Lawsuit: Nagin Violated Charter With VA Deal

Nagin's office said Tuesday afternoon that they had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

The plaintiffs -- New Orleans taxpayers who live on or near the proposed hospital site -- allege that the mayor lacked authority to enter into an agreement with the VA. They say the charter requires review by the council or planning commission, which must hold public hearings before the city can enter into such agreements, buy land or close streets.

The lawsuit asks the court to void the agreement and to stop the mayor and the city from carrying out plans for the hospital.

In an agreement Nagin signed with the VA in 2007, the mayor promised to turn a 34-acre section of the lower Mid-City neighborhood into a "construction ready" site for the VA hospital, according to the plaintiffs.

He promised to demolish houses and businesses, remove water and sewer lines and tear up the pavement in preparation for construction, the lawsuit claims. He also agreed that the city would pay as much as $5 million in penalties to the VA if the promises were not fulfilled by the deadline in November 2009, according to the suit.

The site is on the lake side of Galvez Street, between Canal and Tulane, just across Galvez from a similarly large site for a proposed Louisiana State University hospital.

"This lawsuit goes to the heart of whether this city is ruled by law, or by the whims of an individual mayor," said Thomas W. Milliner, an attorney for the plaintiffs and a former deputy city attorney under mayors Dutch Morial and Sidney Barthelemy. "Our charter protects us from arbitrary, unauthorized actions by the mayor and requires public hearings on issues of this importance."

"This case is important not just to the residents and businesses who would be displaced for this hospital but also to any citizen who needs protection from arbitrary property seizures and street closings by a future mayor for a future project."

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