The chairwoman of the New Orleans City Council’s budget committee is calling for a full accounting of public money spent on the removal of four monuments associated with the Confederacy and Jim Crow.
Councilwoman Stacy Head, the only member of the City Council to vote against removing the monuments, says she accepts that they have come down, but also says the public deserves to know what taxpayer dollars were spent to do so.
“I need to know what money was used, how did we get that money if it was from outside sources, what city money was used and what did we give up as a city to go through that endeavor for him,” Head said, referring to Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
The Landrieu administration has kept secret many details about the monument removal effort after contractors and city employees were threatened with violence if they participated in taking down the Battle of Liberty Place monument and statues of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee.
Asked about Head’s request for a financial accounting, Landrieu’s press secretary Erin Burns said one will be produced, but safety concerns made that impossible while the work was being done.
“The removal of the Confederate statues is still in progress, however, the City fully intends to provide an accounting of all costs once the entire operation is complete,” Burns said. “The widely known threats, intimidation and acts of violence associated with this project require us to be flexible with resources. This project went from a standard capital project with minimal public safety impacts to a full homeland security operation.”
Head said her request for information has nothing to do with where she stands on whether the monuments should have come down. She has expressed concerns in the past about how the Landrieu administration receives approval from the City Council for certain types of spending, then shifts the money to other purposes. She said that’s why she needs an accounting for the monument removal, just as she would for any city project as Budget Committee chair.
“I am tenacious to a fault,” she said. “I will continue to ask questions about every part of our budget that is not spent the way we were promised.”
Landrieu has admitted some public money has been spent, but downplays the amount.
“And spending a diminished amount of money on recapturing our public spaces, that reflect the soul of the city, seems to me to be a minor investment,” Landrieu said when WWL-TV asked him about public spending on Wednesday.
All he has said specifically is that $600,000 was raised from private sources and the city has an agreement with the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana to use that money to pay for the removal work.
The New Orleans Advocate asked for records showing where that money came from and how much was spent. The city directed the newspaper to the Foundation for Louisiana, and the foundation denied the request by arguing it is not required by law to disclose the information. The foundation also said it was concerned for the safety of the donors because of the threats already made against contractors and city employees.
The Advocate argues that because the foundation has an agreement with the city to pay for the work, those financial records should be public.
Meanwhile, WWL-TV asked for the numbers of police officers and firefighters deployed to the monuments, either to maintain public safety or to participate in removal operations. The station also asked for the number of overtime hours billed and the total cost to taxpayers.
The Landrieu administration also denied those requests, saying those records do not yet exist and the law does not require them to create them.
The NOPD and Fire Department have set budgets for personnel costs, but overtime costs are separate.
NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison acknowledged Wednesday that it has cost some extra amount for the NOPD to manage troop deployment and keep the peace at the monuments, but he offered no specifics.
“There are times we have to flex and move officers and rearrange our deployment strategy. Sometimes there is a cost associated with that. We don't think it's that much,” he said.
Burns said Friday that “rough estimates” place the cost for NOPD overtime for the removal of the first three monuments – prior to the removal of Robert E. Lee – and all protests associated with those operations at $60,000.
“As is standard procedure for major events, including protests, the City provided public safety support within our normal operating budget,” she said. “There were also substantial homeland security costs incurred for this project, and a full accounting will be provided when the operation is complete.”
She offered no estimates for hours or costs associated with firefighters who participated in the removal operations.