano has been planning to develop a golf course community on the property, the first phase a patio home development called Chateau Mirage. The nearby 180-unit Chateau Des Lions apartment complex opened in 2002. He has said the project would include 331 golf course lots and 71 patio home lots.

by: Leslie Turk 9:17 AM