Each year at this time, we suggest New Year's resolutions for public officials. Three-and-a-half years into the post-Katrina recovery, the challenges for New Orleans and Louisiana remain as great as ever. So-called 100-year flood protection is still at least two years from completion for southeast Louisiana, and our city remains one of the deadliest in the country. In trying times such as these, great leaders sometimes emerge. With that hope in mind, we offer some suggestions for the coming-out party.
• President-elect Barack Obama spent little time campaigning in Louisiana, and his speeches made only occasional references to Hurricane Katrina and the recovery. His Web site, however, contained a detailed action plan for the Gulf Coast. His work begins now. Mr. President, please resolve to help south Louisiana recover from the storms of 2005 and 2008. You can start by completely reforming FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
• It's useless to tell Gov. Bobby Jindal to keep his eyes off national office, but we hope he realizes that the best way to pump up his resumé is to attack the problems that still plague Louisiana — especially our eternally low national rankings in poverty, education and social programs. Our rock-bottom status in health care also is a huge blight on the record of this governor, who is the former director of the state's Department of Health & Hospitals. If Jindal's Medicaid-reform proposal, Louisiana Health First, succeeds, the real winner will be low-income and uninsured Louisianans. Meanwhile, Governor, you should resolve to focus on Louisiana first, all the time.
• The governor and state lawmakers must dig deep this spring to resolve an anticipated $2 billion shortfall in the state's next budget. It won't be easy to make deep cuts without crippling the state. Jindal started last week with the usual — cutting higher education and health care, the only two major budget areas not constitutionally protected against cuts. Instead of whining about legislative pay, or introducing idiotic bills like the Louisiana Science Education Act, lawmakers should reach across the aisle and to the governor's office to balance the state budget using existing revenues.
• When the New Orleans City Council works as a team, it's the best council the city has had in a decade. Finding ways to work together should be councilmembers' top priority in 2009, particularly when it comes to dealing with our city's combative yet increasingly disengaged mayor.
• New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley needs to take personal and professional responsibility for the crime rate in New Orleans. Riley may have a point that the root causes of New Orleans' crime are poor public education and the lack of opportunities for young people, but when he offers these explanations over and over, he sounds more like a politician making excuses than a lawman protecting citizens.
• After a year of equipment- and personnel-related delays, Inspector General Robert Cerasoli has issued his first interim report regarding abuse of the take-home car policy by city employees. The report was thorough, direct and made several useful suggestions. Cerasoli should keep digging. In addition, because the IG cannot introduce legislation directly, the City Council should heed his reports and take action.
• New DA Leon Cannizzaro has to fight crime on several fronts at once. He must put criminals in jail to stem the current crime wave, and he must continue to clean up the mess left by former DAs Eddie Jordan and Harry Connick Sr., the latter of whom left the office with a $14 million judgment for failing to turn over evidence as required by law. Cannizzaro should resolve not to let the office's many challenges wear him down.
• The brand-new Orleans Parish School Board should resolve to bring New Orleans public schools back under the control of one board elected by New Orleanians. This will require working closely with the Recovery School District, the Legislature, and local business and civic communities. It should start by running a tight fiscal ship and making sure recent reforms continue.
• Finally, last year, we wrote that Mayor Ray Nagin "should try to get through an entire year without saying something that embarrasses his city." Some resolutions are worth repeating. Hope springs eternal.
Happy New Year, everyone.