The financial tug-of-war over reforms at the Orleans Parish Prison continued Wednesday, with the Mayor Mitch Landrieu saying he will not write a blank check to Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
Attorneys for Landrieu and the City assailed Gusman in a court filing Wednesday, questioning his accounting practices and his request of nearly $40 million in “interim funding” from the city.
Gusman has said the money is necessary for him to meet the demands outlined in an impending consent decree over his agency.
"That's an absurd number,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said today. “And it's not being negotiated actually. I think that the Justice Department and the Sheriff have come to the conclusion somehow that the Sheriff needs more money. But the City of New Orleans hasn't signed off on any of that."
Landrieu wants an accounting analysis to determine how Gusman spends his funds and whether the money is being properly used.
“There has been no proof that any alleged unconstitutional conditions at the jail are the result of a lack of funding,” Assistant City Attorney Sharonda Williams wrote in a court filing.
A spokesman for Gusman did not respond to requests for comment this week.
According to the city, Gusman's financial demands would have a crippling effect on municipal operations.
For every million dollars Gusman wants, the city claims it would have to furlough at least 24 city employees through the rest of the year. That would be more than 900 city furloughs for Gusman's request.
“The safety of the citizens of New Orleans should not be jeopardized by the payment of unsubstantiated amounts to the Sheriff when the Sheriff simply may need to use his current funding more effectively,” Williams wrote.
Gusman, the city, and the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center are currently in negotiations over the consent decree. They have agreed to a decree, in principle, but have not come to terms on the cost.
"I will continue to work with them, but the idea somehow that the city's got a blank check for this is a misunderstanding that I think that those other individuals have,” Landrieu said.
Attorneys are due in court Thursday to discuss appointing retired Criminal District Court Judge Terry Alarcon to a position of “special master.” In that role, he would further examine the funding issue and report back to the judge.
Williams wrote that the city sees no need for a special master to conduct a financial analysis of jail spending. Nonetheless, they do not object to Alarcon’s appointment.
The city’s court filing on Wednesday included a laundry list of complaints against Gusman and his facilities. City attorneys noted that though Gusman had sought to pull the city into the lawsuit, Gusman has yet to serve the city with a summons.
They also allege Gusman came up with the $39 million estimate, but then took an entire week to “compile the mere 11 pages” of documents to support his estimate. “It defies logic that documents supporting an estimate would be generated after the estimate has been provided,” Williams wrote.
The city also suggests that Gusman has been less than transparent. For example, the city alleges that recent budget documents provided by Gusman failed to note some of his alternate sources of revenue – sources that he had included in earlier documents.
“This obvious deletion of revenue sources certainly highlights the need for a forensic accounting analysis or audit,” the city writes.
City attorneys acknowledge that the city is obligated to pay for items at the jail, such as inmate housing and board, medical expenses court services, and more.
“The Sheriff, however, cannot mismanage the funds paid by the City, generate additional funds, then use those additional funds he may generate to purchase items that are not essential to the operation of the jail while still alleging that he does not have sufficient funds to operate the jail,” Williams wrote.