NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor LaToya Cantrell responded Thursday to new information about two Sewerage and Water Board employees who were found sleeping on the job before an east bank water boil order was issued in November.
S&WB leaders confirm the two employees, who were unreachable in November, were asleep.
During the event, one of the water pumps lost power, creating a loss of pressure and causing the east bank to go under a boil water advisory for almost an entire day. The mayor said the administration knew about it, but some City Council members said that wasn’t the case.
In the wake of the boil water advisory, City Council members held a committee meeting Dec. 3 to try to get to the bottom of what happened. At that meeting, S&WB leaders said two of their employees were AWOL.
“When the thing went off, did they freak out and say this is too much for me to handle and then run out? Were they sick in the bathroom? Where were they?” Councilman Jay Banks asked.
“They did not freak out, they opted to not be engaged,” S&WB Executive Director Ghassan Korban replied.
At that point, one of the employees had resigned. The other was still undergoing an investigation.
Today, S&WB leaders confirmed that both have resigned, also revealing the two fell asleep while working their overnight shift jobs when the water pumps were losing power and pressure.
Mayor Cantrell said the employees being asleep wasn't new information.
Cantrell: “What is it you want?”
Reporter: “We were wanting to talk to you about the Sewerage and Water Board, the two employees falling asleep on the job.”
Cantrell: “Ok, but that happened during - this has been months ago, in 2018, is that it?”
Reporter: “When did you know they fell asleep?”
Cantrell: “We found - this was public information that the Sewerage and Water Board disclosed in a committee meeting to the New Orleans City Council in 2018. Since that time, the two individuals that were, in fact, sleeping on the job have resigned.”
However, that came as a surprise to Councilman Joe Giarrusso. He said no one from the Sewerage and Water Board told him that the employees fell asleep, saying he heard about it for the first time today (Jan. 10).
“It hasn’t been disclosed to me. Is it possible one of my colleagues was aware of that? Yes, but I certainly wasn’t. …We had asked questions about what had happened, we were talking off camera about the December meeting - were the employees asleep? Were they not paying attention? Were they on drugs? What were all the questions, and all we knew was there was a personnel issue, and after civil service was involved we’d get more answers,” Giarrusso said.
It’s unclear when the second employee resigned, but Giarrusso said he was hoping the Sewerage and Water Board would follow up on promises to be more transparent, and he plans to follow up with them. He said he wants something done to keep this from happening in the future.
However, when we asked the same question of Mayor Cantrell:
Reporter: “What measures are being put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
Cantrell: “There are measures already in place when you work, so it’s following policies and procedures in which we do, and if people are not doing their job, they will be held accountable and those are the policies and procedures we’ll continue to follow.”
Reporter: “But what specific policies? Is there an alarm? If in the case pressure starts to lose, electricity starts to lose, that there’s an alarm to notify these employees?”
Cantrell: “I don’t understand the question you’re asking me as it relates to employees’ manuals, handbooks, policies, procedures in place that provide guidelines as to how you’re supposed to act on your job. So those things are in place.”
As the president of the Sewerage and Water Board board of directors, Cantrell is holding steadfast that they’ve done their job, remained transparent and acted accordingly with its employees.
“It was the Sewerage and Water Board and executive director through a thorough investigation presented the facts to our New Orleans City Council members. So, we owned it, we addressed it and worked swiftly to hold employees working for the Sewerage and Water Board accountable, and to the point where they resigned,” Cantrell said.
After FOX 8 reviewed the Dec. 3 committee meeting minutes and video, we reached out to the mayor’s office to see if she’d like to do another interview to clarify her position. Her reply is as follows:
“As the mayor indicated this afternoon, the S&WB communicated to the council that the two individuals had failed to perform their responsibilities. The specifics were investigated thoroughly, and the employees have been dealt with.”
We reached out to all of the council members to see if - prior to today - any other members were privy to the fact the employees fell asleep on the job.
Council members Kristin Palmer, Cyndi Nguyen, and Helena Moreno also responded saying they did not know. We did not hear back from any other council members.