Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Q: What do the RTA and NOAH have in common?

I'm not counting the fact that both were in today's news, because they appeared in different media.

A: Nagin's Billy Carter brother-in-law Cedric Smith. From tonight's WWL report:
The fourth highest-paid contractor, S&A Construction earned $137,000 in the home remediation program. According to Secretary of State records, the owner of S&A Construction is Nagin's brother-in-law, Cedric Smith.

I'm sure that this was just another business venture that Smith was "seduced" into:
While Haydel has said Smith approached him about the deal, Smith says it was the other way around. In fact, Smith alleges that Haydel and other Morial allies came looking for him and methodically seduced him into signing the agreement.
The sale price appears to be way out of line considering that Metro and its subcontractors have been paid nearly $7 million by the RTA since Haydel acquired the firm shortly after Morial took office in 1994.
Under the contract he signed with Haydel on Aug. 29, Smith, who has never worked in the transit industry, was guaranteed an annual salary of $300,000 and a year-end bonus of 70 percent of Metro's profits.

Well, it does sound pretty seductive. It also makes you wonder how much experience Smith has in home remediation since Smith went from mass transit in 2002, to campaign consulting in 2006, to home remediation in 2008.

I'll recap some of the things that I've written about Nagin, Smith and the local media before. Nobody thought it odd that the innocent Nagin was shocked when he learned of Smith's involvement with the RTA in November 2002, even though the wise Nagin had warned him away from the deal in October 2002. In fairness, he claimed that he was surprised because he had told Smith not to buy the interest. However, nobody questioned Nagin's claim to have thought he had successfully warned Smith away from the deal and later claim to have not known about the deal until the details became public. Later, when he invited Smith to speak at his second inauguration, nobody remembered that Nagin had previously let it be known that he considered Smith an embarrassment. Likewise, nobody remembered Nagin's supposed anger at Smith when it came to light that Nagin's cash-strapped campaign had paid Smith a $20,000 consulting fee during the 2006 mayoral election. It should be totally believable if Nagin claims to have been surprised and embarrassed by Smith's work for NOAH.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fed Up With Foolishness

Apologies in advance for using Karen and E's great work as an excuse to jump on my usual soapbox.

The council added $304,000 to its own budget to hire nine new staff members.
Times Picayune Dec. 2, 2006

I wouldn't infer from one sentence in a newspaper article that every $300,000 the city spends elsewhere represents nine new employees that aren't hired for understaffed city agencies, but it's a good figure to bear in mind.

On a recent post at Squandered Heritage, an administration defender asked:
I watched the city council meeting yesterday and I heard the old director say they received some 200 voicemails a day. how did you expect them to respond to all those inquiries with a couple people working?

That may well be a valid defense of the NOAH administration, but that's one version of a question I've been asking of the Nagin administration since December 2005.

If $300,000 wouldn't be enough to hire nine new employees to respond to all those inquiries, it would certainly be enough to hire four or five new employees, install a office cubicles and phone jacks and maybe even by a small car (not one of the big SUV's that city officials seem to love). Once those fixed costs were covered, any $100,000 saved would be more than enough to hire two additional employees, in addition to the original three or four, to answer inquiries, check to make sure that houses on the remediation list really exist and aren't on a demolition list, and make sure that nosy city council members and reporter received the "list that counts."

Of course, if the city is really doing the best it can with limited funds, that would be a moot point. Accordingly, we should examine some of the other ways that the city has seen fit to spend money since it started the program. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've heard this song before, but I never get tired of singing it. The mayor announces the home remediation program to great fanfare, but decides to spend over $300,000 on new garbage cans that could go to staffing the office that administers the office. Mind you, these weren't garbage cans that needed to be replaced because they were lost in the flood, they needed to be replaced because they didn't meet the mayor's peculiar standards. The city could have found the money to hire a few additional employees by just excluding a few six-figure employees from the 2006 pay raises. I'd call it foolishness to give pay raises to people who make $100,000 to $150,000 a year when vital agencies are understaffed.

Of course, the city council hasn't covered itself with glory. The rest of the local blogosphere seems enamored of James Carter, but I'd call $600,000 for cable consultants foolishness.

I can't figure out why "Feed Up With Foolishness" hates this blog. He or she should love it.

Why mention the lap dance?

