Monday, November 20, 2006

Time For a Principled Resignation


If Rob Gouhig has a shred of honor and self-respect, he should resign his position in the Nagin administration. Seriously. In case you missed Saturday's paper:*
City officials refused to provide bid documents following the 10-minute conference, despite requirements of the state's public records law that in general oblige public entities to grant immediate access to available public documents. Assistant City Attorney Shawn Lindsay first demanded a written public records request, and after one was provided, said that only one lawyer in the city attorney's office handles requests for public records, and she was out of the office Friday.

That's not the first time the Nagin Administration has stonewalled an FOIA request. It's not even the first time since the end of the "100 Days." There was also some recent stonewalling about technology contracts:
Though The Times-Picayune has filed three public-records requests with City Hall for information about technology contracts, it took more than a month for city officials to produce a response.

The first request was filed more than a month ago, and the law requires a response within three days. On Friday, the Nagin administration said the records are being compiled and "as soon as (they) are available, we will contact you immediately."

If you're wondering at the Couhig connection, it goes back to the beginning of the "100 days:
"My goal at the end of the 100 days is that we have made substantive progress in the quality of life in New Orleans (and) that there is better understanding for what the future portends in the city of New Orleans".

Describing himself now as a dutiful member of Nagin's team, Couhig said he wants to help the mayor foster transparency at all levels of city government.

"I think what the mayor believes is that we're in better shape than some of us who were running against him believe," Couhig said, adding that his task in the coming months will be to get all residents on the same page.

I suppose that everybody would be on the same page if we all just accepted everything the mayor told, but it's difficult to reconcile administration actions with Couhig's stated goal of transparency. If that was Couhig's real goal, he's been had and he should give up on any notion of using his access to influence the mayor. Clearly, the mayor has interest in Couhig's goals. I can't imagine an easier goal to accomplish than greater transparency, yet this administration treats contract proposals like top-secret intelligence. Couhig's help hasn't done the mayor much good in that department.

That's assuming Couhig takes transparency seriously in the first place. At the "100 day" presentation, Couhig repeated the claim that the city was operating on a quarter of its pre-Katrina budget. I've been over this twice before, that claim is deliberately misleading. If it's not a bald-faced lie, it's a distortion of hyperbole exaggerationration (okay, I'm no Winston Churchill). The city had an operating budget of $324M this year; it's never been four times that, not even close. It was $460M in 2004. When Mr. Couhig quits lending credibilityibilty, maybe he'll come to work for me. My IQ's 190, I bench 450lbs and I...won't go there.

*Though it's not relevant to this post and I don't want to knock the article as a whole, I was disturbed by one passage from the article:
Echoing his re-election promise to clean up New Orleans, particularly tourist hot spots, Mayor Ray Nagin has said all three new deals, which are slated to begin Jan. 2, will provide better service than under the current contract with Waste Management, which had been worth $18 million annually before it was reduced to $9.4 million this year to account for the city's diminished population.

That sounds like the reporter bought administration spin. Every candidate promises a cleaner city and a cleaner French Quarter; I certainly don't recall it being a major pledge. At any rate, the city doesn't need to spend millions more to empty garbage cans that it was able to empty prior to Katrina.

Update:Oyster raises the question of whether Couhig still has a position in the Nagin administration. I have to admit that I wasn't sure and a quick google search didn't answer the question. It was sloppy to go by the impression I got two months ago, but it's largely irrelevant. Couhig bears at least some responsibility for the fact that Nagin can claim to have put "transparent spending policies in place" without getting laughed out of town. If Couhig still has an advisory position he should resign; if he doesn't, he should use his position on radio to demand that Nagin start following those transparent spending policies.

So how about it, Rob? If you're reading this, do you really think that the city has transparent spending policies? If not, shouldn't you say something?

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