Saturday, January 14, 2006

From today's Times Picayune:

the city's woefully understaffed Department of Safety and Permits remains a major bottleneck in the effort to repower the city.

The department went from 10 to two electrical inspectors in the weeks after Katrina, while permit applications soared 80 percent, said Greg Meffert, Mayor Ray Nagin's chief technology officer. The staffing problem was not the result of mass layoffs after the storm. Instead, some inspectors failed to return to work, and others have quit, Meffert said.

After several false starts, the department last week hired a private firm to resupply the depleted electricity inspector ranks. The department should have 10 inspectors working by the end of the week and more on the way, Meffert said.

That's certainly good news, but it doesn't change the point of Tuesday's posting. If the city had consolidated upper level positions or eliminated upper level pay raises from 2002*, the city could have hired more inspectors when it first announced layoffs in October. In the past three months, how many letters to the editor have we seen from New Orleanians who were ready to throw in the towel because of the wait for inspections?

The problem goes deeper than electrical inspectors. The city seems to be trying to retain the same number of upper level employees (at the same salaries) as it had for a city of 460,000 even though everyone estimates that its population will be about 250,000 for the foreseeable future. Because of that, it can't afford the lower level employees needed to provide basic services for its estimated current population of 150,000.

I suppose it's possible that the mayor started cutting staff at the bottom to maximize the number of cuts and pressure the federal government. If so, it didn't work. If the new realities are forcing the city to examine what areas will be re-settled, shouldn't they force the city to examine how to best use its resources to help the recovery? Or is the mayor too busy vacationing in Jamaica to bother with minor details?

Note: I'm most definitely not talking about the across the board 5% raise that all employees received two years ago. I'm referring to the substantial increases that top employees received when Nagin first took office. If Nagin announces that he's dealing with budget problems through a temporary 10% across the board pay cut, it will be his biggest cop out yet.

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