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New Year's Resolutions

Let us resolve to welcome friend and stranger alike back to New Orleans. The uniqueness of our city arises from its diverse human tapestry.

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This year more than most, New Year's Day offers an excellent opportunity to resolve to do better in the future. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, our collective slate has been wiped clean; many have been forced to start over, long before the traditional "do-over" date of Jan. 1. In the spirit of looking forward to a better New Orleans -- with equal measures of hope and pragmatism -- we offer our suggestions for New Year's resolutions.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin should resolve to put their past differences aside and work more closely than ever to speak with one voice -- even if that voice belongs to someone else -- to Congress, the international media, and to Louisiana's hurricane-weary citizens. Blanco can further resolve to quicken the pace of her deliberations. She is not known for her ability to make quick decisions, and while it's usually a good thing for leaders to think things through, Blanco's glacial pace of decision-making has not stood her in good stead after Katrina. For his part, Nagin should resolve to talk -- and listen -- more to the City Council and other political leaders, and to spend more time doing the same with citizens across New Orleans. He should start having his "town hall meetings" in neighborhoods across the city, and after business hours, so that more citizens can look him in the eye, bring him their concerns, and hear his responses.

State lawmakers and Gov. Blanco should resolve to give all of southeast Louisiana one levee board whose members are selected on the basis of their professional experience and qualifications, not their political connections. Blanco has set the stage for that by announcing last week that she intends to call a special legislative session in late January or early February to deal with this and other issues. State Sen. Walter Boasso, a Republican from Arabi, offered a levee board consolidation bill in the November special session, but it was killed in the House after passing the Senate unanimously. Boasso has been working since then to build more support for his bill and to improve it. Blanco has instructed her new flood control commission to do likewise. They should all agree on one measure before the next special session so that everyone can know what's being proposed -- and monitor any changes as the measure proceeds through the legislative maze.

Mayor Nagin, City Council members and neighborhood groups should resolve to work together to end the FEMA trailer controversy. The mayor rightly wants to address the city's housing shortage for displaced city workers and citizens who want to get back to New Orleans and rebuild their homes (and reclaim jobs waiting for them). At the same time, he should spend more time meeting with district council members, who know the city's neighborhoods best, to help ease concerns of property owners near proposed trailer park sites. A series of neighborhood meetings -- with FEMA and City Hall officials in attendance -- could go a long way toward addressing neighborhood issues and assuring everyone that we can all get along.

Saints owner Tom Benson should resolve to stop bad-mouthing Louisiana, particularly New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and start promoting the area's recovery. He can do that by ceasing his flirtations with San Antonio and other NFL-wannabe cities and returning the Saints to their local practice facility ASAP. He also should announce that he intends to keep the Saints in New Orleans for as long as possible.

Election officials at the state and local levels should resolve to do whatever it takes to conduct New Orleans' citywide elections in April. There's already some movement towards that goal, but much remains to be done. They must locate experienced poll commissioners (and train new ones where needed), ensure that all New Orleans voters have an opportunity to cast ballots, and guarantee the integrity of the election process. That's a tall order, but it's also the cornerstone of our democracy.

FEMA and other federal agencies should resolve to work faster and more efficiently to process citizens' applications and requests for disaster relief. Period.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should resolve to design and build levees that actually withstand a "category 3-plus" storm surge by June 1. That means building levees according to independently evaluated standards, using experienced contractors who can get the job done on time, and making sure bureaucratic red tape does not slow down the process.

Congress should resolve to rebuild hurricane-ravaged American communities with the same levels of generosity accorded to foreign countries that have been ravaged by our nation's military actions. We're not condemning those military efforts, just asking for equal treatment. Inasmuch as Louisiana's flood was caused by the federal government -- through defective levees designed by a federal agency (the Corps of Engineers) -- it makes sense that Uncle Sam should pick up the tab for rebuilding our infrastructure and helping property owners recover from the devastation. A good place to start would be dropping congressional rhetoric about Louisiana politics, followed by an absolute ban on questions as to whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all.

Finally, each of us should resolve to welcome friend and stranger alike back to New Orleans. The uniqueness of our city arises from its beautiful and diverse human tapestry. Happy New Year!

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