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S&WB director Ghassan Korban gets raise to $322k

The raise and the praise come in spite of a slew of problems at the utility that have mounted over the last year.

NEW ORLEANS — The embattled New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board unanimously approved a 9.5%  raise this week for its executive director, Ghassan Korban, bringing his annual salary to about $322,000.

The utility’s board of directors heaped glowing praise on Korban, just as it did in January 2020, when it gave him an 8.8% raise for the year.

Korban now makes about $57,000 more than when he was hired three-and-a-half years ago. The salary is about $110,000 more than the ending salary of Cedric Grant, the last full-time executive director who preceded Korban. Grant was forced out by former Mayor Mitch Landrieu after catastrophic turbine failures led to disastrous flooding in August 2017.

The agency had a string of short-term interim directors over the next year before settling on Korban, who moved to New Orleans from Milwaukee.

Board members said the agency is on the right track because of Korban’s vision and leadership.

“As the mayor of the city and president of the board and coming in where our utility was literally on fire, going through four interim executive directors only to find a great leader of our utility and we found that in Ghassan Korban,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“I’d just like to chime in and say Ghassan’s done and is doing a great job and we’re fortunate to have him here and I hope he’ll finish out his career at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board,” added board member Poco Sloss. “And congratulations on the raise.”

The raise and the praise come in spite of a slew of problems at the utility that have mounted over the last year, when the agency’s Plumbing Department was raided by the FBI hours after a WWL-TV investigation uncovered self-dealing by the top two officials in that department.

Meanwhile, customers across the city continued to experience major and largely unexplained billing errors, something Korban has tried to address by bringing in a new leader of the Customer Service Department, Rene Gonzalez.

The agency’s sewer treatment plant suffered severe flooding during Hurricane Ida and backup generators didn't work at sewer pump stations, forcing the agency to dump raw sewage when Entergy power was lost for days during and after the storm.

Century-old turbines needed to power the city’s water and drainage pumps continued to break down over the last year, as they have repeatedly for years. The agency was forced to use noisy backup generators as front-line power sources for much of the year, leading to frustration and anger for neighbors near the Sewerage and Water Board’s Carrollton Plant.

Korban did celebrate a major victory last year when he announced that Entergy had agreed to front $30 million for a new dedicated substation for the Sewerage and Water Board, something that would allow the agency to depend on more reliable power starting in 2023. But that deal recently fell apart when Entergy backed out, forcing the city to set up its own fund with money from the American Rescue Plan.

Korban responded with a statement to WWL-TV: “I am thankful for our Board of Directors’ confidence and trust they have placed in me and their recognition of the progress the Sewerage and Water Board is making in the face of many challenges. I remain committed to leading our team as we continue to move our utility in the right direction.”

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