New Orleans Home Rule Charter Amendment: Contracting. Yes.

The scandals that rocked City Hall during Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration were a potent reminder of what can happen when leaders use their influence to reward friends — and themselves. That reality underscores the need for city government to conduct its business transparently, motivated by merit and fiscal prudence rather than political expedience. In 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an executive order aimed at reforming the city’s procurement process. Among the reforms was a centralized procurement office and the selection of contractors by expert committees conducting their evaluations in public.

The charter amendment on contracting would codify some of these reforms, giving them more permanence than an executive order that could be changed by a new mayor. We agree with the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research that this amendment should have gone further. It doesn’t require that selection committees use a numerical grading scale, nor does it specifically require the mayor to honor a committee’s selections. It’s an imperfect amendment but a step in the right direction. We urge voters to approve it.

New Orleans Home Rule Charter Amendment: Inauguration Date. Yes.

Starting in 2017, primary elections for mayor and City Council in New Orleans will take place in the fall. This amendment, if approved, would move the inauguration dates for mayor and council members from May to January, shortening the time between election and taking office. The change in inauguration, if approved, would begin in 2018 to coincide with the new election dates. This is a practical way to avoid a long period between elections and new terms of office. We recommend a “yes” vote.

Property tax for law enforcement district. Yes.

This proposal would allow the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District to capture proceeds from a 2.9-mill property tax now used for debt service and to use the money for other purposes as the debt is retired. The money could be used by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to help pay for operations, maintenance and upkeep of the parish prison and other facilities. BGR and Mayor Mitch Landrieu are supporting the tax.

Both the Orleans Parish Prison and the New Orleans Police Department are under federal consent decrees because of widespread problems within the institutions. Conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison have been deplorable, and the Sheriff’s Office and City Hall have been arguing about who will pay for the reforms needed to improve the prison.

If this tax proposal is approved, it could generate an estimated $5 million in its first year, 2015. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit that produced the consent decree have estimated that when fully implemented, the reforms could cost between $10 million and $22 million a year.

While the tax proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot isn’t a cure-all, it’s a useful acknowledgement that improving the city’s law enforcement and criminal justice system will cost money. We support the proposal.