Monday, December 21, 2009

A Call to Attention

I stated in a previous post that the last few months in an administration’s tenure are usually when the most shenanigans occur.

Here, I offer my thesis.

I’ve done some digging into what may be going on behind the scenes at City Hall and I have some grave concerns I’d like to share with you regarding the remaining LRA funds and how they are being allocated and distributed.

Here is that budget as presented to City Council in November.

This is going to be a long, complicated post, but I ask you to please bear with me as this issue has enormous consequences for our city and the future mayoral administration who will take the reigns from Nagin and crew.

Overview

Let me first start with a diagram on how the LRA funds were originally set up and the flow in which they are distributed down to the city.

(You can click on any of the images in this post to blow them up)



Now from that point, let’s take a look at the diagram of the city of New Orleans hierarchy and how we structured ourselves in order to obtain and utilize those funds.So this flow chart (in terms of money) is still flowing down but you may want to look at the following diagram from the bottom up in respect to how it affects you as a citizen of New Orleans:

To summarize, between 2005-2006, the citizens of New Orleans created various recovery plans, including the Unified New Orleans Plan.

In 2007, the City’s newly created Office of Recovery Management then consolidated these various plans into an official government disaster recovery plan, known as the Citywide Strategic Recovery and Redevelopment Plan (CSSRP), which was approved by City Council in June 2007 (MOTION-07-271). From there, the City submitted the CSSRP to the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) to receive federal recovery funds to implement projects based on CSSRP.

Neither the City nor LRA required that any funding received from LRA could only be used towards specific projects referenced from citizen plans in CSRRP. However, any funds received from LRA based on the CSRRP had to be used towards one or more of the following priority categories:

· School Facilities and Programs
· Recreation Facilities
· Community Facilities
· City Roads and Infrastructure
· Libraries
· Economic Development & Job Programs
· Blight Reduction, Home Ownership Assistance, & Neighborhood Recovery
· Soil Assessment & Remediation and Hazard Reduction

Overall, the City was awarded nearly $411 million in funds from LRA based on presenting the CSRRP in 2007. This funding from LRA is actually federal “community development block grant” money from HUD that was given to LRA to distribute. The City refers to this funding as “disaster – community development block grant” money or (D-CDBG).

The $411 million in D-CDBG that was awarded to the City was not transferred to the City as one lump sum. The LRA set up a process requiring the City to submit applications to the LRA for specific projects that would use a portion of the D-CDBG that is reserved for the City. Each project application must show how the proposed project relates to one or more of the priority categories in the CSRRP and those projects must satisfy the HUD rules that apply to using the D-CDBG.

Here is the diagram that the City’s Office of Recovery presented to City Council during its 2009 City Budget presentation in November 2008, which shows how the process of accessing the D-CDBG is supposed to work.:



What that diagram doesn’t explain very well is the check and balance system, or lack thereof, which was set up between the Executive Branch and City Council. City Council actually has little oversight on the actual items proposed by ORDA/Nagin.

Also, there are very specific requirements as to how this money can be distributed which came down from the initial federal entity, HUD. The money, from the top down, must be allocated to meet one of three initiatives:

  1. Eliminating or alleviating Poverty
  2. Eliminate Slum and Blight
  3. There is a pressing or “Urgent Need” for the funds. (This one is very ambiguous but also from what I understand it is incredibly difficult to pass the smell test. I say this because, surprisingly, this qualifier is not so important in our current discussion.)

So on top of these very general requirements, once the “projects” are designated, we must still meet very strict procurement requirements mandated by HUD per federal guidelines. For those requirements, I offer you this PowerPoint provided by HUD to explain their benchmarks for procurement:

HUD Procurement requirements

So, why does all of this matter ?

Here’s the important thing about this $411 million in D-CDBG that was awarded to City – it’s the only funding that the City has directly received to implement citizen recovery plans.

FEMA funds can only be used to fix things owned by the City that were damaged by the Hurricanes. General revenue funds…well, there doesn’t seem to be enough of that to do basic governmental services, let alone recovery.

The D-CDBG is the only disaster-recovery related money that the City can create new things in our neighborhoods that did not exist before Katrina. And it’s the only disaster-recovery money that the City can in turn make available to homeowners and businesses to assist them in their recovery.

Since 2007, the City’s Office of Recovery and Development Administration ( ORDA, which is now known as the Office of Community Development, OCD) has been developing projects and programs to use the City’s $411 million in D-CDBG.

During the recent 2010 City Budget presentation, the City’s Office of Community Development listed 100 specific projects, programs, or planning studies that have been or are intended to be funded by D-CDBG. Aside from those, D-CDBG is also being used to fund certain staff and some remains in general categories, which I suppose is to be used for more specific projects at some point.


