New Orleans City Council

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mayor Sisyphus and his legacy

Posted By on Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 2:11 PM

"Sisyphus," Franz von Stuck
  • "Sisyphus," Franz von Stuck

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s legacy always was destined to be a mixture of successes and failures. Such is the fate of all mayors, though history seemed likely to paint Landrieu in mostly positive hues — until recently. The Aug. 5 flood and revelations of systemic dysfunction at the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) now threaten to overshadow Landrieu’s accomplishments as mayor.

Which is why he’s working overtime to whip the S&WB (and his legacy) into shape before he leaves office next May 7.

Given the almost daily dose of bad news about S&WB operations and infrastructure problems, Landrieu has a Sisyphean task. That we’re now in the peak of hurricane season raises the stakes for everyone.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Orleans City Council approves $34 million drainage budget after August flooding

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 6:55 PM

Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5.

The New Orleans City Council has approved nearly $34 million to cover drainage repair and flood response in the wake of August flooding and systemic failures throughout the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) and Department of Public Works (DPW). That $34 million includes $22 million for repairs through DPW and $11.9 from the general fund to target drainage and bulk up future flood prevention.

But members of the Council dodged a vote to approve two new appointments to the S&WB without assurance from City Hall that they're qualified, particularly after the last several days of dysfunction.

More than $14 million from bond funding already is budgeted for catch basin and drainage repair. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration requested $11.9 million from the general fund, including $7.8 million for emergency drainage repairs, $650,000 for alarm systems and warning signals, $3 million for Homeland Security readiness, and $500,000 for a so-called "after-action" report to determine what went wrong throughout the city's S&WB system before, during and after Aug. 5 floods. Landrieu opened a request for proposals for that report Aug. 15.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board needs accountability, transparency

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 1:46 PM

A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated New Orleans. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated New Orleans.

The New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) hasn’t come under this much scrutiny in at least a generation. The Aug. 5 rainstorm that flooded several neighborhoods triggered an unprecedented housecleaning at City Hall and at S&WB. Going forward, the shakeup should include a look at the troubled agency itself.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu sacked city public works director Mark Jernigan for not cleaning catch basins in a timely manner (after the City Council allocated $3 million for that purpose). Jernigan’s termination was justified, but the mayor bears responsibility as well. The buck stops at his desk on the issue of catch basins.

As for the S&WB, that agency is a political nation unto itself. It was created by legislative act nearly 120 years ago and remains a strange admixture of state and local law. The mayor chairs its board, but he cannot hire or fire anyone. Thanks to a handful of 2013 “reforms,” he doesn’t even have a free hand in naming board members. He must choose from a short list proffered by a “blue ribbon” committee.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fire at turbine threatens New Orleans drainage pump system

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • PHOTO BY WILL COVIELLO
  • Street flooding in New Orleans Aug. 5.

A fire at a turbine that supplies power to drainage pump stations on New Orleans' East Bank has threatened the city's ability to pump water out, as another round of rain is expected to dump water on the city.

Speaking at an emergency Sewerage & Water Board meeting Aug. 10, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said a "whole army" of people are working on repairs, and he expects the turbine to be back online soon, adding, "I'll believe it when I see it. I'm hopeful."

The fire damaged one of five turbines on which the S&WB relies for its water drainage pumps as well as its water treatment plant. (According to the mayor's office, the city's drinking water is unaffected.) But there already are three other turbines down for repairs — leaving only one working turbine left.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Editorial: A not-so-dry run exposes Sewerage & Water Board ineptitude

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 6:30 PM

Floodwaters rising on Banks Street in Mid-City Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • Floodwaters rising on Banks Street in Mid-City Aug. 5.

When Joe Becker, general superintendent of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, began answering questions from the New Orleans City Council Tuesday (Aug. 8), it was clear the S&WB’s original story about its performance during the Aug. 5 storm was taking on more water than a Lamborghini stranded in Lakeview. Just before the council’s special meeting, S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant announced he would be retiring by the end of the year. “Some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public,” Grant said. That was an understatement.

The information referenced by Grant — that all the drainage pumps were in working order during the storm — was contradicted by statistics that councilmembers tweezed out of Becker during the special meeting. Becker floated the equivocal meme that “all the pump stations were working at the capacity they had available to them.” As it turned out, 14 of the system’s 121 pumps were out of commission. A Lakeview pumping station operating at 100 percent of its “available capacity” was actually working at 57 percent of capacity. Other stations reported similar problems.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

14 pumps down during New Orleans floods, according to Sewerage & Water Board officials; Landrieu calls for resignations

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 5:45 PM

A parked Mercedes-Benz floods out in Mid-City Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A parked Mercedes-Benz floods out in Mid-City Aug. 5.

