Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Must Be Misreading This

Today's Washington Post reports:
Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

The article also states that:
The first concrete program officials announced in October 2005 -- a $66 million contract to a consortium of 10 faith-based and charity groups to provide social services to displaced families -- so far has assisted less than half the 100,000 victims it promised to help, the project director said.

The group, led by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has spent $30 million of the money it was given to aid about 45,000 evacuees. Senate investigators are questioning some terms in the contract proposal, including a provision to pay consultants for 450 days to train volunteers for the work the committee was paid to do.

I don't believe that one faith-based group has administered three quarters of the aid that's actually been spent, but it's still troubling. I understand that the U.S. government isn't used to receiving foreign aid and might have trouble administering the aid that it received. However, the Bush administration didn't seem to have trouble funneling the aid that it did accept to its political allies. Yes, I'm assuming that the faith-based groups that receive Bush administration money tend to be composed of politically active conservative churches. I have no problem with religious leaders being involved in either local or national politics, I do have a problem with religious leaders having any involvement with the spending of government money at either the national or local level. At any rate, the American press occasionally runs stories about American aid to poor Islamic countries getting funneled to fundamentalist Islamic groups with ties to the governments of those countries. I wonder if we'll see similar stories in newspapers in Islamic countries..

There was another item that might or might not be related to political connections:
In another instance, the Department of Homeland Security accepted an offer from Greece on Sept. 3, 2005, to dispatch two cruise ships that could be used free as hotels or hospitals for displaced residents. The deal was rescinded Sept. 15 after it became clear a ship would not arrive before Oct. 10. The U.S. eventually paid $249 million to use Carnival Cruise Lines vessels.

Maybe the Greek ships just don't got the fun. To be fair, I should include one more link.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Garbage

I've been too busy to do the one final post on the city's sanitation department and garbage collection contracts; I'll have to do it piecemeal over a few posts. Apologies to anyone who's suffering from garbage cart fatigue, but it has been back in the news this week. More importantly, the activities of the Sanitation Department, and the coverage of those dealings, are the clearest example I know of a not so subtle change that's occurred over the last twenty months. After Katrina, there was widespread agreement that we could never go back to the old way of doing things. Now there seems to be tacit agreement that we can never admit that we've gone rushing right back to the same exact old way of doing things. More on this will follow, but everything in this post was a matter of public record, hiding in plain sight.

Yesterday morning as I listened to Tommy Tucker's idiotically repetitive questioning of why "French Quarter residents couldn't just give the cans a chance,"I was struck by the fact that nobody points out the fact that it's entirely the mayor's fault that we're having such a heated discussion now; there should have bee plenty of time for a calm, reasonable discussion either last Summer or this Spring.

I've brought this up before, but I guess I need to draw a map. In late May, when the mayor made his 100 day proposal, he mentioned his plans to divide the city into three garbage collection zones. That seemed innocuous enough at the time, but it now seems clear that he already had at least part of his garbage collection plan in mind. So why did the administration wait another four months to begin to divulge any outlines of the new sanitation plan and much longer to discuss the actual details? Couldn't have been intended to let Veronica White inform the city council that it had no choice but to approve the new contracts, could it?

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Absolute Stupidest Link I've Ever Seen in My Life

I was looking for information on who BOLD endorses in the upcoming election when I came across the following in the wikipedia entry for Karen Carter:
Carter is a political protégé of Jim Singleton, a former city councilman and the leader of the powerful BOLD political organization.

The second stupidest:
'What do you need that will better prepare you for this?'" Nagin told the Tulanian. "I looked around and saw the executive MBA program as being a great way for me to add a couple of tools to my toolbox. It's been invaluable."
( Ray Nagin article.)

I usually find it amusing when some writers are so link-happy that they feel the need to define words like "toolbox," But the "BOLD" link was truly amazing.

Oh, since Nagin's given me the excuse, I guess I'll do one more garbage post and spell out the implications of the last post. That will need to wait. And Veronica White is a lying bitch:
But White rejected his suggestion that French Quarter organizations be given a role in ruling on exemption requests. "We've done it their way for decades, and it wasn't working," she said. "It's time to do it a different way. We need to have a cleaner city."

I only lived in the quarter for two years, but I worked down for two decades -- I could even do the misleading trick of saying parts of three decades -- I can only recall once seeing residential garbage disposal in bags cause a problem. That was also the only time that I ever saw French quarter street flooding reach the sidewalks.

Reading that last linked article, I'm starting to think of Fielkow as the Joe Lieberman of the city council. To ease his conscience, he expresses serious reservations about the mayor's proposals, and then votes for them anyway. To some degree that's true of the entire council. Except Carter, he doesn't even raise objections on behalf of his constituents. Rumor has it that he's a busy man.