When I first heard about Derrick Shepherd's arrest, I wondered if he had been set up. After all, Jefferson Parish is known for its cut throat politics, Shepherd has made his share of enemies on his way up the ladder, and his recent legal troubles haven't affected his willingness rock the boat.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that Shepherd was set up because I can't see Newell Normand organizing an elaborate conspiracy against somebody who's already under indictment. To believe any such theory, you'd have to believe that an ex-girlfriend could be bribed or pressured into provoking Shepherd. Well, that's entirely believable, but Shepherd had to react to the provocation -- from a woman he stopped seeing three years ago. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to hear such a conspiracy theory and I'm afraid that the unnecessary overkill of mentioning something that appeared to be a lap dance will make it more believable. I thought that it was uncalled for anyway.

For more background, Oyster provides an excellent analysis.

None of the above is meant as a defense of Derrick Shepherd, but I do find it disturbing that Normand publicly announced what deputies saw when they peered into a private residence.

Because of the timing of the arrest, there will almost certainly be claims that it was politically motivated. I don't think such claims make sense under the circumstances. I certainly think that the way the press conference was handled seemed political, but Normand hasn't been in office long enough to compare his handling of this case to his handling of similar cases.

With more time to think about it, I can't see the "overkill" of mentioning the lap dance at a press conference causing anybody to be more likely to believe any kind of conspiracy theories surrounding Shepherd's arrest.

Like Debord, but minus the Marxism

Apologies for the pretentious title but, after reading Joe Bageant today, I was vaguely reminded of a book that a roommate lent me twenty years ago. Like I said, vaguely; I won't insult your intelligence with cherry picked* quotes that demonstrate a similarity. I can't remember exactly when it occurred to me that the Situationist "claptrap" that I rolled my eyes at in my twenties still seemed dated, but it had also come to seem to remarkably prescient. This was just an excuse to blog about that, it certainly wasn't a criticism of Bageant's piece.

It's also an excuse to mention a 2006 Economist article with the subtitle, "Barack Obama is unlikely to get a better chance to run for president." File it under things seen while clearing library shelves; unfortunately, without a paid subscription, you only get the first two paragraphs online. Obama's emergence as a front runner should have only been a surprise to people that weren't paying attention. I suspect that it became a surprise to people who liked the narrative. With the Florida and Michigan controversies making Obama's small state strategy less risky, you could probably come up with a plausible defense of Mark Penn. But, why would you want to?

Just to be clear, none of the above has anything to do with November. Given a choice between a typical Democrat and a typical Republican, I'll vote for the Democrat.

*Not that I ever intentionally cherry pick such quotes. I don't; it's up to the reader to decide when the writer is, either intentionally or subconsciously, forcing such comparisons and when such comparisons are valid.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Complain

Contrary to somebody's trollish comment, this was not an attempt to "trash Keva." However, an election is coming up. Unless you believe that this City Business report was totally without merit, you might want to ask the D.A. candidates their opinions about felony prosecutions for marijuana possession. We've got a few weeks to come up with wording for the question that doesn't "trash Keva."

I know, people have been more concerned with the oil spill and NOAH than the D.A.'s office this week, but we all read the Times Picayune -- move along people, nothing to see here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tight Squeeze

If ferry service resumes*, the timing of Saturday's Ferry Night can actually work well with plans to attend Ashley Morris Memorial Fundraiser. Unfortunately, there will be tough choices in the afternoon. Johnny J. and The Hitmen will be at Borders bookstore at 2. There's an ArtinAction installation at the Milne Boys Home from 3-6, but NOLACycle is having a mapping event in my neighborhood at 3. Guess I'll have to limit it to two of the three afternoon events.

It probably wouldn't be a good idea for me to engage in political discussion tonight. Woke up two hours before the alarm and got online when I couldn't get back to sleep and made the mistake of breaking my own "no comments before coffee" rule on another blog. Forgot about what should be everybody's rule of holes at lunch and spent the rest of the day feeling like the uptight idiot who takes things too seriously. Forgive me for not providing a link.

*Background story for anybody who's reading this from another city.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Say it ain't so, Keva.

An article in this week's City Business alleges that the city has seen an increased number of felony prosecutions since Keva Landrum-Johnson has become acting D.A. because of an increase in felony prosecutions for marijuana possession, rather than because of increased prosecution of violent crimes. Since I consider this a serious matter, I'll ask you to read the entire article and draw your own conclusions before reading any more of what I have to say. It's a short article.

