June 28, 2005 Tuesday
SECTION: METRO; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 634 words
HEADLINE: Mayor's top aide quitting to join law firm;
Rice cites pressures of politics on family
BYLINE: By Martha Carr and Gordon Russell, Staff writers
Confirming a rumored shakeup in the top tier of Mayor Ray Nagin's administration, an emotional Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice said Monday that he is resigning his post to take a job at a law firm.
Rice, who joined the administration in June 2002 as city attorney, said the pressures of political life had taken a toll on his family, particularly his two sons, ages 8 and 10.
"Probably the most telling point was about six months ago, when my 10-year-old wrote me a letter," Rice said, fighting back tears. "He basically said, 'I want you at home more.' And for me, that was it."
Rice, 41, will remain in his post until the end of July. Nagin said he hopes to name a permanent successor by then. Without mentioning any candidates for the job, he said he plans to look internally first, a remark that fueled rumors he is eyeing Economic Development Director Don Hutchinson for the post.
Hutchinson did not return a request for comment.
Rice will join the law firm of Barrasso, Usdin, Kupperman, Freeman & Sarver LLC, a group that broke off from the Stone Pigman firm two years ago and does mostly commercial litigation. Rice, a former litigator for Entergy, said he has received multiple job offers but that this was the best fit.
"People need to realize when you are so-called 'marketable,' people come to you with opportunities," Rice said. "For me, this was the right time, and I think I'll be wildly successful in whatever I choose to do. Hopefully I'll be able to capitalize on some of the relationships that I've developed here."
Both Rice and Nagin, through his spokeswoman, denied Friday that any such move was in the works. However, Nagin said Monday that he has been aware for six months that Rice was looking for a new job and was just waiting for Rice's final notice.
Nagin said Rice's most impressive contribution was his effort to award a larger share of city contracts to African-American-owned businesses.
"He pushed very hard for minority business to participate at unprecedented levels," Nagin said.
Nagin also commended Rice for helping pass the city's largest bond issue, overseeing 260,000 pothole repairs, revamping the sanitation department, helping balance the city budget and awarding a new parking meter contract: the latter a controversial move that drew plenty of fire.
"I predict that as time goes on, people will say that that was one of the best moves the city of New Orleans has made in recent history," Nagin said.
But the parking meter contract and at least two others awarded on Rice's watch weren't universally viewed as good business.
The joint venture that won the meter contract got the job despite the fact that its price was 62 percent higher than the lowest bid the city received.
Rice defended the deal, saying the "pay and display" meters were technologically superior to the cheaper ones, and that the joint venture's bid was more attractive in part because a black-owned company was an equal partner in the venture.
In another contract flap, without seeking bids, Rice bought 600 trash cans with advertising panels from a company that had a business relationship with his brother, Terrence Rice, even though other firms routinely offer such receptacles for free. The contract also gave the city less of the advertising revenue than is standard in such arrangements.
Rice deflected questions about his brother's involvement with the firm. He said the cans were a better deal than the ones the city had previously used, and said their claim of being "bombproof" made for added safety. More recently, Rice said the contract to sell advertising on the cans would be rebid on terms more favorable to the city.