To the rest of the world, New Year's Day brings another batch of soon-to-be-forgotten resolutions. But, to a city in the early stages of a decade-long recovery, each New Year represents an important milestone, a time to embrace hope as well as resolution. As we noted in this space two years ago, on the first New Year's after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is getting a 'do-over." Our recovery has come in fits and starts, but it has begun, and we must never lose sight of the fact that we have both the opportunity and the obligation to remake New Orleans as a stronger, smarter, safer and more caring city. In that spirit, we offer our annual suggestions for New Year's resolutions. Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, who takes office in two weeks, should focus on the economic redevelopment of Louisiana and not on the social and religious agenda of his more conservative supporters. He only has one chance to give the world a first impression of his new administration, and he must not squander it by offering up distractions such as the teaching of creationism in public schools. Instead, he should make the first 100 days of his administration a march toward real ethics reform " the kind that emphasizes enforcement and not just enactment of laws. He should also invest the state's $2 billion surplus in infrastructure by using it to shore up our highways as well as our coastline.
Mayor Ray Nagin should try to get through an entire year without saying something that embarrasses his city. In short, he should be more visible and less vocal. He also should work more closely with other elected officials " from the City Council to the new governor to local lawmakers " by building real relationships that will help move New Orleans forward.
City Recovery Director Ed Blakely, like his boss the mayor, should resolve to spend more time in New Orleans and be 'on the ground" more in his 17 target zones. We like Blakely's targeted recovery plan, and we hope he gets every project off the ground early this year.
New Orleans Inspector General Robert Cerasoli should put together a first-rate team of analysts, attorneys and accountants and begin unraveling City Hall's Byzantine contracting practices. He must be careful, however, not to slow down the recovery process as he looks over the shoulders of city leaders.
The New Orleans City Council should continue taking courageous " and unanimous " stands like the one it took on Dec. 20, when it voted to replace failed public housing projects with mixed-use developments that will benefit all of New Orleans. In the absence of leadership from the mayor's office, the council in 2007 stepped up to the plate and showed that City Hall can and will provide direction for New Orleans.
State lawmakers, particularly the record number of rookies in the House of Representatives, should put aside parochial interests and work with our new governor to reform Louisiana's image and economy. Ethics reform is just the first step. Fiscal and spending reforms also are key to attracting and keeping jobs in Louisiana. A good first step will be 'investing" rather than 'divvying up" the state's $2 billion surplus this year.
President Bush and Congress should rewrite the cumbersome Stafford Act to make it less of an obstacle to recovery. This will benefit disaster-stricken communities all over America. The goal should be getting money quickly into the hands of the people directly affected by disasters.
The Orleans Parish School Board and the Louisiana Recovery School District should continue the progress they made in 2007 toward rebuilding stronger and more innovative public schools in New Orleans. The positive results of these efforts will take years to realize, but they will pay dividends for generations.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand should build on the positive legacy of his late mentor, Harry Lee, by continuing to provide fast response times to citizens' complaints, but he should discard policies and practices that alienated many African-American citizens. He should affirmatively reach out to Jefferson's poor and minority communities in a meaningful way. That's where the parish is seeing a surge in violent crime, and engaging citizens there is the key to curbing criminal activity.
Local citizen activists have already done so much to lead New Orleans' recovery. Virtually all of the reforms that have come about since the storm " combining the levee boards, the assessors offices, the courts and sheriffs and clerks, and pushing for real ethics reform on the state level " are the result of citizen-led initiatives. Much more remains to be done, and we urge neighborhood and civic leaders to continue their efforts. You are the real leaders of our community, and every day you make a positive difference.
Happy New Year!