Duh, Update: So obvious that I can't believe I missed it. Ms. White insists that the old way wasn't working. Yet we've been hearing about how clean the French Quarter has been for weeks. We haven't changed to the carts yet.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not Exactly a Contradiction

A recent article about garbage collection:
Other complaints owed to residents not realizing they have to call their contractor to schedule pickup of bulky items, such as furniture and tires, she said. Without an appointment, collectors will leave the debris at the curb.

An October article:
At least two major companies that sent representatives to that meeting said it was not their lack of interest but the city's impossibly demanding specifications that held them at bay, raising some questions about whether the winners will be able to live up to the contract terms.

In an Aug. 23 letter to White, Roddie Matherne, general manager of Houma-based SWDI, wrote: "Because of the onerous requirements in the specifications, we have decided against submitting a bid at this time. If the city decides to revise the bid specs to something more predictable, we would be happy to have an opportunity to . . . possibly submit a bid at a later date."

Matherne said last week that his company's concern lay predominantly in the requirement that the contractor collect unlimited amounts of bulky waste, a task that could get expensive if residents heap tires at the curb or if the Army Corps of Engineers quits collecting storm-related debris, as the agency is expected to do citywide by Jan. 1.

In the same October article:
But White said the contracts with Richard's and Metro offer far better trash-hauling services and are much improved over the city's deal with Waste Management, a contract she labeled "riddled with limitations."

Under the new contracts, she said, residents will get their money's worth in the collection of an unlimited amount of garbage and bulky items, including large appliances.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Money Well Spent

Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up politics:

From this week's Gambit
Nagin Backer Owes $8,400 in Ethics Fines
A member of the Sewerage & Water Board who raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for Mayor Ray Nagin's re-election campaign last year has failed to pay $8,400 in fines for filing tardy campaign finance reports, according to the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Rev. Benjamin Edwards Sr. , a S&WB member and Ninth Ward minister, formed a political action committee in his own name then raised and spent $269,250 on Nagin's re-election campaign during a two-month period, beginning in March 2006, records show. But the Edwards PAC failed to file reports in a timely manner as required by state campaign finance disclosure laws, thereby depriving voters of information on contributions and expenditures for the mayor's campaign, according to ethics board attorney Alesia Ardoin. Edwards' PAC filed three reports for the April 2006 primary, but they were late by 21 days, 41 days and 61 days respectively. The reports detail the spending of thousands of dollars on campaign billboards, hotel rooms and air fares as the mayor stormed through Texas, Memphis and Atlanta seeking support from voters displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Calls to Edwards at the contact number listed on his campaign reports -- Third Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church -- and to two S&WB spokespersons were not returned by press time. -- Johnson

From yesterday's Picayune:
The cost to replace the pipe network alone is about $3.2 billion, according to a December 2006 report by board consultants.

Meanwhile, water board officials say it will take $1.26 billion over the next 25 years to build a 21st century sewage system that complies with a federal court order and serves a gradually growing population.

The Picayune in January:
The agreements will cost the city $33 million per year, more than triple the cost of the most recent city garbage deal, not including $7 million for dumping at a local landfill.

The Picayune in May:
A multimillion-dollar subcontract involving the inspection of the city's damaged sewer system was awarded in October to a company organized by a politically active minister who incorporated the firm months after the work began.

How MCCI came to be hired -- given that it didn't exist on paper and still lacks a listed phone number -- is something of a mystery.

The answer may lie in the person of Benjamin Edwards Sr., a longtime member of the water board who also is a politically active minister and a friend of Coleman.

And in October:
The goal set by the executive order, which extends for three years, calls for any company that gets public financing, incentives or subsidies to use local businesses for at least 50 percent of its subcontracts. Of those, the order calls for 35 percent to be with small businesses that are "economically disadvantaged," a city certification that typically targets minority-owned or women-owned small companies.

Exactly what these requirements will involve will be determined by Donna Addkison, the mayor's executive assistant for economic development, housing and planning. She will establish the process for determining what will be required of individual companies, Williams said.

I was hesitant to include the last quote, but alarms went off in my head when I read that story in October. That probably had something to do with the fact that when Nagin made the official announcement (without details) of the policy a few days earlier, he cited the city's "transparent spending policies." No matter what your opinion of minority set-asides, you have to acknowledge that without transparent spending policies, the potential for corruption is great. I don't think anybody really believes that the city has transparent spending policies; more often than not, the city's spending decisions even seem to baffle city council members. And, as far as I can tell, the city's DBE program is still a highly politicized joke.

On a side note, the potential for graft and corruption inherent in privatization is slowly become apparent, although some conservatives still debate that. It occurs to me that Nagin manages to combine both the liberal approved type of corruption and the conservative approved form of corruption. I doubt that any recovery project will be well-financed enough for both.

At any rate, Billboard Ben spent $269,250 on Nagin's re-election and he's being fined another $8,400. That's less $280,000 for a piece of $4.46B times some unknown multiplier. I'm inclined to believe Edwards when he says that he made his money through shrewd investments.


