In The News › New Orleans’ Sewerage & Water Board needs dedicated, skilled board members: Editorial

New Orleans’ Sewerage & Water Board needs dedicated, skilled board members: Editorial

By The | The Times-Picayune editorial board

January 8, 2014

Just about everything is in place to revamp New Orleans’ much-maligned Sewerage & Water Board: The Legislature last session passed changes to the board’s makeup, and in October voters approved the necessary revisions to the city charter.

All that’s needed are new members for the board. But that is arguably the most important part. Reform efforts can look great on paper, but success depends on how well changes are executed.

Applications are being accepted now for the new board, and it is important for New Orleanians to step up for the challenge. As the Bureau of Governmental Research put it last week in an appeal to the public, “To reinvigorate the agency, some of the city’s sharpest minds and most effective leaders must offer to serve.”

That needs to happen quickly, since the application deadline is Jan. 31. According to the Sewerage & Water Board website, resumes should be submitted to the Executive Director, 625 St. Joseph Street, Room 233, New Orleans, LA 70165 or by email to For more details, check or call 504.585.2212.

You must have lived in New Orleans for two years and be a registered voter in the city to qualify. Terms will be four years instead of nine, and the appointees can serve no more than two consecutive terms. There also must be a member from each of the five City Council districts, so it is important to have applicants from across the city.

One of the most significant changes from the past is that the eight citizen members must have expertise in particular areas to qualify for the board. That list includes a wide variety of specialties: architecture, environmental quality, finance, accounting, business administration, engineering, law, public health, urban planning, facilities management, public administration, science, construction, business management and community or consumer advocacy.

Two of the eight must have experience in consumer advocacy or protection or a related field.

BGR argues that, given the many challenges facing the Sewerage & Water Board, financial and management expertise are especially important. Those skills certainly would be useful with $1.1 billion in sewer and water projects scheduled between now and 2020.

The City Council, at Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s urging, increased water and sewer rates in December 2012 to help pay for long-overdue repairs and upgrades to the aging system. The mayor also promised to push for reforms to the board, which he did.

Those changes include a new board selection committee made up of the heads of Dillard, Loyola, Tulane and Xavier universities, Delgado Community College, the University of New Orleans, Southern University at New Orleans, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. That is a respected and diverse group, which bodes well for the appointment process.

The committee will submit three names for each vacancy to the mayor. He will make selections, which then will go to the City Council for its review.

As BGR noted, the strength of the selection committee’s nominations depends on having a good pool of applicants. It would be encouraging to see a large number of resumes submitted.

The changes to the board are needed to rebuild the public’s trust. The S&WB has had a reputation for inefficiency over the years, and the shenanigans of former board member Ben Edwards caused even more distrust. Mr. Edwards, who left the board in disgrace during the Nagin administration, was sentenced in 2010 to 22 years in prison for taking $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks from a S&WB contractor.

With sewer and water rates doubling for residents over the next few years, New Orleanians need a strong board that will protect their interests and safeguard their money. In addition to the extensive sewer and water system improvements under way, the board also must figure out how to pay for major drainage work that is needed citywide.

Those are heavy responsibilities that will require dedicated and skilled board members. But there ought to be plenty of New Orleanians who can handle the job.

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