Friday, May 4, 2007

Q & A from Mayor Roy responding to Town Talk.

Below is a copy of a Q & A memo sent to local news organizations in response to an article about security at future Alexandria City Council meetings. It is unedited and presented in full.
TO: News Media

FROM: Office of the Mayor

City of Alexandria

RE: “Roy seeks to tighten security at meetings”

The Town Talk, May 4, 2007

DATE: May 4, 2007

Questions and Answers

Why did council members say they were taken by surprise? And, why would they be concerned about increasing security?

As far as the council being surprised, the security issue is nothing new, and they, indeed, had verbally stated their concerns. If you look at their offices, they are completely locked down from the front entrance of the department to the door connected to the council chambers. Only those with the code are able to access the rooms behind the actual city council chambers. The suggestion for a security plan, made by Chuck Johnson, who serves both the Administration and the City Council, was to ensure that everyone in the council chambers would be provided with the same level of security currently provided to the council alone except in open session.

The issue here is not about security. The Administration does not engage in surprise tactics, although it constantly deals with such action by the city council which uniformly seeks to broaden its role from legislating to day-to-day operations.

In city government, there are two branches – the City Council, led by the City Council President, and the Administration, led by the Mayor. The City Council’s role is to authorize ordinances that govern the city, and the Administration’s role is to enforce that legislation and manage the City’s operations and planning. One of those operational requirements is to do everything to protect the residents of our city, particularly when they use our public facilities.

Why is the Administration interested in increasing security?

I have no apologies for being concerned about security in this day and age. It’s easy to criticize the attention being paid to creating a security plan until something actually happens. Then the question would be “why was more not done”? The city’s administration takes its responsibility for public safety seriously and that includes everyone who attends council meetings including the councilmen, the administration and especially the residents who are in attendance.

Has there been a specific event that triggered the proposal?

To be specific, members of the administration have had real threats. In addition, we’ve had people walk into council meetings with duffel bags and other paraphernalia that seem unrelated to the reason for being at the meeting, and yes, that does raise the level of concern. But, most importantly, it is clear that an appropriate response to a threat cannot occur under the current model.

I would like to note that many of the governmental buildings in the same vicinity have strict security measures including the Rapides Parish Courthouse, Alexandria City Court, U.S. District Court and the Louisiana State Office Building.

Could the council have initiated measures to increase security?

Absolutely. Because the City Council’s chamber space is under its control, we had initially hoped that the council members would initiate additional security procedures. When nothing was forthcoming, the city attorney, who acts on the behalf of both branches of government, sent down a letter outlining his recommendations to create a more secure meeting place and simply follow existing law, which as I mentioned before, is the Administration’s job.

In the letter, it was mentioned that a Fire Department officer would be on hand to enforce capacity regulations? Why is that important?

As far as enforcing the fire code regarding legal capacity, I want to say that we’re pleased that the residents have taken an interest in city government by attending our council meetings, but overcrowding any space beyond its limits is unsafe. The capacity for the room is set through a national code and is designed to make sure that people can get out of the building quickly and efficiently in case of a fire. Again, this is the Administration enforcing a regulation that is already in place.

What about council members saying there is a lack of communication?

In reference to the comments regarding the lack of communication, I personally make concerted efforts to be available at any time day or night to speak to council members and have instructed the rest of my staff to be as accessible. Since I took office in December, I have made repeated attempts to contact Mr. Everett Hobbs by phone. He has neither answered nor returned numerous phone calls since that time. Because it is vital that the City Council President and the Mayor of any city are able to share and discuss information, I have resorted to the written word in order to assure consistent communication to Mr. Hobbs and the entire council. This is not my first choice in that it extends the time it takes to get things done, but I have been left with no other options.

Alcohol sales and "dry" vs. "wet" districts in Cenla.

It seems everyday there is a new announcement from a business in central Louisiana requesting a liquor license in a "dry" area.

These business owners, if they speak on the record at all, are saying they want the opportunity to grow their business. The requests are coming through the Rapides Parish Police Jury and are being rejected because the Police Jury President Butch Lindsey says the will of the people is for the area to remain alcohol free.

Some are blaming the City of Pineville for this upsurge in liquor license requests even if they are not located within the city limits.

Others are saying this whole surge in requests was bound to happen as business owners see what businesses selling alcohol are raking in with liquor sales.

KALB-TV reporter Joel Massey travelled to Deridder, Louisiana this week and has an interesting story you can watch here if you missed it. The mayor says the bottom line there is, liquor sales have increased business and added to the communities coffers putting Deridder on an even playing field with cities around it. Two new businesses have opened and there are plans for a hotel and more restaurants. Projected revenue 2007 is 4 million with about 350,000 tax revenue expected. Certainly the religious leaders would argue this is not what the area needs and point to homes broken, children abused and a general negative influence in the area.

Back in central Louisiana, next week Julie Wilkerson a local attorney representing Fuel Plus will go before a court and argue the time has come for liquor sales.