Monday, April 16, 2007

A Question From A Reader

I was wondering if you caught what he said
towards the end of his speech in Washington about
people coming in to N.O and "buying some dirt" he
later states that the city will sell them this
property for below estimated value and you hire your
own appraiser. Am I wrong or is he basically
advocating fraud? I have not read anyone from the
Picayune touch on this subject.

That was from a friend who only recently found out that I have a blog. Hard to believe that the recent Nagin speech that caused such an uproar was only a month ago. The part of the speech (transcript) that my friend's referring to:
If you don’t hear nothing
else I say tonight, buy some dirt
in New Orleans, buy some dirt in
New Orleans. Real estate values
are going to go out the roof and you
need to be a part of that. We have
programs where you can buy adjudicated
and blighted properties for
half their appraised value and you
hire your own appraiser.
I’ve asked the city attorney if I can
participate in this program
she’s keeps saying no Mr. Mayor.

What was he getting at with the part about hiring your own appraiser? And why the F*** did he run for re-election if he's mainly interested in the business opportunities that reconstruction offers? The second question was intended to be rhetorical, but the first question is entirely serious. So, if anybody knows, please comment.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Leonard Pitts Almost Gets It

A Leonard Pitts column in yesterday's Picayune (dated Apr. 9 on the Miami Herald website) is so well-intentioned that I'm reluctant to criticize it. Pitts criticizes the latest anti-New Orleans email to hit the Internet, one that purports to be from an emergency manager in Colorado who writes that they helped themselves in Colorado after a recent blizzard. Pitts gets some things right:
You point out patiently, calmly, that no snowstorm compares to Hurricane Katrina. ''When the snow melted,'' you say, ``your city was still there, so you're comparing apples to transmissions.''


But it is hard to stay patient and calm. It just gets to you, how niggardly, stupid and flat-out cold some of your own countrymen can be. Why, you ask, do they play this game of Whose Disaster Was Bigger? ``What's the f------ point of that? We have a disaster and we expect help. Are we arrogant, are we wrong for expecting it? Why are you pissed off with us? What did we do other than ask for what anybody else would quite naturally ask for and in all likelihood get quicker than we did?''

Unfortunately, Pitts neglects to mention that the federal government didn't do anything to make Colorado more vulnerable to blizzards. Rather than go into any detail about federal responsibility for the damage to New Orleans (I doubt I'd be telling any reader of this blog anything new) I'll just link to an USA Today article about the levee failures and John Barry's Katrina anniversary column. Also, Colorado is a mining state that splits mineral revenues 50-50 with the federal government -- revenue from activities that don't leave it more vulnerable to snowstorms. Louisiana gets much less from activity that does leave it more vulnerable to hurricanes.

Pitts also asked:
People were not this nasty toward Miami after Hurricane Andrew. So what is it about you?

I suspect that Pitts knows the answer to that question, but I also respect the probable reason why he didn't answer it. Pitts is a black columnist who frequently writes about a racial matters, he didn't want is plea for decent treatment for New Orleans to be dismissed as another instance of Pitts hopping on his usual soapbox. If that's the reason, I can certainly appreciate that. However, as white man who's never been accused of wearing an excessive amount of guilt on his sleeve, I feel quite comfortable stating the obvious. If you don't think there's been less willingness to help New Orleans because so many of the pictures coming out of New Orleans are of black faces, you're crazy. Oh sure, there are other reasons: the scope of the disaster makes the amount of aid needed seem unreasonable, Bush has shot the budget on Iraq and tax cuts, etc. But we all know what the main reason is. I'll rephrase that, any reasonable person knows what at least part of the reason is.

Still, even though I wish that Pitts had said more, it was good to see him point out that all we've asked for is "what anybody else would quite naturally ask for and in all likelihood get quicker than we did."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Psychic Satirists?

It is a little funny to compare the made-up Nagin quote about Blakely from the December New Orleans Levee that I ended the last post with:
“I don’t need people around me who are using words, even if they’re trying not to say anything.”

With a real Nagin quote about Blakely that recently appeared in the Picayune:
Nagin told reporters Thursday that he and Blakely "had a very frank discussion" and that he told Blakely to stay focused on recovery work and "leave the other commentary for other people who do that for a living."


In his first public appearance as a government official, Blakely, 69, was brutally blunt with some of his answers, vague with others and a bit testy toward the end of the news conference when asked to describe how he expected the city to look a year from now.

"Come back," he said. "I'm not explaining any more today, because that, I think, is not a question that anyone can answer. What are you going to be doing next year? I'm not answering questions unless they're really questions. That sounds like a threat."
Times Picayune Dec. , 2006

Pressed by two reporters for further details about what the areas might look like, however, the recovery chief took offense.

