City Councilman Jay H. Banks is poised to join the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board after voters last week approved a plan to put a council representative back on the utility’s governing body.
Banks was selected by his colleagues on the council’s Public Works Committee on Thursday to serve on the S&WB.
He said his goal will be to provide accountability and restore confidence in the public utility, which has faced heavy criticism in the wake of flooding last summer, widespread billing issues and frequent boil-water advisories.
“We need to have some sort of public consciousness, public accountability,” Banks said.
The council is expected to formalize his appointment next week.
Banks, who is also serving on a state-created task force looking at options for reorganizing the S&WB, will get advice on technical issues from an engineer the council recently hired to work in its office that oversees utility regulation, Public Works Committee Chairman Joe Giarrusso said.
The engineer will also advise the council on issues concerning Entergy New Orleans.
The City Council traditionally had three seats on the S&WB. But those seats were eliminated by voters in in a 2013 restructuring that was aimed at building confidence in the board as rate increases were put into effect.
That left a board consisting solely of the mayor and 10 mayoral appointees, most of whom were supposed to have various professional qualifications.
Voters on Saturday approved a charter change restoring a council seat to the board in place of one of the mayoral picks. That measure, sparked by last summer’s flooding, passed with 65 percent of the vote.
The charter change allows Giarrusso, another member of the Public Works Committee or an engineer chosen by the council to serve as the council representative on the S&WB.
Giarrusso said he chose not to serve himself out of fear that it would undermine his effectiveness in holding the S&WB accountable through the Public Works Committee.
He said serving in both roles would put him “in a position of going along to get along” or being “a voice in the wilderness that will get lost.”
Having a council member on the board while an engineer who reports to the council scrutinizes relevant technical issues “means you have the best of all worlds — someone that is publicly accountable, who understands the issues and who will be helped by a professional,” Giarrusso said.
While having a council member serve on the board will not solve the myriad problems facing the utility, Banks said a different perspective could add a voice for ratepayers and constituents to the discussion.
As an example of a policy he felt was not sensible, he pointed to the S&WB’s decision this year to end a moratorium on water shut-offs for delinquent customers even as many customers continued to get inflated bills.
“The goal for me is to try to be a voice to put some sort of sensibility into the discussion,” Banks said.
“We have to understand that we’re dealing with people and lives. We’ve got to have that kind of compassion added to the discussion,” he said later.