Thursday, March 29, 2007


Today's paper reports that the mayor didn't bother to attend a recent crime forum, because he was busy at a fund-raiser, another fund-raiser. If I had read that on my lunch break a few months ago, I would have expected at least 2 or 3 New Orleans bloggers to be all over the story before I had a chance to post. It's possible that I missed somebody, but it doesn't seem to have raised a peep. I hope that says more about the fullness of other bloggers' lives than what's happened to the indignation bar where the mayor is concerned.

While the article does contain one hard to decipher sentence about the Police Chief and the D.A.:
While the two admit communication has been frayed, the actions of their offices -- spewing vitriol back and forth in newspaper editorials and an online message boards -- belie a departmental rift.

It seems that they would like for us to believe that relations between the D.A.'s office and the NOPD are actually quite good. The men and women at Signal 26 don't agree.

About 12 hours earlier, the term-limited mayor had hosted a $2,500-a-couple fund-raiser that attracted many of the engineers, architects and consultants who hope to land some of that recovery work.

The take from the evening event at the new downtown Harrah's Hotel was "north of $200,000," according to David White, Nagin's campaign treasurer.

If those preliminary numbers are correct, Nagin now has nearly $500,000 in his war chest -- a hefty sum for someone who isn't running for anything. Or is he? link

Just a reminder:
Nagin replied: "I don't need that much money. Something else is going on with that."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Journalistic Malpractice

3/30/07: If the anonymous commenter (the fifth comment) is correct, the contract is even worse than I thought.

Disclaimer: I'm feeling a little under the weather, so what follows may be somewhat disjointed and I may need to come back and supply some links at a future date, but I think it's important that all the facts about Veronica White's Sanitation Department be remembered. I should say, all the readily available facts about the Sanitation Department. On the plus side, I'm not feeling up to linking to pictures of monkeys covering their eyes and ears every time I type "Time Picayune."

Ralph Lupin was tactless to call Veronica White a bitch, but the local press has been so inept in its coverage of her Sanitation Department that it can be said to be guilty of journalistic malpractice. I know that the Picayune did some commendable reporting on the sanitation contracts, but even then it omitted some key points and dropped the story once the contracts were approved. I shouldn't say that the local media dropped the story, it merely forgot about costs and secrecy -- it never seemed to notice political connections and campaign contributions -- and started reporting on the fact that the French Quarter was clean. That was all that we heard on the subject until Ralph Lupin called Veronica White a bitch. The sad thing is, had he called her a liar and a crook instead of a bitch, neither Nagin or White would want to keep the subject alive.

With so many French Quarter residents saying that White lied, and the Nagin administration pushing for a French Quarter taxing district, I think that any demands that Lupin apologize for calling White a liar would have been half-hearted.

If the local media paid more attention to the Sanitation Department, Lupin would have known to call White a crook rather than a bitch. More likely, we wouldn't have the sanitation contracts that led to the incident in the first place. A brief review will explain.

The Nagin administration, with Charles Rice as CAO, hired Veronica White as sanitation director in late 2003. About a year later, the city signed a $450K no-bid contract to purchase new garbage cans that other firms offered to provide for free. Not only did the contract go to a firm with close ties to Charles Rice, the city lied about the reasons for awarding the contract:
Nagin's chief administrative officer, Charles Rice, defended the city's decision to buy the cans, saying among other things that bidding would have been unfair to Niche, which he said submitted to the city the idea of advertising on cans.

But one of the three companies that said it would have provided the cans for free, Verres Media, submitted a proposal about two years ago that mentioned its ability to provide cans with advertising.

To be fair, it's unclear what, if any, role White had in that deal. However, there's no doubt about her part in a later deal with Charles Rice:
The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mayor Ray Nagin signed a contract potentially worth tens of millions of dollars with Omni Pinnacle of Slidell.

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.

City sanitation director Veronica White, who oversaw the selection process, was hired into her city post by Rice. Rice, meanwhile, has turned up on Omni's payroll in his new position as a lawyer. Omni has also been represented in contract talks with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers by Rice's brother, Terrence Rice, according to a corps official.

It was also White's Sanitation Department that informed Chris Rose that the city's garbage cans were no longer on the street because they were being "cleaned and serviced." In a vacuum, such a "dog-ate-my-homework" story might have been belonged in the living section, under the circumstances it showed questionable journalistic judgement at best.

The local press corps definitely came to close to malpractice when it didn't even question Veronica's White's July announcement that city was purchasing 500 new garbage cans. This was a year and a half after the purchase of bombproof garbage cans and less than four months after we were told that the old cans were being "cleaned and serviced," yet nobody questioned the announcement. I couldn't find any mention of the contract on the city's website and I wasn't about to request a day off of work to play citizen journalist filling out FOIA requests, but it's inexcusable that the paper didn't ask about the terms of the purchase.

When the garbage contracts were proposed, the Picayune did a good job of reporting on the secrecy and wastefulness, but it failed to mention the Sanitation Department's history of questionable contracts. To the best of my knowledge, it never mentioned the fact that the two biggest contracts went to Nagin campaign donors. Since Nagin made an issue of campaign contributions in the mayor's race, I find the omission perplexing. As I've said before, not only did Richards Disposal and Metro Disposal contribute to the Nagin campaign, their owners and affiliated companies also did. It also failed to mention that Jimmie Woods of Metro Disposal is, or was, a business partner of a Nagin business associate:
One of the most confusing questions in New Orleans politics in this past week has dealt with who City Hall insider and Morial confidant Roy Rodney is supporting for mayor. Rumors some weeks ago implied that Rodney would back Councilman Troy Carter as his friend and ally Ira Middleberg had.

