Monday, October 13, 2008

Baffling

If you haven't read this article by the Times-Picayune's David Hammer, you should.

There might not be a better illustrator of the disconnect evident within the Nagin administration, between the Nagin administration and City Council, and between Ray Nagin and everyone else.

The introductory sentence pretty much says it all:

The New Orleans City Council is expected to decide this week whether to hand out $5 million in grants to 20 local businesses and nonprofits, even though members of the council and Mayor Ray Nagin's administration acknowledge that the proper review process hasn't been followed.

Wow. What the hell is going on here?

Briefly, Nagin and Blakely hired Greg Rigamer's firm, GCR to evaluate the different projects vying for municipal economic development dollars. The grant awards were supposed to have been distributed nearly a year ago but the Mayor couldn't get an advisory council to rubber stamp some of his pet projects so he let the money just sit there while our city begs for economic investment. That's nearly criminal by itself.

But then, he used the stress of Hurricane Gustav to issue an unchecked executive order that simply bypassed the advisory committee. (Ray Nagin must be reading Shock Doctrine only somehow he's interpreting it to be a textbook for how to subvert democracy and abuse power without getting in any trouble.)

So now he just gets to submit his grant proposals to City Council and explain how important it is for the money to finally be spent and how they shouldn't question his motivations or anything.

Beyond that, Council required the Mayor to submit a full cost-benefit analysis of each project to City Council before any votes but Mayor Nagin has refused to do so.

David Hammer tells us why this requirement was enshrined in the law:

The council voted last year to require those analyses in hopes of avoiding situations such as a $350,000 grant in 2006 to a Lafayette nonprofit to promote manufacturing a portable toilet seat invented by a New Orleans woman.

Councilman Arnie Fielkow said Saturday that the council has never found out what that grant produced.


Arnie Fielkow has foolishly decided to allow the proposals to come to a vote in his committee tomorrow anyway. Show some teeth, Arnie! Demand to see the analysis before any vote.

This whole thing is obviously dirty, just look at all this:

Rigamer recommended giving no money to nine of the 20 applicants Nagin is backing. Rigamer said the applicants either didn't provide sufficient information or had other means of getting the financing. But in each case, Blakely went the other way, and Nagin backed his aide rather than the consultant.

For example, Rigamer recommended against a grant for infrastructure assistance connected with the proposed Veterans Affairs hospital, saying it wouldn't create enough permanent jobs to justify the $4 million request. But Blakely recommended a $2.7 million grant, and the mayor approved it.

In one case, Nagin went against both Rigamer and Blakely. Rigamer suggested $50,000 for a World Trade Center initiative for bringing more international business investment to New Orleans. Blakely recommended even more: $100,000. Nagin, who has made several overseas trips in hopes of expanding the city's global business connections, rejected the application outright.

Fielkow said he was baffled by that.


Councilman Fielkow: If you're so baffled by all this, cancel the Tuesday vote. This was all brought on by an inappropriate power grab during a state of emergency. The Mayor is not following the law. He is not following the findings of his consultants. He refused to allow the consultants to follow through with the grant applicants when critical financing information was missing.

If you want to vote on anything, it should be for an immediate investigation into why the Mayor is pushing certain projects, why he gummed up the advisory committee process for almost a year, and why he has refused Council the legal right to see a full cost-benefit analysis. This begs for an abuse of power investigation, not an up-or-down vote on a bunch of the Mayor's pet projects.

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This needs to be further researched. Who appointed the advisory committee that was supposed to review the projects?

8 comments:

Civitch said...

Please tell us that you've sent this email directly to Fielkow.

Anonymous said...

Rigamer hates Blakley

E said...

Civitch: Indeed I have.

Anon: Yes, I've also heard that. I think disenchantment with Blakely is fairly ubiquitous.

Civitch said...

It would appear that at least some members of the council agree with you.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/10/city_council_committee_to_cons.html#preview

I have to wonder why two of them seem so hell bent on letting Ray Ray off the hook. Again.

E said...

yeah i'm reading up on it now.... this stinks to high heaven.

seung said...

There are a lot of problems with this. We've sent a letter to the AG asking for a legal opinion. This appears unconstitutional as the state constitution prohibits the appropriation of public dollars to private entities with a narrow list of exceptions.

It is, in Shelley Midura's words, our own local bailout bill but with less defined public benefits than Congress's version. Perhaps portable toilet seats, po-boy shops, dentists, and funeral homes deserve economic development money. Midura's issue is that we have no way of really knowing without proper process. Poor process and lack of front end evaluation and back end tracking make it very difficult to determine whether or not these grants are wise uses of taxpayer dollars.

To be fair though, the opposition though honestly believes they are fighting for the interests of small business who are struggling in a hostile post-Katrina and Bush economy financial meltdown environment. Midura respects that view, but simply has a different one.

Civitch said...

Seung: I will try to believe that the Cynthias are just trying to get money for folks who need it. But I cannot understand them not using this opportunity to stick the blame where it belongs - on Ray Nagin, whose ineptitude and nonchalance has led these possibly deserving applicants into limbo.

The taxpayers are tired of paying for Nagin's mistakes. Let him shoulder the burden for once.

E said...

I'm also reluctant to trash the motivations of Councilwomen HM and WL to start dispersing funds - I myself have slammed this administration for their failure to support small business start-ups. AND it's been an eternity waiting for ANYTHING to be dispersed to regular people in the community.

But Seung is dead-on. This process is criminally flawed. How hard is it to produce a cost-benefit analysis? Seriously? How hard is it to do that?