City Council Budget Committee Meeting – May 29, 2014

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City Planning Commission Announces Capital Budget Hearing Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the City Planning Commission released the Public Hearing Schedule for the City’s 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan, which will be the basis for next year’s Capital Budget. The hearings will take place by Department between June 23 and July 7. The capital budget requests are not due to City Planning Commission until June 13, and should be publicly available on CPC’s website shortly after that. Here is the Public Hearing Notice from CPC:

City Planning Commission Public Hearing Notice

Capital Improvement Plan 2015-2019

The City Planning Commission, in accordance with Sections 3-117, 5-402, and 6-104 of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans, will hold public hearings to consider Capital Budget requests by the departments and agencies of the City for the 2015-2019 program years. All hearings will be held in Conference Room A of the One Stop Shop (OSS) in New Orleans City Hall, at 1300 Perdido Street, Room 7W03, New Orleans, Louisiana, on the following dates and times:

 

Date and Time Department/Agency
 

Monday, June 23

10:30am-12:00pm French Market Corporation/Upper Pontalba Building Restoration Corporation
1:00pm-2:30pm City Park Improvement Association
5:00pm-6:30pm New Orleans Aviation Board
 

Wednesday, June 25

10:30am-12:00pm Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness/Municipal Training Academy & Emergency Medical Services (Dept of Health)
1:00-2:30pm Municipal Yacht Harbor Management Corporation
3:00-4:30pm New Orleans Public Library
 

Friday, June 27

11:00am-12:30pm Office of Information Technology and Innovation
2:00-3:30pm New Orleans Fire Department
3:30-5:00pm New Orleans Museum of Art
 

Monday, June 30

10:30am-12:00pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling
1:00pm-2:30pm Audubon Commission
3:00pm-4:30pm Department of Parks and Parkways
5:00pm-6:30pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling
 

Tuesday, July 1

11:30am-1:00pm New Orleans Police Department
2:30-4:00pm Department of Property Management
5:00pm-6:30pm Department of Public Works
 

Thursday, July 3

9:30am-11:00am Department of Sanitation
12:30pm-2:00pm Mosquito Control Board
2:30pm-4:00pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling
 

Monday, July 7

11:00am-12:30pm CAO/Equipment Maintenance Division
5:00pm-6:30pm New Orleans Recreation Development Commission

 

ALL INTERESTED PARTIES ARE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND. PUBLIC QUESTIONS WILL BE ADDRESSED FOLLOWING THE STAFF DISCUSSION OF THE PROPOSALS.

June 4, June 11, and June 18, 2014

Robert Rivers, Executive Director

The Politics of and Politicians on the City’s Boards and Commissions

At Today’s City Council Meeting (May 22, 2014), there will be a number of appointments to various City boards and commissions. The Mayor’s Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) appointments are attracting the most attention, but these are not the only high profile appointments on City Council’s agenda. In Motion No. M-14-204, City Council will appoint its own members to various Boards and Commissions around town.

The high-profile reforms at the S&WB were all about “taking politics out of the appointments.” While I do appreciate that new Sewerage and Water Board members now need to meet certain professional requirements, I think it is naive to say that politics have been removed. Many of the board and commission members across the City were selected because they are long-time political supporters of the Mayor or Councilmember who appoints them. Even if they are not a long-time political supporter, they are often pressured by political lobbying to take a certain position on an issue. If this was not happening, how else can you explain that the Mayor’s Office scripted NORD Commission meetings; top-Mayoral aides Jeff Hebert and Cedric Grant were selected to lead NORA and the S&WB?

So what does it mean that all of these Councilmembers being appointed to the Boards of these different organizations? Politicians are certainly going to act in their political best interest, so there is no real perception that their role is non-political like there is with some other board members. At the same time, this is another source of power for the City Councilmembers. Some of these Boards have tremendous power, like the Board of Liquidation, City Debt which is responsible for issuing bonds on behalf of the City.

City Councilmembers are appointed to 18 different boards and commission, some based on their position as the At-Large Councilmember or the Councilmember that represents the district where the board is located. Others appear to be appointed to the position based on either seniority or because they are the chair of the committee that has expertise in the area (Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee Susan Guidry will be appointed to the Criminal Justice Council as an example).

The distribution of these appointments is far from being equal. The At-Large members have the most appointments as Jason Williams has 9 and Stacy Head has 8. The Councilmembers for Districts A, B, and C are in the middle with 5 appointments for Susan Guidry, and 4 appointments each for LaToya Cantrell and Nadine Ramsey. Trailing in the appointments is Councilmembers Brossett and Gray who only have one appointment each. In the Motion there is a breakdown by board and commission, but here is the breakdown of by City Councilmember:

Stacy Head, At-Large Criminal Justice CouncilNew Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (2014 and 2016)

Revenue Estimating Conference

Canal Street Development Corporation

Board of Liquidation, City Debt

Board of City Trust (while serving as Council President)

Regional Planning Commission

New Orleans Building Corporation

Jason Williams, At-Large Criminal Justice CouncilNew Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (2015 and 2016)

