Says a $22 million judgment against the city for the jail decree would force cuts in services, furloughs and jeopardize public safety
Mayor Mitch Landrieu warned Thursday that if the federal court orders the city to help fund mandates included in a federal consent decree covering the Orleans Parish Prison, the city would be forced to reduce services and furlough city employees including police officers and firefighters.
Landrieu told the city council that he fears a judgment of up to $22 million is "imminent."
The mayor says Sheriff Marlin Gusman could solve the problem by asking voters for a tax increase.
"He has unfettered discretion to oversee the jail - and could call an election tomorrow," Landrieu said.
He also criticized the sheriff for failing to disclose how he arrived at his demand from the city saying there has never been an analysis of how much money is needed or how it would be spent.
The city already is spending $7 million this year to fund the NOPD consent decree with the Department of Justice.
Landrieu told the council, "Both consent decrees cannot be paid for at the same time this year. We are responsible together for fitting it together, in a basket that is too small."
The mayor has requested that the DOJ drop its demand for an immediate, increased appropriation in favor of "a thoughtful approach to better manage OPSO’s current operations." The city is a third party in a federal lawsuit against the Orleans Parish Prison. The funding decision ultimately rests with the federal court in pending litigation.
Landrieu says a judgment of "any significant amount would throw our criminal justice system into disarray."
"It does not make any sense to furlough police officers to hire more prison guards," he said.
The mayor requested Thursday's "emergency" council meeting to advise the council and citizens of how the city might be impacted.
The city's chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin told the council the most balanced approach to coming up with $22 million, would be to lay off 300 city employees, furlough all city workers 15 days for the remainder of the year, and cut operating expenses by 6%.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, local attorney Mary Howell who spoke on behalf of at least seven persons who attended the session, said the mayor voiced "fear and frustration" but offered no solutions to address unconstitutional conditions at the jail.
Howell also said she was "disappointed" that the issue was treated as "an emergency" Thursday, since the funding question is not scheduled to be addressed by the court until May.
She added that there is no evidence that the city has drafted any legislative proposals to seek assistance from the state.