Open Letter to Senator Landrieu

Feb 20, 2009 by

Dear Senator Landrieu,

I’m writing to you because I have the highest regard for the responsiveness of your staff.

We New Orleanians need some help from a higher power.

I don’t know anyone who would say that we should desire secrecy, inefficiency, and favors paid to cronies with taxpayer dollars, from local government.

Yet, that’s effectively what was said by opponents who helped to defeat the open contracting ordinance override of Mayor Nagin’s veto.

Incendiary allegations of racism were leveled at anyone who even spoke the word “transparency.” Yet there was an ironic asymmetry of information caused by the very lack of transparency — many of the speakers who objected to the open contracting ordinance, and who no doubt pressured African American Council Members to conveniently disappear or abstain when they needed to make the vote, were identified as contractors (or beneficiaries of contractors) by members of the audience in Council chambers.

What’s important to remember is that Ray Nagin is now saying there are $750 million “in the pipeline” in Katrina recovery dollars. He said he can’t allow a legislative act, or an open meetings policy, to impede his ability to spend that money as quickly as possible — as only he sees fit, in a secretive process.

What we don’t need, here in New Orleans, is even the *impression* of impropriety as that money is spent.

I rather doubt that President Obama would agree that secrecy is the best policy, given that his first executive order, on day one, mandated greater transparency in White House operations.

There is nothing incongruent between transparency and efficiency concerns in the selection review process for contracts. What we will gain from an open contracting process, however, is greater opportunity for all who desire to do business with the city. Most importantly, we will be able to provide greater quality and equity in the delivery of services to those who most need them — to, specifically, those people who are victimized by the current system of crony contracts.

It was just a few years ago that an audit of the New Orleans Public School system’s finances discovered tens of millions of dollars missing. This theft of money from children in one of the worst school systems in the country was reprehensible, destroying opportunity for those children who most need the benefit of a good education to lift them out of poverty. This is what we’ve obtained with secret contracting deals.

Mayor Nagin is in Washington, D.C. today, for the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, which President Obama will attend.

There are a number of Louisiana connections to Mr. Obama’s office. Please exercise whatever connections you can to ask President Obama to have a one-on-one meeting with Mayor Nagin. Please ask Mr. Obama to emphatically assert to Mayor Nagin that without transparency, recovery dollars will be frozen.

We can’t afford to squander this opportunity to fundamentally change the way our city operates, to change the perception about the way our city operates, and to make meaningful investments which will benefit the well-being of all of our citizens.

We need to act now to save our city. Transparency is as important as getting the levees fixed, or restoring our coastal wetlands.

Please don’t delay in contacting President Obama’s office to act swiftly to help us in this struggle.

Brian Denzer
Founder/Executive Director
New Orleans Citizen Crime Watch

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