So, those 100 or so items are the “gist” of our recovery; at least what the City is attempting to do based on our citizen recovery plans.

Sure, there are hundreds or repair/replacement projects of streets and city buildings that are being done (or should be being done) using FEMA funds; but, remember, the D-CDBG is supposed to be money that creates the ideas of OUR (THE PEOPLE OF THIS CITY) plans and funding assistance. At least in part, this money should be available for property owners and businesses to receive.

The question I pose...or rather...I offer you the thesis of this post: “In the final stretch of Nagin’s tenure, is this administration spending OUR money in the way WE demanded that it be spent?”

D-CDBG FUNDS: CITY COUNCIL OVERSIGHT AND THOSE “PESKY” HUD REGULATIONS

Anytime the Mayor wants to use state or federal grant funds that are awarded to the City, the money must be presented and approved for use by the City Council. Once that’s done, the funding is officially part of the City budget, and the Administration can use it to implement its projects and programs.

Once Council has approved the use of D-CDBG in the City Budget, it's up to the LRA for final approval of any particular project or program. However, remember, there are several HUD regulations that have to be followed in the use of this money (more on that later).

When budgeting the $411 million in D-CDBG, the Nagin Administration must present the funds under one of two categories, “Operating” funds for the City’s Recovery Office or as “Capital” funds if the D-CDBG was being directed to a specific street or public building construction or planning project.

The difference between these two categories is a big deal. If presented as “Capital,” the Council can scrutinize each specific project and determine whether its worthy of D-CDBG or if the amount requested makes sense.

If the D-CDBG funds are presented as “Operating,” the Council can only approve the funding for general budget under categories that may consist of dozens of proposed projects or programs that...wait for it...do not have to be listed on the City Budget.

For example in the 2010 Budget, the Office of Community Development only used the following nine categories to propose to Council the use of over $331 million in D-CDBG:


Administrative - $5,099,714

Program Delivery - $17,088,090

Public Infrastructure Planning - $12,758,800

Housing Construction Financing - $37,500,000

Blight Reduction - $15,265,000

Healthy Communities - $12,000,000

Economic Development - $199,003,400

Business/Youth Technical Assistance - $1,000,000

Land Acquisition - $31,675,000


There are 41 projects and programs, along with funding for dozens of city employees under those categories.

Here's the thing, if the Council doesn’t ask what the funding under each category is for......the public might never know what the categories are and whether or not the project makes sense.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when this latest budget was presented to the Council.

Before we look at these questionable items, I want to point out that the City is using the C-CDBG for some projects that are based on citizen recovery plans that seem valid and productive.

For example:

· Over $30 million to the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to redevelop commercial blight in the City;

· $75 million to buy land for the new VA Hospital;

· $34 million to build the “Reinventing the Crescent” riverfront park;

· Over $80 million in funding for street repairs and rebuilding libraries, community centers, and parks

· Over $7 million to construct the “Lafitte Greenway” – a seven mile long bike/predestrian recreational area from City Park to the French Quarter.

However, aside from these projects that seem to be moving along, there are some items of concern that total nearly $200 million of our D-CDBG funding.

Over $40 million in D-CDBG Removed Suddenly from City Budget & Declared “Encumbered”

Between the first presentation of the 2010 City Budget in October and a follow-up presentation in November, the Nagin Administration removed over $40M from the Operating Budget for Office of Community Development (OCD) (former Recovery Office) saying those funds were already "encumbered."


That means, Council could not review the use of those funds or approve their use.

The problem is that the funds that Nagin claims are encumbered are attached to projects that LRA hasn't approved. How could he list them as encumbered if he doesn’t actually have that money?

On the list of D-CDBG projects presented by OCD in November, any allocation that was approved by LRA has an "ILTR" number next to it.

Well, the following unapproved allocations were removed from Council review despite not having final LRA approval:



By declaring these allocations as encumbered, the Nagin Administration prevented the Council (and public) from being able to scrutinize whether these projects are necessary and/or whether the amount "encumbered" was the best use of the D-CDBG.

What needs to happen is that Council brings this back to a public forum and make Nagin show how this money is actually encumbered.

NAGINS CONTRACT SELECTION PROCESS MAY VIOLATE HUD RULES


When the Nagin Admin uses D-CDBG they have to follow HUD rules that apply to how contractors are selected to run programs or build projects that use that money.

In this case, it seems that the decision that Nagin made, by Executive Order earlier this year, that he, alone, would select professional service contracts just doesn't gel with HUD's rules for how local governments need to select bids for contracts in the acquistion of HUD money.

