Human Resources Director Sharon Judkins told the board of directors Wednesday (Aug. 16) that the S&WB was short 290 people at the end of July, based on its budget for 1,500 employees. It also has 240 workers eligible to retire, including 121 who are participating in the agency's five-year deferred retirement option program, or DROP.It wasn't just Grant trying to lobby Baton Rouge for these changes. The mayor has a hand in that too. Mitch spent last week implausibly feigning ignorance of some basic information about the status of pumps and turbines. Here he says he was never notified of a power failure back in March of this year. But longtime subscribers to regular water service in New Orleans find this dubious given the near constant attention these issues have gotten from one boil order to the next throughout Landrieu's term in office. Even the most casual observers are aware there have been problems.
Those averages have plagued the board for months, if not years. In response, outgoing S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant earlier this year had tried to eliminate civil service requirements for all future employees. But he failed to sway the state Legislature.
In fact, in his 2012 pitch for a rate increase, the mayor wanted to "be very clear" about the danger we were in.
"I want to be very clear about this, the city is in a position of danger right now. The power plant at the Sewerage and Water Board has broken five times since Katrina," Mayor Landrieu said in an address back in 2012.And this was after a 2010 post-boil order examination where new emergency protocols were supposedly put in place.
But at a news conference a few days later, Sneed said that message didn't arrive for several hours and that it didn't include an official copy of the advisory, which Sneed insisted was needed in order to issue the alert.So somewhere along the line we went from, "we will send a cop to knock on the mayor's door at 2 am if necessary," to, "nobody told the mayor for months that the turbines were on fire." It's possible this happened after Cedric Grant took over. I guess Mitch really really trusted him for some reason.
"In the middle of the night, e-mail is good, but it needs to be followed up by phone calls to ensure that we got those messages," he said. "All those problems have been corrected, and we feel confident that the issues won't happen again."
St. Martin and Sneed said on Friday that they have changed their emergency protocols as a result. In the future, they said, they will call senior city officials at their home and cell phones -- or dispatch police to rouse them, if necessary -- when major problems occur at night.
Until he didn't.
Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant will leave much sooner than he indicated, possibly starting his retirement as early as next week, sources told WWL-TV Friday.Grant will be fine, as we are all well aware by now. He's got a big pension waiting for him. That's more than we can say for most of the S&WB line employees, though. And as city leaders move ahead with plans to "reform" municipal pensions or contract more and more work out, that's only going to get worse.
His departure would clear the way for a soon-to-be-named management team which apparently will be made up of at least five state and national experts from various fields.
It's still highly likely that the incoming team of "experts in various fields" will favor more privatization, regardless of the "vehement denials" we read about here.
The state senator now plans to introduce a bill to put City Council members back on the utility's board of directors, which would undo changes in state law that he had helped Landrieu and the council make four years ago.J.P. might be taking this a bit personally. But at least he's pushing in the right direction now. He has to because Morial's argument is correct. The recent reforms are fundamentally undemocratic and S&WB needs better public oversight than that. Morial actually proposed doing away with the board altogether. But if we can't have that, at least let's have more accountability to the citiznery and less to the freaking university presidents.
Morrell said Thursday (Aug. 17) that his proposal is a direct response to accusations that the Landrieu administration is attempting to privatize the 119-year-old public utility. The mayor and his spokespeople have vehemently denied any plans to privatize, saying they are hiring outside companies under temporary contracts to figure out what went wrong during the Aug. 5 flood and to help right the S&WB ship.
The final straw for Morrell came from an opinion piece by Jacques Morial, which was posted on The Lens website Wednesday. In it, Morial blasted Morrell and state Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, for carrying legislation in 2013 to remove council members from the S&WB. Morial equated that action to a first step toward privatization.
The move to push Grant out the door sooner in favor of yet to be named consultants, doesn't bode well, though. At the end of the day, it's still more or less impossible for the Mitch Landrieus of the world to imagine any solution that isn't heavily flavored with public-private partnerships. When in doubt, contract it out. And there's never more doubt to work with than in the middle of a crisis. So far we're only vaguely aware of how this crisis impacts upper management at S&WB. They're "retiring" with upper management pensions. The consequences for the employees there are likely to be far worse.