NEW ORLEANS -- On Saturday, voters in Orleans Parish will consider a special election ballot measure seeking to cut three seats on the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board, long reserved for City Council members.
In addition, it would add an eighth mayoral appointment, a change that would shrink the board's membership from 13 seats to 11.
Ahead of the election, political advertisements on local television and radio have been running to encourage voters to support the proposed reform.
One radio ahead starts with a woman saying these lines: "Five times, New Orleanians have been warned that our drinking water is not safe. It's a risk for our families. Imagine if that happened during a major convention or Mardi Gras."
Lambert Boissiere, who is First City Court Constable and a former City Council member, said the radio is a scare tactic.
"It's suggesting that bad things are going to happen if you don't vote for it," Boissiere said.
The constable said he's not against the measure but he is concerned about the so-called effort to "depoliticize" the water board through the removal of council members.
Bossiere said taking city council members off the board would minimize the public's access to matters dealing with water and sewerage.
"How many appointed officials do you know that attend neighborhood meetings? They're not required to," said Boissier.
The ads were paid for by Keep New Orleans Moving Forward, a political committee which according to finance documents, received $55,000 from the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region. The BCNO presents itself as business minded group focused on reform in the city.
Suzanne Mestayer is the chairperson at the BCNO. She said the message in the advertisement is intended to be strong, not to scare voters.
"It was our purpose to make sure that they were informed of the importance of what they had an opportunity to vote upon. We wanted to bring to the attention of the citizens of what's at stake," said Mestayer.
The radio spot mentioned a possible scenario where a boil water order could be in place during a major event like Mardi Gras. Responding to critics accusing the ad of stoking unrealistic fears, Mestayer said it would be foolish to make assumptions.
"If a boil water advisory occurred during one of those times, the impact to our economy would be huge, and we just can't assume it would never happen during that period of time," said Mestayer.
Eyewitness News Political Analyst Clancy DuBos said the ads come as no surprise, especially considering the low-key nature of Saturday's election.
"It's a little bit of a scare tactic, but that's not unheard of in politics," said DuBos.
While the profile of the Oct. 19 election is relatively low, DuBos said the impact of the Sewerage & Water Board ballot would be quite high. Those sitting on the board will yield a great deal of influence on city water rates and very lucrative contracts.
"That kind of puts it in a different light. It's all about who gets to award half a billion dollars or more in public works," said DuBos.
Voters will get the opportunity to determine the issue on Saturday.