In The News › Orleans voters will decide Oct. 19 on two City Charter amendments

Orleans voters will decide Oct. 19 on two City Charter amendments

By Bruce Eggler

The Advocate

October 7, 2013

New Orleans voters will decide Oct. 19 on two amendments to the City Charter, though only one is likely to have much impact on how the city’s government operates.

A proposal to revamp the composition of the board of directors of the Sewerage & Water Board by reducing the number of members, shortening their terms and changing the way they are appointed, would likely have an impact.

The second proposed amendment would eliminate references in the charter to three boards that haven’t actually functioned for years.

There appears to be no organized opposition to either amendment.

The Sewerage & Water Board amendment would reduce the board from 13 to 11 members by removing the three seats reserved for City Council members and adding one new citizen member.

It also would trigger several other changes enacted this year by the Legislature, contingent upon the voters’ approval of the charter amendment.

Those changes would shorten members’ terms, impose term limits, create a nominating process for new members and set new qualifications for them.

The board of directors comprises the mayor, three council members, two members of the Board of Liquidation, City Debt, which oversees the bonds issued by the city and the Sewerage & Water Board and seven private citizens.

Most council members appear to support the idea of removing its representatives from the board.

The revamped water board would include the mayor, the two Board of Liquidation members and eight private citizens.

At present, the seven citizen members of the water board are appointed by the mayor with the consent of the council.

The proposed reforms would keep the appointment power in the mayor’s hands, but he would have to choose the eight citizen members from candidates proposed by a 10-person nominating committee.

That committee would be made up of the presidents or chancellors of seven local universities and the chairmen of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce and Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

The committee would decide on three nominees for each seat on the water board, and the mayor would have to pick one of the three, with confirmation by the council still required.

The new state law would require for the first time that the board members have experience in presumably relevant fields such as architecture, engineering, finance, law, public health, urban planning, science, construction or business administration.

Two of the 10 citizen members — including the two appointees of the Board of Liquidation — would need to be “consumer advocates with community advocacy or consumer protection experience in a related field” — presumably meaning they would serve as primary advocates on the board for the water board’s customers.

At least one of the 10 citizen members would have to live in each of the five City Council districts.

The members are also supposed to “reflect the racial and gender diversity” of the city’s population “to the extent practicable.”

At present, water board members serve nine-year terms and can be reappointed indefinitely.

The new law would reduce the terms to four years with a limit of two terms, presumably leading to greater turnover on the board.

The terms would be staggered with at least two expiring each year.

The nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research, which has been critical of the water board’s past governance practices, has endorsed the charter amendment, saying it “would lay the foundation” for creating a “well-qualified, high-functioning board” that could tackle the major challenges facing the water board.

The second City Charter amendment on the ballot would remove references in the charter to the Board of Electrical Examiners, the Board of Mechanical Examiners and the Board of Examiners of Operating Engineers.

These three boards used to administer contractor exams and issue licenses, but those functions are handled by state government or by industry associations.

The boards have been dormant for years.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced last year that he wanted to eliminate them and other unnecessary city boards and commissions.

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