Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Backtracking

It's been very interesting to observe the way that the Times-Picayune and other traditional media have covered the unfolding E-Maelstrom. The focus has shifted away from the various email-specific issues involving Veronica White, City Council, and the Mayor's Office of Technology to a seemingly singular fixation on a Nagin family vacation to Hawaii that was funded by a contractor with ties to the MOT and to former Chief Technology Officer and Administrative Executive to the Mayor, Gregory Meffert.

Though American Zombie wrote about this improper trip back in 2006, the mainstream media only recently got the confirmation necessary to go to print with the allegation. Of course, the release of Greg Meffert's deposition from a related lawsuit confirms that in fact, the Nagin trip was financed by city contractor Mark St. Pierre.

But is taking a contractor-funded vacation so outrageous or uncharacteristic for a Louisiana politician? Someone following this peripherally might question why the T-P has it's top investigative reporters chasing down a story about $2000 vacation.

It's because this isn't about an unethical and possibly illegal vacation to Hawaii. Rather, this is about trying to establish the facts around what might prove to be an enormous criminal conspiracy at City Hall revolving around the Mayor's Office of Technology. When you start to add up the dollars that exchanged hands between the municipal government and the various contractors with ties to Mr. Meffert, Mr. St. Pierre, and their cronies, you're talking about tens of millions of dollars. Maybe hundreds of millions. It's years of a failed crime cameras, yes. But it's also years of a failed 311 system. It's customer service kiosks at City Hall. It's all sorts of various municipal websites. It's the no longer available city wi-fi service. It's all sorts of technology purchases. All of that stuff (and unfortunately more) is in question.

It's not just about tax dollars wasted, it's also about what would have instead been invested in more plentiful and efficient city services that weren't there when we've needed them the most.

The recent series of articles in the Times-Picayune, I presume, is laying the groundwork for future reporting detailing the scope of corruption. That's why it has seemed like many of the articles that they've published since the end of March haven't yet provided anything particularly earth-shattering. The T-P needs to reestablish a lot of the background data that many internet insiders already understood before they can credibly start publishing new revealing details.

Ray Nagin's media availability yesterday was remarkable because it seemed to lend credibility to the inquiry at hand. Last week, Ray Nagin offhandedly dismissed reporter questions about the trip to Hawaii as a personal attack. This has been his typical response to most all tough questions about his record as Mayor. We know the tone well. Yesterday, however, Mayor Nagin's answers were delivered with a slight touch of basic humility that I thought was noticeable and notable, particularly when questions turned to his own low approval ratings, etc. (some video here, more detailed description here).

Certainly, he continued to deny any wrongdoing in the Hawaii matter and had his own interpretation of the approval ratings that absolve him of any real responsibility for anything, but the fact that he held stood outside of City Hall and held a question and answer session with the press indicates that the facts and allegations swirling around his administration can no longer be avoided and/or defiantly cast as a media conspiracy against him. I think that there is some implicit acknowledgment that the Mayor is in trouble - that this isn't just a game.


UPDATE: Here's full video of Nagin's media availability from yesterday afternoon. On seeing it in entirety, I think I was basically right; there's a little more furrow to his brow. He's taking this a little bit more seriously than he seemed to last week.

Mayor Ray Nagin Addresses Ethics Questions



UPDATE II:

It's also quite hilarious that Mayor Nagin decided to give Jim Letten unsolicited advice about how to select a jury. What would he need a jury for Ray?

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I say, it is about time Nagin showed some humility. Whenever I get into trouble, the first thing I do is become quieter, smaller, and stay vigilint for the smackdown that is sure to follow.

E said...

I'm generally disturbed when people in this city go after Mayor Nagin for things related to his personality because I can be skeptical of underlying racial double standards that are sometimes involved. But I do think that his reaction to the e-maelstrom has been quite bizarre. Given the implications of all of it, I was very surprised that he went out on such a defiant press junket right off the bat. You're right. One might assume a quiet and measured vigilance if someone else were in a similarly sticky situation. Obviously this is speculation but it sort of seems like Nagin's press operation just doesn't assert itself in terms of advising him of what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. That's one of the things those guys get paid for, to help their boss mitigate PR damage when it occurs. They either weren't doing their jobs or their work was ignored by others in denial about what's going on in terms of perception of these controversies.

bayoustjohndavid said...

