Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Busy Week

I don't really have time time to develop a couple of points, but I think I smell a sewer rat. Make that a Sewerage & Water Board Rat. Funny how the attrition level among city employees has been highest among those whose jobs can be outsourced, expensively outsourced at that. As any reader of this blog knows, the city lost eight of ten electrical inspectors after Katrina, leaving it with no choice but to contract out some of the work for as much as $700,000 a month. Now the Picayune reports that the S&WB is down to one meter reader, from twelve prior to Katrina. However, some of the work will be contracted out for $986,000 annually. I don't want to make too big a deal out of this, $968,000 annually is a lot less than up too $700,000 a month. However, that's only the contract for 137,000 east bank meters; just like the garbage contacts, it sounds like it could go up. Also like the garbage contacts, there's some kind of neato state-of-the art equipment involved; I suppose it will give us Disneyland-like billing.

Even though though $968,000 isn't all that much, I'm still curious about it. The total payroll costs for 12 employees in those positions would be between a third and half of that, closer to a third*. The equipment's just a few vans and crowbars. I don't get it it. I suppose that somebody could try to justify the cost of the contract by stating the cost if the S&WB had its full contingent of 25 meter readers and then promising no more estimates, contested readings verified with x many days, etc. Just like Disneyland.

I probably would be less suspicious if the a contract that begins Thursday had been reported earlier than Tuesday. I'd be happy (happier anyway) if you could look at the city's web site and see all RFP's. I have no idea whether bids were taken on this contract, to see what contracts the city is taking bids for, you're required to sign in as a vendor. Rob Couhig and the mayor spent the first hundred days of the mayor's second term working on greater transparency and they couldn't come up with a way to let ordinary residents who don't own businesses see how the city is planning to spend money. There's a word that comes to mind.

Like a said busy week, but the clean French Quarter is the distraction that took attention off the increased costs of garbage collection city wide. The mayor's promise was not to raise sanitation fees, he didn't say anything about taxes, exactly.

*If you assume the same costs as city council employees, it would be $400,000.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Nagin's War Chest

I don't want to nit-pick about Frank Donze's article in today's Picayune, but I don't know why Times Picayune reporters insist on comparing Nagin's spending, reported spending I should say, to that of all his opponents combined. More importantly, I still get the impression that the Nagin campaign was less than honest about its spending during the campaign and continues to play games to cover its tracks. In July, The Picayune reported that the Nagin campaign raised $5950 at its Chicago funraiser, now we're told that it was closer to $10,000. Yes, Nagin's campaign manager (and business partner and aviation board appointee), David White did give himself room to change that figure back in July, but that leaves the question about why he was so vague about campaign finances two months after the election.

The article was accompanied by a list of people and businesses that have given money to the mayor since the election. The Nagin campaign may have had to return a contribution to Billboard Ben, but Montgomery Watson Harza is still giving the mayor money. Omni Pinnacle is too; go figure.

PBS Mentioned It

Shortly after the election:
For more, I am joined by Silas Lee, a professor of sociology at Xavier University, and head of his own public opinion research company. He is a consultant to the Democratic National Committee and has worked for Mayor Nagin as a pollster in this year's campaign. He's done additional work for the mayor in the past.

But until today, I don't recall any of the local media mentioning Silas Lee's involvement in the Nagin campaign. I was expecting an outraged reaction when I read in today's paper that Nagin's poor, cash-strapped campaign paid Silas Lee paid Nagin $13,500 for his services. Maybe it was common knowledge, but, prior to the election, I don't remember WDSU telling its viewers that its chief political analyst worked for the Nagin Campaign. Of course, WDSU often introduces Charles Rice as a political analyst and former CAO without feeling the need to tell its viewers that he was Nagin's CAO, or that he seems to have profitted from the experience.

In the past, I've criticized WGNO for not mentioning that its chief political analyst during the campaign, Jeff Crouere, was a former officer in The Greater New Orleans Republicans, a group that campaigned strongly for Nagin's re-election. However, I never meant to imply any real ethical lapse on the part of either Jeff Crouere or WGNO, just seriously bad judgement. Well, I did think it was somewhat dishonest not to mention it. But if I'm correct that Lee failed to mention his paid work for the Nagin campaign while working as an analyst for WDSU, that seems like a serious ethical breach on his part and lousy journalism on WDSU's. If most New Orleanians are reluctance to question the ethics of either Silas Lee's or the management of WDSU, they can at least laugh at Nagin's claims that the local media picks on him. They could also ask the mayor what the F*** he means by this S*** on
the city's website:
Most recently, Mayor Nagin again defied the odds by defeating twenty-two other candidates and the media to win a second term.

While neither Lee or Crouere showed any blatant bias in favor, they, along with most of the local media, insisted on complimenting both candidates for taking the high road even after Nagin began his negative campaigning. I think that was as big a reason as any for Landrie's failure to run the ads described in this John Maginnis column. Nagin stopped just short of calling Landrieu a crook, but his paid consultant and his politicl ally kept talking about the positive tone of both campaigns. If Landrieu had responded in kind, he'd have been crucified.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Consequent, Vincible Ignorance

It's not often that an agnostic from a Southern Baptist family refers to Catholic theology, but I can't think of better words to describe a recent letter to the editor:
Not worthy
Monday, February 19, 2007

Re: "Many New Orleanians say they are still waiting for Mayor Ray Nagin to do the job they elected him to do," Page 1, Feb. 11.

