Thursday, August 31, 2006

Just in Case

I don't finish the long-winded version, or you don't feel like reading it:

Media attention is not federal aid.

Main quote fom that last link:
The passage of the bill has become increasingly important to Louisiana because the state lost out to the greater political power of Mississippi last month when Congress passed a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf states region. The package gave Mississippi about five times as much per household in housing aid as Louisiana received - a testimony to the clout of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The additional $4.2B didn't even come close to making that even.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Nagin Quote That Should Be Criticized

From today's Picayune:
The federal loan almost certainly comes with better terms than the private line of credit, even though Nagin has said he thought the terms offered for the private loan were acceptable in view of the city's weak economic position. Because of the city's poor credit rating, the banks in the consortium had requested $3.75 million in upfront fees, much higher than the industry standard.

Those costs -- along with what Nagin viewed as political gamesmanship -- conspired to hold up approval of the private loan, which needed the approval of the State Bond Commission.

"That got caught up in post-election politics," Nagin said. "We were in front of the Bond Commission, and certain individuals showed up that had not participated in the commission in a long time and started raising all these questions about the upfront fees, and it got placed on hold."

Actually, certain individuals also started raising all these questions about interest rates:
But Kessenich said New Orleans will pay a steep premium for the three-year loan. Instead of borrowing the money at 4 percent, as is typical for a municipal deal of this size, the city is likely to pay interest of about 6 percent, Kessenich said.

Just to put that $3.75M in perspective:
Under the revised proposal, the four participating banks would earn $3.75 million in upfront fees, instead of the roughly $300,000 original estimate, according to a top executive with one of the banks, who asked not to be identified.

Let's recap: a few days before the election, Nagin announced a $150M loan package at "very favorable" terms. Those terms were assumed to be 4% interest and $300,000 in upfront fees--6.3M in total costs, according to my calculations. On election day, too late for most people to notice*, we found out that the terms were 6% interest and $3.75M in upfront fees--$12.75M.

Must have been post-election politics that made certain individuals raise all these questions about an extra $6.45M.

I have no idea what the city paid its adviser on the deal:
Peter Kessenich, the city's long-term financial adviser, is recommending that Nagin and other city leaders agree to the new terms ....Kessenich, managing director of Public Financial Management Inc. in Atlanta,

But I do have to wonder how that compares to the million dollars that the city seems to have balked at paying for an audit.

One last item from today's paper:
Nagin said last week that FEMA is almost ready to approve another $120 million "community disaster loan," mirroring one the city received from the federal government shortly after Katrina.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Aaron Walker confirmed the mayor's report, saying he expects the new loan to be made official this week.

Makes me wonder if the mayor was ready to commit to an expensive loan package before exhausting all opportunities for a cheap one. Of course not, that would have been pre-election politics. Guess I'm just one of those individuals raising all these questions because of post-election politics.

*Two self-complimentary links in one day. I guess bravado comes easier typing alone than talking to a group.

Update or Clarification:
If $6.5M seems like a small amount to quibble about, today's Picayune also informed us that:
But Grant said it would be "most dangerous" to grow overly confident and prematurely rehire large numbers of the workers laid off last fall. Nagin, who gave much of the credit for the city's improved situation to Finance Director Reggie Zeno, said he hopes to "stretch out" the federal loans "and within two years become self-sufficient. That's why we're trying to hold the line on expenses" and to be "very judicious" in approving increases in staffing or pay, he said.

And there's quote that I've been beating to death for a month:
"A small amount of money in pay is holding up billions of dollars for our city," developer Angelo Farrell said.

The Times Picayune has also run editorials about saving $800,000 and judges wasting $200,000. The point is, if the mayor is willing to spend money like a drunken sailor when the city is "headed-to-the-poorhouse broke," I, for one, don't trust him to manage a boom. Believe it or not, cities, states and individuals often go broke after booms, especially poorly managed ones.

