Bill to place a N.O. city councilperson on S&WB closer to final approval

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A bill in the State Legislature to place a member of the New Orleans City Council back on the troubled Sewerage and Water Board moves closer to final approval.

But the Bureau of Governmental Research said such a move would be a mistake.

"I was here for Betsy and Katrina. I had seven feet of water for Katrina. I am terrified of flooding, so just as a citizen when there is a problem who do you call?" said Jay Banks, the incoming City Councilman for District B.

Banks favors Sen. J.P. Morrell's bill to rework the composition of the Sewerage and Water Board.

"I did not support removing the council members in the first place," said Banks.

Morrell's bill has already won approval of the full Senate. And now it has sailed out of the House Municipal Affairs Committee.

"August 5th of last year we had massive, tremendous rain flooding and what came out in the aftermath of that is essentially, for better, or worse there was some tremendous concerns by the citizens of New Orleans that not having a council member on the Sewerage and Water Board removed a level of accountability. Because as we had reconstructed the board these were all mayoral appointees by universities sent by universities and other groups," Morrell told the committee prior to its action on the bill.

Several years ago the City Council had representation on the board.

Still, the BGR is against returning a councilman to the board.

"It could create the false impression of a solution," said BGR President Amy Glovinsky.

She said such a move could infuse more politics into the board's discourse.

"Council representation on the Sewerage and Water Board would reintroduce council politics in Sewerage and Water Board deliberations. There is an established history of a very complicated process involving the City Council members when the Sewerage and Water Board needed rate and tax increases," Glovinsky continued.

"The audacity of BGR is really staggering," Morrell said in response.

Morrell authored the initial bill to take council members off the Sewerage and Water Board.

"There is a huge confidence problem with the citizens of New Orleans. BGR sits in an ivory tower. Sewerage and Water Board is funded by the taxes of the citizens of New Orleans," he said.

By city charter, the city's mayor is president of the S&WB.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who leaves office next month has no objections to the legislation.

"Now he's changed his mind and wants to put them back on and that's fine," said Landrieu.

Even as Sen. Morrell pushes for the change, he concedes that having a City Council member on the Sewerage and Water will not be a cure-all.

"Overall, it's a bill to try to fix some problems and bring greater accountability and transparency now. I'll be the first to say the Sewerage and Water Board has tremendous problems beyond the board itself, there are management and operational problems which those August 5 floods kind of brought to light," said Morrell.

Banks said engineers and other skilled professionals are needed on the board, but the public has to have someone they can get responses from.

"If it doesn't happen, I don't think I am going to jump off the bridge. But at the end of the day somebody on that board needs to be answerable to the public," said Banks.

If Morrell's bill wins final legislative approval and is signed into law by the governor, it would then go before New Orleans voters to change the city charter.

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