Friday, October 17, 2008

Council Meeting Devolves Into ANOTHER Circular Firing Squad

How shameful that it went down the way it did. Council fought against itself and ultimately delayed approval of the 20 economic development projects for another two months and directed Blakely to do a cost benefit analysis.

During the debate, council members tossed around terms such as "irresponsible, " "shameful, " "blackmail, " "double talk" and "an embarrassment" to describe colleagues' attitudes and actions.


Shortly after 7 p.m., the meeting was halted for about 20 minutes after Councilwomen Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, soon followed by Midura, left the room without explanation, leaving the seven-member council without a quorum.

The three eventually returned, with Midura accompanied by one of her young children, after their colleagues condemned their sudden exits. Calling their absence "an embarrassment, " Councilman Arnie Fielkow said, "This is why people have no confidence in government."

Now this devolution of discourse on Council seemed absolutely unnecessary. There was an awful lot of consensus there that got warped and abused by Council's lack of imagination.

There was not one member on City Council that thought this process was conducted properly. In fact, there was universal agreement on where the blame belongs:

Much of the anger on display was directed at the Nagin administration, and especially recovery chief Ed Blakely, who was given oversight of economic development matters more than a year ago.

Some of the strongest words came from two council members who generally refrain from harsh criticism of the mayor. President Jackie Clarkson and James Carter both said they felt the administration had dumped a mess into their laps.

"I'm just fed up, " Clarkson said. "I'm resentful and very offended that we have not been held in higher regard."

"I'm really, really, really saddened and disturbed that the City Council is in this position, " Carter said. "This is absolutely ridiculous."

Now, of course Council was in that nasty position because Mayor Nagin abused his power by circumventing the advisory committee charged with selecting projects for economic development with an unchecked executive order issued during the middle of a natural disaster. One could also point to Dr. Blakely's refusal to provide a basic cost-benefit analysis or otherwise preventing the paid consultants from doing so. It is clear to everyone on Council and to the media covering this story that Blakely and Nagin gummed up this whole process for over a year and then gave it to Council and demanded they rubber stamp the thing.

The disagreement was whether or not it was worthwhile to reject or further delay the allocation of these grants to the applicants given that at least some are not blatant pet projects of the Mayor and that the applicants have been waiting for over a year.

To me, that disagreement seems relatively minor given the critical importance of addressing the first problem, on which there is absolute consensus. Why couldn't have Council reached a compromise?

I pitched one yesterday:

1. Approve all grants minus the $2.7 million giveaway to the LSU VA interest group.
Most of the grants are going to small businesses. Let's not wait any longer, they've been patient since 2007 and are counting on this money to come through. It is unlikely that Nagin and Blakely will negotiate with Council on this, so pass the grants and force them to accept the rest of the terms of the compromise. The proposed award for the hospital group seems shady since that project has faced stiff community opposition and may not get built on the current proposed site. Besides, I'm not sure it deserves our scarce economic development dollars when all the other recipient projects are small businesses.

2. Blakely's resignation effective immediately.
This would probably be in the form of some sort of resolution. That's fine. I know that Council doesn't have the authority to fire a Mayoral staffer. But it would be a powerful statement. It would threaten the Dr.'s somehow still sterling international reputation. It would be worth it. He would notice.

3. The suspension of the economic development fund for the rest of Ray Nagin's term in office.
It should be reconstituted as a program to help New Orleans entrepreneurs launch their first business - only with a transparent vetting process based on concrete and unbreakable guidelines.

My friends on City Council, listen up:

The Mayor has put you in these situations time and again. He fails to follow the law or purposely gums up procedures and time lines so that City Council is basically forced spend money on flawed plans. City Council stands in a circle with guns cocked only the real target is already back inside the saloon. Shots ring out and Council shoots itself while Mayor Nagin throws 'em back in laughter.

Stop the cycle. You are in positions of power. Start making demands of the Mayor and start punishing him if and when he fails to meet those demands. Council controls the purse. Council controls the budget.

Go on another stupid team-building retreat and when you come back y'all have better figured out who the real enemy is. Stop fighting each other and start fighting for us.

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