Sunday, August 10, 2008

James Gill makes my case

He and his colleagues have been guilty of gross negligence for at least two years:
NOAH was charged with hiring contractors to gut houses damaged by Katrina and given a budget of $3.6 million, which Mayor Ray Nagin said would pay to clean up 5,000 houses.

Any doubts that Nagin was, once again, talking through his hat, were removed when he explained that taxpayers had to pick up the tab because there was a shortage of volunteers.

It was impossible, at the time, to walk more than a few blocks in New Orleans without encountering church groups from all over who had flocked here to help us in our hour of need.

In fact, the original proposal was for a $15 million program, but I can't find any record of Gill or any of his colleagues calling it a $15M joke at the time. As a matter of fact, it wasn't an obvious joke at the time.

I'd let that slide*, but I'm also less impressed than some of my fellow bloggers with recent columns by Jarvis DeBerry and Stephanie Grace. I'm glad to see them criticizing the mayor, but they all still tiptoe around the ongoing pattern of secrecy. Considering, that the adminsitration of the one time "champion of transparency" has failed to share information about more things than I can remember, I have to wonder what accusations anybody could make about the mayor that would possibly justify Grace's use of the term "conspiracy theorists." Since the mayor's failure to answer question about the new sanitation contracts, there's been a reluctance to share information or answer questions about 311 contracts, hospital site selection, city property management, crime cameras, a possibly illegal business deal, and now NOAH. That's just in two years, and I doubt that I listed everything. Yet, the local media treats each example as an isolated incident, without ever daring to ask how the people of the city can be expected to have confidence in a mayor who habitually keeps secrets. I'm almost not surprised that that poor Jackie Clarkson seems a little nonplussed or befuddled by the reaction to the story.

But I'm repeating myself about the media:
The Nagin administrations has trumpeted its own transparency and openness for five years, but has refused to answer questions that it didn't like. This failure to answer questions has been dutifully reported in individual news stories (usually around paragraph 10), but the pattern has been ignored.
Maybe it's just my pet obsession, but it's fair to question whether the demolition list would have been handled differently by an administration that really did place an emphasis on accessibility and accountability. I'm certain that the coverage of the matter would have been different if Nagin administration secrecy had been more of an issue in the past.

I wrote that a year ago.

Clarifications: Rereading the above, I see that I never made it clear that my main beef is that the writers at the Picayune still seem reluctant to question Nagin's basic integrity (or just come out and ask, "what the f*** you hiding?"). They hinted at it, but the assumption still seems to be that the responsible parties, or guilty parties, are much further down the chain of command. His actions have failed to match his rhetoric, and he's been acting like somebody with something to hide for years, yet it's still treated as a matter of leadership style or a personality issue. Of course, Jackie Clarkson let it slip that she reads blogs, which means that she should have been aware of the scope of the problem.

*Yeah, right.

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