But local detractors are starting to line up, and parties on both sides of the debate seem hell-bent on using the LRA for political means in an election year. Republicans want to know why Blanco's name is plastered all over the group's Road Home program, in advertisements and elsewhere, and the GOP legislative delegation recently tried to call a special session in part to conduct a thorough review of the LRA. Meanwhile, from an administrative side, questions about the authority's purpose and future are sprouting up, peppered with concerns that the multi-million dollar state agency is forming complex layers of bureaucracy. The LRA is slated to be dissolved in four years, but no one ' not even the top brass ' knows how long it will take to get the job done.
The Louisiana Legislature created the LRA last year with a nearly unanimous vote of both chambers. The authority was charged with bridging gaps between state, local and federal governments; drafting highly controversial recovery plans and coordinating all state agencies.
Dr. Kirby Goidel, director of the Public Policy Research Lab at Louisiana State University, says that formula is ripe for election year antics. In coming months, the LRA will become even more of a political tool for the administration and opposing factions, and the average voter will become more aware of the rhetoric. "Blanco's political future resides in the success or failure of the LRA, to a great extent," he says. "It's certainly one of those things that Republicans will be addressing and watching closely. Even though I'd like to think the progress of our recovery will be judged on an even scale, the main factors will probably be political."
In many ways, the games have already started. Rep. Peppi Bruneau, a New Orleans Republican, says he has asked the attorney general to issue a ruling on whether the governor can label the Road Home program, which is responsible for distributing federal rebuilding money, as her own. "You have no doubt seen it on television and everywhere else," Bruneau says. "What exactly is the propriety of that?"
Republicans want an in-depth review of the LRA, which hasn't happened yet. A hearing was scheduled last week in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight, and Bruneau promises the issue will not die on the vine.
Republicans contend the LRA has grown to mammoth proportions. Furthermore, the LRA is doing a job the state could have handled on its own, Bruneau says. "I don't want this to be on a partisan basis, but this is a critical thing," he adds. "I just don't see why we can't do something that's simple. My opinion is we don't need them. We ought to be in the check-writing business and that's it. It's intrusive and obnoxious. It's well on the way to becoming a bureaucratic nightmare."
Andy Kopplin, the LRA's executive director, says the authority was created with a bipartisan board that has donated time, credibility and, in some cases, money. Only $771,000 of the LRA's total $3.8 million budget comes from the state general fund. Additionally, when a regional planning commission needed to be created, Kopplin says the board privately raised $8 million to form a nonprofit, all outside the realm of normal government function.
Additionally, the heavy lifting is being done by departments like Louisiana Economic Development and the Labor Department that were created long before Katrina and Rita ever hit south Louisiana. "The key thing is, while the LRA is a new organization, and it plays an advanced policy-making role, the programs are being implemented by the very same agencies that have been in existence for a long time," he says.
Kopplin maintains those agencies couldn't continue operating on their own without a massive oversight authority, saying there was a "clarion call" from state and federal officials. The Manhattan Development Commission, which was created in the wake of 9/11, was used as a model, he says, and the fact that Mississippi didn't do the same shouldn't raise a red flag. "Our recovery is 964 square miles, two storms and a bigger level of development," Kopplin says. "We have different challenges."
According to the law that created the LRA, the authority will be dissolved on July 1, 2010, unless re-created by the Legislature. But no one seems to know how long it will take for the LRA to accomplish its mission. "It's way too early to tell," Kopplin says. He's also unsure if the authority's 30-member staff will need to be expanded in the future and says more federal money will likely be needed in coming years to assist with a variety of studies.
Even from within its own ranks, there are concerns that the LRA and its related programs could be perceived as a burgeoning bureaucracy. Simone B. Champagne, the chief administrative officer of Iberia Parish Government and a recently-appointed board member of the Road Home Corp., says the various layers of operation are complex, but the right kind of leadership is in place to make sure things don't get out of control. "I think we can work through those kinds of problems," she says.
They certainly could work faster; the payment process has been excruciatingly slow. According to interviews granted by LRA officials in recent months, only 11 people had received checks as of the end of September, with more checks on hold until the end of December or later. And only 250 people have been notified that they'll be receiving money in the future, even though the LRA has roughly $10 billion at its disposal. Some political pundits have observed that Blanco might benefit from sitting on the money and releasing it just prior to the 2007 election.
Barry Erwin, president of a Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government, supports the original mission of the LRA, but says a comprehensive review is needed to soon to check on progress. How programs are being administered, how money is being spent and how decisions are being made are all legitimate questions.
"No matter who would have been selected to manage this recovery, there would have been problems and complaints," he says. "It's such a huge undertaking, and only time will tell how successful this strategy was."
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Fifa under fire for fake turf plans; freed journalist back home; corporate conversions rising and more national and international news for Wednesday, August 27, 2014.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her lead GOP challenger Congressman Bill Cassidy are running close when it comes to money. Landrieu has $5.5 million to Cassidy’s $5.6 million in the bank.
With expectations mounting that Gov. Bobby Jindal will soon announce his campaign for president, attention is turning to not only who he will bring along with him but also what will transpire politically back home during the transition.
Seven of the 11 U.S. cities in a new ranking of “most dangerous diets” are in the Bayou and Lone Star states, but the ranking is more about poverty than fried oysters.
Lafayette police are investigating a fatal shooting involving an alleged burglar and homeowner.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham got the message from the NFL. He's not dunking footballs over goal posts any more.
With qualifying over, the start of campaign season is official, and for the Lafayette Parish School Board, the race toward Nov. 4 will pit 20 candidates in battles for all 9 of the district’s available seats.
An abortion rights organization has filed the first court challenge to a Louisiana law that would require doctors who perform abortions to be able to admit patients to a nearby hospital.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election Friday the same as any other candidate, filling out paperwork and handing over cash to pay his qualifying fee. But he finished it quite differently, doused with ice.
The recent release of Victor White III’s autopsy report could spell trouble, as it tells a much different story of his death than the one told five months ago by the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“Candidates for Congress and members of Congress spend between 30 and 70 percent of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back into power.”
Over the last four days of the trial against attorney Daniel Stanford, there’s been one notable absence from Judge Elizabeth Foote’s courtroom: attorney Bill Goode.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and wide receiver Nick Toon are not on the same page yet, and time is running short for Toon to get it right.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister started his sign-up for re-election the same as other candidates, filling out paperwork and handing over qualifying money. But he finished it like no other, doused with ice.
That’s what Lafayette Parish has obtained in Pentagon surplus since 2006.
Qualifying continues through Friday.