Sunday, June 18, 2006

Shouldn't There Have Been Two Stories?

The Times Picayune finally reported on that RTA meeting that I mentioned yesterday. I wouldn't have expected a prominent story announcing the meeting in advance, just some kind of visible notice. Obviously, the failure of the T/P to announce yesterday's city planning in advance is a much bigger issue. If the Picayune has the information about these meetings in time to publicize them and is failing to do so, that's a highly questionable judgment call. If they are publishing such information, they might want to examine placement. If the agencies involved are failing to furnish the paper with the information in a timely manner, that seems like a major issue. It might even be worth a third of page one and a full four pages of section A--as the first part of a series.

Just to be clear on yesterday's post, there's almost certainly a lot worse than arrogance and indifference involved in the decision to limit public input into the decision making process; I just wanted to point out what seems to be an underlying mind set.

Back to the RTA, yesterday's story told us that the RTA board rejected the consultants' plan to reduce bus service. You had to go back to an
earlier story to find out that the consultants fees had already reached $1.8M, despite being budgeted for $1M. Neither story made it clear whether the consultants' contract limited their fees in any way. Also, it's impossible to tell, from the reporting, whether it would be more correct to say that the RTA awarded one its top managers a $25,000 pay raise or created a new $125,000 position.

To put that in perspective, today's lengthy articles (the beginning of a series) on wasteful spending by judges involved "hundreds of thousands" of dollars. Actually, $238,231 for 2004, the last year with published figures. Of course it's a bigger story than the amount of money involved, that $238,231 was wasted by judges all over the entire metropolitan area. Unfortunately, I can't go into this at the moment.

Why does it take a multi-million dollar consultant to take revenue forecasts and past budgets (operating costs) and figure out what can be kept open at the current cashflow. Hell, I was an English major, but I've been in the corporate world long enough to know that this is something I could figure out in a room for of people in perhaps a week, given a laptop and a copy of Excel. Just start paring until the books balance.
It's not just the consulting fee that's objectionable, although it does make you wonder what the six-figure execs who run the show are paid for, it's the obvious questions that it raises. In the short time since Katrina the consulting firm fees have run to 80% more than originally contracted for--at least one can infer that from the limited reporting. The T/P seems to have no interest on whether the RTA is in the hook for the extra $800,000 or has protection against any further billing. It would almost seem to be expecting too much to ask the Picayune to question whether the original contract should have been awarded.

Of course the paper should report on the costs of CLE, but to devote that much attention to what amounts to $238,000, while ignoring so many other questionable expenditures seems odd.
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