Once again refer to the HUD regulations

To recall, when Council wanted to make all contract selections subject to a new public meeting rule, the Mayor said, under the Charter, he alone has authority to select contracts and public meetings were neither desired or required.

Well, while that may be the case under the Charter, if the Mayor intends to use HUD funds to pay for the contracts, he needs an ego check. He needs to understand the he has to comply with HUD standards.

That's kind of like telling your dad, "Screw your chores....I want my allowance."

The result? At least three projects and programs, totaling $39 million in D-CDBG, for which the Mayor selected contractors for, have been flagged by HUD and every indication is that they cannot move forward unless the Mayor re-bids the contracts and uses a competitive, transparent selection process.

Those projects include:

Fresh Food Retail Initiative ($7M)

Neighborhood Commercial Investment Program ($25M)

Lafitte Greenway Trail Design & Construction ($7M)

D-CDBG FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS BEING WASTED

The City is proposing $37.5 million in D-CDBG to be spent on "housing construction financing." Sounds like a good idea but how the City is actually using the money is another matter.

According to OCD, the City intends to spend D-CDBG on the following housing related items:


The $10 million for B.W. Cooper is one of the most recent projects that the City added to its D-CDBG funded list. It was not on the City’s list of D-CDBG funded recovery projects in August.

August Budget

While redeveloping B.W. Cooper is the right move, how this project suddenly came to appear as a City “recovery” project is another story.

Apparently, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) was supposed to be responsible for securing funding from HUD directly towards this project. However, HANO mishandled the application to receive these funds so badly that the City and LRA had to "plug" the funds for them to the tune of about $30 million.

So, the City’s sudden allocation of $10 million towards B.W. Cooper was done to help make up for another HANO blunder. Unfortunately this seems to be par for the course, as just last week an audit of HANO determined that the Agency is grossly mishandling federal Stimulus funding that was trusted to it.

While it is bad enough that the City has to shell out $10 million so HANO can save face; another issue is why didn’t the City just use a portion of the tens of millions in non-disaster HUD funds its receives directly from HUD each year rather than its one-time disaster recovery money. Curiously, they tapped the recovery money to cover that blunder.

Turns out that at first the City thought it had enough of its annual HUD funds to at least cover half of the $10 million it agreed to pay for B.W. Cooper but when OCD took a closer look at its books it realized that it had already obligated more of its annual HUD funds than it had available.

This apparent snafu lies with the department in OCD that is helmed by Anthony Faciane. Faciane directs the city department that is responsible for allocating the City’s annual allocation, which this year is nearly $70 million in HUD dollars.

This would not be the first time that the management of these funds under Faciane’s watch has been called into question. In the past three years alone, Faciane’s department has been linked with:

- The alleged misuse and ongoing federal investigation involving over $3 million in federal funds by the nonprofit New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corporation

· The threatened withdrawal of $34 million in federal housing funds for lack of timely use.

· A federal review has found the city of New Orleans and its main redevelopment agency could not prove $11.6 million was properly spent on property and other work over the past five years, and it considers another $38 million for post-Hurricane Katrina work at risk.

There seems to be an annual pattern of incompetence which has developed in managing our annual HUD funds, so the City is tapping our recovery dollars to make up for this department's blunders.

The second intended use of D-CDBG for housing related activity is a “Loan Loss Reserve Fund.” According to the City, the intent is to use D-CDBG to provide either direct construction financing and/or to mitigate risks in the form of loan loss reserves or construction guarantees.

Even worse, the Nagin Administration has not offered information as to when this fund would be finally implemented….nor did the City Council ask about the fund during the budget process.

Finally, there seems to be a $17 million slush fund in D-CDBG disguised as housing construction financing.

In the OCD Operating budget, the City has allocated $27 million towards “Soft Second Mortgage Loans,” an amount which was approved by LRA and given the ILTR classification.

However, in the OCD budget spreadsheet only $10 million of the $27 million has been “encumbered.” In this case, the funds are transferred to the Finance Authority of New Orleans (FANO), which administers the Pathway to Homeownership First Time Homebuyer Program” using these and other funds. "

Back in May, the Nagin Administration reversed direction and announced in the Mayor’s State of the City Address that $20 million in D-CDBG that was intended to go to FANO would instead be used to run a city administered home rehabilitation grant program.

According to Faciane, that program was supposed to be running by October.

Here we are in December and the program is MIA. It wasn’t even a budget item for 2010.

So it begs the very serious question about what the Nagin administration intends to do with the $17 million in D-CDBG that is still characterized as going towards soft-second mortgages but is floating around somewhere in the Nagin aether.