The most obvious point is that Landrum-Johnson should have made herself available for comment, we get Steven Singer's view much more forcefully presented than Landrum-Johnson's. Also, part of the story is already dated:
Some say Landrum-Johnson’s decision to buck history and charge marijuana users with felonies is a political decision meant to assist in her run for Orleans Criminal District Court Section E judgeship. By prosecuting thousands of marijuana possession cases as felonies, Landrum-Johnson can then go to the voters of New Orleans and claim she is “tough on crime,” Scharf said. She can point to the massive increase in felony prosecutions under her tenure without explaining that those prosecutions were for people holding joints and not guns, he said.

Another member of the DA’s office who stands to benefit from the increase in felony prosecutions is Melanie Talia, deputy chief of the DA’s Screening Division. She is running for the Criminal Court Section J.

Landum-Johnson's opponent dropped out of the election. Of course, she had no way of knowing that would happen, and I will find out everything I can about Melanie Talia and Darryl Derbigny; I know how I'll probably end up voting.

I don't want to get carried away lambasting Landrum-Johnson on the basis of one article, but I don't think her spokesman's statement adds up:
her spokesman Dalton Savwoir said that while he agreed there has been an increase in second and third offense marijuana felony acceptances, the increase is not attributable to a change in policy.

“Rather, the increase is a result of the fact that during 2008, it has become easier to obtain certified copies of prior convictions (that are) required evidence (to prosecute) second and third offense marijuana cases,” Savwoir said.

In other words, Savwoir said, clerical malfunctions that prevented the DA from seeking felony prosecutions of marijuana cases in the past have been rectified.

There hasn't just been an increase in marijuana felony acceptances compared to 2006 and 2007, but an increase over prior years. As poorly as the D.A.'s office may have functioned before Katrina, I find it hard to believe that there was better access to 20 year-old case files in 2008 than in 2004.

Today's big question

How is Karen Gadbois helping (text) the recovery (video)? What a douche, C. Ray not Karen.

The emphasis on the fact that NOAH is funded with federal money might be the best thing about tonight's report. In the past, I've confidently predicted that the federal government will never conduct any serious investigations of the Nagin administration because that would entail investigating Katrina reconstruction spending, and that would open several cans of worms that nobody in Washington wants to open. They might not have a choice.

Today's pointless question: Does Conan O'Brien still say "I" more often than Chris Matthews?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Since he doesn't want to be emailed about Stone Age...

If you missed Saturday's paper, it seems that the business arrangement between Home Depot and Stone Age has come to an end. It seems that the mayor's pretenses of being a "champion of transparency" have come to an end as well:
The mayor, who has maintained that the business dealings of Stone Age are none of the public's business, responded to an e-mailed query with a request to "stop e-mailing me as I have nothing further to say to you about my family or any other personal matter, period."

In case you've forgotten, Nagin broke the law if he owns more than 25% of Stone Age. We have no way of knowing that it's a personal matter if the mayor won't reveal his ownership interest in Stone Age.

If the mayor doesn't want to be emailed questions about Stone Age, Karen Gadbois's appearance on WWL (video) tonight (text) gave me a few other ideas. A reporter with his email address* could ask him where he gets off using a catastrophe that was the city's responsibility as a pretext for streamlining the city's demolition process. A half year after the WSJ reported on gutted houses, whose owners had applied for demolition permits, being demolished, we read that homes were still being demolished (while their owners waited for renovation permits). A half year after that, we read that the city was (supposedly) gutting houses and then destroying them, but the mayor wants more demolition authority.

Well, you get the idea. For a little more background information, I'd also recommend this related City Business report from February. The main thing is, Kudos to Karen Gadbois for getting this story out. Kudos to WWL and Lee Zurik for reporting it, but those Kudos could easily be taken back. WWl's report mentioned the questions that E raised but didn't go into much detail. I expect a follow-up.

*The rest of us can contact the mayor's office, but I've had delivery failures when I've tried that in the past.

Today's unproductive tangent

It occurs to me that I've never known the name for a widely used rhetorical device. I suppose that it's most widely used by smart ass high school students and college underclassmen who consider it wickedly clever, but some people continue to employ the device throughout their adult lives. I'm referring to the practice of condescendingly explaining a simple concept in order to make one's debate opponent, or the object of one's ridicule, appear foolish. Typical examples would include saying, "it's called auxesis, hyperbole ..." or "it's called sarcasm..." and explaining sarcasm or hyperbole, instead of saying, "I (or he) was being sarcastic." Most adults over about the age of about twenty stop using it because it's pretty rude, an expression of contempt rather than disagreement, and because they realize that it can't be all that clever if it's frequently used by sixteen-year-olds.

