Doing the Right Thing

Thursday, NOPD Chief Warren Riley announced that after departmental hearings conducted this week, he has suspended from the police force two officers who made news in all the wrong ways in recent days. Ashley Terry is the cop who terrorized a community center with her cursings and gun wavings. Donyell Sanchell led the bridge cops on a high speed chase, almost ran over a policeman in his truck, and slapped another. Both have been fired.

Riley announced that he moved quickly on these cases because of the public outcry and the overwhelming nature of the evidence against them. In Sanchell’s case, police cars recorded the entire thing on video. In Terry’s case, the community center produced witness after witness to incriminate her.

Chief Riley said he’s turning both cases over to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

Interestingly, the chief said two representatives from Inspector General Robert Cerasoli’s office sat in on the hearings. “I wanted them to see that we conduct our business open and above board,” Riley said.

A later hearing will be held for the police officer who responded to the 911 call at the community center and dismissed the matter without interviewing a soul. Look for him to be disciplined.

On a closely-related matter, the new Chief of the Causeway Police is Nick Congemi, for 16 years chief of the Kenner Police Department. The causeway position became vacant recently after it came to light that police on this 23-mile bridge had stopped a drunken Mayor Eddie Price of Mandeville and did not charge him. Several officers were terminated and the chief resigned. When the position of chief was opened for applications, a dozen or more candidates responded. Today, the board administering the causeway affairs voted unanimously to hire Chief Congemi.

Nick Congemi is a man of great integrity and the highest character. I was privileged to pastor his father-in-law Everett Beasley for all my 14 years at FBC-Kenner, and came to a high appreciation of Mr. Congemi and his family.

The more we hear of the disaster on the Mississippi River, the worse it gets.

A hundred miles of the river is closed to traffic due to the oil spill from yesterday when a tanker hit a barge. The barge, we now hear, is at the bottom of the river and still leaking oil. One wonders how any could be left, when we are told that 400,000 gallons poured into the great river. Meanwhile, cruise ships cannot get into the city to unload and pick up passengers, so the city misses out on that business. Also, a string of great tankers and cargo ships have formed a line out in the Gulf, waiting for the day when they can sail north.

This morning (Thursday), the news reported that Mayor C. Ray Nagin said it’s “probably” all right to drink the city’s tap water. He didn’t sound very confident. Our water–the water from all municipalities around here–comes from the Mississippi River, which is a frightening thought even in good times. Of course, it’s processed and purified and pronounced safe by every health department which tests it. Now, some of the cities or parishes are running low and having to borrow water from others.

Two days ago, one of our pastors called to ask if I had heard of the controversy involving “NOAH.” Now, the only NOAH I know of (other than the one in Genesis) is NAMB’s Operation NOAH Rebuild, the Southern Baptist ministry based at Calvary Baptist Church, which coordinates the work of thousands of church volunteers in rebuilding homes and churches of the city. In this case, NOAH stands for “New Orleans Area Hope.”

It turns out there is another NOAH, run from the mayor’s office, and that one has received some unfavorable publicity.

New Orleans Affordable Homeownership–also NOAH–says its purpose is to help elderly and poor homeowners rebuild their Katrina-damaged houses. But a report Monday from WWL-TV revealed that a large number of homes the agency claims to have restored are all a fiction. They were never even started.

We know nothing of that program–in fact, I never knew it existed–so have nothing further to contribute to that bit of unwelcome news. However, our people with Operation NOAH were quick to speak up, to let everyone know that our NOAH ministry is doing great. David Maxwell, the coordinator of Operation NOAH Rebuild, told the Baptist Press, “We have worked hard and we have a great reputation in the community. I would hate for any of the homeowners we helped to hear the news accounts and think they are about us.”

David adds that the SBC NOAH program has not accepted any city funding. In fact, church volunteers pay their own way down here and have to cover their own costs for food and lodging. Everything we provide for homeowners is free of charge, done in the name of Jesus for the glory of God.

Maxwell said, “My wife and I came here two years ago because we wanted to help the people of New Orleans. I have met so many who have lost $40,000 or $60,000 or even $80,000 to fraudulent contractors. This scandal is just one more in a series people have had to endure.”

Operation NOAH Rebuild’s numbers are impressive. Since early 2006, some 22,000 Southern Baptists have helped 1,350 families move back home. Included in that are 616 homes which were gutted and 144 which have been completely rebuilt.

For much of the summer, we’ve been blessed by as many as 500 volunteers a day helping to rebuild homes and churches. However, David Maxwell points out, those numbers have dropped off recently.

