LaToya Cantrell’s Sewerage & Water Board S**tshow Is Just Getting Started, And It’s Already Spectacular

Nobody really expected to see any significant improvement in the performance of the laughably awful New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board from the mismanagement of Mitch Landrieu to new mayor LaToya Cantrell, so the fact Cantrell is already at war with one of the members of the City Council over the SWB’s poor performance shouldn’t be a surprise.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.

Our readers outside of the Crescent City certainly know that the Sewerage & Water Board is highly dysfunctional where it comes to its two core functions – providing clean water to the city, and draining away rainwater before the city floods. In the last year both circumstances came to a head multiple times, as New Orleans is under a boil-water advisory seemingly as often as not and the city braces for flooding virtually every time there’s a heavy rain.

But as bad as its core performance is, the Sewerage & Water Board is even more spectacularly horrendous with respect to other things like billing. The accounts of its bookkeeping snafus are legion, and earlier this month there was one which was so awful it was hilarious

How’d you like to get a $31,000 water bill for a 1,000 square foot apartment you’re renting? Would you consider that a mess?

So naturally there are members of the New Orleans City Council who are hearing from their constituents and pushing for the Sewerage & Water Board to function like something which didn’t just come off the boat from the Third World.

One of them being Councilman Joe Giarusso, who’s a bit uppity it appears. Giarusso rounded up the rest of the City Council and sent Cantrell, who as mayor is the president of the Sewerage & Water Board, a Strongly Worded Letter about what a joke it is.

In Giarrusso’s original 10-page letter, he criticized the embattled agency for “terrible customer service, lack of transparency and poor efforts to engage the public,” which he said has led to “severe mistrust.”

Giarrusso also demanded quarterly reports from the agency, which are required under law but rarely sent to the council.

That didn’t go over well with the mayor, who as it happens will not be addressed with Strongly Worded Letters. Here’s what Cantrell sent back to Giarusso…

In response, Cantrell sent back a two-page letter outlining progress made toward reforming the Sewerage & Water Board, including recent hires made to replace interim staff and goals set for reducing billing errors. She also took aim at Giarrusso’s persistent approach, and implied it wouldn’t get the council very far if those tactics continue.

“While I admire the tenacity of the council and firmness of the public for answers, the demands and perceived tone of the letter have discouraged board involvement and engagement,” Cantrell wrote. “As we hold them to high standards, we must remember that neither the board members nor the S&WB employees are our enemies. It is incumbent upon us to work with them to benefit the people of our city.”

In other words, the water company she’s president of is trying to steal money from its customers at $31,000 a pop and when the City Council protests she’s focused on their attitude.

From this writer’s perspective anybody who attempts to draft 31K from my bank account without my permission is 100 percent without a doubt my enemy. I am confident I’m not alone in that thinking.

Ditto for having one’s car and house flood because the city takes two inches of rain.

Now, it may be that Cantrell is trying to build some leadership credibility at the Sewerage & Water Board and she thinks defending them from a crabby City Council is a way to do that. Except she needs leadership credibility with the City Council, too, and while New Orleans has lots of problems left over from the eight years of abject disaster that was Mitch Landrieu’s time as mayor, nothing is more glaring than the mess at the Sewerage & Water Board.

Cantrell says she expects to have the billing issues fixed by July. Best of luck with that. She’s now created an even more high-profile problem for herself by dropping her “I don’t like your tone” bomb on Giarusso. And if it gets to August and SWB customers are still being overbilled by hundreds of dollars a month when they’re not having 31K stolen from their bank accounts, well…

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