Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Journalistic Malpractice

3/30/07: If the anonymous commenter (the fifth comment) is correct, the contract is even worse than I thought.

Disclaimer: I'm feeling a little under the weather, so what follows may be somewhat disjointed and I may need to come back and supply some links at a future date, but I think it's important that all the facts about Veronica White's Sanitation Department be remembered. I should say, all the readily available facts about the Sanitation Department. On the plus side, I'm not feeling up to linking to pictures of monkeys covering their eyes and ears every time I type "Time Picayune."

Ralph Lupin was tactless to call Veronica White a bitch, but the local press has been so inept in its coverage of her Sanitation Department that it can be said to be guilty of journalistic malpractice. I know that the Picayune did some commendable reporting on the sanitation contracts, but even then it omitted some key points and dropped the story once the contracts were approved. I shouldn't say that the local media dropped the story, it merely forgot about costs and secrecy -- it never seemed to notice political connections and campaign contributions -- and started reporting on the fact that the French Quarter was clean. That was all that we heard on the subject until Ralph Lupin called Veronica White a bitch. The sad thing is, had he called her a liar and a crook instead of a bitch, neither Nagin or White would want to keep the subject alive.

With so many French Quarter residents saying that White lied, and the Nagin administration pushing for a French Quarter taxing district, I think that any demands that Lupin apologize for calling White a liar would have been half-hearted.

If the local media paid more attention to the Sanitation Department, Lupin would have known to call White a crook rather than a bitch. More likely, we wouldn't have the sanitation contracts that led to the incident in the first place. A brief review will explain.

The Nagin administration, with Charles Rice as CAO, hired Veronica White as sanitation director in late 2003. About a year later, the city signed a $450K no-bid contract to purchase new garbage cans that other firms offered to provide for free. Not only did the contract go to a firm with close ties to Charles Rice, the city lied about the reasons for awarding the contract:
Nagin's chief administrative officer, Charles Rice, defended the city's decision to buy the cans, saying among other things that bidding would have been unfair to Niche, which he said submitted to the city the idea of advertising on cans.

But one of the three companies that said it would have provided the cans for free, Verres Media, submitted a proposal about two years ago that mentioned its ability to provide cans with advertising.

To be fair, it's unclear what, if any, role White had in that deal. However, there's no doubt about her part in a later deal with Charles Rice:
The day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Mayor Ray Nagin signed a contract potentially worth tens of millions of dollars with Omni Pinnacle of Slidell.

Omni's offer wasn't the cheapest of the six offers the city received. But the city didn't have to pick the low bidder, an experienced firm, because the job was considered a professional service rather than a finite task.

City sanitation director Veronica White, who oversaw the selection process, was hired into her city post by Rice. Rice, meanwhile, has turned up on Omni's payroll in his new position as a lawyer. Omni has also been represented in contract talks with the city and the Army Corps of Engineers by Rice's brother, Terrence Rice, according to a corps official.

It was also White's Sanitation Department that informed Chris Rose that the city's garbage cans were no longer on the street because they were being "cleaned and serviced." In a vacuum, such a "dog-ate-my-homework" story might have been belonged in the living section, under the circumstances it showed questionable journalistic judgement at best.

The local press corps definitely came to close to malpractice when it didn't even question Veronica's White's July announcement that city was purchasing 500 new garbage cans. This was a year and a half after the purchase of bombproof garbage cans and less than four months after we were told that the old cans were being "cleaned and serviced," yet nobody questioned the announcement. I couldn't find any mention of the contract on the city's website and I wasn't about to request a day off of work to play citizen journalist filling out FOIA requests, but it's inexcusable that the paper didn't ask about the terms of the purchase.

When the garbage contracts were proposed, the Picayune did a good job of reporting on the secrecy and wastefulness, but it failed to mention the Sanitation Department's history of questionable contracts. To the best of my knowledge, it never mentioned the fact that the two biggest contracts went to Nagin campaign donors. Since Nagin made an issue of campaign contributions in the mayor's race, I find the omission perplexing. As I've said before, not only did Richards Disposal and Metro Disposal contribute to the Nagin campaign, their owners and affiliated companies also did. It also failed to mention that Jimmie Woods of Metro Disposal is, or was, a business partner of a Nagin business associate:
One of the most confusing questions in New Orleans politics in this past week has dealt with who City Hall insider and Morial confidant Roy Rodney is supporting for mayor. Rumors some weeks ago implied that Rodney would back Councilman Troy Carter as his friend and ally Ira Middleberg had.

In fact, a rumor campaign to that effect circulated around the city. Even the entry of Rodney's business partner Ray Nagin into the race did little to quell the idea that the Morial insider planned to team up with Carter.
As strong as a political position as L.I.F.E. continues to hold in the Crescent City, there is an attitude held by many of the candidates this season that a strong connection to the Mayor is the political kiss of death, considering the reform attitude that prevails in the city today. One can observe this displayed in the lengths that the Pennington camp goes to separate itself from Mayor Morial and show the Chief's independence.

