Major changes to Sewerage & Water Board on Saturday's ballot

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wwltv.com

Posted on October 16, 2013 at 10:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 16 at 10:41 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- Voters will head to the polls this weekend to decide the fate of the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board.

There's a charter amendment on the ballot that if approved could shrink the board's size and remove members of the City Council from the board.

"I think its a perfect mosquito breeder. It's a public health hazard," said Carolyn Heller.

Outside the Carrolton area resident's front door sits a pool of stagnant water. Heller said she's been battling the blocked storm drain since August.

"I came out here with a shovel and tried to clear out the drain," said Heller.

About a month ago, a steady trickle of water started to bubble from what appears to be a hidden underground leak.

"The Public Works this morning on the phone told me an inspector came out here and he gave this a number, but it wasn't urgent," said Heller. The homeowner said she's reached out to Councilwoman Susan Guidry's office and has called the water board to complain, but her cries continue to fall on deaf ears.

"The infrastructure has been in terrible condition. There's huge investment coming this way," said Janet Howard with the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Howard said as Orleans Parish gears up to spend billions of dollars to improve its sewerage and water systems, how the board is governed also needs to be revamped. Howard is urging voters to approve the proposed Sewerage & Water Board governance reform amendment.

"The thrust of it is to depoliticize the board. Politics has been a problem because politicians are very reluctant to approve rate increases and the result has been underfunding and more deterioration of the system," said Howard.

If passed the amendment would:

  • Reduce the size of the board from 13 to 11 members
  • Establish a nominating process where the Mayor would have to pick board members from a committee's list of nominees, which would then require New Orleans City Council approval.
  • Reduce board member terms and require them to be qualified in certain fields.
  • Remove council members from sitting on the Board.

That is something Ronald Coleman with the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee doesn't want to see happen.

"It's taxpayers money. I don't want a private, quasi-board determining what the rate hikes are going to be, how the contracts are going to be issued," said Coleman, who wants voters to reject the proposed amendment.

He believes it's critical to keep council members on the water board to keep it accountable to the public.

"I vote and elect my council members that sit on that board. If we don't want a rate hike, we can call our council members who we elect. I'm totally against the mayor appointing," said Coleman, who supports the Landrieu administration but worries about future elected officials down the road having such power.

Whatever voters decide this weekend, Heller said one thing is crystal clear: the system needs fixing.

"I think that everything needs to be revamped. You just take a ride around the city and look," said Heller.

Voters will decide on this and other measures on Election Day, which is this Saturday, October 19.

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