Friday, May 30, 2008

Hard-hitting editorial in today's Picayune

Symbolism is integral to politics, and spending taxpayer money is a political act. The mayor and his advisers help control the purse strings of a city that lives to eat. They're under the false impression that money is no object, and, if that's not galling enough, they don't even know how to spend it properly.

Well, the quote doesn't come from the editorial page, but from food critic Brett Anderson's column on "checkgate" in today's Lagniappe section. He also asks,
Setting all that aside, I still have to ask: Morton's? On the city's dime?

In a related column he suggests several locally-owned restaurants where city officials could have spent a lot of money, but not quite as much money.

At first, I didn't post much about the credit card story, because my initial reaction was similar to Jeffrey's: $150,000 is petty bullshit when the city budget is $972 million (really $467 million). As I said, that was my initial reaction and it might have been more than a fleeting reaction had the biggest expenditures not been spent lobbying New Orleans City Council members and New Orleans legislators. It might be appropriate to buy a out-of-town investor or a North Louisiana legislator a steak, but that's not how I want to see the mayor and city council discussing their differences.

After two weeks, I'm convinced that my initial reaction was wrong and my second thoughts were correct. For a number of reasons, I'm much more in agreement with Varg at The Chicory than with Jefrey's disdain for toppling structures.

To begin with, the Nagin administration is in no position to dismiss any expenditure as trivial. It hasn't been very long since the mayor insisted that the city could only afford $1.3M for an inspector general's office if there was a "roll forward" of property tax millages. In a city with glaring needs, what matters isn't the size of an expenditure relative to the city budget; what matters is what the money isn't being spent on.

The overlooked part of the credit card story was that Mayor Transparency refuses to answer questions about his own city credit card. If nobody cares about Mayor Transparency breaking state laws about secrecy, I wouldn't expect anybody to care about him refusing to provide information to the newspaper. However, the "petty bullshit" credit card story provides prime examples of the twin reasons, secrecy and careless spending, why the city will be broke long before any of its recovery projects are completed.

It doesn't matter whether the mayor himself is completely honest or thoroughly corrupt, you simply can't have a complete lack of transparency combined with a spendthrift attitude combined with ambitious plans to make everything bigger and better without having more corruption than the city can possibly afford. I'm not so naive as to think that we could possibly have a corruption-free rebuilding process in modern America or in any imaginable free world, but we can only afford so many cost overruns without the city looking like the Spanish Plaza before the World's Fair or like the main library looked within twenty years of its opening.

There's another reason why I agree with Varg's analysis. The entire Gulf Coast rebuilding process seems to be corrupt, yet there seems to a naive faith among many New Orleanians that the ongoing federal investigation into Morial Era corruption will somehow uncover any corruption in the Nagin administration. Any investigation into the Nagin administration would invariably involve Katrina reconstruction contracts, and why would anybody possibly think that the federal government would have any desire to open that can of worms? I doubt that they will without public pressure.

I had the same thought about Morton's.

You can walk to local restaurants with better steaks from there.

How about Dickie Brennan's?
My comment turned into a post.

And can't these morons at least schmooze local?
My initial reaction to the story was if you can't account for the dimes then you will never account for the diamonds.

The "petty" stuff is what takes institutions down.
This is one topic I hope doesn't die down. I'd like to see some accountabity.

Nice post celsus.
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