In The News › New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board overhaul bill goes back to giving mayor’s office control

New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board overhaul bill goes back to giving mayor’s office control

By Jeff Adelson, / The Times-Picayune
May 22, 2013

A revamp of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board continues to morph as it moves through the Louisiana Legislature. But with the latest revisions, the bill now proposes a board makeup similar to that initially envisioned by Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

However, the bill now also requires the board to provide regular reports to the New Orleans City Council on contracts.

“This bill is sort of a work in progress,” said Sen. J.P. Morrell, the bill’s sponsor. “It’s probably something we’re going to be working on until the last week of session.”

Morrell, D-New Orleans, said changes to the board are necessary to restore public trust and to fulfill a promise Landrieu made to revamp the water board when huge rate increases were approved last year. The changes are “long overdue,” Morrell said.

As initially proposed, the S&WB overhaul would put substantial power in the hands of the mayor, who also sits on the board, by giving the mayor the power to appoint most of the board’s members. None of the changes made so far throughout the legislative process took away that power, but added requirements that would have given additional appointments to either City Council members or to the Legislature.

But amendments to Senate Bill 47 in the House Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee on Wednesday undid many of those changes, moving back to a nine-member board made up largely of mayoral appointees. The committee sent the bill to the House floor without opposition. While the bill has already been approved by the Senate, the upper chamber would need to agree to the changes made in the House before the measure can be sent to the governor’s desk.

The mayor would appoint six members of the water board from a list submitted by a selection committee made up of the heads of universities and colleges in New Orleans, representatives of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League.

Two members would be appointed from the board that oversees the issuing and repayment of the city’s bonds.

Those eight appointments would have to include one person from each of the five New Orleans council districts.

The mayor would be able to decline any of the selection committee’s nominees, at which point the committee would have to reconvene to come up with additional names. The Bureau of Governmental Research, a think tank, has pushed against providing this veto power, arguing it could sway the committee to nominate only those the mayor wanted and could politicize the process.

Under the latest version of the bill, the S&WB would also be required to provide the City Council with quarterly reports on a wide range of issues related to contracts.

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