N.O. voters to decide a charter amendment related to the S&WB

A government watchdog opposes the proposed change
Updated: Dec. 7, 2018 at 5:31 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Drainage issues, boil water advisories and complaints about inflated water bills have thrust the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board into the headlines. On Saturday, voters will cast ballots on a proposed City Charter amendment to place a member of the City Council on the agency’s board.

"I strongly hope that it passes. I think that having someone who’s publicly accountable on the board that has to interface directly with the citizens is something that we ought to have, and I was sorry that the council members were removed prior to this,” said Councilman Jay Banks.

The council voted unanimously to place the proposition before voters. Prior to that, the state legislature sanctioned the change following the August 2017 widespread flooding in the city and revelations that some drainage pumps were not working.

"BGR thinks that the risks of the amendment outweigh the benefits,” said Stephen Stuart with the Bureau of Governmental Research.

BGR fears the change could result in more “politics” on the board.

"We think that the addition of a council seat to the board could introduce some level of politics onto the board…Adding one council member while not as great of a risk as in the past it could create the risk that there would be more political decision-making when it came to important issues that the Sewerage and Water Board faces today,” Stuart said.

By law, the city’s mayor serves as president of the Sewerage and Water Board. And at one point, there were three City Council members on the board, but in 2013 voters removed them as part of a set of reforms. "The board is made up of some very fine people, but nobody’s answerable to the public and I think that, that’s a disconnect,” Councilman Banks said.

BGR says having a council member on the board could result in a conflict of interest.

"And that arises from the fact that the council is responsible for regulating the Sewerage and Water Board and approving rates, and bonds,” Stuart stated.

“Whether or not good government groups agree with that, or not, they’re entitled to their opinions, but I believe it is essential. I think the citizens ought to have somebody that if they don’t respond to them, they can vote them out of office," said Banks.

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