Sunday, July 23, 2006

Significant Numerical Inconsistency?

In Friday's Picayune we were informed that:
The Public Works Department has had its staff slashed to 86 from more than 340 five years ago. The street maintenance staff is down to 14 from 129.(The accompanying chart lists the number at 346)

Yet, when the layoffs were announced in October, we were told (link to flymsy, then scroll down to Oct. and click "Layoffs hit NORD") that:
Other areas of government that were hit hard include:

-- Public Works, which lost 199 of its 258 positions, including nearly 100 parking control officers and dozens of street maintenance workers. A skeleton crew will continue to enforce parking regulations

The city has done a limited amount of rehiring since the October layoffs, so the difference between 59 Public Works Department employees in October, and 86 in July might be explainable. However, it would seem difficult to account for the difference between 346 public works positions and 258, unless the public works staff was reduced by 25% before Katrina. That would be worth remembering when examing some of the mayor's post-Katrina payroll cuts,and it would also imply that Nagin's vaunted pre-Katrina reorganization of city government involved reducing the number of employees who actually performed important tasks, while increasing the pay (and number) of upper-level employees.

It's generally reported that the October layoffs amounted to about 50% of the city workforce, but that's a gross oversimplification. The fact is that the layoffs amounted to about 38% of the city workforce, but excluding the police and fire departments, the layoffs amounted to about 63% of the civilian workforce.* To be consistent one should use either one figure or the other. If you choose to explain the 34% reduction in the staff of the mayor's office (the smallest reduction by far), by comparing it to the 38% reduction in the total workforce, don't then explain the reduction in other departments in terms of the reduction in civilian employment. At any rate we've had the following reductions in city employment (approximate figures):

Mayor's Office: 34% (34 out of 100)
Overall City Employment: 38% (In Oct., no available figures on rehiring)
Civilian Employment: 63% (in Oct., ...)
Public Works Department: 75% (Very approximate, see above)
Road Maintenance Crews : 89% (115 out of 129)

Clearly, road maintenance has not been a high ranking budget priority. That alone would be noteworthy, but I have a much bigger reason for flogging an old horse.

I'll return to this, but it's worth noting that civil service rules resume when the emergency declaration is lifted. Also, I have a suggestion for Cynthia Hedge-Morrell:
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who chairs the council's Budget, Audit and Board of Review Committee, said she understands that the payoff for hiring more staff could be exponential. But she stressed the dire financial straits that the city still faces nearly a year after the catastrophic hurricane.

"As with everything in the budget, we need to make sure that in trying to boost up one department, we're not tearing down others," Hedge-Morrell said.

*Arguably higher, as the layoffs to the police and fire departments involved the civilian employees of those departments.

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