In fact, a rumor campaign to that effect circulated around the city. Even the entry of Rodney's business partner Ray Nagin into the race did little to quell the idea that the Morial insider planned to team up with Carter.
As strong as a political position as L.I.F.E. continues to hold in the Crescent City, there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death, considering the reform attitude that prevails in the city today. One can observe this displayed in the lengths that the Pennington camp goes to separate itself from Mayor Morial and show the Chief's independence.

One source says that Rodney does indeed support his friend and business partner Ray Nagin, but one can never tell in the somewhat Byzantine atmosphere that has descended upon this year's fractured election.

Just for the record, any implication or statement that this column might have made to connect Roy Rodney to Troy Carter is inaccurate, and we retract it.

Like I said, I'm a little under the weather, but too little attention was paid to the fact that Nagin waited until September to reveal any details of the sanitation contracts when he apparently had begun planning them by May (scroll down to "Nagin outlines 100 day"):
At a news conference Sunday, Nagin further said he will spearhead an aggressive effort to get trash off city streets. He said his administration will seek new proposals for a garbage collection contract that would divide the city into three zones to expedite clean-up.

He was being secretive even as he promised transparency.

Additional Questions: Would Nagin be happy with an apology from Ralph Lupin if members of the Vieux Carre Commission were nominated by the governor and approved by the legislature? Does his insistence on Lupin's removal have anything to do with the fact that the mayor nominates VCC members with the council's approval? Remember, the council rubber-stamped his renomination of business partner David White to the aviation board. For that matter, should the mayor be nominationg members of boards that any have regulatory power over, or dealings in, any part of the local real estate market until he divulges all the details of his real estate venture? One final question, wasn't it a conflict of interest for him to re-appoint David White to the aviation board? In most cities, that last question would be considered a rhetorical one.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Wish I Owned a Camera

If I did, I'd be tempted to post a picture for the first time on this site. On my way home from work today, I saw a pile of apparently defenestrated computers, monitors and keyboards in front of Morris F.X. Jeff Elementary School. After getting home home, I decided to walk back over and investigate. There appeared to be 50-100 trashed computers that had no apparent damage other than what would have been sustained from being thrown out of a window, I didn't even notice any mold. I walked around to the St. Ann side and didn't see any more computers, but there were piles of chairs and other furniture.

I suppose that on the plus side, it's a step toward gutting and repairing the school. For that matter, I can understand healh risks about schoolchildren and anything that was even possibly contaminated by mold. But I can't understand trashing all those computers if they were at all salvageable. Even if they posed health risks for children, they could have given them away. There was one apparently undamaged monitor still balanced in a first floor window.

Since I didn't notice them last week, I assume that they were thrown out today and will be properly disposed of shortly.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

From Bombproof to Rat Proof

A frustrated Ralph Lupin, the Vieux Carre Commission's tough-talking chairman, told the commission Tuesday, "I don't understand Ms. White's obstinance other than that she's a bitch."

Ralph Lupin certainly provides the best quote in today's paper, but he's not giving Veronica White enough credit. Bitchiness alone can't begin to explain bombproof garbage cans, absurd explanations for missing garbage cans, the abandoned vehicle fiasco, or so much more. It's also worth remembering that the really lucrative garbage collection contracts went to Nagin campaign contributors.

Update: I see that I didn't explain the rat proof reference in the title and that it's not explained until the third page of the quoted article:
In addition, he said, city Health Director Dr. Kevin Stephens suggested that use of the bins is a health issue because rats can gnaw through plastic trash bags.

In the past, I rolled my eyes when Veronica White used that a rationale for requiring residents throughout the city to use the approved cans, but I really have to wonder when the city Health Director makes that argument about the French Quarter.

When I lived in the Quarter, we couldn't put out garbage before five, and it was picked up every evening by ten or so. Rats simply did not go out to rip open garbage bags and eat dinner every night between five and ten. With twice daily garbage pickup, one would expect it to be even less of an issue. However, from SDT's website it seems that the twice daily pickup is only for businesses. Residential pickup is daily. Still, it's at night on the long streets and in the morning on the cross streets.

Rats ripping open garbage bags simply can't be an issue on the long streets, it would be almost completely impossible, and I doubt that it would likely be an issue on the cross streets. When Veronica White brought up rats when the plan for automated garbage pickup was first proposed, I thought that she was looking for added selling points. I don't see how plastic garbage bags, if put out at the proper time and picked up on schedule contribute to the city's rodent problem in any part of the city, they certainly don't in the French Quarter.

The only reason that I can see for insisting on the new cans in the French Quarter is to keep residents of other areas from also demanding an exception. That makes it a political issue between the sanitation department and French Quarter residents, not a health problem. It's worrisome that the city Health Director would allow his office to be used for political ends. I'm hesitant to even suggest that he has, but allowing plastic garbage to be used in such a small area simply is not a health issue. Especially when they're picked up daily.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A New Blog

I've decided against using this blog to republish old articles about Nagin that are either difficult to find or no longer available at I've decided instead to publish them at a new blog, The Nagin Files. I thought about getting cute and naming it something like "The Reformer Chronicles" or "(Elected a)Reformer Blues," but decided to make it easy to find instead. A hard to find blog consisting of hard to find articles would be somewhat silly.