I was shocked and disappointed to see a six-page anti-Nagin article in the Sunday paper. The people wanted an honest, honorable man for mayor, and they have one.

This crucifixion of an honest mayor is not worthy of what we have come to expect of The Times-Picayune.

Pat Rabig


If I were to ask a New Orleans resident what he thought of the article that Pat Rabig found so offensive, I wouldn't get angry if he expressed similar sentiments to the letter writer. I'd just think he was an uninformed person who had only read the headline. I'd even be inclined to attribute his belief that the mayor was honest to the monkeying around of local reporters who seem to be laboring under the mistaken belief that they're doing the city a favor.

However, when a Gretna resident writes a letter to the editor citing the length of an article that he or she terms the "crucifixion of an honest mayor" and "an honest, honorable man," reasonable diligence would dictate that the writer both read the article and examine the assumption that the mayor is so honest.

The slightest examination would show that the federal government has more questions about the city's financial practices than anyone with the Times Picayune. A little further examination might lead one to question why an "honest, honorable man" who's responsible for hundreds of million of dollars of rebuilding money, but not responsible for anything remotely resembling national security, would respond to questions about city finances with demands for written FOIA requests. I might even question why he refuses to answer questions about either of the businesses (that we know of) that he started since being elected mayor or the blatant lies about campaign finances. Almost forgot the cronyism that predates Katrina.

I wouldn't have wasted the time on the above because of one letter writer who doesn't even live in New Orleans, but the mayor's reputation for personal integrity probably contributes to the city council's reluctance to challenge his leadership. If you want to see the council assert itself, challenge anyone who asserts that the mayor is honest. With the mayor amassing a huge campaign war chest, he won't be looking like a lame-duck anytime soon and federal investigations take years. Something I read in Stephanie Grace's column today:
One likely explanation is the distrust in the air, stemming from years of political corruption in Louisiana.

But if they were to come out and say so, they'd have to admit that Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, while they may have plenty of faults, have never been tainted by major scandal.

makes me wonder whether the Picayune will be changing its position any time soon. If her bosses think that they're protecting the city by protecting the mayor, they're wrong.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Yeah, I know it's Mardi Gras and nobody cares about politics, but this item from Saturday's paper needs to be noted:
State records list Nagin and his two sons, Jeremy and Jarin, as the investors in Stone Age Granite & Marble. An employee said Friday by phone that the store relocated several months ago to its new Earhart Boulevard address from another location.

Stone Age LLC was incorporated in January 2005, but the degree to which the mayor and his sons are involved in the enterprise is a mystery.

Asked for comment on the venture, Nagin replied by e-mail Friday that the questions were "out of bounds."

He said he would have no comment "on my personal investments that are totally outside of any city responsibilities."

Sounds reasonable enough, if Stone Age were being awarded city contracts, it would be a matter of public record. However it would be interesting to see Stone Age's client list, I wonder if it includes Richards Disposal or Metro Disposal. Or Raymond Canzoneri & Associates for that matter.

Rob Couhig really should speak up at that transparency claim of the mayor's that he lent his credibility to. That last link (from January of last year) is definitely worth reading:
Apparently, the building department has a contract to subcontract the electrical work. In other words, some connected official or contractor is going to get to make money off of another government contract where the city is basically at a loss for funds as it is.

Aside from the question of whether the mayor and his sons do business with people who do business with the city, one can't help but wonder how many businesses our travelling mayor has time for for.

Oh, since nobody else seems to want to say it, didn't anybody notice anything about the date of the Danziger Bridge incident? The September 4, 2005 date means that things were still that chaotic six days after the hurricane, but everybody knows, or should know, that. But does anybody remember when C ray began his post-Katrina travels? September 7th. I remember when it was that I started to hate Jarvis DeBerry, when he wrote a column saying that Douglas Brinkley criticized Nagin for crying.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Get a Load of Couhig

I mentioned before that Rob Couhig seems to be taking a more critical look at the Nagin administration. By itself, I wouldn't read too much into the exchange with James Carter that I mentioned yesterday, because most of the interview was nonconfrontational. However, Couhig had some interesting comments during his Feb. 14, 7a-8a show:
Ed Blakely went out & hired 17 people in the past week to join his staff in the office of recovery, many of whom, I guess are PhD's, which is fine, but he has a half million dollar budget. So he busts his budget in the first week & he says, Well, I'll go get more money from the Rockefeller Foundation, or whomever. But, we're concentrating all our efforts on planning instead of doing.

Would the city be materially better off if we took a half million dollars and said what we're gonna do is we're going to start at The Industrial Canal and The Seventeenth Street Canal, and we're going to move from one to the other, and if the buildings aren't being refurbished we're going to take them down and clean them up, and charge the owner to get his lot straightened out so we can make the city hospitable for those who want to come here?

That starts at about the 18:30 point of the recording; it's not an official transcript, but I typed it as accurately as possible. He also referred to Blakely's assertion that a army of people want to come here, and said "only in your dreams" will people come here if we don't clean up the city. He gave the mayor credit for the French Quarter being clean, but questioned the other garbage contracts.