City Park Improvement Association

Louisiana Police Jury Association

NOLA Business Alliance

Board of Liquidation, City Debt

Board of City Trust (while serving as Council President)

Regional Planning Commission

New Orleans Building Corporation

Susan Guidry, District A Board of the New Orleans Museum of ArtMunicipal Yacht Harbor Corporation

Criminal Justice Council

New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board

City Park Improvement Association

LaToya Cantrell, District B New Orleans Tourism Marketing CorporationBoard of Directors of the New Orleans Building Corporation

Canal Street Development Corporation

Greater New Orleans Tourist and Convention Commission

Nadine Ramsey, District C New Orleans Tourism Marketing CorporationCanal Street Development Corporation

Greater New Orleans Tourist and Convention Commission

Algiers Development District

Jared Brossett, District D Municipal Yacht Harbor Corporation
James Gray, District E New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board

So what, if any, lessons are there to learn here? Certainly, not all City Council positions are created equal, at least when it comes to board and commission appointments. Also, I think that we need that boards and commissions will always be political as long as we continue to have politicians serve or appoint the people who serve on these boards and commissions. If we really do want people who are non-political and chosen for their professional expertise, then why not have local chapters of professional organizations appoint people to these boards and commissions? I would trust the local chapter of the Bar Association to pick the best lawyer and the American Institute of Architects to select a top architect more than I would any politician to do the same. Taking politicians out of the appointment process is the only way to take politics out of these boards and commissions.

The New Orleans Capital Budget: The $1 billion tree that fell in the forest, where nobody was around to hear

Every year the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) oversees the City’s process to develop a 5-year spending plan for the City’s Capital projects. And every year, CPC host about 20 public meeting to get input on the various budget requests, with little to no involvement from the public. I attended a handful of these meetings last year, and there were only three or four non-City employees at all of these meetings, and those people were from local government watchdog organizations like BGR, CBNO, and NOCOG. So why is the Capital Budget important, and if it is important, then why are so few people engaged in the process?

The Capital Budget is important because it is the City’s plan for every major project the City will build over the next 5 years. The 2014-2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that the City adopted last year totaled over $1 billion (that is billion with a ‘b’) and included funding for a new airport terminal, a civic center at Charity Hospital, and money for every major road repair, park, police station, fire station, library, community center, and every other project that the City will build over the next 5 years. With the CIP’s $1 billion price tag and with projects in every part of the City, you would think that more individuals and neighborhoods would engage in this process.

The reason why more people do not engage in the CIP process, because most people do not know what the CIP is and they certainly do not know that the City is deciding the fate of these projects in their neighborhood. Some projects, like repairing City Hall elevators, will not be of interest to most people (unless you spent 40 minutes trapped in an elevator with Jackie Clarkson). Other projects are of vital importance to neighborhoods, like new equipment and improvements to your neighborhood playground, building a new fire station in your neighborhood, and major repairs to roads in your community. Neighborhoods care about these projects and would show up and provide input if they knew that these decisions were being made.

The problem is in how the City advertises and collects input on the CIP. CPC gets capital project requests and holds public hearings by the department. CPC emails a list out of different hearing dates of each department and does not give out information about the different projects that they are requesting funding for. So you may know that NORDC is holding a meeting on June 25, but you have no idea that NORDC is considering funding the park in your neighborhood. As a neighborhood, you would have to review every department’s requests to see if there are any proposals in your community. That is too much effort to expect from any neighborhood, especially considering that they do not understand this whole process.

At its last Operational Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 13, CPC announced that they were going to kick off the next round on Department Budget Hearings the week of June 23. CPC Chair Kelly Brown said that CPC has been criticized in the past for not having enough public involvement in the CIP, and that they need to do a better job this round. CPC staffer Geoff Moen said that he has been in contact with the Neighborhood Engagement (NEO) to help get the word out. I think that this is a good first step, but it is not enough.

CPC and NEO spent last summer and fall compiling a list of neighborhood association boundaries and contact information. It would not be difficult to map all of the Capital Budget request locations and contact the impacted neighborhood associations to let them know that CPC is considering a Capital Budget request in their neighborhood and let them know the request, the amount, the hearing date, and how to provide their input. In addition, CPC adopted its Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) in summer of 2012, which call for more community engagement in all of CPC decision making processes including the CIP. The NPP specifically calls for NEO to do the following:

  • Prior to the Department’s submission of project proposals to the CPC, the City should engage the community to gather input on its priorities.
  • Issue a press release explaining the CIP process and announcing the opportunities for community engagement.
  • Create an online community engagement platform to record the community’s priorities for capital projects.

I do not think that CPC or NEO is doing any of these things (expect for maybe the second one), which are critical for getting more people involved in the decision making process. By being more proactive in engaging neighborhoods and residents in projects that they are interested in (those in their neighborhood), CPC can greater public participation in its CIP process. Currently, CPC is still getting more budget requests from the various City Departments, but they will soon announce the public hearing schedule for each department. I will be sure to announce it when the schedule becomes public, but you should be able to find more information on CPC’s website at its Calendars and Agendas and Capital Improvement Plan pages.