In The News › Bureau of Governmental Research opposes Senate bill that would give governor more power in selecting

Apr 1, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Levees

Bureau of Governmental Research opposes Senate bill that would give governor more power in selecting

By Mark Schleifstein | The Times-Picayune

April 01, 2014

The New Orleans-based Bureau of Governmental Research has turned thumbs down on a proposed state senate bill that would give Gov. Bobby Jindal more control over the selection of members of the east bank and West Bank levee authorities. BGR said the bill reverses reforms meant to professionalize the two authorities and remove them from political control.

“As the levee failures in 2005 made all too clear, the very survival of the New Orleans area depends on reliable flood protection,” said a BGR statement released Tuesday. “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. By giving a governor too much control over the composition of the boards, (the legislation) would weaken existing safeguards.

“It should be rejected,” the statement said. “We simply cannot afford to turn back the clock to a failed, politics-based approach for selecting levee board members.”

The BGR statement pointed out that prior to Hurricane Katrina, local levee boards were made up mostly of members appointed by the governor from names submitted by legislators, and the only qualifications for service were residency in the parish served by the levee board and being a qualified voter.

“Too often in the selection of board members, political connections took precedence over knowledge of flood control,” the BGR statement said. “In some cases, levee boards lost focus and spent too much time managing assets that had nothing to do with flood protection.”

After Katrina, voters approved a Constitutional amendment that required the Legislature to consolidate local levee districts into the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which includes representatives of five parishes and oversees the Orleans, East Jefferson and Lake Borgne levee districts, and the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, which oversees levees on the West Bank in New Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

The nine-member east bank board now includes five members who must be engineers or professionals in a related field, with one required to be a civil engineer. Two more must be professionals in some other field with at least 10 years experience, while the final two need not meet professional requirements. The board also is are required to include one member from each of the five parishes covered by the authority, with the other four members living outside its jurisdiction.

The seven-member West Bank board must have three members who are engineers or professionals in related fields, again with one required to be a civil engineer. Three other members must be professionals in unrelated disciplines, again with 10 years experience and a college degree. A seventh member can meet either of the two criteria. The two West Bank parishes are represented by two board members each, all of whom live on the West Bank, and the other three must live outside the authority’s jurisdiction.

Present law requires the governor to appoint board members from nominees submitted by an independent nominating committee. The committee has 11 members who submit names for the east bank authority, and two more members when submitting names for the West Bank authority, with committee members representing a variety of professional, engineering, scientific, academic and public policy organizations.

For seats reserved for engineers or related professional fields, the committee is required to submit one nominee each. For other seats, the committee selects two nominees. The nominees are submitted to the governor, and must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Senate Bill 79, the new legislation authored by state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, would require the independent nominating committee to submit three nominees to the governor for every vacancy on the boards of the two authorities, and rank the nominees based on their qualifications.

After introducing the bill, Adley said it had been requested by Jindal, who is attempting to reverse the east bank levee authority’s approval of a wetlands damages lawsuit it filed in July against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

Jindal has successfully replaced three of that authority’s members with individuals who oppose the lawsuit, but has been stymied in his efforts to replace authority President Tim Doody, whose term has expired. Two were chosen from names selected by the nominating committee, and a third was selected directly by Jindal to replace an authority board member whose appointment had never been approved by the state Senate.

The nominating committee had also selected Doody and retired 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge David Gorbaty as nominees in September for a seat reserved for a resident of St. Bernard Parish, but Gorbaty was determined to be ineligible, and Jindal refused to select Doody, saying Doody — an accountant — had a conflict of interest involving the law firm that employs him.

On March 6, the nominating committee voted against removing Doody’s name as a nominee after Doody received an opinion from the Louisiana Board of Ethics saying no conflict of interest existed.

The BGR statement about Adley’s bill said that change will “risk diluting the quality of the nominees, especially for seats reserved for engineering and scientific experts.” It pointed out, for instance, that if the committee were faced with replacing a St. Bernard Parish resident who was the only civil engineer on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, that seat would have to be filled with another civil engineer from St. Bernard.

“The committee might have trouble finding one such person who was both highly qualified and willing to serve, let alone three,” it said.

Adley’s bill also would allow the governor to reject all three nominees, and gives the nominating committee 45 days to submit a new slate of nominees. The changes allow the governor to keep rejecting the committee’s nominees until he finds one he likes, and if the committee ran out of nominees or missed a deadline, the governor would be able to select someone himself.

“This would vastly increase the governor’s control over the composition of the flood protection boards and allow political considerations to creep back into the selection process,” according to the BGR statement. “It could send a message to the nominating committee that it should focus on submitting nominees that the governor finds desirable, rather than simply focusing on who shold add the most value to the board.

“This could strike at the very purpose of the nominating committee: to have a panel of experts use their professional judgment in selecting nominees,” according to the statement.

Apr 1, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Governance, Levees

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