The NFL Scheduled A Game Around Hurricane Wilma

It's true, they had that much warning. For anyone who's unfamiliar with Gulf weather, an October cool front made the general path of Wilma predictable almost a week in advance, August and September hurricanes are usually far less predictable. New Orleans had about two day's warning for quatrain and successfully evacuated an estimated 80-90% of its population. Jeb Bush issued mandatory evacuation orders for two Florida counties. With a week's warning, Monroe county managed to evacuate about 10% of its population. Okay, Collier county did better--60-70%(est.). If any reporter should ask Jeb Bush his opinion, he better watch his mouth.* The Washington Post better get a grip as well. Other local bloggers have made similar points about the anniversary coverage, but the football game makes for a nice soundbite.

*My first post. Is new blogger bravado a common phenomenon?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Cowardly Watchdog Growls Again

But New Orleanians shouldn't have to count on the feds and the state to make city government run cleanly and efficiently.
Times Picayune, July 2, 2006 editorial

If some decided to help themselves instead, they must be brought to justice. Doing so will show the rest of the country that we will not tolerate corruption. That's part of recovery, too.
Times Picayune, August 21, 2006 editorial

So why does the second quote come at end of an editorial about an area official who's already facing federal prosecution? New Orleanians shouldn't have to wait until after their leaders are already under state or federal investigation for their newspaper to write an editorial that adds indignation to indictment. If an area official is under investigation or loses office, then the T/P will run a front page story and write an angry editorial. Except in the case of Nagin cronies like Billboard Ben, when he came under federal investigation, he made it to the front page (for one day), but never did get that editorial he so richly deserved.

Big surprise, I can't write about press coverage of local corruption without mentioning Billboard Ben. Still, I don't think I'm wrong to find Monday's editorial a little understated:
Mr. Impastato's guilt or innocence will be decided when he goes to trial in October. But if he did what federal authorities say, he has more than two victims. Everyone in Louisiana suffers when the state's reputation for political corruption is reinforced...

He allegedly told Mr. Mauberret that he would help him make a deal with OMNI Pinnacle LLC, which had the St. Tammany Parish contract for storm debris removal: OMNI would use the Mauberret's land for a debris site, and Mr. Impastato would get half the money

I have no idea whether OMNI is cheating its workers or being falsely accused, and it's certainly not the only company involved in Katrina reconstruction to face such accusations. However, OMNI is clearly either an accomplice of Impastato's or another victim.

The Picayune may well be doing further investigation and I can certainly understand that a public newspaper needs to be careful what it publishes about a private company. I would be hesitant as a private blogger, but this isn't the first we've heard of Omni Pinnacle. Even The Sanitation Journal seemed somewhat suspicious of OMNI's dealings:
Omni Pinnacle, although not involved with the portable sanitation industry had been awarded a massive FEMA contract, involving thousands of portable restrooms and daily service. An inspection of several area units bearing Omni’s stenciled name revealed that four weeks after being set, they had not yet been serviced and yielded maggots and overflowing waste.

This post is getting way too lengthy already, but I will quote a few paragraphs from a November article (go back and reread the whole thing):
It's unclear when Charles Rice began working for Omni. He and Omni's owner, Ronald Reine, both said their relationship sprang up after the firm received a city contract as Katrina approached New Orleans. When asked for a copy of Charles Rice's contract, however, Reine said through a spokeswoman that he could not locate it. Charles Rice and Reine also said Rice never contacted city officials while representing Omni.

Omni's position as the city's main debris collector lasted until Sept. 23, when the parties agreed to suspend the deal because the Corps of Engineers' policy is to pay only 90 percent of the cost as long as the city continued to supervise debris removal. To have the corps pick up the full cost, it would have to oversee the contract.

The corps' top contractors for that work in New Orleans were ECC and Phillips & Jordan Inc., two national disaster-management firms. But that did not mean Omni was out.

On Sept. 17, an agreement was struck under which Omni would become a "first-tier" subcontractor under both ECC and Phillips & Jordan, said Allen Morse, a debris expert for the corps. He said Omni was represented at the meeting by Reine and Terrence Rice. The city was represented at the meeting by White of the sanitation department, Morse said.

"They were trying to see if Omni could be absorbed by the prime contractors," Morse said.

