Thursday, May 31, 2007

They Deserve a Second Chance

After all, the nation re-elected Bush and the city re-elected Nagin, but if this doesn't merit a spot in the WTF department, I can't even begin to imagine what does:
The state has finalized an agreement on evacuation buses just in time for hurricane season.

Landstar will provide up to 700 coach buses and 20 more that will carry people with disabilities.

Landstar (updated link):
Though it was well-known that New Orleans, much of it below sea level, would flood in a major hurricane, Landstar, the Jacksonville company that held a federal contract that at the time was worth up to $100 million annually for disaster transportation, did not ask its subcontractor, Carey Limousine, to order buses until the early hours of Aug. 30, roughly 18 hours after the storm hit, according to Sally Snead, a Carey senior vice president who headed the bus roundup.

Landstar inquired about the availability of buses on Sunday, Aug. 28, and earlier Monday, but placed no orders, Snead said.

She said Landstar turned to her company for buses Sunday after learning from Carey's Internet site that it had a meetings and events division that touted its ability to move large groups of people. "They really found us on the Web site," Snead said.

Yep, Landstar

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Funny Stuff in the Speech

Link 1

Downtown and the French Quarter are so clean that it has become a buzz among tourists.

Other neighborhoods throughout the city are cleaner with uniformed collection carts lining the streets in the mornings and power washed streets.

In the mornings, C. Ray?
I also want to thank Councilman James Carter and the city council for organizing a comprehensive crime summit.

Would that be the one you blew off for a fundraiser, C. Ray?
Link 2
I’m calling for the state to help us in another way: To use its power to streamline the reimbursement process for making repairs of public facilities like police headquarters and fire stations.

The law allows you to advance to local municipalities 75 percent of all federally-obligated dollars.

This would get us past the stalemate of needing to first expend money before being reimbursed by the state.

No quick italicized comment here. This is possibly the one remaining area where I can still defend the Blanco administration. The state is responsible for any misspent federal funds. The state offered to turn rebuilding money over to the city if the federal government would relieve it of responsibility for misspent money. The feds more or less laughed at the suggestion; they must know just how well the mayor understands business.

He had another funny line, but that led to a profanity-laced tirade that I need to tone down.

Finally, very early I proposed a hard formula for awarding all federal disaster dollars based upon damaged buildings.

This would ensure the money got to the most heavily devastated areas.

These tough decisions have brought me more than my share of controversy.

He seems to be claiming that opening the entire city to rebuilding was a tough decision. That may, or may not, have been the right decision, but it certainly wasn't the tough decision. But he has quietly folded on his decision not to devote city resources to the most devastated areas.

Doesn't the Council Need to Approve it?

Yesterday's article about Nagin administration plans to spend $100,000 on a new PR firm didn't say where the money was coming from. If the council votes to approve a new expenditure, it will be just another sign of its fecklessness. It seems to me that that we've seen a couple of related stories. Also, at least one of the bidders is a frequent guest commentator on local TV and radio discussions of the Nagin administration -- he'll even be on WRNO after the mayor's speech tonight. Rob Couhig just pointed that out on his radio show, I had typed the last sentence before he said it. I wouldn't disqualify Anthony Patten as a political commentator, but WDSU should acknowledge the connection whenever he appears on the 10:30 show.

Since I'm listening to Couhig as I type this, I'll point out a factual error that he just made. Frederick Law Olmsted did not design City Park. His nephew designed Audubon Park.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Once More, About the Sanitation Contracts

And the reporting about those contracts. I don't mean to single out the article mentioned in the last post for criticism. Michelle Krupa did a commendable job of reporting on the aspects of the story that she covered, the following was an especially nice detail:
White was traveling on city business Thursday and Friday and was unavailable for comment, even though spokespeople traveling with her did return calls this week on other matters. An automated reply from her e-mail account said she would be out of the office until June 11.

However, all the recent reporting gives the combined costs of the three contracts as $33M. Before the most important point of the story became the fact that the French Quarter is clean, all the reporting on the matter indicated that the cost was expected to increase when the city's population increased an landfill fees were included. Something may have happened to change that, but I haven't seen it reported.

At least that part of the issue was covered at one point. It has been reported that the new contracts are limited to buildings with four or fewer units, but the cost implications of this have been totally ignored. I can't believe that building owners who need to pay for private contracts are going to pay the city sanitation fee without a court fight. I have no idea how big a cost it will be, but if that part of the new contracts is enforced, it will be an added cost. Since Nagin made an issue of campaign contributions, it's only fair to point out that that provision is an added bonus to campaign contributors. After all, two of the contracts went to Nagin donors, one of them a very large donor.

Also, I've mentioned this before, but when he made his 100 day presentation last May, Nagin mentioned dividing the city into three zones for purposes of garbage collections. Clearly, he had begun work on the contracts, yet he said nothing about costs or automation for another four months. This at a presentation where the mayor repeated his promise to restore transparency and accountability to city government. Somebody should really ask the mayor or one his six PR people (WTF?) about that.

Finally, any post on garbage collection should mention Lolis Elie's reports on recycling.

