Following up on yesterday's on-going conversation about the economic development fund money that Mayor Nagin is trying to hammer through City Council without cost-benefit analysis and after circumventing his own advisory committee via an executive order in the middle of a Hurricane, the City Council's Economic Development Committee voted in favor of a full vote on the projects.
However, Council remains split.
The Cynthias have indicated they will vote for approving Mayor Nagin's list of grants on the rationale that small business need immediate investments given the economic crisis and the overall delays in economic development fund distribution timeline.
It also appears that Fielkow and Midura are prepared to vote against for two general reasons. First, because the administration has failed to provide a basic cost-benefit analysis of the projects as demanded by the law. The second reason involves suspicions arising from discrepancies between projects highlighted by the consultant hired to vet the applications and what Mayor Nagin has decided to submit to Council. The firm, GCR, says that some of the groups Nagin would like to give money to did not even submit completed applications.
In trying to wrap my mind around what's going on here, I will say that I relate very sincerely to exasperation of Councilwomen Hedge-Morrell and Willard-Lewis. This money is from way back in 2007. The 2008 grants have already been approved. It does us no good to continue to sit on this money when the controls that would ensure a clean and transparent process simply do not exist or are too easily ignored by the Mayor. Certainly there are a number* of worthy grant applicants that should get paid already.
(*** THOUGH SOMEHOW, OVER HALF OF THE DEVELOPMENT DOLLARS ($2.7 million) GO TO THE DISPUTED LSU/VA PROJECT ***)
But when oh when do we get to examine the broken process that lead us to this point? Why is it that time and again we're just supposed to blindly approve spending the Mayor asks for when time and again the administration has proven incapable of avoiding waste or worse?
It's a pattern, ya dig?
The administration refuses to follow the law, withholds information, or otherwise fails to provide reasonable rationales behind whatever it is they press upon Council. Then, because this city is so desperate for infusions of cash, so desperate for construction, for ANYTHING, Council is under the most immense pressure to rubber stamp whatever it is just so that the cash gets spent. Any 'no' vote is seen as obstructionist or worse, even if 'no' means 'well at least provide us with the basics we'd need to make an informed decision.'
Take this quote from Cynthia Willard-Lewis from today's hearing:
"The process was flawed, we all admit that," Willard-Lewis added. "But today we talk about the people, who are not flawed."
On which day then, Councilwoman Willard-Lewis, do we talk about the process?
When will that day come?
Let's talk right now about why we're in such a big hurry to get these dollars out today.
After a few hundred thousand dollars of 2006 grant money disappeared literally into toilet seats, City Council required the Mayor's office to submit a complete cost-benefit analysis for each of the projects submitted to the advisory committee charged with selecting projects to send to City Council. Seems pretty reasonable, right?
Well, not only did the Mayor not provide a cost-benefit analysis, but he penned an executive order during a Hurricane to circumvent the advisory committee.
Why did he do that?
According to the Times-Pic, it was because resignations on advisory committee made it difficult to get the quorum necessary for the committee to take any definitive action. Apparently, the reason was that the Mayor had trouble finding people to appoint as replacements and this is why the projects haven't been submitted almost a year past deadline.
Well I asked around and do you know how many people the committee needed for a quorum?
So the Nagin administration intentionally gums up the processes or is so disengaged and negligent that it fails to get things done in a viable time frame. But then when Council wants to ask for the basic documentation that might help avoid blatant waste and corruption, it is they who are delaying the process.
The other thing I'm wondering, and this may be why the LSU/VA Hospital is getting so much, is if the specific projects were invited by Blakely or his office to apply. If he did not publicize the availability of municipal development dollars, the general business population would have had no way of knowing that there were grants for which to apply.
Here's the compromise I'm proposing:
Council will approve all projects minus the LSU/VA grant. The $2.7 million saved from the exclusion of that award can go back into the general fund or directly into an account that would help impoverished families pay for winter heating costs . In exchange, Ed Blakely will tender his resignation and the economic development fund will be suspended through 2010 until it can be reconstituted by the next administration as a program to help seed the dreams of first-time entrepreneurs.
What do you think? Who will sponsor this on Council?