Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Several Hundred Thousand Dollars"

A jumbled timeline involving reconstruction projects and, of course, garbage cans

July 2006: The Times Picayune informs us that private recovery projects are in jeopardy:
Unless the New Orleans City Council authorizes more employees for the City Planning Commission and Safety and Permits Department, delays in the planning review process could force developers to scrap billions of dollars worth of projects, potentially dealing a blow to the city's recovery, a group of prominent business people told council members this week.
The city also needs more planners to revise its comprehensive zoning ordinance to include recent changes to federal base-flood-elevation maps, said Zella May, a longtime member of the Downtown Development District board. More code inspectors also will be needed to make sure residents are complying with new rules, she said.

Problems could be averted and billions of dollars in investment salvaged if the council were to vote to spend several hundred thousand dollars to fill salaried positions left vacant after the city laid off 3,000 workers in the wake of Katrina, business leaders said.

The City Planning Commission, for instance, needs a staff of 40 employees in the post-Katrina world, business leaders said. Yet the department has just nine employees, down from 25 before the Aug. 29 storm.

"A small amount of money in pay is holding up billions of dollars for our city," developer Angelo Farrell said.

February 2008: The city announces a rebuilding boom. Obviously, the actual construction can't begin until the federal money for reconstruction projects begins to flow, but there's also a very good reason why the planning process isn't further along:
those jobs have proceeded slowly in part because the city has been selecting architects and engineers to draft blueprints for projects individually, he said.

Mayor Ray Nagin and others have blamed a lack of money and administrative capacity for forcing them to stick with the old model. With reduced staff in such departments such capital projects, finance and law, the city never could manage to survey its dozens of pending recovery projects to find similar components that could be designed once, then replicated, they have said.

October 2007: New Orleans blog Your Right Hand Thief comments on the Road Home Program:
Even among those who thought Blanco had endured (some) unfair criticism after Katrina, no one can excuse the slow pace of her expensive, ineffective Road Home program. It's been totally and completely unacceptable. I mean: especially after the President and Congress held up the allocation of federal funds for the first half of 2006, you'd think the state would be ready to "hit the ground running" with its recovery program when they finally did get the money from D.C.. But no, they weren't ready. They weren't anywhere close to ready.

In the case of the city, we're not talking about a half year delay. it's been two years since the city was warned that the recovery process was threatend by a shortage of personnel in key departments. Unless the city really hasn't had the money to staff those departments, Oyster's criticism of the state would be even more valid for the city. It's possible that every penny of the city's $972M or $467M (the paper will accept whichever figure a city official choses to cite) budget has gone to more pressing matters. Accordingly, we should examine some of the spending decisions made over the last two years to determine whether Stretch really has been a good steward of the public money. Bear in mind, we are looking for "several hundred thousand dollars" -- probably a little more, and the city council hasn't exactly been thrifty.

September 2007: The city buys 500 new garbage cans at $670 a pop, Sanitation Director Veronica White requests money to purchase 500 additional garbage cans, but I haven't been able to find any information on whether that purchase was approved. The new cans weren't purchased to replace garbage cans that were lost in the federal flood, they were purchased to replace 600 old cans that the mayor thought were too small. Perhaps following the lead of an intrepid citizen journalist, the Times Picayune determined that the new cans were no bigger than the old ones. Since the old cans had been purchased at a cost of $450,00, the city threw away a $450,000 asset to meet the mayor's size standards.. Even if that "several hundred thousand" dollar figure was too low, $450,000 could have gone a long way to filling the staffing shortage in the planning department.

November 2007: Nagin's budget proposal includes money for 'what Nagin called a pair of "Harry Lee-type tanks" and the "latest and greatest" machine guns.' It also called for $800,000 to encourage high school students to pursue careers in law enforcement. I didn't see any other objections to the $800,000 but it seemed more like a way to create a couple of cushy jobs with city cars than an effective way to recruit new police officers to me.

April 2008: Arnie Fielkow questions the need for the city council to spend $600,000 to pay three different firms to advise it on the city's cable TV contract. "No more business as usual" James Carter has a hissy fit, and the council decides that spreading contracts around is vital to the city's recovery.

I decided to concentrate on smaller budget items, and I certainly could have found more. I left out big ticket items like the cost of "Disneyland-like" garbage collection (a "lynch pin" of the city's recovery) or a tactical trash force, or the 311 contract, to demonstrate that the mayor and city council should be held accountable for any waste, petty or not. It should be obvious that some excuses only go so far. Also, I can't help but wonder if we got the whole story here. It seems odd that something we were warned about two years ago came to pass, but we're given different reasons than the ones that we warned about. Not saying that the new article wasn't basically correct, just wondering if something was missing.

I spoke this weekend with a friend who is a civil engineer, working on several of the Bio-Med projects that are slated for the new VA corridor. He accepts full responsibility. If we could clone him and his skills (senior civil design engineer with specialty in our soil), we'd have "cranes in the sky", but even with money in place it is slow going because we have a shortage of engineers in this city.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Old Favorites
  • Political Boxing (untitled)
  • Did Bush Take His Ball and Go Home
  • Teratogens and Plan B
  • Foghorn Leghorn Republicans
  • Quote of the Day
  • October's News(Dec.1)
  • untitled, Nov.19 (offshore revenue)
  • Remember Upton Sinclair
  • Oct. Liar of thr month
  • Jindal's True Colors
  • No bid contracts