It won't entirely consist of old Times Picayune articles that are no longer available online, but the main text will consist entirely of newspaper and magazine articles that appeared in print -- any commentary that I have will appear in the comments. As a matter of fact, the first post is a Louisiana Weekly that's still available online, but that everybody should read. The following is particularly noteworthy:
When this newspaper contacted Mr. Rodney and asked the simple question: who he was supporting and was the candidate Troy Carter, as the rumors alleged, it was his secretary who returned the telephone call in Rodney's place and said definitively that the attorney did not support Carter. So, this reporter responded, "Who is he supporting?"

The secretary said, "I can't tell you that."

"You can't tell me that? Why not?"

"I just can't?" she concluded, and implied that comment would be the last that Rodney would release to the press.

As strong as a political position as L.I.F.E. continues to hold in the Crescent City, there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death, considering the reform attitude that prevails in the city today. One can observe this displayed in the lengths that the Pennington camp goes to separate itself from Mayor Morial and show the Chief's independence.

One source says that Rodney does indeed support his friend and business partner Ray Nagin, but one can never tell in the somewhat Byzantine atmosphere that has descended upon this year's fractured election.Just for the record, any implication or statement that this column might have made to connect Roy Rodney to Troy Carter is inaccurate, and we retract it.

I'll do some tweaking of the new blog like getting rid of the LexisNexis details and perhaps varying the titles of the posts, but I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

John Maginnis Gets It

John Maginnis started his column with a clever comment today:
With Congressman Bobby Jindal putting off campaigning so as not to blow his huge lead in the polls,

But that's not what impressed me. In one simple sentence he showed the way to express a concept that most of our local media and elected officials either can't grasp or don't how to communicate:
With a good economy, her own hard work and a scandal-free administration, Blanco was uneventfully but deliberately on her way to re-election when she was undone by two man-made disasters: the levee failures in Hurricane Katrina and her own Road Home program. (The latter was supposed to resurrect her fortunes but finished them off instead.) The only purely natural disaster she faced, Hurricane Rita, she handled pretty well.
emphasis added

Nagin is still the worst offender among local leaders; I couldn't begin to count the number of times I've heard him make the doubly incorrect statement that New Orleans was hit by the worst natural disaster to ever befall an American city. Now that I've had the chance to read his most recent speech, I can't believe that I have to point out what was really, really, REALLY wrong with it:
They are studying this model, this model of a natural disaster dispersing a community and changing the electoral process in that community.

If I helped determine public opinion for the entire city, I'd offer Nagin a deal: we'll give you one conspiracy theory for every man-made disaster.

Among the local media, WVUE (Fox 8) is the worst offender -- about both saying "natural disaster," and $110B in reconstruction aid. I meant to post about this before, but never got around to it. On the day of Bush's last visit, channel 8 (which has a one hour local newscast at 5) was on when I got home at about 5:30. Since they were discussing the president's visit, I decided to watch for a minute before changing to the ABC,NBC or CBS evening telecast. In the space of about two minutes, Nancy Parker, Rob Masson and John Snell all managed to mention the $110B that has been allocated for Katrina relief. John Snell even said something about the $110B which has been approved for "this area." I'm not describing it well enough, watching the broadcast, it seemed like a deliberate recitation of talking points. I saw nothing that compared on any of the other local stations later that evening. From now on, when I watch the nine o'clock news, I watch channel 38.

One more thing about Nagin's speech, he's still making the same lame, tired and almost certainly dishonest joke about going off script. It's getting staler than Bush's obligatory joke about being a C student whenever he gives a commencement address. If you're reading this Jeffrey, I think you missed one.

Like Deja Vu All Over Again

Maybe it's just the two year itch. Compare this recent post at American Zombie:
Monday, March 19, 2007
Could it be?
This post came in today from an Anon....unconfirmed but interesting:

New Day!!
My friend in city law department says mayor got with CAO and city attorney this weekend and operation "get all gregs boys out now" commences today!!
CAO told one of her people she always hated greg and wants no imagine or other meffert cronies in. None!
Mayor says all need to be gone and actually heard privately from a cop friend he is ready to hang his former right hand thief out.
Maybe he has some sanity afterall.
Kudos to zombie and gordon russel, we did more to help this city in a year than ray nagin did in 5!

With this two year old story from the Picayune (sorry, no link available):

LENGTH: 1003 words

HEADLINE: Was Rice shown the door at City Hall?;
ALSO: City Hall's revolving door; Power to the worker

BYLINE: By Gordon Russell and Frank Donze and Martha Carr, Staff writers


The unanswered question about the departure this week of Charles Rice, the second chief administrative officer to resign during Mayor Ray Nagin's three years in office: Did he jump ship, or was he pushed?

Did Rice go because he was tired of the job's demands, wanted to spend more time with his kids, and had a tempting offer with a law firm on the table? Or did Nagin want Rice out?

The party line is that Rice's departure was completely voluntary, but the truth may be in the middle.

At Monday's news conference, Nagin warmly lauded Rice, a sharp contrast with the tepid sendoff he gave his first CAO, Kimberly Williamson Butler.

The mayor commended him for everything from pothole repairs to new parking meters -- and tried to put to rest any speculation about Rice being forced out.

"This was his decision," he said. "If he wanted, he could come back as CAO tomorrow."

Rice was similarly effusive. In a teary speech, he said he thinks of Nagin "as a brother."

But some people close to Nagin have suggested otherwise. They suggested a story like more like this: Nagin's most important political asset is integrity. Rice, while never accused of any malfeasance, was front and center on a few deals that emitted an odor of patronage -- among them the no-bid deal for trash cans that went to a company with ties to his brother -- leading to grumbling among certain aides and head-shaking from Nagin supporters.

