City Council sends letter accusing S&WB of ignoring the law; agency responds

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The new City Council sent a strongly worded letter to the Sewerage and Water Board alleging that the agency has been flouting state law by not fully informing the council about its operations.

"We have gotten incomplete and inadequate information," said District A Councilman Joseph Giarusso.

The 10-page letter signed by all seven council members said that under Louisiana law the S&WB is required to provide quarterly reports with very detailed information to the council. The letter demands that the agency comply with its statutory obligations and said deficiencies in a March 13, 2018 report were "indefensible and inexcusable."

"So we want to reset the framework and say to the Sewerage and Water Board, look, this is what you're supposed to be providing, and now that you have a new council, we want to tell you what you need to provide. We want you to give us the information, and we want to help to restore public confidence," said Giarusso, who spearheaded the writing of the letter.

The council also wrote that, "severe mistrust of the S&WB directly results from terrible customer service, lack of transparency, and poor efforts to engage the public."

"We want the public to have confidence not only in the job we're doing, but in all the money they're spending on Sewerage and Water Board, make sure that the utility is doing its job," said Giarusso.

"More than anything, we want more conversation about the significant problems that have been ongoing. Obviously, we know about the structural things, but the billing issue," said Councilwoman-at-Large Helena Moreno, who formally was in the state Legislature.

Some customers are outraged over billing errors resulting in them getting bills for thousands of dollars.

Moreno said she understands their frustration.

The letter also contains recommendations for other ways the agency can improve.

Moreno said the agency's website lacks pertinent information, especially on the over-billing crisis.

"On their website alone there should be a big sign that says 'We are having major billing issues right now, therefore, you're not going to get any late fees, and you're not going to get your water shut off.' But that's not listed anywhere," stated Moreno.

Moreno also thinks it's time that the Sewerage and Water Board holds its meetings at City Hall, inside City Council chambers.

"Let's open it right up, and let the public be able to come to the meetings," she said.

And having meetings in the council chambers would afford citizens the opportunity to watch the process from home.

'We need a leadership structure that ensures that the work is being done and that is being responsive to the citizens of New Orleans," Giarrusso said.

The S&WB's Director of Communications, Richard Rainey, issued the following statement:

"The Sewerage & Water Board's Interim Management Team has received the letter from the City Council regarding the agency's obligation to provide quarterly reports.

Interim Executive Director Marcie Edwards presented a multi-pronged plan on Tuesday to address billing irregularities. Steps include hiring more employees in Customer Service and Billing, improving training and stabilizing how bills are estimated.

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