The Sayings of Veronica White

From an email that some of you may have seen over the weekend:
Quotes from New Orleans Sanitation Director Veronica White at

January 16, 2007, Vieux Carré Commission public hearing

regarding the new trash can/carts

ü “If you don't want it's fine and perfect with me. I'm going to ask that when you submit your exemption letter that you keep your personal feelings to yourself….”

ü “If you would just give me the information that I asked for, I have no problem. Your wish is my command. No problem whatsoever.”

ü “If you don't want it, fine, but don't discourage others.”

ü “No, there won't be a fine.”

ü “I keep hearing you guys using the word force. ‘You're being forced to do this, forced to do that.’ This is not forcing anybody to do anything. This is giving them the opportunity to be exempt. ’…force, force…” I put in my opening statements -- If you don't want it, fine.”

ü “I'm not forcing anyone to do anything.”

The French Quarter group that sent out the email acknowledged that "New Orleans has bigger problems than the controversial trash can/carts" but added that "this has nothing to do with the great clean up efforts that have occurred in the French Quarter. That was accomplished BEFORE the cans!"

Personally, I don't have much interest in the bins aside from the sanitation contracts as a whole, but I don't live The French Quarter or in a building with a narrow alley. More importantly, an article in Saturday's Picayune directly contradicted everything that Ms. White said:
Starting Friday, New Orleans to get tougher on trash

By Michelle Krupa

Starting Friday, Mayor Ray Nagin's administration will begin enforcing strict rules that require residents to use new city-provided trash bins or risk fines and jail time, a move that has been particularly controversial in the French Quarter.


Residents who fail to use the carts, or who break other rules governing disposal of construction debris, lawn waste and bulky items, can expect a written citation and a fine ranging from $150 for the first infraction to $500 for the third violation, according to the ordinance. Offenders who break the same rule three or more times could spend between five and 90 days in jail per infraction.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Three Questions

And Three Observations

1) Does this:

When: Wednesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry 3:45), through June 3. With a 24-hour last-chance from midnight June 2 to midnight June 3.
mean all day Saturday or all day Sunday?

2) What did "compromise" mean on the back of the Bayou Boogaloo T shirts? Yes, I can be a little obsessive.

3) Has Norman Podhoretz gone bat-shit crazy? If the title of the featured article of the June Commentary doesn't convince you:

The Case for Bombing Iran

its concluding paragraph should:

Not so George W. Bush, a man who knows evil when he sees it and who has demonstrated an unfailingly courageous willingness to endure vilification and contumely in setting his face against it. It now remains to be seen whether this President, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory, and weakened politically by the enemies of his policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel. As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will.

I had planned to let the concluding paragraph speak for itself, but if you accept Podhoretz' contention that Iran is an imminent threat that must be neutralized, the concluding paragraph is absurd. It's because of Bush's invasion of Iraq that we don't have the military force or the allies to impose our will on Iraq. Therefore, even if (especially if) you accept Podhoretz' basic premise, the "battering" of bush is entirely justified.


1) The Times Picayune finally ran a front page story about the campaign finances of local officials, unfortunately it was about Jefferson Parish officials. Judging by today's op-eds, it's not fear of the bias charge that makes the Picayune "go all squishy" where Nagin is concerned. Must be "his loose-limbed walk; the sly, relaxed tone in his voice; the gleam in his eye and the wicked grin when he announces that he's about to throw away the script."

2) Even for the living section, this was ridiculous.

3) Tomorrow's forecast high of 86 degrees might not be perfect outdoor weather, but it's about 10 degrees lower than the likely forecast for our next two holidays. So enjoy it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Apples, Oranges and Budgets

If I worked for the mayor's office, I could assert that the city council has decided to double the amount that it spends on a PR person and the Times Picayune would probably accept the assertion at face value (Bruce Eggler does do a good job of pointing out the mayor's questionable use of numbers and percentages, but usually several paragraphs into an article that's buried somewhere in section B). The city council has decided to increase the contract for a PR person from $65,000 to $95,000 -- a 46% increase. It would be fair enough to say, "almost a 50% increase." However, it would be totally incorrect to say the the old contract was 50% less than the new contract. Yet the mayor's office consistently makes that kind of "mistake" with numbers and nobody points out the distortion. The pattern should be apparent to anybody follows local news stories; the Nagin administration's description of $15,000 as 50% less than $22,000 (in the case of the crime camera contracts) was only one example.

Back to the matter hand, it appears that either Head and Midura were posturing about cutting PR expenses last month, or the patronage prince has more pull than they do. However, I'm sure that Councilman Fielgood labelled the contract "outstanding." Oddly enough, the next section of the same article describes how the city can't even afford decent office space for the agency "charged with spearheading the city's recovery."

But the council insists that the increased PR budget is justified:
Pursell said council staffers arrived at what they felt was the "modest" $95,000 figure after doing a marketing analysis of what other big cities pay for media consultants.

For example, he said, the study found that the Atlanta council spends $335,000 a year, while in Dallas, where the council and the mayor's office share the costs, the total is about $1 million. About 395,000 people live in Atlanta and Dallas has about 1.1 million residents; New Orleans' current population has been pegged at roughly 255,000 residents.

Pursell also noted that the 2007 budget for the Nagin administration's communications office is more than $600,000.