“We need more volunteers,” he says. “Especially those who are skilled electricians, plumbers, and sheetrock finishers. We also need teams who can come down with their own team leaders because we are not able to provide daylong oversight at each of the construction sites.”

For more information on how to volunteer to help with the rebuild, go to

Our thanks to NAMB and the Baptist Press for helping us to get this word out. Trust is a precious commodity and we are determined to do nothing to jeopardize it.

Monday morning, I was delighted to find in the mail two checks, one for $5,000 and one for twice that amount. The large check came from the Baptist Convention of New York, with instructions from Executive Director Terry Robertson to use the money to assist our churches which are in the process of rebuilding. The other check, from a dear friend in Jackson, Mississippi, gave a similar request.

One of the fun things Freddie Arnold and I do is to have a discussion as to which church needs the money most and how much to send. We sent the $5,000 to one church which has been slowly building a new plant from scratch as the money becomes available. The other money was parceled out, a thousand here, a thousand there, in order to encourage a number of our churches.

In doing this, we give the receiving churches a copy of the letter which arrived with the checks and encourage them that in writing thank-you notes, they should include information about their church and their particular rebuilding project. I said to one pastor, “Who knows–if they like what they see about your work, they may decide they want to help you more!”

Thursday night, the funeral for Harlan “Lanny” Northcott took place at Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home in Metairie. I arrived 40 minutes early and could not find a parking spot. This delightful man had more friends! Catholic Priest Beau Charbonnet and I were the ministers for the service, which involved a number of testimonies from family members.

I’ve reported here that Lanny, a pilot of long-standing, died in a crash one week ago while ferrying two people to a cancer treatment center in the Angel Flight program. When I mentioned his story to a pilot friend, he said, “Mr. Northcott was 81? He shouldn’t have been flying! That’s too old. Your reflexes slow down so much.”

I’m not a flier and haven’t a clue. But he was such a fine man in a hundred ways, it does seem fitting that with his final act on earth, he was doing the two things he loved best: helping people and flying.

My buddy Chet Griffin, Viet Nam fighter pilot and wing commander at Columbus Air Force, is a little younger than me and tells me he has quit flying. There comes a time, and wise is the person who knows how to tell that time. That’s also true of driving–there’s a time to give up the car and turn in your drivers license–and that’s where tough love from family members is required. (I do not mean this as criticism of our friend Lanny; what’s done is done, and we give thanks for the man with the great smile and incredible heart.)

At the funeral, I read “High Flight,” the poem every pilot chooses as his/her favorite. It was written by a 19 year old RCAF Spitfire pilot, John Gillespie Magee, who died shortly thereafter in a mid-air collision in 1941. I’m confident you remember how it begins and ends: “O, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth….put out my hand and touched the face of God.” President Reagan quoted those lines in January of 1986 after the death of the Challenger astronauts. So many of the gravestones at Arlington, I’m told, carry references to this poem.

Beau Charbonnet delivered a great line which I’ll be using again. FAMILY is an acrostic for: “Forget About Me; I Love You. ”

That reminds me of one from local pastor and high school football coach Lionel Roberts. He said, “COACH stands for ‘Called Out As Christ’s Helper.'” Beau’s comment also reminded me of the license plate number for Chet Griffin’s wife. I had to ask what ELGILY means. He explained, “When I bought her this car, I ordered the plate. It means Eva Lee Griffin, I Love You.”

As you can see, everything reminds me of something else. So before another idea hits, I’ll do the right thing and shut ‘er down.

2 thoughts on “Doing the Right Thing

  1. It is so much more fun reading your accounts of newspaper articles and local happenings than it is to read the newspaper itself. Now I can concentrate on the puzzles!

  2. Lanny would certainly have to be one of our heroes!! Yes, flying is more hazardous than many occupations (at least the insurance companies think so), as anything, including step ladders, that can get you more than a few feet off the ground can be very unforgiving;instantly. Lanny was no doubt pursuing his very real passion for flying while also involved in a humanitarian mission. Though I flew for many years professionally and have investigated and studied many accidents, I have no way of knowing Lanny’s circumstances. Most accidents involve bad judgements by the pilot, and pilots of Lanny’s age and experience and prone to be very careful and actually less likely to make a mistake or get themselves “in over their head” by trying to show off or impress someone. In my flying experience, quick reflexies were no substitute for good judgement, and Lanny’s judgemnent was likely honed to a very fine edge. Let’s think of him, like Gillespies’s aviator in “High Flight”, as already having had the joy of reaching out and touching the face of God.

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