Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Odd and the Unacceptable

I'd watch that soap opera.

It's odd that Douglas O'Dell singled out for praise a Nagin official who doesn't seem to have been in the local news before.
And he singled out for more praise Bill Chrisman, the city's new capital projects director, and Cynthia Sylvain-Lear, who oversees capital projects as the city's deputy chief administrative officer. "She has her finger on the pulse," he said.

I'm sure that Sylvain-Lear does have her finger on the pulse, as she has steadily risen up the ladder under both Marc Morial and Ray Nagin, but I've never heard of Bill Chrisman before. I couldn't find any mention of him search the archives of Gambit Weekly, City Business or The Times Picayune. That's also two well-paid executives who seem to have the same job. There's also a project development planner on Blakely's staff. When Blakely's position became administrative as well as advisory, I hoped that it would lead to some questioning of the number of highly-paid positions in the mayor's office. Obviously, that it didn't happen. It guess it's batter to have three people doing the same work, than to re-open a park.

It's unacceptable that some statements can go virtually unchallenged:
What I'm trying to do is plainly tell the federal view, the universal federal view . . . that the federal government has created $126 billion worth of response to this tragedy.

It's more of a half-truth than an actual lie, but it gives the impression that the city was given $126B that it's just pissed away. That's pretty f***ing dishonest on O'Dell's part. It's not nit-picking to say that since James Gill quoted O'Dell, he should have pointed out that O'Dell's statement was intentionally misleading. Otherwise, it was a good column. Check back tomorrow night if you don't understand just how dishonest O'Dell's statement was; I'll provide an explanation with a few links.

I've seen a fair amount of tea leaf reading over the meaning of O'Dell's statements, but I don't think anybody's mentioned the fact that O'Dell is a retired Marine Corps general, and Blakely is a condescending civilian with an ego so large that he makes Rob Couhig seem modest. It's worth considering.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Does the Times Picayune owe Una Anderson an apology?

Yesterday, the Times Picayune endorsed Cedric Richmond, in part because he understands the vital importance of integrity. I was leaning toward Richmond, but endorsing a politician because he promises to be honest seems a little silly. That alone wouldn't have been noteworthy, but this was:
as a member of the Legislature's Audit Advisory Committee, he put pressure on the Orleans Parish School Board to clean up its finances pre-Katrina.

I'll admit that what follows is a little bit tenuous, but you may recall that Richmond spoke on behalf of Metro Disposal and Richard's Disposal* before the city council approved the new garbage collection contracts and after the contracts came under fire.

You may also recall that the Times Picayune endorsed Walker Hines for State Representative after his opponent, school board member Una Anderson, was accused of taking bribes from a representative of the two disposal companies. The Picayune didn't mention the alleged bribes in its endorsement, but they must have factored into the decision to endorse Hines. At any rate, at least one of the paper's op-ed columnists sure thought that the allegations were important.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether this is significant or not. At first glance, it sure seems either sloppy or inconsistent for the Times Picayune to pillory Anderson for allegedly taking bribes as a school board member and to praise Richmond for his work on a committee that "pressured the school board to clean-up its finances." However, I don't know if the audit committee looked into specific contracts or merely looked into accounting procedures. If the committee merely looked into accounting practices it's probably irrelevant, but if it looked beyond that, it raises questions about either Richmond's judgment or his integrity. Unless Barre's accusations against Anderson have come to seem baseless, in which case, the Picayune should spell that out. It's not just Anderson's reputation that might be dependent on it -- Richmond basically worked as an unpaid spokesman for the two companies involved.

*The owner of the company is Alvin Richard, but I've seen the company referred as either Richard's Disposal or Richards Disposal.

Links that have almost nothing to do with RT3

You know, we fight the way two middle class educated Englishmen would fight. Which I've always maintained would be sort of girlie and cowardly, you know? With squealing!
Hugh Grant

Even though I was only a few feet away from the lunch time entertainment, my back was turned. So, I don't actually know how two middle class educated American bloggers fight.

I had to leave Saturday's Rising Tide Conference early because I had a fantasy football draft. Those first Thursday in September games that the league started scheduling a few years ago really screwed my fantasy football league. The majority of the players want to have the draft on a weekend, and a fair number of league members go out of town over Labor Day weekend. The Friday or Saturday before the first game used to be an ideal time for a fantasy draft, but the league started having that Thursday game. At any rate, I had no idea that fantasy football is popular in Great Britain. Hey, the title of the post says it all.

I couldn't help but think of the journalism's panel discussion of newspaper and television news budget cuts when I noticed that the Times Picayune sent a writer to blog from the Olympics. The cash-strapped, cost-cutting local paper also sends a writer to the Super Bowl every year. No wonder it never seemed to share my outrage over Nagin's failure to set budget priorities.

For more on the conference, just follow the links that Jeffrey provides.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why is garbage collection cheaper with $115 a barrel oil than with $60 a barrel oil?

Perhaps we should ask the SCLC why Richards Disposal is offering predominantly white Jefferson Parish a significantly lower price today than it negotiated with predominantly black Orleans Parish two years ago?

As you can see from the following, Richards Disposal submitted a bid price of $17.90 per household (per month) for semi-automated garbage collection in unincorporated Jefferson and Lafitte.

My apologies for not taking the time to make the chart easy to read, it's too late at night to decipher blogger instructions
Table 5
Alternative 2: Semi-automated Collection
Rank Proposer Unit Price Price Points Technical Points Total Points
1 Waste Pro $15.25 30.15 35.00 65.15
2 SWDI $13.44 46.75 16.04 62.79
3 Coastal $16.59 17.50 43.75 61.25 61.25
4 Richards $17.90 9.00 28.00 37.00

Two years ago, Richards negotiated a $22 unit price with the City of New Orleans, now it offers Jefferson Parish a $17.90 unit price.

I'll admit that I don't anything about the sanitation business, but I would assume that unit costs would be higher in Jefferson would be higher than in New Orleans because it's less densely populated. They should certainly be higher now than they were two years ago, because fuel costs are so much higher. However, before accusing the mayor of giving a sweetheart deal to a politically connected campaign contributor, we should examine other alternatives.

It's true that the Jefferson Parish committee rejected fully automated garbage because the cost would be prohibitive, however, New Orleans ended up contracting for semi-automated garbage collection rather than fully automated. The mayor's defenders often argue that he's not a crook, he's just a daft administrator who likes expensive machines that go ping, but the daft defense doesn't seem to cut it this time.

But the bids in Jefferson Parish don't cover unlimited bulk garbage collection, you might argue. Richards' contract with New Orleans didn't either.

The Jefferson Parish draft report does offer one possible explanation:
Alternatives that included a fuel surcharge and/orCPI adjustment clause were offered by Allied, IESI/Coastal, SWDI and WastePro. Fuel surcharge clauses will cause the unit price for service to increase or decrease in accordance market conditions as measured by a fuel price index such as provided by USDOE. Future spikes in fuel costs could result in higher fees to Parish residents since the fuel surcharge would pass through to the users. Over the past 10 years, fuel prices rose by approximately 10% per year on average. On the other hand, if no fuel adjustment clause is provided, the contractors typically try to cover this risk by increasing the initial cost of service. Several Proposers requested more frequent adjustment for spikes in fuel prices and have offered lower starting prices as a result. It should be noted that Jefferson Parish has a CPI clause in the existing RFP language which includes a fuel component.. The frequency of fuel adjustment requested by each company is listed below:

Allied -- Annual Price increase based on automatic 4% increase on 15% (assumed labor costs) of unit rate and the remaining 85% of unit rate increases by the CPI with a cap of 5 %. -- Adjusted annually

IESI/Coastal -- Fuel Surcharge based on Department of Energy Diesel Fuel Index -- adjusted monthly

SWDI -- CPI to be applied to unit price at start of contract in June 2009. -- adjusted annually

Richards' offer didn't a provision for rate adjustments, presumably because it had the highest base price. That doesn't explain why the mayor and Veronica White negotiated higher prices for garbage collection in Orleans Parish when oil was $60 barrel than firms are offering with with oil at well over $100 a barrel.