The article didn't mention the cost of the study, or who conducted it. Leaving aside the question of the validity of comparing spending decisions of the Dallas government with those of New Orleans, those comparisons may not be as valid as they seem. In an earlier post, I pointed that the title "library associate" doesn't mean exactly the same thing in the New Orleans public library system as in other libraries. I don't bring up the point to rehash angry feelings or to argue that NOPL associates are overpaid; my point is merely that, in the one area where I have first hand knowledge, a seemingly straightforward, apples-to-apples comparison is anything but. I suspect that something similar is occurring here -- probably involving PR budgets for mayors' offices, city councils and city governments as a whole.

To return to my old department, when the library system reduced the size of its staff from over 200 employees down to 19, one the retained employees was in charge of community relations, in other words, a PR person. I get the impression that most of the departments of city government have employees whose primary job functions are PR related. It would be fair to question how much of that million dollar PR budget in Dallas is for city government as a whole.

Even if the figures aren't misleading, it's fair to point out that $95,000 is a outside consultant's fee that's over a third of the amount budgeted for the city IG's office and it's certainly fair to ask why the council decided not to take that money from the mayor's PR budget.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fifty-Three Weeks Ago Tonight

If you turned on a New Orleans television channel, you almost certainly saw a commercial in which Nagin said to ask yourself why his opponent's campaign contributors were giving him (Landrieu) money. With that in mind, I looked at the list of Nagin donors (sorry, can't find a working link) and saw names like AMID Landfill, AMID/Metro Partnerships, Metro Disposal and Durr Construction. In addition to Metro's "very lucrative" (Nagin's term) garbage collection contract, all four of those firms have an interest in the Old Gentilly Landfill that appeared in today's Picayune:
The Rev. Vien Nguyen, pastor of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church in eastern New Orleans, sent a letter this week to members of the City Planning Commission asking them to seek the closure of the landfill because it lacks a conditional-use permit.

Such permits are required of all landfills except those that were in existence when the city's zoning law was passed in the 1970s. As it happens, a landfill was operating at the Old Gentilly site when the zoning law was enacted. But that landfill closed for about 20 years before the current dump opened after Hurricane Katrina.

The Planning Commission has yet to consider Nguyen's letter. But Mayor Ray Nagin's administration has taken the position that because the site has always had a landfill on it, the use is "grandfathered in" and no conditional-use permit is needed.


The old landfill, an unregulated dump, was ordered shut down by state regulators in 1982. When it was open, the landfill would have been considered a "legal nonconforming use" under the zoning law. Such cases typically involve corner groceries or barrooms in residential areas, according to Tommy Milliner, a lawyer who has handled many zoning cases.

However, once the landfill closed in the 1980s, it would have lost that status, in Milliner's opinion. To reopen, he said, it would be required to obtain a conditional-use permit allowing a use that conflicts with the area's zoning.

"If they don't operate, they lose their use," Milliner said.

(yet another)Nagin spokesman David Robinson-Morris said it's the city's position that the landfill "was never technically 'closed.' "

The argument apparently rests on the fact that the landfill was ordered closed -- and stopped accepting trash as a result -- but had not completed the closure process required by the state, which involved placing a layer of clay atop it. During the 1990s, New Orleans voters approved a bond issue that in part was to pay for the clay cap, but the work was never finished.

But for the purposes of zoning, city law offers definitions of "open" and "closed" that have nothing to do with state environmental law.

"The casual, intermittent or illegal use of land or buildings shall not be sufficient to establish and maintain the existence of a nonconforming use," the zoning law says. "In order to provide for the continuation of a nonconforming use, it must be opened for business a minimum of four hours per day, five days per week."

The "yet another," before Nagin spokesman, didn't appear in the Picayune. Another item that didn't appear in the Picayune was the fact that Durr, in addition to being a partner in AMID Landfill, had the contract for the clay cap.

I have no idea which side is correct about the legal issues, but I do know that the Nagin administration has shown questionable judgement about the operation of another city landfill -- judgement so questionable that it was featured on the NBC News segment "The Fleecing of America." In the interest of transparency, and to avoid another embarrassment, it might be a good idea to demand a garbage dump document dump.

His Best Idea Since

"Crescent City Clear":
Freelance journalist Jason Berry, appearing on tonight's Informed Sources, just predicted that Nagin will run for Governor.

From Jeffrey. I doubt even Nagin's that delusional, but something made me think of the mayor's bottled water scheme earlier today. While you're at Jeffrey's, read the Mississippi post.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

Make that century:
the federal government is responsible for this hurricane damage because of the failure of the levee system. Donald Powell

Deliberately taken out of context, as explained in the comments.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Before Bayou Boogaloo,

A public meeting about riverfront planning will be held this Saturday morning at port headquarters. I believe that it's the last public meeting before the planning team presents its master plan; the slide show, I mean website, gives that impression.

Snark aside, I attended last Wednesday's meeting and left with a few questions and misgivings. In general, I'd like to see more opening-up of the riverfront and less development, but a four mile long linear park wouldn't pay for itself. An admittedly minor objection is that I like the riprap behind the Moonwalk. I was more concerned about the plans for the Poland Avenue Wharf (details). The architect giving the presentation said that they'd like to make the St. Claude Avenue bridge more pedestrian-friendly, but he also said that the plan was build three apartment or condominium towers near the site. He said that the amount of space created by the dismantling of the naval base would allow for an easing of height restrictions. That's probably true aesthetically, but I don't see how the traffic created by the addition of that many apartments or condos would allow for a more pedestrian-friendly bridge. The two hour meeting time was split between the riverfront planning team and NPN NOLA, so the question-and-answer session was too brief for me to ask.