I wanted to wait until I had time to go into detail about this to post on thesubject, but that probably wouldn't have been until after Mardi Gras. So just a couple of points. First, I don't endorse everything that Couhig recommended but it's refreshing to hear anybody with a microphone questioning the city's numbers (in the Carter interview) or its use of money.

Also, I don't know if I'm reading too much into only a few comments or if Couhig really his on the verge of becoming a major Nagin critic. If it's the latter, Couhig can't undo his endorsement. However, as part of Nagin's 100 day committee, he lent credibility to Nagin's claim to have restored accountability and transparency to city government. He can certainly speak out out about that.

If he's going to question police manpower figures, he should ask about replacing some the laid off civilian employees. There are difficulties in replacing police officers that go beyond costs, but if more officers than usual are performing civilian duties, it's only a lack of money that keeps the city from doing anything about that. Like I've said before, it's possible that I'm barking up the wrong tree there. If the city refuses to share information, and the professional journalists refuse to ask real questions, it's up to us amateurs. Of course we'll get some questions wrong, that's better than letting the questions go unasked. If any readers with any experience in either law enforcement or city government have any insight, I'd love to hear it. Even if it's just to say that I'm way off base.

As I said, it's quite possible that I'm reading too much into a few comments and there's no friction developing there. It's also possible that Wednesday's comments reflect the conflict that seems to be developing between Blakely and NORA.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pay Wall

Unmatched Destruction

The recovery along the Gulf Coast and particularly in New Orleans is going too slowly, and there are steps the government can easily take to speed the process. One thing the Bush administration should have done immediately after Hurricane Katrina was to waive the requirement that state and local governments match federal rebuilding funds. The time to correct that mistake is now.

Much of federal disaster aid is handed out according to the Stafford Act, which calls for states to ante up a quarter for every 75 cents provided by the federal government. That way, locals still contribute what the law deems a fair share of each rebuilding dollar. When the damage exceeds $110 for each person in the affected state, the split increases to 90 percent for the federal government with a 10 percent local match.

Since 1985, the local matching requirement has been waived entirely for 32 separate disasters. It was waived for the State of Florida after Hurricane Andrew, when damage was $139 for each Floridian. It was waived again for New York after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, which cost $390 per New Yorker.

Yet somehow the Bush administration has not found it necessary to forgive the local match for Gulf Coast states after the double-whammy of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, except for costs associated with debris removal and some emergency services — despite the fact that the two storms wreaked roughly $6,700 worth of damage per capita in Louisiana. This inaction is particularly surprising, given that such a large proportion of the damage can be attributed to the failure of the federal levees that were supposed to protect the New Orleans area.

State officials say they have set aside close to $1 billion to help struggling local governments pay matching funds for things like replacing police stations and repairing sewage systems. They are trying to cover some 20,000 construction projects in all, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to millions. That’s no small amount of administrative and bureaucratic hassle on top of the expense.

Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana has been asking President Bush for the waiver since September 2005, shortly after Katrina struck. Last week a group of Democratic senators led by Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, sent a letter urging President Bush to make this change, however belatedly. They called that step “not only prudent, but vital to the recovery.”

We agree. And if President Bush won’t do it, Congress should legislate the change.

Media Notes

The Times Picayune ran the recent New York Times editorial about the Stafford Act on its op-ed page yesterday. Some other bloggers, I first saw the editorial at Humid City, have already commented on it, but I believe that NYT editorials disappear behind a pay wall after two weeks. So be sure to read it before it disappears.

Don't know if Charlie Melancon's angry words had any effect, or if it would have happened anyway, but there seems to be good news:
Stung by criticism from within their own ranks that they have abandoned the Gulf Coast, House Democratic leaders filed long-awaited legislation Thursday to relieve hurricane-battered Louisiana of nearly $1.8 billion in recovery costs. They also promised additional help is coming next month.

There was an interesting exchange between Rob Couhig and James Carter Monday morning, scroll down to Rob & Bo - 2/12/07 - 7a to 8a
Guests: N.O. Councilman James Carter & St. Charles Parish School Supt. Dr. Rodney LaFon, if interested. It starts off as a normal radio fluff interview, but it gets interesting at about the ten minute point. Couhig actually asked how a city with 1000 active officers had the resources for community policing. Carter responded that it had 1600 before Katrina and 1400 now. Surprisingly, asked about Couhig active officers. Carter countered with the 360 officers of the national guard and state police and said that with a smaller city, the city had a proportionally larger police force.

Carter's point may be a valid one, but nobody said it before the election or during the budget debate. I've said before that even though the mayor and city council talked of a 1600 officer police force, they seemed to be budgeting for a much smaller one. Listening to Carter, I got the distinct impression that I was right. There's a cheap shot that I can't resist, Carter insisted that the crime situation was improving. Also, Couhig seems to be taking a more critical look at the Nagin administration. I'll have more on this soon.

Oops, My Bad

On second thought, Virginia Boulet was right about Nagin being a good steward of public funds. After all anyone who "kept finances afloat despite working with only a quarter of the city's pre-Katrina budget" must be a damn good steward. Just kidding, but I realized that I didn't explain things very well in an earlier post. When the mayor gave his 100 day presentation, he and Rob Couhig both stated that the city had operated on 25 per cent of its pre-Katrina budget. The local media, the people who put every little thing the mayor says under a microscope, dutifully reported the figure. The Times Picayune even praised him for it.

