NEW ORLEANS -- Cedric Grant, the Sewerage & Water Board’s executive director who came under fire in recent days after he blamed two weekend flood events on global warming and incorrectly said all pumps were working as water across the city failed to drain, announced Tuesday he will retire this fall.
Grant’s announcement was sudden. He said he didn’t want to be “a distraction to the hard work of fixing the system” but also said information he learned in the last day indicated that some parts of the drainage system did not work as designed.
Grant said in the immediate aftermath of the storm that all pumps were working at full capacity, but S&WB officials have since said that 14 of the 121 pumps were offline for routine maintenance.
“It contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public,” Grant said in announcing his retirement. “Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable.”
HINTS OF FIRINGS
Grant said it was “clear to me that there are additional personnel actions that are needed to restore confidence in this organization.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu apparently shared Grant’s sentiment about other officials at the S&WB and Department of Public Works, announcing during a press conference carried live on the 5 p.m. news that he was calling for the resignation of S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker and Communications Director Lisa Martin, and Department of Public Works Director Col. Mark Jernigan.
The news of Grant’s retirement caught not only the public but his own employees off guard.
Landrieu’s press secretary sent a statement from Grant minutes ahead of a special City Council meeting called to grill S&WB officials about the recent floods. A S&WB source said employees only learned of Grant’s plans after local media began to report it.
While sudden, Landrieu hinted a short time earlier that staff changes could be headed to S&WB.
During an interview on WWL Radio, Landrieu said the amount of water that fell on the city would have resulted in flooding even if all the pumps were working but that the results of an “after-action” report could lead to job losses.
“We will use that information to make personnel changes if we have to, to make engineering changes if we have to, do whatever we have to do to put confidence in the system for it to work,” Landrieu said. “My commitment to the public is we will find out what the facts are.”
It wasn’t clear if Grant knew ahead of time that Landrieu would call for the terminations of Becker and Martin.
CLIMATE CHANGE COMMENT DENOUNCED
Grant said he decided to step away from the S&WB to avoid being a “distraction.”
An irritated Grant said during a Saturday night press conference that all pumps were operating and, after being asked several times if they were operating properly, blamed the flooding on storms caused by climate change.
That statement angered many citizens who questioned the effectiveness of the pumps, as well as the City Council, which on Sunday announced it would call a special meeting to address an “inadequate response from the administration” after the flood. Landrieu on Monday denounced Grant’s climate-change comment.
But Grant in announcing his retirement stood by facts about how much the drainage system can pump.
He said the storm that began about 2 p.m. and continued for about four hours dropped 10 inches in some parts of the city.
“The volume and speed of rainfall far exceeded the capacity system used to remove stormwater,” he wrote. “Localized flooding continued until all of the stormwater was pumped out of the Sewerage and Water Board by the next morning.”
Landrieu has since ordered an after-action analysis about the flood and said another one will be done by an outside third party.
Grant admitted that some pumps were not working and for the first time said there were some power-generation issues that affected the S&WB’s ability to fight the flood. And while he said those issues were “not the primary cause of flooding,” it was “inaccurate to suggest the system was operating at its maximum capabilities.”
Grant, who has spent 40 years in government, was Landrieu’s deputy mayor of facilities, infrastructure and community development from 2010 to 2014, when the mayor moved him to S&WB.
Among his prior jobs were chief administrative officer for former Mayor Marc Morial and deputy secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development.