Monday, February 18, 2008

Bomb-proof, not whim-proof: Times-Picayune, October 3, 2007 Wednesday

New Orleans has plenty of pressing needs as it struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina, but new trash cans surely don't belong on the list.

The city just bought new trash cans three years ago, and there is plenty to criticize about that deal. The 600 receptacles, which cost $450,000, were bought through a no-bid contract, even though trash cans that provide advertising are typically free to cities, which usually get a share of the ad revenue. What's more, the company that supplied them, Niche Marketing USA, acknowledged a business connection with Terrence Rice, brother of then-Chief Administrative Office Charles Rice -- a relationship that the Rices deny.

But even though the purchase was plainly a bad business move, the trash cans -- touted as bomb-proof -- certainly hadn't worn out this quickly.

That's why it's hard to understand the Nagin administration's decision to get rid of them and spend $335,000 for 500 new wrought-iron trash cans. Sanitation Director Veronica White says she wants to get another 500 if the City Council gives her a large enough budget to do so, which would mean a whopping $670,000 for new trash cans.

The replacements might be more attractive than the receptacles that Mayor Nagin now mocks as "little munchkin trash cans." But if a concern for aesthetics is the driving force here, the administration should be able to find much better uses for the money.

There's a real danger, for example, that New Orleans could lose its distinctive appearance and history to the wrecking ball if salvageable homes and businesses are torn down. Why not give the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority some additional money to hire staff to clear titles of blighted properties so that they can be returned to commerce?

For $335,000, the city could hire additional building inspectors to meet the demand as more and more people rebuild and renovate their flood-damaged homes. The Nagin administration has also promised to add safeguards to prevent unwarranted demolitions, including a final review 48 hours before a teardown is scheduled. That's an important protection, but it's bound to add to the work load.

New Orleans doesn't need a trash can makeover, and the city should have better sense than to waste scarce resources in the midst of recovery.

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