Newell: NOLA's Dept. of Safety and Permits is hopelessly amok - implode it

Nothing worth saving in staggeringly incompetent office at heart of Hard Rock scandal

Newell Normand
February 21, 2020 - 4:47 pm

Two building inspectors who OK’d work on the Hard Rock Hotel before it collapsed have been suspended. I talked the other day about conversations between the supervisors and the inspectors at that organization, and what I was listening to struck me as completely incredulous.

It was almost like the supervisors were pleading with their subordinates to do their work, do it the right way and record their activities appropriately. Having managed people most of my life, I really could not believe what I was hearing. It was as if they didn't have any of the most basic, rudimentary management skills that make it possible to create infrastructure and deploy strategy to accomplish what they actually had to do. It was almost like an honor system, one where you can’t go on an inspection if you don’t have the proper certification, but there is nothing actually in the system to make sure those inspectors don’t get assignments they aren’t qualified for. Why not start there?

Safety and Permits seems to me to be a department where they don’t even know what letter ‘accountability’ starts with. They were actually warning employees about a Federal investigation, telling them they’d better be crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s because they’re being looked at, and they still didn’t do what they were supposed to do. That’s about as arrogant as arrogant can be, and I think it’s because there were no sanctions. 

Now they find themselves in a situation where the entire Safety and Permits office is going to have to be imploded. What's the alternative? Who can you trust there? 

We have high-rise mixed use and commercial buildings and single-family residential buildings in this city. The expertise necessary for each is different. So either you’re going to be in a position to finance that and hire qualified people accordingly, or you need to privatize or outsource this function. A number of other cities across this country do that, and this may be the moment where New Orleans follows suit and pays for acutal professionals, and thus only has to manage a contract instead of managing people. If you don’t have strong middle management, the strategies you deploy will never be effective. Leaders at the top don’t execute these things, it’s the front line supervisors. It’s the same thing we saw at Sewerage and Water Board. No middle management, no direction, no strategic plan articulated by leaders. 

If your people can’t do their job and get results every single day of the week, they need to be gone. That’s how it works in the private sector. You don’t last very long in business if you don’t do what’s expected of you. I wouldn’t be here long at WWL Radio if I didn’t achieve the expectations outlined by my managers. That’s how it works. But when you listen to these conversations at Safety and Permits, it’s just catch-as-catch-can.

Here’s why this is an emergency.  We’ve got projects all over this city right now, cranes in the sky. We need to make sure there is a level of confidence in the Chief Building Inspector, in all the people involved, and I don’t have any. What are we doing? Who is minding the ship? We need an outside, independent body in here to handle these inspections and cut this crap out now. Send a message to these corrupt builders, the individuals who think they can pay people off, and send a message to every city employee that we are setting the bar high and willing to accept nothing less!

How complex is it to do the job your boss expects of you? You don’t do your job and you’re gone. Hasta la vista, baby! Why can't we have that in the Safety and Permits office? When you read that even after knowing they’re under Federal investigation, they have to be begged to follow the rules and they still blow it - that absolutely destroys any hint of confidence, past present or future. 

Why would we waste time trying to save this hobbled, unsalvageable department? Turn off the gas, cut the power, clear the building, strap it with explosives - and hit the red button!


Listen to the entire segment and conversation with callers in the audio player below.

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