The mayor’s interpretation of transparency and inclusiveness
5th December 2011 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
For those who expected things at City Hall to significantly improve and for there to be more justice, democracy, truthfulness and transparency from local elected officials, the past few months have been quite a wake-up call.
We’ve witnessed the mayor try his best to put a good spin on the city’s corrupt police department by making it look like it was his idea to have the United States Department of Justice come in and do whatever needs to be done to turn around the NOPD and make it a department that actually “protects and serves” the people of New Orleans.
We’ve seen the mayor make moves to do away with the rules and policies of the Civil Service Commission so that it would be easier for him to dispose of longtime City Hall workers whose service to the city he decided is no longer needed.
We’ve watched with great interest as news leaked about the mayor actually scripting meetings of the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission, as if none of the people who serve on the commission have enough intelligence, competence or professionalism to focus on the task at hand.
The crime-prevention meeting during which the mayor instructed members of his staff to block the door to prevent Black civil rights and community leaders from entering was pretty much the last straw. Apparently, that meeting was intended and designed to be another opportunity for the mayor to use the media to paint himself as a magnanimous, visionary leader who is willing and able to rise to the occasion to tackle any problem head-on.
That’s what the mayor apparently had hoped for.
Instead, he came across as a self-absorbed, micro-managing task master who has little faith in his ability to appeal to the hearts and minds of Black community leaders and leaves nothing to chance when the cameras are rolling.
Anyone who thought that the current mayor would be a vast improvement from the previous administration is now beginning to see how incredibly naive he or she was. We’re seeing the same secretive attitude from the mayor’s inner circle, the same lack of respect for the media and the same disregard for the needs and concerns of most of the city’s residents.
What we’re getting instead of leadership is a mayor who spends too much time trying to prove that he can second-line with the best of those who have mastered the high art of the two-way pocky-way and thinks that sitting on the floor for storytime and jumping into swimming pools with the city’s Black children is enough to make residents forget that the city’s libraries are still in dire straits, many of its major thoroughfares have still not been repaired since Hurricane Katrina and that the Big Easy is anything but a safe place to live and raise a family.
We have a mayor that had this big to-do to mark the re-opening of Armstrong Park in Faubourg Tremé but refuses to answer questions about why the main entrance to the cultural landmark remains locked. Let’s not forget that this is the same mayor who forcibly removed some of the city’s homeless from the space where they were living under the Pontchartrain Expressway and expeditiously hosed the area down and placed a chain-link fence around it to ensure that none of the evicted persons could return to the area. Several weeks later, he resurfaces to announce a 10-year plan to combat homelessness in New Orleans, but shouldn’t that plan have been put in place before he made moves to banish the homeless from strategic sections of the city?
We also have a mayor who apparently can’t find anyone to effectively collect property taxes from wealthy and politically connected members of the community, can’t seem to halt payroll and budgetary abuse at agencies like the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and the Public Belt Railroad, and is in denial about the leadership of the New Orleans Police Department.
All the while, most of the members of the New Orleans City Council have done and said absolutely nothing to gently remind the mayor that New Orleans is not his, ahem, oyster. (Pun definitely intended). Looking and sounding very much like a proud grandma, New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson can hardly contain herself when she starts gushing about what a bang-up job the mayor is doing.
Far too many members of the city council are drinking the mayor’s Kool-Aid and buying whatever it is he is selling these days on Perdido Street.
Perhaps the mayor’s greatest and most tragic flaw is his inclination to view anyone who disagrees with or criticizes him as “the enemy.” He refuses to even consider that Ronal Serpas may not be the best man for the job of transforming the New Orleans Police Department. It’s not even up for debate.
Instead of working the crowd at press conferences and making sure that all eyes are on him, the mayor should take note of the fact that there is a growing contingent of residents in New Orleans who are growing weary of his less than congenial approach to governing, his willingness to cut corners and his refusal to even consider the opinions of his political opponents and adversaries.
And for the record, there is a difference between political opponents and political adversaries.
Some of the architects of the U.S. Constitution actually believed that public discourse and vigorous debate about divergent ideas were good things, so much so that they devised a political system with checks and balances to ensure that cities, states and the federal government would not fall under tyrannical rule by dictators, czars or monarchs.
Just to be clear, no elected official in the United States has the right to call all the shots all the time or stack the deck to get what they want when they want it. Presidents can’t do it. Governors can’t do it. And mayors certainly can’t do it. That why there are members of Congress, state legislatures and city and parish councils.
Perhaps the Big Easy’s emperor should remember that the next time he decides to lock somebody out of a public meeting or change the rules to suit his agenda.
This article was originally published in the December 5, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper