Boil-water advisories are all too familiar to New Orleans residents. Likewise, the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) is no stranger to investigations into its spending — including two scathing reports from New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux over the last year.
The IG's latest report, released Oct. 28, outlines the agency's history of spending on take-home vehicles. In 2014, roughly 45 percent of S&WB employees with take-home vehicles lived outside New Orleans, with several residing as far as Ascension and Livingston parishes. In July 2015, following a separate IG report on the agency's take-home policies, the department reduced take-home privileges from 110 vehicles to 89 — but nearly half of those employees still live outside the parish.
S&WB spent more than $390,000 on fuel and repairs last year, with $322,128 spent on fuel alone.
Take-home vehicles previously had to be approved by the agency's Safety Committee chairman, though 104 of 105 forms did not receive a signature — the only one with a signature was signed by the chairman himself. That policy changed this year; the agency simply eliminated signing requirements. The S&WB also eliminated a requirement that employees respond to at least four emergencies per month to qualify for a take-home vehicle.
In a letter announcing the report, Quatrevaux said the S&WB "has thrown out rules to prevent waste instead of enforcing them. ... The failure to control expenses results in less dollars for improving service to its customers."
S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant told Gambit via email that the agency "acknowledges" Quatrevaux's findings "and has already taken corrective action," which includes reducing the number of take-home vehicles by 20 percent.
"As Executive Director of S&WB," Grant wrote, "I am committed to ensuring that this essential public utility runs efficiently and in the best interest of our taxpayers."
The S&WB allows take-home vehicles so employees are able to respond faster to emergencies (rather than pick up a car from a central location), and those emergency responses are supposed to be coordinated and mapped out via GPS — though it's unclear whether that ever happened because the GPS protocol was rarely followed, according to the IG report.
"The lack of oversight and noncompliance with internal policies exposed S&WB to potential fraud, waste and abuse of its take-home vehicles," the report said. "Policies were in place but S&WB management did not ensure that these policies were being implemented or followed correctly."