R. Reese Fuller

N.O. blogger sparks federal probe

by R. Reese Fuller

On Monday, federal investigators with the FBI and HUD seized documents from the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corp. The Times-Picayune reports:
The city nonprofit has been under intense scrutiny for the past several weeks, as news reports raised questions about whether its contractors billed taxpayers for work they didn't perform on blighted New Orleans homes. The remediation program, aimed at the poor and elderly, was touted as a salve to sagging neighborhoods by Mayor Ray Nagin in his 2007 budget address.

But some of the homes listed on NOAH work sheets were in fact gutted by volunteer groups, records show. Meanwhile, more than 100 of the 870 properties that the agency's contractors claim to have remediated have since been torn down. Neighbors have said that some of the demolished homes were not cleaned up at all before they were razed, though taxpayers were billed for the service.
WWL-TV reports that "a handful of contractors who did work with the city’s home remediation program run by New Orleans Affordable Homeownership have received subpoenas."

But a feature today in The New York Times focuses on how blogger Karen Gadbois and her Squandered Heritage website broke the story on NOAH.
... Mayor C. Ray Nagin, hauled grudgingly before the City Council, complained about what he called “amateur investigations,” a reluctant nod to Ms. Gadbois and her followers in the news media.

The classic New Orleans blend of possible corruption and certain mismanagement has dominated headlines for days, forcing Mr. Nagin to do an abrupt about-face. First, he called a news conference to criticize a New Orleans television reporter, Lee Zurik, whom he called “reckless,” for following up on Ms. Gadbois’s discoveries in a report on WWL-TV.

Mr. Nagin made it clear he was not pleased with the report, especially because it was broadcast when a high-level Congressional delegation was in town. With the cameras rolling, he said it was “completely untrue” that federal money had been misspent on work never done.

“It’s got to stop,” the mayor ordered the reporter at a news conference, referring to what he called “the gotcha mode,” and accusing the reporter of hurting the city’s recovery. The charge is akin in New Orleans to being accused of a lack of patriotism.