Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New comment on an old post

I wanted to wait until I had time to add a few thoughts, but it's already been a week since I received an interesting comment on a post from December of 2006. I will say that though I think that all of the questions that I've raised about James Carter in the past are valid ones*, I should acknowledge that the lack of a response to the email in this post gave me negative feeling at the very start of his term. The transparency ordinance might have caused me to soften my opinion, had Fielkow not dropped it.

At any rate, the old post and the new comment:
David - It's time to revisit this post. Now the question is who is behind Nagin? Carter's behavior in the Fielkow transparency dustup was extremely interesting. There he was in the niddle of the whole thing, he ran as a reformed versus his behavior since then, between Fielkow and the Nagin contractors, and it looked like his hand would be publicly forced and then..... what? Nothing on the vote, Fielkow suddenly dropped it.

So: Washington and Jacques Morial are co-directors of LJI. Jacques Morial has about 10 companies and a LIFE registration at 201 St. Charles's 25th floor and, guess what, the public records request from the mysterious Tionne Simon (see WDSU story) comes from the UPS location at that very address. How many offices on the 25th floor have their pickups there? Well?

The drive to save Nagin and the contractors (via the Nagin email deletions and the email deliveries) is coming from none other than Jacques Morial.

posted by Anonymous

I have no idea who left the comment, but he I'd bet that he's the same anon who's left some interesting comments on this AZ post.

*Hell, his campaign website said "no more business as usual," and he ran as a reformer, but he's helped kill at least two reforms.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reversal of something or other

Interesting comment on a recent Picayune article:
Posted by stinc on 03/23/09 at 8:26AM

Tracie Washington KNOWS the rules. She was the attorney for Capital Metro in Austin Texas, their version of RTA. She was fired for calling the local prosecuting attorney an SOB in front of reporters in 1997 after he threatened to subpoena records she refused to hand over. If you check the archives of the Austin American Statesman and the Austin Business Journal you will find story after story of Tracie's obstructionist activities regarding open records. She refused to release records regarding a freight rail contractor and had to be sued to turn over records about a $400,000 parking lot that Metro had built for Praise Tabernacle church, saying it would be a park and ride but then quickly cancelling any plans to actually run service to the lot.

She KNOWS the rules. White KNOWS the rules. Nagin KNOWS the rules. They just don't like 'em and they are gaming us.

I couldn't find any working links on Google, but a search of the Austin American Statesman's archives reveals that the commenter was basically correct. Veronica White's good friend (and attorney?), Tracie Washington got into trouble, and was ultimately dismissed, as Cap Metro's chief counsel for obstructionist tactics involving the release of public records. I couldn't find any evidence that Washington was involved in the decision to pay a local church $500,000 to build a transfer station and park-and-ride servicing a line that was scheduled to be discontinued, but she did her best to obstruct efforts to investigate the deal. She was dismissed after publicly calling an attorney investigating the deal a "son of a bitch." That was the final straw, not the sole cause. FWIW, I looked but couldn't find any record of a Statesman op-ed piece about a stereotype of white, male aggressiveness.

As I said, no working links. However, I can provide excerpts from Austin American Statesman articles with date and headlines. Too nice a day to sit inside doing that. Partially edited the first, with plans to post two or three paragraphs from seven or eight articles, but realized it would take all day. What follows is one partially edited article, one complete article, and two editorials.

Mar. 5, 1997:
Statesman sues to get records of Cap Metro; Newspaper seeks files on

The Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday sued Capital Metro, claiming the transit authority has broken state law by refusing requests for records detailing how the agency spends taxpayer money.

State District Judge Joseph Hart ordered Cap Metro to appear in court April 3 to explain why the records should not be made public.

The requested records range from the compensation package for General Manager Justin Augustine III to a computerized list of the checks that Capital Metro writes. Also requested was a computer database of employee payroll information, which is routinely given to the newspaper by other public agencies including the City of Austin and the State of Texas.

Some of the requests have been pending since September. State law requires any public agency to release information within a reasonable period after such requests, or to ask for an opinion from the Texas attorney general within 10 days.

The suit alleges that the transit authority did neither.
Augustine said he thought the agency had provided the information.

I think we've got a big misunderstanding over here,'' he said.

Since last Sept. 17, the newspaper has filed seven requests for information from the agency. The agency provided some information, but failed to provide a vast amount of what was requested, according to the lawsuit

The lawsuit came after other efforts by the newspaper to resolve the issue.

The most recent occurred Feb. 21, when another of the newspaper's lawyers, Jim Hemphill, sent a letter to Augustine and the Capital Metro board, listing the information that had not been released and asking again that it be released.

On Feb. 28, Capital Metro General Counsel Tracie Washington sent a letter to Hemphill saying that Irie Turner, the agency's contracts manager, who used to be in charge of public information requests, already had provided the information.

The lawsuit states that the information has not been provided. I apologize if you have not gotten the information,'' Washington said Tuesday, when told the American-Statesman had not been given the database and other documents. I don't know what's happened in the past. ... I have been responding.''

Some records provided

The American-Statesman is interested in details of the compensation offered to Augustine last summer when he was hired to head the agency. At the time, the information was not publicly divulged.

On Tuesday, after the lawsuit was filed, Washington said that the transit authority does not offer compensation packages as described by the newspaper in its request. Details of Augustine's salary and benefits, she said, are included in a contract. If the newspaper had worded its request to ask for a contract instead of the compensation package, Washington said the information would have been provided.

Capital Metro did send the newspaper a list of salaries for the agency's top 10 employees, but no information about other compensation. Augustine's salary was listed at $118,500.

In her letter Feb. 28 to Hemphill, Washington said a computer payroll database requested by the newspaper could not be produced because it contains confidential information, such as Social Security numbers. The agency, however, never asked the state attorney general's office for a ruling on whether the information could be withheld from the public.

Washington said Tuesday she will try to make the database available without the confidential information.

The agency also did not produce phone records, which the agency said Tuesday after the lawsuit was filed would cost more than $13,000 to produce, and a federal performance report requested by the newspaper.
Nancy Monson, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said information from public agencies is presumed to be public unless the agency proves otherwise.

If they never get back with you and never go to the attorney general, it is public information,'' she said. Then you've got a legal situation.''

Board chairman concurs

David A. Anderson, a University of Texas law professor who specializes in media law, said the information requested by the American-Statesman sounds like all public records to me.''

He said the public should care because there's a lot of public money in Capital Metro.'' The transit authority gets $88 million of its $118 million annual budget from a one-cent sales tax.
March 16, 1997
Bus agency spotty on openness; People seeking Cap Metro files

When Doug Killough asked Capital Metro in late January for all railroad -related expenditures,'' he expected to discover how the agency was spending taxpayer dollars to improve its rail line for light-rail transit.

Instead, he got nothing.

Even as Capital Metro was spending $500,000 to promote a light-rail demonstration last month, the transit agency's chief counsel, Tracie Washington, was writing Killough about the light-rail expenditures: In my opinion this is not railroad related, but transit related.''

Killough's experience is not an isolated incident, according to a survey of people who requested public records from the transit agency over the past year.

Capital Metro often releases routine information such as board minutes or provides documents to people either doing business or wanting to do business with the agency. Yet at times the agency delays the release of public information, particularly about its performance and how it spends tax dollars, or denies it has documents that it later is forced to release.

Capital Metro does this although state law entitles the public to such information in a reasonable time. If an agency considers the information confidential, it has 10 days to say it will appeal to the attorney general. If it doesn't, the information must be released to the public.

Among the cases in which there have been problems getting information from Capital Metro:

*On Jan. 20, attorney William Hubbarth sought personnel records, plus --policies dealing with employee discipline or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hubbarth is representing two people Capital Metro fired.

On Feb. 3, the agency told Hubbarth it had no discipline or disability policies. After a month of wrangling and threatening a lawsuit, Hubbarth said he finally got the records.

*Last summer, KVUE television reporter Treva Ladd, trying said. We're spending a gazillion dollars on breakdowns, and I got nothing.''

She read from her request: Radio room logs (i.e. driver's radio calls into Capital Metro dispatch) for January 1, 1995, to August 21, 1996.'

How much more specific can you get?'' Ladd asked.