"I have a very clear idea" of how the zones will develop, he said. "Developers make a lot of money by getting those clear ideas early and getting the jump in the game. And that shouldn't happen in the newspaper. You're a newspaper reporter, not a developer."
Times Picayune March 30, 2007

Dr. Blakely, New Orleans’s belatedly appointed Hurricane Katrina recovery chief, refers to the city’s racial factions as “a bit like the Shiites and Sunnis,” calls the civic elite “insular,” and says the newcomers he wants to draw here will be impatient with local “buffoons.”
New York Times April 9, 2007

What mystifies me about the whole Blakely brouhaha is why it was caused by the third quote. I wouldn't have expected someone like Susan "lockstep" Howell to be concerned about the first two, but I would have expected other people to be.

Actually I'm not quite as mystified about what everybody seems to be angry about this time as few other times, NIMBY/Chocolate City and the garbage contracts come to mind. I can't understand why more people aren't concerned that mayor "trust me" has appointed czar "trust me," but I'm not alone in that view; Jeffrey at Library Chronicles has pointed out the real reasons why we should all be worried about Blakely. Also, I'm not sure if it's the "buffoons" comment that really has people upset, or if that was the focal point for a lot of generalized anger.

I started the above Thursday night, but didn't finish up and post. After seeing Malcolm Suber calling for Blakely's dismissal, I should wait until a link becomes available to finish that point. I actually agree with Suber to some degree, but he's wrong to focus on personality. In this case, process is the one thing that we need to get right and can get right.

I'll finish that later, but first a couple of things in Blakely's defense. Apparently some people are angry with the New York Times article because it implies that no planning had been done prior to Blakely's arrival. The article doesn't actually quote Blakely as saying that, it's hard to tell whether that Blakely's view or Adam Nossiter's.

I'm truly mystified about the anger over the following:
Here, race is “the first thing in people’s minds,” said Dr. Blakely, who is black.

How much has alcohol consumption increased since Katrina? Are our memories so damaged that we forget the events of two weeks ago? A man calls a woman who lied not only to him, but also to his (for want of better word) constituents a bitch and "bitch" gets called a racial epithet. I would like to believe that Blakely's correct about such foolishness being a New Orleans thing.

If any body's curious about why I labeled White a liar in what might be considered a he said/she said matter, it's a simple matter of credibility. Veronica White has shown herself to be one of the biggest shit maker-uppers in an administration full of shit maker-uppers. Throw in the fact that Lupin was far from alone in his assertion that White lied and I think that there's only one reasonable conclusion. I suppose Jarvis DeBerry would call "liar" a racial epithet.

Didn't realize how often I had posted about the sanitation department. For anyone who wants to expose the corruption of of the Nagin administration, the technology office isn't the only weak link.

Bonus link: For anybody who's read this far. The December New orleans Levee:
On Thursday, Nagin said Blakely upset him by saying anything at all.

“The guy said too much, he’s a loose cannon,” Nagin said. “I don’t need people around me who are using words, even if they’re trying not to say anything.”
Pressed on what he would do in his roughly $150,000-a-year job, Blakely only said that he had goals, which he refused to detail, and that all areas of the city should be rebuilt, though he would not elaborate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Blakely and Transparency

Jeffrey has a great post about Ed Blakely, but I want to add a few things, or clarify a few things that I said before.

Anybody who's willing to admit that we were a city full of chumps five years ago when we thought that by electing Roy Rodney's business partner we were somehow electing a reformer can figure out at least part of the reason for the real estate developer mayor's refusal to answer questions. But I don't understand Blakely's obstinant refusal to answer questions, other than that he's a ... never mind.

First off, I don't think that Blakely's refusal to answer questions has anything to do with dishonesty and corruption, it probably has more to do with ego and impatience. But I do wish that I explained myself better, and quoted Gertrude Stein correctly, when I expressed my reservations about him before. The fact that he came from the part of the Bay Area that isn't known for its old architecture or historic ambiance or whatever cliches New Orleans shares with San Francisco didn't concern me. That fact combined with his statement that an outsider would be less influenced by historic and cultural factors did concern me -- that hardly sounds like a preservationist talking.

The impatience and disregard for transparency add to my concern that preservationists' concerns will will be shoved aside. At least, I don't think that one often hears of secretive city governments rushing through pro-preservationist decisions.

For the record, I've never considered myself a preservationist; in some cases I've thought that preservationists were knee-jerk obstructionists, in other cases I thought they were right. I would have had no interest in the Cabrini Church issue had it not been for the threatening tone and scare tactics of the developers, in this case the Catholic Church. However, I do remember at some point on the way out of town on August 28, 2005 asking my brother how much of the city's architecture it could lose and still be worth rebuilding.