Sounds like our mayor is a miracle worker, but it turns out that the number was almost totally fabricated. The city had a $480M operating budget in 2005 and a $325M operating budget in 2006; last I checked, $325M was slightly more than a quarter of $480M. The city did have recurring revenue (taxes, fees, etc.) of about $150M in 2006 with the shortfall being made up with federal loans and grants. If you borrow money and then spend it, you don't really spend it I guess. Even if the loans are forgiven, it was still money in the city budget. But the mayor claimed that 325 was a fourth of 480 and the local media unquestioningly reported it. So you see, you can't really blame Boulet for thinking the mayor's a financial genius. She may be an insider, but she must get her news from the Times Picayune.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yes, Virginia Believes There is a Santa Claus

Or, maybe it's the reform fairy.

Dr. John gave a wonderful interview* on Channel 4 last week. It wasn't primarily political, you should listen to it to hear him say, "I want Irma to win it (the Grammy)". However, when asked about the recovery, he said, "I'm upset with all of them (the mayor, the governor and the president). He added that it wasn't the time to be wasting money on politics as usual and specifically cited palm trees on Canal Street when there were so many more useful things the money could be spent on.

Also last week, at The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, The Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright called Bush and Nagin the "the twiddledee and twiddledum" of the Katrina recovery. Coincidentally, in his criticism of Nagin, Dr. Wright mentioned wasting money on palm trees on Canal Street. Clearly Dr. John and Dr. Wright believe that the mayor would rather spend money on photo-ops than on more useful, but less glamorous endeavors. It's entirely possible that their thoughts were less charitable than even that.

However, according to Sunday's paper:
"These challenges have been very, very difficult for him," said (Virginia)Boulet, referring to Nagin's post-storm budget-cutting, led by the elimination of nearly 3,000 city jobs. "If he wasn't paying attention to the balance sheet, we would be having a whole different set of problems. He has been a good steward of the public money."

I'm more inclined to agree with the minister and the singer than the lawyer. To explain why requires a long-winded, somewhat personal rehash of things that I've said here before.

During one of the election debates, the mayor said something along the lines of, "I've made the tough cuts, I laid off nearly 3,000 employees, I've cut spending to the bone." As one of those nearly 3,000 employees, my thoughts were:
Nagin you worthless sack of shit, you're the worst kind of coward, a coward pretending to be a hero. I'd be shocked if a dozen of those employees blame you for the layoffs. You made the easy cuts that make good sound bites, now you're too wimpy or too lazy to do the hard work of putting the city's limited money where it would do the most good.

When the layoffs were first announced, I didn't blame the mayor -- I don't think anybody did. At first, I was amused by how unaffected the mayor's office was by the cuts, but it wasn't until I found out that the city only had two electrical inspectors that I was appalled that the mayor's office had a staff of 65.

It was during December of 2005, that I realized the mayor's handling of the city's finances was as big a problem as the lack of federal funds, at least in the short run. At some point in November or December, I found out that the city only had two electrical inspectors. I read an article at the beginning of December that said the head of NORD was resigning because she had been unable to return after Katrina. Since the layoffs took effect at the beginning of October, I thought that raised an obvious question. More importantly, the article stated that the deputy director of NORD would serve as acting director until a new one was hired. Seemed odd that a department that had gone from 400 to 20 employees in layoffs that the mayor described as "pretty permanent" still needed a director and deputy director, especially since the mayor had scoffed at pay cuts for remaining employees. Of course, I realized that the library had gone from 200 to 20 employees and still had a City Librarian and Assistant City Librarian, on top of that, most of the 20 were more highly paid employees in supervisory positions. It dawned on me that the city payroll was somewhat top heavy (comparable to the IBM rowing team in a tech joke), but I didn't see what difference consolidating a few upper level positions would make with the city facing such a financial crisis. Soon after, a letter to the editor appeared, that I'll reprint in full:
I love New Orleans, but can't take the banana republic mentality anymore. I've accepted a job out of town and my wife, my three kids and I are leaving. That's it. I'm done.

I have loved the city for its uniqueness of character and its joie de vivre. But the frustration of waiting for an electrical inspector at my rental property, in an area Uptown off St. Charles Avenue that's long had juice, has put me over the edge.

Mayor Ray Nagin has pleaded with folks to come back. But he won't even see to it that a major American city has a streamlined way of turning on electricity to individual houses that weren't flooded.

I've had enough! Good-bye!

Maybe the letter writer should have been more patient, but it's difficult o make that argument when there were more than thirty employees in the mayor's office for every wiring inspector. Still, it wasn't until I went to City Hall to make my December COBRA payment (mail service at the time made that advisable) and saw the line to get into the permits office that things really clicked. I couldn't find out exactly how much the city's department heads earned, a year later the city still gave misleading figures, but did find out that they had received huge pay increases three years earlier.

By cutting payroll at the top, the city couldn't have done much about its overall budget shortfall, but it could have found the money to replace the eight electrical inspectors that the city lost. The city could have even found the money to put a few more people in the permits office. Of course, the mayor would have had to cut some of his office staff (or re-assigned them to permits) and told his "all-star" team that they'd have to give up a portion of their pay raises and re-assign their top staff to lower positions, at least until the crisis was over. In other words, the mayor would have had to make "tough cuts."

