Wednesday, February 25, 2009

James Perry, Leader?

I wanted to say something last week about Council's failure to override Mayor Nagin's veto last week but got caught up in Mardi Gras.

First off, there's been a lot of unfair criticism of Cynthia Hedge-Morrell's decision to abstain from voting. I think she made the right decision. She angered a lot of people by articulating people's mistrust for the good government crowd but I thought it would have been extremely useful as a starting point for negotiating a consensus response from Council to Nagin's executive order.

Part of the reaction derives from people's misunderstanding of what that vote meant. Hedge-Morrell did not kill a transparency law. The proposed ordinance, passed unanimously by Council and vetoed by Nagin would have brought professional services contract advisory committees under the purview of public meetings laws. Nagin circumvented the ordinance entirely by simply abolishing the advisory committees. So when the vetoed ordinance came back to Council for a potential override vote, it was totally worthless.

In my opinion, there was no reason to hold the vote. Hedge-Morrell suggested at City Hall that Council instead focus on discussing the language of a potential charter change - the only means Council has at its disposal to substantively alter the impact of Nagin's executive order. But instead, Fielkow and Clarkson pressed ahead with the vote, posing an unfair political challenge to Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell, who was the only African American willing to sit in on the meeting.

While I don't understand why Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis had to be in Washington D.C. with the US Conference of Mayors instead of at Council for this debate, at least she has an excused absence.

The person to be disillusioned and angry with is Councilman James Carter. He was at Council chambers when the contentious debate began, only to slink out when things got too hot. It was unforgivable gutlessness. He could have provided a level-head and helped foster a respectful conversation. Instead, Councilman Carter headed for the hills. I believe the best excuse his office mustered to the media was a "previously scheduled appointment" or some nonsense like that.

The disdain he seems to have for his own responsibility is increasingly noticeable and unfortunate. He's a coward.

As soon as Carter abandoned ship, the vote should have been postponed.


Meanwhile, in a stunning juxtaposition....

What is all this?

Am I really seeing a New Orleans political figure synthesizing viewpoints to take a stand in the midst of a fiery controversy? Huh?

Go read what James Perry says in Race and Trust in NOLA:

To build trust we need to have information from disinterested sources. We need information that provides clear unbiased data that we can rely on.

In New Orleans there is strong racial mistrust and general mistrust of our elected officials. We can use honesty and transparency to overcome that distrust and create a new basis for working together. Information and data, are key components in building this new trust. When objective data is unavailable, regardless of what the truth is, people revert to historic racial dividing lines. In today’s information age, there is a new opportunity. We can share all data and information and build relationships in much the way that friends do.

In working towards a post-racial New Orleans, sharing data is key. If we all have the common goal of a better City then there is no harm in making information available to everyone. Decisions about contracts should be open, inclusive, and transparent. Transparency and openness provide a base allowing trust to endure even through disagreement and bad reasoning. We need transparency in New Orleans government now. The progress of New Orleans’ racial dialogue depends on it.

This is an interesting way to construct the argument in favor of transparency since a lot of folks have been saying that the whole reason we can't have common sense public meetings and records laws is because of racial mistrust.


Certainly the issues last week were extremely frustrating but I'm at least glad that when things finally broke down last Thursday, there was some frank talk (in Council and online) about the racial tension that too often manifests in blood pressure doubling passive aggressiveness.

James Carter's cowardly display was not what we needed. Arnie Fielkow's poorly contrived attempt to symbolically rebuke Mayor Ray Nagin was not what needed.

What we need is leadership that isn't afraid to substantively and publicly tackle the political and racial controversies that hamstring our recovery.


mominem said...

Great post. I agreee with just about all of it.

Perry has summarized my views as well.

The more I think about it and as offensive as Nagin's behavior is I think Fielkow made a serious error in proposing the ordinance to begin with.

I believe that the Mayor's committees were subject to the states open meetings law and the appropriate action would have been to sue Nagin for release of all information regarding those transparent meetings and an injunction to prevent him form doing it again.

He still could have changed the process but a law suit would have kept the issue in front of the voters.

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