Questioning whether the city's pumping stations and canals were working as planned, members of the New Orleans City Council said Sunday they want to hear more from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration about the city's response to flooding that swamped much of the city on Saturday.
Despite repeated assurances from administration officials, council members said they want to see proof that the elaborate drainage system intended to keep the New Orleans dry was functioning properly.
Every council member except Stacy Head was present at a news conference Sunday.
"Are our city pumps working as they should?" Councilman Jason Williams said. “If we can't handle a bad storm, then what will we do when there's a hurricane?"
As buckets of water fell on New Orleans on Saturday afternoon, dumping several inches of rai…
Council members recounted horror stories they heard from constituents about stranded cars and high water. City officials appeared to make matters worse by ticketing and towing vehicles that were parked on high ground, such as neutral grounds, Williams said.
The council has set a special meeting for 1 p.m. Tuesday to seek responses from the Mayor’s Office, the Sewerage & Water Board and others.
With most council members up for re-election or seeking higher office in October, it already appears that the city’s handling of the storm could become a campaign issue.
"We have to have the data. We have to have the questions answered as to what's going wrong, if anything,” said Jared Brossett, who represents Gentilly-based District D, much of which was hard hit Saturday.
At least one issue raised by council members will be resolved quickly, according to the city. Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said the city will not charge motorists whose vehicles were towed to city lots after the storm or enforce traffic tickets against them.
Berni said the Mayor’s Office looks forward to answering the council’s questions.
"We think it's really important that the public have the full facts," he said. "We don't have any information right now that suggests that anything was not working as planned.”
Still, Berni acknowledged that Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant made a communications misstep Saturday in blaming the flooding on climate change — at the same moment that many streets remained under inches of water.
Williams said that while he is a believer in climate change, it would be "completely unacceptable" to blame possibly malfunctioning pumps on global warming.
“I do think longer term, we’re going to have to continue to have conversations in this city about these no-notice events becoming more frequent, about storms becoming more intense,” Berni said. “But that can wait for another day, while we focus on helping people get back into their home and into their businesses.”