It's not the least bit important, but I am curious, is there a name for that rhetorical device? Also, do adults who frequently employ the device use it because they actually think that they're being clever, or do they use it because they'll score points any cheap way they can?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How will this affect the 2nd District race?

I really don't care enough about election handicapping to analyze LA-02 in terms of race, party registration and geography well enough to make any kind of educated guess as to what will happen with a closed primary in the Fall election. My guess is that a closed primary makes the kind of strategic voting that we saw last time unlikely. Still, Derrick Shepherd held a press conference to protest Jindal's veto of a bill to create a new minority judgeship, and his cousin and ally, congressional candidate Byron Lee wasn't there. Lee is a parish councilman, rather than a state legislator, but I suspect that he would have been there if he thought it could help his campaign. I noticed that the white, westbank lawmakers who requested the veto are all Republican, but I have no idea what percentage of their constituents are registered Republicans and what percentage are registered Democrats who tend to vote Republican but would be eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. It's too early to predict an ugly falling out between black and white legislators in Jefferson Parish because of the judicial bill, but, if it happens, one can only assume it would hurt Lee. On the other hand, it could lead to a larger turnout of black Jefferson Parish voters and help Lee.

Anyway, Clancy DuBos makes an interesting point in a follow-up to the analysis that I mentioned in my last post.
Trying to sort through (read: horse trade) hundreds of local projects in the glare of media spotlights will be harder still. Meanwhile, it will be relatively easy for Jindal to portray it all as a vendetta — an interesting twist when you consider whose pet projects were whacked and whose were spared. For example, state Sen. Ann Duplessis’ “District 2 Community Enhancement” appropriation of $550,000 somehow dodged the governor’s veto pen. Sen. Duplessis was the Senate author of Jindal’s voucher bill. The Dryades YMCA is a pet project of Rep. Karen Carter Peterson, who was a lead opponent of vouchers. Coincidence?

I haven't looked at all the vetoes, but I will repeat what I said in a comment at Library Chronicles:
I didn't say there was political retribution involved, just political calculation and cowardice. After the pay raise fiasco, he won't be able to do the horse trading to get BOLD and most other black legislators to support his more controversial legislation, and he won't get the votes of their constituents in his re-election campaign either. Legislators and voters from the rest of South La. are a different story, hence the Houma Courier story I linked. He had to do something to re-establish his credibility as a fiscally conservative dragon slayer, but he was very careful about whose feed bags he emptied.

I suspect that some legislators in solidly Republican districts might have actually been more likely to have seen their pet projects get axed than some Democratic legislators, especially if they were in trouble for voting for pay raises. They're already in trouble and don't want a fight with a still popular governor, so their pet projects would have been safe vetoes. I can't imagine many Old Metairie Republicans voting against Jindal in 2011 just because he vetoed some pet project of John LaBruzzo, just as I couldn't have imagined many Central City Democrats voting for Jindal in 2011, even without the YMCA veto. But, without examining the actual vetoes, that's just thinking out loud, or thinking on keyboard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Any Excuse to Remind Readers about Nagin and BOLD

Since I don't have time post tonight, I'll refer you to Jeffrey's post Jindal's budget cuts. It's actually a post about Jan Moller's article about Jindal's use of the line-item veto and Clancy Dubos' somewhat more critical analysis. Read it before reading any further, what follows is my comment with a few added links.

You all are laying it on a little thick. The awfulness of Moller's article only makes DuBos' analysis seem good by comparison. Not that his analysis was bad, but it was only noteworthy because it shows that, at least in this case, Gambit isn't following the same party line as the T/P.

Moller, probably unwittingly, made the drop in the bucket aspect of the cuts obvious in the first three sentences of her story, which I guess indicates that she's more of a dupe than a dishonest hack. But I can't help but think of what my reaction would have been if I read that story on my lunch break two years ago, when I first started back to work after being laid off. At that time when most NOLA bloggers seemed to be a lot more gung-ho (at least I was), my first thought would have been, "I've got to blog about this," but my second thought would have been that somebody else would have certainly posted about it before I got home. Chances are, I would have been right.