Others say that Nagin didn't push Rice, but that his stock with the mayor had fallen -- and his influence with it. They say the power of an once-omnipotent office, , partially neutered in the Butler days, was further diminished by Nagin's recent tweaks to City Hall's contract-selection process, which shifted more power to the city attorney's office. Seeing the writing on the wall, Rice may have pursued an exit strategy.

But some Rice fans believe he had grown tired of taking the hits for the administration's decisions.

Another slice of the New Orleans political world -- not all of it Nagin-friendly -- saw Rice as a man who could be reasoned with, a breath of fresh air in an administration not always known for diplomacy.

"This is going to be the biggest void," Councilman Oliver Thomas said. "He was the go-to guy for the mayor."

. . . . . . .

SHRINKING CIRCLE: For several months, there has been talk that Nagin didn't want to see any more top aides leave before the February election.

But now Rice has left, adding to the long list of high-ranking advisers who have begged off before the close of the first term -- a number that dwarfs that of previous administrations.

Since Nagin took office, the departed include Butler, Economic Development Director Beth James, top political adviser Garey Forster and Communications Director Patrick Evans.

Of the original "inner circle," the only one left standing is Greg Meffert, chief technology officer -- a post that didn't exist when Nagin took office. Other high-ranking appointees still in the fold include top housing aide Alberta Pate, Executive Counsel Kenya Smith, Finance Director Reggie Zeno and City Attorney Sherry Landry, who took over that position for Rice when he became CAO.

By comparison, the top tier of former Mayor Marc Morial's administration remained nearly intact into his second term. And those who left did so because they had gotten an obvious promotion; political aide Paul Sens, for instance, left to run for the Municipal Court bench.

To some observers, the turnover suggests Nagin didn't do the greatest job of hiring top executives. But Nagin addressed those critics this week, saying that in the corporate world he came from, longevity is rare.

The mayor, who led Cox Communications of Louisiana before becoming mayor, said that he generally expected his top brass at Cox to move on to bigger and better things every couple of years. In staying three years, Rice exceeded his expectations, Nagin said.

. . . . . . .

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dirty Rice?

First article reprint. Sorry, couldn't resist it (the title) any longer. I'll edit down the future reprints to the key points. If you think the Republicans in Mississippi (or Washington, for that matter) are any more honest, read this. The link is to an AP story that was caried nationally, don't get the wrong idea from the lefty source.

Update: At least two of the companies mentioned in the article below have donated money to the mayor since his re-election.


LENGTH: 2747 words

HEADLINE: Storm work deals go to inside players;
Contracts could hurt state's image

BYLINE: By Gordon Russell, Staff writer


Weeks after Charles Rice left his post as chief administrative officer of the city of New Orleans in June, the city sanitation department sought to hire a contractor for storm debris removal.

The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mayor Ray Nagin signed a contract potentially worth tens of millions of dollars with Omni Pinnacle of Slidell.

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.

City sanitation director Veronica White, who oversaw the selection process, was hired into her city post by Rice. Rice, meanwhile, has turned up on Omni's payroll in his new position as a lawyer. Omni has also been represented in contract talks with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers by Rice's brother, Terrence Rice, according to a corps official..

Remainder of article at Nagin Files.


I realized today that I have access to LexisNexis at work. Since most of the links to the Times Picayune that appear in old posts no longer work and i can't find working links on Google, I'll reprint all or parts of several old articles over the next several days. I'll start with articles that demonstrate why the investigation of cronyism in the Nagin administration needs to go beyond the evil cabal in the technology office and why Charles Rice should not appear on a local television station as a political analyst. I have no idea whether Rice broke any laws as Nagin's CAO, but any in depth look at Nagin's Sanitation Department would lead to questions about Rice's conduct that members of the local media might not like asking of one of their colleagues. It's long past time to ask those questions, like the mayor said, there's even money in debris collection.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thanks Vitty-Cent

Headline from today's paper:
Florida lawmaker wants VA hospital
He urges panel to kill plan for N.O. facility

Key paragraph:
Miller's isn't the only voice in Congress questioning the VA/LSU plan. McFaul said that "a couple dozen" members of the conservative Republican Study Committee in the House have raised concerns that New Orleans would flood in another storm and the joint venture was seen by LSU merely as a way of "propping up" a school to train doctors.

Figure out the Vitty-cent connection on your own, I have a very early morning ahead of me. Jeff Miller, the republican congressman in question, grandstanded before the Katrina committee about not evacuating on time, when, as the congressman from Pensacola, he knew full well how little advance warning New Orleans had. I'm not convinced that we've heard the last of moving LSU Medical School to Baton Rouge while we're on the subject.

In unrelated news, WDSU keeps introducing Charles Rice as a political analyst. Tonight's broadcast actually began with footage of the analyst watching Blanco's announcement on TV, who wants to see Charles Rice watching TV? On the panel discussion show that followed the 10 P.M. news, he was introduced as former New Orleans CAO, but not former Nagin CAO (very bottom of the link). Silas Lee was also one of the panelists. The problem isn't the connections, it's that the connection aren't disclosed. Of course, it's utterly absurd for Nagin to claim to face a hostile local media.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ignore It

There's nothing Nagin would rather have people discuss than his latest verbal gaffe. As I type this, the morning talk radio discussion isn't about the crime camera contracts and city overtime, but Nagin's conspiracy theories. I think we're seeing a pattern here. Won't be long before we hear the word "candor." It will probably be in the past tense, something about his "candor no longer seeming refreshing," but we won't be discussing more important issues. Whether city finances are corrupt or just sloppy, they're demonstrably slowing the recovery -- see the previous post.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

What's She Telling the Feds?

