Friday, December 30, 2005


I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I wanted to make sure that the reasons for my position were clear. I know that I'm taking an unpopular position (at least among liberals or even some moderates) and I've been reluctant to publicly criticize the mayor, but he needs to show some leadership, not bossiness.

Before I go into detail about why I blame the mayor for the impass over the placement of FEMA trailers, I should explain why I've been disillusioned with Nagin for weeks now. Much as I dislike bringing personal matters into political discussions, it's important to disclose any personal biases. Also, the two reasons that I'll give are both pertinent to this discussion.

I can't be the only New Orleanian who started to feel like the mayor was out of touch in late September and early October when he seemed unwillingly to discuss any parts of town other than uptown, Algiers or The French Quarter. I understood the need to get the viable parts of the city up and running first, if only so the city could start collecting tax revenue. I even understood that business owners had priority getting into the more heavily damaged areas. But, I couldn't understand the mayor's unwillingness to set any kind of timetable for letting residents into most of the city. The absurdity of the situation struck me when I was told by an NOPD officer that I couldn't enter Orleans Parish, at Metairie Road, a week after Rita. On that particular afternoon, there were national guardsmen, NOPD officers, JP sheriff's deputies, La. state troopers and out of state law enforcement personnel in town to help out. In addition to wondering if I'd find out whether or not I still owned a jacket before the Fall's first cool front, I also wondered why all those law enforcement personnel were in one place. Since the city was so strapped for resources, it only seemed logical to open up neighborhoods (on a daylight only basis) while there were extra policemen in town. But the mayor just refused to explain what was going on. Frankly the mayor's attitude was reminiscent of a boss who won't explain himself to his staff. When the mayor changed his mind and started allowing people into most of the city (west of the canal) a few days later, he didn't come across as flexible and reasonable. He just came across (to me anyway) as a stubborn jerk boss who won't change his mind, but will back down when overruled or faced with a determined strike.

The mayor further alienated me with the city's lay off announcements in the middle of October. I don't fault the mayor for the fact that my (now former)department was one of the two most heavily hit by lay-offs, but I found it inappropriate for the mayor to scoff at the notion of taking a pay cut. Personally, I think every city employee that was retained should have been a potential candidate for a pay cut and every employee who made over $100,000 should have taken an immediate pay cut, starting with the mayor (When I went down to make my January COBRA payment yesterday, I was amazed at the line at permits. If capping city pay at $100,000 could have kept any more permits employees on the staff, it would have been worth it). More importantly, I found it inexplicable that outside of the police and fire departments, the mayor's office was the least affected by lay-offs (The Sewerage and Water Board and School Board are budgeted seperately). How was the mayor's office able to retain 65 out of 100 employees at a time that the city laid-off two thirds of its civilian workforce? Did the mayor's office actually lose any employees that had returned to New Orleans? This actually has some relevance to the trailer discussion. Not much, but some, I promise.

Before I go any further, I should say that I'm appalled by the selfishness and even racism behind much of the NIMBY attitude; I certainly don't deny that it's there. But Nagin's "because I'm the mayor" (I know, BITM's a lousy acronym) attitude makes it difficult to fault many residents for their selfishness. Worse, it makes easy for some city council members to demagog the issue. If someone offers what seem to be reasonable objections and reasonable alternatives to trailer locations, I'm not going to call him a racist or even a selfish jerk. I certainly won't do that until the mayor actually points out what's wrong with some of those alternatives.

A letter in Monday's Picayune suggested that trailers go in the site of the abandoned National grocery at Carrollton and Claiborne rather than in Palmer Park. It certainly seems like a reasonable suggestion. If it's not, why doesn't the mayor's office explain why? I certainly don't think anyone can accuse the writer of this letter to Gambit of having a NIMBY attitude:

There's been a lot of discussion about placing trailers in parks, but what about parking them where it makes more sense: on surface parking. There's plenty of surface parking throughout the city, and with the decreased population and the fact that many cars were destroyed in the storm, one can imagine that there's excess space for trailers to be placed.

The city government should take the lead on this and show the country that housing displaced citizens is more important than reserving parking lots for vehicles. If the government fails to lead the way in this regard, then individuals, private businesses, churches and community centers could show them how it's done. Open up your parking lots. Give people a place to stay.

Michael Rolfus
Vienna, Austria
(Formerly of New Orleans)

Again, that seems like a reasonable suggestion. There may well be problems with it, but the mayor would rather say "NIMBY attitude" than have anyone from his office point them out. It's not like his office is that short staffed.

I have been disenchanted with Nagin for quite a while before Katrina. The man has a severe lack of compassion. He does not seem to understand people who have to live from paycheck to paycheck. It would not surprise me if his office did not lay-off one person—those are his friends.

I remember when the lay-off announcement was made. A member of the media asked Nagin if he would take a cut in salary, or relinquish his pay. He responded that he would not, as, he, himself, was rendered homeless. We now know that his home actually suffered minimal damage. With a bankroll the size of his, he could do some community service for the city he supposedly loves. That would be too much to expect from someone like him.

Good luck to you,
Carson W. Maxwell
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