I think it's fair to conclude that the mayor successfully stonewalled a new city council until it had no choice but to accept inflated contracts for his major campaign contributors. I think I'll begin forming an Excellence in Plundering the Public Purse. More seriously, the city council seems to have abandoned its efforts to renegotiate the garbage collection contracts, it might be a good time to raise the subject. I'll repeat my advice about that matter:
To renegotiate the contracts, the city council would probably need to amend the foolishly rewritten sanitation ordinance, show that it's prepared to hold Richards and Metro to all of of the terms of their contracts, and make the companies beg to renegotiate, IMO.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Bloomberg yesterday:
Oil has tumbled 23 percent from the record $147.27 a barrel reached on July 11.
Crude oil for September delivery fell $1.24, or 1.1 percent, to settle at $113.77 a barrel at 2:53 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil touched $111.34 a barrel, the lowest since May 1, and declined 1.2 percent this week.

That certainly helps explain something that I read in the Picayune, also yesterday:
An advisory committee gave top billing Thursday to a Slidell waste company to begin hauling garbage from Jefferson Parish curbsides next year.
Coastal said its manual collection program, the type now used in Jefferson Parish, would cost $14.18 per unit per month. Its semiautomated service, using trucks with mechanical arms to empty garbage bins, would cost $16.59, according to the company's proposal.
Though it won the committee's support, Coastal's proposal didn't have the lowest price. A Houma company, SWDI, proposed manual collection for $12.44 per unit per month and semiautomated collection for $13.44.

Jefferson Parish sure got lucky, if it hadn't asked for bids at a time of falling fuel prices it might have ended up with bids like New Orleans received two years ago:
Figured per household, the cost would jump from $9.12 under the current Waste Management deal to $22 under the agreement with Richard's and to $18.15 under the deal with Metro.

Of course, oil sold for about $60 a barrel in 2006, so...

So even though the advisory committee recommended the second most expensive proposal*, it's reasonable to ask whether Nagin and company feel more comfortable ripping off the poor residents of Orleans Parish than Broussard and company feel ripping off the middle-class residents of Jefferson Parish.

I'll examine some possible explanations tomorrow.

*Click the link to the draft report, included with this article, you'll find that the most expensive bidder, Richards Disposal, offered Jefferson Parish a much lower price than it receives from New Orleans for semi-automated garbage collection. Sometimes, home-grown businessmen just feel neighborly, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

They don't hear what he's not saying

Every time Nagin touts his own transparency and accountability, he all but begs for scrutiny.
Stephanie Grace March 25, 2008

I can only guess that Mr. Nagin must have taken Ms. Grace's words to heart, because I can't find any record of the mayor touting his own transparency and accountability since Ms. Grace wrote those words last Spring. In fact, the last mention that I can find* of the mayor, or any member of his administration, touting his transparency or accountability came in response to charges that Derrick Shepherd made last October. As far as I can tell, the closest that any member of the Nagin administration has come to touting the mayor's commitment to transparency this year was in May, when the mayor's spokesperson said (in regard to a proposed law to make all city contracts available to the public), the administration "supports any measure developed to continue transparency in government." That was before the city attorney opposed such transparency as unnecessary.

At least three different writers at the local paper still remember some wonderful words that mayor said six years ago:
Ironically, perhaps, Smith was at the center of an embarrassing episode early in Nagin's first term that helped cement the mayor's reformer image.

Shortly after helping manage Nagin's 2002 campaign, Smith acquired a controlling stake in Metro New Orleans Transit Inc., the firm owned by former Mayor Marc Morial's uncle that had a consulting deal with the Regional Transit Authority.

Told of the deal by a reporter, Nagin said he was "floored" and took immediate steps to void Metro's contract. "This flies in the face of everything I'm trying to accomplish in this city," Nagin said then. "For somebody out there to do this, it really bothers me."