The mishandling of annual and recovery funds that are intended for affordable housing is one of the great travesties of the Nagin Administration. The fact that we have $17 million hiding in plain sight without using it as promised is the stuff of legend.

He needs to be put in front of a tribunal for this, and at the very least he needs to explain it to City Council.

10% OF CITY’S D-CDBG FUNDS GOING TO PURCHASE OLD METHODIST HOSPITAL: IS THERE ACCOUNTABILITY?

Just this weekend, the Times Picayune reported that attempts by the Orleans Parish Hospital District deal to purchase the old Methodist Hospital in New Orleans East have stalled.

Now I am not suggesting that New Orleans East and the surrounding areas don't need a hospital. It absolutely does...but this is 10% of the entire LRA budget and the money is just going for the land purchase.

The current understanding is that the Orleans Parish Hospital Service District will use the $40 million from the City to purchase the land from the current owners of Methodist Hospital.

First, there is no gaurantee that those owners will sell to the City as evident from the week's article in the TP.

Second, even after the Hospital Service District were to buy the land, it must still convince a developer to build a hospital.

While this is an imporant goal, the City Council should be doing its part to make sure that if for whatever reason the Hospital Service District does not purchase the land, then the $40 million in D-CDBG returns to the City so it can be used towards other important projects. (I'll touch on this later)

Semantics


When looking at this budget you see that there is a total amount for each line item, then further down you will see an “Encumbered” category and under the status column you will also see the current status the project is in.

Under the first category, “Administrative”, you will see that $5,099,714 is budgeted for admin. costs, while only $775,000 is encumbered with the vendor (Hagerty) having already received $3,484,104 (I use this as an example of the graph).

When money is listed as “encumbered” that should mean it has not only been budgeted, but has received approval by the state…that means it’s locked up….a done deal. That approval is listed as the (ILTR - #####) code next to the project under the category section.

Now, in order for any of the projects to actually be approved by the state, and hence encumbered, we (the city) must meet the procurement standards set forth by the LRA per HUD. Have we actually met the standards on all of these line items to actually classify the line item funds as “encumbered”? After picking through the line items, I have some serious concerns about that..

By declaring these allocations as encumbered, the Nagin Administration prevented the Council (and public) from being able to scrutinize whether these projects are necessary and/or whether the amount "encumbered" was the best use of the D-CDBG.

Council should demand that these items listed as encumbered be re-presented and explained.


Are We Even Meeting the Standards?

When the Nagin Admin uses D-CDBG it has to follow HUD rules that apply to how contractors are selected to run programs or build projects that use that money.

In this case, it seems that the decision Nagin made by Executive Order earlier this year that "he alone would select professional service contracts" put him at odds with HUD rules.

A Summary of General Concerns

Concern #1: Are we using LRA funds to plug gaps in the City’s general budget?

Aside from the using the LRA funds to plug the Cooper and St. Thomas blunder detailed above, let’s also take a look at this line item under Blight Reduction:

Interim Nuisance Abatement is basically the City’s responsibility to clean up vacant lots and blighted property that has been abandoned. This is not a recovery effort, this is an annual city service that must be budgeted and paid for with city funds in the city’s general operating budget. That amount you see for $3 million dollars reportedly constitutes 90% of the entire INA budget.

We are plugging 90% of this city service with federal LRA funds....funds that don't exist next year.

I would also like to know where the money for this service in our annual operating budget is going or being redirected, or are we even correctly budgeting for this service at all?

This has to be addressed immediately by the next mayoral administration because once these LRA funds are let, we can’t rely on them to plug gaps anymore.

Concern #2 – Once the budget is approved by City Council, how do we know it won’t be shifted into other projects?

In regards to the mysterious 17 million dollars in the Soft Second program and the 3.5 million unaccounted for the Loan Loss Reserve Program…where is that money? Where is that money going to resurface?

Essentially, it seems City Council really doesn’t have that much authority over which projects are being chosen and now that they’ve approved the LRA budget based on general line items, the city has no way of preventing the Executive branch of shifting money into projects of their choice or even creating entirely new projects.

Concern #3 – Are the projects we’re spending the money on legitimate projects?

The Methodist Hospital Acquisition constitutes 10% of the overall budget. The land is in the East and once again, I’m not arguing that the East doesn’t need a hospital. The problem is that this 40 million dollars is simply for the land purchase…not for the development of a hospital.

As of right now, we don’t have a developer ready to pony up the extra 130 million to build the hospital even if we do purchase the land for 40 million…it’s a field of dreams and it constitutes 10% of the entire LRA budget.