I cringe whenever white critics call him arrogant because it sounds so racist. However, I think that every former city worker, black or white, has the right to say that his blithe handling of city finances was easily predictable to anybody who saw his smug dismissal of the very thought of pay cuts for himself and top aides when the layoffs were announced in October 2005.

Also, I've liked, or at least respected, people who can get away with being cocky or arrogant, but nobody likes a smug prick. So, I think it's both smarter politically and more accurate to just call him smug and leave out questions of arrogance and humility.

E said...

Yeah. A lot of those terms are just loaded as all hell and don't always accurately describe what's going on anyway. The point is that there was a more sober treatment of the press yesterday that I thought was unexpected given how dismissive he's been recently of the same exact issues broached yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Just dropping this comment here since this post roughly concerns Nagin law breaking:

Nagin violated state law, at a mimimum, when he (and maybe a FOG (Friend of Greg's in the IT dept.)) deleted emails:

LARS 44:402 makes LARS 44:405 applicable to the City of New Orleans - that's the State Archives and Records Management Programs law. "Agency" means any state, parish and municipal office, department, division, board, bureau, commission, authority, or other separate unit of state, parish, or municipal government created or established by the constitution, law, resolution, proclamation, or ordinance."

Among other things that statue includes, Chapter 13 regarding "Electronic Records Agency Responsibilities", "State Archives Imaging Policy", and "Electronic Mail (E-mail Guidelines".

Emails *cannot* be disposed of without first seeking approval from the State under LARS 44:411-412.

Think about the LA State attorney general Caldwell's opinion from around 01.09.09. The mayor's office repeatedly argued, for 2-3 months, that the City, and more specifically the mayor or City Hall as opposed to the council, was NOT subject to state transparency laws. The Attorney General not only made clear that the mayor WAS subject to state transparency laws but also the state public records laws. "Despite the fact that the City of New Orleans is governed by a Home Rule Charter implemented prior to the 1974 Constitution, they are still subject to the Open Meetings Law at La. R.S. 42:4,1 et seq., just as they are subject to the Public Records Act at La.R.S. 44:1 et seq., both of which are extensions of the right of access and transparencyin government guaranteed to the people by La.Const. Art. XII, § 3."

As far as White's delivery of Council emails to Washington, there is this from LARS: "§422. Safeguards against removal or loss of records: The head of each agency of the state or its subdivisions shall establish such safeguards against removal or loss of records as he shall deem necessary and as may be required by rules and regulations issued under authority of this Chapter. Such safeguards shall include making it known to all officials and employees of the agency that no records are to be alienated or destroyed except in accordance with law and the policies, rules, and regulations developed therefrom by the state archivist and the division, and calling their attention to the penalties provided by law for the unlawful removal or destruction of records."

As we all know, White violated just such safeguards, which, it turns out, had the force of State law.

http://www.neworleanscitycouncil.com/newsletter/2009Feb/Releases/LA%20Attorney%20General's%20reaffirmed%20advisory.pdf

http://blog.nola.com/news_impact/2009/03/Compliance%20with%20Public%20Records%20Act.pdf

Anonymous said...

Who cares?

Everyday on this blog its Nagin, Nagin, Nagin. People are sleeping in gutted houses, no one got enough money to rebuild homes, black teachers who were fired have to pay $1,300 for insurance, contractors refuse to hire local blacks, the RSD schools are hell-holes, and all we get from the bloggers is exactly what we read in the Times-Picayune.

Welcome to the "mainstream" media.

Anonymous said...

To Anon re: "Who Cares":

People are sleeping in gutted houses? No money for rebuilding? Teachers fired? Guess what the City has been siphoning off millions under Nagin and prior mayors for years due to outright thievery to incomptenece to who knows what.

If you think of all the money stolen (start with Morial's 60 million dollar gift to his UNCLE on the way out the door and proceed to maybe 20 million dollar overpayments to trash haulers and poceed from there) it might amount to hundreds of millions. Maybe you are the one who should be refocusing your attention.

Dambala said...

Great Buddha man....why can't you solve world hunger and global warming, Eli? Jesus...painstaking, vigilance to eliminate government waste just isn't good enough. You need to solve all the city's problems in your spare time...so run along....get out there and take care of the homeless situation, right now. And while your at it, stick a broom up your arse and sweep the streets as you go so we can stop paying Trashanova so much money.

E said...

Indeed! I have my work cut out for me!

Puddinhead said...

One thing I learned early growing up in the Ninth Ward...assholes come in all shades and colors.

Anonymous said...

from Who Cares:
So easy to beat up on the black poltical class, so hard to challenge white leaders, friends and neighbors. So Morial and Nagin are responsible for the $6 billion mispent and underfunded federal Road Home debacle that's been the primary obstacle to the right to return? They wasted $40 billion on inflated debris removal and blue tarp contracts to local Republican contractors?

This is the old canard--the black folks are stealing all the money. We have a $500 million dollar school deficit because, as Paul Vallas says, we "woefully underfunded education" in New Orleans. 90% of whites attend private schools and their parents financially strangled the public school system. Who is to blame? The board's corruption (what, $30 million skimmed off a $500 million annual budget?) or white indifference to the education of black children?

Let me predict what will be in the Times-Picayune and the "progressive blogs" for the next year: Nagin, Nagin, Nagin. Let Stacey Head call black people "sheep" in today's paper and nary a peep from the blogs.

Dambala said...

- So easy to beat up on the black poltical class, so hard to challenge white leaders

i thought we were beating up on white republicans....silly me.

- Let Stacey Head call black people "sheep" in today's paper and nary a peep from the blogs.

Aren't sheep white? I don't think she was calling black people sheep. I don't think it had anything to do with skin color. I think it has to do with people who follow a leader without questioning their true intent.

take the glasses off and look at the sun, friend.

bayoustjohndavid said...

Anonymous, let me be the first to compliment you on your intellectual integrity:

"The board's corruption (what, $30 million skimmed off a $500 million annual budget?)"

Nice try:

It had to be satisfying vindication for Stuart Piltch, managing director of Compensation & Benefits Consulting Services in King of Prussia, Pa., the company whose audits produced proof of nearly $30 million in misspent school money.

Piltch and his company were let go in December, however, before they were allowed to finish the job they apparently were doing too well. Why? It certainly appears as if CBCS stepped on too many toes and got into the pockets of too many corrupt officials.

No, we didn't think our job was done and the Superintendent Tony Amato didn't think our job was done, Piltch said the day the guilty pleas were announced last week. We're not sure we understand all the reasons they decided not to extend our contract.


You also chose one of at least two possible interpretations of what Stacy Head said. It's simply unclear without seeing the full text of the interview. I thought that was an old right wing trick.

Dambala said...

I actually spent a whole day with Mr. Piltch, on camera...(him, me behind camera). Interesting guy.

The first thing he said to me when I walked into his office, "You got some city there, man....Jersey couldn't hold a candle to you guys."

Anon....I'm not boasting but I know more about that 500 million dollars than Piltch. Let me assure you that the only part race played in that graft was the same part it's playing now....people hid behind it when it was convenient. I know all the players, I know all the rackets they were running with the insurance contracts which Piltch was overseeing. Brokers and SOME board members had the game down cold....some were white, some were black....all were crooks.

As for Nagin and Meffert....I am pretty sure the amount of no-bid, no-result contracts issued is upwards of 300 million. That's not even counting what we've over payed on the Sanitation contracts which I think BSJD could elaborate on better than me. Of that 300 million almost all of it went to white, republican businessmen....with the full knowledge of Ray Nagin. We have called those men out and named them relentlessly on our blogs, in my case even more than Nagin himself.

So I don't know how to say it other than your are just simply wrong in your criticism. Very wrong. While I can't speak for the entire NOLA blogosphere, I can tell you that my sole motivation is to shine a light on corruption in this city, I am not racially motivated in any way shape or form, nor do I believe this blog is or David's, having read them for years.

You are seeking conspiracy where there is none...plain and simple.