What say you? We are listening. Again, comment moderation remains on but I will check back frequently and post comments once moderated. Please be patient.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Jena Six...what is the truth here?

Wednesday night in Jena a gathering of about 50 people met to protest the treatment of six young men who are charged with various crimes centered around a fight with another high school student. The "Jena Six" as they are now being called are black - the student white. But that is not the only part of the story.

Where this strife begins within the high school is unclear, it really depends on who you talk to. How the anger became so overwhelming that it would erupt in charges of hate crimes (the famous noose in the school yard tree) and attempted murder charges for some is a tough story to reach.

KALB-TV has visited Jena countless times to try and present the facts around what is happening in the community. There have been interviews with high school teachers, students, parents involved, plus community and school leaders. But the story has garnered international attention (the BBC was in town for weeks) and could end up the focus of an Al Sharpton march in downtown Jena.

How does it all get this far? Who is working on a solution? If you have any insight into this situation your local media needs you. This is a story that on the surface would seem easy to report on. Stick the microphone in an angry persons face and use it on TV. But does that approach harm the communities ability to heal?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Louisiana blogger...use comment moderation.

How many times have you seen the issue of comment moderation on this new blog? Obviously not enough. After a video blog conversation with Louisiana blogger Emily Metzgar it is clear the time has come to back off and be careful.

The interview was helpful for an online neophyte and instructive when it comes to the idea that anyone can say anything anonymously.

Although the world has been blogging for longer than many of us in central Louisiana, it is clear the time has come to tread carefully and not forget what the goal is, intelligent conversation.

That means ask questions, but expect it to take some time before they are posted. Be aware this is still a work in progress, and more than ever use this vehicle to generate good community story ideas, no matter how simple they may seem.

We are listening.

Will the Louisiana blogosphere matter this political season?

Those of you who have visited this blog since the beginning know there is much discussion about the issue of the blogosphere in general. Being somewhat new to this business of anonymously writing feelings online for anyone who has the desire to click to read, I continue to ask, what effect will this all have in the long run?

Will Mayor Jacques Roy change his vision based on the Internet response to his actions?
Will Mayor Fields finally shake the online charges he and his staff are really snakes in the grass?
Will central Louisiana bloggers light into the race of Rapides Parish Sheriff?

And the big one, how will the information being thrown from one side or the other effect the race for Louisiana governor?

Today, if all goes as planned, I will interview Emily Metzgar who I have spoken of before in this blog. As we enter into a time where legislators are being held to task online more than ever and you have a web savvy candidates for Governor, do you have any questions for her?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Arts Council Director Fired or Resigned, anatomy of the story.

Friday I received a tip the Arts Council Director Dana DeMartino, who had resigned that day, was possibly not leaving on her own accord. The story was Ms. Martino had fired or forced out of the organization several key and long time employees and that she had serious performance issues.

After that call Saturday morning I posted the following headline on this blog, and promoted the story on a local blog in an effort to see what information about Ms. Demartino was available. The idea was to use the information gathered to formulate questions of the decision makers in the situation and find the truth. As expected Cenla Antics where I promoted this blog was not helpful and even a tad insulting. Not a surprise in this new world.

In the meantime an internal memo was leaked to me regarding Ms. DeMartino's job issues. This information was not released as it held several items in it difficult to verify. The story it seems was difficult to verify on many levels.

Monday, I assigned KALB-TV Anchor/Reporter Renee Allen to the story. Ironically we were in the process of receiving training from the Society of Professional Journalists and Renee had difficulty getting calls back from all parties involved in the issue.

To her credit Ms. DeMartino stepped up to the plate and granted KALB-TV an interview that you can watch here. The Arts Council board president also gave Renee a statement to the effect that Ms. DeMartino was simply leaving for a better opportunity and that she had done a terrific job.

I know for a fact Renee Allen emailed or called at least four people who's names where given to us to verify the claims of job performance issues with Ms. DeMartino. As of this writing I am unaware of any calls back.

Just thought some of you would enjoy seeing the anatomy of a story. Thoughts?

Monday, April 30, 2007

It's a new day, and Legislative Session.

Sure a Legislative Session is dry news and uninteresting. Some will say it's not as much fun to follow as a tug-of-war between Mayor and Council or following up on an any number of "rank rumors" but it is our future, and we have no choice but to stand at attention.

Louisiana blogger/podcaster Emily Metzger gives this warning...
"So, just a heads-up before you convene on Monday: The time for goat shows, lawnmower races, sweetheart deals for beloved family members, unnoticed vote changes, term-limit evasion, and lip service to vagaries like “reform” is over."

And Louisiana State University Shreveport political science professor Jeff Sadow has the good the bad and the ugly of pre-filed legislation, which I might add, includes several pieces from our own central Louisiana crew.

So what say you? What legislation are you following and do you have any suggestions for your local media on how to cover this "dry" yet essential piece of state news? We're listening.