This hospital is a hot button issue in the political arena and if you’ve seen John Georges recent TV ad, he avers that he will get both Charity and the Methodist Hospital opened. Well, that’s all well and good if he is going to be the one stepping up to the plate and putting up the extra 130 million dollars to develop the hospital after the land purchase, because right now they’re saying “it will have to come from somewhere.”

Everybody check under their sofa cushions.

Concern #4 – Are these funds listed in the budget really “encumbered”?

By listing these line items as encumbered, Nagin’s administration does not have to seek City Council approval for obtaining or spending the money.

So the administration has submitted this budget claiming all of these line items are encumbered but he has not received LRA approval for all of the items he’s listed as encumbered. Essentially he has taken this money out of play, and out of the realm of oversight by City Council.

Can he legally say all of these line items are encumbered if he doesn’t have LRA approval?

Having gone through the budget as it was presented to Council, there may be as much as 83 million dollars of the 411 million in questionably “encumbered” items. There is another 13 million in questionable allocations for projects which aren’t even being executed at the present such as the 4.5 million dollar Children’s Museum in City Park which has no real scope.

Even though City Council has already rubber stamped this budget, I am asking if they were misled by the Nagin administration when they were told all these projects are “encumbered”. Has the Nagin administration actually met the standards set forth by federal guidelines via HUD and enforced by the LRA?

Which brings me to my fifth concern….

Concern # 5 – Does Nagin’s procurement process meet the Federal Guidelines to release the funds?

The answer is no....yeah I'm actually making a statement not asking the question.

To recall, when Council wanted to make all contract selections subject to a new public meeting rule, the Mayor said under the Charter "he alone has authority to select contracts and public meetings were neither desired or required."

Well, while that may be the case under the Charter, if the Mayor intends to use HUD funds to pay for the contracts, he must meet the standards required by HUD.

The result?

At least three project and programs, totaling $39 million in D-CDBG, for which the Mayor selected contractors for, have been flagged by HUD and every indication is that they cannot move forward unless the Mayor re-bids the contracts and uses a competitive, transparent selection process.

Those projects include:

Fresh Food Retail Initiative ($7M)

Neighborhood Commercial Investment Program ($25M)

Lafitte Greenway Trail Design & Construction ($7M)

I know the FFRI contractors were just informed last week that the contract was bad and they have to go back to the bidding process. Not only am I worried about what that’s doing to the communities who need these programs and are now going to have to wait that much longer to get food outlets into their neighborhoods, I’m worried that money could be shifted into the Nagin aether.

The reason this contract was nullified is because the current procurement process Nagin is implementing doesn’t even come close to meeting the federal guidelines.

Had Nagin adopted Arnie Fielkow’s attempt to create a transparent contracting process last February, we would be meeting those requirements, but he didn’t want any part of that. As of now, there is no “scorecard” to determine how the contracts for the LRA money is being let, and that is just not going to fly with HUD or LRA. However, once the money is encumbered and receives City Hall approval….it’s taken out of play….watch out!

We have 411 million to help rebuild our city and after it is let by LRA its over….we’re on our own. If there was ever a time to ring the church bell....raise the red flag...call the ball, Mav….it’s now.

City Council can pull this back into play in a special session and bring all these items back into question.

As it stands right now, Nagin may be setting up an 83 million dollar black hole with little to no oversight. There’s very little to stop him from…oohhh….let’s say….sliding the Municipal Auditorium plan into Economic Development category for the LRA operating budget.

This is up to us, the citizens, to stop this boondoggle before it happens and leaves the next administration in a lurch. If you’re as concerned about this as I am, please contact your city councilperson and demand that they bring the LRA budget back to the table for further scrutiny.

And if you made it through this entire post....God bless you....whoever your God is. Ashe.

(I apologize for the mixed font and bad formatting....I fought with blogger for 12 hours trying to get this into a quasi-digestable format. I made the mistake of writing this in Word before I tried to bring it over to blogger...bad mistake.)

25 comments:

mominem said...

Great job.

One thing likely to happen is that in two or three years HUD and FEMA will come looking for a bunch of their money back.

The one major misstep Feilkow made as a Councilman was this attempt to impose these rules on the Mayor. The Council simply does not have the authority to do that. The language of the Charter is pretty clear.

In any event I don't believe that alone would have satisfied HUD requirements for letting the contracts.

Dambala said...

- One thing likely to happen is that in two or three years HUD and FEMA will come looking for a bunch of their money back.

that's exactly what is going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Great Job. Do you have any idea how much Montgomery, Watson & Harza are siphoning off (I mean being paid) for their services related to these projects?? You know, MWH the philanthropic organization who donated so much to Ben Edwards' church and helps Veronica White out in a pinch

Dambala said...