I'd like to see at least one writer comment on the wonderful words he stopped using less than a year ago. Come on, he doesn't even bother with the act any more.

While I'm commenting on things that the local media refuse to notice, Jeffrey points out that the T/P continues to ignore the fact that many Morial associates are also Nagin associates -- something that Adrastos and I have both gotten angry about in the past. Roy Rodney was at least as close to Nagin as to Morial -- he was Nagin's business partner and helped him get elected in 2002. Of course, that could also be said of Pampy Barre, except for the fact that Barre was obviously a good deal closer to Morial. I didn't notice the mention of Barre as a Morial associate in the paper today, but I heard it on WWL this morning and on Fox 8 tonight. It would be nice if just one member of the local media went back and read that old Louisiana Weekly article.

*Searching Newsbank on the State Library database. If you have a valid library card for any Louisiana parish, just log login and select Newsbank from "statewide databases."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

James Gill makes my case

He and his colleagues have been guilty of gross negligence for at least two years:
NOAH was charged with hiring contractors to gut houses damaged by Katrina and given a budget of $3.6 million, which Mayor Ray Nagin said would pay to clean up 5,000 houses.

Any doubts that Nagin was, once again, talking through his hat, were removed when he explained that taxpayers had to pick up the tab because there was a shortage of volunteers.

It was impossible, at the time, to walk more than a few blocks in New Orleans without encountering church groups from all over who had flocked here to help us in our hour of need.

In fact, the original proposal was for a $15 million program, but I can't find any record of Gill or any of his colleagues calling it a $15M joke at the time. As a matter of fact, it wasn't an obvious joke at the time.

I'd let that slide*, but I'm also less impressed than some of my fellow bloggers with recent columns by Jarvis DeBerry and Stephanie Grace. I'm glad to see them criticizing the mayor, but they all still tiptoe around the ongoing pattern of secrecy. Considering, that the adminsitration of the one time "champion of transparency" has failed to share information about more things than I can remember, I have to wonder what accusations anybody could make about the mayor that would possibly justify Grace's use of the term "conspiracy theorists." Since the mayor's failure to answer question about the new sanitation contracts, there's been a reluctance to share information or answer questions about 311 contracts, hospital site selection, city property management, crime cameras, a possibly illegal business deal, and now NOAH. That's just in two years, and I doubt that I listed everything. Yet, the local media treats each example as an isolated incident, without ever daring to ask how the people of the city can be expected to have confidence in a mayor who habitually keeps secrets. I'm almost not surprised that that poor Jackie Clarkson seems a little nonplussed or befuddled by the reaction to the story.

But I'm repeating myself about the media:
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.
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.

I wrote that a year ago.

Clarifications: Rereading the above, I see that I never made it clear that my main beef is that the writers at the Picayune still seem reluctant to question Nagin's basic integrity (or just come out and ask, "what the f*** you hiding?"). They hinted at it, but the assumption still seems to be that the responsible parties, or guilty parties, are much further down the chain of command. His actions have failed to match his rhetoric, and he's been acting like somebody with something to hide for years, yet it's still treated as a matter of leadership style or a personality issue. Of course, Jackie Clarkson let it slip that she reads blogs, which means that she should have been aware of the scope of the problem.

*Yeah, right.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

But Coach, can we at least see the playbook?

Update: Ms. Clarkson is getting testy.

Coach Nagin:
I'm here ready to work with this council and, for the most part, we get along great..But there's a couple of you, I don't understand why you're doing what you're doing. No, I do.
If you want a team-based environment, we need to act like a team and I am getting sick and tired of this,

Obviously, the mayor doesn't like being forced to acknowledge that the city council is a coequal branch of government, but I won't dwell on that -- it's a common failing of mayors and governors everywhere. It used to be a common fault of presidents, but they no longer need to acknowledge the equal status of the legislative branch. What's amazing is that the mayor has the gall to suggest that council members who ask for information aren't being part of a team. Um, C. Ray, teamwork requires sharing information. Nagin's refusal to share information was obvious early in his second term when proposed expensive new sanitation contracts but refused to provide detailed information on the contracts, and, as Gambit Weekly points out, it's become a consistent pattern. Yet, he has the nerve to talk about teamwork.

