If New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is going down, he means to take the Sewerage & Water Board with him.
Quatrevaux has made it clear that he regards himself as the bigger loss.
The public may not need much persuading on that score, having been left to wade through the streets after recent downpours caught the board with its turbines down while flacks declared it was all systems go. The whole disaster was vindication for Quatrevaux, who has lambasted the board in report after report in recent years.
Quatrevaux on S&WB: Worst he's ever seen
Now that the board has failed the city in its hour of need, Quatrevaux describes it as “the worst government entity I have encountered in 40 years as a government manager.”
Those damning words come from Quatrevaux's Strategic Plan, 2018, which he has just released, although chances are he won't be around to implement it. The Ethics Board had instituted a search for a new inspector general even before one of Quatrevaux's lieutenants accused another in a leaked internal memo of doctoring investigative reports and hiring cronies.
The Ethics Board had provided no hint of where Quatrevaux might have fallen short in his pursuit of fraud, waste, self-dealing, idleness and incompetence within government agencies. The board, moreover, raised his salary to about $205,000 last year, while Quantrevaux, by his own calculations, saved the city almost $100 million since he was hired in 2009.
Quatrevaux calls for abolishing the S&WB
But an inspector general who does not create powerful enemies is likely not doing his job, and Quatrevaux has never been accused of a want of diligence. As he has pointed out himself, the Ethics Board wouldn't be spending $115,000 on a nationwide search for a replacement if there were much doubt about his fate.
Amid the mountain of reports generated during Quatrevaux's tenure, a fair proportion have been devoted to the S&WB. Its various failings led Quatrevaux, in 2012, to suggest that the functions of what is now a quasi-independent board should be transferred to a department within city government.
A couple of weeks ago, in a letter to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council, Quatrevaaux repeated his recommendation. Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, a candidate to replace Landrieu when his term is up next year, has embraced the idea too.
At the S&WB, Quatrevaux assured the mayor and council, “some workers regularly engage in theft and abuse, and its managers have been far too comfortable with mediocre performance.” More “instances of fraud and theft” continue to come to light. Brass parts worth $500,000 went missing over a three-year period, the S&WB sucks at collecting fees and spends extravagantly, Quatrevaux alleged.
You know what New Orleans could probably use right about now, with the city on edge over the fragile state of its all-important drainage syste…
It was all prelude to the recent debacle, according to Quatrevaux, who wrote that “an organization cannot perform poorly in finance and administration, yet perform well in operations.” If that is true, given the S&WB's failure to shape up in response to Quatrevaux's strictures, we had better make sure our boats are ready the next time we get a decent rain.
S&WB members are appointed by the mayor, with council approval, from a list drawn up by local universities and other worthy institutions. Members can serve only two four-year terms, but, so long as they are in office, are untouchable. When the board was established in 1903, its autonomy was guaranteed, supposedly as a safeguard against the corruption that riddled city government.
Ever since, the S&WB has been demonstrating the fallacy of the proposition that government should be run like a business. The board provides daily proof that, if public employees are not subject to the normal constraints of democracy, there is no incentive to handle tax revenues wisely or efficiently. The S&WB has relieved the public of vast amounts of money to finance fabulous employee benefits and pensions, while the recent flood exposed a level of incompetence and dereliction that brought the careers of its director and other top management to an end.
The answer to the woes of the S&WB, according to Quatrevaux, is a “modern organizational structure, one that makes elected officials responsible for the organization's performance.”
A sewerage and drainage department within the administration could hardly be less efficient than the current set-up. It might turn out to be a fitting legacy for Quatrevaux.
Email James Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org.