*Twelve days ago, the Austin American-Statesman sued Capital Metro after the agency refused for months to provide public records information routinely disclosed by other public agencies, including the compensation package of General Manager Justin Augustine III. Tracie Washington, Capital Metro's chief counsel, said the newspaper should have asked for Augustine's employment contract, not his compensation package. A day after the lawsuit was filed, the agency released most of the records.

All of this comes as Capital Metro, which collects $88 million in sales taxes for its $118 million budget, is trying to move forward on light rail. Meanwhile, its critics are pressing for legislation to give voters a greater say over Capital Metro's taxes, leadership and the future of light rail.

Is this flap over public records just a misunderstanding, as Augustine suggested when the newspaper filed its lawsuit, or is the agency trying to stifle criticism by not releasing records?

Capital Metro officials won't say. Interviews with Augustine and Washington were requested on Tuesday. Washington, through the agency press office, agreed to a Friday interview, then canceled that morning.

Irie Turner, the agency's purchasing director, was in charge of requests for public records last year when the American-Statesman and KVUE did not get their records. Washington, who joined Capital Metro last fall as chief counsel, took over the assigment this year.

Since then, dialogue between the public and the agency has become shrill at times. Correspondence between Washington, Killough, Hubbarth, among others, refers to accusations, threats and irate phone calls.

Killough threatened to file a complaint with the attorney general. Hubbarth, after threatening to sue and file a complaint of official misconduct against Washington, got his records, including information from personnel files. Both said Washington was rude and confrontational on the phone.

She told me, We're doing things here differently now. I'm the big dog and you're going to have to deal with me,'' Hubbarth said.

Not everyone has had a problem getting public records from Capital Metro. The agency provided the names of 18 people and companiesto comment; and four couldnot be contacted.

David Wittie, a member of a local group of people with disabilities, said he had no problem getting minutes and a tape of a board meeting. Bertha Means, the owner of Austin Cab, said she was pleased with the response to her request for information on a program under which her company does business with Capital Metro.

Adstaff, a temporary services company, was given copies of Capital Metro's current contracts with temp agencies.

The state attorney general's office and the IRS reported no problem getting records. Neither did Bob Butler, a partner in a brick company,who said Capital Metro gave him copies of a rail freight contract. Butler was considering shipping freight on the agency's rail line but never did.

Fighting over records

Killough has followed Capital Metro since he and his partners lost a bidto operate a freight company along the rail line that Capital Metro manages and is likely to be the spine of any light-rail project.

Last fall, Killough and his partners requested a progress report by the winning bidder, Longhorn Railway. Killough said he wondered if taxpayer money was paying for improvements in the track that he believes Longhorn is responsible for.

As required by law, Capital Metro asked Longhorn Railway if the report included confidential company information.

At Longhorn's behest, Capital Metro asked the attorney general to keep the report confidential. The state lawyer dismissed Capital Metro's arguments that federal law prevented disclosure or that transit officials might be ensnarled in a lawsuit between Longhorn and one of Killough's partners. The attorney general ordered the report released with the names of Longhorn's customers blacked out.

Killough is objecting that Capital Metro blacked out too much information, including the names of investors instead of just customers.

As part of that dispute, Washington refused to disclose any railroadrelated expenditures.'' She contended the agency had not spent any of a $2.7 million budget item for railroads.

She also wrote that she could not interpret what could be considered railroad-related. Then she concluded that the money the agency is spending investigating the purchase of light-rail cars is not railroad-related, but transit-related.''

In her letter, Washington said she suggested further areas of inquiry and implied that Capital Metro did not have some of the information Killough was seeking.

He replied that agency officials said in news reports that the light-rail demonstration in February cost $500,000. There must be an accounting of these rail-related expenditures or Capital Metro could not have made such a claim,'' he wrote.

Killough is still seeking the information.

Despite his confict with Washington, Killough blames Augustine for a change in the agency's attitude toward public records. Until (former General Manager) Michael Bolton left, we had no problem. Once Justin Augustine took over, a veil came down.''

A lawyer's battle

Hubbarth said dealing with Capital Metro became worse after Washington took over open-records requests. She was belligerent,'' he said. Her attitude was If you don't like it, sue me,''' Hubbarth said.Hubbarth said.

Capital Metro didn't appeal Hubbarth's request to the attorney general's office, thus forfeiting its right to argue that the information should not be released.