One source says that Rodney does indeed support his friend and business partner Ray Nagin, but one can never tell in the somewhat Byzantine atmosphere that has descended upon this year's fractured election.

Just for the record, any implication or statement that this column might have made to connect Roy Rodney to Troy Carter is inaccurate, and we retract it.

Like I said, I'm a little under the weather, but too little attention was paid to the fact that Nagin waited until September to reveal any details of the sanitation contracts when he apparently had begun planning them by May (scroll down to "Nagin outlines 100 day"):
At a news conference Sunday, Nagin further said he will spearhead an aggressive effort to get trash off city streets. He said his administration will seek new proposals for a garbage collection contract that would divide the city into three zones to expedite clean-up.

He was being secretive even as he promised transparency.

Additional Questions: Would Nagin be happy with an apology from Ralph Lupin if members of the Vieux Carre Commission were nominated by the governor and approved by the legislature? Does his insistence on Lupin's removal have anything to do with the fact that the mayor nominates VCC members with the council's approval? Remember, the council rubber-stamped his renomination of business partner David White to the aviation board. For that matter, should the mayor be nominationg members of boards that any have regulatory power over, or dealings in, any part of the local real estate market until he divulges all the details of his real estate venture? One final question, wasn't it a conflict of interest for him to re-appoint David White to the aviation board? In most cities, that last question would be considered a rhetorical one.

I've seen pitchers throw some of their best stuff when they've felt sick. I consider this one of your best posts, even though you're "under the weather".

This is expertly laid out, especially for those of us who had forgotten elements of the story.

Kudos on a great post... now get better!
Thank you both. I would have waited if didn't think that our fund-raising, real estate investing mayor was capitalizing on the situation to make a power play. If we don't slam back we deserve whatever we get. See the hypothetical question that I'm about to add to the end of the post.
Great post. I'm going about the post...
great post. here are a few more questions: what qualifies ms white to be sanitation director? what's her experience in this field?
Also: no one noticed the fact that the city is paying 8.9 million for the SDT contract; BUT the contract calls for private collection of any building with more than 3 residential units. If this were to be enforced, it would eliminate about 70% of the buildings in the French Quarter from receiving garbage pickup. According to the contract, also all commercial businesses are supposed to contract out for private pickup. No one to date has actually said that this was going to happen. Ms White has in the past stated that multi-unit bldgs have never gotten pickup and that this has been a law forever (of course she is completely wrong on this).
While SDT is indeed doing a great job, lets not forget the amount of their contract, any company being paid that much should indeed be doing a great job.
White is telling another lie if she says there never was rediential pickup for buildings with more than three units, that's a bald-faced lie.

I think you might be might be slightly off about the commercial businesses. I noticed that SDT's website gives the collection times for residential units and small businesses, I remember wondering about the definion of small businesses. That's not to say that collection for small businesses won't be stopped at some future date -- somebody really needs to make the details of all three contracts public. And if the city signed a contract requiring all buildings with more than three units to contract out for private collection, we really got hosed.
Sounds like a crazy white boy shooting off his mouth. One who is so angry that black man, his ancestor, is making and doing good things. The more knowledge a black man attains the angrier a white man becomes. He (white man) is afraid of the strength, interigity and widsom that his ancestors (black man) has. Sit down, shut up and just pray. Pray that God allows you to learn from Nagin. Pray that God allows you to oneday have the intestial fortitude that Nagin has.
I shouldn't even bother responding, but Nagin made a campaign issue out of the city doing business with campaign donors. Or should we only ask ourselves why those companies give money to candidates (Nagin's suggestion) when they give money to white candidates?

Just curious why you assume the source of my anger is racial. The city laid off half of its work force. I was one of the laid-off employees. Since I first saw the lines for the permits office when I went to make my COBRA payments, I wondered what the city's spending priorities were. Now you might want to make the argument that I'm holding a personal grudge over the layoffs, but you'd be wrong. The city government is still understaffed in many vital areas including electrical inspectors, yet the city agreed to sanitation contracts that more than doubled its garbage collection bill for seven years. Why do you assume it would be racism that would make a victim of budget cuts angry about that? Prithee, share the wisdom of my ancestors with me.
Great article.

I would not have answered the comment from "black new orleans female." This was an apparent attempt to shuffle race card to cover up the truth.

Corruption is corruption... incompetence is incompetence, regardless of the race, sex, color, or creed of the individual perpetrating the offense.

Trust me, there are just as many African-American racists as there are Caucasion racists... in some instances, more. Ms. "black new orleans female" goes to prove that point.
I wonder if the TP didn't give the story full scrutiny because of a commonality of interest with Nagin, an interest in making New Orleanians buy digital cable to know what's coming on TV. Why else would New Orleans be the only city I know of with no weekly TV listings in the Sunday paper AND no TV Guide Channel?
Veronica White has a serious attitude problem. If anyone watched the tapes, or sat in those meetings, Veronica White clearly states that everything is in those binders. It is recorded in history for anyone to see. Anyone can see that Veronica White is not competent or educated enough to hold this job. And the Mayor keeps her on payroll, he is allowing his chocolate city to MELT.
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