It's been six months since New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu left office. One could argue he left the city he ran for eight years a mess. This week, that case got even stronger.
A scathing report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office reveals just how bad things were at the Sewerage & Water Board when Landrieu served as mayor and board president. The audit claims the S&WB did not have policies in place to sufficiently monitor agency contracts. The audit also found the board possibly violated state law regarding the length of time bids were advertised. Auditors say S&WB's poor oversight left the public utility open to millions of dollars of overcharging by contractors or paying for subpar work.
The New Orleans City Council gave a mostly warm reception Monday to 2019 spending plans for major portions of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s reorgani…
Legislative auditors say S&WB paid twice as much as it should have by using a self-generated on-site power plant to run most of the drainage system. Auditors recommend that the utility instead purchase power from an outside energy company, as all other parishes in the area do.
But what really stands out with the report is the S&WB's frivolous spending of ratepayer money. The audit showed S&WB held award dinners between 2013 and 2016 for employees. The board spent more than $70,0000 on those dinners that included buying employees gold-plated watches and other jewelry. This all happened while Landrieu served as president of the board.
Legislative auditors began their investigation after the Aug. 5, 2017, flooding caused water to reach thigh-high levels in parts of New Orleans in the wake of a single afternoon rainstorm. The Landrieu administration initially said the city's pumps were working at full capacity. It then admitted seven pumps were broken. It then changed the number to 14. Eventually, we learned 16 pumps were not operating during the August 5 storm. The mayor's appointee, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant, initially said nothing of pump failure when confronted by the media the day of the storm, instead blaming the rising water on climate change.
Landrieu's presiding over the decay and deterioration of the city's drainage system is just one example of his several missteps as mayor. Landrieu divided New Orleans as no other politician has in recent memory by tearing down iconic Civil War monuments without a vote of the people. He then wrote a self-congratulatory book about it and launched a national tour in front of adoring media to boost his political ambitions.
And then there's the new airport Landrieu so often bragged about. The facility was supposed to be up and running six months ago, timed perfectly for a "look-what-I-did" unveiling for Landrieu as he rode off into the sunset. The boondoggle project now won't open until at least May of next year. We could've built two airports for the money we're spending based on what Landrieu originally said it would cost. The facility's $1.3 billion price tag is double what Landrieu promised it would cost in 2013. Unresolved road access issues could drive the price considerably higher and add even more delays. We could have expanded and renovated the current airport for far less money. There's a reason no other major city in the United States has a built a new airport since 2008. It's expensive.
Another black mark on Landrieu's time as mayor is his two-year police hiring freeze when first elected in 2010. As a result, NOPD numbers dropped from 1,546 to 1,165 by the end of 2016. When he first took office, half of the city's murders went unsolved. More than three-quarters went unsolved his final year in office.
Landrieu also did very little to improve the condition of streets in New Orleans. In 2016, a major study found just 14 percent of city streets to be in good condition. Sixty-five percent were given grades of D or worse. Some might blame the Louisiana soil, but the streets in Jefferson Parish are in far better shape than Orleans Parish.
The recent S&WB audit is the latest in a long list of examples of the mess Landrieu left Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Hopefully, she's up to the challenge.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's on Twitter, @DanFaganShow.