Voters in New Orleans and Jefferson parishes go to the polls on Saturday, Oct. 19, to decide a handful of quiet but important elections and propositions. In New Orleans, the ballot contains races for judge and two proposed City Charter amendments. In Jefferson, voters will elect a Juvenile Court judge and decide the fate of millage renewals for public education, as well as water and sewerage operations. We urge all our readers in Orleans and Jefferson to vote on Saturday, and we make the following recommendations:
New Orleans Proposition 1: FOR
Proposition 1 would amend the City Charter to abolish the Board of Electrical Examiners, the Board of Examiners of Operating Engineers and the Board of Mechanical Examiners. All three boards have been dormant for more than a decade. According to the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), these boards previously administered contractor exams and issued licenses. Contractors seeking to work in New Orleans now take exams administered by the state or a nonprofit industry organization, so these boards are no longer needed. "Eliminating the examiner boards is part of the mayor's plan to streamline government by eliminating defunct boards and combining others that have overlapping or related responsibilities," says BGR, which supports the amendment. We agree, and we urge our readers in New Orleans to vote FOR Proposition 1.
New Orleans Proposition 2: FOR
Proposition 2 would amend the City Charter to change the composition of the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB). Among other things, the proposed amendment would reduce the number of board members from 13 to 11 by removing the three City Council members who presently sit on the board, and add one citizen member. The amendment also calls for a nominating process for potential board members, shortens members' terms, imposes term limits and requires relevant experience and qualifications for board membership.
The S&WB was established more than a century ago by the state Legislature and was charged with constructing, maintaining and operating the city's water, sewerage and drainage systems. It presently has 13 members, including the mayor, three City Council members, two members from the Board of Liquidation, City Debt and seven appointed citizens. Although enshrined in state law, the board is also a city agency; significant changes to its governance often require state legislation as well as amendments to the City Charter. The proposed amendment on Saturday's ballot will trigger implementation of state legislation already passed by lawmakers. If approved by voters, the proposed changes will take effect Jan. 1.
Among the most significant changes is the idea of removing the three City Council members from the board. Because the board sometimes has to ask the council for a rate increase, council members who sit on the board have an inherent conflict of interest. It thus makes sense to remove council members from the board. At the same time, it seems reasonable to reduce the size of the board and to establish criteria for selecting board members with appropriate professional experience and expertise. We urge our readers in New Orleans to vote FOR Proposition 2.
Jefferson Parish School Millage: FOR
Last May, when voters in Jefferson resoundingly voted against extending tolls on the Crescent City Connection, they also narrowly rejected a proposition to renew a 7-mill property tax for public education.
Many believe the school millage proposition — along with two millage renewals for parish sewerage and water services — were overshadowed by the more controversial toll referendum and suffered from a general "vote no" mood among voters. All three millage renewals were defeated. On Saturday, all three are back on the ballot.
Two weeks ago, we endorsed renewal of the parish water and sewerage millages. Both would merely extend the taxes at their present rate and not raise taxes at all. The same is true of the school board millage. We support all three renewals.
The school board millage originally was set at 12 mills when voters approved it decades ago. It gradually has been "rolled back" to its present level of 7 mills, which the board seeks to renew for another 10 years, starting in 2015. The millage would not raise property taxes. Equally important, it generates more than $23 million a year and accounts for more than 5 percent of the board's annual budget, which has seen significant cutbacks in recent years. Failure to renew the millage would impose even deeper cuts and put the education of thousands of schoolchildren at risk. We urge Jefferson voters to vote FOR the school board millage renewal.
The ballot in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes also includes judicial elections. Because Gambit has long favored an appointed judiciary, we make no endorsements in those races.