Sheriff, mayor spar over costs of OPP consent decree - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Sheriff, mayor spar over costs of OPP consent decree

Updated:
Sheriff Marlin Gusman at Thursday's news conference Sheriff Marlin Gusman at Thursday's news conference
New Orleans, La. -

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman fired back at Mayor Mitch Landrieu Thursday as the two battle over millions of dollars needed to pay for the jail consent decree.

The mayor says hundreds of city workers could be laid off as the city copes with the costs.  But one council member says it may be too early to push the panic button.

When it comes to problems facing Orleans Parish Prison, the mayor is pulling few punches.

"I cannot in good conscience ask the taxpayers of New Orleans for more of their hard-earned money without assurances that the money will be well spent,"  Mayor Landrieu told council members in a special meeting Thursday.

But in a blistering rebuttal, the sheriff blamed the mayor for much of the problem.

"I'm insulted by the mayor's lack of leadership, his distortion of the facts, scare tactics instead of attempting to resolve this issue that he's ignored all this time," said Gusman.

In an unprecedented speech, Landrieu laid out four scenarios in order to fund a $22 million federal consent decree to bring the Orleans Parish prison up to constitutional standards. The scenarios include the laying off over 700 people, or furloughing them, or combinations thereof, in order to fund improvements for Marlin Gusman's jail.

"He has unfettered discretion to oversee the operations of the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office from soup to nuts and he could choose to call an election tomorrow to get approval to raise nearly $20 million in revenue through his law enforcement taxing district, of which he is the only member.  And if that's not enough to get the job done he could ask the state legislature for more," said Landrieu.

But Gusman says much of the problem lies at the mayor's feet. He said the city was responsible for two jails that he had to close. And he says a working group on prison size delayed construction of new facilities that could have eased jail problems.

Gusman said, "The mayor should take credit for a working group that delayed this facility for a year."

If new taxes are needed to fund jail improvements in line with the consent decree, it would first have to go through the City Council.  The head of the council's Criminal Justice Committee says she hopes there will be a lot more discussion before then.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry said, "We would prefer to have the litigation put on hold so we can negotiate, just like we did with the [NOPD] consent decree."

Some wonder how the mayor came up with the $22 million figure. "I have no idea how he got that figure, the 22," said Gusman.

Chairwoman Guidry says an audit due on April 30 should clear up some of the confusion.

But the stalemate continues at least until Monday, when federal Judge Lance Africk begins five days of hearings on the jail consent decree.

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