On January of last year the Picayune reported that the city had hired a firm to supply electrical inspectors and it would soon have ten on the job. Of course, there was still the logjam in the permits and planning offices. Over nine months later, the paper reported that the city had never replaced the lost wiring inspectors. But the Picayune runs editorials calling the governor dishonest and Virginia Boulet calls the mayor a good steward of public funds.

*If the Dr. John link doesn't take you directly to the interview, just type in "Dr. John" and click multimedia. The article about the head of NORD had the headline: Heads of NORD, Public Works resign and was dated 12/05/05. It also seems suspicious that 65 out of 100 mayor's office staffers had been able to return by the time the layoffs took effect in October. I suspect they got a longer grace period than other city employees. I suppose it's possible that the mayor thought it more important to offer space on one of the cruise ships to members of his personal staff than to, say, wiring inspectors.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Easy Umbrage?

I often accuse other New Orleanians in general and bloggers in particular of having become too thin-skinned, but even I'm a little miffed at how little national attention today's tornadoes received in the national news. CBS and NBC both began their national broadcasts with stories about bad weather, but nothing about New Orleans. Finally, in the last ten minutes of NBCs broadcast, Brian Williams mentioned the tornadoes. He actually used the phrase, "adding insult to injury." Well, Brian Williams has continued to pay attention to New Orleans, so we shouldn't blame him for the fact that news writers like to use hackneyed phrases, no matter how inappropriate they might be. But I didn't see any mention of today's tornadoes on either CNN's or MSNBC's websites. You could find a report if you typed in a search, but I suspect that most people in the country have no idea. Good thing the tornadoes didn't hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they'd be whining about how nobody pays attention to them, for the ten thousandth time.

Well, I don't want to make an issue of it, just make note of it as a counter to the Mississippi complaint about too little attention. One local weatherman (Bob Breck) seemed to think the city was hit by one or two F1 tornadoes and one F2 tornado. I wasn't paying close enough attention to hear what he based that on, nobody else has been that specific. I suppose it didn't sound like a major weather event to people who don't realize how vulnerable to further damage the city is.

WWL has some good slide shows of the damage. Only one with a separate link. Ashley Morris has some pictures of damage in the Carrollton area at his site, and Adrastos has more links.

Update: I paid attention to what Carl Arredondo said on WWL. Apparently an enhanced EF2 tornado hit Westwego, crossed the river and weakened to an EF1 when it caused damage damage in Carrollton. It was an EF2 that went through Gentilly, but there's uncertainty about whether it was the same, or a different, tornado. That means that the majority of the pictures on the Internet would be of the area that was hit by the weakest tornado.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If You Read the Paper Online,

Be sure to read the interview excerpts (pdf.) that accompanied today's front page story on Nagin. About the March on Crime, he says:
There's a lot of pain out there and I respect the fact that people took the initiative and did that march. Now, was there some political mischief in some of that? Absolutely.

Now that I've thrown that bomb, the main article was Frank Donze at his worst. There are times when Donze seems like a perceptive intelligent perceptive reporter and times when he seems like the most gullible reporter on the planet. Nagin and his supporters are certain to react indignantly to the headline and opening paragraphs, but the bulk of the article was Donze taking dictation. We're actually supposed to believe that Nagin's good at details and managing spreadsheets, he just hasn't communicated his vision for the city very well:
The criticism of Nagin is not so much about his management of the nuts and bolts of City Hall as it is about his perceived lack of what former President George H.W. Bush famously labeled "the vision thing."

Perhaps, I'm beeing a bit harsh. It's basically a he said/she said article, that even starts out negative from Nagin's point of view. But I wondered what kind of kool-aid Donze was drinking when portrayed Nagin as cautious and good with details. I also wondered at lines like:
With the heady discussions of the BNOB behind him, Nagin started to gravitate back to the mayoral role he played before the storm -- the low-key manager, not the adventurer. Nagin's limited successes have mostly been in that role.

For instance, his awarding of new garbage contracts -- something that might be considered less than statecraft -- may be the boldest initiative of his still-young second term. Initially, the contracts aroused controversy because of costs, at $33 million nearly double the price of pre-Katrina garbage collection, but since their implementation they have garnered nearly universal praise.

That was followed by Virginia Boulet's praise for the mayor's handling of the city's finances. Has Donze already forgotten that the $33M figure for garbage collection seems to greatly understate the cost? Nagin doesn't pay any attention to detail and is a terrible steward of public money. I suspect that Donze found critics who said that, but such criticisms wouldn't have fit into one of the themes of the article.

This might seem like nit-picking, but Donze forgot Jamaica:
Shortly after the election, for instance, Nagin jetted out of town on at least a half-dozen occasions, traveling to New York, Indianapolis, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Diego and Memphis, Tenn., among other places.

The busy travel schedule went over poorly. Some New Orleanians viewed it as a vanity tour taking place as the city he was elected to represent sank further into ruin. Influential talk-radio host Garland Robinette dubbed the mayor "Ray Nay-gone."

Yes, he writing about the eight months since the election, but to discuss Nagin's travels and omit a trip to Jamaica less than three months after katrina seems very kind to me.

Unless I'm misreading something, it seems that a Nagin defender actually praises Nagin for saying what it took to be re-elected, even though he knew that what he said wouldn't hold up:
It may be that such ideas need time to ferment before they become palatable.

