Is Sheriff Susan Hutson Trying To Pull a Fast One on the Voters?

These views do not necessarily reflect the views of Big Easy Magazine’s editorial staff.

Fully funding the Sheriff’s Office to increase efficiency and accountability should be a public safety priority. Getting access to that funding by trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes is another matter entirely. In a smart, shrewd and obviously calculated move, Sheriff Susan Hutson quietly placed a millage proposition on the April 25 ballot when a miniscule turnout was expected. The only other race that day is a runoff for Criminal Court Judge Division A between two progressive candidates – Simone Levine and Leon Roche. Less than 10 percent of voters turned out in the March 25 primary. That percentage is expected to plummet in the runoff, especially on the first Saturday of Jazz Fest. 

Hutson has endorsed Roche in the judicial race. Herself a progressive, Hutson could be banking on a favorable turnout from other progressives who will be going to the polls to vote in the judicial race. They are her people and would be inclined to support her millage. Hutson already receives approximately $50 million annually from the City Council. She also receives 2.5 mills through the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District and is asking for an increase to 5.5 mills. A property owner with a homestead exemption whose building is valued at $250,000 would pay almost $100 annually, up approximately 50 percent.    

The millage election is Hutson’s second shot at getting this additional funding. She made a previous request for an almost identical amount to the New Orleans City Council which turned her down because her proposal for expenditures was not completely fleshed out. 

If the additional millage is approved, Hutson seeks to use a portion of the money to boost salaries for deputies, as well as for recruitment, retention, cost-of-living increases and employee health care. Millions would also be set aside for capital improvement projects on the campus. The details for all these proposals are not currently available, which is unsettling to many decision makers who are used to specifics. 

Usually political subdivisions engage in vigorous public education campaigns to persuade voters to support tax increases. Not Hutson. Her strategy has been to be conspicuously silent about the millage election. Though her staff alleges that Hutson has been speaking with stakeholders, no hard evidence exists. It also appears that Hutson would prefer that those few voters who will participate in the election first learn about the proposition when they enter the voting booth.  

Hutson’s stealth non-campaign has also caught her detractors by surprise. With early voting starting Saturday, April 15 and continuing through Saturday, April 22, those who would almost certainly oppose the millage election have yet to raise their voices.  

It goes without saying that New Orleans is best served with the Sheriff and the Orleans Justice Center operate as a national model of success. Hutson’s lack of transparency and willingness to place a millage election on the ballot without a publically-vetted list of expenditures is disappointing to say the least.

 Hutson had good intentions when elected and a clear idea of the goals she wanted to accomplish. Simply put, a number of impediments have gotten in the way. She was batting 1,000 after identifying additional officers for Mardi Gras duty but struck out at bat by using public funds to pay for hotel rooms for staff during the same period. It doesn’t matter that a potential vendor later reimbursed the expenditure. The damage was done. 

Hutson’s alleged “re-organization plan” in which she simultaneously fired four high-ranking staff members has not gone over well with the public. Early voting – when chronic and older voters will make their feelings known – will be the key to this election. Expect to see progressives vote early as well. Both candidates in the judicial race will be pushing out their bases of support next week, not wanting to depend on the dismal turnout expected on Election Day.  

If she manages to pull this election off, Hutson will be back on top and will thumb her nose at all those who oppose her.        

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