Monday, December 17, 2018

Rearranging the Board chairs on a sinking utility

It says here that a task force appointed by the legislature to come up with options for reforming Sewerage and Water Board is moving away from the idea of privatization.  It says that loudly in the headline so that everybody can relax and not worry about what they're actually suggesting. That would be a mistake, though, since what they are suggesting is not necessarily better.
One option Antrup said the task force may recommend is forming a drainage-specific agency to oversee all drainage operations in the city, either via a newly created agency or an oversight body similar to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services in North Carolina. Antrup said the option could involve implementing a new stormwater fee for impervious surfaces on properties, which the Sewerage & Water Board has already been analyzing in recent years as a way to harness additional drainage system revenues beyond property taxes. That fee would also allow for the utility to offer grant programs to assist low-income residents with reducing impervious surfaces on their properties, Antrup said.

Another option on the table for the task force, Antrup said, is reforming the Sewerage & Water Board’s management structure into a public benefit corporation, whose profits would be directed into the agency’s operations. The task force has taken a look at how Citizens Energy Group in Indianapolis works as a model, Antrup said. The city struck a $1.9 billion deal in 2011 to transfer the city’s water and sewer utilities to Citizens, which an Indianapolis news release at the time described as “a public charitable trust that operates like a not-for-profit.”
Ah see that's probably the preferred option.  A public benefit corporation offers all the opportunities for piracy that outright privatization would while also building in the means of keeping the graft inside the usual circle of quasi-governmental non-profit operators who run everything in this city anyway.

On that note, I thought this recent episode of the The Lens podcast could have been improved if the segment about the web of kickbacks and favor trading that comprise the local non-profit industrial complex had been connected to the segment about the now 14 year old Taylor Energy oil spill. Phyllis Taylor is, after all, kind of the matriarch of that whole scene. It would make more sense if people got some perspective on how dirty all the dirty money that gets passed around really is. 

Whatever they end up doing at S&WB is likely to be just the latest rearrangement of the same old deck chairs. Every now and then they need to refresh the order. But it's still the same game of determining a more frictionless system for distributing the money.

Which is why the ballot measure passed in last week's election isn't likely to be of much consequence. What it does is put a City Councilmember back on the Board.  Mitch Landrieu's reforms removed two Council seats just a few years ago in favor of seats appointed by the mayor with input from a collection of community luminaries such as the University Presidents and others with heavy ties to our friends in the familiar NOLA fundraiser's cabal.  I voted for this year's amendment figuring it at least looks like a move toward a more democratic spirit of oversight. But I don't have any illusions it will actually achieve that.

Anyway, after the measure passed, the Council decided to appoint Jay Banks as their SWB representative. What's most interesting about that is, prior to his election to City Council, Banks had been a John Bel Edwards appointee to the Convention Center Board.  Currently the Governor and the Mayor are having a disagreement over whether hotel/motel tax revenue currently controlled by the Convention Center should go to SWB instead.  Banks seems to have a foot in each of those camps now.  Will his role on the Board find him furthering the Mayor's plan? Or will he be more involved in walking it back?  Either way, I'm sure the key will be in making sure the important people who pass all the money among themselves under the current system continue to do that under whatever new plan is devised.

No comments: