Adley makes changes to levee board bill, expects opposition

The chief sponsor of legislation that would revamp control over the southeast Louisiana levee boards challenged opponents Wednesday after making what he called concessions.

“They’re being unreasonable, and I want this body to see it,” state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said in an interview pointing to the Senate chamber.

Adley had just left the lectern from which he had announced amending his legislation in response to demands made by opponents.

He plans to ask for a vote by the full Senate next week after they have an opportunity to consider the changes to his Senate Bill 79.

He had changed some of the conditions under which members could be removed, but SB79 still would give Gov. Bobby Jindal and future governors sweeping power to remove members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authorities.

“They want a board that has no checks and balances,” Adley said. “I don’t think they’ll ever be happy.”

Adley was right. The opponents weren’t happy.

“This controversy is not about how somebody can be removed. It’s about who can remove. The big change is about letting the governor remove a member,” said Robert Travis Scott, director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. PAR is a Baton Rouge group that researches and opines on government policy.

State Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, recalled Adley, who is a Republican from the northwest Louisiana town of Benton, had said when presenting his amendment to the full Senate that what he really wanted was for these levee boards to be like others and have their members serve at the pleasure of the governor.

That’s not what the people of southeast Louisiana want, Appel said.

After the failures of the 2005 hurricanes, the new boards were organized by geographic flood basin, rather than by political subdivision. They were staffed by professionals and board members were chosen for their technical knowledge rather than who they know.

A number of officials and concerned residents worked hard to organize the boards the way they are in order to remove the political element that many blamed for the failures during the hurricanes, Appel said.

The New Orleans-area delegation will fight, as one, to keep from making any changes to how the levee board members are chosen, Appel said.

“When I take the microphone (next week), I’m going to tell my colleagues that this is a very localized issue and that these are critical issues of life and death,” Appel said. “I’m going to ask them to support us” rather than Adley.

Red-coated members of the group Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans were around the State Capitol on Wednesday, but did not stay for Adley’s presentation to the full Senate. They lunched with the Orleans delegation behind closed doors and discussed strategies to defeat SB79.

Adley’s legislation comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East. The litigation claims that 97 energy companies failed to properly clean up and repair environmental damage during the oil and gas exploration and production activities over the years.

Jindal opposes the lawsuit and has called it a windfall for lawyers, who would be paid with a portion of any winnings rather than a flat fee.

Senate Bill 79 would revise the nominating procedures for positions on the Southeast authorities — both East and West Bank. Under the legislation, the authorities and the governor could remove authority members who violate state law or “public policy.”

Currently, the board can recommend to the governor a commissioner’s removal for not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility or failure to attend three consecutive meetings without good cause.

Initially, SB79 would allow the governor to remove a member, on his own, if the member was found in “violation of state law or public policy.”

Adley said that when SB79 came out of committee, it was roundly criticized by groups like PAR and Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans.

The senator met with officials from those groups and was told that the bit about “public policy” was too vague and could be used to rid a political enemy, Adley recalled. And the part about “violating the law” wasn’t specific enough. A board member caught speeding could lose his seat if not politically aligned with the governor, he said.

So, Adley said he removed public policy and altered the law violation to relate to the member’s service on the board.

“You watch. They’re not going to be happy with this either,” Adley said.