Still, DuBos did a bit more than point out the obvious fact that Moller reported, but seemed oblivious to. It wasn't a bad piece; I'm not knocking it. But a couple of things are missing. First off, if you include the $9M that he cut last month, it's closer to 1/10 of 1%, than 1/20. Still petty shit, but there's something interesting in that $9M:
Dryades YMCA reconstruction: $500,00.

That appears to be separate from the $650,00 in today's cuts:

Jindal cut $650,000 from the state budget that was targeted for the Dryades YMCA for a job training program.

If so, he really must not care very much about taking kids off of some the meanest streets in N.O. In fact, he probably doesn't, but there's more to the story than that. NGO funding isn't just waste or pork, it's a major source of patronage. Since it's been a favored source of patronage for every type of politician (black/white, liberal/conservative, rural/urban/suburban), the question should be, "whose cookies is Jindal taking away?" Or, is there no discernible pattern of favoritism?

Well, we know whose cookies he didn't touch. An area that he failed to carry in 2003, but carried in 2007 and will need in 2011 was untouched. Go figure. It does make me wonder how much of the $6M that DuBos mentioned being cut from the N.O. area is from Orleans parish and how much is from Jefferson and St. Tammany -- although that wouldn't tell me much without the identity of the Jefferson and St. Tammany NGO's

However, the obvious thing that's missing is that the Dryades YMCA has always been the BOLD clubhouse. Past board members include Oliver Thomas, Jim Singleton and Karen Carter. Its current president, Douglas Evans, has always been a Singleton crony.
A rumor has been circulating recently in political circles that Mayor-elect Ray Nagin has cut a deal to make Doug Evans, long-time operative of the BOLD organization, the new Aviation Board Chair. With five of the nine Board seats due to retire in June, the rumor had it that in order to keep a seat or get one, the potential member would have to agree to vote for Evans as chairman.

Seemingly taking on a life of its own, the rumor, if true, is seen as the first betrayal of Nagin's campaign promise to rid the city government of patronage. It is not true, however. Responding to the rumor, Nagin transition Press Secretary Patrick Evans states, "False, absolutely false...Evans is not going to be appointed to the Aviation Board,

He's also, a Nagin appointee to the Aviation Board, but that's a different story.
ANOTHER BOLD MOVE: Another longtime BOLD leader, Dryades YMCA Executive Director Doug Evans, also came in for some favorable attention from the council this week.

The Governmental Affairs Committee voted to recommend to the full council that Evans retain his seat on the Aviation Board for another five-year term. Aviation Board members are not paid, but besides overseeing the operations of Armstrong International Airport, the board helps decide who gets numerous big-dollar contracts the airport awards.

I seriously doubt that Jindal's making a serious move to hurt BOLD; I suspect he's making his political statement at the expense of people who wouldn't support him anyway.

Addition: I don't know Marrero well enough to be familiar with the area mentioned in the Picayune article:
Jindal also pared one item Monday from House Bill 2, the state's $4.8 billion construction budget: a $5.8 million appropriation for improvements to Barataria Boulevard in Marrero from 14th Street to Richland Drive and from Son-K Drive to Cousins Boulevard.

Jindal said the veto was sought by "legislative leaders," but he did not specify which ones.

Marrero's pretty evenly split racially, but it wouldn't surprise me if Jindal were scoring his points at the expense at poor, predominantly black areas that don't vote Republican anyway

Monday, July 14, 2008

Feigned Stupidity

How can you tell that the Obama campaign's reaction to this week's New Yorker cover was insincere? It's simple, the people running the Obama campaign couldn't possibly be this stupid:
"The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Senator Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

These guys were smart enough to beat the dreaded Clinton machine, but they needed to have that explained to them? Maybe it's part of a plan to demonstrate that Obama isn't surrounded by a bunch of smarty pants elitists.

I understand that ginned up outrage is a part of modern politics, I just don't understand the need to act so stupid about. Because I assumed that everybody who reads the New Yorker would realize that it was parodying right wing attacks, I didn't find the cover offensive. I can believe that Bill Burton might have been offended, but I don't believe for one minute that he needed to have the New Yorker staff explain it to him. Also, I thought that I had seen similar New Yorker covers in the past, and, it turns out, I had. But, I suppose, there's always the chance that some child would see the cover and be traumatized to see that a presidential candidate is really a terrorist.

