By Jeff Thomas
What’s big and yellow, has four wheels and sleeps 6-10 people? A Sewerage and Water Board truck. This old joke was emblematic of the perceived waste and bloat of the New Orleans water utility. And while the system was grossly inefficient, the water flowed even after a hard rain. But things have changed at the S&WB. At the urging of the BGR and local state representatives, systemic change of the board shifted away from citizen input and controls to the utility becoming the most powerful political patronage parsonage of the mayor of New Orleans.
Sunday’s shocking and unpredicted floods made driving dangerous and flooded homes and businesses. A spokesman for the Zulu Social and Pleasure Club said that the frustrating part is the club headquarters “is still suffering the same flooding in 2017 as it did in 1978.” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has had complete control of the board for the past three years. Key state legislators, led by current Council at Large candidate Helena Moreno, pushed through legislation that removed citizen representation and made the water utility a political pawn.
Moreno and her allies slashed the right of city council members and state legislators to appoint citizen members of the S&WB, opting instead to have the mayor appoint members suggested by an S&WB selection committee. This new makeup of the board created an insulated and arrogant group that was comfortable lying in a public forum on TV after having put out misinformation about pumps working to full capacity. This seems more like a Trump/Putin escapade than a NOLA flood dispute.
That Landrieu cleaned house offers little solace, as Landrieu will select the replacements to his original choices. And the guy who claimed to know what to do and how to do it seems to be as ineffective as the current President and as secretive as the Russian leader. From out of control crime and bungling of the NOPD to S&WB, Landrieu has failed at the most basic function of government – keeping the people safe. And his refusal to accept responsibility for his hires – Cedric Grant to lead S&WB and Mark Jernigan as Director of Public Works – and their complete failure is shameful.
This continued and daily failure of the Landrieu administration proves that for government to be successful policies and institutions not people matter. Early on Landrieu was viewed favorably by most. So much so that people removed protections and allowed Landrieu vast leeway in control, without independent citizens’ oversight. The resulting flooding debacle coupled with the arrogance and incompetence of an articulate and self-confident salesman officials firmly establishes the need for citizen control.
After all our homes, businesses and lives are at risk.