NEW ORLEANS -- With a special meeting just hours away, a former member of the Sewerage and Water Board gave us his take on the city's next steps.
During a surprise press conference this Tuesday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for an emergency meeting of the Sewerage and Water Board, and the termination of several employees. This came after both the mayor, city council members and the public say they were not getting straight answers.
During the Thursday morning meeting, the Sewerage and Water Board will consider a vote to fire General Superintendent Joe Becker and Communications Director Lisa Martin.
"The board members vote (the executive director and the general superintendent) in and they serve at the discretion of the board," Tommie Vassel said.
Vassel served on the board from 2002 to 2011. With Executive Director Cedric Grant already announcing his retirement, Joe Becker's potential termination will be voted on unless he resigns. Vassel says ousting Becker would take a majority vote by all 11 members. The next challenge for the board will be to find qualified replacements.
"The Executive Director runs the entire agency. The General Superintendent is thought to be the Chief Engineer who understands the technical side of these pumps and how the system operates from the engineering standpoint. But the Executive Director should have that management skill to oversee that operation," Vassel said.
Overseeing those operations takes strong leadership and communications skills, something the Mayor says was lacking during the weekend floods.
"Typically what would happen is that the Executive Director would be consulting with his general engineer about 'Look what's going on out there,' technically at those pump stations. And I don't know that the information that was being relayed up was accurate information," Vassel said.
After announcing his retirement, Cedric Grant predicted others would follow, whether by their own choice or not.
"It is clear to me that there are additional personnel actions that need to be taken to restore confidence in this organization," Grant said.
"I was at the city council hearing last night....and a lot of the information that was being presented was new to Cedric and some of the things Cedric was saying was new to Joe Becker and so you just didn't have a meeting of the minds," Vassel said.
In that confusion, the city flooded.
As far as hiring a communications director, that hiring position is not up to the board. The Mayor's office tells Eyewitness News that position is typically made by the Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director.
The emergency meeting begins Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Sewerage and Water Board building.
Full disclosure, Tommie Vassel is one of 18 candidates running for New Orleans Mayor.
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