Lots of urban water systems face unusually high demands on the system and obsolete infrastructure. But these cities manage to solve problems and provide safety to the public. The major problem facing the water systems in New Orleans is incompetent management.
There is no nice way to put this: the Sewerage and Water Board operates in a climate of incompetent management, and has for some time. The symptoms are everywhere we look:
• At times, employees are not allowed overtime, and the work is contracted out to more expensive contactors.
• One catch basin company was hired, and then told not to work.
• Due to lack of planning, expedited work must be done at a cost premium, wasting valuable taxpayer and ratepayer funds. Mistakes are expensive.
• There is no migration plan away from 25-cycle power
• The S&WB has over 300 vacant positions. These are mostly non-technical positions (slow technical/specialized hiring would be understandable). Many of them are entry-level laborer jobs. It is not difficult to train someone to shore up a hole or catch basin and go in there and clean it out or repair it. In a City with 40% unemployment among Black males, this is unconscionable.
Every aspect of the S&WB is undermanaged:
• The S&WB is already under a consent order from the Federal Government. This is not a badge of honor or distinction.
• HUD has informed us that the S&WB is not even spending the money they gave us.
• The S&WB lacks a performance management system. While at United Water, I had a “dashboard” that told me, every day, the status of each city’s water operations. Water systems were either green (operating correctly) yellow (in need of maintenance), or red (failing). This is not complicated – in most industries and large companies this is standard practice and has been for decades. We don’t have it.
• With all due respect, Cedric Grant was not qualified to serve as the leader of a water utility. He worked for me 14 years ago, but only in an administrative role and NOT in operations. This was his lone experience in the Water industry.
• A good executive must inspect the business and interrogate the staff, and know exactly what to ask. He or she must understand the details of operations. There is no substitute for content expertise.
And the results are tragic, for the citizens and taxpayers of our City, who deserve better – and who are paying for better.
• We face regular boil water advisories, due to failures in the water treatment and supply system.
• We just had one more episode of flooding – of homes, businesses, and cars. We have only limited confidence that another heavy rainstorm, heaven forbid a hurricane, will not flood parts of the city again.
• Mayor Landrieu should resign as the President of the SWB for the remainder of his term; an industry-experienced professional should serve as President pro-temp.
• In the future, we should add competent professionals with industry knowledge to the S&W Board of Directors. Local connections and generic management experience are not a substitute – we need people who know what they are doing, for once.
• The Board should hire a real Executive team with significant industry experience, or I will in May.
• The City Council should become a true regulator of the S&WB just like all other utilities, with Service Level Agreements and complete Rate/Budget control.
• The Executive Director and Board should require a true Performance Management System – akin to the system I used at United Water.
Vote Troy Henry for Mayor!
About Troy Henry: Born and raised in New Orleans. I have lived in other places, and I could live and work anywhere in the world, but I am proud to call New Orleans my home.
By training and experience, I am an engineer. I have a total of 3 bachelors and master’s degrees in engineering, from Stanford University and Carnegie-Mellon University. One of my early assignments at Hewlett-Packard was designing cardiac medical detection devices. Later on, at IBM Federal Services, I worked on the design of sonar and weapon systems for the Los Angeles Class attack submarines. At IBM Global Services, I managed high availability fault-tolerant solutions for the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical industry. At EES, I ran an entire organization devoted to providing critical industrial power systems solutions. These systems had to work, all the time, whenever the situation demanded it. They did. In short, for most of my career I have created practical solutions to real problems in the physical world.
At United Water, I was the President of the largest private water utility in the USA. We managed drinking water supply, storm-water and wastewater treatment systems for cities across the country, including Atlanta GA, Jacksonville FL, and Laredo TX.
I am also the owner of a home flooded by Katrina, and of a business flooded just recently by the storms of August 5th. Inadequate planning and service from the City and the Sewerage and Water Board affected me personally