Gov. Bobby Jindal signed off Friday on a bill allowing Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant to become executive director of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, despite a request from a member of the state ethics board that Jindal veto the measure.
Grant, the city’s deputy mayor for facilities, infrastructure and community development since 2010, was chosen to lead the S&WB late last year, succeeding Marcia St. Martin, but his appointment was held up by concerns that his leap from the Mayor’s Office would violate state ethics rules.
A Louisiana Board of Ethics opinion issued in April said Grant should be made to wait two years before being allowed to take the water board post. The board cited a law that prohibits individuals who serve on a public board from stepping down and then seeking a job or contract with that board within a two-year period.
Although Grant has not been an official member of the agency’s board of directors, as a deputy mayor he often represented Mayor Mitch Landrieu at board meetings. According to the ethics board, Grant attended 27 of 31 board meetings over the past three years.
Senate Bill 303 was introduced by state Sens. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, and J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, in response to the ethics board’s opinion. It exempts from the two-year layover rule a person who served on a board “as a designee, as authorized by law, of a mayor, but was not subject to confirmation nor confirmed by the council,” in cities with 300,000 or more people.
The measure cleared the House and Senate without significant objection. But ethics board member Peppi Bruneau, a former state legislator, urged the governor to veto the measure.
“It is bad policy to carve out an exemption for one person,” Bruneau wrote in a letter to Jindal obtained by a local television news station. He said the prohibition is in place to limit “insider influence” and to “protect the public from undue influences in job placement by insiders.”
“This type of example will substantially weaken the effect of these prohibitions and will set a precedent for employment prohibition exceptions to the Code of Ethics in the future,” Bruneau added.
It is not clear when Grant will take the helm of the water board. Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble said the board will meet in July and “decide on a start date and other particulars.”
Landrieu issued a statement saying that “throughout his distinguished 40-year career, Cedric has demonstrated exceptional leadership and integrity as a public servant. In his leadership of the Sewerage & Water Board, he will continue his efforts to rebuild and strengthen the infrastructure that is so critical to our city’s growth and future. There is no person better prepared to take on the task of modernizing this critical public utility.”
The board plans to spend $3.3 billion in coming years to rebuild the city’s aging water and sewer systems.