Every new mayor has a to-do list, but when Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu moves into City Hall on May 3, he'll have to prioritize many things that need to be done in New Orleans. Here are our suggestions for the new mayor's to-do list. (Landrieu has already promised to deliver on some of these ideas, but they're worth restating.)
• Sign the Public-Private Partnership for Economic Development Agreement — and fund it. The partnership as currently stated represents both a top-down as well as a bottom-up approach to economic development. That should ease fears by some that the plan will not meet the needs of small and minority-owned businesses. At the same time, it should put in place an objective set of criteria that addresses micro- as well as macroeconomic goals — and give Landrieu and the new council a sound basis for demanding transparency and accountability from all recipients of the city's investment.
• Support the Public-Private Partnership for the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD), and put political capital behind the effort to fund NORD at a level that will make it the effective crime-fighting tool it can be. The NORD citizens' advisory panel calls for a dedicated, voter-approved property tax millage phased in over 15 years. In the interim, the new mayor and council should take steps to assure citizens that every possible economy has been realized in the city budget, and that every existing millage is justified at the current rate. If existing revenues then cannot fund NORD adequately, we believe citizens will step up — behind united leadership at City Hall — and give NORD the secure fiscal footing it deserves.
• Let the new police chief run the NOPD — all of it. We know the mayor-elect and his transition team are already conducting a national search for a new police chief and that Landrieu wants to name the new chief by his May 3 inauguration. But that's just the first step. In some previous administrations, deputy chiefs, majors and captains rose through the ranks as a result of political connections at City Hall. That practice must end. We urge the new mayor to let the new chief run — and clean up — NOPD.
• Work with the District Attorney. It's an open secret that the new mayor did not support DA Leon Cannizzaro in the 2008 district attorney's race — and that Cannizzaro supported one of Landrieu's opponents in the Feb. 6 primary. Let's call it a draw. Now it's time to join forces and do what's right for the citizenry. A good place to start is the budget. Cannizzaro wants a dedicated portion of the city budget. The mayor and the council have to balance hundreds of budgetary concerns every year. Going forward, Cannizzaro should submit a totally transparent budget, one that reveals the salaries of all higher-ups and the deployment of state-granted warrants. The mayor and council, in turn, should help the DA identify and secure local and state revenue sources.
• Fund NORA. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority represents the surest way to address post-Katrina blight, but NORA was never given a realistic chance to do that. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the need for an entity with expropriation powers became more evident than ever. Mayor Ray Nagin appointed an excellent NORA board, then failed to give it the resources it needed to do its job. We urge the new mayor and council to give NORA a good board and an adequate budget — and to seek any additional legislation that may be needed to get the job done.
• Pass and sign a meaningful transparency ordinance. The last council enacted a good transparency ordinance, but Nagin vetoed it and attempted to turn transparency into a racial issue. Now that the city has a white mayor, perhaps those in the black community who objected to the last transparency ordinance will see the wisdom in making every mayor disclose how professional service contracts are awarded. We do not believe the mayor needs to give up his authority to award such contracts. We do, however, support a strong ordinance that will make the selection process — and the reasons supporting every contract award — completely public.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it does identify some of the city's immediate needs. We wish Mayor-elect Landrieu Godspeed. Our city is starved for leadership — and action.