What does two weeks mean to the city’s recovery four and a half years after Katrina?
A whole lot – if you ask the Nagin administration.
Or at least that was the argument made by Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Sylvain-Lear at a City Council meeting Thursday. Sylvain-Lear was attempting (unsuccessfully) to convince the council to vote immediately to roll over unspent project money from previous years into the 2010 capital budget, letting the city move forward with work already voted on in years past. The list comprises $600 million worth of improvements, some dating to the 1980s. The approval would let the Nagin administration start spending on any or all of them, as the administration sees fit. The full list was presented to the council for the first time Thursday –26 single-spaced pages.
Sylvain-Lear wanted the council to approve the list so the administration would not have to wait two weeks until the next council meeting to start spending.
“We are pushing hard to get projects out to bid. What you are saying is you want us to wait,” she said, adding that the administration is “constantly cleaning the capital budget.”
“Not every line is scrubbed. We know that… but right now we can’t put projects out to bid unless the money is appropriated,” Sylvain-Lear added, citing the Lafitte Greenway as one of the projects that would be affected by the delay.
Sylvain-Lear did not respond to council members who pointed out that the greenway project would not be moving forward before the next available vote anyway. That’s because another arguably avoidable delay, involving a conflict between federal regulations and the procurement policies put in place by the mayor that favor bids from local companies.
When pressed to list specific projects that would be hurt if the council waited another two weeks to vote, Sylvain-Lear faltered.
“I do not have a specific list of the projects will be delayed,” she said.
Implicit in the process is trust that the administration would spend wisely on only those projects that are priorities for the public – trust that the city would not exploit the broad-brush approval to put millions towards, say, a contract with the mayor’s personal photographer, or Jazzland, a long-shuttered amusement park that is set to receive a million dollars, according to the list.
Clearly, as we have articulated previously on this Web site, that trust is not there.
But the push to move forward is. The council agreed to vote on the bill at its Feb. 4 meeting. By Wednesday all members will have sent the administration any questions about items on the list.
“This cannot be delayed any longer,” said Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson. “We’re going into Mardi Gras.”