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.

Comments:
The truth is the money is not all making it here. A lot of folks are being ripped off. Once money does get here we need to keep an eye on what is happening. That is why we need more watchdog groups like this one: here and here too

In fact most of the money is just being stolen.

“There is big money in disasters,”
"Huge money," Nagin stated. He said that a few months ago, but he even noted that garbage collection is big business. With "huge money" involved, it seems fair to comment on the lack of transparency in city government. a strong sign of corruption and cronyism.

Where is our local watchdogs?
 
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