NEW ORLEANS - On Thursday, May 10 the New Orleans City Council delivered a letter to the Interim Executive Director of the Sewerage and Water Board, Marcie Edwards, as well other senior Sewerage and Water Board leadership. The letter, initiated and drafted by Councilmember Joe Giarrusso and including guidance and consent from all councilmembers, spells out the councilmembers' expectations for compliance with statutorily required quarterly reports. A "forward-looking exercise," the councilmembers aim to avoid a repeat of the most recent reports prepared by the utility, the deficiencies of which the letter calls "indefensible and inexcusable."
"I hope that this will be considered the measuring stick by which all future reports will be based. While I'm glad the leadership at the Sewerage and Water Board is beginning to acknowledge and attempting to address some of the critical failures at the utility, there are many questions that remain unanswered and New Orleanians deserve much better," said Joseph I. Giarrusso III, Councilmember for District A. Giarrusso's district includes many of the utility's facilities and suffered significant flooding during the rain events in late summer 2017.
The letter points out the myriad frustrations experienced by every water customer in the city. Specifically: untimely, estimated, or grossly inflated bills and tremendous obstacles to correcting billing mistakes. The councilmembers are requesting concrete information regarding numbers of complaints about billing and service. Among the first requests is that the Sewerage and Water Board prioritize fixing its bills and customer appeals process immediately.
The letter also addresses fraud and abuse at the utility, citing recent reports of employees stealing brass and using fake handicapped parking tags in order to hoard metered spots near the main office building. "I believe the majority of Sewerage and Water Board employees are doing their best under tough conditions. However, when this kind of brazen abuse is allowed to continue, it's clear a cultural shift is needed," continued Giarrusso. Insufficient staffing has long plagued the utility. Potential solutions, such as higher wages, reconsidering the residency requirement, and adjusting job descriptions are also addressed in the letter.
Further questions regarding critical infrastructure failures in the rainwater collection system, power generation, power distribution, and drainage pumping station capacity, detailed with specificity in an after-incident report published by Veolia, are also included in the letter, which demands that the utility, "respond to all capacity data raised in the Veolia report."
"This is the first step to get a full and public accounting of information of what's going on at the Sewerage and Water Board, which is desperately needed and something I heard every day on the campaign trail. We want to work with the utility to improve services for all citizens," said Giarrusso.
In June the Sewerage and Water Board will present to the Public Works, Sanitation, and Environment Committee for the first time under this new City Council term, and the councilmembers expect appropriate personnel with knowledge and expertise with the reporting requirements to appear and be prepared to answer specific questions.