Anon,

whatever MWH is siphoning off...the buck stops with the administration. Not consultants.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the info. Slight typo at the top -- "bare" with me should be "bear."

Dambala said...

- http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/bare.html

“Bear with me,” the standard expression, is a request for forbearance or patience.
“Bare with me” would be an invitation to undress. “Bare” has an adjectival form: “The pioneers stripped the forest bare.”

well...I did write most of this in my underwear so how do you know I wasn't suggesting you get naked before you read it?

Hah....thanks...I will change it.

Anonymous said...

This was a great post. Thanks for all the thinking and the work. What do you suggest ordinary people should do next to bring about these special sessions of city counsel that you think warranted. I think you are right, that they are needed. How can people make that happen?

Thanks for blessing us.

I like the term "the Nagin aether" and it is troubling that 83 million might end up there.

I'm going to have to read this again, probably a couple of times, and I am not looking forward to it, because there are a lot of numbers and charts and things to understand.

I'd love politics if it wasn't all about money and committees and people trying to confuse and cheat.

But thanks, because this was great. You did a lot of work. It is appreciated.

Dambala said...

thanks, that means a lot to me. I did work really hard on this the past 2 weeks.

Unfortunately, this ain't paying the rent, so enjoy it while you can. I don't have the resources to keep it up.

And contact your city council member and demand that this budget be reviewed....that's what you can do right now.

ashe.

Anonymous said...

Ashe, Incredible work!! To boil down all of the "shiNaginans" and expose what is likely the shifting of valuable, long-needed-to-be-applied recovery dollars to crap projects (or worse) deserves a Nobel Prize AND the cash award.

Added to the urgency is the LRA ceasing to exist in 6 months, and a rush to spend the money. The prospect of HUD wanting the money back, or simply shifting it to another region is more real than any of us would like to admit.

One key player no one should forget is Sir Blakely. If he were half the man we paid for, he would have this flow-charted out, publicly vetted in a transparent manner years ago. I've heard that as late as a year ago NONE of the 411MM was submitted to LRA for approval, while he was running around telling everyone the funds were "allocated" and "encumbered". But as you correctly state, it EVERYTHING, good and bad, falls back on our man C-Ray, and the Charter system that we accept that allows this.

Impeccible work my friend... I can not wait to see the LRA/HUD/Council says and how they propose to "fix" this situation.

More realistically, your "all hands on deck" is probably our only recourse. Maybe Mr. Q could lead the revolution???? Please.

bayoustjohndavid said...

When did the Lafitte Greenway more than double in cost? That article didn't say that $3M would be the total cost, but that's a big increase. I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea how much those kind of projects usually cost, but there never seems to be any effort to figure when Nagin's just being the Monty Python administrator who wants really expensive machines that go ping, and when he's being corrupt. I decided early on that he pretends to be the Monty Python administrator (oops, I mean visionary) to cover up for being corrupt, but I don't know if $7M for the greenway is enough to indicate that either is the case.

Do you have any idea how much Montgomery, Watson & Harza are siphoning off (I mean being paid) for their services related to these projects??

Anon, nothing about MWH would surprise me; it's certainly willing to play whatever games it needs to play, but I'm not sure if it actually breaks many laws. Successful business aren't always the ones that offer the best product at the best price, but the ones that supply what their customers want or that make themselves seem most attractive to potential customers. MWH is very good at supplying the main thing that the City of New Orleans wants -- lucrative subcontracts factored into the bid price. Hell, I wonder if Billboard Ben's mistake was talking to MWH employees the way he talks to S&WB employees (he still does, despite the rule put into place because of Ben Edwards' own abuse of authority). I have no reason to think that's the case, but MWH certainly knows people in Washington.

Anonymous said...

This is easily the best reporting on our city's municipal functioining, ever.

Thanks, just thanks.

Dambala said...

please particpate in the conversation.

let's move this thing forward.

Anonymous said...

Ashe, Damabala! Great work. Soon I hope you can rest your brain. I wish this did pay your rent somehow, it certainly has great value to the general public (unlike anything Blakely ever did). You sure do have some powerful eagle eyes for a zombie!

Here's my $0.02/question: a common thread amongst the issues is a person: the ubiquitous Mr. Alan Eskew. He received the unbid contract for the Lafitte greenway. I knew it stank when I first heard about it. Yes, they have inflated the price grotesquely. It does not cost that much to do what they are proposing and there is also money from other sources, so what, are we hiring Mexican labor via Baghdad-Texas contractors to build us a bike path in the middle of our own friggin city? (When did we become so helpless that we have to hire people for $7 million to do what can be done well for one, using standard construction multipliers?)

