Advancing his plan of consolidating city control over the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced Wednesday that Cedric Grant has finally taken the reins of one of the city’s biggest agencies and that the agency and the city have agreed to merge Grant’s former duty of overseeing city infrastructure with his new job atop the S&WB.
A cooperative endeavor agreement approved by both sides will create an “integrated infrastructure management system.” Under the arrangement, the state-created S&WB and the city’s Department of Public Works will fit under one umbrella as the water board gears up for hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure.
The change, unanimously approved by the S&WB’s board of directors Wednesday, is meant to create more efficient management of repair, maintenance and construction projects throughout the city. It is designed to eliminate, for instance, the common occurrence of roadways being repaired by the city only to be dug up again by the S&WB not long afterward.
“For too long the city and the Sewerage & Water Board were speaking different languages,” Landrieu said. “Nothing angers residents more, and especially me, than when a road is repaved and then next week is ripped up again to fix another problem.”
Grant, who served as Landrieu’s deputy mayor for facilities, infrastructure and community development for the past four years, will essentially oversee both his former city portfolio and a $3 billion S&WB building program that will replace aging pipes and other infrastructure.
The agreement calls for the city to coordinate the operations and management of the Department of Public Works, the Department of Property Management and the Office of Capital Projects with those of the S&WB. The Capital Projects Office also includes the disaster management and Community Development Block Grant offices.
That means that under Grant’s charge, the S&WB and the city will share personnel involved in the “construction, acquisition, improvement, maintenance and promotion of any public improvement project,” including public utilities, sewerage, drainage, flood control and streets, Landrieu said. Grant also will oversee project planning, funding and procurement efforts of those jobs. He will report to the mayor.
“Anything you build — top, bottom, under the ground, above the ground — will now be centrally coordinated,” Grant said.
The agreement is effective for one year and either side can terminate it in that period. At the end of the year, the S&WB directors will have the option to renew the arrangement. Landrieu also left open the possibility that the deal could eventually be enshrined in the City Charter.
Grant, who had been earning about $164,000 a year in his role with the city, will receive an annual salary of $210,000 in his new role, a 28 percent raise. He replaces Marcia St. Martin, who retired early this year as executive director of the water agency after a four-decade career with the city.
Grant’s move to the water board had been delayed by a Louisiana Board of Ethics decision that giving him the job would violate a state law that prohibits anyone from stepping down from a public board to accept a job or contract with that board within a two-year period.
Although Grant never formally served as a member of the Sewerage & Water Board, he served as Landrieu’s stand-in on the panel. The mayor automatically serves as president of the board, but Landrieu rarely attends meetings in person. The Legislature this year approved an exception in the law to let Grant take the S&WB job.
In addition to restructured management of the SW&B, its board of directors also has been overhauled in the past year. The number of members has been cut, new term limits put in place and requirements that most members have professional credentials added.