It will be obvious to even you that more than 10 days has elapsed since my request was received,'' Hubbarth wrote Feb. 6. Therefore ... all the information that I have requested has now become public information, which I demand be provided ... immediately.''

Washington responded to Hubbarth's nasty and misinformed response,'' COMPLAINING that he continued to insist Capital Metro has retained from disclosure information we do not have and (personnel) information to which you are not entitled.''

She expressed frustration that Hubbarth refused Capital Metro's suggestions for resubmitting his request a different way. You perceive our actions to be obstructionist, where all we have attempted to do is assist you.''

About a month after Hubbarth's original request, Washington had her assistant send notice that the information was available.

I got 15 pounds of records -- no charge,'' said Hubbarth, who got the disciplinary and disability policies that Capital Metro at first said did not exist.

March 18, 1997
Cap Metro in the mirror
Capital Metro occupies a sort of looking-glass world, where everything is reversed:

* Openness is secrecy.

* Expedition is delay.

* Politeness is hostility.

* Documents that exist do not -- until the agency is forced to release them.

It is a world where the board of directors pursues a public vote on light rail by failing to ask for legislation to be written -- until a state lawmaker prepares to file his own proposals.

It is a world of the transit authority's own devising. If it does not break out of the looking-glass world into the real world with the rest of us, the agency will continue to be an unsuccessful money pit. Cap Metro is in danger of not only failing to gain the public trust but also of having its taxing authority curtailed and its plans to be a full-service agency derailed.

The lack of openness is especially galling, considering the promises of management to improve. As detailed in Sunday's American-Statesman news story by Laylan Copelin, Cap Metro may be willing to be open, but only selectively.

And the instances cited are not ancient history, but current events, under the regime of general manager Justin Augustine III. The article cited instances of hostile, defensive reaction by Cap Metro's chief counsel, Tracie Washington, to requests for public documents.

It is inexcusable to deny the agency has documents that later prove to exist, whether the denial springs from internal confusion or deliberate -- let us say -- lack of frankness.

Why should members of the public as well as the press have to threaten lawsuit -- or actually file suit, as the American-Statesman was forced to do -- to obtain documents that are unquestionably public information?

So sue me'' is not good public policy, not good public relations, not good period.

Cap Metro board members ought to demand that management begin to be as open as it claims it wants to be. No more misunderstandings.'' No more delaying tactics. No more semantical games. No more hostility to the people whose taxes pay the bills. No more -- let us say -- lack of frankness about whether documents exist.

State law is clear: If the agency thinks requested information is confidential, it has 10 days to say it will appeal to the attorney general. If it doesn't, the information must be released.

The bodies who appoint Cap Metro board members are beginning to notice Cap Metro's bad attitude. So are state lawmakers. It's time the board and management noticed, too.

May 10, 1997
Cap Metro turning point
Capital Metro General Manager Justin Augustine III should use the resignation of agency attorney Tracie Washington as an opportunity to educate his staff about its public mission.

For too long now, Capital Metro's board and staff have bristled at every question about the operation of its bus system. Under Washington's legal advice, the board and staff have arrogantly perpetuated a hostile attitude toward any and all who dare to question their authority, methods or ability.

Copping that same attitude with County Attorney Ken Oden, who has subpoena power and is investigating Capital Metro's unfortunate $500,000 investment in an unneeded park-and-ride lot, was a big mistake. Now that Washington has hied her antagonistic, obstructionist attitude elsewhere, Augustine should take advantage of the opportunity in several ways.

First, he must impress on the staff that they work for, are paid by and answer to the public. And not everyone with a request or a question opposes mass transit. In fact, most of the bus company's staunchest critics stand fast for mass transit. But the way Cap Metro relates to the taxpayers who pay for it has been incredibly stupid.

Second, he can look at the chief counsel position Washington has vacated as the place to begin to rebuild confidence in Capital Metro. The new chief counsel should be someone who understands the value of cooperation over confrontation, openness over obstruction and the desperate need for the bus company to invest in positive public relations with the community that it serves with taxpayer money.

Capital Metro has persisted in its blind obstructionism beyond good sense. Even as Washington refused to cooperate with Oden's investigation and called him a son of a bitch'' in front of his own investigator,the state Legislature is sitting on bills that would radically change Capital Metro.

