Sunday, May 22, 2011

Don't forget Billboard Ben

This morning James Gill's column is titled "If only Ray Nagin had lost the New Orleans mayoral election in 2006" In it, he pins blame for the dumbfounding tragicomedy of the second Nagin administration on the Meffert-St. Pierre cohort and their willingness to raise campaign money under the table.

Hardly anything that Meffert, St. Pierre and their associates installed ever did work. They were billed as the young thrusters who would bring the city's antiquated IT systems up to whiz-bang standards. Meffert left City Hall several months after the 2006 election, while St. Pierre and his associates remained as contractors.

By the time Landrieu took over, we had not only malfunctioning crime cameras, but email systems that had insufficient storage space and regularly crashed. The financial tracking system had gone haywire. Records were still stored on an aged mainframe.

If only Nagin had lost that election in 2006, as, indeed, he feared he might. That's why he told Meffert to raise $250,000 pronto. Meffert then turned to St. Pierre, who kicked in $100,000 by handing cash to various minions who then each made a $5,000 contribution, the maximum allowed by law. The use of proxies to evade the limit is illegal, but St. Pierre isn't worried about such trivial infractions right now. He is in some serious soup.

So Gill's thesis is not without merit. But it's also incomplete. Meffert and St. Pierre weren't the only big contributors to the Nagin campaign that year to end up with legal difficulties.

Longtime S&WB member Benjamin Edwards sentenced to 21 years in kickback scheme
Published: Thursday, June 24, 2010

Initially a Nagin skeptic, Edwards became an ardent supporter, pumping $270,000 into Nagin's 2006 re-election -- roughly one-sixth of what the Nagin campaign itself spent. He was the board's longest-serving member at the time of his resignation.

In pleading guilty to wire fraud, Edwards acknowledged receiving part of a $63,279 payment made on Feb. 15, 2006, by a major Sewerage & Water Board contractor, MWH of Colorado, to Management Construction Consultant Inspection, which was secretly controlled by Bruce Edwards.

It's one thing to say, as Gill does, that a few corrupt bugs in the technology department can wreak a lot of havoc on a system. But it's appropriate once again to ask if those bugs were actually more of a feature.

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