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.

Comments:
Nice Blog,

Unless that was you there I urge you to take part in the discussions at this community. It is very popular, especially with the New Orleanians of all stripes. It also a great place to poll the community with quick questions and get tons of feedback.

The community is New Orleans or:

http://community.livejournal.com/neworleans



My belief is that to get real transparency in our government and in our planning process we need to get the young folks involved and up to speed on the new paradigms. Teaching only civics in school and not smart growth and new urbanism concepts is like teaching our kids to count to ten without teaching them arithmetic, algebra and calculus and then expecting them to make it in this world.

Help us get those concepts out there! Create an account on live journal and help build a community, an educated community.

Thanks,
 
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