There was something far more worrisome than a $170K bodyguard in Gordon Russell's article about Greg Meffert that appeared in today's paper:
Via e-mail, Quiett also declined to answer a number of specific questions, instead offering a response suggesting that asking questions about payments to city contractors slows the city's progress: "Issues relating to former employees and disgruntled vendors does nothing to advance our recovery mission," she wrote. "Further, having our one newspaper focus on rumors and innuendo also does not help citizens seeking critical information to rebuild their lives."

Combine that with the statement of another Nagin spokesman (how many are we paying for?), James Ross, that Ed Blakely never intended to share information with the public and we can see that the Nagin administration is finally starting to be honest about one thing -- it feels no need to share information with anybody. That, at least, is transparently clear.

But why should that bother anybody? To the pure, all things are pure. An incorruptible administration, couldn't possibly do anything corrupt. You'd have to be paranoid to think that such an attitude could possibly affect anything else, wouldn't you? There's no possible way it could possibly carry over into preservation/development issues, is there?

Unfortunately, the federal government doesn't seem to realize that listening to "former employees and disgruntled vendors does nothing to advance our recovery mission." The federal government is conducting two separate investigations of city spending. One of the investigations even involves overtime spending:
Among the most eye-popping cases laid out in the review of fiscal matters are claims that amid $39.2 million in overtime costs that the city asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse was an employee who earned $207 per hour after the storm; that employee normally was paid $23 per hour. Another worker earned overtime pay for 14 consecutive 24-hour days, the report says.

That seems to be a coincidence, today's article says nothing about attempting to bill FEMA for Goodson's overtime. On second thought, it seems entirely likely that the administration of Mayor "FEMA will pay for it" would attempt to bill FEMA for Goodson's overtime. The matter does make the state's insistence on thoroughly auditing all of the city's requests for reconstruction funds seem more understandable. Remember, the state offered to turn all of the reconstruction funds over to local governments if the federal government absolved it of responsibility for misspent funds. As long as sloppy spending practices on tolerated on the part of the city, the state and federal governments will have an excuse for the slow pace of reconstruction. In this case, it's hard to disagree with the state. I'm talking about the delay in releasing money for government reconstruction projects, not the slow pace of the Road Home.

As a minor note, I do need to question one statement in Russell's article in today's paper:
Meffert often bragged of owning the vessel -- even duping the mayor, who paid him $1,200 to use it for a post-campaign party.

Seems presumptuous to assert that the mayor was duped. By itself it's a minor point, but Times Picayune seems reluctant to acknowledge that the dishonesty and cronyism in the Nagin administration are clearly not limited to the technology office.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More Chutzpah

Or, Chutzpah: another definition.

At about the same time that the mayor hired Ed Blakely, he issued an unrelated statement on the city website:
Government Effectiveness Committee Says Transparency, Consolidation Required

(New Orleans, LA) The Government Effectiveness Committee, part of Mayor C. Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission, today released a report to the Commission and the Mayor that has the capability to fundamentally change the way the City of New Orleans conducts business. If adopted by Mayor Nagin, it will become part of a final plan to rebuild the City of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“One of the key elements to rebuilding a stronger, better New Orleans is to implement a government that will be transparent and efficient for the people of this city. This committee was charged with the task of finding solutions to some of the administrative challenges that we face today and much more so, in our immediate future,” said Mayor Nagin.
“Our vision is to create a transparent and efficient government for the City of New Orleans,” Solomon said. “We want to demonstrate to the nation that we can rise above petty politics and do the right thing.”

Upon receiving the report BNOBC Co-Chair Barbara Major said, “A government that is ethical, efficient, transparent and adequately and fairly funded will ensure that whatever plan is finally implemented will actually follow an effective process for rebuilding the city.”

After reading today's paper, I wonder if he discussed this need for for transparency with his new recovery czar:
TWILIGHT ZONES It's been three weeks since Nagin's recovery chief Ed Blakely announced that his office -- within a matter of days -- would identify several zones targeted for redevelopment, including a 17-acre pilot project slated to start this month and be completed by year's end.

To date, Blakely has said nothing -- at least not in public -- about those locations. But City Hall says that doesn't mean he hasn't lived up to his promise.

The timeline Blakely laid out "refers to initial staff determinations regarding the identification of potential zones," according to spokesman James Ross, who suggested that Blakely never intended to share locations of the "preliminary target areas" with the public.

As for the March 3 deadline Blakely set for selecting the zones during a Feb. 24 retreat for board members of the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Ross said: "We have accomplished this."

Ross said the city's recovery team now is hard at work making sure the areas "correlate" with the rebuilding schemes fashioned by thousands of residents as part of recent planning efforts, including a City Council-sponsored initiative led by consultant Paul Lambert and the Unified New Orleans Plan.

"Once this process is completed," Ross said, "we will engage in consultation with various stakeholders."

What the hell does shareholder mean in this context? How many different spokesmen are employed by city government and what's their total payroll? Just in case anybody reading this has a day after St.Patrick's Day hangover, and can't think of it on his own, the mayor has entered the real eastate business.

Blakely was on WDSU's Six on Your Side Live one night earlier this week but there doesn't seem to be a link available. Norman Robinson demonstrated that's he mastered the Tim Russert interview technique -- every guest gets asked the obvious tough questions, but they don't all get asked the obvious follow-up questions. Robinson asked Blakely about holding other jobs in addition to his position as recovery chief. Blakely responded that his commitment to the University of Sydney came before accepting the job in New Orleans, but he was winding that down. Robinson accepted the answer with no mention of the Lincoln Institute or UNO.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Be sure to read Scout Prime's post about people who should know better.