'After I'm done'

Last fall, Triplett, who is a psychologist as well as a community leader, said she believed residents weren't ready to hear talk of a shrinking footprint in the first few months after the storm. During the planning processes that followed -- concluding with the recently completed effort that Triplett helped oversee -- residents began to come around to the idea of encouraging "clustering," if not requiring it.

Am I misreading that?

Regrets: I believe this is only the second time that I've regretted being too diplomatic in a post. Donze's article was hackery, plain and simple. You had to love that clever ironic twist at the end, it ends up that it was actually visionary for our detail-oriented mayor to be cautious rather than visionary. Either it's that serendipitousness that Rob Couhig spoke of, or Frank Donze is a regular O. Henry. Actually he does good work at times. He just takes dictation at others.

In my own defense, it was an attempt to be consistent that caused me to pull my punches. In that past, I had criticized the Picayune for ignoring the fact that most people only read the headline and opening paragraph when it came up with crap like:
Blanco's office scrambled to spin Katrina
E-mails detail effort to ensure feds took blame for slow response

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Bush administration were locked in a pitched political battle to shape public opinion about the response to Hurricane Katrina at the same time they were trying to manage the rescue operation, documents released late Friday by the governor's office show.

If any readers wonder why I still defend Blanco from unfair criticism, it's because the unfair criticism predates the Road Home failures by months. There's a major difference between the Blanco story (not available online) and the Nagin story. The Blanco story began with negative opinion presented as fact and became somewhat balanced. The Nagin story began with negatives opinions clearly presented as opinions and became a puff piece.

I'm still flabbergasted that Donze would portray Nagin as attentive to detail. Adrastos shares that opinion. He also makes a good point about the city council:
The City Council is too busy patting itself on the back and posturing to make a positive contribution. If the Council had the stomach for a knock down drag out fight with the Nagin administration, they could fill the gap. But as long as Oliver the Actor runs the council that won't happen: Oliver is a obsessive consensus seeker, which is why, while he might make a good replacement for Dollar Bill, he would be a terrible Mayor. And Oliver clearly wants to be Mayor.

It's time to make Thomas realize that in three years people will be looking for a leader who challenged the mayor.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Well, You Know Man,

It just seems like whenever the mayor tries to do anything good to help the city, people start raising all these questions, but you know that's getting caught up in post-election politics.

I'll leave the Nagin imitations to Adrastos, but you should read Dambala's post about cronyism and the crime camera contracts. However, assuming the story pans out, I wouldn't expect a lasting impact. If the story has merit, a front page story will be unavoidable. However, when Nagin whines about being a victim, Jarvis DeBerry will most assuredly not write an indignant column. We will see a wrist-slapping editorial, but it will avoid even questioning the mayor's integrity. who knows, James gill might even write another column comparing Greg Meffert to Jack Lemmon. Oh, it was Tony Curtis. I thought The Apartment would have been the better Billy Wilder allusion if gill wanted to make Meffert seem synpathetic, but that would have put Nagin in the role of the heel played by Fred MacMurray.

Movie allusions aside, it won't be long before the writers at The Picayune assume their usual positions regarding the Nagin administration and we start receiving glowing about the effectiveness of the crime cameras. Exploiting the crime situation is certainly more ghoulish than exploiting sanitation contracts, but I expect the end result to be the same. The constant talk about how clean The Quarter is makes me wonder if anybody in the city remembers Henry IV from college. Well, they do say that it looks cleaner than ever, not just cleaner than it has since Katrina, so the "sun behind the clouds" effect only goes so far. The cleanliness of The French Quarter was never the main issue, neither was the feasibility of the automated garbage trucks in the rest of the city. Nobody in the media ever mentioned that the two fattest contracts went to Nagin campaign supporters, despite the fact that nagin made campaign contributions an issue. And everybody seems to have forgotten that fat sanitation contracts that will be a financial drain for eleven years were forced down the city council's throat. An expensive SUV might be an upgrade over your Yugo, it's still not a wise idea to commit to a bigger car note and higher gasoline costs when you're having trouble paying your house note. To carry that analogy forward a little further, if a husband did that behind his wife's back, she wouldn't forget about it as fast as we've forgotten about the garbage games. I don't care how nice that SUV turned out to be. At any rate, Yachtgate now seems like a distant memory. If the administration can make the effectiveness of the crime cameras the issue, expect the same result.

Note 2/11/07: The above was written yesterday afternoon, but I decided to pull it until I saw whether there was any reaction to Dambala's post. There was one comment worth noting:
Anonymous said...

Sounds like sour grapes to me...check the City of New Orleans website...looks like the City is bidding the contract.

Hmmm, I wonder why. Probably because the current vendor isn't doing the job. Or perhaps they are ripping the City a new asshole with their prices (remember, technology gets cheaper as time goes by). I suspect both.

Looks like whomever gets the lowest bid will win. Is it just me or isn't this good for the City?????

I looked at the city website and couldn't find it. You do need to register as a vendor to access the purchasing portal. That might be understandable, but it doesn't do much for transparency. I can't think of any reason why every resident shouldn't be able to see every contract that the city has up for bid. It could just be that I didn't look in the right place. At any rate, the above analysis is valid in general. Today's joke of a front page story mentioned the praise that the garbage contracts have received since taking effect. If critics don't stay on focus, it's a pretty easy to change the subject.