Also he has a conflict of interest as the UNOP District 4 planner and the architect for the VA hospital, which he did not ever disclose.

He is the architect and planner for the Riverfront park.

What I would like to know from you is, is there any money in the budget set aside to 'study the removal of the elevated I-10 expressway Treme' portion'?

The reason I'm asking is because Eskew said at the last District 4 UNOP meetings that the I-10 removal was his signature 'pet project' and he wanted it included in UNOP over our (local residents)strenuous objections (we even stayed late and took votes)with clear resident consensus that it was NOT a recovery project, that it saved lives in Katrina, and that there is no plan to elevate all of 6-10, which would have to happen first, etc. Eskew said, "We can agree to disagree", and that he had received secret assurances (he couldn't say who they were from) that the study would be privately funded. He wants to make himself famous for that, and he's already made himself the 'expert' using his UNOP position to cultivate future work for himself by listing it as a priority project in the recovery plans.

Have you seen that project listed for planning or study anywhere?

Thanks, Kudos and Namaste too!

Dambala said...

I did not see any mention of that project in the November budget. That's the entire budget in the post, so unless it's under some ambiguous heading, I don't see it.

As far as the cost of the Lafitte greenway and the "unbid" aspect. I don't pretend to know what projects like that cost, I know it's very expensive to do any construction project with costs like insurance, etc. I don't know where you heard Eskew got the project as "unbid" but I can't imagine that is the case. I think the greenway may fall under the Reinventing the Crescent umbrella, which would mean Eskew is not the actual recipient of the bid, he is a contractor for the New Orleans Building Corp....BUT....I don't really know how the Lafitte project is structured. That project along with the Reinventing the Crescent seem to be some of the few projects that are actually moving along.

As to the claims of Mexican labor...well, that's a can of worms I'd rather not open in this forum...kind of like health care...there are plenty of other forums discussing those subjects.

Clay said...

Great job.

More on Anthony Faciane:

http://wecouldbefamous.blogspot.com/2008/07/times-picayune-helps-office-of-recovery.html

Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that the FEMA funding and CDBG funding are separate sources. The repairs to City facilities to bring them back to their condition prior to Katrina should be paid for only with FEMA funds. In addition, FEMA also pays for the program management, construction management and design services associated with each project. If the City wants to make improvements to any facilities beyond the work required to repair the facilities to pre-storm condition then they need to provide these funds from a separate source, either from the general fund, CDBG monies, or some other source.

Anonymous said...

Look at GNOBEDD and the evolution of the non-profit New Orleans Regional Medical Center over the past 20 years and a bigger picture may become clearer.

James McNamara has actively promoted the idea of using homes from LSU/VA as infill in the Lafitte Corridor.

"...I am the chairman and President of the Greater New Orleans Biosciences Economic Development District. I think
that it's no accident that the regional planning commission in the city, Tulane, LSU, the DED (sic?) and all of the various agencies have come to the conclusion the correct site is the preferred site, which is Galvez, the south Rocheblave, Tulane to Canal. There will be some impacts on homes. We have had some discussion as an agency about possibly moving some of those homes and reusing them across on the other side of Canal Street in conjunction with some activities that are required to replace homes as part of the Treme and Lafitte housing project.
The key thing to all of this is to move quickly. We can't delay any longer. Let's do it correctly. We have planned this site. This site has the adequate ground transportation, satisfies the missions of the universities. It allows us to have pedestrian activity, up Canal Street and further the retail issues that the DED (sic?) is involved with, and at the end of the day it is the correct decision, it's the proper planning....
James P. McNamara
08/11/2008 Public scoping meeting to “consider” Lindy Boggs site for the VA

Dambala said...

What picture becomes clearer? I get that he's suggesting relocating the homes in accordance to another urban planning initiative, but I'm not sure I get what you're implying.

Anonymous said...

Too many questions remain about GNOBEDD, the biomedical development district extending from Loyola Avenue to Carrollton and from I-10/Xavier to Orleans Avenue.

How much new development within GNOBEDD will be explicitly and exclusively biomedical?

What tax breaks are offered to developers within GNOBEDD and what is impact on municipal tax revenues?

How much of GNOBEDD has been rezoned or is expected to be rezoned at a future time?

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Anonymous said...