Some of the more interesting questions/comments included one about whether it would be worse for the big new apartment complexes to sit empty or get filled up. That might sound cynical, but the traffic generation is certainly a legitimate concern for the residents of the affected neighborhoods. When somebody asked if this was the best way for a financially strapped city to be spending its money, Sean Cummings spoke up and said something about generating $40-50M a year in new revenue for the city. The city obviously needs money, but I do wonder to what extent maximum revenue enhancement is the prime consideration in the planning process.

He also said something about the mayor being committed to the project. During the part of the meeting devoted to neighborhood groups, there was a lot of talk about getting developers to build the housing that families want and need as opposed to the big projects that families don't want. I suspect that the mayor's commitment to big projects and the lack of housing are related. The large developers that NOBC deals with don't tend to be interested in single family housing, but NORA is charged with getting blighted property back on the market. I haven't fully formed my thoughts on the subject, but it does seem that NOBC gets the mayor's full backing and whatever it wants from the city council, but very little public attention. NORA, on the other hand, gets plenty of attention, but it can't afford the office staff to avoid the mistakes made by the city's safety and permits office.

It does seem that the mayor has more interest in large developments than getting real family housing on the market. I also have some questions about NOBC, but do want to be careful how I phrase them. Beyond that, has anybody even bothered to ask whether the sight of "cranes on the skyline" would really be a sign of recovery?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Al Copeland's Divorce!*

The Times Picayune ran an editorial today about secrecy, public records and the public's right to know. This time the editorial actually appeared on the top of the page and in the paper's online edition. Of course, this time the editorial wasn't about Nagin's refusal to answer questions about the city's recovery or city finances; it was about a judge's refusal to make the details of Al Copeland's divorce public. Glad that they're so concerned about our right to know.

*Somethings just demand exclamation points, this might have even called for a "good grief!"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rob Couhig Gets it Half-Right

Rob Couhig did make some interesting comments about the mayor on his 7am show last Tuesday. Scroll down to
Rob & Bo - 5/15/07 - 7a to 8a
Guest: State Senator Julie Quinn.

The comments about the mayor were made at the beginning of the show, so no fast-forwarding around required to hear Couhig's assessment of the mayor.

Briefly, Couhig says that it's a mistake to assume that Nagin has interest in running the city. In fact, he's set up Blakely to do that, so that Nagin can concentrate on his real concern which is "star power." Like all politicians, -- refreshingly, Couhig did acknowledge that Nagin is a politician -- Nagin is interested in his next job and is more worried about his next position than in running the city. After some speculation between Couhig and Bo Walker about what that might be, Couhig goes on to criticize Nagin's failure to build any kind of support for a legislative agenda.

At any rate, Couhig's does make some valid points that are worth listening to, but Nagin is clearly interested in more than celebrity and his next job. He owns a granite and marble business with his sons and a real estate company with his campaign manager. Despite a professed desire to refresh the city's municipal boards, he reappointed his real estate partner to the board which will oversee airport renovation, including restroom renovation (new link). The mayor even acknowledged that he's repeatedly asked the city attorney for advice on profiting from blighted property. I'm sure that mayor is dreaming about running for congress or some other position, but he's putting real effort into getting rich.

The above can be considered a follow-up to a comment that I made at big A's house of mirth (and political analysis). This post and the previous one were meant to compliment each other, they ended up being somewhat repetitive.

Odd Things on Howard Avenue

That Times Picayune editorial about transparency that I praised a while back still can't be found online, even though it's been nine days since it appeared in the print edition. It does make one wonder if the editors at the T/P briefly found their spinal cords before quickly assuming their usual positions (vis-a-vis the Nagin administration).

I bring this up to repeat the opinion that Couhig will have limited credibility where Nagin is concerned until he calls upon the mayor to fulfill his 100 day promise of transparency and accountability. After all, Mr. Couhig did put his not-inconsiderable prestige behind that pledge. You may recall that Nagin also mentioned dividing the city into three garbage collection zones at the same time that he promised transparency. It didn't seem important at the time, but that would indicate that began work on the sanitation deals* before the announcement of the 100 day plan (which promised transparency) but didn't reveal any details until after the 100 day smokescreen had done its job. A year later, the Nagin administration continues to make a mockery of that promised transparency. I hate to keep sniping at Couhig, but he was either duped by the mayor, or he helped the mayor dupe the city. It's just that simple.

Another odd thing is that the Picayune has run one story on Stone Age Granite and Marble but none on AFO Investments, even though there is much more apparent conflict of interest involving his partner in AFO investments. Of course, it wasn't really a story about Stone Age -- it was the fourth part of the paper's weekly Saturday political column, but at least it was mentioned. If the paper ran one full length story on all Mayor Transparency's business interest, people might get the idea that the city actually had a watchdog.