Obviously this story is way bigger than Joe Impastato. Yes, I know that the waste begins at the top with large companies with ties to the RNC and that Mississippi's governor is a former lobbyist who doesn't seem to have entirely left the business, but I'll have to go over that (again) in another post.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Raise the White Flag

Or the beer mug. Couldn't help but think of old drinking games when I heard Nancy Parker interview the president just now. WVUE's the worst local station about making its stories available on line, but Bush began by saying that Rocky Vaccarrella thanked him for $110B and then said "$110B" a few more times in just a couple of sentences. Now, nobody seems to be questioning the amount:

ABC News:
A far larger sum -- more than $110 billion -- has been designated for the massive rebuilding project.

The Times Picayune:
When Congress allocated more than $110 billion for hurricane recovery along the Gulf Coast, some lawmakers worried it would be misspent, with one senator memorably comparing Louisiana's "culture of corruption" to that of Iraq.

Even Mary Landrieu (in the T/P article):
"It's slow and it's been frustrating," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said. "We are grateful at the generosity of Congress, the administration and the American people. $110 billion is a huge amount of money..."

da po'blog's been all over this before, the president's aid claims are greatly overstated. Probably should have deferred to him on this one, but sometimes you just gotta type.

The numbers I'm more interested in are $320M and $718M. $718M is the amount that Entergy New Orleans is requesting to cover Katrina related losses, $320M is the amount (of that $718M) to cover lost revenue. The Picayune didn't mention those numbers in today's front page story about the company's finances, but it might be in tomorrow's (it was online tonight):
Entergy New Orleans calculates its pothole at $718 million. But St. Blanc subtracted the money the company has requested for lost revenue -- no other utility in the state has made such a request -- and puts the figure at $398 million.

Of course, I'd also like to know why the city's energy consultants sound so much like they're working for Entergy. I'm not saying that the city's high-priced advisers should be assuming an adversarial stance toward Entergy, but they seem to be assuming that they won't need to take one. And I'm still curious about the Southeastern Federal Power Consumers Group . I still think that bloggers usually end up looking foolish when they try to uncover a scandal by doing a google search, but I have to wonder.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reasonable Expectations

It was a 'thumbs up' sign of approval from people cruising Orleans Avenue near Carrollton Avenue on Saturday morning as they watched Susan Coogly ride her new mower through high grass on the Orleans neutral ground. Coogly , who lives on the avenue, said she's concerned about the post-Katrina lack of city services. Cardboard signs, duct-taped to her mower, that say,'Where is the $$going,' express her feelings. 'The mayor is still spinning and our city is spinning,' Coogly said. "Where is the money and where is the mayor?'

Caption accompanying a photo that appeared in last Thursday's paper, in the New Orleans picayune section. My emphasis added, neither picture or text available online.

Recall Nagin, Appoint Thomas

Irma, that is. Just saw her giving an interview on WVUE (no link as of yet), no direct criticism of any elected officials but harsh words about the need to do something about rent gouging. Contrast that with our mayor's talk of supply and demand.

Other media notes:

Found an interesting article in The Independent while looking for the Irma Thomas link. But the article was mainly about Quintron and DJ Chicken:
"We didn't get a lot of wind damage, it was the water that did the damage here," explains DJ Chicken. "The hurricane was over, and then the water came. Eighty per cent of our city was under water. Under water, submerged. It was runnin' for a couple of days, then it just sat still for a couple more days, and that's what made it bad, 'cos it didn't drain right away. Every house you see around here was completely under water, you could not see the roofs. See all those empty lots? That's where houses were. A year later, there's just green grass."

Also found out that the mayor's a hard-working Gentilly guy and reluctant politician:
After that, the 50-year-old said he'd like to leave politics, but he wouldn't rule out a run for another office.

"If I see I'm needed in another role in politics, I'd have to swallow hard," he said. "But I would be open to that."

The mayor and his family had been staying elsewhere in the city but moved back into their home in the Gentilly neighborhood Sunday. "It's not totally done, but it's close enough," Nagin said.

Finally, Paul Krugman is always worth reading. His latest article is paywall protected, but there's usually a way around that. He mentions New Orleans directly:
Yet Blackwater, whose chief executive is a major contributor to the Republican Party, continues to thrive. The Department of Homeland Security sent heavily armed Blackwater employees into New Orleans immediately after Katrina.

