In The News › Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposes cutting City Council members from Sewerage & Water Board

Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposes cutting City Council members from Sewerage & Water Board

By Richard Rainey

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Tuesday proposed removing City Council members from the Sewerage & Water Board in an effort to better sell proposed water and sewer rate hikes to a skeptical public. Under his plan, board members would drop from 13 to 9, nine-year terms would drop to six, and consecutive terms would be capped at two.

The mayor would remain the board’s president.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said the council supported the move.

“The council doesn’t belong on the Sewerage & Water Board,” she said. “We don’t have the expertise and we don’t have the time.”

Landrieu’s proposal closely resembles alternatives pitched by two groups tasked to study the board’s governance, but it differs slightly from a compromise supported by the S&WB’s executive committee.

The battle over the board’s makeup comes amid efforts by S&WB staff to hike sewer and water service rates to help repair the city’s ailing, aging underground pipe networks. The Bureau of Governmental Research, a watchdog group, has advised the board to excise all elected officials, including the mayor.

Landrieu wants to remain on the board because he said residents have expressed support for keeping at least one elected official.

A citizens’ task force led by former board member Gary Solomon also advised removing council members, but agreed the mayor should stay on as board president.

Last week, the S&WB executive committee endorsed removing the three council members, but keeping the mayor and adding an at-large appointed position to keep the voting members at 11, an odd number to avoid ties. The full board is expected to consider that proposal and others Wednesday.

Landrieu also proposed a shift in how mayors nominate new board members. Rather than selecting appointees ad hoc, the mayor would take the recommendations from the presidents of five universities around New Orleans.

The 113-year-old water board has undergone few changes to its roster size after it settled on 13 members in 1936. Because the S&WB was created by state statute and predates New Orleans’ home rule charter, fiddling with its makeup is no small task. Any of the proposals under consideration would require new state laws and an acknowledgement of it within the city charter, S&WB Executive Director Marcia St. Martin has said.

The earliest any change could be enacted is late next fall, after the 2013 legislative session and an October municipal election to consider a charter change, she said.

Several state legislators were among the phalanx of officials backing Landrieu Tuesday. State Sen. Jean-Paul Morell, D-New Orleans, said changing the governance would go a long way to stopping the S&WB’s history as a “nexus of corruption,” although he didn’t get into specifics.

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