The beat-up vinyl couch is gone. So are the old carpet and the former director’s desk and chair.
There’s new paint, new wallpaper and new flooring, all in shades of blue — “Icicle” and “Marine” for the walls, “Waterway” for the floor.
There also are a modern conference table, leather chairs and new desks.
In the year since he was hired to overhaul the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, Cedric Grant has been presiding over a less heralded makeover: the $60,000 renovation of his own office.
Grant’s office comprises two rooms — each about the size of a bedroom — in the agency’s drab brick building on St. Joseph Street near Lee Circle. His second-floor space, with its shiny brown furnishings and high-technology upgrades, stands in contrast to the standard-issue office furniture and equipment typically found in government offices.
But in a recent interview, Grant defended the spending as a part of a broader effort to bring a new sense of purpose to a shabby public agency and remake it as a world-class organization, even if he spends only half of his work week there.
“This is an old, tired place,” he said. “We want it to be really leaning forward and managed well, top down.”
The Mayor’s Office refused a request to let The New Orleans Advocate photograph the renovated offices.
Grant’s office makeover, detailed in receipts and purchase orders obtained through a public-records request, represents a negligible amount of the S&WB’s nearly $300 million annual budget.
But records show that taxpayers plunked down $10,000 to paint the rooms and another $30,000 for an interactive “white board” and computer monitor that Grant said is a more efficient way to manage infrastructure projects. Furniture and other equipment brought the grand total even higher.
The spending began after Grant replaced Marcia St. Martin, the S&WB’s longtime executive director, as part of an overhaul of the agency engineered by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Under Grant, the supposedly independent agency has become almost an arm of City Hall.
Before taking the job, Grant served as Landrieu’s deputy mayor for facilities and infrastructure. The mayor, in fact, successfully petitioned the Legislature to change state law to allow Grant to take the top job at the S&WB without having to sit out for two years. And Grant continues to oversee much of the infrastructure work that he was in charge of as deputy mayor.
In fact, he spends about half of his time at the S&WB office and the other half in office space leased by the city in a building on Poydras Street.
When he moved into the S&WB offices, Grant said, he was disappointed by the low-tech atmosphere of the place.
The office he inherited had not “been touched since the ’80s,” he said.
“And I’m being kind,” he added. “The wallpaper was crumbling off the walls. There was mold behind it.”
So he went to work remodeling his executive suite.
Grant turned what had been St. Martin’s main office into a meeting room for his senior staff. St. Martin’s desk and a couch were replaced with a 12-foot, espresso-colored conference table and eight faux leather chairs. He turned a smaller room off the main room into his personal office.
In all, Grant spent about $8,700 on furniture. In addition to the conference table and chairs, receipts show he purchased an executive desk and chair, a computer credenza, a “stand up” desk and four guest chairs for his personal office.
The dark wood furniture is complemented by a dark blue carpet that cost $6,769.92 and lighter blue wallpaper, which ran $1,092.
The areas that didn’t get wallpaper were touched up with a new coat of Sherwin Williams’ “Icicle.” The agency paid about $1,250 for the paint, primer and other supplies and another $9,129.62, after a 10 percent discount, on labor. Grant said the company stayed within its estimate but that painting is “just expensive.”
The paint work was done by Kenner-based Professional Refinishing LLC. Attempts to reach the company by telephone and email were unsuccessful.
Grant also purchased faux wood blinds for the windows looking out onto St. Joseph Street for $2,435.50.
“Yeah, it cost a little money, but I think it was a very wise investment in relation to our ability to manage better and bring ourselves into the modern age in relation to how we need to manage and communicate with people,” Grant said.
What’s more, he said, with the agency undertaking a major building program to replace aging pipes and other infrastructure, and New Orleans aiming to become a world leader in water management, the agency needs to look the part of a sophisticated operation. He couldn’t, for instance, host foreign leaders in an office with peeling, yellow wallpaper and a “nasty” vinyl couch, he said.
“What’s the image that we need to put forth?” Grant said. “The image of the organization needed to be one of a professional, public organization.”
Although the S&WB is a government agency, Grant said he plans to manage it more like an economic development organization, meaning it will both look and function in a more progressive way.
The spending did not require the approval of the agency’s board, said architect Ray Manning, the board’s president pro-tem and a Finance Committee member. The money came from a discretionary fund that Grant controls, he said.
Grant said the renovation was properly procured according to state bid laws.
Manning said he and Grant did discuss the changes the new executive director intended to make.
“Given the way he framed it to me, it was certainly something I thought was going to be beneficial to the agency,” Manning said. “What he and I talked about, in general, is trying to get the agency in the 21st century. I’m totally supportive of what he’s attempting to do here.”
Easily the most eye-popping expense in Grant’s renovation is the more than $30,666 spent on a 70-inch “SMART Board” — a cross between a white board, a flat-screen television and a computer monitor — that Grant said will transform the way he and his staff conduct business.
The $10,780 flat panel screen can be controlled by a $2,400 wireless touch-screen remote control. Installation and additional components, including a Blu-ray player and audio equipment, tacked on more than $17,000, according to receipts.
The S&WB contracted with Lafayette-based Summit Integration Systems to provide the board.
“I can’t manage this with pieces of paper anymore,” Grant said. “I have to have so much information come to me.”
The tool allows him, among other things, to monitor the ongoing construction projects of the city, the S&WB and other entities, like Entergy. Having the information at his fingertips, Grant said, he can identify and solve problems more efficiently.
“We could do that on paper, I guess,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is … this is the way effective management is done around the country.”