Less than a week before her inauguration, Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell and her transition team released an
outlining the team’s recommendations for Cantrell’s administration as it prepares to enter City Hall.
Among those recommendations is to come up with a plan for the Sewerage & Water Board to purchase power to run its pumps, rather than rely on the Carrollton plant and network of generators. That plan, assembled by her Forward Together New Orleans transition team, would shift the S&WB pumps from power generation to power purchasing, which Cantrell says could save the city millions of dollars annually.
The team also recommended drawing a line between the S&WB and the Department of Public Works — S&WB would be responsible for drainage projects, while DPW would only take on paving and above-ground projects. An appointed “infrastructure deputy” would oversee communication between departments.
“The division of drainage and paving responsibilities between [DPW and S&WB] is inconsistent with the missions of each agency,” the report says. “[S&WB], per its enabling legislation, is responsible for the City’s drainage — this should include all drainage assets, from catch basins to pump stations, so that sole authority and accountability falls within the [S&WB]. Likewise, DPW is the department tasked with street maintenance: it should have sole responsibility for designing specifications and performing work on pavement. ”
The report also recommends hiring two DPW Deputy Director positions, “using one for Comprehensive Capital Improvement Program oversight, and the other to manage departmental operations,” and re-establishing the currently defunct City’s Utilities Department.
The team also recommended updating the S&WB’s website and improving customer service and transprency with S&WB updates. The report notes that there is no “comprehensive, forward-looking strategic plan on how to fund upcoming projects, maintain cash flow, or pay vendors in a timely manner.” The team recommends “utilizing professional financial consultants” to complete infrastructure projects, “maintain agency cash flow, and timely pay vendors.”
The report makes several mentions of water planning — from developing and implementing a comprehensive “urban water plan” through a community-driven planning process, to a “living with water” campaign and including water plans with a number of new projects, including expanded walking and biking infrastructure.
“No matter how strong our infrastructure is, we are a city that floods.” Cantrell said.
A comprehensive land use strategy would include mapping out all city-owned properties and leveraging their property value as a revenue stream. This could include consolidating and bringing those properties and offices — including SW&B — into City Hall, Cantrell said.
But Cantrell also warned some city finances are “a grave concern” — communications director Beau Tidwell said the incoming administration is performing an analysis of “potential deficits” at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and at the Criminal District Court. “I’m being told we have to brace ourselves,” Cantrell said.
“Additional areas of concern may emerge as her administration continues analysis, but she is confident the City can and will meet its obligations,” Tidwell said.
On the city’s financial footing to implement a new power plan for the pump-power generation, Cantrell said “we can’t rely on the numbers there.”
“It’s hard to give an assessment,” she said. “It’s a mess … The need for a CFO is right now.”
Cantrell also said there likely are millions of dollars in a “bottleneck” for public works projects, including filling potholes.
The report follows an especially long transition period, with a large transition team structure with high-profile chairs and several committees and subcommittees that began meeting in late January.
Then, Cantrell had promised “opportunities for the larger engagement of the public,” including public meetings. Those never happened. A spokesperson for the team later announced it was considering a forum and biweekly surveys. Those also didn’t happen.
“The transition team did in fact conduct at least one survey, reaching out to participants through the Forward Together site,” Tidwell said. “But the bulk of their outreach efforts happened on an individual level, with members of the Transition Advisory Board reaching out one-on-one in their own communities and professional spheres.”
Cantrell carefully phrased her highlights of the report as recommendations from the transition team, not policy from her administration. Asked whether Cantrell’s incoming administration will monitor progress of the report, Tidwell said “the entire leadership team of the new administration will take ownership of the review of the goals set forth in the transition report, and be accountable for finding ways to implement them.”
“The report itself is a guiding document, with an array of recommendations that can help shape policy going forward — but it is not policy in and of itself,” he said.
Among its recommendations are the creation of a Department of Transportation with a director that reports to mayor’s office, and, through executive order, the creation of an Office of Youth and Families.
That office’s creation dovetails with recommendations on a number of criminal justice-related initiatives, from improving the New Orleans Police Department’s public perception and retention rates to investing in technology to help reduce crime. Cantrell also could designate a senior official to oversee violence reduction plans. Cantrell also wants to ensure that the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission’s summer programming is on track as she enters office.
The report also mentions keeping in place at least some traffic cameras — revenue collected from city’s traffic cameras in school zones should be dedicated to “public safety goals” rather than “[plugging] gaps in the budget,” according to the report.
The report also calls for the construction of a DNA crime lab; it was unclear whether that includes funding for the labs inside the New Orleans Coroner’s office. NOPD has not had a dedicated crime lab in the city since before Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods.
A broad package of recommendations from the Neighborhood Stabilization Committee recognizes “gentrification has created inequitable outcomes for New Orleanians, displacing some while profiting others” — the committee recommends working with a number of city agencies to “stem gentrification,” particularly among community of color. It also recommends an “eightfold increase” in the revenue generated from short-term rental fees. An appointed Director of Housing Policy would help expand tenants’ rights and help advance City Hall’s housing goals.
Under the team’s “economic development” wing, the report recommends the hiring of a Chief Technology Officer and Chief Data Officer. It also recommends finding “potential big data partners with philanthropic arms to help us (e.g., Amazon, IBM, Google)” and preparing a “compelling reason for new partners to invest in New Orleans.”
The report also calls for a 10-year “food-centric master plan” and the creation of a Department of Cultural and Creative Industries as well as a “Cultural and Creative Industries Master Plan.”
Cantrell’s inauguration is May 7.
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