Top Landrieu aide backs RTA head

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s second-in-command had praise last week for the Regional Transit Authority's new executive director, even as the man’s employment record has raised questions among some others.

The questions began after The New Orleans Advocate disclosed Greg Cook’s resignation from a previous post amid questions about his spending. The RTA board said in a statement that members had discussed the matter with Cook before he was hired, but Cook said they hadn’t.

Two members of the panel that hired him said they didn’t know about the resignation at the time they voted on him.

But the city’s chief administrative officer, Jeff Hebert, expressed faith in Cook on Wednesday.

“As participants in the interview process and after conducting reference checks with recent employers, we feel that Greg Cook is the most qualified candidate from the applicant pool for the executive director position at RTA,” Hebert said. “We are confident that he will be able to meet the expectations of the board.”

Hebert was one of eight members of a committee that reviewed Cook and 35 other contenders before making a recommendation to the full RTA board. That board voted March 10 to hire Cook.

No sooner did it do so than questions arose about his past, however.

While serving as the head of a transit agency in Michigan, Cook charged a $662 airline ticket for a job interview trip in 2006 to an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority credit card and didn’t pay it back until the board discovered it months later, that board’s chairman told the Ann Arbor News.

That board already had been monitoring Cook’s expenses, which it saw as excessive, according to the Michigan newspaper.

Also in question were the circumstances of Cook’s termination from a job he held in Georgia.

Cook has defended his record, saying that reports about him in Michigan were inaccurate and were the work of a new board that was out to get him after he refused to back it on a separate issue. The Georgia termination came after he refused to relocate, he said.

He did say that he was asked by the RTA hiring committee and board members if he had any skeletons in his closet, though not about any specific situations.

That was in contrast with the RTA board’s statement saying members had discussed those situations with him.

Two members of the hiring panel Hebert served on, City Councilman Jared Brossett and RTA Vice Chairwoman Earline Roth, said they didn’t know about the Michigan situation. Both said the matter concerned them, but they stopped short of calling for Cook’s resignation.

Landrieu’s office has been involved in the selection process since it began last year after the mayor appointed three new board members for the RTA. The new chairwoman, former City Attorney Sharonda Williams, shepherded the process that resulted in Cook's hiring.

Landrieu speaks out on national issues

Landrieu may be the mayor of New Orleans, but he certainly is keeping one eye trained on Washington, D.C., these days. Consider these recent releases from his office:

Thursday: "The budget proposal released by the White House today sets the wrong priorities for American cities and metropolitan areas and will not keep President Trump’s promise to make America stronger and more secure."

March 13: The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the American Health Care Act proposed by Republicans “has confirmed our worst fears. President Trump is blatantly violating his campaign promise that more Americans would have better health care for less money. His proposal ... would be bad news for Louisiana's health, economy and budget."

March 9: On Trump's proposal to cut Community Development Block Grant funds: "Every day we learn of a new proposal by President Trump and the Republicans that takes away from the poor and working class. ... (This plan) will not make America great again."

March 7: The Trump/GOP health care proposal “will ration health care for the working poor and middle class (and) will result in fewer doctors and a higher out-of-pocket cost for American citizens. ... The proposed bill will take Louisiana back to the days when an ear infection meant a mother loses her job because she waited hours in an emergency room with her sick child."

There are members of Congress who don't issue statements this regularly on what's happening in Washington. But at least no one is in any doubt on where Landrieu, whose term as mayor ends in a little over a year, stands on national issues.

Compiled by Jessica Williams and Bruce Eggler