As streets across New Orleans began to flood after an afternoon deluge Aug. 5, the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) assured residents that "all pumps were operational."

But at a meeting called by the New Orleans City Council Aug. 8, the S&WB clarified "pump stations were working at the capacity available to them," making the distinction between a drainage system that's working completely and one that is working with what it has, with several pumps offline and waiting for maintenance.

Moments before the meeting began, S&WB director Cedric Grant sent a press release announcing his retirement from the agency and apologizing for the disinformation. "The information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicate that some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public," he said. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."

At a press conference held as the City Council meeting was still in progress, a frustrated Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced he's also calling for the resignation of S&WB's Joseph Becker and communications director Lisa Martin, as well as Department of Public Works Director Mark Jernigan, who has been under scrutiny twice over the last week in the City Council chambers for the poor conditions of catch basins — and what the agency has done with $3 million set aside for their repairs.

Landrieu said "it was inaccurate" to suggest the city's drainage system was operating at its maximum abilities. He said the S&WB's "obfuscation" with questions from the City Council was "an insult to the public."

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Sewerage & Water Board head Cedric Grant announces retirement, walks back statement that all pumps were working during Aug. 5 flood

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 1:25 PM

A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated the city. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated the city.

Cedric Grant, head of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), issued a statement today walking back initial claims that "all pumps" were operational during the Aug. 5 rainstorm and flood that inundated parts of New Orleans. He added that he will be retiring in the next few months "rather than be a distraction to the hard work of fixing the system."

the information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicate that some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public," Grant said in a statement announcing his retirement. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."

Yesterday S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker confirmed to WWL-TV that though all 24 pumping stations were operational, eight of 121 individual pumps were not operating during a storm that dumped more than 9 inches of rain in some parts of town within a few hours. One of those pumps served Mid-City, the hardest-hit neighborhood during the storm.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Edwards, Landrieu, other officials inspect flood damage in Treme

Posted By on Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 3:37 PM

Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu toured a flooding spot in Treme this afternoon.
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu toured a flooding spot in Treme this afternoon.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, various state senators and representatives, along with a few City Councilmembers, stopped at Willie Mae's Scotch House in Treme this afternoon to discuss the weekend's flood.

Landrieu, who arrived in town this morning from Aspen, Colorado, where he was attending a security conference, toured the restaurant with owner Kerry Seaton Stewart and did a walk-through of a flooded apartment across the street, where a drum kit and a keyboard were among the things that seemed to have taken on water.

"You never know what Mother Nature is gonna throw at you," Edwards said, adding that the state was still assessing the situation to determine whether formal emergency aid would be requested. "We're not bashful about asking for assistance when it's needed," he added.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

City and state officials announce meetings to address issues from Aug. 5 flood

Posted By on Sun, Aug 6, 2017 at 6:54 PM

A van drives through Mid-City floodwaters Aug. 5. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A van drives through Mid-City floodwaters Aug. 5.

One day after a drenching flood that seemed to catch people, politicians, pumps and all of New Orleans by surprise, city and state officials announced investigations into municipal response, while Sewerage & Water Board president Cedric Grant insisted, "We are dealing with 8 to 10 inches of rain in three hours. It is not going to be able to pump that in an hour.”

Six members of the New Orleans City Council held a press conference this afternoon to announce a special council meeting for 1 p.m. Tuesday to "express their concerns and pose questions to the Sewerage and Water Board and appropriate City officials," according to a statement from the council.

City Councilwoman At-Large Stacy Head, who has been openly critical of catch basin and utility maintenance in recent weeks, was not at today's meeting and was said to be out of town. Mayor Mitch Landrieu is in Aspen, Colorado, for a security conference, according to Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni, and will be returning to the city Monday.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Youth who commit misdemeanors could receive warnings or summonses under proposed ordinance

Posted By on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 5:45 PM

screen_shot_2016-10-12_at_12.08.29_pm.png
New Orleans youth who commit misdemeanor offenses could receive warnings or summonses to appear in court with a guardian, under a proposed ordinance aimed at preventing young people from entering, and often re-entering, the criminal justice system after an arrest.

The ordinance was supported by the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee July 24, and it also has the support of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges and, for the most part, Mayor Mitch Landrieu. It now heads to the full City Council for approval.

Committee chair and District A Councilmember Susan Guidry said "police have no alternative but to handcuff the child [who commits minor offenses]. I mean that is a serious, traumatic event.”

Under the ordinance, youth who have committed a status offense (truancy, running away, displaying "ungovernable behavior") would receive a juvenile warning notice (JWN). Police also would write JWNs or issue summonses for 11 types of misdemeanor crimes — including simple assault and simple possession of marijuana, misdemeanor theft, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing — at the officers' discretion.

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