Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell is about to take over a city government that is beset by staffing woes that have kept it from hiring and retaining qualified workers, according to a series of transition documents Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration prepared for the new mayor.
In an initial review by The New Orleans Advocate of the massive trove of transition documents, a single complaint shows up again and again: Departments are understaffed, losing workers to the private sector or other government agencies and fearful of losing high-level staff to retirements.
“The high call volume demand without commensurate staffing growth has increased instances of having no units available, increased response times to all calls, and decreased the morale of the team members,” according to the document on Emergency Medical Services.
A section on the Department of Public Works lays out staffing woes that include having no experienced program administrator, a lack of other high-level employees and a need to outsource project management work.
The Landrieu administration released the transition memos, which total thousands of pages, Friday in response to a public records request The New Orleans Advocate filed last fall.
The voluminous documents — put together by the city and the consulting firm PFM — serve essentially as a user manual for the city’s government, with detailed information about budgets, key staff and contacts, and performance measures for every department and agency.
Various lists detail specific items that will need the new administration’s attention on Day 1 and in the months after Cantrell takes office May 7.
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Each department is also analyzed using a management technique that identifies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats — or SWOT — laying out a detailed view of what can go right and what can go awry for each section of city government.
One department not covered by the memos is the Sewerage & Water Board. After the Aug. 5 flood, Landrieu commissioned several reports to determine how vulnerable the utility is; none of them have been completed. Officials with the administration have pledged to brief Cantrell's transition team on the details of the S&WB situation.
Reams of ancillary documents provide background on everything from the consent decrees governing how agencies like the Police Department function to Inspector General’s Office reports and minute details, such as the list of New Orleans’ "sister cities" around the world.
Major staffing shortages at both the Sewerage & Water Board and the NOPD have been widely publicized. But the transition documents indicate most departments can point to at least one area that is lacking in personnel.
There’s no consistent rationale given for the staffing shortages. A section on the Civil Service Commission — which is responsible for overseeing city hiring — notes that a lack of space for testing and a lack of consistent pay increases are areas that need immediate attention.
The city has made some moves to address staffing issues, with compensation studies suggesting raises for employees of both City Hall and the S&WB.
Karen Carvin Shachat, a spokeswoman for the transition, said in a statement Friday that Cantrell “has stated that she is interested in implementing the recommendations of the class and compensation study and has people evaluating options to do that. Some of the current civil service rules and recruiting processes inhibit the city's ability to recruit, promote and retain exceptional talent."
At least two of the transition documents appear aimed at urging Cantrell to rethink promises she made on the campaign trail, though the mayor-elect said Friday she is sticking to those commitments.
Pushing back against Cantrell’s pledge to abolish Landrieu’s system of deputy mayors, the Landrieu analysis of the Mayor’s Office praises that system.
“The adoption of the deputy mayor system has allowed the mayor to delegate authority to content experts for day-to-day decision-making and coordination across major areas of government,” according to the memo. “The system has provided for more timely provision of services and better coordination across agencies.”
In a statement, Cantrell said she remains firm in her determination to get rid of the deputy mayor system and “evaluate other executive staff structures that will effectively serve the administration and the people of New Orleans.”
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The Department of Public Safety also describes any move to do away with the city’s traffic camera system — as Cantrell has said she will do — as a risk to both safety and city finances.
“School zones and major dangerous intersections would see an increase in speeding vehicles, creating more danger for pedestrians,” according to the memo, which also warns of a “significant" loss of revenue from traffic camera tickets.
Cantrell said she remains committed to removing the traffic cameras.
As might be expected, concerns about potential disasters and crises also weigh heavily on many departments.
“We must constantly stay abreast of and prepare for vulnerabilities,” according to the Office of Homeland Security’s review. “Whether it be from more active hurricane seasons, hazardous cargo on trains moving through the downtown corridor, or ... a mass shooting at an outdoor public venue, our city has the potential to be vulnerable on multiple fronts.”
That’s particularly true for the financial hit the city could take from a serious disaster.
“One major emergency has the possibility of setting the city back financially,” according to the memo on the Mayor’s Office.
Other departments note that the large expenditure of federal resources in other states following 2017’s destructive hurricane season may hurt the city’s ability to rely on funds from Washington, D.C., in the event of another major disaster.
And the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is worried — what else? — that its current staffing level is inadequate, forcing it to borrow personnel from other departments during emergencies.
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