Catch basin clogged? City: Clean it yourself

On Thursday, the city fired the company it had hired to clean out thousands of clogged catch basins around New Orleans after officials found the firm had improperly disposed of the gunk it collected and also had brought fewer resources to the table than it had said it would.

A new contractor will take its place, but on Friday, the city also offered a new plan: Private citizens should "adopt" a catch basin and take the lead in keeping it clean. 

In fact, officials have long urged residents to clean leaves and other debris from around nearby catch basins, especially before anticipated storms. The problem is that thousands of the basins and drains are so badly clogged that heavy machinery is needed to unplug them.

The latest "keep 'em clean" drive, however, goes beyond mere exhortations.  

On Saturday, the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office will hold a training session to "equip residents to be able to go back into their communities to lead neighborhood catch basin clean-ups."

The training will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Treme Center, 900 N. Villere St., after which the engagement office will work with neighborhood organizations to sponsor clean-up days in each of the five City Council districts during October.

Clogged catch basins have become a hot topic in the city in the wake of the Aug. 5 flood. City Hall has dedicated more than $21 million to a pair of contracts to clean and repair several thousand of the 65,000 basins in the city.

The cleaning contract was put on hold after the initial vendor was fired Thursday, but a new contractor is expected to start this week.

Not to mention all those private citizens lovingly tending to their "adopted" basins. 

JPSB hires PR firm ahead of tax vote

The Jefferson Parish School Board voted 4-3 last week to hire the public relations firm of Leblanc and Schuster to help "educate" voters about the proposed 8.45-mill tax to fund teacher and employee raises that will be on the ballot Nov. 18. 

Five firms, all of which had responded to a request for qualifications, made brief presentations to the board at a special meeting.

When it was over, four members voted for Leblanc and Schuster, which was enough for a majority given that two members of the nine-member board were absent.

Voting in favor were Melinda Bourgeois, Larry Dale, Cedric Floyd and Ricky Johnson. 

The three no votes were from Melinda Doucet, Marion Bonura and Tiffany Kuhn. Mark Morgan and Sandy Denapolis-Bosarge were absent.

Floyd had tried a week earlier to award a contract to Leblanc and Schuster for the same work, but other board members said other firms should have a chance to compete for the $75,000 contract to use devices like social media, yard signs and targeted mailings to get the board's message out to voters ahead of the election.

By law, the school system is not allowed to advocate for a yes vote, but it can provide information to the voters about how the millage would be used.

The millage would fund raises for all school system employees. The school system now collects 22.91 mills in property taxes, of which nine mills are dedicated to teacher pay.

Forward N.O. goals draw modified support

Almost half the candidates in New Orleans’ mayoral and City Council races have pledged to support the platform put together by Forward New Orleans.

Altogether, 21 of the 48 candidates in those races endorsed the platform put together by the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region and advocacy groups including RIDE New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance and Crimestoppers.

A full list of the signatories can be found at www.forwardneworleans.com.

Those pledging to abide by the program laid out by the group included top-polling mayoral candidates Michael Bagneris, LaToya Cantrell, Desiree Charbonnet and Troy Henry, though Cantrell and Charbonnet offered stipulations to their agreements.

Cantrell’s condition dealt with the goal of altering the city’s pension system to save money. She said she would not go beyond changes already approved by the pension system’s board until an across-the-board pay raise is approved for city employees.

Charbonnet’s note was potentially more expansive. She said that if elected, she’ll do a “full-scale” performance review of all city agencies and public-private partnerships to measure their “effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and transparency.”

“All statements of support, here and elsewhere throughout the campaign, are contingent upon what that review process discovers,” Charbonnet said.

While that statement was in direct response to Forward New Orleans' goals dealing with economic development programs and city contracting, Charbonnet said it should be taken as applying to the entire program.

Of the candidates who responded to the questionnaire, only two refused to take the pledge. Councilman Jason Williams, who is running for re-election to his at-large office, and state Rep. Joe Bouie, who is running for the other citywide council seat, both refused to agree to any of the six issue areas, according to Forward New Orleans.

Two sitting council members also added their own caveats.

Councilman Jared Brossett said he had concerns with unspecified areas of the platform but added, “I commit to working with Forward New Orleans and my constituents to adopt policies that are in the best interest of the city.” 

Councilman James Gray offered a narrower set of reservations, saying that even given the goal of giving the police chief more autonomy, that position should always report to the mayor and council. In response to a plank seeking to give more power to the New Orleans Business Alliance, Gray said he favors retaining an economic development department in City Hall as well.

Compiled by Jeff Adelson and Faimon A. Roberts III

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.