In any city government, there are going to be some some apparent conflicts of interest that are really quite understandable. But the lack of a real watchdog press corps combined with the mayor's mockery of his promised transparency make any seeming conflict of interest seem worrisome. Right?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Training For What?

The Picayune reports that the mayor and most of his staff are leaving town for a training exercise:
In what may be a first for New Orleans city government, Nagin and most of his high-level aides are heading out of town Sunday for a weeklong Federal Emergency Management Agency-sponsored emergency management training seminar.

The trip to the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Md., which is being paid for by the federal government, offers what FEMA describes on its Web site as a combination of classroom lectures and discussions, small-group planning sessions and practical exercises.


Participants in the simulated disaster exercises will be assigned roles similar to their real-life jobs in an effort to help identify potential deficiencies in the city's emergency planning.

Trying to remember, what exactly is the mayor's role?:
But where was New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin? City Hall was equipped to be the emergency operations center. But according to historian and author Doug Brinkley, Nagin was holed up there in the penthouse suite of the Hyatt Hotel.

In the new book "The Great Deluge," Brinkley says Nagin was overwhelmed by what was happening and, worse, he says Nagin was criminally negligent.

DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: Mayor Nagin hid up on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Hotel as far away from the morass and the anarchy as possible. He was putting -- in my opinion as a historian and doing research -- his personal safety and ego over people.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Been Dinking Brew For Breakfast

Not me, but I think that Chris Cillizza has been. Before going to work for the WAPO, he wrote for Roll Call and before that, he worked for the Cook Political Report. The man knows, or else should know, Washington and foreign policy. It's safe to assume that he's heard of Michael Scheuer (any cable news watcher would recognize Scheuer's face) and that he has some familiarity with the 9-11 Report. So I suspect that Cillizza had downed a few when he wrote:
A High Note for Giuliani

Giuliani is always on his best footing when talking about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.

After Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) essentially insinuated that America had provoked those attacks, Giuliani leapt in. "That is an extraordinary statement," he said. "I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11."

He went on to call on Paul to rescind his statement, which the congressman chose not to do.

It was a rare moment of raw emotion for Giuliani, and a good one.

Cillizza omitted the fact that Giuliani claimed to have never heard "that one" before -- not a good message from Rudy. He's telling us that he either cares and knows as little about foreign policy as George Bush did before invading Iraq or that he's a thoroughly dishonest opportunist. I'm inclined to believe the latter for reasons that have nothing to do with mind-reading. The transcript lists it as cross talk, but Giuliani could clearly be heard saying that terrorism would never make him waiver in his support for Israel. Ron Paul didn't say anything about Israel, but Michael Scheuer did.

Yeah, I'm sure that the song references have been played to death elsewhere, but how often do you get to make fun of a WAPO columnist and Republican presidential candidate at the same time that you make allusions to two songs that came out the year you graduated from high school/started college? I didn't think that one was quite that old, but then again, I also didn't think that Giuliani could ever make me feel nostalgic.

cross-posted at The Katrinacrat Blog

Somewhat embarrassed update: I had no idea just worked to death the whole "Message to Rudy" thing was until I did a google search.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Harrah's Board of Zoning Adjustments

Or Hold Him to His Own Standards Pt. 3

New Orleans City Council Announcement:


May 14, 2007

TO: Councilmember Shelley Stephenson Midura, Chair

Governmental Affairs Committee

Councilmember-At-Large Oliver M. Thomas, Jr.

Councilmember-At-Large Arnie Fielkow

Councilmember James Carter, Alternate

FROM: Nathan Carter, Analyst

SUBJECT: Governmental Affairs Committee Meeting


The City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee will convene on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 at 10:30 a.m. in the City Council Chamber. The agenda will include the following items:

I. Appointments

· Board of Zoning

i. Carla Major

ii. Robert Simms

· Industrial Development Board

i. Farrell J. Catelain

I don't mean to cast any aspersions on Carla Major's character, she's a respected citizen who's been involved in community affairs for years. I have no reason to question her integrity, but she is a Harrah's New Orleans executive.

She's also been on the Board of Zoning Adjustments since a charter change expanded the size of the board from five to seven members in 1996. Let's review, Billboard Ben has been a Sewerage & Water Board Member since the Barthelemy administration, but the mayor has made no move to replace him , even though his term has expired. The mayor nominated his campaign manager and business partner, David White, for another term on the Aviation Board and the council approved the re-appointment. That's at least three long-term members that the mayor has decided to retain on powerful boards. Yet, when mayor decided to replace the head of the library board, his CAO said that he wanted to "inject" the city's boards and commissions with "new blood" to avoid "entrenchment."

Update: An emailer made a point much better than I did:
I just think most people would be surprised that Harrah’s execs are beoing appointed to the Board of Zoning Adjustments, that rules on excepts to rules – when Harrah’s history in NOLA has been all about getting exceptions to the rules….

The issue isn't Carla Major -- it's debatable whether she should have resigned from the board when she took a position at Harrah's. But considering how often Harrah's goes before the BZA, it certainly seems questionable to re-appoint a Harrah's exec to the BZA.

Monday, May 14, 2007

If You Blog About New Orleans or South Louisiana,

You should link to Our Coast to Fix -- or Lose, John Barry's list of six reasons why coastal restoration is in the national interest that appeared in Saturday's Washington Post. I'm not sure how much attention Saturday columns generally receive, but I know that I wouldn't have seen it if Maitri hadn't written about it.