Austin taxpayers are awe-struck watching Cap Metro self-destruct, wondering just how far it can sink. Legislators, holding bills to change its funding, change its structure and put the light-rail system to a public vote, must be amazed at the bus company's penchant for immolation.

Augustine and the Cap Metro board must accept this latest debacle as a turning point. Cap Metro will never recover if it persists in indulging the bunker mentality that has brought it to such low regard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

“I can go out and champion against everyone and be unemployed"

WWL did a report on the pathetic state of the city's playgrounds, informing us that the city has spent less than $3 million of the $16 million that FEMA has obligated for playground repairs. There was the usual back-and-forth about whether FEMA or the city is more responsible for that state of affairs -- I'm in no position to judge. The usual pathetic excuse about staff shortages, even though the mayor's personal P.R. budget gets bigger every year -- I'll return to that in my next post. However, the report contained one real eye-opener:
Barabino says his job is to handle NORD programming. He says 10,000 residents are taking part in NORD activities a month, but says that when it comes to facilities, he can only push his boss, Mayor Ray Nagin, so far.

“I can go out and champion against everyone and be unemployed. I have a family. I love doing what I'm doing. For me to go against my superior or employer, where will that leave me?” Barabino asks. “I've sat with Mayor Nagin and expressed my concerns,” he says.*

What is he afraid of?

I believe that it's customary for department heads to be unclassified, at-will employees. However, I have to ask, is it really a good idea for all upper-level NOPL employees to be at-will?

*video link

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Oops, sorry for the mindfart.

I did a fair amount of thinking out loud in last week's post on electronic monitoring, but I never got around to adding a clarification at the end. TSAP's listing on the state's corporate data base is vague enough to pique any amateur detective's curiosity, but I can't find enough campaign contributions from either TSAP, or the obviously related Sunex Holding Company, to make allegations of influence peddling.

Still, the history of the home monitoring program leads to some obvious questions. Since TSAP was the second highest scoring bidder when the original contracts were awarded, why wasn't CBC's contract rebid when the mayor decided that it wasn't performing well enough? TSAP's website now says:
GPS is essentially the same as having an officer trail an offender (charged or alleged). The benefits are cost savings for the city and accuracy.

However, I doubt it could have made that claim when it took over CBC's contract:
Since September, the company has staffed its office overnight as well as during the day, ensuring authorities can be quickly alerted about violations, said William Welch, chief executive officer of TSAP. link

Shouldn't the city have tried to find a company with overnight staffing in the first place? Again, I'm not alleging wrong doing on the part of the home monitoring company, just carelessness on the part of the Nagin administration. I guess the mayor had more important things to worry about in 2007.

Still, I did notice Sunex in the list of people or businesses who have contributed to Nagin since his re-election. I believe the amount listed is a little low, but I still don't find signs of Sunex or TSAP throwing significant amounts of money around. However, the mayor moved into a glass house when he finished the 2006 mayoral election with an ad blitz about his opponent's successful fund raising. It's entirely kosher to comment when any company or individual that's given money to the mayor, especially since his re-election, receives a city contract. Ya heard me, Greg Rigamer? I would even say the same thing about people or businesses that are paid money out of Nagin's campaign war chest. Ya heard me, Silas Lee? It really is terrible the way the local media always consult Nagin haters for expert analysis.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I know they bring excitement to the teaching profession

But, I think this Teach for America employee got a little too excited:
MARRERO, La. – A teacher at Higgins High School has been arrested by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputies for obscenity after three students claimed they saw the teacher masturbating alone, inside a classroom, according to JP spokesman Col. John Fortunato.

Joey Lehrman, 22, New Orleans, was arrested for obscenity. He admitted, according to police, to unbuckling his pants and rubbing lotion on his lower stomach, adding he did this because of a medical condition. Lehrman also said he rubbed lotion on his genitalia, police said.

Lehrman, according to police, has been teaching at Higgins since 2008 and had no prior record. School officials said that Lehrman was an employee of Teach for America, not an employee of JP public schools.

