In The News › Mayor Has Power to Let Sunshine In

Jan 19, 2009

Source: New Orleans City Business

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Orleans Parish

Mayor Has Power to Let Sunshine In

Mayor has power to let sunshine in
January 19, 2009
New Orleans CityBusiness

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has once again ruled that the New Orleans City Council is within its rights to demand Mayor C. Ray Nagin open the administration’s professional service contract review to public scrutiny.

And considering the apparent squandering of money on the city’s crime camera system and other administration contracts, the sun cannot shine brightly enough on the process.

It was a ruling Caldwell first made in October when Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow pushed an ordinance through committee that called for the mayor’s awarding of professional service contracts to adhere to the state’s Open Meetings Law. Fielkow sought the AG’s opinion before bringing the ordinance before the full council.

The mayor’s office asked Caldwell to reconsider, arguing that the council’s action would violate the city’s home rule charter that authorizes the mayor to award professional contracts at his discretion. The ordinance would allow the legislative branch to transgress the defined powers of the executive branch, according to Nagin’s office.

In his ruling, Caldwell acknowledges the powers of a city’s home rule charter “except as inconsistent with this (Louisiana) constitution.” As such, the council would not be violating the home rule charter by insisting the mayor adhere to state law.

Fielkow said he will bring the ordinance up before the council at its Feb. 5 meeting.

What steps the administration takes next if the ordinance passes are uncertain. If the mayor’s office chooses not to follow the ordinance — and therefore ignore the state’s sunshine laws — the next challenge would likely be in state district court.

That would mean the attorney general, the Orleans Parish district attorney or a New Orleans citizen would have to file suit and prove the mayor’s office is violating the state’s Open Meetings Law.

It’s a safe bet to assume District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has more pressing items on his agenda given the city’s uphill struggle to combat crime.

The mayor could easily diffuse the issue by simply opting to open up the contract process, following the example of the City Council’s open door policy.

As it stands now, the only public record available from the administration’s professional contract reviews is a post-mortem score sheet that indicates how the competing vendors were graded. It offers no indication as to why a winning bid was chosen or a losing bid was rejected.

A June 2005 executive order from Nagin prohibits members of the review panel “from disclosing contents of such discussions and/or deliberations to any third parties.” He reaffirmed the confidentially clause in September.

On the surface, that order might seem to prevent any undue influence from tainting the section process, but the sure way to prevent that from happening is to shed light on the decisions being made.

Open meetings could have stopped the administration from spending $2.8 million last year on maintaining a crime camera system that’s had no discernable impact on curbing violence.

Open meetings would have brought to light deficiencies in services provided through the 311 information line.

Open meetings could have shed more light on the NOAH controversy and the companies that took city money for work they did not perform.

In 2002, Nagin campaigned on a pledge to the Bureau for Government Research to uphold its recommendations for contract procurement. It’s a promise he’s yet to fulfill.

And given the vast amount of resources at the mayor’s disposal and his administration’s questionable track record of deploying them effectively, the time for sunshine is well overdue.•

Jan 19, 2009

Source: New Orleans City Business

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Orleans Parish

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