Looks like Mardi Gras is very important . . . until the Sheriff decides to make the lives of OPSO commanders working Mardi Gras details a little less hectic
Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson took a little heat this week for reserving hotel rooms for a half dozen or so of her commanders during Mardi Gras; and I am beginning to feel a bit like it’s damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t season for Black, female elected officials in New Orleans.
Seriously, some of the same folk that were ready to give birth to full-size cows at the very thought of Mardi Gras being canceled or altered in any way because of public safety concerns now want to drag Sheriff Hutson in for an inquisition over her decision to book hotel rooms for OPSO commanders that worked details during Mardi Gras.
Let’s see. The story goes a little something like this: Yes, officers from non-Orleans Parish agencies that live more than 35 miles away and were brought in to work the carnival detail had lodging accommodations provided for them, but who told Sheriff Susan Hutson that she could book hotel rooms for any of her personnel? Was it even constitutional? (Oh, so now we’re worried about the state constitution!) How dare she spend taxpayer money without consulting with the real people that run New Orleans. Hurry up, let’s figure out what law she broke!
Yes, as far as I am concerned, that’s where folk like District A City Councilman Joe Giarrusso and so-called crime watchdog Rafael Goyeneche appear to be going with this thing. And I want to know who died and made them kings?
Last I checked, Hutson was the duly elected sheriff. She made a decision — one that she clearly thought would best serve those members of her staff that took on this assignment as they worked to serve throngs of residents and visitors to the city during Mardi Gras season. What is the problem?
In fact, now, we have learned that the hotel tab has been picked up by a gracious donor. As such, not a single dime of taxpayer money will be spent to ensure that OPSO commanders were able to be on duty, on time and right in the thick of things during the all-hands-on-deck 2023 Mardi Gras celebration, you know, that celebration that some folk act as if they cannot live without. Taxpayers are not even on the hook for the money anymore, and Councilman Giarrusso still reportedly has some questions.
Me too. I got some questions.
Ever consider that maybe, just maybe after watching the well-heeled business elite nearly have a stroke and two heart attacks when Mayor LaToya Cantrell so much as suggested that Mardi Gras might have to be canceled because there wouldn’t be enough NOPD officers to provide public safety during the annual display of debauchery, that Hutson decided that it might be a good idea to ensure that top OPSO commanders working Mardi Gras details would be able to get their jobs done efficiently, effectively and conveniently?
And yes, convenience ought to be a consideration. Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to navigate New Orleans during carnival season, especially for those who live here, with floats being moved and streets blocked off? Do you have any idea just how early or how late police officers working Mardi Gras details punch in and out? In some cases, we are talking zero dark thirty to zero dark thirty. Is it really unreasonable to provide accommodations to ensure that certain officers, those who are commanding or coordinating efforts, are on site when they are needed? God forbid we spend a little taxpayer money to help make a law enforcement officer’s job a little easier during what is essentially a gigantic street party filled with too many people, many of whom are often not on their best behavior.
Every time someone dares mention canceling Mardi Gras for any reason like, oh, say a global pandemic claiming lives all over the world or the lack of adequate public safety resources, the New Orleans’ business community explodes; and their go-to argument is the economic impact that it has on the local economy.
“We just can’t do without it!”
“Businesses will suffer!”
“Do you know how much money Mardi Gras generates for the local economy, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.“
Quick question, if Mardi Gras actually has a direct economic impact of nearly $150 million and an even greater indirect economic; if the city actually gets nearly $8.50 back for every dollar it invests in Mardi Gras, then why is anyone complaining about less than $20,000 spent to make the jobs of people who help make Mardi Gras safe a little easier and more convenient.
Seriously, real question. What gives? Because either Mardi Gras is so important to New Orleans and its economy that we just can’t do with out it or it’s not. And if it is that important, then grilling the elected sheriff over $20,000 spent to make sure the city is safe during Mardi Gras is ridiculous.
If you ask me, the Sheriff has been quite a good sport in all of this – finding a sponsor to pick up the tab, applauding the work of her deputies, even declaring that she is looking forward to future collaborations with NOPD and the City to help keep New Orleans safe at carnival and throughout the year.
And another thing . . . it’s a good thing that Susan Hutson is the sheriff . . . because me, huh, I am petty.
If it were me . . . if I were the Orleans Parish Sheriff, the only way y’all would see one of my deputies or commanders working a Mardi Gras detail . . . ever again . . . in this life . . . or another . . . would be if Zulu and Rex paraded up and down the steps of Orleans Parish Criminal District court on a Friday morning and then meandered through pods at the Orleans Justice Center throwing coconuts and cups to the inmates.
A native of the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan area, Anitra Brown has served as managing editor of The New Orleans Tribune since 2004. She has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and journalism educator.