Dedicated to the Creation, Maintenance and Beautification of
Public Parks, Playgrounds & Green Space throughout New Orleans.
January 8, 2018 Keith Hardie presentation to the City Council disproves the legal advice given to the City Planning Commission regarding governance of New Orleans Regional Parks.
Re: Master Plan Amendments, Chapter 7 Reconsideration
I write in support of the amendments drafted by NOLA Parks for All and sponsored by
CM Cantrell, specifically the request for reconsideration of the proposal to ensure thorough
public engagement and to consider including extra restrictions for the transfer of open space to
recreational and other uses. In particular, NOLA Parks for All wants to make the Council aware
that it believes that the Planning Commission was given incorrect legal advice when it
considered these proposals at it October 10, 2017 meeting. Read More
August 20, 2018 Keith Hardie letter to the City Council on the planning process of the downtown wharves
Re: Riverfront Park: Public Planning Process? Ha! Done deal is more like it.
If you want to know what's going to happen in the Riverfront park planning process, you need look no further than the recent master plan process for Audubon Park. There, most of the park --the zoo and the golf course -- was off the table -- not open to discussion and excluded from public consideration. Ron Forman, who, let's face it, will be calling he shots at the Riverfront, at first tried to justify the exclusion by claiming that because the golf course was financed with state money, it would be illegal to discuss any future uses. It's true that when certain state funding is provided, a project has to have a minimum life of 20 years, but to leap from that fact to a conclusion that future uses for that property can't be discussed in a planning process is just silly. Apparently recognizing the absurdity of his original rationale, Forman adjusted his argument and claimed that the zoo and golf course were "historic" and therefore the public had no right to weigh in on them. Exactly when Forman became a preservationist is unclear, but he's always been an ethical chameleon.
Don't expect the Audubon Commission to examine Forman's proposals for the Riverfront park. Votes by most public bodies are often split, reflecting that the differing perspectives of the members. But the appointees to the Audubon Commission appear to be automatons: they almost always vote in lock step. At the final meeting on the Audubon Master Plan, every public speaker complained about the exclusion of the zoo and golf course from the plan, but not a single member of the commission voted against the plan, and there was little substantive discussion. The Audubon Commission has no employees who report directly to it, not even an executive director to provide a perspective on proposals from the Nature Institute. The Commission gets all of its information from its contractor, the Audubon Nature Institute, which Forman has run since its inception. The Institute's Board is loaded with representatives of the tourist economy. Thus, all of the information provided to the Commission is filtered through Forman. Forman, whose pay package at the Institute runs in the $ 4 - 600,00 range, has a huge financial interest in placating his tourism heavy board. Under previous mayoral administrations, Forman has controlled appointments to the Commission -- a conflict in itself, and he generally sits next to the Commission's chairman at the Commission's meetings, making it clear that Forman -- the CEO of the Commission's contractor -- runs both the Commission and the Institute. I'm not the first to note the conflict of interest at the Audubon Commission. In 2001, James Gill wrote:
"Forman’s detractors allege that he derives autocratic powers from a dual role that violates the state code of ethics. Forman is chief executive not only of the Audubon Institute, a private nonprofit, but also of the city’s Audubon Commission. Since the institute operates public properties, and pays Forman’s salary, under a contract with the commission, perhaps the critics have a point. Certainly the commission is not known for voting down Forman’s proposals." (Times Picayune, 11/16/2001)
Forman's power remains undiminished despite having been tarred by the illegal millage campaign (we still don't know the source of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in the failed campaign). In addition, Forman was a key player in the misdirection of funds from the library foundation to NOJO. Forman served on the NOJO board with Irving Mayfield and Ronald Markham when the library funds were transferred. At that same time, Markham was on the board of the Audubon Nature Institute, where he presumably was approving Forman's compensation package.
The fact that the future of the new Riverfront park will be determined by the Audubon Commission means that its future will be determined by Ron Forman and the Audubon Nature Institute, and you can expect a compromised process in which the public will be excluded from significant participation. Expect planners with financial connections to the Nature Institute to get the contracts for running the process. This turkey will be carved up by Forman and the tourisim profiteers on the board of the Audubon Nature Institute, and the Audubon Commission will do no more than pour the gravy. Parks for residents? Forget it.