Like he did in last year's USA Today piece, Barry points out that:
The nation as a whole gets nearly all the benefits of engineering the river. Louisiana and some of coastal Mississippi get 100 percent of the costs.

However, one thing has changed since Bary wrote the earlier column:
Despite all this and President Bush's pledge from New Orleans in September 2005 that "we will do what it takes" to help people rebuild, a draft White House cuts its own recommendation of $2 billion for coastal restoration to $1 billion while calling for an increase in the state's contribution from the usual 35 percent to 50 percent.

I imagine that a Bush defender would say that state officials said that wth an offshore revenue deal, we could pay for restoration. In fact, Louisiana officials said that with an equitable share, the state could finance restoration by itself. The fact is that the recently passed revenue sharing bill isn't nearly enough for the state for the state to pick up the tab for coastal restoration:
As it turned out, the deal approved by Congress after a marathon day of negotiations Friday would steer the same percentage to four Gulf Coast states from newly authorized offshore energy drilling. For Louisiana, it is projected to mean $200 million through 2017 and some $650 million annually thereafter as revenue sharing expands throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

But is it equitable?
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

For example, in 1997, the state of Wyoming hosted development of Federal mineral resources that generated more than $569 million in revenues. Wyoming received $239 million for its share of revenues produced on Federal lands. In the same year, Louisiana hosted development of Federal mineral resources offshore that generated more than $3.8 BILLION, and received only $18.2 million for its share of the revenues produced in Federal offshore waters.

Decide for yourself:
Distribution of revenues associated with onshore federal lands is split 50-40-10, with 50 percent of the money going directly to the state within which the specific lease was located. Forty percent is sent to the Reclamation Fund of the U.S. Treasury. This special account finances the Bureau of Reclamation's water projects in 17 western states. The remaining 10 percent goes to the Treasury's General Fund. (From da po'blog)

cross-posted at The Katrinacrat Blog

Metaphysical Bitch Slap

Lolis Eric Elie:
Perhaps I can explain it this way: White does not do the actual work of recycling. Rather her work is a metaphor for recycling.


Clearly Veronica White is one of the most valuable human resources our city possesses. I fear that the city's traditional compensation system is insufficient to keep such an asset in our employ. So I propose that we take Veronica White's salary and split it among all those tiny little people who do the actual work of recycling. As for White herself, I think it only fair that we compensate her with metaphysical money.

Also in the the paper:
Nagin demands mental health services from Blanco

Mayor Ray Nagin sent a letter to the governor on Monday demanding that the state fulfill its "responsibility" to provide mental health for all patients, whether or not they have health insurance, and asking for help relieving the shortage of psychiatric beds in New Orleans.

I'm starting to look forward to the Bobby and C.Ray show but don't think it will be be good for the city.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Finally, an Editorial About Transparency

The Picayune finally ran an editorial about Nagin Administration secrecy in yesterday's paper. But it's only appeared in the print edition, if you look online, you'll only see yesterday's editorial about the LRA. It's Sunday night as I type this, it may appear online tomorrow.

Since there's no online edition to cut-and-paste from, I'll just give a quick rundown of the good and the bad, or the good and the missing (or misplaced).

The good includes the title: The hush-hush administration, and a reminder of the mayor's first inaugural address:
This future city government must be open and accessible to everyone. Its operations must be apparent and accountable. It communicates with people in a clear and timely manner.

The editorial then goes on to list some examples of what it terms "the growing pattern of secrecy that prevails at City Hall." It even mentions Brian Denzer and NOPD secrecy about crime statistics.

That's the good, but in addition to being misplaced online, the editorial is also misplaced at the bottom of the editorial page. The mayor not only made transparency a focal of his first inaugural address, it was a major promise of the 100 day plan for his second term. If the mayor is going to make a mockery of one his signature promises, that surely deserves a top of the page editorial. There'd easily be enough material to make it a full page editorial.

When he promised transparency at the start of his second term, the mayor had clearly begun work on the new garbage contracts, yet he kept quiet about the contracts until the city council had no choice but to accept them. That's real transparency.

If the Picayune is reluctant to question the mayor's integrity, it could at least point out that secrecy always leads to "questionable" spending practices. Some in Washington have already noticed those practices.

One might also expect that an editorial about the mayor's broken promises of transparency would also mention the administration's habit of responding to reporters' questions with demands for written FOIA requests --requests that it consistently ignores. There was also no mention of the administration's tendency to give contradictory, meaningless or just plain nonsensical answers to questions.

With a full-length editorial, the Picayune could have even gone into some of the more general reasons why transparency is needed for any project as big as rebuilding a city. To my way of thinking, those reasons fall into two broad general categories. Excessive secrecy leads to even more waste of money, which leads to more uncompleted projects and other fiscal problems. Also, whatever rebuilding decisions are made, some people are going to disagree. Excessive secrecy can only lead to more rancor and bitterness on the part of residents who are unhappy with those decisions and help justify charges of conspiracies or crooked insider deals.

