Sunday, September 10, 2006

Nagin's 100 Day Pledge

His first term 100 day pledge, that is. He's been mayor "trust me" much longer than you thought:
Of course there's always the chance that the candidate doesn't follow through with the promise to enact the pledge. Nagin was the only major candidate to sign the pledge in 2002, but during the runoff he explained that his vision for contracting reform differed substantially from the process described in the pledge. He nonetheless promised to implement his version within 100 days.

However, Nagin waited more than three years before enacting any sort of change in the process. And when he finally announced his reforms two months before Katrina blew into town, BGR President Janet Howard said they had "no resemblance" to what her organization had proposed.

The major change Nagin introduced was to include a private citizen, selected by either the Chamber of Commerce or the Urban League, to the panel of two City Hall administrators that reviews all bid proposals for professional service contracts worth at least $150,000. Typically, about 50 contracts awarded annually fall into that contract.

It's not clear whether Nagin's changes have been fully implemented. In the aftermath of Katrina, the panels that have reviewed bid proposals reviewed by the Times Picayune have included only city administrators. The Nagin administration could not list any contracts awarded under the new procedures Wednesday.

I should point out that the above is from an April Picayune (pdf) article that I happened across while searching for an exact definition of "professional services." As Peggy Wilson pointed out in the article linked above, there isn't one. If you haven't noticed, it did start to become a matter of some importance during Nagin's first term:(printer friendly link)
Omni's offer wasn't the cheapest of the six offers the city received. But the city didn't have to pick the low bidder, an experienced firm, because the job was considered a professional service rather than a finite task.

The contract for removing, "abandoned and damaged vehicles," is a professional services one, meaning the mayor is not required by law to select the lowest bidder.

The matter did come up before Katrina. Sure Nagin's no Morial, but I do expect the issue to come up much more frequently. Remember, after the number of city electrical inspectors dropped from ten before Katrina to two after, the city finally announced in January, not that the department had been restaffed, but that the service had been contracted out. The number of street maintenance workers hasn't been increased from the present 14 back to the pre-Katrina 129, but the first of several street-repair contracts has been signed. Which leads to the not-so-bold prediction that I planned to post about: the state of emergency will be lifted at some time after the last street repair contract is signed.

Update: the April article should really be read in its entirety. To give credit where it's due, Peggy Wilson was right about the need for a strict definition of "professional services." But there will still be the potential for kickbacks and cronyism whenever public services are outsourced.

Since I started off on the subject of Nagin's first year in office, I can't be the only person who's curious about Nagin's latest dog and pony show. The city's rationale for revoking taxi medallions does not stand up to scrutiny:
Bournes called the taxi market in New Orleans "completely oversaturated." Before the storm, the city had about twice the number of cabs per capita as comparable cities, he said; now, with half the population gone, the number of cabs is even further out of balance.

Once the medallions are recouped, he said, "the guys left standing are going to make a better living."

To begin with, there are certain areas where New Orleans is comparable to similarly sized cities, but demand for taxis would not be one. Not unless similarly sized cities have tourism as their number two industry and large numbers of service workers who work nights.

Also, since the medallions that will be recalled belong to cab drivers that haven't returned, it's hard to see how their recall would lessen competition for the remaining drivers. That also brings up the question of why a free market guy like Nagin would want to limit competition.

Most importantly, the administration strongly denies that the recalled medallions will be re-issued as political favors. With the city's greatly reduced population, the administration maintains that they can be permanently retired. That's real consistent.

Maybe I'm just being too cynical. Maybe the mayor's just finishing the job he started four years ago. Maybe there really is a reform fairy.

We took a cab ride into the Quarter just last weekend. On the way there, the driver laughed off three calls over the dispatch.... two for New Orleans East and one for a passenger waiting at Wal-Mart in Harahan. He told us that there simply aren't enough cabs running right now for anyone not heading downtown.. or to the airport to expect prompt service. Again... I think these kinds of policies are being put in place to discourage growth.. but I'm beating a dead horse at this point.
Brilliant piece, David. The taxicab bureau scam was a great dramatic set piece with absolutely no nutrional value.
I think the whole professional services issue needs a lot more attention. If there one major issue that you could reduce all discussion of his administration to (there's not and I know that was ungrammatical), that would be it.

I mainly brought up the cab thing because it was such an obvious example of his stated reasons for doing don't bear very close examination and what he says about one subject doesn't often match what he says about other subjects. If the pop. is going to be back to 300,000 by the end of the year, why is the city citing the fact tha city has lost half of its population as a reason for taking certain actions. Also, I wondered if it was a case of a criminal returning to the scene of the coverup.
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