JP school officials said they have suspended Lehrman without pay.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An error message would be nice

I left a comment on WWL's website that was indecipherably cryptic, because the website didn't accept html. It accepted the comment, but without the link I assumed would be included. Just as well, because it was late and I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, I misunderstood something in Katie Moore's report:
Mayor Ray Nagin awarded the initial, $3 million contract in 2005 to Burnell Moliere, a man who had no experience in corrections, but ran a janitorial company.

He's now awaiting federal sentencing after pleading guilty to helping to conceal a school board bribery scheme.

TSAP C.E.O. Bill Welch took over Moliere's contract the following year.

I somehow took that mean to that Moliere ran TSAP before Welch took over operation of the company. So, I commented:
So let me get this straight, Burnell Moliere was the owner of TSAP when it was getting victimized in favor of a company owned by Moliere, Jimmie Woods and Ray Valdes?

A meaningless comment without the link, an incorrect one with the link. The mistake was entirely my own, but I do think that Moore should have said:
Mayor Ray Nagin awarded the initial, $3 million contract in 2005 to CBC, a company owned by the talented trio of (the ubiquitous) Jimmie Woods, Ray Vlades and Burnell Moliere, a man who had no experience in corrections, but ran a janitorial company.

I stopped work a blog post on the nefarious goings-on in the city's electronic monitoring process when it finally occurred to my sleep-deprived brain that I had misunderstood Moore's report, but not before blogger autopilot led to the Louisiana Secretary of State's corporate database. Now, I'm aware that when bloggers play internet detective and get all exited because they've found a smoking gun, it usually turns out to be a cap gun, but I did find an interesting coincidence. The CBC's filing lists the address as 2601 TULANE AVE., STE. 615, NEW ORLEANS, LA 70119. TSAP's address:: 2601 TULANE AVE., 6TH FLOOR, NEW ORLEANS, LA 70119-0000. Since TSAP's listing is for a trade name rather than a business and doesn't list any members or agents, I looked up William Welch. He has another listing on the sixth floor of 2601 Tulane Ave. I have no idea whether that has any significance, but I thought I'd share it.

Also, I couldn't help but notice the CBC's filing lists Rafael Valdes as agent, manager and member. When CBC was awarded the monitoring contract four years ago, Charles and Burnell Moliere both said that Valdes was no longer connected to the company. WDSU still uses Rice as a political analyst to comment on stories about the Nagin administration; I wonder if WDSU will employ him as an impartial analyst of the electronic monitoring contracts.

WWL and the Picayune have both done a fair amount of reporting on the electronic monitoring system, but I think I notice a minor contradiction, and I am left with an important question. WWL reports that "TSAP took over all electronic monitoring for all Orleans Parish courts in 2006," but the Picayune reports that:
The last time New Orleans officials sought bids for electronic monitoring for criminal defendants, a politically connected company wound up with a big piece of the action.

But Community Based Corrections LLC was let go in December 2007, when city officials decided the company was being outperformed by competitor Total Sentencing Alternatives Program, or TSAP.

I don't really care about slightly different reporting from two different sources, however it appears that that the mayor decided to award CBC's contract to TSAP without seeking new bids. Either date was well before this:
The company also upgraded its software to allow for real-time tracking of defendants.

Since September, the company has staffed its office overnight as well as during the day, ensuring authorities can be quickly alerted about violations, said William Welch, chief executive officer of TSAP.

Didn't the mayor think it would be a good idea to solicit bids from firms that could actually monitor prisoners at night.

A Great Mayor Before Katrina

A pre-Katrina Stephanie Grace column

Sure, we’re watching; Nagin asked for it
Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA) - Thursday, May 12, 2005
Author: Stephanie Grace

"Contracts!" Mayor Ray Nagin, said, his voice filled with carefully scripted indignation.

Why is the media so fixated on examining the contracts that Nagin has let during his first three years in office, the mayor demanded during his Monday night State of the City address?

Here’s one answer: Because he asked for it.

He asked for it by running for mayor in the first place, knowing full well that his operations would be subject to public scrutiny. He knows, too, that citizens who’ve been forced to pony up for too many abuses in the past are keeping a close eye.

He asked for it when he declared himself a reformer, promising in his 2002 inaugural address to oversee a government that is "transparent and accountable," in which "contracts are awarded based on what you can do, not who you know."