Friday, February 09, 2007

District 94 Special Election

I just posted about Jeb Bruneau at the Katrinacrat Blog, but didn't want to make a personal endorsement on a group site. To my way of thinking, there's one obvious choice: Deborah Langhoff. If you live in the district, be sure to vote. Even if you don't, if you're able to contribute...

I talked to her briefly at a Levees.org rally last year, but other than that, we've never met. To my way of thinking, being an active member of CHAT counts for a lot more than being an incumbent's son. There is more.

Note: It should go without saying that my endorsing a candidate in no way implies that the candidate agrees with any of the opinions expressed on this blog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Landrieus Are Coming

I've already commented on this at Adrastos', but Rob Couhig thinks that Mitch Landrieu will run governor to help his sister keep her senate seat, or something like that:
If Blanco doesn’t run, Mitch almost has to if he wants to remain a force in Louisiana and help his sister retain her spot in the senate. Even if Blanco runs, Mitch may feel he has to run in order to keep the seat from being in someone else’s hand the following year while Mary runs and for the foreseeable future while he continues to cut ribbons.

On the 2/7/07-7a-8a show (some scrolling required, while link works) he goes into a little more detail, explaining that the "Democrat" candidate will be somebody with a "vested interest." Mary Landrieu will be up for re-election in two years, and "they're" going to need somebody in a position to help her. You can almost hear hear the wheels turning.

I guess Couhig wants to do as much for the state as he did for the city. He must be really proud of the way his man in the mayor's office is running the city just like a business.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Lost in the Money Section?

I was waiting to see if any other bloggers had anything to say about this, but the city seems to be having trouble finding Mardi Gras sponsors:
Deterred by the bawdy reputation of Carnival for the second year in a row, no company is willing to put up the $1 million to become the event's first presenting sponsor.

But MediaBuys LLC, the company hired to find corporate sponsors to cover the cost of police, fire and sanitation services surrounding New Orleans parades, said trash bag maker Glad Products is back and may be joined by a beer company and a cruise company.

The Los Angeles area media placement firm says it contacted more than 2,000 corporations starting in June, but it had limited success because corporate America is frightened by the debauchery on Bourbon Street. "People don't seem to want to associate their brands with the exposure of breasts and drinking. .."

Maybe if Nagin started calling it a fat family celebration, the city would have more luck. In a related note, Mobile is expecting record crowds for its "family oriented" Mardi Gras.

Apparently, the plans for a nationally televised concert have also been scrapped. However, I do remember a comment that Dambala made on Adrastos' blog:
I bet you dinner at Brigtsens Ernest Collins and his crew will get the contract for shooting this....the one area Ray knows how to make money in is Video Production. Wait and see who get's this contract.

I guess we'll see. Come to think of it, I wonder what kind of raise the head of the office of arts and entertainment got.

But not all is lost:
In addition to the sponsorships, the company has worked out a deal in which people along the parade routes can use their cell phones to send text-message contributions a nonprofit fund created by the city to receive sponsorship proceeds. Billboards and a giant LED screen at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street will implore people to donate.

New Orleans, still best the nation at finding tasteless ways to get money from people who are too drunk to know what they're doing.

Hanlon's Razor?

Get Real! As a general rule, I hate exclamation points. But some things call for either exclamation points or profanity. This certainly qualifies:
A federal employee involved in what one investigation called "a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling" in the Gulf of Mexico drilling program has been promoted to a post overseeing private oil and gas exploration in federal waters nationwide.

Chris Oynes, who for 13 years has run the Gulf regional office in Louisiana for the Minerals Management Service, was elevated by Director Johnnie Burton to be associate director in Washington, D.C., for the agency's offshore program.

In a statement Monday, Burton lauded Oynes' 30-plus years of government experience regulating offshore drilling and his "solid leadership" after the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes rocked the Gulf drilling industry.

The same genius who cost the federal government $10B, possibly $60B (scroll down for complete story) is now overseeing all offshore oil and gas production. To paraphrase Bob, act like a dumb shit, and Bush will treat you like an equal. Maybe, it should be act like a dumb shit, and you'll get away with murder. But seriously, that's some fucked-up shit. Guess I should say, that's some fucked-up shit!

Monday, February 05, 2007

NBC Update

As expected, tonight's NBC News segment didn't go into much detail. However, Tuesday's show will be anchored from New Orleans. You have to give Brian Williams credit for at least saying the right things:
“New Orleans needs it,” he said. “If we, of all people, ever turn our backs on this story, we’re worthy of scorn and much blame.”

It might actually get interesting:
Tuesday, Williams will report on how the New Orleans Fire Department is coping.

A couple of points of interest in tonight's report:
So far, only about half the $110 billion allotted by the federal government has actually been spent. Officials at all levels complain that bureaucratic red tape has choked off the recovery.

The first chokepoint: A federal requirement that state or local governments must provide 10 percent of the money for rebuilding projects.

Louisiana officials complain that requirement, designed to reduce corruption, is their biggest impediment.

"That match requirement is bollixing up the works," says Sean Reilly, a board member with the Louisiana Recovery Authority. "It's gumming it up."