Thursday at Tulane:
• Workshop. "Dirty South: Environmental Issues Facing New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana." Panelists include Times-Picayune journalist Bob Marshall and Cyn Sarthou, director of the Gulf Restoration Network. Free and open to the public. Info: 504-862-3363. 4–5:30 p.m. Anna E. Many Lounge, Newcomb Center for Research on Women.

Don't know if I'll be able to get off early to attend, but I'll try. For more info.

I'm glad to see the Bush Brothers get blasted for cronyism, but somebody should compliment the ACoE for the ingenuity of the Nathan Forrest/Erwin Rummel/Beau Geste approach to military engineering. Give credit where credit's due. More seriously, I'm reminded of something that self-described "Reagan conservative" Paul Craig Roberts wrote more than eighteen months ago:
Chalk up the city of New Orleans as a cost of Bush's Iraq war.
--- snip (big snip) ---
What we have is a Republican war for oil company profits while New Orleans sinks beneath the waters.

For the record, I'm not sure about the importance oil company profits as motive for the Iraq war. Greed can make people stupid, but it takes a William Kristol sized ego to come up with something that stupid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Local Media Notes

After listening to WRNO* this morning, I decided to put off my post on the Times Picayune's refusal to acknowledge the blatant cronyism in the Nagin administration isn't limited to the technology office. When the spokesperson for an office with one of city government's largest budgets gives laughable answers to questions, it should be of interest to more than just a humor columnist. BTW, those budget figures are worth examining; it's interesting to see which departments' have increased and which have decreased since 2005. The proposed city budget for 2007 has increased by about 50% from the actual 2005 budget, but the budgets for the NOFD and NOPD are down. Budgets for the mayor's office, CAO's office and Neighborhood 1 are all way up.

At any rate, Donald Powell insisted that the federal government had provided the money to cover the state's 10% matching share of federal reconstruction money. Specifically, he said that the second CDBG appropriation contained $750M that could be used to cover the state's matching funds. Since I didn't recall that from any discussion of how the CDBG money would be spent, and Rob Couhig certainly didn't ask, I had to wonder what was said at the time. Unfortunately, a couple of hours of googling didn't give an exact answer. Now it's late and I'm tired but it's but it's too much to expect that anybody who actually does this for a living will ask the obvious question of what was said at the time of the appropriations. I had vague memories of most of the money being earmarked for housing, and, as Eugene Robinson pointed out, it would be crazy for the federal government to give us the money, only to demand that we give it back. But that doesn't answer the obvious factual question of whether Donald Powell is full of shit.

It seems that both the governor and the federal government intended for about $250M of the first allocation to be used for that purpose, but I have no idea where Donald Powell got the $750M figure. The LRA's press release about the second allocation even states that it can't be used for that purpose, if I'm reading it correctly:
These additional rules state:
1. Louisiana can not use money from the second appropriation as
matching funds to draw down money from other federal programs.

I don't think I caught Donald Powell in an obvious lie that easily, Powell did say money was allocated that could be used for that purpose. But like I said, it would be nice to see somebody report on what was actually said about the money at the time it was allocated. The second allocation was made in June, but in August the Picayune reported that:
Of the $10.2 billion the state received in Community Development Block Grant money, only about $1 billion is left to be allocated for infrastructure needs, Kopplin said. Requests from the state’s four utilities — Entergy New Orleans, Entergy Louisiana, Entergy Gulf States and CLECO — total $1.5 billion.
Before any money is divvied up among the state’s utilities, Kopplin said LRA’s top priority is FEMA matching funds. Municipal agencies are eligible for FEMA money to repair their streets, water and sewer systems, but the federal government may require local governments to put up an as yet undetermined portion of the money as matching funds.

If it was really intended that the state come up with the entire matching share, the federal government didn't make it as clear as Powell would like us to believe.

In a different matter, it will be interesting to see how the Picayune reports on the defective pumps. I watched three local stations to see how they'd report the story. None mentioned the political angle:
MWI is owned by J. David Eller and his sons. Eller was once a business partner of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a venture called Bush-El that marketed MWI pumps. And Eller has donated about $128,000 to politicians, the vast majority of it to the Republican Party, since 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
(hat tip: Maitri)

Two of the stations interviewed Matt Mcbide, however. For more on the pumps, his site is where you need to be.

*If the Donald Powell interview is no longer at the top of the page, scroll down to 7am. Tuesday. The remarks are about ten minutes into the interview.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The iRack

Hilarious skit from Mad TV.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Best Deckchair Rearranger a Titanic Could Ever Want

It's obvious that neither of our councilmen-at-large has the backbone to challenge the mayor's leadership, but Arnie Fielgood's preferred role as civic booster-at-large sometimes clouds his judgement:
HAND ME SOMETHING, MISTER: For generations, travelers arriving in Hawaii have been greeted with leis around their necks. City Councilman Arnie Fielkow would like to start a similar tradition in New Orleans.

Fielkow told interim Aviation Director Sean Hunter this month that he thinks airline gate agents should adorn passengers arriving at Armstrong International with strings of the Carnival beads that float riders throw by the millions to parade-goers each year.

"Let's put beads on everybody," Fielkow said.

Why not just hand out t-shirts saying Tourist? Hard to say which is worse, the idea itself or what it says about Fielgood's grasp of the immensity of the city's problems.

The main part of the story linked above is must-reading:
Nagin's PAC is prepared for political opportunities

Along with a campaign war chest of nearly $260,000, lame duck Mayor Ray Nagin is keeping his political action committee locked and loaded.