And he practically begged for it when he signed on to a controversial campaign-season plan offered by the non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research. That plan was aimed at taking the politics and patronage out of professional service contracting by creating independent selection committees to evaluate bids. Nagin later changed his commitment, offering a revised plan that put the mayor back into the process, allowing him to select contractors from an independent committee’s pre-screened list.

Three years later, he still has not enacted either alternative.

But still, any comprehensive look at the subject has to acknowledge that Nagin has done better than the preceding administration.

He hasn’t entered into any deals that would tie future mayors’ hands or seem likely to attract the scrutiny of the feds, such as former mayor Marc Morial’s stinker of an energy savings contract with Johnson Controls, which was slated to run 20 years at a cost of $81 million.

His relatives haven’t been able to cash in on city deals, although his brother-in-law tried to nose his way into Morial uncle Glenn Haydel’s lucrative management arrangement at the Regional Transit Authority. That contract is also under federal investigation. In fact, Nagin himself put a quick stop to the brother-in-law’s involvement.

Airport legal fees, once a rich pot of patronage for Morial’s inner circle, are down by half. And another sweetheart Morial-era deal, a property tax collection contract with Linebarger Goggan Blair Sampson, has been rebid under terms more favorable to the city.

For all that, Nagin deserves a round of applause.

But that doesn’t mean contracting has become a non-issue.

As a businessman politician who promised to watch the bottom line, Nagin has cut some deals that are clearly problematic.

A no-bid contract for new trash cans, with a company that once acknowledged ties to Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice’s brother, carried worse terms than similar deals in other cities. The administration all but admitted as much when it belatedly decided to ask for new proposals to sell ad space on the trash cans’ sides.

The city also chose the third-ranked bidder, the politically connected Community Based Corrections , to create a home monitoring program for municipal offenders, even though the group has no experience in the field.

And Nagin hasn’t attempted to improve the wasteful insurance arrangement he inherited, a cumbersome process that employs large committees of brokers, each of whom gets a cut of city business.

And then there’s that never-enacted BGR pledge.

During Monday’s address, Nagin finally announced how he plans to reform professional service contracting. He said he’d include a nominee from either the Urban League or the Chamber of Commerce in each screening committee, along with two staff members. That’s far short of what he promised back during his first campaign.

The mayor may have his reasons. Some of his aides have long complained that agreeing to BGR’s terms would make the mayor less accountable by taking key decisions out of his hands. But he’s never come out and argued the point.

He’s apparently too busy feeling victimized for being held to the high standards that he set for himself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Not quite a Jeff Sadow imitation*

I hate for my first post in ten days to be little more than a collection of links to earlier posts, but I saw Lee Zurik's report on the Old Gentilly Landfill and remembered that I had written about it a few times myself:

Nov. 14, 2007:
The following will appear somewhere in tomorrow's Picayune:
In 2001, Stumpf and Woods formed a joint venture and submitted the only proposal to operate the new facility. In the final days of the Morial administration in early 2002, they signed a deal under which -- provided the landfill received a state permit -- they would keep 97 percent of the proceeds, with the city getting the other 3 percent.

The Nagin administration also engaged in some convoluted reasoning to defend the landfill's operation:
(yet another)Nagin spokesman David Robinson-Morris said it's the city's position that the landfill "was never technically 'closed.' "

The argument apparently rests on the fact that the landfill was ordered closed -- and stopped accepting trash as a result -- but had not completed the closure process required by the state, which involved placing a layer of clay atop it. During the 1990s, New Orleans voters approved a bond issue that in part was to pay for the clay cap, but the work was never finished.

But for the purposes of zoning, city law offers definitions of "open" and "closed" that have nothing to do with state environmental law.
Times Picayune

Also worth remembering, Cynthia Willard-Lewis was a forceful advocate for the New Orleans East Vietnamese Community's demand that an eastern New Orleans landfill be closed. But that was the Chef Menteur Landfill, owned by Waste Management, not the Old Gentilly Landfill, owned by AMID/Metro.

