May 9, 2008
201 St. Charles Avenue, Ste. 4400
New Orleans, LA 70170
Re: Ethics Board Docket No. 2008-369
Dear Mr. Elkins and Ms. Chalker:
The Louisiana Board of Ethics, at its May 8, 2008 meeting, considered a request for an advisory opinion as to the propriety of your client, Sean Cummings, who is the Executive Director of the New Orleans Building Corporation (NOBC), participating in matters concerning the redevelopment of the New Orleans riverfront when he and his parents own land near the riverfront.
You stated that the City of New Orleans and the Port of New Orleans entered into a cooperative endeavor agreement to provide for maritime and non-maritime uses of 4½ miles of riverfront. Substantial detailed information was provided as to the development of the riverfront. The NOBC will be responsible for letting contracts and administering leases. The development project is known as “Reinventing the Crescent.” Mr. Cummings has served on the steering committee for “Reinventing the Crescent,” as well as the committee to select a design firm. The NOBC approved the design plan on January 9, 2008 and authorized work to begin on the first phase of the project. The first issue involves the first phase, which includes the sale by the Port to the City of the Mandeville Street Wharf to be developed into a performance venue. Pursuant to the Reinventing the Crescent Plan, the only development proposed in front of property owned by Mr. Cummings and/or his father is for green space and a bike path.
Also, you stated that the second issue involves the part of the plan as it relates to the World Trade Center Building, which NOBC leases. The plan calls for the creation of residential units and a proposed hotel. Mr. Cummings owns the International House Hotel and related facilities that are approximately 5 blocks from the World Trade Center.
Section 1112 of the Code prohibits Mr. Cummings from participating in transactions as the Executive Director of the NOBC, or member of the various committees involved with Reinventing the Crescent, in which he, his father, or his companies have a substantial economic interest.
The Board concluded, and instructed me to inform you, that in his capacity as the Executive Director of the NOBC, Mr. Cummings is a public servant subject to the provisions of the Ethics Code. As a public servant his agency includes the NOBC and Reinventing the Crescent. Furthermore, the Board concluded that based on the information provided, Mr. Cummings is not prohibited from participating in transactions involving the implementation of the Reinventing the Crescent Plan. Section 1112 of the Code prohibits a public servant from participating in a transaction in which he, his family members or his businesses have a substantial economic interest. The term “substantial economic interest” is defined in the Code as “an economic interest which is of greater benefit to the public servant or other person than to a general class or group of persons, except . . . [t]he interest that a person has as a member of the general public.” Based on the information provided in connection with the request for the opinion, Mr. Cummings does not have a substantial economic interest in matters before the NOBC involving the implementation of the Reinventing the Crescent Plan. However, the Board instructed the staff to advise you to seek an advisory opinion prior to any participation in a future matter that will result in a deviation from the plan as approved by the NOBC or if Mr. Cummings acquires additional property in proximity to the riverfront.
Finally, based on the fact that Mr. Cummings' hotel and related facilities are five blocks away from the World Trade Center building and the lease of the building does not directly impact those properties, it does not appear that Mr. Cummings’ actions as NOBC Executive Director with respect to the lease present a potential violation of Section 1112. However, if in the future, matters come before the NOBC that involve the World Trade Center that will have an impact on his properties, Mr. Cummings should request an advisory opinion.
The Board issues no opinion as to past conduct or the application of laws other than the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics. If you have any questions, please contact me at (225) 763-8777 or 1-800-842-6630.
LOUISIANA BOARD OF ETHICS
Kathleen M. Allen
For the Board