- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:


July 18

The Advocate on recent shootings of six Baton Rouge police officers:

This week, as the Republican National Convention unfolds in Cleveland, Baton Rouge residents will be dealing with the aftermath of a shooting that left three local law enforcement officers dead and three others wounded - part of a recent pattern of violence here and elsewhere that has shaken the nation.

What happened in Baton Rouge on Sunday surely will shape the discussion in Cleveland this week, and it will certainly affect the tone of the upcoming Democratic national convention, too. Events this profound call the country’s political nominees to lead, and their involvement is what voters demand.

But as we continue a presidential campaign season that’s understandably focused on what government policy can do to answer national tragedies, maybe it’s time to recognize the limits of government in addressing the dysfunctions driving our culture.

Gavin Eugene Long, the gunman who committed the carnage on Sunday, is a case study in the kind of pathology plaguing us so routinely these days that its basic character has become predictable. As soon as news broke about the terrible act of violence that claimed three lives, most of us assumed that the second-day story would reveal a culprit or culprits crazed by delusions. Happy, well-adjusted souls don’t descend to such depravity.

Long’s personal story is bizarre, yet banal in the way that evil often is - the sad striving for glory in a cause so confused that it reads like a brainstorm of grievances. He had gone online to question peaceful protests in the wake of police shootings of a black man in Baton Rouge and another black man in Minnesota - arguing that “power doesn’t respect weakness,” and hinting that bloodshed was a better response. It was a message strikingly out of sync with sentiment in Baton Rouge, where demonstrations were overwhelmingly nonviolent.

His biography was an exercise in free association, cluttered with failed dreams and self-published manifestos, the usual leavings of a life frayed by insanity. He died on his 29th birthday in a pathetic bid for greatness - the same impulse, apparently, that drove a Dallas gunman to kill five policemen, and an Orlando shooter to turn a nightclub into a war zone.

It’s a perversity of our times that we can no longer remember the names of these gunmen because they’ve become so plentiful, an irony given their desperate hunger for fame.

Sunday’s victims, of course, have the rightful claim on posterity, since they acted honorably in circumstances they did not choose. We find ourselves haunted by the words of Baton Rouge police officer Montrell Jackson, one of the officers who died at Long’s hands. In a Facebook posting during recent protests in Baton Rouge, Jackson made an offer to his fellow citizens: “I’m working these streets so any protesters, officers, friends, family or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you.”

In seeking spiritual intimacy with friends, family and strangers alike, Jackson offered what no government policy, however well-intentioned, can easily extend. It is in the absence of that bond that evil breeds, which is why Montrell Jackson’s call for connection must now become our own.




July 15

The Times-Picayune on vehicles in city of New Orleans’ fleet:

It’s unclear exactly how many vehicles are in the city of New Orleans’ fleet. The estimate is around 1,500, but various lists had totals ranging from 1,600 to 1,900, according to a new report from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s office.

That is a wide disparity.

The inspector general’s investigators looked at how the fleet was managed from 2009 to 2014. Basically it was a mess. There was no dependable master list of vehicles and equipment, and the IG found a long backlog of repairs and gaps in paperwork.

Part of the problem is that oversight is spread among multiple departments and the Equipment Management Division, which has been without a department head since 2013 and has two-thirds fewer employees since Katrina.

Because the city had no record of how often vehicles were used, employees in charge of the fleet walked around the garage and looked for cars with dust on them to decide which ones were available, the IG report said.

The computerized system to track repairs and inventory was purchased in 1994, and the city stopped paying the vendor for support in 2002.

The report on vehicle management follows a recent IG investigation into the use of city fuel cards, which exposed major flaws in that system.

The fuel report found that some city workers shared their cards and PINs with others, possibly including non-employees. The city also had no process to deactivate fuel cards that were no longer assigned to anyone.

Employees put down the wrong odometer readings when buying fuel, so there is no way to be sure how many miles they’d driven before getting gas, according to the IG.

The city also has no restriction on how much gas can be purchased at one time, which allows employees to buy gas for multiple vehicles. That could include fuel for vehicles that don’t belong to the city.

Fraud is almost inevitable when there is so little oversight.

In response to both reports, the city acknowledged the problems and agreed to the inspector general’s recommendations. For the fleet management report, those include: creating an accurate list of vehicles and equipment; developing standards to determine the proper size for the city’s fleet; creating criteria for replacing vehicles and equipment; setting up formal maintenance schedules, and hiring a fleet manager.

Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the city is searching for a fleet manager now and plans to seek bids for a digital management system by the end of July.

The Equipment Management Division’s facility, which was flooded in Katrina, has yet to be fully refurbished, he said. That no doubt makes their job more difficult, but it is important to do it properly.

In response to the report on fuel use, all employees will get new fuel cards and PINs by the end of 2017. Problem cards are being prioritized and dealt with first. By November, employees will be required to enter accurate odometer readings when they purchase fuel. The city also will review whether there should be limits on how much fuel can be purchased at one time.

These are important reforms. Together, these are large investments of the public’s money.

The city owned $60 million in vehicles at the end of 2014 and spent $12 million on fuel, maintenance and new vehicles, the inspector general report said. But it currently is unclear whether vehicles are being replaced at the right time, whether they are being maintained in a way to maximize their longevity and who is buying fuel and for what purpose.

The city’s response to the IG’s findings is encouraging. Now, it needs to follow through.




July 20

The Courier on state coastal plan:

State coastal officials are in the process of updating the Coastal Master Plan, the document that guides restoration work across Louisiana.

Each plan attacks the problem five years at a time, so frequent updates are necessary to keep pace with changing forecasts and cost estimates.

The plan itself is part of a 50-year guide, but thinking decades out about a problem that changes daily is less useful than the annual and five-year plans. The 50-year document is necessary to keep a big picture approach to restoration and flood protection, but the work is done much more incrementally.

For instance, in the current work, 155 projects were considered, but just 52 of those are in the final process of the plan.

The state simply cannot afford to do all the work that is necessary, so the experts have to pick and choose, hoping to spend the money where it can do the most good.

“I can’t stress enough how big a driver this is for the coastal program and the coastal master plan,” said Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Assistant Administrator Brian Lezina. “That’s again one of the driving forces behind these projects is getting these things going to try and address some of these things.”

In any given year, it is easier to see the land lost than it is to see the progress made. But the CPRA has a long and growing tradition of making a difference to the Louisiana coast.

Since 2007, the state has spent $18 billion across 20 projects. It has improved 256 miles of levees and built 45 miles of barrier islands and banks.

No single one of these projects is going to be the difference in whether our coast survives for further generations.

But together, they are accomplishing a great deal. And they are doing so without the necessary investment we deserve from the federal government.

The state has funneled as much money as possible into coastal restoration, and it still is likely not enough. But the signs of progress are everywhere.

The projects that build land or rehabilitate barrier islands are the projects that are truly making a difference for Louisiana.

Those projects probably will never end. Our fight against the encroaching sea - together with land loss, subsidence and sea level rise - will endure. And it will see wins and losses.

The important thing to remember is that the state does have a master plan that it is pursuing each year and periodically reviewing and adjusting.

This is a long, serious fight for the future of our region. Every step along the way is important, and the regular updating of the plan is a vital part of that process.



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