With that in mind, another reminder of some of the advice that we received from the people of Charleston soon after the flood:
Over the following months, even years, as Charleston pulled herself back together, we learned that ironically, a historic community's greatest threat may not be the storm itself, but rather the often short-sighted, economically driven redevelopment that can follow.

I Didn't Get the April Fools' Joke

Actually, I didn't read the Picayune's April Fools' Day editorial all the way through when it was published,but this is a little more subtlety than people usually expect in April Fools' humor:
In a city with gargantuan needs in other infrastructure and crucial services, such as public safety, Mayor Nagin and other city officials need to be transparent about every step of the effort and be prepared to justify the selection of specific projects.

Yeah, like that's gonna happen. The mayor and his recovery czar about as likely to start justifying their decisions as the Picayune is to call them to account for their stonewalling.

To be sure, a Picayune story will occasionally contain a passage like:
Though The Times-Picayune has filed three public-records requests with City Hall for information about technology contracts, it took more than a month for city officials to produce a response.

The first request was filed more than a month ago, and the law requires a response within three days. On Friday, the Nagin administration said the records are being compiled and "as soon as (they) are available, we will contact you immediately."

But that was buried deep in Section B. If the Picayune were serious about transparency, it would make the stonewalling the subject of an editorial. Better yet, it would run a front page article on the number of demands for written FOIA requests that its reporters have received since Nagin and Rob Couhig both promised transparency at the start of the 100 days. They promised transparency at the end of the 100 days, but was more than a little absurd. A newly-elected mayor might need to sort the previous administration's contracting process to make things transparent, but an incumbent mayor should be able to make things transparent with the stroke of a pen. At any rate, the paper needs to stop burying its calls for transparency and give us a report on how FOIA requests its filed with the Nagin administration and how many have been honored.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hold Him to his Own Standards -- Part 2

Not the first follow up I had in mind, but yesterday's paper makes it timely.
"We're going to take whatever nickels we have, whatever pennies we have, whatever dollars we have, and we're going to stretch it, and we're going to make this recovery work,"
Ray Nagin Jan. 15, 2007

Noting that Mayor Ray Nagin's press office has a budget of more than $600,000, Head said the council should use one of its staff members. Midura said she sees no need for a council PR person at all.
Times Picayune Apr. 7, 2007

Nagin also added:
"We're gonna rub every nickel we've got together, stretch every limited dollar, to make this city better, safer, stronger..."

With a budget of well over $700M, $600,000 for the mayor's press office might not seem like much, but much of this years budget is state and federal grants committed to specific rebuilding projects. Nobody would argue that the city has enough money to provide basic services. Since the mayor said that we'd stretch every limited dollar to make the city safer and stronger, I'm sure that he'd be happy to assign a PR person to the city council -- if the savings could be used to make the city safer and stronger. The mayor wouldn't have said it if he didn't mean it.

Last month I wondered how many Nagin spokesmen we were paying for when I noticed that Nagin seems to have a different spokesperson for each day of the week. This doesn't quite answer that question, but it comes close. I suppose the $600K figures demonstrates that the going rate for spokespeople who don't answer questions is higher than for spokespeople who do. Whatever the city's paying people to demand written FOIA requests, I'll do it for less.

Back to yesterday's article, I've said before that the council members, including Head and Midura, seem to vote for any proposal that seems like a good idea without considering whether it's the possible use of the city's limited funds. I seem to have been wrong about Midura and Head, I was obviously right about the rest of the council. It wouldn't surprise me if Carter has somebody in mind for the part time consulting work. Also, it's worth noting that the mayor apparent would rather rebuke a colleague than enforce rules for a crazy woman.

Alien SUV-driving Industrialists

Now that conservatives seem to be getting serious about Fred Thompson for president, I thought I'd share some of his serious words about global warming:
March 22, 2007, 9:30 a.m.

Plutonic Warming

By Fred Thompson

Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming: Martian warming. It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto.

NASA says the Martian South Pole’s “ice cap” has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter’s caught the same cold, because it’s warming up too, like Pluto.

This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.

Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn’t even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There’s a consensus.

Ask Galileo.

The link is to the National Review Online, it contains a link to Thompson speaking while Peggy Lee sings in the background -- a really serious look at a serious issue. He was equally serious about WMD.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Eggs

I'm at a total loss to explain one of the editorials in today's Picayune. With all the important local and national issues the editors could have written about, they chose to write about nepotism at the American Egg Board and Wyoming's entry into the White House's annual State Egg Display.

In addition to the trivial subject matter, the Times Picayune could certainly find nepotism closer to home to write about. I suppose that nepotism might have dissappeared from City Hall along with Charles Rice, or might not, but inside deals certainly haven't.

