Sunday, August 12, 2007
As of April, the city had identified 592 health-threat properties, with 352 set for demolition and 240 slated to be gutted. City Hall has ignored requests for a list of corresponding addresses and could not immediately provide updated statistics Thursday.
As the above links make clear, we currently have a city administration that claims to put a priority on transparency and accountability but refuses to answers the most basic questions abouts its plans or actions. Not only does the Nagin administration take office promising to bring accountability and "transparency" or "openness and accessibility" to city government, the administration, and its supporters, constantly proclaim that those goals have been successfully realized. Yet when it comes to actually sharing information, the Nagin administration is easily the most secretive in memory. Claiming to be transparent seems to be like claiming to be a reformer, say it often enough and people will believe it. The Nagin administrations has trumpeted its own transparency and openness for five years, but has refused to answer questions that it didn't like. This failure to answer questions has been dutifully reported in individual news stories (usually around paragraph 10), but the pattern has been ignored.
In the past, I had criticized this secrecy on the grounds that it would lead to more corruption on the one hand, and justifiable bitterness and conspiracy charges from those who are unhappy with rebuilding decisions on the other. I also thought that calling the Nagin administration on it secretiveness would throw the mayor's squeaky clean image into question, but that would be an added bonus.
With 20/20 hindsight, it seems obvious that a city government that makes a mockery of transparency and openness at the top will be uncommunicative at the bottom. I can't demonstrate a logical A then B connection, but it sure seems logical that if there's a refusal to share information at the top, there won't be any urgency:
On Thursday, I called City Hall to get answers and was bounced from one office to another. Tearing down a guy's house didn't seem like any big deal to some of the people with whom I spoke.
about sharing information further down the ladder. Maybe it's just my pet obsession, but it's fair to question whether the demolition list would have been handled differently by an administration that really did place an emphasis on accessibility and accountability. I'm certain that the coverage of the matter would have been different if Nagin administration secrecy had been more of an issue in the past. A week after WDSU reports on the wrongful destruction of a ninth ward home, the Picayune's fair and balanced report on the subject, not only got the facts wrong, it failed to mention the overall lack of responsiveness on the part of city government. Stephanie Grace wrote a much more critical column in today's paper, but it also failed to make a connection.
To my way of thinking, it's just one more reason why the Nagin administration's secrecy and general lack of openness must be addressed if the recovery is going to go well. Obviously, there are more important issues to be addressed, insurance and flood protection come to mind, but anyone who comments on New Orleans should consider it a priority to call bullshit on Nagin administration claims of "transparency and accountability" or "openness and accessibility."
That said, I see several things that should have been expressed differently in a recent post. First and foremost, the main anger was meant to be aimed at the media for allowing Nagin to claim transparency while practicing secrecy. Although I do believe that bloggers, and anybody else who participates in public forums, could give it a nudge, that is where the angry sentiments should have been more explicitly directed.
Also, the last sentence was intended to make it clear that the "what do they think they're accomplishing?" thought was one that I only think occasionally. I don't think it gave that impression at all, and it's thought I should kept to myself. It's absurd to expect other people to share your priorities.
Finally, I didn't intend to single anybody out for criticism. I merely went down a link list and did a topic search on a few blogs that I read regularly. I really couldn't say why I clicked some names on the list and not others. I apologize if I gave anybody the impression that I was criticizing him or her personally.