That's a step in the right direction, but it would be nice to see a follow-up report by somebody who's read Christopher's Cooper's WSJ article:
According to the White House, the federal government has provided $110 billion for the Gulf Coast region. But nowhere near that amount of actual cash has been made available. The total is spread over five states and covers damage done by three separate storms. Some of it consists of loans. A chunk comes from government insurance payouts that ultimately derived from premiums paid by homeowners themselves.

The Stafford Act has been waived in the past -- it didn't apply to Manhattan in September 2001 or South Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 -- but it remains in place along the Gulf. President Bush dropped the Act for a time for certain projects, such as emergency repairs and debris removal, only to reinstate it later.

Just in case Cooper didn't make the point clearly enough, let's hope the follow-up report is done by somebody who's also read da po'blog.

In one area, NBC seems to be taking talking points from the RNC or The Times Picayune:
In Louisiana, fewer than 1 percent of homeowners who applied for have gotten any money. In Mississippi, about 68 percent have received checks.

No mention of the fact that Mississippi got its money six months before Louisiana. I don't want make too much of that point. That excuse can't possibly mean much to homeowners that need their recovery money. I started to write that the excuse must be getting old, but we never see it in the reporting.

Since I'm not a Blanco supporter,I should just ignore the lack of context. As a matter of fact, posting was light this weekend because a post that was intended as a demand that Nagin be held to the same standards as Blanco (or subject to similar criticisms) kept reading like a defense of Blanco, rather than a criticism of Nagin. Or a criticism of the local media coverage of Nagin.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


NBC is advertising a special report on Monday's NBC Nightly News (5:30 CST)on where the billions for Gulf Coast Reconstruction have gone. Often as not, those advertised special reports are two minutes of fluff, so i wouldn't make a special effort to watch it. As a matter of fact, that's the time I normally get home from work, but it might be difficult for me to make it tomorrow.

Somebody needs to slap Tim Russert (type of slap optional) and tell him that, "Are people born gay?" is an absurd question to ask a presidential candidate.

Interesting story on the ACoE in Iraq:
"This is the worst project that my inspectors have visited," says Stuart Bowen, inspector general for Iraq.

Bowen says the Iraqis recently refused to take over the complex, calling the work disgusting.

Here's what Parsons delivered for taxpayers' $62 million:

* Shoddily built brick walls.
* Cracking concrete.
* Exposed reinforced steel bars.
* Buildings without enough power or with faulty electrical box wiring.
* Plumbing so bad that when cadets used it, human waste rained through light fixtures and ceilings.

The report places some blame on the Army Corps of Engineers, which was supposed to oversee the project.

"They actually awarded Parsons merit increases despite widespread evidence of deficient work," says Rep. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Don't know whether this could more properly be called a rehash of or an update to an old story.

Finally, Joe Scarborough briefly sounded like Keith Olbermann on Thursday night's show:
I consider myself to be extraordinarily conservative. I‘m the same guy that I was when I was up in Congress, and I really don‘t care about what Jacques Chirac and the United Nations think. I care about our troops. I care about what‘s best for America. And I oppose this surge because I don‘t think it‘s going to make a huge difference over there.

How can you have Republicans, friends of mine like Jim DeMint, Jim Bunning, John Cornyn, accusing Republicans like John Warner of playing into the hands of enemies, and Tony Snow doing the same thing, when an overwhelming amount of Americans agree with the position that John Warner‘s taking and that you‘re taking and that I‘ve taken?

So Pat, you‘re saying tonight that John Warner is sending the wrong message to our enemies because he is following the popular will of the overwhelming number of Americans who oppose continuing down this path, this failed path.

You know, I‘ve got to say, just listening to this debate today, Joe Klein, has just made me very angry, angry at a lot of people in my Republican Party, angry at people that I like very much. The suggestion that either you support the president 100 percent or you‘re not a conservative is offensive to me. I am more conservative than George Bush has ever been! I‘m more conservative when it comes to the military. I‘m more conservative when it comes to economics. I‘m more conservative when it comes to spending our money.

But somehow, this president has been able to make the argument, You either support me, you either support—what, $10 billion more dollars, I guess, Joe? I mean, you either support these false estimates that I make at the beginning of the war, you either support my plan to give the generals less troops than they need to win the war at the beginning and more troops than they want at the end, or else you‘re not a conservative.

I don‘t know how that message doesn‘t tear the Republican Party apart, and I wonder, Why aren‘t there more John Warners out there?

And you know what? I would stay the course if there was any evidence at all that we could win this war. But when you have a general testifying on the Hill in front of John McCain that he still thinks that we‘re on the right path, that he still thinks no mistakes have been made—I‘m telling you, there are troops that live around northwest Florida that are over in Iraq, that live in Washington, that live across this country, that will not be coming home next Christmas because they will be dead because we have leaders that don‘t understand that we‘re on the wrong course in Iraq! If you‘re a true conservative, there is no way you can support staying the course in the sight of such failure. Either come up with a new plan or bring our troops home!

Don't want to read too much into it. I suppose I should look at conservative web sites to see if there's been any reaction.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Kitchens Are Small

A HANO spokesman explains why the projects need to be demolished:
“They look good, the brick and mortar, but functionally, they are obsolete. The kitchens are very small, one bath, and we could do better,” said Donald Babers with HANO.

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