Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Principality of New Orleans

One of my core beliefs is that elected officials should be accountable to the people. They also should be responsible for a sufficiently significant and visible function that they can be fairly judged by the people.

Orleans Parish has too many elected officials in minor positions. That provides only personal power and patronage without sufficient visibility for accountability. These minor Nobles inevitably seem to become vassals of a larger Duke or Prince who controls their political future. It is distinctly feudal, with inevitable amounts of intrigue and perfidy. Each minor Noble seeks to enhance his (or increasingly her) apparent power by creating the impression that access to some public service is through the good graces of the Noble, rather than the citizens due as their right from their elected representative.

The system has evolved through usage to include the almost unassailable power of each District Council Member over any matter in that members district, regardless of the citywide impact or importance. What we have are isolated pockets of personal power service small public functions for no apparently reason. Responsibility becomes so diffuse that every office holder can blame their failings on some other entity.

My progressive friends seem to feel that if they could only get the "right" people in office, everything would be fine. I think the system of government is broken and needs a serious overhaul. Some steps have been taken but not nearly enough.

4 Clerk of Courts.
2 Recorders/Registrars.
2 Sheriffs.
2 Constables.

Why?

2 comments:

celcus said...

Some of this mess was actually set up to combat corruption. More elected officials means that one scoundrel in high office cannot control the whole works.

The real downside to the balkanization is, like you said, you end up with all these little fiefdoms paying homage to the high offices, and the seemingly never ending cycle of elections.

mominem said...

I'm not so sure corruption was the goal so much as limiting the power of any one individual. That didn't work out so well.

Some of it was also set up before modern automation and management systems were developed when the Elected official actually did some of the work, with the help of a few assistants.

The part I think most clearly out of whack is the failure of the Council to check the power of individual members. The Council should be a deliberative body dealing with Citywide policy issues but seems to spend most of its time on individual constituent problems. One possible solution to that would be to set up a Citizen Zoning reviwe board to hear appeals of City Planning Department rulings, much like the Board of Standards and Appeals for the Building Code. Appeals of their rulings go to CDC.

If the City Council believes a policy is unfair, they could change the zoning ordinance, but having them vote on individual appeals is the source of their individual power.