Friday, October 05, 2007

Separate But Related

The Inspector General will conduct activities designed to detect and deter waste, fraud, corruption, abuse of power and other illegal activities in all financial and other transactions involving the City of New Orleans and related entities.

I couldn't find the actual ordinance online, so I settled for the job description.

At last night's city council forum, Lee Zurik asked each of the candidate's, "yes or no", if they would "fully fund" the new inspector general's office at $3.5M? I thought it was a ridiculously loaded question and, in conversation, I even compared it to push polling. I want the city to have an adequately funded, truly independent inspector general, but somebody in Cerasoli's position is almost expected to ask for more than the minimum amount he would need to the job. Also, the $3.5M figure was arrived at as .5% (note the decimal point) of the city budget and I'm not sure that a percentage based formula would be the proper one to use -- a $100M contract will probably more complex that a $1M contract, but not 100 times more complex. I would think that the size of the of an inspector general's staff would be more properly determined by the size of the city or the city government Of course, the rebuilding process would increase the size of a staff that an inspector general would need.

That said, it should be noted that the Sewerage and Water Board has a separate budget from, is a separate entity from, the "City of New Orleans." If you read today's paper, you're probably wondering who's going to sign the checks:
The water board will use the additional money to maintain operations and pay for improvements to the city's water network, which includes two treatment plants and 1,600 miles of pipe. The board expects to be in a position to sell new bonds by 2011.

The water system, even before Hurricane Katrina, was suffering from years of deferred maintenance and needed hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs. The cost to replace the pipe network, much of which is almost 100 years old, has been estimated at $3.2 billion over 25 years.

The mayor recently appointed a new board member, but he didn't replace Billboard Ben Edwards. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the city's very survival is dependent of proper funding for the IG's office, but I can think of local leader who might:
"If we cannot provide the water, no one will be here," Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis said.

On a marginally related note, most local political junkies read the "New Orleans Politics" column that usually runs in the Saturday Picayune. The following appeared on the first Saturday of last October:
With the city's finances still in post-Katrina shambles, Nagin plans to wait until the last possible moment to submit his 2007 budget proposals to the council.

The City Charter provides that he must present his budget by Nov. 1, and that's when he will do it, during a special council meeting at 10 a.m.

Also, from about a year ago:
Proponents of the idea have said the need for government oversight became more critical last year after Mayor Ray Nagin effectively shut down the city's Office of Municipal Investigation. Nagin laid off the agency's entire staff after the storm as part of a series of cost-cutting moves.

Adrastos has more on the forum, and I'll have more later. I disagree about Bajoie coming off the best of the major candidates, but it's hard to say who did. Boulet had the misfortune of speaking right before Quentin Brown; her best moment was largely spoiled by Brown's comment that Adrastos described. I wonder, if the candidates are seated in alphabetical order in the remaining forums, could it actually have an impact on the race?

Cerasoli's the one who came up with the 5% figure, so he thinks its adequate. I'm not sure where it came from probably the Association of Inspectors General.

I think its important to ask these kinds of questions to get them on the record so an official can be help accountable when they renege.
It's actually .5%, 5% would be absurd. It would also be about the same percentage of the city budget as the new sanitation contracts, but the contracts aren't anywhere near being the city's entire sanitation budget.
Sorry for the typo.

But that's where the number came from.

I'd back giving him what he wants, at least for the first couple of years.
I thought that might have been a typo on your part. Since I typed it the lazy way,.5% instead of one half of one per cent, I thought I should clarify it.

We definitely to fund the office properly, I just don't know about a percentage formula. If anything, it might give too low a number since not all of the agencies that Cerasoli would be investigating or included in the budget. I assume that he would have the power to investigate anything that the city government does have some authority over, even if it has an autonomous budget -- he would probably have more authority to investigate the RTA ans S&WB than the school board. I don't know if other city budgets count transit and water separately, school boards almost always are separate.

With so much rebulding to do and a water system that needs to be totally rebuilt, we don't want to skimp on this. I still objected to the question, "fully fund at $3.5M"" is loaded (the figure is slightly higher than 3.5M). "will you fully fund..." would be meaningless. He should have asked about $3.5M.

I'd have been really impressed if a candidate had said, "He originally said that $1.8M would be the bare minimum. I can guarantee at least that much. Since the water board has a separate budget than the city government and we need to replace the entire system, .5% (of the city budget) might not be enough."
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