What to know and ask candidates about changes at City Hall
In City Hall, things fall apart
On a Monday in October 2013, New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson stepped into a City Hall elevator. It would be nearly an hour before she stepped out.
The car was broken, stuck between floors.
Clarkson’s plight reflected a frustration with the old building and the bureaucracy it contained. It also provided grist for a fierce debate at the time: Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted to move City Hall and the Civil District Court into the empty Charity Hospital and the court’s judges vehemently opposed the plan.
Landrieu’s Charity Hospital gambit ultimately failed. That the mayor, however, could raise such an ambitious plan and gather steam for it — the New Orleans firm HRI Properties Inc. had a design ready to go — showed how far the city had come from a massive budget deficit in 2010 and a government in disarray (NOLA.com).
“On the macro level, this administration has done a very good job of recognizing the dire situation and jumping in to deal with it from a substantial level,” said City Councilwoman Stacy Head, a frequent disputant of the mayor’s (NOLA.com).
2010: Landrieu inherits a mess
Water-stained stairwells. Spotty air conditioning. Untrusted light fixtures. Grime. For years, these are what met anyone entering New Orleans’ hall of government (NOLA.com).
“For two years, now there has been no hot water in your City Hall. The elevators frequently get stuck,” Landrieu said in his first state of the city address in 2010. “This is a shameful condition for the employees of City Hall to be working in.”
Perhaps more decrepit, however, were New Orleans’ financial straits. Landrieu entered office staring down what he calculated to be a $62 million deficit. His accountants quickly uncovered another $5 million debt from 2005. A short time later, they found another $11.7 million missing. Over time, Landrieu’s team would come to shorthand the dismal budget outlook left by Mayor Ray Nagin as a $100 million hole (NOLA.com).
Nagin wasn’t completely unaware. The January before he left, he slashed services and closed City Hall on Fridays to save money. The council had cut $15 million from his proposed 2010 budget the previous fall.
But those became more Band-Aids than cures, and Landrieu knew he was up against it when he took his oath of office.
“So while it is true that we have inherited a myriad of problems and City Hall is dysfunctional, it is also true that we own it now,” he said in 2010. “All of us, together.”
Cuts and freezes
Landrieu took over and proposed returning to a five-day workweek and executing a 10-percent slash to payroll spending across the board. That meant furloughs. Layoffs. Fifty employees in the NOPD lost their jobs off the bat.
Landrieu then established a hiring freeze, including inside the NOPD — an act he still takes flak for from some local public safety specialists who accuse him of igniting the police force’s manpower shortage.
But from a budgetary standpoint, Landrieu may have been left with few viable alternatives, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said.
Yes, the hiring freeze led to a loss of police officers, but “on the other hand, you need to go back to where you started with the $100 million deficit,” he said. “The first question is how do we meet payroll? That is a scary question for anyone who has had to answer that question.”
When you try to cut government services, the first thing you run into is salaries,” Quatrevaux continued. “You got to cut payroll to make any meaningful cuts to government spending.”
• Renegotiated contracts, including three large garbage collection deals, to cut rates
• Pushed for massive rate increases for Sewerage & Water Board customers to make up for years of deferred maintenance on the city’s water, sewerage and drainage systems
• Terminated other deals his administration deemed fruitless or unnecessary
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