But I was more interested in something else he had to say:
Or maybe it’s cynical politics: privatization provides both an opportunity to evade accountability and a vast source of patronage.

I seem to remember an anonymous party on American Zombie:
The Civil Service Commission makes it almost impossible to terminate longtime city employees – something Meffert couldn’t wait for if his plans were to work.

He was writing about an entirely different subject, but you may recall that after Katrina the city went from having two electrical inspectors to having two. The city insisted that none of the inspectors was laid off, but, months later, the inspectors weren't exactly replaced. Meffert did announce that the job was contracted out.

Even if you don't want to speculate without evidence --as far as I know, private citizens have limited investigative capabilities, but if enough ask questions somebody the press or the Justice Department might investigate, the delays caused by outsourcing, as opposed to replacing lost employees, are obvious.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kudos to Mason Granger

For using such simple language in his Thursday editorials that even I, a product of the New Orleans public school system, can understand them. Until last Thursday, I had no idea why the city's streets have been in even worse shape since Katrina. In my ignorance, I thought it might have something to with the fact that the city had cut its number of street maintenance workers from 129 to 14. But, as Granger explained:
Sixty billion times 8 pounds -- 480 billion pounds.

Now, consider that unlike other areas where floodwaters rushed in, did their damage and then rolled back out. The 480 billion pounds of water in New Orleans sat and then dissipated over weeks. Imagine what the weight of that much water on our streets and sidewalks for that much time did to our infrastructure.

Well, I'll have to take his word on the math part, because like I said...

I hope that I'm not premature in complimenting Granger for this week's editorial, but only one thing could possibly follow the conclusion of lat week's editorial:
Consequently, now a year later, rebuilding our infrastructure has to be a top priority. We cannot build neighborhoods, communities and businesses without reliable sewer systems and decent streets.

The federal and state governments should forego the usual red tape and do all they can to provide money for the reconstruction of New Orleans' infrastructure. When they do, the weight of bureaucracy will be lifted and those who think the recovery process has been too slow will see the city come back at a much faster pace.

And that will help create something we all want -- momentum.

I'm waiting to hear something along the lines of:
With rebuilding the city's infrastructure such a top priority, it's inconceivable that the mayor's office has at least sixty-six paid staffers, yet the city only has fourteen street maintenance workers. Imagine, the mayor's office staff has gone from being slightly smaller than the staff of its streets maintenance staff, to being almost five times as big (accompanying hand gestures so that even an ignorant New Orleanian can get the point). That might have been understandable when the cuts were hurriedly made during a crisis, but surely there's been time for the city to get its spending priorities in order. Once it did so, it would be much more difficult for the state and federal governments to put limits and restrictions on rebuilding aid and we'd see even more momentum.

I don't think that I can write as condescendingly as Granger talks, but you get the point.

More seriously, there seems to be a recent increase in discussion of the need to repair the city's infrastructure. I have to wonder on the belated emphasis on the obvious; I hope it's a mistaken perception on my part. I can't help but wonder whether the administration decided to start emphasizing damaged infrastructure as an excuse--

the damaged infrastructure is the reason that it's taken us so long to repair the damaged infrastucture

and people have largely bought it.

Of course, I do just have to make a more cynical observation: by emphasizing the need to begin making immediate infrastructure repairs, the administration makes it that much more difficult for anyone to question how the money gets spent. By the time anyone can question apparent cronyism in the contracts, dubious bond issues, etc., the contracts will have been signed and the work will have begun.

If any reader thinks that I'm making a mountain of a molehill by repeatedly emphasizing the subject of city payroll, I'd welcome the comment. I'm often accused of being obsessive and sometimes I have to admit that I can be. I'd welcome the comment, I'd just like some reasons for it.

As it is, one reason that I still occasionally think about moving is that nobody seems to care. I can accept the fact that we re-elected a "clunk" mayor, but I'm flabbergasted at the lack of outrage over at least 66 employees in the mayor's office and only 14 on the city’s street maintenance crews. Or the fact that the city still appears to be wasting money first cleaning and servicing, and then replacing bombproof garbage cans, or...

