BATISTE: LaToya Cantrell’s Community Organization Looks More Like a Fiefdom

LaToya Cantrell is often lauded for her community organizing past, but when examined, her neighborhood organization appears as little more than a misrepresented slush fund.  After Katrina, Cantrell organized neighbors in the area bounded by Napoleon, S. Claiborne, Nashville, and Fontainbleau in what is called today Broadmoor.  Re-utilizing and expanding the nearby neighborhood name, Broadmoor has since expanded and is now widely known around the city.  The Louisiana Legislature created the Broadmoor Improvement Association District in 2010.

Property owners in Broadmoor pay $100 each year through their tax bill to fund the organization.  While hot topics in the neighborhood revolve around crime and crime prevention, the association Cantrell helped form does not focus on security measures.  Instead, the money is used to pay salaries, administration maintenance, and for activities.

The Broadmoor Improvement Association payroll was $125,000 in 2015, $211,000 in 2016, and $207,000 as budgeted in 2017. 2016 is the only year that details the Payroll and it reads: “Includes 3 full-time staff members (Executive Director, Community Development Director & Education Corridor Programs Director), two community center managers and four assistants for the Arts & Wellness Center and Keller Center.” For reference, the overall expenses in 2015 were $310,719 and $125,000 of that went to payroll.

LaToya Cantrell also collected a salary from the organization, which was a nice perquisite to go with her highly-versatile City Council credit card.  This is how former BIA Board Member Elsie “Bunny” Walker explained Cantrell’s compensation on the nextdoor.com website in January 2015:

“As to Mrs. Cantrell’s salary, that came from a special grant fund after she had donated over 3 years of voluntary service while working a full time job.”

In 2016 the BIA budget allocated $15,000 in Community Safety Improvements noting “Crime camera program and street lighting improvements.”  But Broadmoor does not have cameras.  And in looking at the 2015 and 2017 budgets, not one dollar is dedicated to security in any form, that means no patrols, no crime cameras, nothing except $600 in food and supplies for a Night Out Against Crime. Talk of adding crime cameras in Broadmoor came up in 2013, but no crime cameras exist.  And in 2015, Elsie “Bunny” Walker stated in her nextdoor.com post: “These funds were never designed to supplement the Police Dept.” 

Yet the State Legislation notes Powers and Duties as “To provide or enhance security patrols in the district, to provide for improved lighting, signage, or matters relating to the security of the district… To enter into contracts and agreements with one or more other districts for the joint security, improvement, or betterment of all participating districts.”

While the legislation spells out direct use guidelines, it also allows excessive leeway for spending, and Cantrell’s crew is taking advantage of that.  But clear is that the Parcel money was not spent on security.  As to the actual use of the money, this more detailed description as per Board Member Elsie “Bunny” Walker in January 2015:

“There seems to be as misunderstanding/misconception abut the purpose and use of the $100 annual parcel fee and especially as it relates to the tenure of Mrs. Cantrell as our BIA President/Director. The fee is designed to support quality of life programs and events for the Broadmoor Community at large. There are over 25 ongoing programs and activities that take place at the Keller Library/Community Center and/or Wilson School, including free Notary services every week. Some of the things we have are homework help, technology assistance, family movie night, Spanish and English classes, citizenship classes, tutoring, Yoga, Zumba, Qigong Life Energy classes, youth basketball, ballet and music and the adult sports. We have the Zoo Mobile bringing hands on experience with animals to the community. There is Fix Mix which teaches us how to fix/repair small appliances, clothing, jewelry and lamps. We also have a licensed Social Worker for this community who provides all levels of individual and family counseling as well as a food pantry.”

In 2015 when the Parcel Fee came up for vote on the ballot, it faced opposition as neighbors saw the ongoing misuse of public money in the form of a slush fund.  As per Cantrell’s suggestion during a BIA meeting, BIA funds were used to finance a campaign to win the popular vote for the 2015 Renewal.  BIA funds were used to make flyers and yard signs supporting the renewal of the Broadmoor District Parcel Fee.  Paid BIA employees distributed the pamphlets and put up yard signs in Broadmoor during work hours.  Campaigning with public money is against Louisiana law §1465 “Prohibited use of public funds” which states:

“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition, or be appropriated to a candidate or political organization. This provision shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to a proposition appearing on an election ballot.”

The wording on the first ballot in 2010 read in part: “which additional security shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of personnel and services provided in the District by the New Orleans Police Department.”  The word “security” was excluded from the 2015 “renewal” which had different language.  Instead of security it became more vague and stated in part: “if used for additional services, such services shall be supplemental to and not in lieu of services provided by the city, the state, or other political subdivisions.”

Cantrell’s tangled web shows one of her closest with his hand in multiple cookie jars.  The “Communications Specialist” for the Broadmoor Improvement Association was none other than David Winkler-Schmidt.  In addition to the BIA work, Winkler-Schmidt also serves currently as Cantrell’s Council District B Communications Director and Cantrell’s Mayoral Campaign Spokesman.  The professional overlap is of note as Winkler-Schmidt, a transplant from New York, worked for BIA from 2011-2015, is employed by the City (working for the Council) from 2012 to present, and created his own marketing group in 2013.  So New Orleans is supporting an out-of-state leach who is paid using tax dollars while simultaneously running his own company and working on a political campaign.

Kelli Wright served on the Broadmoor Improvement Association board.  Her husband is Kurt Hagstette. His company Eskew+Dumez+Ripple was awarded the contract to renovate the Rosa F. Keller Library and Community Center in the heart of Broadmoor and Hagstette’s company notes he worked on the project.

“Having the ability to break things down at that neighborhood level like I did in Broadmoor has served me over and over again very well,” Cantrell said in the Advocate.

The Times Picayune paraphrased her saying: Some of what works in Broadmoor, for instance, could be replicated in other neighborhoods.

LaToya Cantrell is financial malfeasance.  The California native talks the Broadmoor neighborhood talk, then travels to Aspen, D.C., New York, Italy, and beyond, all on tax payers’ money.  She uses the City’s credit card as if it is her personal account.  Cantrell had an IRS lien placed on her property for not paying taxes for three years.  LaToya’s husband Jason Cantrell actually dropped a joint in court with talking with a police officer, he was a City Attorney at the time.  The warning signs are everywhere, and even the fundamental base she stands on is now shown to be a façade.

Cantrell’s reputation as a true leader of New Orleans comes largely on her reputation as a community organizer.  This reputation is a hologram, it disappears when the sun shines on it.  LaToya Cantrell created the Broadmoor Improvement Association that now serves as a neighborhood fiefdom.  She set it up to collect a relatively small amount of money from each property owner, advertising it as crime prevention efforts, when in reality, the funds are overwhelmingly spent in other directions and to selected connected people.

If LaToya Cantrell will run New Orleans in a similar way, expect pushing the limits on spending, expect creative budget expenses, expect inside deals, expect misrepresentation, and expect no focus on security and crime prevention.  But New Orleanians may be able to do the important things like yoga and take citizenship classes!

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