NEW ORLEANS -- Six weeks ago, an audit painted a dismal financial picture of the New Orleans Regional Business Park, a public agency designed to lure new business to eastern New Orleans.
In response to the annual audit, Executive Director Joseph Shorter III admitted the agency was balancing on a cliff.
Now it appears to have fallen over the edge.
Shorter was fired by the agency’s board earlier this month. Days later, his assistant Allison Richards quit.
The departures came at about the same time as the resignation of Brian Egana, chairman of the volunteer board of directors that already was suffering from political disinterest. Only eight of the board’s 12 seats were filled when Egana left.
The board members are appointed by the New Orleans mayor and several area legislators. Egana had been appointed by state Sen. J.P. Morrell.
Morrell said the meltdown did not take him by surprise.
"When a board has no resources, has no money, and the people on the board aren't getting along,” Morrell said, “that's pretty much the recipe for what you're seeing right now, which is that the board has collapsed under its own weight."
The mass exodus leaves the business park with a single employee: the custodian.
The janitor’s truck was the lone vehicle parked amid a vast lot of empty spaces at the complex this week. He declined an interview, except to say that he still shows up for work every day, tidying up the nearly empty office complex and waiting for word about his – and the park’s – future.
Attempts to contact Shorter and the remaining board members about the recent departures were unsuccessful.
A year ago, Morrell tried to breathe new life into the board by streamlining its operations, but now he says it may be time to pull the plug.
"With the departure of the executive director, with the resignation of the assistant, I would think the only thing you can really do at this point is seriously consider dissolving the board as a whole," he said.
The board oversees a state-owned office building and acres of adjoining land, but collects rent from only a single tenant, a warehouse company.
The park has been unable to attract any new business for the past several years. The Oct. 2 audit showed the agency’s revenues dipping far below projections, even after Shorter cut his salary – and that of his two employees – by 20 percent.
When Shorter came on board two years ago, he inherited an agency that had just lost an election to renew its $220,000 millage after years of scandal and mismanagement.
At the time Shorter was hired, the park had been without a director for two years following the dismissal of his predecessor Roy Mack Sr. over ethics violations.
“It was a ship without a rudder, without an engine. No wonder it floundered," Shorter said in an interview last month when the audit was released.
Now Morrell thinks the park may be on its death bed. He said he will talk to the remaining board members about disbanding and putting the land up for sale.
"It's almost like you've got a board in hospice care,” Morrell said. “All you can do get its affairs in order before it passes."