Quatrevaux calls for abolishing the S&WB
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is calling on the city to abolish the Sewerage & Water Board in light of recent drainage failures and ongoing concerns about waste and abuse within the agency.
In a letter to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council last week, Quatrevaux said the S&WB should become a department of City Hall, giving the mayor direct oversight and control of its policies. That would also give voters a clear idea of where to lay the blame when they receive poor service, he said.
"The fundamental problem with the Sewerage & Water Board is that it is an institution impervious to change — it has ossified," Quatrevaux wrote. "Its celebrated independence permitted decades of technological progress to bypass the S&WB. Fees or millages increased when the inefficiencies could not be paid with current funds. The problem is structural, and the passing characters — mayors, directors, members of the S&WB — almost irrelevant."
The letter followed revelations of problems with pumps, turbines and staffing at the agency that are blamed for worsening the Aug. 5 flood.
Quatrevaux's office has often been critical of the S&WB over the years, though its previous work -- cited in the latest letter -- focused on financial and management problems at the agency. Those reports did not look at the capability or reliability of the drainage system, instead taking the agency to task for a variety of issues such as the theft of copper by S&WB employees, poor bill collection practices, issues with take-home vehicles and questionable expenses.
In several cases, the reports took the agency to task for having few checks on its overtime policies, something the IG's Office said could be abused.
Quatrevaux also cited a 2012 letter in which he recommended making the S&WB a city department to avoid waste and abuse within the agency.
"The problem," he said in his new letter, "is that the S&WB is too independent of the city and its voters. The recent decades have seen a transfer-of-wealth program that unburdened ratepayers and taxpayers of their money, often for the purpose of financing excessive employee benefits: a 4 percent S&WB contribution rate for employee pensions; gifts of jewelry at holiday parties; pay for 26 hours of work in a 24-hour day; take-home cars and/or trucks for employees not required to perform emergency services; and free breakfast for employees. These are the consequences of an organization removed from political control and the scrutiny of voters."
And, he argued, what would the city have to lose by moving the board's operations under City Hall?
"There is no risk in changing the status quo because independence has failed miserably for most of a century," Quatrevaux said in his new letter.
Little-known committee issues endorsements
The Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee has endorsed former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet in her run for New Orleans mayor.
Whether that will cut much ice with local voters, few of whom could tell you what the OPDEC does or who its members are, is uncertain.
Still, the group, which serves as the local arm of the state Democratic Party, also issued endorsements in other municipal races. Perhaps to no one's surprise, its picks largely favored incumbent officials and members of the organization.
The endorsements are:
City Council At-Large Division 1: state Rep. Helena Moreno
City Council At-Large Division 2: City Councilman Jason Williams
City Council District A: Aylin Maklansky
City Council District B: Jay Banks
City Council District C: City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey
City Council District D: City Councilman Jared Brossett
City Council District E: City Councilman James Gray
Both Maklansky and Banks are OPDEC members. The group's membership is determined by Democratic voters.
The group also endorsed Derrick Edwards, the sole Democrat running in the state treasurer's race, and Tracey Flemings-Davillier for a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.
It endorsed Dwight McKenna for coroner. Of course, he is now the only active candidate in the race after incumbent Jeffery Rouse announced he is ending his campaign.
Both candidates in the race for a seat on Civil District Court, Omar Mason and Nicole Sheppard, got OPDEC's endorsement.
Compiled by staff writer Jeff Adelson