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Bring New Orleans Back commission hosts local Town Hall

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX – Catherine Cuellar, 90.1 Reporter: Emotions ran high among the hundreds of evacuees in attendance, dozens of whom signed up to speak. The first half-hour was dedicated to reviewing information about housing and employment. Former New Orleans resident Frances Smith Dean was among many who expressed frustration over hours spent waiting to get answers online or over the phone.

Frances Smith Dean: Communication is the number one thing. We should be able to go to one center and access what you're saying. How many people in this room have Internet? I happen to, but a lot of people don't. We should have a center, a New Orleans comeback center to assist our residents.

Cuellar: Other evacuees were also frustrated by the absence of Mayor Nagin or any elected officials from Louisiana. But several said that living in Texas has helped them realize what New Orleans lacks, and could offer in the future.

Joseph Johnson: My father had a third grade education. But he knew how to take care of himself, be independent, support his seven children that didn't go hungry and didn't beg for nothing, and didn't take welfare. And I haven't done that either, until I got food stamps here (crowd laughs) in Irving. Never thought I'd be there. But I am, and guess what? I'm accepting it. And I'm going to move on, and I'm going to make a better life for myself. And if everyone in this room realizes individuals is what makes things happen. Not organizations, not groups. It's individuals.

Unidentified woman: When I look at Plano, Plano is immaculate. You don't find paper on the grounds. You don't find canes. You don't find cigarette butts. Nothing of that nature.

Stanley Morlier: What I learned out here in Dallas is that they start with their school system. The schools are wonderful. (applause) We couldn't even pay in New Orleans for what we're getting public out here.

Cuellar: Several speakers also expressed concern that graft and corruption in local politics would taint reconstruction efforts. Commissioner Anthony Patton, who chairs the Bring New Orleans Back committee on economic development, tried to steer the conversation from sniping to solutions.

Anthony Patton: I'm gonna ask you what does the city need to do? If you were creating this plan, if you were me what would you put in this plan that would make sure that you come back home? [crowd noise]

Emmanuel Cole: Nah, I don't want money first. No. I want you to stop stealing the money first [applause]. Because if you stop stealing and making sure you're taken care of, then that money could actually come out to the people, and help them and make sure they're taken care of.

Cuellar: After more than three hours, the crowd dwindled from hundreds to dozens. Patton addressed many concerns as they came up, and concluded by urging former New Orleans residents, especially African-Americans, to organize themselves to be part of the rebuilding efforts.

Patton: New Orleans is pretty much people who were born in New Orleans. Even if they get educated somewhere else, they come back home. So I think that it's our duty to go back and make it a better place for those of us that have opportunity. to make it a better place for people that quite frankly don't feel there's other options that are going to go back just on default.

Cuellar: Only 60,000 people are now living in New Orleans. 400,000 remain displaced. Feedback from the town hall meetings will help shape a new master plan for the city. The next Bring New Orleans Back event is tonight in the Round Up Inn at Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

Producers note: The Bring New Orleans Back Commission meeting will be held tonight (Thursday, Dec. 8) at 6 p.m. at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Room 200 A&B. The meeting was originally scheduled for Wednesday evening at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, but was postponed because of weather.

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