Mayoral Slapdown: Ten Points For Ariella Cohen!

Aug 12, 2009 by

Is it just me or is the Mayor’s Office getting a bit snarky lately? Getting tired of people calling them on their BS and having the utter audacity to provide documentation when challenged I would think.   Anyway, Ariella Cohen who blogs over at the New Orleans Institute recently posted a scathing and accurate piece about city hall which got Nagin’s deputy director of communications to challenge her. Some nice smarmy sneering there on his part, exactly what anyone wants in their communications department.

Below I’ve put his response/press release with Ms. Cohen’s responses in red. Sorry for the weird indents, this is copied from an email and I’m buried in deadlines right now. Go read Ross get put firmly and solidly in his place. This is an example for all of you, have your documentation ready and the facts at your command. Great job Ms. Cohen!

-Loki, HumidCity Founder and Curator

From: James D. Ross To: Ariella Cohen


I read with great interest your story in Next American City titled “Talk to Me: Why Communication within City Hall Matters.” Unfortunately, this story contained a number of inaccuracies, many of which could have been avoided if you had contacted the Mayor’s Office rather than writing a story with a significant focus on Mayor Nagin without doing so. My hope is that your intent was not malicious. I request an immediate correction to address these issues.

Below, I detail some of the issues in the story.

You contend that “…Blakely left just a few weeks after the mayor who appointed him, Ray Nagin, said that he wouldn’t.” This is wholly inaccurate. In his budget presentation to the City Council last fall, Mayor Nagin stated that the Office of Recovery and Development Administration would be dissolved at mid-year. Then in his May State of the City Address, Mayor Nagin said that it was Dr. Blakely’s last official event because he would be leaving New Orleans. He then detailed Dr. Blakely’s accomplishments during his time in New Orleans. When did Mayor Nagin make the statement you suggested?


On May 6, Ceon Quiett, the mayor’s director of communications, said in an interview with the T-P that she suspects that some administrative changes at City Hall are “fueling the chatter.” about a departure from Blakely. She said that Blakely had not told Nagin of a plan to depart.

Nagin’s statement at the State of the City address on May 28 came after that initial miscommunication. While Blakely officially left his office on June 30, he left New Orleans to attend a conference at the United States Study Centre at The University of Sydney on June 12 ( According to his staff, Blakely’s depature’s for the the conference marked the end of his daily commitment to ORDA as he never returned to the office in full managerial capacity.

In the following paragraph, you say that “Emails were deleted from the Mayor’s in-box – an illegal act for which the mayor is currently under investigation…” There are two significant errors here. First of all, there has been no proof that emails were deleted from the Mayor’s in-box. This is a contention at this point. Secondly, what proof is there that the Mayor is under investigation? I have seen nothing that verifies that. This sounds like an assumption on your behalf.
Attached is a subpoena from the Federal Bureau of Investigations dated July 22 requesting emails missing from the city’s servers. This subpoena is clear evidence that the mayor is being investigated as part of a federal investigation.  My statement that emails were deleted from the mayor’s email account is evidenced by a statement made by Deputy City Attorney Ed Washington in Feb. of 2009 to Orleans Parish Civil Court Judge Rose Ledet  that “nearly  all of Nagin’s e-mails and all calendar information prior to June 30, 2008, have been deleted and cannot be retrieved.” This statement was published on Feb. 17, 2009 in the Times-Picayune:

Here are other articles documenting the deleted emails and subsequent investigation:
And the next paragraph is entirely wrong and it is interesting that you lay assign this level of blame to Mayor Nagin about the Council’s decision regarding the Chevron proposal. You write: “Most recently, last week, the council axed a plan to relocate City Hall after weeks of evasion from Nagin surrounding unanswered questions about a deal, hatched in apparent isolation, to buy a downtown office tower for conversion into a new public nerve center. When the notoriously bull-headed mayor refused to share information key to understanding the proposed public purchase, he shut down the conversation with lawmakers – and effectively quashed any chance of crafting a deal reflective of the needs of all the city’s myriad branches and constituencies.”
I based my assertions in the paragraph on accounts read in the media and heard first-hand from sources including  Seung Hong, chief-of-staff to Shelley Midura, Councilman Arnie Fielkow and Jeff Thomas from ORDA. These sources said that questions about the cost estimate, build-out and  spatial planner for the rebuild had never been answered.  All agreed that there had been no significant public discourse on the proposal until the mayor announced that a letter-of-intent on the sale had been delivered to Chevron. A subsequent report from WDSU stated that Chevron did receive the letter-of-intent until after Nagin announced it publicly. ( While the vote on the relocation was indeed split along racial lines, that divide only serves to illustrate the deep schisms between different political camps at City Hall. As for the fact that the focus of my article cold have been the racial divide in City Hall, well, that was not my focus. Rather, the article was an exploration of the ways that poor communication between different branches of government impacts decision-making and governance.
This problem was illustrated again this week when the Mayor Nagin qaushed the creation of  a public-private partnership for economic development that had been in discussion for 15 months without providing any opportunity to negotiate sticking points of the partnership or salvage the process in any way.

In his statement rejecting the board proposed by the council for the PPP, Nagin repeated a comment made by Councilman Fielkow in regard to the Chevron purchase. Nagin said: “As Councilman Fielkow recently said regarding another issue, this matter may be better left for the next mayor and council to decide.” The back-and-forth only serves to further illustrate the inability of the city’s current executive and legislative branches to work together.  Here is local news coverage documenting the episode:

You later completely mischaracterize the activities during the budget process and contend that the City Economist projects a $100 million shortfall. Where did you get this information? Our City Economist has never said this. As to the budget process for the current year, Mayor Nagin asked the Council to renew current taxes by rolling them forward. He clearly showed what the cost of not doing so would be and made it clear that the remaining Community Disaster Loans not only would be needed for the 2010 budget year, but should be spent then to keep with the City’s five-year budget plan for self-sufficiency. It was this plan, along with the Mayor’s budget discipline, that helped the City to avoid bankruptcy and to convince the three major rating agencies to increase the City’s bonds to investment grade. This is a massive achievement three years after the greatest natural and man-made disaster in our nation’s history.
In the section of the article, I did not say that the mayor wanted to use CDL money to plug the hole in the budget. Rather, I said that he did not work with the Council to come to a solution amenable to both parties. As for the $100 million number, Jerome Lomba stated at at April 22 2009  that the 2008 deficit was $100 million and that he anticipated a similar if not greater shortfall in 2010 given declines in property and sales tax revenue and the end of federal recovery funds. (

I also am curious about why Mayor Nagin and the City Administration were not provided an opportunity to comment for this story. I noticed that you have comments from Councilman Fielkow and the staff of Councilmember Shelly Midura, both of whom often oppose the Mayor. Why did you not talk with Council members who have supported the Mayor’s initiatives? Was the goal to suggest that he has no support? This is not fair and balanced.
I called the city’s press office twice last week. I never heard back. As members of the media know, this lack of timely courtesy is routine for the mayor’s press office. I also have significant concerns about the manner in which you used the New York Times quotes from Dr. Ed Blakely, but I think that use speaks more to your journalistic ethics than specific facts.

Again, the point of my story was to address issues of communication and collaboration in local government. I think Blakely’s comments served to illustrate the combative nature of City Hall.

I look forward to your response.

James D. Ross II Deputy Director of Communications Office of Mayor C. Ray Nagin 1300 Perdido Street, Suite 2E04 New Orleans, LA 70119 (504) 658-4948 (office) (504) 906-9123 (mobile)

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