NEW ORLEANS —
"These are people who are inquiring about their bills, asking when their administrative hearings going to be, looking for inquiries as to what's happening,” said New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso, holding up an envelope of printed out emails.
Giarrusso is used to hearing from constituents with problems regarding the city's Sewerage and Water Board. As chairman of the Public Works Committee, he said having all the information available is key to transparency.
A new proposed state law, Senate Bill 390, could change how the board operates and reports to the city council. Current law requires the board to present a comprehensive report to the council once a year, detailing everything from actions to receipts. That's in addition to quarterly reports.
Those laws came to be after an Eyewitness News investigation, which uncovered the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board not following through with previous reporting policies. Giarrusso said those laws have proven valuable.
“The council has really uncovered some things in the Sewerage and Water Board the last few years ranging from billing issues, the accounts receivables, to the canals, to power issues,” said Giarrusso.
Under this proposed legislation, that yearly reporting requirement would go away. Instead, the Sewerage and Water Board would only be required to report quarterly. Each quarter would be a different report. March would be water and sewer systems. June would be drainage and power systems. September would be finances. December would be workforce.
"My concern is that issues that are always going to be paramount should be discussed every single meeting," said Giarrusso.
Another proposed change would require anything outside of the scope of those individualized quarterly reports, be added at least 30 days in advance. For Giarrusso, that's another concern.
"What happens in the middle of the month — if something else goes wrong, you're precluded then under the statue from trying to raise that issue publicly,” said Giarrusso.
The bill was filed by Senator Karen Carter Peterson. Peterson’s office tells Eyewitness News it was filed at city hall's request.
“The proposed changes are intended to address some of the current reporting requirements that don’t typically change over the course of the year (i.e., water loss reports) and add some new, more timely metrics that we hope will be helpful moving forward (i.e., data on water main breaks and line repairs),” said city spokeswoman LaTonya Norton in an emailed statement. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to be as transparent as possible for the benefit of our City partners and valued customers.”
Giarrusso questions whether these proposed changes would do more harm than good.
“What I'm concerned about is the public deserves accountability and transparency,” said Giarrusso.
You can scroll through Louisiana Senat Bill 390 below or click here to read it.