Don't worry, this won't affect my vote in any way; I'm still planning to vote for Obama. I just find the whole thing depressing. Not as depressing watching the Democrats send pushovers out to face Republican cutthroats every Sunday morning, but depressing nonetheless. On a political level, I think that the Obama campaign mishandled it. I certainly understand the need for a rapid response to right wing slanders, but this wasn't a right wing slander. It would have been far better, IMO, to let people outside of the campaign express outrage and then give a more measured response.

Oh, if anybody from the Obama campaign is reading this, the line about a child being traumatized was a joke.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Art of the Possible

Schroeder takes a much more positive view of last Thursday's city council meeting than I do. A reform measure was placed on the ballot, but, reading between the lines, it strikes me more as a triumph of discretion than as a victory for reform. Don't want be too negative, but I'm certainly not ready to break out the champagne.

Interesting comments

On this report of a body pulled from Bayou St. John. Shocking, if true:
There were three police cars at the bayou last night. A group of Hispanic men were standing on the bayou with them, all were looking in the water. My neighbor, who said he saw the body floating this morning, said that the men told him last night that one of the guy's brother had dove in the water and never came up. My neighbor also said he saw many police down there and offered them the use of a hook on his truck. I saw the officers pull up around 9:30. by 10:30 they were gone. My neighbor told me he spoke to the Sergeant in charge this morning and she said there had been no report taken from any of THREE police cars though at least TEN men on the scene told them their relative had just dove into the water and disappeared! Did these officers just tell them, "We'll wait till the body floats up?" Why were there no paramedics or firemen called to this scene? Why was there no police report filed, and the police who arrived to retrieve the body in the morning had no report on what had occurred the evening before. Did the police understand the severity of this, or did they just not care? What would YOU do if a relative fell in that water and NOBODY came to help? WTF!!!

Update: WDSU reports that the body remains unidentified, which would seem to call the comment above into question. Conversely, it could raise questions about communication between the NOPD and the local media, I suppose.

"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.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Interesting Coincidence

Probably not.

I saw a Richards Disposal (RDI) commercial for the first time over the weekend and was struck by the fact that the whole point of the commercial was what a wonderful company and good corporate citizen RDI is. It might have even used the phrase "good corporate citizen;" it certainly told us about the donations that RDI makes to local schools, but made no effort to pitch RDI's services. I've always assumed that there was some political intent behind the commercials that I've seen for SDT and Metro Disposal, but those two companies do make a pitch for more business. The RDI commercial seemed much more like a commercial for a local utility; Entergy doesn't advertise to get you to use more electricity, it advertises to keep local residents from becoming unhappy with its contract. It's an entirely subjective impression, but the RDI commercial didn't even seem like a Coke commercial, designed to give potential customers a warm, fuzzy feeling about the company so that they'll buy Coke instead of Pepsi, it seemed much more a utility commercial designed to keep voters from writing their city council representatives or PSC members. I wondered why RDI would bother paying for such a commercial since I haven't heard anything about renegotiating the sanitation contracts in months. 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.

At any rate, I hadn't heard any talk of revisiting the contracts, so I wondered about the commercial. Well, the City Council may have been willing to let the contracts stand, but in today's Picayune, Gordon Russell reminds us that the entire deal needs to be re-examined. I'll have more on this soon, in the mean time be sure to read that Picayune article and put the pressure on the City Council. I wonder if James Eaton will turn out to be a home grown businessman.

*Very foolishly:
Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday said he is poised to spend $1.5 million to rid New Orleans of heaps of construction debris, even though it appears taxpayers already are paying for the task under a pair of expensive city sanitation contracts that cost a combined $24.5 million per year.

The announcement came on the heels of revelations that city officials are not requiring the vendors, Richard's Disposal and Metro Disposal, to collect debris discarded from gutting and rebuilding projects. The firms' contracts call for collection of "unlimited" bulky waste, including "demolition material," from homes and small businesses.

In explaining their reasoning, city officials have pointed to the building code and an ordinance adopted by the City Council in April -- five months after the contracts were signed -- that saddle residents with the tedious, expensive chore of hauling away all but the most piddling piles of debris.

Council members talked about amending the ordinance, or renegotiating the contracts, when that article came out last November.

Project Scope

Can anybody tell me what it means to say that the current status of a project is "project scope?" I tried to play with C. Ray's new toy twice over the holiday weekend, and, while Clancy DuBos may have been impressed, my reaction was much closer to Schroeder's. I was interested in what was planned for two different city owned properties, but I couldn't figure out, from the wonder ribbon*, what the city had in mind for either site or how far along the city had progressed with its indecipherable plans for either site.

