In The News › Happy Birthday BGR

Dec 18, 2007

Source: Gambit Weekly

Happy Birthday BGR

Gambit Weekly : Happy Birthday, BGR : December 18, 2007 Page 1 of 3

COMMENTARY
12 18 07

Happy Birthday, BGR

This week, the Bureau of Governmental Research will host its annual luncheon, but with an
added twist: the nonpartisan, nonprofit research group will also celebrate 75 years of
providing independent, objective analysis to the citizens of New Orleans. Since the early
1930s, BGR has studied the most important issues affecting the integrity of our public
institutions and, by extension, the quality of our lives. During that time, BGR has
consistently remained one of the most reliable sources of objective information for news
reporters and editorial writers in search of accurate, unbiased data and analysis on the
issues of the day. With the advent of rapid communications and the Internet, BGR’s
research is more accessible “ and therefore more valuable “ than ever. Current BGR
president Janet Howard succinctly summed up the organization’s impact in an interview
with Gambit Weekly: ‘When you look around New Orleans, there are a lot of institutions
and developments that are taken for granted nowadays “ things like our City Charter, the
renovation of the French Quarter, the rehabilitation of the Audubon Zoo, even the use of
voting machines “ but all of them were first addressed in BGR studies. The BGR’s impact
on the landscape of New Orleans, physically and operationally, has been enormous.”

Even a cursory review of BGR’s history bears out Howard’s observation. In the 1930s, BGR
unearthed allegations that figured in the federal investigation of the infamous ‘Louisiana
Hayride” scandals and also put together a financing plan that saved the Sewerage and
Water Board some $700,000 “ which would translate into many millions today.
Coincidentally, among BGR’s most recent triumphs was its criticism of a proposed plan to
privatize significant portions of the S&WB’s operations in the early years of this decade.
BGR’s analysis alerted the media and the public to many glaring weaknesses in the
proposal, which ultimately was scuttled “ proving not only the value of independent
research but also showing just how little some issues change over the course of seven
decades. Defeat of the S&WB privatization idea ‘ranks right up there at the top” of BGR’s
achievements, Howard says. We agree.

In the ’40s and ’50s, BGR promoted two lasting reforms that changed the political
landscape forever: voting machines in Orleans Parish and a new City Charter, which
continues to give New Orleans the benefit of home rule. In the ’60s, BGR recognized the
threat that ‘modernization” posed to the historic Vieux Carre and laid the groundwork for
preserving the French Quarter. A decade later, in the ’70s, BGR studied ways to improve
the operations and facilities at the then-dilapidated Audubon Zoo, the condition of which
was a public embarrassment. Armed with BGR research and tapping into citizens’ desire for
reform, Audubon director Ron Forman transformed the zoo and park into one of the world’s
best.

Dating back to 1934, BGR has championed the cause of property-tax reform. The
organization has released numerous studies and criticisms of Louisiana’s and New Orleans’
assessment practices and structural deficiencies, first calling for consolidation of the seven
New Orleans assessors’ offices in 1941. The post-Katrina, citizen-led drive to combine
those offices represents the culmination of decades of BGR research and recommendations.

Another post-Katrina movement that can trace its roots to pre-K BGR efforts is the drive
for citizen-led decisions on land use. One of BGR’s most requested and most oft-reprinted
documents is its 2003 study, ‘Runaway Discretion: Land Use Decision Making in New
Orleans.” The document highlights the inherent flaws of New Orleans’ failure to adopt a
Master Plan that has the force of law. In the wake of Katrina, BGR issued a follow-up
study, ‘Planning for a New Era: Proposed Charter Changes for Land Use Decision Making
in New Orleans,” setting forth the changes needed to implement such a master plan and to
create a system for meaningful neighborhood participation. These and other BGR studies
(dating from 1994) are available online at www.bgr.org.

Looking ahead, BGR recently sent a letter to city’s Office of Recovery Management and
the City Council regarding New Orleans’ vast number of blighted and vacant properties. In
the letter, BGR stressed the need for making the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority
(NORA) solely responsible for redeveloping blighted properties in New Orleans post-
Katrina. BGR points out that the previous strategy of relying on both NORA and city
government to deal with blighted properties has led to confusion “ and fewer properties
being returned to commerce. In this case, as in the past, ORM and the City Council should
heed BGR’s advice.

Throughout its 75 years, BGR has earned a reputation for accurate, dispassionate research
and objective analysis. ‘We live and die by that,” Howard says.

In many ways, so has New Orleans. We therefore join New Orleanians from all walks of
life in extending the dedicated staff and members of BGR a heartfelt ‘thank you.”

© 2007, Gambit Communications, Inc.

Dec 18, 2007

Source: Gambit Weekly

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