My Inspector Obsession

A better question than why I'm so obsessed with the city's electrical inspectors might be why more people aren't. Not only is the shortage of electrical inspectors a major drag on the city's recovery and a factor in what could be a major safety concern for years to come, the issue illustrates much of what is wrong with the current administration.

For one thing, it shows how little effort the city makes toward putting its limited resources where they can do most good. In December 2005, when the focus of this blog first changed from the Bush administration to the Nagin administration, nobody in city government even felt the need to declare it as a operating principle. Now Nagin claims that putting the city's limited money where it will do the most good is one the administration's main governing principles, but he also makes that claim about transparency. To be fair, the city did give electrical inspectors raises beyond the across-the-board raises and greater raises could throw the entire city pay structure out-of-whack, but the city consider two year bonuses to help clear the backlog. It be easy enough to find the money to give bonuses to either eight or ten (depending on which month's statement you believe) employees without breaking the budget, or it would have been.

As importantly, the issue illustrates just how cowed, or lazy, or amnesia-stricken the local press corps can be when it comes to covering the Nagin administration. Not only has the city come up with an entirely new set of claims about the number of inspectors before and after Katrina (as the previous post pointed out), the WWL report should raise questions about administration claims that no inspectors were lost to layoffs. At the very least, it makes me wonder whether any were asked to stay in one of the city's cruise ship berths -- I know for a fact that at least a few non-emergency personnel were made that offer.

Finally, it shows that the mayor continues to think that "FEMA will pay for it," no matter how dubious the bills he submits. He refuses to learn. Or doesn't care what kind of debts he leaves the city.

Friday, May 11, 2007

No Hobgoblin of Little Lying Minds

It's been too busy a week to finish that Spirit of Mendacity Index, or do much other blogging for that matter. But there was a report on WWLTV last night that pointed out how just little the Nagin administration feels the need to even bother making its lies consistent:
Electrical inspections slowing city's recovery


The city lost five of its eight electrical inspectors after the storm and requested bids to hire a private contractor to do the inspections.


"A public official had called me and said, ‘Ray, you've gotta get started right away.’ He said, ‘So how many people you got?’ I said I've got three or four...He said, ‘No, you need more like ten,’" Canzoneri said.

So Canzoneri hired all five of the city's inspectors that left after the storm.

Oh, really:
The department’s electricity inspectors fell from 10 to two in the weeks after Katrina while permit applications soared 80 percent, said Greg Meffert, Mayor Ray Nagin’s chief technology officer. The staffing problem was not the result of mass layoffs after the storm. Instead, some inspectors failed to return to work, and others have quit, Meffert said.

After several false starts, the department last week hired a private firm to resupply the depleted electricity inspector ranks. The department should have 10 inspectors working by the end of the week and more on the way, Meffert said.(January 2006)

Really, really:
New Orleans has six inspectors on the city's payroll, compared with ten before Katrina. (October 2006)

Also from the WWL report:
So far, Canzoneri has billed the city for $8 million worth of work. And the city, in turn, asked FEMA for reimbursement.

"The permitting process and the inspection process is a city responsibility,” said Ronnie Simpson, a FEMA spokesman. “We had an immediate danger, so an emergency measure needed to be taken."

A project worksheet obtained by Eyewitness News shows that FEMA agreed to pay for $2 million worth of inspections. However, the city thought FEMA would cover the costs for all the inspections, $20 million worth.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Town Hall Education Meeting

WHAT: District A Town Hall Education Meeting

WHY: To Introduce the New RSD Superintendent (Paul Vallas)

To Inform Constituents About School Facilities and Their Future (Jim Grady)

To Give An Update on School Crosswalks and School Zones (Robert Mendoza)

WHERE: Jesuit High School, 4133 Banks Street, New Orleans, LA 70119

St. Ignatius Hall (2nd Floor)

WHEN: Wednesday, May 9th, 7PM

WHO: New Orleans City Councilmember Shelley Midura

State Superintendent of Education – Paul Pastorek

Recovery School District Superintendent – Paul Vallas

Alvarez and Marsal – Jim Grady

Robert Mendoza – Director of Public Works

Monday, May 07, 2007

"It's like icing on the top of angel food cake,"

It's been on the local news tonight, but I'm not sure how much national attention this National Geographic report (h/t Gentilly Girl) on questions about area levels will get. The video links are frightening, particularly the third. Actually, all three videos are. Here's a related link for people, especially people in other parts of the country, with short memories.

In a somewhat related note, Jeffrey's right about Fix the Pumps:
if you're reading this from out of town.. go there now and bookmark it... in case you still don't understand what is meant by the term "Federal Flood"

I'll have to finish the spirit of mendacity index tomorrow, not that such a project about the mayor could ever truly be finished.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ray Reagan?

