Long before Ray Nagin spent his final, feckless days in the mayor's office, most New Orleanians realized that his administration was one of the most ineffective and incompetent in the city's history. Now, almost three months after he left office, the extent of Nagin's mismanagement is only beginning to come into focus. It is not a pretty picture. Almost daily, citizens learn of flawed contracts, fiscal excesses and official ineptitude under Nagin — all of which cements his place as New Orleans' Worst Mayor Ever. The case against Nagin is not just a litany of less-than-perfect policy decisions; it is, in our opinion, a case of official indifference and intentional mismanagement — all at citizens' expense.
In fact, we think Nagin's mismanagement was so egregious that it might even rise to the level of malfeasance. We urge District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to investigate further. Consider the facts:
• Nagin left the city in a $67 million budget hole. This from a man who takes credit for keeping the city out of bankruptcy after Hurricane Katrina. Ironically, bankruptcy — or the brink of insolvency — is now the cornerstone of Nagin's legacy. The blame falls squarely on the former mayor. He had an express duty under the City Charter not to overspend. Moreover, you can't leave a $67 million budget hole by accident; it can only happen intentionally — as if the wildly unpopular Nagin were giving a final "Up yours!" to the people of New Orleans on his way out.
• Nagin left the New Orleans Police Department in shambles. Fiscally, he allowed overtime spending to so exceed the city budget that NOPD was literally on pace to run out of money by Oct. 1. Elsewhere at NOPD, a report by former Houston Police Chief Lee Brown (commissioned by Nagin's administration) detailed systematic weaknesses and concluded that NOPD needed to improve nearly every aspect of policing. New Mayor Mitch Landrieu and new Police Chief Ronal Serpas have invited the U.S. Department of Justice to effectively take over NOPD and get it back on track.
• Nagin completely bungled post-Katrina recovery. From his appointment of the bloviating Ed Blakely as the city's recovery director to his failure to manage billing by MWH (an outside firm hired to manage recovery projects), from his failure to bring back a hospital in eastern New Orleans to his failure to restore NORD playgrounds, Nagin has consistently promised large and delivered small — or not at all. Lest we forget, he and his family also flew first class to Jamaica just 81 days after Katrina — on the dime of a city contractor. More recently, an audit by the city's inspector general concluded that MWH's bills "provide no basis for allocating costs to specific projects or for keeping MWH's fees in line with overall project costs." Worse yet, the city has $1.5 billion in projects on the drawing board but only $1.2 billion to spend. That $300 million gap means some projects won't get done.
• Nagin ignored sound contracting and procurement practices. The Legislative Auditor recently uncovered improper bidding practices, contract documents lacking key information, vague invoices from some vendors and fundamental problems with tracking payments to contractors. In some cases, the city paid for services that were never provided. In Armstrong Park, a rushed process led to shoddy workmanship by a favored contractor. Basic tasks, such as pouring concrete, had to be redone multiple times. Workers damaged trees, curbing and sculptures in the park — and a statue of the park's namesake, Louis Armstrong.
• Multiply the Armstrong Park fiasco many times over and you get a bigger picture of Nagin's arrogant indifference: exorbitant contracts for crime cameras that don't work; a mercifully botched attempt to spend $40 million (more than twice the appraised value) on three flooded medical buildings in eastern New Orleans; a similarly bungled attempt to hand over redevelopment of the Municipal Auditorium to a close circle of friends; and the lack of any inventory of city assets worth less than $5,000 — meaning no list of computers, telephones, televisions, office furniture and more.
It bears repeating: Mismanagement on this scale doesn't happen by accident; it can only happen intentionally. Nagin's mismanagement may or may not rise to the level of malfeasance, but it clearly merits an official inquiry by the district attorney.