Friday, August 19, 2016

New Orleans Public Belt Railroad - A Mayoral Reminder

On July 7, 2016, at a District C Budget meeting in Algiers, I asked Mayor Mitch Landrieu about his intentions to sell The New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, an asset of the City of New Orleans since the turn of the 20th century.  His full reply is in the preceding post but I want to draw your attention to this particular sound byte:

New Orleans Public Belt Railroad - Mayor Landrieu quote on who appointed the Commission members from Jason Berry on Vimeo.

“Now Public Belt Railroad is an independent board…I make some of the appointments, the Governor makes some…and they forget who appointed them and say they want to do whatever they want to do.”
The quote seems to be contradictory.  If the NOPB Commission is an "independent" board is it their responsibility to serve the interests of the entity itself or to serve at the leisure of the Mayor as he implied at the end of the statement?

Last week Public Belt Railroad Commissioner and President/CEO of New Orleans Center for the Arts, Kyle Wedberg, abruptly resigned his position on the Public Belt Railroad Commission.  I emailed Wedberg today to seek comment on the reason he left the Commission at such a critical juncture but I have received no reply as of yet.  His handpicked replacement could sway the balance of power in a future decision to sell the NOPB.  

Wedberg's commission position was one of three Mayoral appointments allotted to the Mayor on the nine-person entity.

In the June 23rd NOPB Commission meeting, Wedberg was the one who originally made the motion to remove the option for sale from an evaluation being created by the company hired by the Commission to evaluate the Public Belt's worth, KPMG, after hearing the objections of major business interests that rely on the NOPB including The Port of New Orleans representatives.  The motion was subsequently voted on and passed but the Commission representative for the Mayor, Ryan Berni, informed the Commission that the City would move ahead with the valuation for sale even if they had to pay for it out of City coffers.

Last week the City made good on that promise and contracted KPMG independently of the Commission to complete the valuation for sale of the Public Belt.  The estimated cost to complete it was valued at about $50,000.

According to an off-the-record source, French based New Orleans RTA contractor Veolia Transportation has expressed interest in purchasing NOPB if the option for sale is eventually passed.

A source also suggested that the Mayor may be replacing Wedberg's commission position with long-time Landrieu cofnidante, Emily Sneed Arata.  Arata has worked in some capacity with Mayor Landrieu since his tenure as Lt. Governor, including serving as Deputy Mayor of Communications under his first Mayoral term.  Sneed left her stint with the City in January of 2016 to take a job with Ochsner Health Systems.

I contacted Arata to confirm or deny her appointment but have yet to receive a reply.

I confirmed through NOPB officials that the Mayor can fill Wedberg's vacated position on the Commission at his own discretion if his candidate is approved by City Council.

The appointment could prove to be the deciding factor on whether or not the Public Belt is offered up for sale.

If you are new to AZ, I would suggest you take some time to go back and read my reporting on Mayor Landrieu's efforts to seize full control of the Wisner Trust back in 2013, there are striking similarities in the story of that partially-owned city asset and what's unfolding now with NOPB:

Starting here:

American Zombie: The Wisner Fund - Battle for the Bayou - Part I

American Zombie: The Wisner Fund - Battle for the Bayou - Part 2

Unfortunately Blogger does not have the greatest ability for searching past posts in a chronological fashion but if you have further interest in the story you can read more simply by typing in "Wisner" in the search field window: 

Or you can simply ask me in the Comments section.

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