NEW ORLEANS — A battle is brewing between the New Orleans mayor and city council over control of the city’s beleaguered Sewerage and Water Board.
There has been no shortage of complaints about how the board manages the city’s water and sewerage assets.
Over the years, customers have endured leaky pipes, broken drainage pumps, unstable power generation, and billing problems.
“The residents of the city deserve answers,” City Council VP JP Morrell said. “Right now, the Sewerage and Water Board does not feel like it answers to anyone other than its president.”
The president of the board is Mayor Latoya Cantrell.
Wednesday, board members passed a resolution opposing a bill in the Louisiana Legislature at the mayor’s urging,
The measure, backed by Morrell, would bring the SWBNO under direct council oversight, similar to Entegy New Orleans.
“This is not the time to change, this is a time to buckle down and continue the progress that this board, our leadership is providing for this utility,” Mayor Cantrell argued.
Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-New Orleans, sponsored the bill.
It would classify the state created agency as a public utility, subject to city council oversight.
She says it’s a step toward greater transparency for customers.
“Whether it’s been billing or whether it had been the leak in the street, they need that accountability and they’re not seeing it right now,” Hilferty said. “This will give the council that oversight piece.”
Mayor Cantrell claims the legislation doesn’t add in anyway accountability to the Sewerage and Water Board.
“What it does do, one, it creates more bureaucratic red tape,” she said. “It’s an untimely distraction.”
Morrell said the mayor is misinterpreting the bill.
“Council members receive all of the complaints regarding Sewerage and Water Board because there’s an understanding that we regulate them, but I’m here to tell you ladies and gentlemen, we do not regulate the Sewerage and Water Board — yet."
Hilferty maintains the bill has a good chance of passing, despite the mayor’s opposition.
“Certainly, we feel like we are in a good position,” Hilferty said. “Nothing is certain in Baton Rouge, but I think we have all heard about the Sewerage and Water Board issues and many of my colleagues have heard about those.”
Wednesday, Mayor Cantrell made an unscheduled trip to Baton Rouge to lobby members of the New Orleans Legislative Delegation to vote against the bill.