Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Did anybody at the Times Picayune know about it June?

Very busy, so what follows is somewhat rushed. Slightly edited Thursday a.m.
It turns out the council was apprised of the department's decision to request bids for a specific, expensive package of services including automated trucks, twice-weekly pickups and large garbage cans.

Head complimented the city in a memo sent by her then-assistant in June 2006. Head notes that she had been on the council roughly a month and wasn't sufficiently experienced then to analyze the deal.
Lolis Eric Elie

I was so shocked to read that this morning this morning that I had to spend my lunch break checking to LexisNexis for any report of a proposal to change to the more expensive automated garbage collection prior to September 2006. I couldn't find anything, but I could have missed something. It's possible that the proposal was reported in June, but it certainly wasn't discussed.

While Elie's column doesn't absolve Veronica White of all blame for the garbage debacle, I think he tries a little too hard to be fair. Whatever the Sanitation Department may have told the City Council in June 2006, the proposal wasn't put before the public until September 2006 -- three months (I believe) before the old sanitation contract expired. Even then, the administration consistently underestimated costs and failed to reveal details of the new contracts until November 2006. By that time, the council was left with a choice between approving the expensive new contracts or allowing garbage to go uncollected. Seems to me that Elie could have written a column criticizing the council for farting around during the Summer of 2006, but that has absolutely nothing to do with stonewalling by the administration during the Fall of 2006.

When the Picayune did report about the proposal in September 2006, it did make an issue of the added expense. Still, I have to wonder just how much it knew in June; it wouldn't have known just how much more expensive the new proposal would turn out to be, but it should have reported any expensive new proposal. The previous February, it editorialized:
The city government isn't just broke. It's holes-in-your-pockets broke, flat-on-your-back broke, headed-to-the-poorhouse broke. With much of the tax base gone, it's hard to see how City Hall will pay for all the services necessary to get New Orleans functioning.

So the Picayune knew that the city was broke. Also, it already had reason to be suspicious of the sanitation department. I'll supply the links later, but we had already had expensive bombproof garbage cans taken off the streets to be "cleaned and serviced." To be fair, they hadn't yet been replaced by expensive big cans that weren't all that big, but a questionable post-storm debris removal contract had already been signed with Charles Rice's new employer -- on the day before Katrina made landfall.

I can understand that the then new city council members didn't realize how dishonest the Nagin administration was (of course that doesn't absolve them of all charges of negligence), but the local media certainly knew what they dealing with. If anybody in the local press knew about the proposal in June, if anybody had the slightest inkling that the city was considering a proposal to increase garbage collection costs, he should have reported it, and it should have been discussed on the editorial page right away.

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