May 25, 2007:
If you turned on a New Orleans television channel, you almost certainly saw a commercial in which Nagin said to ask yourself why his opponent's campaign contributors were giving him (Landrieu) money. With that in mind, I looked at the list of Nagin donors (sorry, can't find a working link) and saw names like AMID Landfill, AMID/Metro Partnerships, Metro Disposal and Durr Construction. In addition to Metro's "very lucrative" (Nagin's term) garbage collection contract, all four of those firms have an interest in the Old Gentilly Landfill that appeared in today's Picayune
The "yet another," before Nagin spokesman, didn't appear in the Picayune. Another item that didn't appear in the Picayune was the fact that Durr, in addition to being a partner in AMID Landfill, had the contract for the clay cap.

I have no idea which side is correct about the legal issues, but I do know that the Nagin administration has shown questionable judgement about the operation of another city landfill -- judgement so questionable that it was featured on the NBC News segment "The Fleecing of America." In the interest of transparency, and to avoid another embarrassment, it might be a good idea to demand a garbage dump document dump.

I can only hope that a facetious prediction I made in Nov. 2006 doesn't come to pass.

You may also remember the Old Gentilly Landfill from the infamous counter letter in the Pampy Barre case. I really do need to finish that post about Julie Quinn, but it's difficult to find the words to express how grateful I am that she prevented commerce in Louisiana from being destroyed overnight. I don't think that most people realize there wouldn't being a single business left in the state if she hadn't blocked a piece of legislation last year.

*Finally, Sadow tends to link to his own posts in a manner that most would find objectionable, especially coming from a professor. It's an entirely acceptable practice for a blogger to refer back to his previously expressed opinions; it's an entirely different to link back to your own posts when you're using a link as a corroborating footnote. As an example, most bloggers and readers would find it perfectly acceptable for me to refer to "my previously expressed opinion" of Mayor Nagin. If I had learned to blog from reading Sadow, I'd refer to a mayor who refuses to even explain his decisions. In Sadow's case, if you try to follow the links, you find more references to Sadow's previously expressed opinions without any corroborating links. For example, try finding anything in the last post mentioned that lends any credence to Sadow's assertion about Ater's desire to become head of the state Democratic Party. He's actually three-for-three in the second paragraph of that post. Maybe Sadow's just stuck on himself.

Monday, March 02, 2009

O.K., now let's see your fastball.

About a month go, I basically acknowledged that it was softball question when I asked:
How can SDT provide private collection so much more cheaply than any of the firms provide public collection?

Speculating about a possible reason, I wrote:
The private collection would be for buildings with five or more units, so there might be some economies of scale, but $10 per unit (per month) less than Richards charges the city? The private collection wouldn't necessarily be semiautomated, so there might be some savings from using manual collection, but yesterday's Picayune featured a relevant article about the cost of semiautomated garbage collection in Kenner.

In today's Picayune, Michelle Krupa asks the same question and provides a similar answer:
Still, why does SDT charge the city at least $6.75 more per unit each month than it charges private customers for the same services? Torres said it boils down to volume and frequency.

"A lot of people who have five-plexes and six-plexes, a lot of times they don't produce the garbage compared with a large family," he said.

Unlike with the blanket city contracts, SDT negotiates with individual property owners, often charging for fewer units or for less frequent service than the city requires, Torres said.

However, I've also asked a much tougher question:
Why is garbage collection cheaper with $115 a barrel oil than with $60 a barrel oil?
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.
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 can guess why Stacy Head doesn't ask that particular question -- she gets into a tiff with the owner of MCCI and gets accused of racism. Instead of singling out a single businessman, she might think it prudent to question the overall cost of garbage collection in New Orleans compared to Jefferson Parish. Unfortunately, the mayor can plausibly call that an "apples to oranges" comparison. So, why don't any reporters at the Picayune, or any of the city's weekly papers, ask the "apples to apples" question?

It's not chump change, BTW. Richards' collection area covers 60,000 households. If it charged the city the same price that if offered Jefferson Parish, it would save the city almost three million dollars a year.

Just to be clear: Richards offered Jefferson a unit price of $17.90 for semi-automated service, the same service that it charges New Oleans $22 for. It offered a lower price for manual.

*Sometimes spelled Richard's. If you use the Louisiana Library Database to look up old articles, you find different Times Picayune articles for each spelling.

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
  • BayouBias.com
  • 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