The Bureau of Governmental Research has come out against a proposal to restore representation from the New Orleans City Council on the Sewerage & Water Board.
Instead, the nonpartisan think tank recommended in a lengthy statement released Monday that the council should hire staff to regulate the utility in the same way it handles Entergy.
The statement argues that Senate Bill 227 by state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, would create conflicts of interest for the council member who would serve on the S&WB.
Morrell's bill, a response to last summer's flooding and revelations of publicly unsuspected problems with the city's drainage system, would return a council member to the S&WB for the first time since a 2013 overhaul — which was backed by BGR — removed them.
The board is now composed entirely of people appointed by the mayor, although they are required to have various professional qualifications.
BGR said Morrell's proposal "could create a false sense of security" and noted that before the 2013 change, council members "had weak attendance at monthly board meetings" and rarely showed up at S&WB committee meetings.
The research group said the council member serving on the board — who would be chosen by the chairman of the council's Public Works Committee — would face a conflict of interest because that committee is supposed to provide oversight on the actions of the S&WB.
Further, it said, council representation on the board could hinder the utility, noting that previous council representatives often objected to increasing taxes and fees for the agency, which "contributed to the S&WB's chronic underfunding."
BGR instead recommended the council conduct oversight of the S&WB the same way it does with Entergy, where paid advisers make regulatory recommendations to the council.
"In the longer term, stronger City Council oversight and regulation may not be sufficient to address the multitude of organizational and technical problems plaguing the S&WB," according to the BGR statement. "However, it is a better interim approach than changing the board’s composition until policymakers can determine the best long-term solutions to the S&WB’s problems."
Morrell's bill was approved by the state Senate last week. If it also passes the House, voters in New Orleans would have to approve a city charter amendment before it could go into effect.