Saturday, September 23, 2006

Reading and Googling: Antinomianism* in New Orleans?

From yesterday's Times Picayune:
Ratified the reappointments of David White and David Campbell to the Aviation Board. White is one of Nagin's closest friends and advisers. Campbell, who represents Kenner on the board, had resigned to run for a Kenner City Council seat early this year.

I don't have the inside information to judge whether Nagin really cleaned up the patronage and corruption at the airport. Although it does seem that the credit he gets for cutting airport legal fees might be somewhat overblown, things certainly seem to have improved since the Morial administration.

However, it did bother me that the city council voted to reappoint Nagin's campaign manager (I mean close friend) to a board that does control so much patronage. This is, after all, the successfull businessman who either lied to the press and broke campaign laws or took weeks to count five thousand dollars.

You might not be aware of what a major player the aviation board has been in the local real estate market, but, because of expansion and noise issues, the airport bought out hundreds of Kenner homeowners in the early nineties. Airport expansion or relocation hasn't been discussed much since Katrina, but it's a safe bet that it will be before White's five year term expires. Since, as Dambala has pointed out, the mayor and David White have formed a real estate investment company, the potential conflict of interest is obvious. Most people don't seem to find it troubling that the real estate developer/mayor is spending the city's Benjamins to fly all over the country urging people to buy New Orleans dirt, probably because they assume he's just promoting the city. Now his business partner is reappointed to the aviation board; I suppose that to the pure, all things are pure. Steven Sabludowsky seems to think so (another h/t to the angry zombie).

Until I googled it, I had forgotten that the head of the aviation board was none other than Dan Packer. Nothing wrong with that, board members tend to be local business and civic leaders. However, I had no idea that, in addition to being Nagin's choice to head the aviation board, Packer was also co-chair of Nagin's 2002 transition team.

As I said, to the pure all things are pure, but this seems just a little too insular. The mayor's appointed both his business partner and the head of Entergy New Orleans to his Bring New Orleans Back Commission and to the most important (arguably) of the city's municipal boards. In addition to that, one was his campaign manager and one was the co-chair of his first transition team. Just bear it in mind.

Another thing to bear in mind, the mayor's inner circle has always been heavily comprised of former executives of the very monopolies that the city regulates, CAO's Brenda Hatfield and Charles Rice come to mind, one could argue that Dan Packer belongs in that number. I've often wondered what exactly the city was getting for the millions it's spending on consultants' fees in its negotiations with Entergy. Whenever I read or listen to an interview with one the consultants involved, I have trouble deciding whether they're representing the city or the utility. But that's an admittedly subjective opinion. I'm sure they consider the people of New Orleans their clients, not the former utility executives they deal with directly.

Update: The above was mostly written late last night. Today's paper has an item about Sullivan & Worcester hiring a PR firm in response to the two Lee Zurik reports (linked above) about the fees it's collected from the city.

The paper also reports that one of the city's consultants has found that Entergy has been overbilling its customers and that they're entitled to a decrease in rates. Because of that, the consultants recommend a smaller increase than the one that Entergy is requesting. Glad we're getting our money's worth.

*Okay, a little pretentious, but why should Republicans have all the fun? You might remember William F. Buckley types leveling the charge against Clinton and his supporters in the nineties.

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