The French Quarter Task Force, which offers additional, off-duty police patrols in the French Quarter, ran out of funds and ceased operations on Sunday. Now, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the agency that runs the task force are fingering who is to blame.
Joshua Cox, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Cantrell, appeared at a press conference on Monday accusing the French Quarter Management District, which has been running the Task Force program since 2016, of poorly managing its funds.
“To make all of this easier, the FQMD made a promise to voters and said they would fund something,” Cox said Monday. “Because of incompetence or mismanagement, that wasn’t true. And then they issued a press release asking for public funds. “
The press conference took place one day after the FQMD was published Press release The city accused the city of “withholding” $ 327,000 in funds previously used to pay for Louisiana State Police patrols in the French Quarter.
Cantrell, the City Council, and FQMD are currently working on a short term fix to restart patrols. The city and FQMD both appear to support a plan to use a portion of that $ 327,000 to keep the program going temporarily. However, deep disagreements persist over who is to blame, whether money has really been “withheld” by the city, and what the long-term solution should be.
The debate has an impact on one upcoming election In April, residents of the French Quarter will vote on whether to pass a quarter-cent sales tax that will bring the FQMD an estimated $ 2.5 million a year for the next five years, mainly to fund patrols of the Task force. Cantrell’s office was strongly opposed to this plan. There was a quarter-cent tax from 2016 until last year when voters rejected an extension.
“The mayor’s office was against the electoral language from the start,” said Cox. “It is a core principle of good governance that the people who administer taxpayers’ money must be directly elected and accountable to those very taxpayers. That is not the case with the proposals. “
The recent dust generation is part of a months of debate between Cantrell’s office and the FQMD on the future of additional security patrols in the French Quarter. From 2016 to last year, US $ 6.7 million in public funding was available to conduct additional patrols by the French Quarter Task Force and a separate agreement with the Louisiana State Police.
But all the money stopped flowing last year. The task force was funded by annual contributions of $ 1.2 million from New Orleans and Co. – a private, publicly funded marketing agency for the city’s tourism industry. However, New Orleans and Co. have cut this agreement as revenue has plummeted as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The presence of the state police was more expensive. It was funded in part by contributions from New Orleans and Co., the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. These posts were too cut off last year. However, the main source of funding for the State Police was quarter-cent sales tax, sometimes referred to as “quarter for quarter”.
This tax was approved by residents of the French Quarter for a five-year period in 2015 and expired in late 2020. However, the city attempted to renew the tax through an electoral measure in December, however it was refused with 595 no votes and 297 yes votes. The FQMD was instrumental in the failure of the election measure by voting formally decline the move and the urging of the small number of French Quarter residents who had a say in the election to vote no.
The debate was about how the money should be spent. For the past five years, the money has only been used to pay the state police. But neither the FQMD nor the city wanted to continue this agreement.
The FQMD wanted the money to fund the French Quarter Task Force to replenish funds lost by New Orleans and Co. She also wanted the city to sign an agreement giving them full authority over the funds before voting on the electoral measure.
Cantrell had a different plan in mind. Her office wanted to use the money to fund citizen patrols in the French Quarter through the newly created Grounds Patrol Division at the city’s Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Office.
Cantrell’s office argued that it was simply bad governance to turn public money into an unelected, unaccountable body. The FQMD argued that civilian patrols did not have the same authority or could not accomplish nearly as much as off-duty NOPD officers.
Cantrell eventually put her own plan on the ballot by refusing to sign an agreement to hand over the funds to the FQMD. When voters turned down this polling measure in December, the FQMD immediately began working with the city council to offer a new polling measure that matches their original plan and gives them full control over the funds.
The city council, which acted under its jurisdiction as the economic development district of the French quarter, voted for a new renovation measure for the vote on April 24th to restore the “quarter for the quarter”. Unlike the 2015 election that gave the Economic Development District control of the money, this would give the FQMD the authority to administer the funds. The Council voted to include the measure in the April vote of severe objections from the Cantrell administration.
$ 327,000 “withheld”
At Monday’s press conference, Cox pointed out the suspension of the French Quarter Task Force to prove that the FQMD should not be trusted in managing public funds.
“One of the reasons we’re out here is to correct the record. The FQMD is an organization that is not selected as number one. Number two, they are not directly accountable to voters. And number three, they showed voters in their actions yesterday that they couldn’t even manage private funds. So it’s foolish to think we should hand over money to [the FQMD]. ”
He said when the FQMD battled the December election, they said their reserves would allow them to continue funding the program until at least March.
“They told people,” Hey, there is no need to extend the quarter to the December quarter because we promise you that we will keep this task force going until the next vote, “said Cox.” It just wasn’t true.”
In an interview, FQMD chairman and Brennan’s general manager Christian Pendleton said that Cox’s statements grossly misrepresented what FQMD had promised. He said the FQMD had only promised to keep the program going as long as reserve funds were available, and estimated that it would come in March.
“I find it regrettable that the government continues to mislead New Orleans residents and citizens by providing inaccurate information,” he said. “Yes, we missed our goal, but we missed our goal by two weeks. We didn’t miss it for six months. “
Pendleton said the estimates were short in large part due to the resignation of the task force volunteer coordinator Robert Simms. Simms, who helped develop the task force with entrepreneur Sideney Torres, has been running the program for years as a volunteer. However, he resigned from this position at the end of 2020.
“Since he left as a volunteer, we’ve had to spend more money getting NOPD supervisors and OPSE to do things [Simms] to do earlier. That’s why our money has shrunk faster than we expected. When we spoke to voters in November and early December, we didn’t know Bob was going, and we didn’t know what the cost would be if he did. “
The FQMD also made allegations against the city this week. On Sunday, the day the task force was suspended, the FQMD sent out the press release claiming the city “withheld” $ 327,000 for additional patrols in the French Quarter. On Monday, Cox said that was just not true.
“I think it’s an attempt to mislead, unfortunately,” he said.
The $ 327,000 is what is left of the now-expired sales tax. The city stopped paying for these patrols last year. The money ever went straight to the FQMD, said Cox. In addition, the funds are controlled by the City Council in its capacity as the economic development district of the French Quarter.
“I mean, there is no way for the mayor’s office to withhold that money because it is not the mayor’s money,” said Cox.
Notwithstanding these disagreements, Cantrell appears willing to release at least some of this money to temporarily support the program.
“Right now we’re in the middle of a crisis,” said Cox. “Let’s do what needs to be done to get these patrols up and running tomorrow or the next day.”