5) No Fun at Amusement Park
New Orleans City Hall’s dispute with Six Flags entered a new phase after a judge issued a restraining order against the theme park company. The city had set a deadline last week for Six flags to come up with a plan to handle its park in eastern New Orleans, which has sat idle since Katrina, and the restraining order now prohibits the company from removing any exhibits, rides or equipment. City Hall claims the company is in default of its lease. Six Flags says it offered the city a settlement on the property in 2007, which city officials then turned down. Six Flags is in the midst of a financial restructuring and the company has stated it has no intention of reopening the park. A court hearing has been scheduled on the issue for May 26.

4) Prison Sentence for St. Tammany Councilman

Joe Impastato of Lacombe was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of corruption while he was a St. Tammanay Parish councilman. Last year, Impastato pleaded guilty to illegally soliciting and receiving up to $40,000 in kickbacks for hurricane debris-disposal contracts in Lacombe in the wake of Katrina. The former public works director for Mandeville, Joe Mistich, was also sentenced to five years of probation and fined $20,0000 for concealing Impastato’s scheme.

3) Progress Marked in Business, Residential Blight

Two separate studies came out last week showing incremental but encouraging progress in different realms of the city’s hurricane recovery. The University of New Orleans completed a survey of reopened businesses along 21 major commercial corridors in areas of New Orleans and St. Bernard that flooded after Katrina and found 59 percent of commercial properties were back in action.  The survey did not examine areas that did not flood after the storm. A separate study by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center showed some progress in the high number of blighted properties across the city. In March, 31 percent of residential addresses were unoccupied in New Orleans, down from 34 percent a year earlier. The center said blight remains a major problem but called the news encouraging.

2) Courts Wrangle Over City E-mails

The long-running legal tangle of public access to city officials’ e-mail records made several more twists and turns. On Tuesday, a panel of appeal court judges overturned an earlier ruling barring the release of a huge cache of messages from City Council members acquired by local attorney Tracie Washington from the city’s sanitation director. A handful of messages from City Councilwoman Stacey Head quickly but briefly appeared on the Web site of the civil rights organization Washington runs. The following day, however, the state Supreme Court issued its own ruling staying the appeal panel’s decision. By Friday, Washington’s group had filed an appeal of the Supreme Court’s ruling. City Council lawyers have argued that many of the messages contain sensitive information about pending litigation and investigations and other topics and should be reviewed before they are publicly posted. The few messages from Head that were posted contained political bards but little of substance regarding public policy. 

1) FEMA Denies Charity Hospital Claim

The regional office for FEMA has turned down the state’s claim that the federal government owes close to half a billion dollars to replace Charity Hospital. FEMA has offered to pay Louisiana $150 million for Katrina damage to Charity, but the state is seeking $492 million, which would be used as a major component of financing the planned new LSU medical complex in lower Mid-City. The decision affirms an earlier judgment by other FEMA officials that Charity was not more than half destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, a criteria for replacement under FEMA rules. The state has 60 days to appeal the decision.

Ian McNulty is a freelance writer in New Orleans and contributing writer for New Orleans Magazine. Reach him at imcnulty@cox.net.