In the first case, seeing a picture of a recovery sign in front of the Latter Library, in a post at Liprap's Lament, made me wonder what the city had planned for a library that it plans to close. The roof of the building needed repairs before Katrina, and it's safe to assume that it will need repairs no matter what the city decides to with the building. However, spending money to make it a better library, only to then be forced to re-renovate it as meeting facility would make about as much sense as spending money to gut and remediate houses before spending money to demolish the same houses. It wouldn't be wantonly destructive, but it would be just as profligate. However, I'm not prepared to accuse the city of planning that, because this could mean anything:
Latter Library

5120 St. Charles Ave
Council District: B, Ward: 13
High Priority FacilityProject Type: Public Libraries
Scope: A-E firm currently developing project scope.
Current Status: Project Scope

Project Contact: Geneva Walters

I doubt that there's anything too extraordinarily wasteful going on with the Latter Library, I merely included it as a prime example of what you can expect to find when you click the wonder ribbon.*

However, the second situation seems much more serious. Whenever I ride my bike down Franklin Ave (Franklin Ave, the last part of it anyway, is actually a good bike route to the lake since the federal flood, there was too much too much traffic before) I wonder about the Milne Boys Home. I even considered writing about it after reading this NYT article a while back, but that's not a subject that I usually post about. Sure the writer is mistaken about a few facts (the obvious contradiction in the fourth paragraph is a dead giveaway), but she does document an unforgivable case of neglect. Anyway, this recent letter to the editor rekindled my interest, and I found this infuriating article from January:
New Orleans has missed out on $7 million in state money to repair The Milne Boys Home, a city-owned historic community center for young men.
Sean Cummings, executive director of the New Orleans Building Corp., the landlord for the city-owned property, revealed the oversight Nov. 27 at City Council budget hearings when District C Councilman James Carter asked if Cummings knew about the capital outlay appropriation for the Milne Boys Home from the Legislature. Cummings's response was "no."

Oddly enough, that the story made me feel really good about the future of the city's riverfront. I mean, if the talented board members of the NOBC screwed the pooch that badly on the Milne Boys Home, it must have been because they were devoting all of their talent and energy to Reinventing the Crescent.

Once again, I don't want to insinuate that the demolition by neglect is intentional or make any other uninformed accusations. Of course, such accusations would be uninformed because I can't quite figure out what this means:
Milne Boys Home (8)

5420 Franklin Avenue
Council District: D, Ward: 08
High Priority FacilityProject Type: Other Public Spaces
Scope: Remove and replace architectural, electrical, mechanical, telephone systems, fencing and roofing components to several buildings.
Current Status: Project Scope

"Remove and replace architectural...components" worries me, but it doesn't say what architectural components will be removed.

Correction: On a second reading, the fourth paragraph of the New York Times articles isn't so much contradictory and factually incorrect as it is confusing or misleading. I would call it poorly worded, but there's that thing about pots and kettles.

* Meanwhile, citizens can track the quiet (for now) progress of several hundred public recovery projects online by clicking the orange recovery ribbon in the upper-right-hand corner of the city's Web site ( The link will take you to a Google-based map that allows you to search by project type, by individual project, by City Council district, by ward, by area and even by specific address. Type in your home or office address and check out the projects that are in the works within a mile or two.

And don't give up hope.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Unfair revenue sharing is so 2006 (Updated)

I couldn't help but think about that 37.5% revenue share* that everybody got so excited about when I heard Lindsey Graham on Meet the Press recently:
But when it comes to domestic supply, we're talking about 50 miles off the coast of South Carolina with the consent of the legislature where the state gets half the revenue.

It's possible that Graham didn't review his notes very well before the show, as earlier in the segment he had repeated the canard about the Chinese and the Cubans drinking our milkshake, so he may have been mistaken about the 50 miles, but he seemed adamant that coastal states would get half of the revenue from new offshore drilling.

That made me wonder why we just don't shut down all of our drilling until after the election and see about getting a 50% share in 2009, instead of a 37.5% share (with a $650M cap) in 2017. Not seriously, but it certainly struck me as unfair. Still, I wasn't going to mention it, until I saw today's paper:
The $1.8 billion that Louisiana will have to pay over the next three years as its share of the $14.8 billion in approved levee construction will cripple other coastal projects, the governor's adviser on coastal issues said.
"The bottom line is there is no way possible for the state of Louisiana to come up with the amount of money that Washington is asking of us" without harming recovery and eating into regular government services, Graves said.
Graves expects to see a bill from the corps for between $550 million and $600 million by year's end, with $1.1 billion needed through 2009.