As a thought experiment, just imagine if there were 66 employees in Aaron Broussard's office and only 14 working on street maintenance. There'd be a stink, and not just from the garbage accumulating where the bombproof cans used to be. Of course, in Jefferson Parish, some sleazy politician would at least have the common decency to make a political issue of it. If that happened in Jefferson Parish, the Times Picayune would put it on the front page and write an editorial about it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Don't Pick on Emeril, a somewhat tardy post

The last couple of weeks haven't been good for blogging, but there are a couple of other reasons why I never made my point about city finances. For one thing, I do sometimes feel a little guilty about concentrating on local leaders and the local media when there's so much educating still to be done at the national level:
Because of the media's selective coverage, the rest of the world thinks that New Orleans was hit harder than the Miss Gulf Coast and this simply is NOT true. What happened in New Orleans was that the levys broke and flooded parts of the city, not Katrina. True the levys were weakened by Katrina but the levys should have been beefed up enough to do their job by the government officials in that town.

Also, I planned a post about how much I, as a laid off city worker, shared the sentiments of a resident (the letter writer quoted at the end of this post) who gave up and left in disgust at the delay in getting his home wiring inspected. While I think it's worth asking what anyone who's left, or thought about leaving, can reasonably expect from the city, I had to scrape that post because it was too negative. I'd never apologize for being cynical about the city's leadership or press corps, but that one was cynical about the city as a whole.

However, the thought occurred to me that the city missed a golden opportunity when Chris Rose's ridiculous column about Emeril Lagasse's (alleged) comments caused enough uproar to force a retraction/denial. Reread the (alleged) comments:
Nothing. The mayor's a clunk. The governor is also a clunk. They don't know their (nether sections) from a hole in the ground. All my three restaurants got hit. I've reopened Emeril's, but only a few locals come. There's no tourists. No visitors. No spenders. No money. No future. No people. It's lost. It'll never come back."

So what was (or would have been) the big problem? Admittedly, it wasn't the best time to express pessimism about the city, but the only real cynicism was about the leadership. I think the mayor and governor could have benefited from criticism from people who had a soapbox but no political ambitions of their own. We'll never know, instead Chris Rose got his attention and potential critics were possibly intimidated.

It's harder to defend Emeril's (or Wynton Marsalis') part in recently planned foolishness, but, if you've ever taken an intro psychology or sociology class, you should be familiar with the concept of "group think." I would assume that our businessman mayor would have heard of the concept in a management class. It's not surprising that people came up with stupid ideas while caught up in group enthusiasm, but I can't believe that nobody among the mayor's first rate management team had second thoughts between the time that the plan was conceived and it was announced. Instead, once there was strong criticism, the mayor blamed everybody else involved, including the two celebrities.

Okay, it's been three weeks (like I said, it's been a busy couple of weeks), but there's one thing that I'm little surprised didn't get more attention. Lagasse was widely reported (correctly or incorrectly) to be dissatisfied with Nagin's leadership and Marsalis endorsed Landrieu. Two famous New Orleanians decide to bury the hatchet and work with mayor, presumably out of a desire to help the city, but things don't quite go according to plan. Then, instead of taking responsibility, the mayor hangs them out to dry. I don't know whether I was impressed or angered by their silence in the matter, but there's certainly a lesson in there somewhere.

BTW I've always liked Chris Rose. Well, I liked some of his columns, disliked others, but when I knew him socially (it's been a few years), I thought he was a nice guy to have a beer with. But that column pissed me off, mainly because I thought the reaction was disproportionate to the comments. However, I don't know what gives anybody the right to be that judgmental on behalf of the entire city, and it was part of a pattern that began soon after Katrina and has continued since. Looking for reasons to take offense distracts from real issues and generally does more harm than good. As it is, I think that some locals are almost hoping that the rumors about a famous business owner leaving are true so that they can parse his announcement for any excuse to rake him over the coals. I don't know if they are, but who cares if he's been supportive of the city since Katrina? And I do think we should all ask what people can reasonably expect from the city.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Are There Two Ronald Nabonnes?

