In The News › Public Belt board appointing own members

Aug 10, 2010

Source: Fox 8 News

Filed under: Ethics, Orleans Parish

Public Belt board appointing own members

Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Reported by Lee Zurik
Fox 8 News

New Orleans – Last week, the New Orleans Public Belt’s executive committee met behind closed doors to discuss the future of General Manager Jim Bridger. However, half of the six members on that executive committee were not appointed to the Public Belt Board by the organizations picked to do so by law.

“Well it’s time to go back and change state law,” said Janet Howard, President of the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Six of the 16 seats on the NOPB Board are appointments made by now defunct organizations.

For example, the law says Public Belt board member and executive committee member William App should have been appointed by the New Orleans Cotton Exchange. However, the organization does not exist anymore.

The Cotton Exchange has two appointments to the Public Belt board, the Contracts and Dealers Exchange has two, and the Louisiana Sugar Exchange has two. These organizations are all defunct.

When asked if she has ever heard of the Louisiana Sugar Exchange, Howard replied that she has “only lived here for twenty years.” The Sugar Exchange has not existed since the mid-1960’s.

“I knew these exchanges existed at some point, but they are not on the modern radar screen,” Howard said.

NOPB board appointing its own members

State Law includes a back-up plan in case these organizations fold. The law reads that if an appointing body ceases to exist, the appointing power will fall into the hands of the Public Belt Railroad Commission. So, the remaining commissioners get to appoint another board member.

“When you have something where the board of the organization public body is appointing its own members, you create a situation where you’re inclined for inside baseball,” Howard said.

She added one of the critical ways an organization functions is how the board appointments are made.

Each Commissioner has a term length of 16 years.

Howard was surprised and said she has “never heard of that.” The longest term she was aware of is nine years – for the City Planning Commission.

“Why would you have such a long term,” Howard asked. “It is supposed to be a service by citizens. It’s a long time to ask for a commitment. Boards change so the interested don’t become entrenched. When you have 16-year terms, clearly you are working against that concept.”

How to change the board make-up

The state legislature would have to vote on any change to the board make-up and term length.

“I think the public is surprised that a pubic board has 16-year terms. That’s a little excessive. I would expect some significant reform on the governmental structure of it,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The organization has questionable spending, questionable oversight, and now a questionable board structure that has been in place for over 100 years, and now it may be in need of reform.

“Self perpetuating boards, boards that are isolated, this is the kind of stuff that happens. So anytime you’re restructuring boards for public-private partnerships there has to be accountability and there has to be transparency,” Landrieu said.

Aug 10, 2010

Source: Fox 8 News

Filed under: Ethics, Orleans Parish

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