Vote NO on April 29th

Sheriff Susan Hutson has quietly placed a question on this ballot that would expand OPSO’s current property tax millage from 2.8 mils to 5.5 for the next ten years boosting her annual budget by about $13 million. Hutson hasn’t offered a detailed description of her plans for the funding increase. She has called it a “compliance millage” which would imply that it is meant to help bring the jail into compliance with the dictates of federal oversight. But most of the money seems designated for staff raises and an, as yet, incomplete list of building improvements. As is often the case with the infamously opaque and unaccountable Sheriff’s department, voters are just expected to trust whoever holds the office. In that regard, Hutson hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

For example, there was the $30,000 Hutson paid in consultation fees to “friend and valued partner” Kyshun Webster last year. This came immediately after Webster had been forced to resign a post as head of the Juvenile Justice Center amid multiple controversies involving abusive treatment of employees and neglect of his own duties as he devoted more of his time to his private insurance business. Previously, a federal audit found that Webster’s “mentoring and tutoring” non-profit had mishandled nearly $900,000 in grant funds back in 2012.  It’s unclear exactly what Hutson learned from Webster’s consulting stint. Apparently he invoiced her for his legwork picking out office space and cleaning equipment. One wonders, though, if Hutson’s illegal attempts to keep incidences of violence and abuse in the jail she is running under a veil of secrecy might also be chalked up to Webster’s “mentorship.”

During this past Carnival season, Hutson’s office was charged with coordinating the city’s last minute mad scramble to staff parade routes with supplemental police and sheriff’s deputies from around the state.  Law enforcement agencies have made it an annual routine to hold Mardi Gras hostage in order to shake down the city for money. This act has only grown more farcical in recent years and, this year, Hutson’s participation has drawn particular scrutiny. According to reports, the Sheriff booked 13 or 15 hotel rooms for what looks like as many as 11 days and nights during the Carnival season, ostensibly for her staff and deputies. No audit can show exactly who used the rooms, though. After the story became a public controversy, Hutson announced the $18,000 hotel bill would be covered through private donations. This only raises further ethical questions, however. So does an expenditure of over $15,000 on a “conflict coaching” consultant to deal with the understandable push back from dissenting advisors among her staff. That money was poorly spent also. Hutson went ahead and fired four of her top staff anyway. At least one of them is considering filing for whistleblower status.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is a great black hole through which public resources are sucked into a carceral system that can only produce corruption and violence. Sheriff Hutson campaigned on promises to “reform” the quagmire. But since she took office, the jail population has only expanded. And now she is asking us to grow its budget. In the 2021 municipal runoff elections edition of our voter guide, we recommended voting for Susan Hutson in 2021 as an opposition candidate to then-sitting Sheriff Marlin Gusman with the understanding that “the Chapter does not consider Hutson nor any other actual or potential law enforcement officer an ally, but considers Hutson an enemy we can more effectively oppose as we continue our work to abolish carceral policing.” We can only conclude that the millage funds would be utilized by Sheriff Hutson’s office to pursue aims counter to our own stated goal of abolishing the carceral police state as we know it. Therefore, we recommend voting NO on Sheriff Hutson’s proposal, as confirmed by a unanimous vote of our General Membership.