Mayor Cantrell talks S&WB leadership, short- and long-term goals

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Latoya Cantrell is talked with FOX 8 News about myriad issues after being on the job for two weeks.

"I'm definitely getting settled in. Every day has really just been approaching it as it is, but it feels good," said Cantrell.

Cantrell assumed the office May 7, and even as she took the oath she was aware that voters would expect a lot of her in terms of addressing ongoing drainage issues and problems at the Sewerage and Water Board.

FOX 8 asked the mayor about her short-term, mid-term and long-term goals for the troubled agency.

"For the Sewerage and Water Board and really thinking about infrastructure and the issues with drainage and flooding in the city, trying to think about it not one-dimensional," she said.

She said management is a problem.

"Having to retool the organization, meaning the leadership of the organization. We found very clearly that it is an operational and a management issue that we face, less technical, and so it's shoring up the upper-middle management within the Sewerage and Water Board," said Cantrell.

As mayor, Cantrell is automatically the president of the S&WB. Any day now she will choose an acting executive director for the agency. Tuesday the interim executive director left the post.

A selection committee recommends either S&WB General Supt. Bruce Adams, or Board Attorney Jade Russell for the temporary post.

Cantrell was asked about the criteria she will use to make her decision.

"Well, really looking at - one, keeping the agency moving, those operational, those organization parts as it relates to management which I find they do exist strongly in one of the two candidates, one that will continue on the path of building morale within the employees that we have within the Sewerage and Water Board which is extremely critical that we do," Cantrell stated.

Russell was spotlighted in a recent Lee Zurik investigation for moonlighting as a Harrah's lobbyist. Cantrell was asked by FOX 8 News whether she saw that as a conflict of interest.

"Well, what we have found is that there is no conflict. We have our city attorney just opining on that as well, but we've found no conflict. But what I've consistently found in Jade Russell is her ability to help the City of New Orleans turn organizations around, and at a time when limited leadership is at the helm, but she has been able to again work with the city administration and I'm looking forward to a continued relationship because we're moving things in the right direction," she said of Russell.

The S&WB has been flooded with complaints about customers receiving extremely high water bills.

"Yeah, it's true, and the issue of staffing within the Sewerage and Water Board is a top priority, as well," said Cantrell.

Experts have said the city's aged system of pipes and drains need renovation. Cantrell was asked what her argument to the public might be in the future for possible higher fees.

"Well, what would be my argument is having real proof in front of me that demonstrates that if we do not increase, and particularly and timing is everything as well, so I'm not saying that we will not get there eventually, doesn't mean that, that means this year or next year, but it needs to be a built out plan and a vision that the people of New Orleans can, can accept," she said.

Clearly, she has not reached that point.

"And right now, we're still seeing issues with customer service as well as high bills and so that has to be a priority before pushing anything on the public and I'm not prepared to do that because I do not have all the facts," said the mayor.

And she said millions of dollars for already planned projects are bottle-necked and she is working with FEMA to get the ball rolling.

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