Friday, August 08, 2008

Immediate Thoughts On Nagin's Appearance at City Council's NOAH Hearing

First of all, I'd actually like to thank Mayor Nagin for making the time to answer questions on this emergent scandal. Given that the Mayor's defense for the actions of his administration related to the NOAH program thus far has been to deny allegations, downplay the relative importance of citizen questions, and denigrate those asking, I really did not expect him to make an appearance. That he did demonstrates that Mr. Nagin still indeed considers himself accountable to City Council and to citizens demanding that Council do their job. That he didn't want to be there or didn't think he should have had to be there is irrelevant now. He showed up and he answered questions.

Please watch the Mayor Nagin's full testimony here. It is important to take the time and watch the whole thing. Seriously.

That said, this was an example of bush-league governance, you might even call it amateur.

Councilman Fielkow and Councilwoman Midura tried to smooth things over with the Mayor, as there was clearly some bad blood related to the public letter they sent imploring Mr. Nagin to appear to answer questions. This was unnecessary. He was there to speak about NOAH. If he chose to use his time in front of the microphone to complain about your letter, the way you communicate with his office, or the validity of reports by Karen, Sarah, Lee, or I, just let him. All of that should be discussed between the Mayor's staff and that of Council. Ms. Midura and Mr. Fielkow should have asked more specific questions about the allegations at hand.

For instance, the Mayor derided reports that the city was billed for work done on a home owned by Bill Jefferson. Someone on Council should have asked why a task order was issued for that property.

Though the Mayor repeatedly explained that the only relevant list is the one detailing invoices actually paid by the city, he also consistently reiterated that neither he, his staff, nor the internal investigation he has launched has been able to really put together a complete list of pay stubs or properties gutted by NOAH. Nobody on Council asked the Mayor whether or not he believed it was his job to ensure proper record keeping within his administration.

When the Mayor consistently reiterates something to akin to what he said during the 38th minute of his testimony, "I hope to establish what's the real number that the city has actually paid for," it smacks of a core incompetence within the Mayor Nagin's administration and a very basic bookkeeping failure.

That the Mayor has not or cannot immediately account for all the NOAH invoices for which the city was billed is a FUNDAMENTAL issue.

If I were a city councilperson, I would have taken the Mayor's reiteration that his administration's internal investigation would not impede any outside investigation. As Mayor Nagin said during Councilman Carter's inquiry, he really doesn't know what is going to be investigated so he doesn't know who should or should not be conducting the internal audit. The FBI and the Inspector General can determine whether or not the Mayor's people are throwing up walls.

Council, since it had the Mayor right there, should have inquired as to the controls the Mayor has in place to ensure proper bookkeeping from all executive and affiliated agencies. They should have asked whether or not the Mayor believes that the systems behind these types of secondary institutional nonprofits provide for proper transparency and accountability. Do these agencies need to be abolished across the board? Do they merely need a stricter set of guidelines from City Charter?

James Carter conducted himself in the most professional manner, diving right into questions and allowing the Mayor to answer each one without interruption and without broad pontification related to behind-the-scenes communication issues. That may be because Councilman Carter has largely elected not to lead on the issue and has the privilege of not having to defend himself against the Mayor's own accusations of poor 'teamsmanship.'

Arnie Fielkow and Shelly Midura get points for forcing the Mayor to appear. I wish they'd each spent less time justifying their public letter or trying to smooth over the recent acrimony at City Hall. They should have just asked questions about NOAH. The pettiness, the apologetic tone seemed to put the Mayor at ease as it allowed him to rail against individuals on Council for this perceived insult or that.

Cynthia Hedge-Morrell gets zero points for electing not to ask any questions of the Mayor. She gets penalized for any of the three possible scenarios:

1. She was satisfied with the questions her colleagues were asking and with the Mayor's answered.

2. She doesn't feel comfortable asking difficult questions to Mayor Nagin.

3. She doesn't know enough about NOAH or the investigations at hand to ask anything substantive.

Jackie Clarkson gets minus two points because she elected not to ask a single question of the Mayor. That is pathetic for a Council President. After having largely apologized or enabled the Mayor's decision to evade and condemn as this scandal unfolded, she had no credibility when it came to leading a hearing on the NOAH scandal. She would have had a chance to redeem herself had she chosen to ask even one bleeping question of the Mayor. Instead, she decided who's turn it was to ask questions.

Stacy Head was a no-show, apparently out of town. I understand why she wouldn't have wanted to appear at this hearing as she has become a lightning rod for the Mayor's anger, particularly on this issue because she began investigating NOAH back in April. I am disappointed that the public did not benefit from her inquiry.

Cynthia Willard-Lewis was another no-show. I don't begrudge her for not wanting to appear as some NOAH contractors connect to her. That's probably good for minus five points.


New Orleans Nation said...

Hedge Morrell actually left in the middle.

southern leftist said...

midura and fielkow showed diplomacy in a tense situation. they handled it well. it was a very racially and politically delicate situation. of course they had to smooth it over a bit.

willard-lewis of course has a brother, dominic willard, who is one of the contractors.

and i agree on clarkson.