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Updates from Forward New Orleans

Group says Mitch Landrieu, City Council have fulfilled more than half of pledges made before last elections

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A coalition of local civic groups that secured dozens of pledges from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans City Council members more than three years ago says those officials have lived up to more than half of their promises and are making progress on most of the rest.

On the other hand, the group criticized the leaders for failing to meet four objectives in the areas of criminal justice and blight remediation that they had agreed upon ahead of municipal elections in early 2014.

The coalition, Forward New Orleans, released its final report card on the current mayor and council members Wednesday as it prepares to draw up a new slate of goals for candidates running in elections this October. 

Composed of leaders of civic, neighborhood and business organizations, Forward New Orleans has compiled broad platforms in advance of municipal elections since 2010. The group then asks candidates to agree to implement specific goals and, once the winners are elected, tracks their progress in published reports.

“We measure their performance and we ensure that they adhere to best practices,” said businessman Gregory Rusovich, a leader of the coalition since it began.

While goals for the new slate of candidates haven’t been finalized, Rusovich said coalition members plan to begin creating them immediately.

Of the 102 objectives listed for the candidates in 2014, the winners have fully met or are deemed highly likely to meet 54. Another 44 are in the works, while four were listed as unfulfilled.

That’s an improvement over a progress report issued two years ago, when the group said Landrieu and the council members had completely met fewer than half of the same goals. About 9 percent were considered unmet at that time.

Among those listed as unfulfilled this time was a pledge to “support electronic monitoring” for many detainees. The city’s ankle monitoring program for adult criminal defendants was suspended after Sheriff Marlin Gusman last year refused to support or supervise it. Gusman said his office did not have the money to continue the program. It has since been renewed, but only for juvenile defendants.

The Forward New Orleans report also raps the city for the spat over reduced funding this year for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, which the coalition said “has caused a public rift in the criminal justice community” and leads to a “public perception of disagreement and lack of cooperation” among various agencies.

“We take no position on the debate itself, but quite frankly, it did not paint a picture of system-wide efficiency and strategic planning,” said lawyer Christy Harowski, a member of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region, a coalition member.

Also considered unmet was a promise to hold regular talks between the city’s code enforcement department and its Police Department, so that blighted properties and city neighborhoods that are magnets for crime can be prioritized. Separately, neighborhood groups need to be able to have one-on-one talks with code enforcement officials, the report said.

Although the city has set up some discussions with residents, through a program called Coffee on Your Corner, the report says it could be doing more to engage neighborhood groups.

On the issues of economic development and creating opportunities for small, local and disadvantaged businesses, the city scored particularly strong marks, receiving only one "in progress" rating.

Particularly praised was Landrieu's Economic Opportunity Strategy, created in part to connect disadvantaged job seekers to opportunities. Still, the report said, the program could do more to build a pipeline of technically skilled workers and to market itself in the business community. 

City officials said they had not received a copy of the report and would respond when they had a chance to look it over.

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