In The News › BGR criticizes effort to change levee board nominations

Apr 2, 2014

Source: The Advocate

Filed under: Governance, Levees

BGR criticizes effort to change levee board nominations

By Jeff Adelson

The Advocate

April 2, 2014

A bill up for consideration by the Legislature would threaten reforms aimed at professionalizing New Orleans area levee boards that long were filled with “sometimes ill-qualified political appointees,” according to a commentary the Bureau of Governmental Research issued Tuesday.

The nonpartisan government watchdog group took aim in the statement at Senate Bill 79, introduced by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, which would essentially give the governor the ability to pick his own candidates to sit on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities that cover the east and west banks of the New Orleans area.

Adley has said the measure, which he filed on behalf of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration, is intended to rein in the east bank authority, which has been pursuing a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies seeking to hold them accountable for environmental damage and erosion in southeast Louisiana wetlands.

The passage of Adley’s bill could threaten the efforts to bring “professionalism, technical expertise and focus to the critical task of protecting residents from flooding,” according to the BGR release.

“As the levee failures in 2005 made all too clear, the very survival of the New Orleans area depends on reliable flood protection,” the commentary says. “The efforts to consolidate and professionalize governance of the area’s levee boards are essential to help ensure that public safety is not compromised by politics.”

A central element of those efforts was the elimination of the levee boards that existed prior to Hurricane Katrina, which were run by politically appointed boards, and their replacement with consolidated levee authorities.

Those authorities’ boards consist largely of experts in engineering and other disciplines who are nominated by an independent committee. Under existing law, the governor must appoint the individuals that committee chooses to fill the seats reserved for experts and must choose between two candidates for non-scientific seats.

Adley’s bill would require the committee to send three nominees for each seat to the governor, who then would be able to reject all the candidates and force the committee to continue sending up new ones until the governor appoints one.

The Jindal administration has sought to replace members of the east bank levee authority — whose members supported the lawsuit unanimously — with new commissioners who oppose it. Three commissioners on the nine-member board have already been replaced.

The governor’s office has also tried to reject the renomination of Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East President Tim Doody, though the nominating committee pushed back against that attempt last month.

Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, a group seen as largely responsible for the creation of the new authorities in the wake of the 2005 levee failures, has already come out against Adley’s bill, arguing it would “undo independence and undermine scientific expertise on the flood protection boards.”

BGR’s report warns against giving the governor more control over the boards.

“By giving a governor too much control over the composition of the boards, SB 79 would weaken existing safeguards,” according to BGR. “It should be rejected. We simply cannot afford to turn back the clock to a failed, politics-based approach for selecting levee board members.”

Apr 2, 2014

Source: The Advocate

Filed under: Governance, Levees

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