Sunday, May 11, 2008

Not worth the effort

I intended to do a detailed critique of the Picayune's midterm evaluation of Nagin's second term, but why should I put more effort into critiquing a story than the reporters put into research and writing it? Don't let the length fool you, I'm sure that most people that attended college, or even a college prep high school, wrote at least one term paper in which the bulk of the effort went into meeting the length requirement.

I should rephrase that, as it's too harsh towards the reporters involved. I suspect that the responsibility for the sort of fluff pieces that masquerade as serious reporting falls firmly on a newspaper's editors. I can easily imagine an editor calling a couple of reporters into his office and saying something along the lines of:
Lois, Clark, it's the midpoint of the mayor's second term. We need a front page story on the job that's he's doing. To make it look thorough, I need to you report on a dozen or so issues facing the city. To avoid looking biased, one way or the other, I need you to find both a criticism of the mayor and praise for, or a defense of, the mayor on each one. Make it look like you asked a lot of tough questions, but, for God's sake, don't write anything too controversial.

But I'm a layman with no press experience, what do I know? That kind of thing may well be tacitly understood.

At any rate, the paper will get to publish a couple of letters criticizing it for being too hard on the mayor, a couple for being too easy on the mayor, and a couple complimenting it on its awesomely wonderful in depth reporting. And we get:
Nagin made good on his pledge to improve trash collection, and most agree that French Quarter streets have never been cleaner and trash pickup citywide is reliable and thorough. But the city's new trio of garbage contracts carries big cost increases, and questions have been raised about whether two of the vendors are being allowed to forgo a costly requirement to pick up construction debris. A bevy of ministers and civil rights leaders gathered in November on the steps of City Hall to defend those companies, both owned by African-Americans.

In other words, anti-Nagin: expensive contracts, pro-Nagin: the French Quarter's clean. Real in depth reporting. Nothing about campaign contributions or rewriting the sanitation code to make the contracts fit the code. The article mentions questions about whether the vendors have been required to live up to all of the terms of the contracts, but that doesn't begin to tell the story.

For about the millionth time, the sanitation RFP contained elements that caused other firms withdraw their bids*, or refrain from bidding for, the sanitation contracts. This left two firms that contributed heavily to Nagin's re-election campaign, and continue to contribute to the mayor's campaign war chest, the sole bidders for the contracts. The contacts that were awarded, were not as stringent as the RFP's terms, and the sanitation code was rewritten to effectively make the terms of the contracts easier to meet. The contracts didn't just cost the city more money (money that could have gone to...housing inspectors, maybe) the whole process under which they were awarded smelled like a post-Katrina refrigerator.

I won't bother with the other items covered. Like I said in the last post, the opening paragraph reminded me of what caused me to change the focus of this blog from the federal government to local government in the first place. In December of 2005, I went down to City Hall to make my COBRA payment (remember what mail service was like at the time), saw the line to get into the permits office, thought about some of the articles that I read in the local paper and about how top-heavy I knew the city payroll to be, and I wondered what the fuck the mayor's priorities were.

*At least two major companies that sent representatives to that meeting said it was not their lack of interest but the city's impossibly demanding specifications that held them at bay, raising some questions about whether the winners will be able to live up to the contract terms.

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