The Legislature set aside $300 million from the state's 2007 budget surplus for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to split up among coastal restoration and levee projects this year. The authority has delayed action on those expenditures, awaiting action by Congress on the state share. Graves said the state might have to revisit its proposed use of the state's share of about $550 million in Coastal Impact Assistance Program money, the majority of which was supposed to be set aside for wetlands restoration projects or for infrastructure along the coast. Under federal law, only 23 percent of that money can be used for levees.

The state also has the option of issuing bonds that would be redeemed with revenue from the state's future share of offshore oil revenue, Graves said. Congress approved a new offshore revenue sharing scheme last year under which the state will receive about $20 million a year until 2017. After that, the state will receive as much as $600 million a year that can be used only for coastal restoration and levee projects. Those bonds, however, might not secure the needed money, or come at a high debt cost, because of the uncertainty of future revenue streams.

I don't know where to begin to respond to that news, but I wouldn't start with that "president needs to keep his promise" noise that sounds like begging to unsympathetic ears. Since the bill for levee construction would take money from coastal restoration, I would begin by pointing that it was projects that benefited the entire nation that caused most of the loss of coastal wetlands. I would be sure to point out that it was offshore oil & gas activities that made wetlands loss such a catastrophe so soon:
Still, the Louisiana coast might have survived another 1,000 years or more, Louisiana State University scientists said. But the discovery of oil and gas compressed its destruction into a half-century.

By the 1980s, the petroleum industry and the corps had dredged more than 20,000 miles of canals and new navigation channels from the coast inland across the wetlands. The new web of waterways, like a circulatory system pumping poison, injected saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico into salt-sensitive freshwater wetlands. Fueled by the advance of big business on the coast, the Gulf's slow march northward accelerated into a sprint.

Of course, you'd need to acknowledge just how much we've profited from the petroleum business:
While inland states enjoy 50 percent of the tax revenue from drilling on their federal lands, Louisiana gets back a mere $35 million of the $5 billion it contributes to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, or less than one percent

For opinions on just how fair that is, you could go to the Conservative Cajun:
In the state of Texas, any Gulf waters 9 miles from the coast of the state is considered state waters. As a result, the state of Texas grants those oil & gas leases and receives a certain percent of the royalties from the federal government for any leases granted farther out in what is federal waters. However, Louisiana is allowed only 3 miles off of its coast to be considered state waters...If that doesn’t seem fair, then you and I are in agreement.

or da po'blog:
Okay. Half of onshore revenues goes to the state where the oil came from. Then another 40% goes to the states in water projects. So, taken all together, onshore drilling states get 90% of the revenues generated by drilling on their land in some way. Alaska gets 90% outright.

And we get a “portion of royalties from certain offshore federal leases.” The rest goes to the U.S. Treasury.

That ain't right.

Since the federal government seems so hell bent on collecting money from Louisiana, you could also read what Ashley Morris and Oyster had to say about the federal government's reluctance to collect money (offfshore oil revenue, at that) from Chevron.

There's all sorts of retro stuff I could link to, but that's about all that I have time for tonight. While I was googling, I did find that Jason Leopold did some great work that I hadn't seen before.

Update: A must-read post at m.d. filter explains in much better detail what I said in the post (37.5% isn't a fair share) and alluded to in the footnote (the 37.5% revenue that La. supposedly received in the 2006 bill, isn't really 37.5%). When revenue sharing was being discussed, I cringed whenever I heard Bobby Jindal say that, with a fair share of offshore oil & gas revenue, we could pay for coastal restoration ourselves. Predictably enough, a rhetorical point made in favor of a fair deal, became a necessary condition for any new deal. That's in no way intended to put all of the blame on Jindal; Jindal, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter were all anxious to get the get the credit when the state was abused by both parties in Washington.

Still, since Louisiana has received pennies on the dollar (compared to what inland states, or Texas between 3-7mi. offshore, receive) in revenue for decades of drilling that have decimated our coastal wetlands, any fair-minded person should agree that the rhetorical point is still valid.

*37.5%, up to $650M, starting in 2017, all dedicated to coastal restoration, if I remember it correctly.

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Old Favorites
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