Second-line, frontlines (the sequel).

Second-lines parade roll on, less expensively.

City and Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force Agree on a Fee

They were back at Lafayette Square, in the early morning hours yesterday morning, across the street from US. District court, right under the statue of Henry Clay, a statesman best known as the "great compromiser": Tamara Jackson, president of the Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force; Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney of the ACLU; Carol Kolinchak, pro bono cooperating attorney; and some two dozen officers and members of the 19 Social Aid & pleasure clubs represented in a lawsuit protesting the raised police security fees imposed by the city of New Orleans. Gerald Platenburg wore a collared shirt bearing the logo of his club, Nine Times, from the Upper Ninth Ward; his business manager, Corey Wilkes, was at his side. And T-Shirts and jackets signified some of the organizations whose weekly assemblies, shows of solidarity, purpose, music and joy, were in doubt: Valley of Silent Men; We Are One; Lady Rulers; Original 4, Original Pigeontown Steppers, among others.

As the 10am hearing time approached, a circle was formed, hands joined. "We pray for the continuation of our culture of our peaceful assembly, of our music and dancing," said Theris Valdery, president of the Revolution club, "and freedom from the obstacles in our path."

But 10 am came and passed, as Schwartzmann and Kolinchak huddled at the end of a third-floor hallway with City Deputy Attorney Joe DiRosa.

The club members mostly sat quietly in the wooden chairs that lined the hallway. Supporters and friends -- scholar Helen Regis, outreach organizer Jordan Hirsch, producer and nonprofit director Ariana Hall, among others.

"We just want to understand the fees, know why they're so high," Platenburg said to me. "We just hope they'll be fair to us."

"He doesn't want us on the streets," said Kim Davis, business manager of We Are One, as she pointed to Police representative Joe Valiente, who had joined the lawyers conference.

By 10:45, all had entered the paneled, carpeted courtroom. Judge Kurt Engelhardt acknowledged the agreement between the two sides: The new fee would be $1,985, slightly more than half that proposed by the city after a shooting that took place on the same day as January 2006 second-line parade.

DiRosa ran through the specifics for the record: the city would charge the Social Aid & Pleasure clubs for no more than 10 officers at each parade, in accordance with a city ordinance dating to the 1950s (however, the city would continue to provide up to 20 officers at each event). The clubs would limit their events to a five-hour window, with the last hour dedicated to "crowd disbandment"(In the event that a club wanted a six-hour time frame, the fee would rise to $2430.)

Significantly, some points of consternation that arose during the months of talks about these issues were addressed as well: The city agreed to provide a list of assigned officers prior to each parade, whenever possible, and a detailed accounting after the event (there has been some question among club members about complete delivery of the services billed). Also, the city set aside the final 45 minutes of each five-hour period for use of sirens and other methods of effecting disbandment (there have been complaints of disruptive and intimidating use of sirens, etc. during the events). Lastly, the city agreed to pick up the $11,000 cost of litigation costs on behalf of the clubs.

Both sides agreed to set their terms into a binding agreement within 60 days, with the court retaining oversight over any disputes. (DiRosa pointed out that all such agreements would naturally be subject to city council rulings.)

Judge Engelhardt praised the parties involved for their efforts at cooperation. "I've always felt that this complaint could and should be resolved between the parties," he said.

Outside the courtroom, DiRosa expressed his satisfaction. "It was a positive outcome for both sides," he said. "Each side worked hard to understand the issues of concern, and I think we came out with a better understanding of each other." Although he'd been aware of the second-line parading tradition for most of his life, DiRosa said that he'd attended Sunday's second-line by the Ole & Nu Style Fellas Social Aid & Pleasure club, something of a research trip. "It was a great time for everyone," he said. "But I also got a clearer idea of just how much work is involved in working these parades. They're different than any other events in the city, and they present very specific challenges, from a police point of view." He cited the agreement to extend the service period from four to five hours as the "clincher" in the deal.

Outside the courthouse, the mood was one of subdued celebration among Social Aid and Pleasure club members. "There's strength in organizing," Tamara Jackson told me. Turning to the group, she raised her voice and her hand. "Didn't I tell y'all to have faith?"

"This wasn't just about money," said Joe Henry, president of the Original Pigeontown Steppers. 'It was about respect and about continuing something important. Don't get us wrong: We want the police protection. We just don't want to have foot the whole bill. We're not against the city; we just want to be dealt with proper."

"We didn't get exactly what we want," Said Platenburg, referring to the $1200 fee in effect just two years ago. "But now at least we can all move on."

Not all the Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans were represented by this lawsuit and its pending contract. But the comments of DiRosa and Judge Engelhardt implied that these clubs would be subject to the same criteria regarding their fees. And though the resulting agreement remains subject to any future changes in city ordinance, Schwartzmann felt that fact could work to the clubs' advantage. "We're hopeful that, if anything, the city may rethink these policies in favor of the clubs and their valuable parading tradition."

April 26, 2007 12:13 PM |


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