Government Structure and New Orleans Rehabilitation Management
Written by Isaac Lozada
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been responsible for a very broad array of activities following Hurricane Katrina. In recent months, however, their focus has centered on property damage, clean-up, and compensation. In neighborhoods that suffered extensive damage to housing and infrastructure during the storm and which have seen little to no redevelopment, either private or publicly initiated, FEMA has taken charge of the gutting and clearing out of affected properties for the purposes of rehabilitation or demolition.
Meanwhile, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been responsible for the rehabilitation of damaged public housing in an effort to prompt the return of displaced residents. As of recently, over 2500 pre-Katrina residents have utilized this opportunity to return. However, this is still only a small fraction of the displaced population of New Orleans as a whole seeing as how some neighborhoods were for the most part completely devoid of public housing, such as the Lower Ninth Ward. Furthermore, branching out from HUD also is the Road Home Program, an effort compiled by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and the Louisiana Recovery Authority that compensates qualifying property owners for up to $150,000 (provided for by HUD) for damages endured during the storm for the purpose of repairing or reconstructing homes.
Also functioning at the federal level of government is the Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, a position currently held by Donald Powell, previously chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). As of October of 2006, Powell has remained fairly inactive in his position, maintaining a low profile and making only minor decisions in spite of his position to catalyze sweeping change in New Orleans by intervening and coordinating efforts between the federal, state, and local levels of government. Nonetheless, his overarching authority from city to federal government provides him the ability to make and act on decisions while bypassing the bureaucratic lag typical of government, hence being able to act effectively by always adapting to the evolving situation at all levels.
Set up at the state level, the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), created following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by Louisiana governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, exists for the purpose of coordinating between differing interests of the city, across jurisdictions, and across different levels of government. The authority is represented by a combination of thirteen committees and task forces responsible for issues ranging from housing and the environment to long term community planning. The LRA has also established short and long-term plans. The LRA’s short-term plan in brief is to assess the situation and establish goals and priorities. The long-term plan is to engage the public in the process through parish-unique meetings and public forums, the outcome being that recommendations and comments made during these meetings could be addressed and implemented during the ensuing planning and reconstruction.
At the local level of the city of New Orleans, the office of Mayor, currently occupied by Ray Nagin, and the New Orleans City Council are the central establishments for governance of the local area. Mayor Nagin’s initial reaction to the Hurricane Katrina disaster were delayed, ambiguous, and proved unpopular. Nonetheless reelected, however, Nagin has since maintained a low profile, making few public appearances and speeches and making little public knowledge of current efforts underway or plans under review for New Orleans. It is highly advisable that, in order to promote a full-hearted recovery effort, the Mayor become much more visible, proactive, and open about ideas under consideration in order to receive public feedback. The current and future role of the city council is to act as a check on the mayor and represent the varying demographics of New Orleans.
Also at the local level, and as a result of the disreputable history of the New Orleans city government, a recently proposed and approved office of Inspector General will exist for the sole purpose of acting as a check on local government corruption, being chosen so as to have no personal interests in the region (to be unbiased), to have wide discretionary powers, and so as to have the legal power to prosecute upon discovering illegal government activity.
As an American city, New Orleans is equally subject to the top-down, federal, state, and local government hierarchy that typifies all other cities in the US. Hence, as proven by example from a plethora of other cities, such a chain-of-order is completely suitable for the city and will be more than sufficient to address the needs of a city-wide rehabilitation.