I'm glad that somebody in the media is starting to ask questions about the money that our "headed-to-the-poorhouse broke" is spending on consultants' fees. But you can only learn so much from campaign contributions, you can also try looking up listings for the firms in question:
Henry, Veronica E.
Nabonne, Ronald P.
Wilkerson, Walter J., Partner
Profile Last Updated:

I won't rehash Nabonne's career as a political consultant, but he's been involved in N.O. politics for years; most recently he managed Arnold Fielkow's campaign. No, that doesn't imply anything about Fielkow, I'm not even 100% sure that it's the same Nabonne.

One thing I will pint is that WWL's reporting on the subject has been done by Lee Zurik. Nothing against Zurik, but he's only recently made the switch from sports to news. A more experienced political reporter might have made the connection, but the experienced political reporters aren't asking serious questions where city government is concerned. They're leaving that to the rookies and amateurs.

Since I'm not real confident about any of the above, I might as well link to a blog that I'm unfamiliar with.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

If you read this before the Monday morning news, be sure to watch channel 15. WWL ran a great story on the suspicious amount of money that the city has been paying its energy consultants. I missed Friday's news, but tonight's story seemed to be a follow up to an earlier one.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Hypothetical Prediction

I recently wrote a letter to the editor that didn't get published:
While I'm certainly happy to hear that the city will be putting out 500 new garbage cans, can somebody explain the city's recent history with garbage cans to me? In early 2005, the city updated its old, worn-out fleet of garbage cans with expensive, new state-of-the-art cans. However, we were told that the new garbage cans were worth the price because they were bomb proof. Most of the cans survived Katrina, but disappeared this past Spring--we were told that they had been removed in order to be "cleaned and serviced." Now we find out that the city is getting 500 new garbage cans. What happened to the old ones? Did the city pay to have them "cleaned and serviced," and then realize that they needed to replaced? Will the new garbage cans also be bomb proof? Or did the city decide to save money by getting rid of the old expensive cans and buying new cheap ones?

Garbage cans are just a small part of a larger point that I was making about city finances a couple of weeks back, I'll return to both presently. First though, it's not internet bomb-throwing to suggest that, when there's a total lack of transparency, anything that can be taken as a sign of government corruption should be taken as a sign of corruption. It used to be standard journalistic practice. I don't even know why I feel compelled to keep saying that.

So the amount of money wasted first cleaning and servicing and then replacing the city's bomb proof garbage cans couldn't have amounted to much, so what? It's much needed money that could have gone toward the city's recovery.

If you'd like to force the city government to be more transparent, think of it in chess terms. A knight's a minor piece, but that doesn't stop you from taking a hanging knight. There's probably nothing illegal involved--bidding rules on city contracts are greatly loosened under a state of emergency, but there's almost certainly something embarrassing happening. It's small enough that anybody engaged in cronyism would expect it to fly under the radar, throw in the fact that it has humor value that both Clancy DuBos and Chris Rose have already pointed out, and the story would certainly seem to have legs--the T/P would almost certainly think so if it occurred in another parish.

Which brings me to my hypothetical prediction: if the apparent waste and cronyism involving the city's garbage cans actually became an issue, one of two things would happen. If it turned out that no money was wasted by first cleaning and servicing and then replacing the already expensive garbage cans, the local media reaction would be to scold the people who diverted attention from the important business of recovery by conducting unnecessary witch hunts. It almost certainly wouldn't be to castigate the administration for creating the appearance of impropriety through its unnecessary secrecy and seemingly contradictory statements.

The more likely scenario would be that the city would come up with some transparently ludicrous explanation that would be the end of the story, at least it would be to the Times Picayune.

I'll have to finish up on why I'm so obsessed about city finances over the weekend.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bike Ride of the Month

Since the Picayune seems to have abandoned or scaled back its weekly Sports Venture feature, somebody needs to pick up the slack. So, with several caveats, the August Ride of the Month is the cart paths of the City Park golf courses. First caveat, it's definitely for mountain or fat tire bikes. Though the paths are paved, the sidewalks are in pretty bad shape. Also, because of the curved paths, you may find yourself needing to circle back or cut across an often marshy green. Even though there's nothing to vandalize and the greens are too far gone to require maintenance, I'm sure that I'm violating some law or regulation by riding out there. Final caveat, the golf courses are mostly deserted. Because it's easy to lose time backtracking on the curved paths, if you like to ride near sunset, you can find yourself in a dark, deserted area.

