Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Being Bob Cerasoli: Web extra quotes

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 11:35 PM

This week's cover story, "Being Bob Cerasoli," left out a lot of thoughts from New Orleans' first-ever inspector general. Here are some of Cerasoli's quotes that didn't make the final cut (taken straight from the transcript):

On New Orleans' use, or misuse, of federal funds:

There are enormous amounts of federal money that are being used here that you could be using now, in the last four years, to educate, to have schools. They could have got together with the AFL-CIO. I even had this conversation with the head of the AFL-CIO trust fund who’s here from BostonI said, “Why aren’t they taking a portion of this money, using it to educate New Orleans youth, at-risk youth in the city of New Orleans?” And the projects that are left here have to use these youth that are educated with these funds to get the experience to build their own lives.

It’s a very simple thing. The money’s here now. It’s gonna be used over the next 10 years. Why isn’t anyone thinking this way? No, they’re not. They’re giving out all these contracts to all these people who aren’t from here, and none of the people that are here are going to benefit from this money.

It blows my mind. It’s absolutely… I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you. But I can’t… I’m an IG. I’ve gotta look at the stuff here. I’ve gotta find out what they’re doing with this money. But that would make sense to me. It would be a generation, truly, truly. If they took 1,000 youths from the inner city here, then did that, that alone would help transform a generation here....

There are kids here who are never gonna go to college. And if you want to put them on the same street corner with the drug dealer, and say, “Hey, I’m giving you a choice. You can do that, and end up dead like a lot of people you know; or you can do this, become an electrician or a plumber, and eventually, look, own your own business like those people there, and live in a secure environment, and have all the things you want.” Then at least you’re giving a choice, an option. You’re displaying that there is some public will to change things here.

But I don’t see that happening. I don’t see anyone stepping to the fore and doing that. And I understand. There are a lot of people that are engaged in the business community, there are a lot of non-profits that are engaged. But it’s not up to them; it’s up to the government. This attitude here, of putting everything into the hands of non-profits to do, instead of having the government do, has gotta end.

The government has to stand up for its responsibility. And that will initially, by the way, be counter-intuitive. It’s counter-intuitive. For us to go public and say, “We want to take all of the government and put it under the mayor and the council,” people might step back right now and say, “Oh, God, I don’t want to do that.” But in the future, you have to, because there’s no accountability here, there’s no “the buck stops here, it’s our responsibility, how come this isn’t being done?”

On local media and bloggers:

When I got in the IG’s office [in Massachusetts], computers were still really, in a sense, in their infancy. We had them in the IG’s office, but they weren’t taking over to the extent that they are now. After I left public service, I became more interested in computers, and I started doing a lot of research. I realized that, in my mind, that the whole trend of public information and the media was going to change, that the inception of the internet would probably force the print media to downsize.

I know this sounds like… I just assumed this in my mind. It’s almost a fait accompli now, that the print media would downsize, and that in fact there would be a change, that a lot of things would be over the Internet.

As I see this stuff, I realized that there are a lot of other people out there presenting information, in various formats. And I noticed this inception of the blogging community, which I see as -- not all blogs -- but I see there are legitimate bloggers who try and present the information in an independent, objective format. There is a lot of opinion, of course, interspersed, but I think it’s important to get everybody’s opinion out there.

So when I got to New Orleans, I found that I started reading the blogs, to find out what’s going on in the community. And I found out that the blogging community was very, very engaged, and I found some very sophisticated blogs.

So one of the first thing I did was, I reached out to the blogging community, and asked if I could meet with them. And there was a meeting that occurred at a coffeehouse in Bayou St. John with about, I don’t know, maybe 30 bloggers and myself. And they said they would have a meeting, they would meet with me if I agreed to have my conversation recorded, uninterrupted, on a podcast that would be put over the internet. I said, “Yeah, no problem. Why wouldn’t I do that?” And they found that interesting, because I don’t think anybody here in public life does that. They would never subject themselves to that.

So I did. They put the podcast on the Internet. And I think the blogging community realized that they had someone that was open to some of the things that they do. And as I’ve gotten to read more and more blogs –- and I’m pretty familiar with all the blogs -- I see a definite need for the information they present. I think the bloggers are a legitimate media source, but they don’t get paid for the media that they put out.

And I think that I want to engage the bloggers. I think that there is room here in New Orleans for a citizens’ participation effort. I think there’s room here for a network of people who drive public ire and can push a public agenda. I think I want to be part of that.

On New Orleans media:

Question: How do you characterize the so-called mainstream media here, the television news, the print media -- have we been doing our job?

I think they’re engaged. I think it’s not within my judgment to decide whether they’re doing their job or not.

Question: As a consumer, sure it is.

Yeah, but I think what happens is that… I’m not sure how committed every segment of the community is here to change.

On the surreal nature of the city:

Question: When you first got here, I know one of the speeches you gave, you talked about it’s like being in a Fellini film.

Fellini movie.

Question: Yeah. Has it gotten better or worse, or just more Fellini-esque?

More Fellini-esque.

Question: Do you get a kick out of this city in any way?

No, I don’t. Oh, God, I don’t laugh at any of this.

Question: No. I mean, is there anything of New Orleans that you find charming?

...The people.

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