Whether or not you’ve been following the insider chatter about the lack of oversight of Disaster Community Development Block Grant money, Ariella Cohen’s piece at The Lens and with WVUE is a must read.

The Nagin administration has chosen to put the disaster-recovery money in the operating budget, essentially giving the council less control over specific projects. Under the current arrangement, the administration is free to move monies between projects as long as the projects are under the same broad budget category.

A category can be as specific as Land Acquisition or as vague as Economic Development or Healthy Communities — a category that includes money for a bioremediation program as well as an initiative that would give grants to grocers who sell fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods.

The state-approved recovery plan does not specifically address what approval is necessary if the initial plan is changed.

The state says the shifts in spending are allowed as long as the money moves to programs within the overall recovery plan.

At We Could Be Famous, I wrote extensively about Mayor Ray Nagin’s revival of a proposal to purchase the Chevron Building for a new City Hall – a proposal that seemingly had been rejected by the City Council. Though it is unclear whether the administration plans to specifically allocate the disaster grant money to that proposal, the question deals with the same principle.

In the remaining few months of their terms, we’ll get answers to some pressing questions, all of which will effect the scope and pace of the recovery:

  • To what extent can the mayor spend recovery money on his own?
  • Will the Nagin administration clearly disclose the movement of recovery money from one project to another?
  • Will he submit to the scrutiny or take input from the City Council?

At Thursday’s City Council meeting, members put off a vote on an ordinance that would require the mayor to get council approval before spending  the federal disaster grant money on buying and fixing the Chevron Building.

Though the ordinance would only address one specific project, it represents the first time the council has considered acting on the larger question Ariella Cohen raises in her article: What governs the process of making changes to disaster money approved spending plans?