That said, it's the only place in the city where you can ride without dealing with traffic or a trail packed with walkers, joggers, skaters and other cyclists. Actually, I've only been active again for a few weeks now, I have no idea what some other spots are like, but City Park more shade than on the levee and more space than Audubon. Anyway, I think it's a nice place for riding and it's a part of the park you won't be able to use much longer. If you like riding in the morning, you can listen to the city's newest conservative talk show host:
Rob Couhig, the high-powered lawyer turned mayoral contender turned adviser to Mayor Ray Nagin, is about to add another line to his resumé: radio talk-show host.

Couhig said he has signed on to co-host the 5 to 8 a.m. drive-time shift on WRNO-FM, which is about to drop the classic-rock format it has featured for nearly four decades in favor of a news-talk approach.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Tactical Suggestion

It seems to me that if you want to open up the city's undemocratic planning process (more: here, here,here, here and here), you might want to begin by demanding that the city be transparent about its financial dealings. Yeah, I know, I'm staring to sound like one of those guys who won't shut up about something like the price of whale oil, but governments that aren't open and transparent about finances won't be open and democratic about decision making or planning. They just won't; it doesn't work that way.

Frankly, one reason that I haven't posted in almost a week is that I decided to scrap a couple of posts on the subject. Still, I can't help but wonder about part of an article that I actually complimented on Adrastos' blog last week:
WHERE AUDITORS FEAR TO TREAD: In the wake of scandals a few years ago involving multibillion-dollar financial shenanigans at companies such as Adelphia, WorldCom and especially Enron, accounting firms are more careful these days about certifying the financial health of organizations they audit.

So it's no surprise New Orleans is having a hard time finding an outside auditor to check its battered and bruised books in the wake of Katrina.

The city has several audits done each year, including reviews of its various pension plans. For the past two years, the principal audit has been done by KPMG, for about $270,000 a year. But Mark Garrett of KPMG's local office told the City Council's Budget Committee this week that this year's audit promises to be so difficult and time-consuming that he is unwilling to set a flat fee. Instead, he wants to bill by the hour, with a $1 million maximum, and he said even that figure might not be enough.

I can't help but think that Donze got snookered by the "totally true, but largely irrelevant fact" ploy. It's true that accounting firms have been more cautious since the Enron scandal, but that was five years; Arthur Andersen was convicted of obstruction of justice four years ago. So why we are supposed to believe that the accounting firm suddenly got cautious now, a year after the Supreme Court overturned the Arthur Andersen conviction?

Nobody says that it did; it's largely irrelevant. Nobody doubts that a city audit has been complicated by post-Katrina circumstances, but there's certainly reason to wonder if those circumstances have been needlessly complicated. It's certainly fair to wonder when the administration started to worry about spending money on consultant's fees; is there any other area where the city has failed to bring in consultants to help it? As far as I can tell, nobody batted an eyelash when the fee for the mass transit consultants jumped from a $1M to at least $1.8M; now the city's balking at a million dollar maximum fee for an audit?

No matter what you think about the wisdom of paying consultants to advise the RTA, and other agencies, on how to adjust to adjust to the city's rebuilding plans before those plans have even been made, you have to wonder if all the outside consultants are being brought in partly for political reasons. Of course the city wants the best possible advice, but getting that advice also makes tough choices easier for elected leaders. When the time for tough choices comes, city leaders can say that they were just listening to the experts. Of course, the more money the city spends on expert advice, the more tough choices it will have to make. City leaders seem to be happy to spend money on consultants who will provide cover for spending decisions, but balk at consultants who might question spending decisions. At any rate, the cost of an audit shouldn't prevent the city from opening its books.

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  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
  • Quote of the Day
  • October's News(Dec.1)
  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts