Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The soft corruption of incompetence.

Anyone who has had any contract with the government of the City of New Orleans knows (or should know) that every office is dysfunctional, every process broken.

This dysfunction leads to monumental structural incompetence, which often shields favoritism, cronyism, discrimination and corruption. George W. Bush famously used the phrase "the soft bigotry of low expectations" the soft corruption of incompetence is no less pernicious.

There is useless red tape, and an expectation that citizens will pay the taxes, then provide any services for themselves. There is a punitive approach to government. Civil "Servants" view themselves as preventing citizens from taking advantage of government, while dispensing favorable treatment to their friends, relatives and others in the political caste.

As an example I have for months been trying to get a refund of overpaid property tax. The City basically refuses to share their records. The Finance Department web site shows taxes due, but not taxes overpaid. I got documentation of the overpayment by my mortgage company which the City refused to accept, even though they agree the tax was overpaid, because they require both sides of the canceled check, except in this case it was an Electronic Transfer, there is No Check!

In a similar situation the Finance Department has asserted that since the Assessor lost paperwork they are entitled to charge a taxpayer any tax they arbitrarily decide.

It has long been that way, fortunately in the past it was easy to bypass or simply ignore city government most of the time. Since the flood it has been impossible to ignore the city has reached it influence into every aspect of life.

The racial transformation of city government that took place beginning in 1970 with Moon Landrieu's term and was completed by the time Marc Morial became mayor in 1994 didn't really change anything. The processes have remained the same, only the players changed. The new boss is the same as the old boss.

The political caste today is made up of a tight knit sub culture, largely made up of creoles of color as they used to be known, now simply creoles. There has developed a power and social structure similar to and parallel to the old line white structure. Its striking to note how much of the current power structure is related by blood or marriage.

The city can no longer afford these insular, inefficient, divisive and corrupt practices. Everyone in the city belives that game is fixed and tha unless they participate in it, they have no chance.

A number of Mayoral candidates have spoken of Charter Reform. I agree with that, one thing that needs to change is the relationship of the Council and Mayor.

New Orleans has long had an extreme from of the "Strong Mayor" government. In fact the Mayor is close to a King, needing only occasional approval of the Council usually on his terms. Rey Ray I has proven how dangerous that can be. He has "Gone Rogue" almost as if he is trying to destroy the city that is ungrateful to him for "busting his butt" on our behalf. Through his petulant feckless disregard for anything or anyone but himself he has presented us with a generational opportunity to fix City Government.

My priority for Charter Reform would be to involve the Council more in the policy making aspects of government, to make them a legislative partner of the Mayor. It seems beyond obvious to me that that diverse city needs a diverse decision making body which represents all of the people and operates in public.Under previous Mayors the Council often retreated into making zoning variances their primary business.

The current City Council has shown considerable independence and has made some very positive initiatives. To some extent the tension between the Mayor and the Council is a positive development for the citizens, exposing the government to the people.

I suggest this Charter Amendment

(b) Contracts for professional services administered by the offices, departments, boards, and other agencies of the Executive Branch shall be awarded on the basis of a competitive selection process which shall be established by executive order of the Mayor.

(c) Contracts for professional services administered or by the Council, pursuant to its Charter functions, legislative authority and responsibilities, and regulatory authority and responsibilities, shall be awarded on the basis of a competitive selection process which shall be established by ordinance. rule of the Council. Such contracts shall be signed by the Council president upon authorization by Motion adopted by a majority of the entire membership of the Council, except that pursuant to Section 4-403(2), contracts to employ special counsel shall require a two-thirds vote of the Council's entire membership. The Council rule may except contracts executed solely to assist the office of an individual councilmember.

I'm not sure else what should be included but stronger budget requirements, confirmation of the Council on all contracts (something many cities including Atlanta do), requiring the Mayor to preside over Council Meetings as ex officio member of the Council or designating Council Member as a full time job with adequate compensation (75% of the Mayor's salary?) all seem like something that could be worthwhile.

I sure some will consider this a part of the vast white wing conspiracy to exclude blacks from government. If however in the next administration there is a white mayor it would seem that power sharing should be welcomed.


Clifton said...

I think one of the factors that has led to the incompetence lasting for so long is that there are not enough people who deal with the city directly for things like a tax refund or for work like I do to truly understand how dysfunctional it is. If everyone had the personal experience of going in there and trying to get things done the momentum to change it would be different.

mominem said...

You're right many people have no idea how bad it is.

What I find discouraging is how many people know and think it's supposed to be that way.

In one recent attempt She was transferred around and eventually got a voice mail with a message that said - "Don't leave a message, I won't call you back."

In contrast we own a piece of property in Jefferson Parish and as a result of some confusion when we bought it we overpaid the property tax. It was a small amount and I doubt we ever would have discovered it on our own.

Jefferson Parish discovered the error on our part, notified us by mail and said that if they didn't hear from us in 30 days they would mail a check about 4-6 weeks after that. Sure enough the check showed up as promised.

I suspect that has something to do with the Assessor and Tax Collector (Sheriff) being elected and needing people to vote for them occasionally.