A finance report filed with the state last month shows that CHANGE Inc. raised $61,000 in 2006. The PAC, run by two of Nagin's closest advisers, spent more than $40,000 and ended the year with a balance of more than $20,000.

Nearly half the cash came from two computer firms with ties to Nagin's former chief technology officer, Greg Meffert. Ciber Inc. of Greenwood Village, Colo., wrote a check for $25,000, the records show, while NetMethods LLC of New Orleans chipped in $10,000.

CHANGE also received a $5,000 check from Joe Marchizza, a regional vice president at Ciber based in Illinois.

When I read today's paper this afternoon, I decided to shelve the post I wrote this morning about the paper's kid gloves treatment of Nagin. In fact, it doesn't contradict what I wrote; it reinforces it. Unfortunately, I didn't finish it and post it, but what I wrote (I'll post it tomorrow) was that Times Picayune is reluctant to make any criticisms of Nagin that can't be blamed on the evil cabal at the technology office. I'm glad to see the Picayune look at Nagin's financial backers, but not all of his backers that have dealings with the city are in the tech field. AMID/Metro Partnership comes to mind.

Interesting Find

While looking for something for another post, I came across this from six years ago:
Instead, on March 7, the board approved Worthy and two new African-American partners, Cox Communications executive Ray Nagin and Mandeville real estate entrepreneur David White, to assume the Moraw contract and operate the rental business. The approval is pending a determination by the board's lawyers that the new company, Value Rental Car LLC, meets the agency's disadvantaged business certification standards.

According to a letter of intent submitted to the board, Nagin and White agreed to add $600,000 to the business and to help it buy 150 cars this year and grow to 250 cars next year. White will assume financial management of the business.

Nagin and White have contributed $13,500 to Morial since 1994, records show.

The local press doesn't find it at all questionable that Nagin re-appointed White to the aviation board.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I'm Sure He Had More Important Things To Do

Carter said it was never his intention to slow things down. "Certainly the issue of health care and school-based clinics is something that made a lot of sense to us," he said.

Like I said, more important things. To be fair, the article makes everyone involved look pretty bad.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Wikipedia Gets Something Wrong

The Nagin campaign sent out flyers to heavily white Republican neighborhoods quoting some local black leaders calling him "Ray Reagan", a reference to Ronald Reagan intended to be insulting, but which was seen more sympathetically among Republicans.[53]

The quote is from Wikipedia's article on the 2006 New Orleans mayoral election. I wasn't surprised when I scrolled down to see footnote 53:
#53 ^ Jarvis DeBerry. "Br’er Nagin’s enemies outfox themselves", Times-Picayune, 2006-05-26.

Wikipedia really should do something to make sure that its contributors know the difference between real reporters and op-ed page polemicists. As DeBerry should have known the pro-Nagin/anti-Landrieu flyers were sent out by the Greater New Orleans Republicans, a group of former College Republicans of which Jeb Bruneau was a past president.

By the admittedly unscientific method of judging by yard signs,there seems to be four candidates with a shot at making a runoff. One's a former president of a group that helped re-elect Nagin, and who started raising money to run for his father's seat before his daddy announced his resignation. One is the Republican Nick Lorusso. The other two are the Democrats John Holahan and Deborah Langhof. Since I haven't driven or cycled through most of Lakeview in a least a month, my method is even less scientific. It's possible I overlooked somebody, Brickman maybe. Whatever your politics, if you live in District 94, you have plenty of alternatives to Bruneau. Unless you like Nagin and family dynasties.

Two Additional Questions: Haven't voters all over the state, including District 94, demonstrated a strong desire for term limits? Yet Daddy Bruneau maintains that he wanted to leave on his own terms, rather than be forced out by term limits. Isn't that showing an utter contempt for the will of the voters?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bob Marshall Tones it Down

As frightening as the Times Picayunes series on coastal erosion has been, it no scarier than the warning Bob Marshall* gave almost exactly a year ago:
What many coastal scientists know, but are afraid to say publicly, is that we are almost out of options. The Gulf has moved so much closer to our back doors that there now remains only one real hope for a long-term future on the delta of the Mississippi River: Let the river go.

The federal government must claim eminent domain on everything south of U.S. 90, then begin managing it as an ecosystem with one priority: Rebuilding land faster than it's being lost to the Gulf.

This can only be done by opening large sections of the levees. River-borne sediments could then begin reconstructing the 1,900 square miles of wetlands that provided us some safety from the Gulf and its storms.

To which I could only say, "that ain't gonna happen," and remember what I had read about Anicca and Dukkha (I won't even pretend to have any real grasp of Buddhism until I can come to terms with that Anatta thing).

In a similar vein Polimom asked:
Wow. Does anybody but me think there’s absolutely no chance that such a thing could happen? Imagine the uproar and outcry!

at the start of a thoughtful piece on South Louisana and the ancient Kingdom of UR.

There's not much that I can add, other than to recommend that anyone who cares about Louisiana read all the links on the Picayune's website and look for tomorow's wrap-up. I should also point out there are two salient facts, or sets of facts, to remember when arguing for federal funding of coastal restoration. The first, from today's main article:
Still, the Louisiana coast might have survived another 1,000 years or more, Louisiana State University scientists said. But the discovery of oil and gas compressed its destruction into a half-century.

By the 1980s, the petroleum industry and the corps had dredged more than 20,000 miles of canals and new navigation channels from the coast inland across the wetlands. The new web of waterways, like a circulatory system pumping poison, injected saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico into salt-sensitive freshwater wetlands. Fueled by the advance of big business on the coast, the Gulf's slow march northward accelerated into a sprint.

I must confess to wondering if Morwen was quite sure what she was talking about when she said that in a conversation at Kimberly's post-Rising Tide party. Since at least the early eighties, the oil companies have sucessfully changed the subject from canals and navigation channels to levees and hurricanes. I knew it was largely smoke screen but was unaware of just how much it obscured. Only a few years later, the oil companies sucessfully used the same tactics for delaying any action on global warming. I'm sure that other people have noticed the similarities in the scripts -- downplay the danger and change the subject from the causes you can do something about to the causes you can't do anything about. I can say from personal experience that most people in South Louiana have always thought controlling the river was the main culprit and that the offshore activity merely accelerated things. I doubt that one person in a hundred was aware of just how much it accelerated things. Not that we would have summoned the will to actually do anything.

For the second set of important points, I'll refer back to one of my earliest posts::
Advocates in Louisiana argue that inland states split oil royalties from federal property 50-50 with the federal government. But Louisiana receives relatively little from oil-and-gas drilling occurring in the Outer Continental Shelf in federal waters far offshore.

For instance, Louisiana received less than 0.5 percent of the $5 billion in oil-and-gas royalties generated in federal waters off its coast in 2001. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, the state brought in more royalties than any state -- $7.5 billion.

From the same post, referring to another year's revenues:
While inland states enjoy 50 percent

of the tax revenue from drilling on their federal lands, Louisiana gets back a mere $35 million of the $5 billion it contributes to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, or less than one percent

As da po' boy said:"That ain't right."

*Last year's Bob Marshall article was titled "The River Wild" and ran on March 10, 2005. I haven't been able to find it online.

Jeffrey has a good synopsis with most of the key points, for those who don't want to wade through the whole thing. Keep scrolling and you'll see his recap of the first two days of the series.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


It's probably nothing, but Sean Bruno's first accounting job was with Deloitte & Touche. I've really got to see Left Behind.

It's probably not significant. I only came across that when I was looking for information to post about this article. It's hard to take even Midura and Head seriously on the subject of spending priorities when the council votes to spend close to $5M a year on utilities advisers. At least Head balked at spending $250K each on two accounting firms, one of which was Bruno & Tervalon.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Ask the Obvious Questions

There must be a memo going around Howard Avenue directing reporters to avoid all mention of the distinction between police officers and civilian employees of the NOPD. At any rate, Brendan McCarthy seems unaware of the difference:
The NOPD has struggled with retention since the hurricane. The department has more than 1,400 employees, down more than 200 from its pre-Katrina level. About 900 of those employees are officers working on the streets.

In Atlanta, the department has more than 1,700 employees and is looking for more.

I'm not trying to pick on a T/P reporter, it wasn't an important point in a story about the Atlanta PD recruiting in New Orleans. I'm happy to see that the Picayune finally acknowledges the difference between the number of police officers and the number assigned to patrol duty, but it brings up the incredibly obvious question of how many officers the NOPD had assigned to patrol duty prior to Katrina.

Two months ago the paper reported that the city had gone from 1668 police officers pre-Katrina to 1401, according to the rules of post-Katrina reporting, the Nagin administration is allowed to round 267 to 200. Since the 1401 figure included recruits and some attrition probably occurred in the intervening two months, the difference is probably greater. At any rate, the question the Picayune inexplicably refuses to address is how 900 officers assigned to patrol duty now compares to the number pre-Katrina. If the difference is greater than the difference in the total of number of police officers, it leads to obvious questions about the impact of laying off close to 300 civilian employees. As I've said before, it may be that there are no more officers than usual assigned desk duty. However, if there are, replacing civilian employees would simply be a matter of finding the money.

I don't think a lack of police manpower is the main cause of the city's current crime problems, but the questions are still worth asking. I started to comment at Adrastos' the other day that Oliver and Arnie would be probably be very good councilmen-at-large under normal circumstances, but because of the city's problems and the mayor's irresponsibility, they both need to get over their reluctance to make waves. I also agree with the commenter at Dambala's who thinks that it will be too late if we wait for the feds to stop Nagin from bankrupting the city. An obvious first step would be for the city council and press to realize that the city has serious enough budget problems to merit a close look at all questionable spending, not just that which involves allegations of wrongdoing.

Addition: Rereading the article about the Atlanta police recruiting in New Orleans, I once had to scratch my head at the mayor's reputation for wit and charm. It seems to me that he's always at his stupidest and most assholic when he thinks he's being clever:
With a grin and tongue firmly planted in cheek, Nagin did not pause in offering a message to Pennington.

"We are thinking about organizing a trip to Atlanta and see if we can recruit some police, some fire, EMS workers. You know, we might even go after a couple sewage and water board employees over there."

A High School Math Proof

The New Orleans Media Version:
There is absolutely no reason to question Nagin's performance as mayor.

Statement / Reason

The French Quarter is Clean/ Observable Fact


Started to post the above last night after after watching Informed Sources (more on that later), but was too tired after going out to add to it. Today's Picayune article about the city's surveillance camera contracts gave me second thoughts, but not too many. I'm really getting sick of hearing about the clean French Quarter, at least the way it's reported. Anyway, Dambala is far more qualified to comment on the matter than I. He even noticed the mayor's new-found frugality -- I will have more on that. BTW, Mark Kurt is either laughably innumerate, or he thinks he's dealing with a bunch of rubes. Maybe he just shares his former boss' belief in mathematical precision.

Disclaimer: I was by no means a high school math geek -- not that there's anything wrong with that. I liked and made A's in Geometry, but hated and made C's in Algebra. I did like the game-like aspects of doing proofs, and I've always liked figuring percentages.

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