Why does the East Baton Rouge Parish Department of Public Works, one of the largest departments in all of City-Parish government (and the one with the most tangible and measurable outputs), still have no full-time, permanent director?
Former director Pete Newkirk stepped down officially on March 2, although he announced his intentions in early November 2010 – over six months ago. Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, former State Rep. Bill Daniel, has filled in for Newkirk since March, serving as both Assistant CAO and interim DPW director.
In all fairness to Daniel, he’s more than qualified to serve as DPW director – just not while he’s still an Assistant CAO. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do justice to both (a problem that is sure to get worse as the only other Assistant CAO, Jim Llorens, departs City Hall to become the new chancellor of Southern).
Newkirk described the job of DPW director as “pretty intense,” “all-consuming“ and one that you have to make “a priority over everything else” (The Advocate, 2/21/11). That doesn’t sound like the kind of job someone can juggle in addition to their regular 9 to 5.
Yet as DPW prepares Baton Rouge for record-breaking Mississippi River water levels, the likes of which have not been seen since before Huey Long was Governor, it does so without the focus, energy and leadership of a full-time, permanent director.
And let’s not forget that hurricane season begins in just over three weeks on June 1. Let’s hope that if, God forbid, Baton Rouge has to deal with tropical weather this year, we won’t have to do it with part-time leadership at DPW.
So why is Kip Holden dragging his feet? I’m sure he would have no trouble channeling his inner Marc Morial to tell us, “It’s more important to get the right DPW director than it is to get a new DPW director right now.” But come on Kip, how much time do you need?
It has been two months since Newkirk’s official last day and more than six months since he announced his intention to retire. Kip Holden had more than enough time to have the right person in place and working with Newkirk to ensure a smooth transition, but he failed to do so.
DPW is too important to the citizens of Baton Rouge to be relegated to the “to do list” of one of the Mayor-President’s assistants. It’s time for Kip Holden to exercise real leadership, and it’s time for DPW to get a full-time, permanent director. Baton Rouge deserves nothing less.
You can email Bruce Landry at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @hayridebruce.