APPEL: John Bel Edwards And The Harrah’s Deal

So imagine this scenario; a major corporation wants to negotiate a billion-dollar contract with the state but the governor is nowhere to be found. Instead the corporation ends up negotiating in public before the entire legislature. How embarrassing is that!

But that is exactly what has happened with the Harrah’s New Orleans proposal to build a $350 million hotel expansion and to extend its lease resulting, over time, in a billion dollars of revenue for the city and state. Instead of assuming leadership of the negotiation for the state, the governor was missing so, in what should have been the fundamental duty of the CEO of the state, the whole discussion was held between the Harrah’s folks and members of the legislature. Worse, the legal and fiscal staff of the legislature was not even involved in the process until the last minute, so the legislators were blind as to the details.

Whether you like this deal or not is irrelevant. There is a proper way to handle major projects and in other times under other governors it would have been done in a proper way. Simply put, such a massive deal should have been a negotiation between the senior management of Harrah’s and the chief executive of the state of Louisiana and his administration. The governor should have been the lead negotiator for our state and should have brought the best legal and financial people and some legislators to the table on our side. Harrah’s would have had their people and after a mutually acceptable agreement had been reached then the package the governor should have presented it with the appropriate recommendations for action to the legislature for final approval.

But the governor, perhaps by design, distanced himself from the whole process and predictably it was a disaster. Instead of a high-level negotiation resulting possibly in a big win for New Orleans and Louisiana, Harrah’s left the legislature with nothing to show for their efforts and the state has mud on its face because of the amateurish manner in which it all happened.

Clearly our state is a ship without a rudder. Clearly we lack even the most basic leadership to participate in the American economy, an economy that is growing leaps and bounds all around us. Whether this was a good idea for our state or not we will never know because of the bumbling way in which it was handled.

One thing that is for sure, our reputation as a place to do business has taken another blow simply because our leadership is clueless how to handle such a basic function of the job.

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