In another matter, Jim Brown speculated that Houston was to blame New Orleans current crime problem on Monday's show. Scroll down to Jim Brown - 4/2/07 - 8a to 9a
Guest: Fox News Legal Expert Craig Mitnick. At about 10 minutes into the recording, you'll hear him talk about Houston being the center for the Mexican drug traffic that comes into the United States, sending our criminals there was sending your kids off to college. Hard to believe that Jim Brown would come up with the best variation yet on the THANKS HOUSTON theme. I had dismissed what the guy, I think Don was the name, who called at about the eight or nine minute mark said about FEMA trailers and the crime problem until I saw Informed Sources last night; Picayune crime reporter Michael Perlstein said to expect a shocking report about the drug trade and FEMA trailers.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Give Them a Shovel

I took the profanity out of the title*, even though Jeffrey beat me to Pravda Picayune. If there were a major development in the French Quarter garbage dispute, if, for example, the city backed down from its demand that French Quarter residents use the new bins, you might expect expect to read it in the opening paragraph of an article about garbage collection. You'd be wrong. The following is the very last sentence of an article that appeared in today's paper:
Meanwhile, in light of concerns from French Quarter residents that the 32-gallon bins slated for that area are too bulky for the neighborhood's slim lots, Torres said City Hall has postponed bin deliveries there indefinitely.

What was arguably the most important point in the story was buried under important, um, stuff like:
Torres, the SDT president, acknowledged that the report paints a nasty picture. But he suggested it is something of an exaggeration. He said the owner of a St. Louis Street shop had been getting his trash picked up by Waste Management for years, though the business creates more trash than allowed under the old and new contracts.

Torres said he met with the owner and explained the rules. Two days later, he said, the restaurateur signed up for SDT's private trash-hauling service.

"The bottom line is he ended up getting commercial service from us," said Torres, whose above-and-beyond attitude has made him something of a celebrity in downtown neighborhoods.

Okay, at some point in our schooling, we're all taught to use synonyms because repeating the same word can be monotonous. However, there's difference in a restaurant and a shop -- a difference that might, just maybe might be important in the context of trash collection. But what a lovely ending, a restaurant or shop owner is now paying for a service that had been free.

The crux of the article was that there have been complaints about all three companies with garbage collection contracts, but most of the complaints have been the fault of residents. There's even a typical Veronica White comment:
Veronica White, the city's sanitation director, said early mistakes owed more to residents not knowing their new collection days than to shoddy service.

"In many neighborhoods throughout the city, . . . residents called to report a missed pickup. However, their collection day had changed," White wrote in an e-mail message.

That brings to mind an Adrastos post that I couldn't find, but distinctly remember because I thought about writing on the same topic. Either the city, or the private companies or the paper messed up because the new schedules were first posted in the paper on the day that they were changed. Some might call that shoddy service.

Subjective judgements about service aside, there is one item in the story that I think is very important:
SDT President Sidney Torres said most complaints against his firm came from owners of medium and large businesses, and from residents of buildings with more than four units. Those properties are not covered under the contract. He said that while those sites were excluded from the previous contract, Waste Management collected trash at many of them anyway.

"We had a lot of people who used to get picked up by Waste Management," he said. "But if you're over a certain amount, you have to have commercial service."

I was a little incredulous about a comment that appeared on an earlier post:
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).

Unbelievable, the vast majority of French Quarter are now required to pay for private pickup. I wonder whether the sanitation fee appears on their water bills. It's long past time for our transparent city government to publish all three new contracts and the old contract on its website.

Oh, it's minor but following is new to me:
Other complaints owed to residents not realizing they have to call their contractor to schedule pickup of bulky items, such as furniture and tires, she said. Without an appointment, collectors will leave the debris at the curb.

I thought that I remembered the resumption of weekly pickup of bulky items being one of the selling points for the new contracts.

*The original title was "The Sh** Shovelers of Howard Avenue."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prelude to a Potentially Pretentious Post

Possibly about paradigms, Popper and Polanyi. Just kidding on the last two, but there is one big "P" ahead.

A recent Chris Rose column set the local blogosphere atwitter with an oblique reference to the yellow blog. I was struck by something else:
we are witnessing a public devolution from reform-minded idealist to political buffoon to race-baiting smack artist.

That seems to be the accepted view among Nagin critics. But it does about as good a job of explaining Nagin's (if you follow the link, please read the comment) five years as mayor as Ptolemaic epicycles did of explaining retrograde motion. However, this was supposed to be the prelude.

What follows has nothing to do with overt corruption, although I did have it mind when I made a comment at Adrastos' about sincere reformers not flouting process. Rather, this is about a perception that probably needs to be openly rejected before we can expect the mayor apparent (mheir apparent?) and councilman Fielgood to openly challenge Nagin's leadership. Remember, for over three years Nagin was always portrayed as the good guy reformer in any disputes with the intransigent old guard city council.

I doubt many readers recall a pointless late 2004, early 2005 dispute over funding the SPCA. I only vaguely remembered it:
It's hard for Mayor Ray Nagin to claim that a consistently underfunded nonprofit organization doesn't understand budget constraints. Especially when that nonprofit has subsidized city services for years. Yet that's exactly what Hizzoner did in the case of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Nagin's arrogant stance would be laughable if the consequences weren't so dire --

It amazing to me that the old council was constantly portryed as pestering Nagin, when I read go back and reread accounts of Nagin's willingness to share information:
The budget recommended by the administration and adopted by the council Dec. 1 provided $900,000 for those services in 2005. The SPCA said it needed at least $1.2 million and would halt all its services to the city after midnight tonight unless it was guaranteed that much.

With no solution to the impasse in sight, the council stepped into the picture this week, announcing that it had found a way to provide the extra $300,000. It passed a resolution Wednesday promising to enact ordinances next week giving the SPCA what it wanted.

Nagin on Thursday ruled out the council's idea of freeing up money in the general fund by reallocating $300,000 in federal community development grant money. That money would be used to help pay off a city debt incurred in connection with construction of the Six Flags New Orleans amusement park. Nagin said the federal money already is allocated.

He said he still is not sure where the extra $300,000 for next year can be found, but he said he is "pretty confident we can find another source of funds" in time to present it to the council next week.

I don't mean to attach too much importance to a $300,000 dispute -- the relatively small stakes involved might explain the Picayune's even-handedness -- or paint the old council as the good guys. But the Stephanie Grace column that follows does illustrate the view that must be rejected before we can expect much from the council.
The column is no longer available online, so the entire piece follows with some emphasis added:
June 29, 2006 Thursday
SECTION: METRO - EDITORIAL; Stephanie Grace; Pg. 7

LENGTH: 653 words

HEADLINE: Council wants in

BYLINE: Stephanie Grace


For a guy who likes to go it alone under the best of circumstances, the emergency declaration that gives Mayor Ray Nagin enhanced executive powers, in effect since days before Hurricane Katrina struck, amounts to a license to follow his instincts.

Considerably less contented, apparently, are City Council members who don't think they were elected to stay out of the loop.

In a firm but gently worded letter to Nagin this week, the council's two leaders, President Oliver Thomas and Vice President Arnie Fielkow, asked to "open a dialogue" with Nagin, in public, about whether the state of emergency should be extended again, or ended.

In other words, they want in. And as long as they're willing to be productive partners, Nagin should welcome them.

Not that any reluctance he might show wouldn't be understandable.

Nagin's relationship with the council, dominated throughout his first term by Eddie Sapir, started off cordial but quickly foundered. Nagin first allied himself with Thomas, out of friendship, then shifted briefly to Sapir, out of expediency. Eventually, despite occasional joint efforts with individual members, the overriding dynamic devolved into a standoff between the executive and legislative branches.

With Sapir's departure due to term limits and four new members on board, that's all in the past.

Just what shape the new relationship might take is a big unknown. Thomas, a 12-year-veteran and now both the nominal and de facto council leader, remains a sometime ally, sometime critic of the mayor. Yet unlike Sapir, he doesn't spend his days lining up fractious voting blocs or plotting legislative maneuvers.

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, re-elected to District D, has worked alongside the mayor in the past, and as chair of the budget committee, is positioned to be another go-to member. Cynthia Willard-Lewis of District E is the last survivor of the old Sapir coalition, and her politics will likely be guided most by questions over her decimated district's very survival.

The four rookies, Fielkow, Shelley Midura, Stacy Head and James Carter, are still feeling their way. All, to varying degrees, professed a desire to work closely with the mayor during their campaigns, and all seem to genuinely like him. Now it's time to see if that good will can stand the twin tests of time and governing.

In an interview with The Times-Picayune earlier this week, Nagin said he'd like to see the state of emergency end in a few months, but worries about doing it too soon. City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields made some logical arguments for keeping the status quo a while longer, noting that the declaration has allowed the administration to keep FEMA funds flowing and bring in the National Guard on short notice.

Yet members of the previous council, including some returnees, say some of Nagin's most controversial decisions toward the end of his first term, were made unilaterally under the guise of the emergency and amounted to usurpation of the council's oversight of land use, one of the council's main duties. High profile examples include placement of trailer parks and the emergency opening of an Eastern New Orleans landfill.

In Nagin's defense, the old council had a tendency to posture rather than solve problems.
That, again, is in the past -- hopefully. Yet as the recovery progresses, expect the council to be all over land-use decisions that will permanently alter the city's landscape, no matter what form Nagin's promised planning process takes. New battles over turf seem inevitable.

That means, going forward, that Nagin has to delicately preserve his ability to act while allowing council members to feel included.

Even if it takes more than the few months Nagin envisions, the relationship between the two branches is going to get testier at some point.

Might as well try to get things off to a good start now.

. . . . . . .