My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
Ronald Reagan, 1987

Look, I'm going to say things that I think are right based upon information that I get. I'm going to make mistakes. I'm human. But for the most part, everything I've said, in substance, is in the spirit of truth. And nobody can dispute that.
Ray Nagin, 2007

Frankly, I don't see how any reasonably well-informed person could help but dispute that. Before I do, a note on the Reagan quote. Whatever your reaction to Reagan's explanation, he at least made a factually verifiable or disprovable statement, something Nagin strives mightily to avoid doing, and admitted that he was wrong, something Nagin never does. Since the mayor avoids factually meaningful statements, but claims to speak in the spirit of truth, I humbly present:
The Spirit of Mendacity Index*

"Doing the best that I can."
In a 2006 interview Nagin said "I don't think I can satisfy everybody's needs right now, with the intensity that's out there, but I'm doing the best that I can with the number of hours in the day." He dismissed criticisms of his travel schedule as an "old criticism" and said that he had not travelled out-of-town recently. Only a few months earlier the mayor was out-of-town when the Coliseum Place Baptist Church was demolished, there was nobody in town with the authority to rescind the demolition permit.

He did start his real estate company with a business partner whom he later re-appointed to the aviation board, and the marble business with his sons before Katrina, but he still refuses to answers questions about those businesses. Apparently he can't just say that he's too busy running the city to pursue private business ventures. He volunteers the information that he repeatedly asks the city attorney whether he can legally profit from the city's blighted property. I suspect that the mayor found The One Minute Manager (or The One Minute Mayor) to be a great piece of management literature.

The mayor has gone from promising transparency -- on the city website and when he announced the 100 day plan -- to maintaining that transparent spending policies are in place. Yet the mayor's office continues to respond to reporters' questions with demands for written FOIA requests and refuses to even answer questions from city council members. I guess that in the "spirit of truth" he promised transparency on a need to know basis.

Resource allocation.
In January of this year the mayor pledged that:
We're going to take whatever nickels we have, whatever pennies we have, whatever dollars we have, and we're going to stretch it, and we're going to make this recovery work

Oh please, from a mayor, with a press office budget of over $600,000, who defended high level pay raises by saying that his staff included people with MBA's and PhD.'s. I suppose that if he hadn't given Brenda Hatfield a raise from $150K to $165K, he might not have have been able to find another education PhD. for less than two hundred thousand.

More of the index to follow, I put off weekend errands to go the the Jazz Fest yesterday.

*With apologies to The Washington Monthly

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"With Transparent Spending Policies in Place"

Nagin's office said, "the city doesn't need traditional safeguards on rebuilding and reconstruction projects." Not quite, but it came close:
Nagin's priorities for the session are:

-- Let the city use the design-build contracting process, which requires fewer steps in bidding and is often cheaper than contracting by the usual method, for rebuilding and recovery projects in New Orleans. Senate Bill 121 by Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, is carrying the initiative.

After all, design-build has worked so well in the reconstruction of Iraq. Actually, I'm not going to claim that a two hour internet search has made me an expert on design-build contracting. I was tempted to make the assertion that design-build always leads to corruption and cronyism because I tend to get more responses when I make assertions than when I ask for input. In fact, most of the literature seems to indicate that design-build is still increasing in popularity. Of course, most of the literature seems to be put out by an industry group.

If any readers with more knowledge have any input, I'd welcome it. Personally, I wouldn't approve any measure that loosens contract restrictions until the mayor actually delivers on his promise of transparency. For one thing, design-build does away with "lowest bid" in favor of "best value;" in other words, there won't be any change as far as the sanitation department is concerned.

Thelen Reid Brown is a top construction industry law firm, so the following is not from an anti-industry source:
Special laws were needed because design-build and EPC contracting do not lend themselves to the public bidding process and its focus on the low bidder. If the successful bidder will both design the highway and build it, and if the evaluation is purely on the basis of price, then the bidders will have an overwhelming incentive to design the cheapest possible highway. On design-bid-build projects, government agencies prevent this by controlling the design.

With EPC and design-build contracting, evaluation no longer can be purely objective (i.e. lowest price wins) but necessarily must include subjective factors. These may include quality of design, life cycle costs, past track record, perceived commitment to the project, expertise and experience. Involving subjective factors in selection of the contractor poses the risk of re-introducing corruption and cronyism into the government contracting process.

The government experiments in design-build and EPC typically include stringent procedures to keep the selection process fair and honest. Whether the procedures are successful remains to be seen, as the experiments are rather recent.

How many FOIA requests did the Times Picayune need to file just to get information about garbage collection? Any administration that promises transparency and then refuses requests for information can't be presumed to be either fair or honest.

More on design-build here.

A Funny Thing Happened to the Biggest Cynic I Know

A year and a half ago I was cynically amused at the number of New Orleanians who confidently proclaimed that we would never go back to the "old way of doing things." So why am I now so disappointed that we've turned into a city full of people who defensively maintain that politicians are corrupt everywhere? Just cynical about other people's cynicism, I guess.

There's also the fact that denial and Foghorn Leghornism have proven to be piss poor defensive strategies for a city that desperately needs help, even if it fully deserves that help. I do, however, fully expect some Foghorn Leghorn style shouting out of Washington and Florida. When a Florida company, owned by Jeb Bush's former business partner, writes the bid specifications for New Orleans' faulty new pumps, you don't need to be a cynic to predict one likely result. One of the three federal audit/investigations into city finances (that have been reported in the Picayune) will turn up something newsworthy or we'll hear about some new investigation that some congressman called for.

For more on the pumps, be sure to see Fix The Pumps.

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Old Favorites
  • Political Boxing (untitled)
  • Did Bush Take His Ball and Go Home
  • Teratogens and Plan B
  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
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  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts