Does S&WB have too little oversight?

De-politicizing board may have had unintended consequence

Chris Miller
August 11, 2017 - 11:59 am

While New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu floats the idea of a private entity managing the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, political analyst Clancy DuBos suggests maybe the system's problem it too little accountability.

Listen to Clancy DuBos with WWL's Bob Mitchell:

More on the Sewerage and Water Board fiasco

"The mayor talked about bringing in a private company to manage it," DuBos told WWL First News. "That idea has been floated once before, at least, in part, by Marc Morial, toward the end of his second term and it set off a mad scramble among some of the companies -- everyone was trying to get the inside, political track."

DuBos says nothing came of it before Morial was term-limited out of office, and the idea died.

And, DuBos points out, the board did undergo some organizational restructuring recently.

"Thanks to some reforms that were adopted in 2013 by the legislature and by the voters, we have a much more qualified board in place right now, probably the most qualified professional board that we've had in a couple of generations," DuBos pointed out.

"They have to have certain qualifications: engineers, architecture, financial experts, they even have to have two consumer advocates. The board itself, the management board, is probably as professional as it could get."

DuBos says the board is supposed to be the ones making sure the system is professionally managed and running efficiently. If they aren't carrying out that mission, DuBos says maybe it's time to put more control of the board in the hands of city government.

"Another possibility that I would like to see at least discussed and have it studied is to bring the Sewerage and Water Board completely under city hall," DuBos suggests.

He reasons, "The reforms that were passed a few years back were all done with the aim of de-politicizing the Sewerage and Water Board. Well, we've done that to a large extent, but when you, quote 'take out all the politics,' you also take out a lot of the accountability.

"The S&WB is an island nation unto itself, politically and structurally. They don't answer to city hall. They don't answer to the council, they don't answer to the mayor. The mayor may sit on the board as the chair, but that's all he does. He doesn't really choose who gets to be on the board, there's a separate nominating committee that gives him three names, and then he has to pick one of those three names to appoint someone to the board."

That has removed a lot of politics, DuBos explained -- the mayor can't just choose a crony to fill a board position. But he said it also had the unintended consequence of creating a body that doesn't answer to anyone, not even the rate-payers or the voters.

DuBos said the mayor should go ahead with his plans to have an independent review, and then proceed from there.

"We do this third party audit, and figure out what went wrong, then maybe take a look at what we could do differently."

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