Probably Just Some Young Reporter in the Back of the Room,

looking for some way to get a nice story out. Because there's simply no way that the Dr. Ed Blakely really stated that New Orleans lost more population between the 2000 census and hurricane Katrina than it did in any ten year period since its population decline began around 1960. Does anybody believe that he actually implied that the federal government conspired to help hide the fact that the city lost more people in the first 3 1/2 years of Nagin's term than in 8 years under his five predecessors? Get real.

Update: Just heard the radio interview on TV. Oops.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An Overlooked Fact

"To be clear, because a lot of people miss this point, we do not yet have the cans in the FQ (and it's clean without them.)" email from a French Quarter resident

I've made it pretty clear that I was more interested in the contracts than the cans to begin with and everybody else must be sick of the cans by now, but the emailer who said that was right. Didn't really think about it until I felt compelled to quote it in a comment at Jeffrey's. I'm still afraid that, in other parts of town, the cans and greater clearance for the automated trucks will lead to more no parking signs and more trees being chopped down or having their limbs hacked off.

Quick train wreck alert:
"6 on your Side" is about to have a "courageous conversation" about name calling in the garbage can dispute. That'll be real fair and balanced on Charles Rice's station.

Ends up the topic was barely discussed. The panelists, Michael Cowan of Loyola, Anthony Patton of New Orleans Black and Jefferson Parish councilman Chris Roberts, all agreed that it was a sexist comment, but certainly not a racist one. They also (more or less agreed) that Lupin should resign. Part of the reasoning was that a chairman of a public board is responsible for setting the tone of meetings. So why hasn't anybody recommended that he resign as chairman?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hold Him to his Own Standards -- Part. 1

Nagin charged that Landrieu backers are going to want something in return for their generous contributions. link

The two also sparred over campaign contributions and patronage, with Nagin suggesting that the public will ultimately pay the price of Landrieu's sizable war chest in the form of contracts for cronies.

Nagin noted that it took him four years to raise $1.4 million, while Landrieu and Audubon Nature Institute chief Ron Forman, who finished third in the April 22 primary, raked in more than $4 million in just a few months.

Snell asked Nagin whether he wouldn't have taken the money if someone offered it to him, and Nagin replied: "I don't need that much money. Something else is going on with that." Times Picayune May 12, 2006

On Thursday morning, Mayor Ray Nagin unveiled his ambitious $1.1 billion recovery plan for New Orleans, promising to launch a long-awaited building boom by the fall.

About 12 hours earlier, the term-limited mayor had hosted a $2,500-a-couple fund-raiser that attracted many of the engineers, architects and consultants who hope to land some of that recovery work.

The take from the evening event at the new downtown Harrah's Hotel was "north of $200,000," according to David White, Nagin's campaign treasurer. Times Picayune March 31, 2007

That, of course, was the fundraiser that Nagin attended instead of a crime summit.

Somebody must have videotape of the Nagin commercial in which Nagin made an issue of Landrieu's fundraising. There's a reason why I included the full text of that second quote. A reason other than the fact that it demonstrates how the "pro-Landrieu" media constantly compared Nagin's fundraising (Nagin's questionably reported fundraising) to that of all his opponents combined.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What Type of Government Do They Think We Have?

I was flabbergasted when Stephanie Grace wrote the following about the city council in July:
In other words, they want in. And as long as they're willing to be productive partners, Nagin should welcome them.

Not that any reluctance he might show wouldn't be understandable.

At least she wrote that when the city was under a state of emergency. There's no such explanation for what James Gill wrote today:
Lupin is by no means the only member of the commission who believes the Sanitation Department is being needlessly inflexible. He is the only one to resort to personal insults, however, and he needs to be replaced. The commission is never going to win concessions from White so long as Lupin is there.

Is he serious? It's the duty of everybody else in local government to get along with the mayor and his department heads? Gill's gone from point shaving to game throwing. You have to admire Gill's ability to seem fair and balanced. Since both sides are deserving of criticism, the Nagin criticism is based on private email messages about a crazy woman.

It doesn't even seem to have occured to anybody at the Picayune to question the charge that the sanitation department reneged on an agreement, that is, after all, what led to the use of the word "bitch." Gill acknowledges that Lupin isn't the only VCC member to call White inflexible, but he fails to acknowledge that other French Quarter residents have accused White of backing out of an agreement. If the city said one thing to quiet opposition when the deal was first proposed and then backed out of the agreement, that's a major part of the story, but one that Picayune chooses to ignore.

I can only think of one reason for the Times Picayune to ignore that part the story. Since it involves spoken promises, or alleged promises, it's an issue of credibility. Unfortunately, The Picayune seems to be so cowed by Nagin's bias charges, that it's reluctant to examine the credibility of a Nagin appointee who had recently announced that she was replacing bombproof garbage cans that had recently been "cleaned-and-serviced." longer and slightly shorter link.

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