Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Time to Give Nagin the Ultimate Cut

I can understand the reluctance to criticize Nagin when so many in Washington are looking for any excuse to cut back on aid to the city. I also know that in criticizing the mayor on NIMBY, I had fallen in with a rather bad crowd. Hell Nagin was right on the big picture there; I just thought that he was probably wrong on some details--we couldn't be sure because he wouldn't answer questions about details. Let's face it, saying (in effect)"I'm right, but I won't tell you why I'm right," ain't exactly leadership.

Anyway, I can understand the reluctance of Democrats and liberals to criticize Nagin on NIMBY--who wants to get bed with racists? But I can't understand the general reluctance on the part of Democrats to criticize him at all. It's common knowledge that Nagin had been a registered Republican before changing registration to run for mayor and that he endorsed Bobby Jindal for governor. And I'll always wonder what he was thinking during his Meet The Press appearance last September. He was, at best, naive and misguided; at worst, simultaneously naive and cynical.

The attempt to mend fences with the White House was understandable, but the scapegoating of Blanco was inexcusable. Even if he truly believed (at that point) that the state was at more at fault than the federal government, he should have gotten all the facts before speaking publicly. If he thought that he could work out (or had worked out) a deal with Bush to scapegoat Blanco, one can only shake one's head--even if he thought he could get better treatment for the city that way. How he could not have realized that the administration was pursuing a divide and conquer strategy? At any rate, he didn't seem to appreciate that he and Blanco needed to present a united front until after the national GOP started to attack him. In the meantime not just he and Blanco were made to look bad, the state and the city were as well. But that's not sufficient grounds for voting Nagin out of office.

To elaborate on a previous post, Nagin's biggest failure has come in his handling of the layoffs caused by the city's budget crisis. When the layoffs were announced, the savings seemed suprisingly small for a 2/3 reduction in civilian workforce.* At the very least, the layoffs had to have been concentrated at the bottom of the pay scale. I'll return to that in more detail in a future post. But if the layoffs are "pretty permanent," one has to wonder why most, if not all, of the upper management has been retained. One obvious question that this article in last month's T/P should have raised is: how did NORD go from having a staff of 404 to having 20 employees, yet retain both its director and deputy director? Is this case across city government? The library has gone from 213 to 19 employees, yet we still have both a city librarian and assistant city librarian. Does the Mosquito Control Department still have both a director and deputy director (combined salaries of over $185,000, p.14 of the pdf file)? If the layoffs were expected to be temporary, maintaining all the upper management might be standard procedure. As it is, it seems incredibly wasteful.

More wasteful than the failure to consolidate upper level positions, is the refusal to consider pay cuts for upper level employees. In 2002, salaries in the mayor's office were increased by 17-84% for a total of over $420,000. Soon after, another $440,000 in pay raises were sought for eight civil servants; all told, the mayor "proposed substantial raises for nearly three dozen high-level positions in city government". As far as I can tell, the bulk of these raises were granted.* At any rate, during Nagin's first three years in office, upper level pay in city government has increased well above the 5% across the board increase for all city employees granted in 2004. For example, the pay of the city librarian has inreased from $68,058 to $83,024 while the director and deputy director of mosquito control received a combined $75,000 in pay increases. The same level of savings could have easily been achieved with far fewer layoffs.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't expect the average citizen to have much interest. In a city where tens of thousands have lost their jobs, what are a few dozen needlessly laid off city workers, more or less? But these aren't normal circumstances. The city's recovery has been severely hampered by the delays that home and business owners have faced with inspections and permits-- the city only has two electrical inspectors. With the just that $420,000* in increased pay in the mayor's office, the city could do much to shorten the wait: assume the cost of a fully loaded employee to be three times salary (business texts give a figure of 2-3), assume also a salary of $40,000 for an electrical inspector (listed hiring rate $38,914 for an inspector III, lower for I and II). With $420,000 the city could hire three more electrical inspectors with $60,000 left to hire another clerk for the permits department.

If the math doesn't convince you, go to city hall and take the elevator to the seventh floor. If the line to get into permits doesn't convince you, try reading the letters to the editor in the Picayune:

I love New Orleans, but can't take the banana republic mentality anymore. I've accepted a job out of town and my wife, my three kids and I are leaving. That's it. I'm done.

I have loved the city for its uniqueness of character and its joie de vivre. But the frustration of waiting for an electrical inspector at my rental property, in an area Uptown off St. Charles Avenue that's long had juice, has put me over the edge.

Mayor Ray Nagin has pleaded with folks to come back. But he won't even see to it that a major American city has a streamlined way of turning on electricity to individual houses that weren't flooded.

I've had enough! Good-bye!

Yet the mayor scoffs at the idea of pay cuts, and dissmissively suggests that voters can give him the ultimate cut. Good Idea.

Notes: The reduction in city workforce is usually listed as 40%, however if one excludes police officers and fire fighters the figure is about 63%.

Exact figures for city payroll are almost impossible to obtain on line and, of course, the library system and city hall are not yet fully operational. Also, the city hasn't released figures on what positions have been eliminated, or retained, and at what salaries. From what I could find (through internet, newspaper files and emails), the bulk of the pay increases were granted.

The $420,000 figure for increased salaries includes $150,000 for the newly created position of chief technology officer. Even retaining that position (at that salary), leaves $270,000. More than enough to double the number of electrical inspectors.

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