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.

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