Above you asked me to contribute, so here are some thoughts:

>Had Nagin adopted Arnie Fielkow’s attempt to create a transparent contracting process last February, we would be meeting those requirements, but he didn’t want any part of that.<

---Ok, Dambala, I keep asking this: please ask every major mayoral candidate if THEY DO SUPPORT THIS ORDINANCE or not. If not, they should not be supported for mayor, period. Please ask Mitch Landrieu specifically if he will commit to this ordinance. I am betting he and Murray will not do so publicly. You can ask him about the IG advance-review of contracts issue as well. I am just saying we need to find a permanent fix for this situation and, no, just getting rid of Nagin by lapse of time is not a fix.

---As part of state law - and the city has a letter from the state attorney general saying just this - the CITY IS ALREADY REQUIRED BY STATE LAW to allow for "sunshine" and transparency in contracting. The city, specifically Nagin but other mayors, just ignore
state law by doing the things you describe so well.

http://archive.nolacitycouncil.com/newsfiles/2009/2009Jan9AGOpinion08-0211A.pdf

***Read the last paragraph.

I have no idea why good people like yourself do not reference this letter - which the city stupidly sought - more often in seeking public information. Regardless of the Charter's language, Not only is Nagin bound by HUD regulations, he is also bound by state law to reveal the things you are requesting.

>10% of city's D-CDBG funds going to purchase old Methodist Hospital<

--- Spending 10% of the city's D-CDBG budget on this needs to be talked about, just on a straight up basis because the mayor is cutting the blight office, is this really necessary, especially when the city is just getting the land? Do we even need land for a hospital in NOE when we can't even get one going in the CBD???

--- On a secondary level, WHO owns that land and more importantly who owns the land AROUND it? Please NOTE THAT RTA BOSS CAESAR BURGOS HAS JUST BEEN HANDED OVER DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAKE PLAZA SHOPPING MALL practically across/down the street. On the same basis Burgos will stand to profit from the development of the new Charity location down the way from the NO Annex property he was practically gifted in the same manner. I have no idea how people aren't seeing this for what it is: in the two situations where Nagin has favored developing hospitals, it has required purchasing land near property practically handed to Burgos for a song from the City.

if so are there kickbacks involved in that? Who knows, but you can be sure Burgos isn't being handed chunks of city land for nothing.

Burgos had no transportation experience when hired (he was/is a plaintiff attorney, that's it), he was part of the Bring Back New Orleans planning committee, and he plays a regular part in Nagin's trips abroad to Mexico and Cuba. Please someone somewhere pay attention to all this.

--- No doubt Murray is in favor of this land acquisition. Every major mayoral candidate needs to be asked whether they support this land acquisition and the sacrificing of 10% of the budget that goes along with it.

- Thanks for all the great reporting, Sobieski.

Anonymous said...

Bayou SJ David:

>When did the Lafitte Greenway more than double in cost? That article didn't say that $3M would be the total cost, but that's a big increase. I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea how much those kind of projects usually cost, but there never seems to be any effort to figure when Nagin's just being the Monty Python administrator who wants really expensive machines that go ping, and when he's being corrupt. I decided early on that he pretends to be the Monty Python administrator (oops, I mean visionary) to cover up for being corrupt, but I don't know if $7M for the greenway is enough to indicate that either is the case.<

Now, you DO know that project is Murray's baby, don't you?

Dambala said...

S,

I don't think Mitch would take issue with Fielkow's proposal, I think he would support it. I don't know about Murray or Henry.

As for the Sunshine Law, yes it does exist but it is a state law and unfortunately there is very little effort to enforce it. I think we have to create a municipal protocol for procurement per the City Charter. It really comes down to habit, and obviously the habits we've created are bad ones.

Nagin has refused to comply with numerous laws which fall under the Sunshine Law, but we have no real way of enforcing it. FOIA requests go unanswered, etc. So the Sunshine Law is a hound without teeth.

The Methodist Hospital issue is a political hot potato, but I don't think Burgos owns the property in any way. Burgos needs to be examined more closely though, for sure. I just don't have the energy, finances, or the legal team to do this stuff anymore.

I agree that every candidate should be asked if they support the Methodist Hospital acquistion at 10% of all LRA funds available...although I would bet I know the ubiquitous answer.

Anonymous said...

The auction of the Grand Palace Hotel (corner of Claiborne and Canal backed by Derbigny and Cleveland) took place long after it was common knowledge that the property was within the LSU/RPC preferred hospital footprint and was likely to face expropriation.

"...Although the auction was open to the public, the address was not publicized. A small crowd assembled outside the hotel hoping to witness the event was disappointed...."
"Grand Palace Hotel sold at auction today for $3.3 million"
Times-Picayune, April 17, 2008

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