Tommy: Sewerage and Water Board fed us a crock of sewage

Tommy Tucker, WWL First News
November 17, 2017 - 7:08 pm

I suppose any commentary about the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board should be begin with a blanket apology for the inevitable puns that will naturally occur.  Let’s face it; we’re talking about a system of pipes, buried underground, that convey substances that make Andy’s crawl to freedom in the Shawshank Redemption look like a waterslide.  But even the most foul smelling SEWAGE removed by the SEWERAGE system couldn’t touch the stench that we now know is emanating from the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.

But for the August flood we would all be living in a fool’s paradise, blissfully unaware problems that exist right under our noses.  The pumps can handle an inch and an hour and one half inch every hour thereafter, right?  No...not so much.  We ALL repeated that sentence as though it was a campaign slogan when it was nothing but a crock of...well...sewage.

Who knew the drainage system of New Orleans was so complicated?  We presumed the water went into the drains and then was pumped into the river. “How” didn’t really matter because we thought the people in charge were taking care of it. We now know they weren’t.  We also know that the structure and administration of the S&WB itself is as inefficient, stinky, convoluted and even more difficult to understand than the physics and engineering involved in draining a city below sea level. HOW COULD IT HAVE GOTTEN TO THIS?  Wouldn’t it seem logical that the PRIMARY DUTY of a city below sea level’s government is to MAKE SURE THE CITY DOESN’T FLOOD?

Apparently the primary duty of the S&WB was to see that its leadership was well paid. That they did flawlessly. Cedric Grant, among whose notable attributes are dishonesty and incompetency, parlayed those “skills” into a $220,000+ salary for his three years of “service” to the city.  Obviously the S&WB’s problems greatly preceded Climate Change Cedric’s tenure, but he certainly didn’t do anything to make it better. For that lack of effort and his forty years of “public service,” Ol' Ced’s gonna ooze into the sunset, secure and happy knowing his $164,00 pension will afford him the opportunity to move if the city continues to flood. Others don’t have that option.

Pumps on. Pumps off. Pumps working. Pumps out of service. Pumps working, but nobody there to man them. Power cycles.  Some of the word games that the S&WB have been playing for years.  A management system that is build for political patronage and favoritism over running an agency.  It seems as though they purposely didn’t want the organization to work. Dysfunction was their true goal so the right people could get overtime, the right contractors could receive the jobs, etc. etc. etc.

It’s happened with the School Board. With the consent decrees, it’s happened with NOPD and OPP.  I️ hope somebody in authority can persuade the FBI to immediately begin digging deep into who got paid how much for what and if there was any criminal activity.  It sure seems like somebody should go to jail for the way the Board has operated. Moving forward, hopefully ALL OF US are aware of the inner workings of the sewerage system of New Orleans and will now ask the right questions.

The Sewerage and Water Board is a microcosm of the NOLA city government. We will continue to struggle until the government is streamlined and organized pragmatically and not politically.  Robert Cerasoli, the city’s first inspector general, made some remarks that I️ still wonder about today.  In essence, he said there are so many streams of revenue pouring into City Hall that it’s impossible to keep an eye on all of them to make sure the money is going where its supposed.  Somehow, I️ don't think that just happened by accident.  Can you imagine how much greater this already great city would be if the New Orleans government was working to improve New Orleans instead of protecting their individual fiefdoms and deep pockets of patronage?

Katie Moore, David Hammer and Mike Perlstein deserve the community’s thanks for their efforts to dig up and expose the mess that is the “Salary and Water Board” debacle.  If you have not already seen it, please watch their “Down the Drain” stories.

Check out my interview with Hammer about their investigation.

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