Michael Isaac Stein
The Uneven Gains of Energy Efficiency (Bloomberg CityLab)
Police Lawsuits Provide an Inside View of Cash Register Justice in Louisiana (Scalawag)
Entergy Shareholder Payments Reach $1.5 Billion in Two Years as Customer Bills Rise (The Lens)
Frontline Workers Scramble to Organize as Pandemic Restrictions Ease (The Lens)
How to Save a Town From Rising Waters (Bloomberg CityLab)
New Orleans Surveillance Program Gives Powerful Tools to Police Department With History of Abuse (The Intercept)
Power company astroturfing
I broke the story of how New Orleans' power company, Entergy New Orleans, paid actors to pose as supporters of its controversial gas plant at regulatory hearings. Our reporting prompted the City Council to launch an investigation of its own, resulting in a $5 million fine against the company and changes to the city's public speaking rules. The company's CEO stepped down three months after The Lens' first exposed the astroturfing scheme.
Five-part series on New Orleans surveillance
In 2021, years of reporting on police surveillance coalesced in a five-part series called Neighborhoods Watched: The Rise of Urban Mass Surveillance. I wrote roughly 20,000 words on how the New Orleans' surveillance network works, as well as its lack of oversight or legal boundaries. I collaborated with graphic designers and surveillance researchers to formulate the project and present the work in an interactive web series.
I had previously done extensive reporting on New Orleans' surveillance apparatus since it was launched in 2017. For example, I was the first to report on the powerful analytic software behind the city's web of cameras. I exposed how the city was using facial recognition despite years of denial. And I reported on how the city has begun to use the cameras to justify firing employees and dispute workers compensation claims.
Mayor's deceptive campaign to cut public library budget
In 2021, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell launched a ballot initiative that would have cut the city's public library budget by roughly 40%. I did extensive explanatory reporting to highlight the misleading, and outright false, statements coming from the Cantrell administration. The stories were widely circulated. An opposition campaign quickly sprang up, and the ballot initiative was voted down by residents.
New Orleans' scandalous "smart cities" project
I was the first to do in-depth reporting on an ambiguous and dubious "smart cities" project the city was pursuing with a consortium of businesses that included NBA legend Magic Johnson. I was the first to report on the plan's questionable details — like its lack of a price tag and reliance on resident data mining — and on allegations that city officials conspired with the consortium to violate the city's public bid laws.
The project has since become a major political scandal and the project has been abandoned. The City Council and the city's Inspector General have launched investigations into the allegations, including subpoenas and the seizure of city computers. Those investigations are ongoing as of late 2022.
City consultants use political connections and donations to keep lucrative contracts
I looked back over three decades to expose how a group of consultants had been able to retain the City Council's most lucrative contracts for roughly 30 years by leveraging political connections and contributions to elected officials. The story explained how the City Council had practically outsourced its responsibility to regulate the local power company to this group of outside consultants.
Soon after our report was published, the City Council announced it would overhaul how it regulated the power company, and would reduce its reliance on consultants by hiring more regulatory staff. It has since significantly reduced its consultant spending.
Government official uses position to skirt pandemic restrictions
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, I discovered there was a wedding venue that continued to host 200-plus indoor wedding receptions, despite emergency restrictions meant to stop just that. The wedding venue was owned by the family of a local City Council member. I revealed that the Council member was formally employed as a consultant for the business, and that she had used her government email to lobby numerous state officials to ensure the venue continued operating.