Two years ago, City Councilman Jim Singleton summoned a group of local civic and business leaders to a meeting to discuss issues of true significance to the community. He hoped to develop a broad-based platform that would launch his campaign for mayor.
Developer Joe Canizaro agreed to spearhead the effort -- on the condition that the group look beyond the immediate goal of electing someone mayor. On that basis, Canizaro enlisted other leaders from the business, civic, university and religious communities, and the Committee for a Better New Orleans began the latest comprehensive effort to turn around New Orleans.
Last week, the committee joined forces with the Metropolitan Area Committee, a leading biracial coalition of local leaders formed during the 1960s to address racial and social issues. MAC has since become a clearinghouse for discussing major regional issues. Its union with CBNO makes both groups stronger and more credible than ever.
The groups' joint efforts bore first fruit with the release of CBNO's "Blueprint for a Better New Orleans." The Blueprint identifies six critical issues and presents concrete goals for addressing those issues.
Not much is new in the issues themselves; we all know what our problems are. But never before has any entity proposed specific solutions for all of them in one document -- and identified the parties responsible for implementing those solutions.
The critical issues are city management, economic development, education, housing, public safety and transportation. In addition, CBNO identified four "overarching issues" that touched all the other issues and that need continuous dialogue: race relations and poverty; regionalism and cooperation; accountability, monitoring and results reporting; and indigenous culture.
It would be impossible in this space to do justice to the committee's work, but suffice it to say the Blueprint represents, at a minimum, the issues that every candidate for mayor, City Council and other political office ought to be discussing between now and Feb. 2. CBNO/MAC is asking all candidates in the citywide elections to sign on -- literally -- to the report and embrace its recommendations.
The Blueprint is not intended to puff up or tear down any public official or agency, but it is brutally frank in its assessments and conclusions. A few examples:
· "There is a fundamental disconnect between city government and the people it serves. ... [A]t the heart of this is a classic Catch-22: The city needs more money in order to perform better, and the citizens won't provide it unless they see better performance." The report suggests, among other things, that the next mayor "instill a customer service culture" from top to bottom.
· "Economic development is a huge weakness of the city of New Orleans. ... No coherent message on economic development goes out from the city, and no one is even sure if all aspects of the community are represented in what discussions do take place. ... The result is a widespread national and local perception that there is a poor business climate in New Orleans, and perception that has an unfortunate amount of truth to it." The next mayor, among other things, will have to mandate a one-stop licensing and permitting service. City Hall must also establish a venture capital and seed capital program.
· "The [public schools] system has been largely neglected by the community... . The situation is severe, with schools and students performing miserably and the threat of losing local control of the school system looming in the air. Yet the average New Orleanian has little or no understanding of these dire circumstances. ... One central issue is the tendency of the [school] board to micromanage school system operations, despite its own commitment to being a policy-making rather than a managing type of board." The first key to improvement, according to the Blueprint, is to give CEO Al Davis the authority to make needed short- and long-term reforms.
The report also discusses housing and crime with equal candor. Again, I have not the space to do that discussion justice. But if you care about New Orleans, get a copy of the report. The public may download it on CBNO's Web site (www.cbno.org), copy the report at local public libraries, or write to Bill Rouselle, c/o Bright Moments, 2218 Brainard St., NOLA 70113 to request a copy.
Read it. Embrace it, and insist that candidates for mayor and council do likewise.
"The people of New Orleans are invited to take ownership of this Blueprint," the report states. "This is for all of us."
Now it's up to all of us to demand change. Do we have it in us?