If Walter Monsour is one of those larger-than-life figures, it’s also true that large figures cast long shadows, and in the case of the head of the city-parish Redevelopment Authority, Monsour’s prominence and controversies overshadowed a needed discussion about the RDA’s future.
By resigning the RDA directorship, Monsour is getting his own profile out of the way of the discussion.
It was probably overdue. Monsour clashed in dramatic fashion with his old friend, Mayor-President Kip Holden, over the question of whether the city-parish government should directly fund the agency.
Monsour also took heat in the past few weeks after The Advocate reported his son’s law firm had received about $190,000 in contracts with firms that received public funds from the RDA. The authority initially requested an opinion from the state Ethics Board about the propriety of the arrangement but withdrew the request before an opinion was ever issued.
We agree with RDA board Chairman John Noland: “Everyone involved understands this is the best course to take while the RDA seeks dedicated funding solutions.”
Monsour’s package of salary and benefits was lavish, far higher than that of the mayor and governor. It was an unfortunate irritant for the agency all along.
At the same time, we also note Monsour’s drive and knowledge was vital to establishing such a new agency — charged with redeveloping the neighborhoods and commercial zones. The issues facing this RDA, as with other similar agencies around the country, are complex, not least the connection between poverty and blight. Fractured land ownership, difficulties of major projects in already-built urban areas, forging collaborations with private developers and public agencies — all of those make the RDA a unique kind of development animal.
Cities require more work for development, compared to projects in suburban fringes. It’s just that simple.
In politics, friends come and go but enemies accumulate, and Monsour’s long career in city-parish government and as a high-profile businessman was bound to attract foes by the bushel. Yet the skills he deployed for the RDA have much to do with its success stories. He also scored, early on, a $60 million federal grant that obscured the problems of the RDA’s long-term financing.
The longer term, though, requires a discussion of the RDA’s mission and goals, and a renewed look at the need for a redevelopment agency. We suspect the short answer to that discussion is “yes,” but there will be considerable disagreement over paying the bill.