There's an off the wall question that I have to ask, is it possible that Jackie Clarkson thinks she can run as a peacemaker and get enough crossover vote to be the city's first woman mayor? I'm not asking whether she can do it, but rather she thinks she can do it. Not at all what I was hoping for last Fall, but I did call her a distant second:
Boulet seems to be the only candidate who will acknowledge that Nagin does not operate in good faith. Clarkson is distant second choice if you can't vote for Boulet.

Monday, August 04, 2008


The biggest outrage of the past week had to have been the NFL's insult of Rickey Jackson:
Jackson had to rush the passer, play the run and drop into coverage. He was exceptional against the run, and an iron man who seldom missed a start. The Saints became a respectable team in the mid-80s largely because of their defense, which featured a quartet of linebackers - Jackson, Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson and the late Sam Mills - that made plays all over the field. Mills was the brains of the "Dome Patrol" but Jackson was its backbone.

Jackson played 15 years in the NFL and won a Super Bowl ring with the 49ers in the 1994 season. He finished with 136 sacks, considerably more than Dean or Tippett's totals, and had eight interceptions. Perhaps most amazing, however, was his 29 career fumble recoveries. Dude obviously had a nose for the ball. He played in six Pro Bowls.

If the continued snubbing is outrage no. 1 this week, the fact that the Biloxi paper wrote about it, but the New Orleans paper did not, is outrage 1A.

Outrage no. 2: It looks like New Orleans won't be hosting a presidential debate.

Outrage three: The City Attorney is demanding transparency from the Inspector General:
New Orleans Inspector General Robert Cerasoli on Monday rejected a request by the city attorney that he notify her office whenever he begins an investigation of a city agency.

In a letter to Cerasoli on Friday, Penya Moses-Fields said, "It would be helpful if, in the future, you would provide a direct communication to my office when you initiate an investigation."

Maybe, that was a joke, rather than an outrage.

Outrage four: On Informed Sources Errol Laborde gave the impression that the NOAH scandal was primarily a political problem for the mayor. He seemed to think that it made the mayor look more inept than dishonest. Worse, he rightly praised Lee Zurik's reporting on the story, but he didn't mention any bloggers. He even said that the story demonstrated the influence of the internet because WWL's website made everything available online and that helped keep the story alive (true enough), but he brought up the internet and the NOAH story without mentioning Squandered Heritage or We Could Be Famous. Believe it or not, one the reasons for that I've been blogging less frequently is that I've started to have second thoughts about the constant media criticism. However, I really don't feel bad about any of the negative things that I may have written about Informed Sources or its producer.*

Outrage five: Over half of the companies (42 out of 78by my count) on one of the S&WB's State-Local Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program approved vendor lists are not located in New Orleans. The other list is much longer and I'm basically too lazy to do the counting; it appears to be about evenly split between companies located inside and outside of Orleans Parish. I can't find a DBE list for the city, or lists for individual agencies; I assume that any such list would contain many of the same companies. I hate to bring up as sensitive a topic as the city's DBE program so soon after Stacy Head's foolishness, and I really don't want to scrap the entire DBE program. However, I'd like to hear one good reason for the city government to give preferential treatment ot out-of-town firms. If I'm reading this correctly, an airport consultant with an interesting past advised the RTA to pick its management team on the basis of its ability to come up with creative ways to give business to poltically-connected firms, even if they're headquartered in other cities.

Tuesday morning outrage: KBR finds a solution to its rape problem. To be fair, KBR cited vague security reasons, rather than rape, as the reason for the ban.

*Wish I had a transcript of the May 16th or could remember what prompted me to write:
Oh, earlier in the show, the panelists gave the distinct impression that the days of NOPD officers being accused of criminal activity are behind us.

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