Mayor Landrieu deputy will lead city water agency

Will head Sewerage & Water Board

Cedric Grant, one of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top deputies at City Hall, is likely moving over to head the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board as the agency undertakes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements.

The agency’s board voted Wednesday to begin negotiating a contract with Grant, chosen from a pool of 60 applicants, to be its next executive director, starting at the end of January. He would replace Marcia St. Martin, who has served as head of the agency since 2004.

The board hasn’t said what Grant’s salary would be, but in the past, the job has been one of the best-compensated in city government. St. Martin earns $206,000 annually.

Grant joined the Landrieu administration shortly after the mayor’s inauguration in 2010. He’s been serving as deputy mayor for facilities, infrastructure and community development, overseeing the administration’s various building projects and often serving as the mayor’s representative at meetings of the Sewerage & Water Board’s board of directors.

His new role would top an extensive résumé. Grant spent more than two decades in the U.S. Army, served in Mayor Marc Morial’s administration as head of capital projects and then managed road projects for Parsons Corp. in Atlanta until Gov. Kathleen Blanco named him head of the state Department of Transportation and Development in 2004. He later served as chief administrative officer for Ascension Parish before returning to City Hall.

Grant will take over management of a water system that is badly in need of upgrades. Half a dozen times since Hurricane Katrina, which did extensive damage to the underground pipes, the board has had to warn residents and businesses to boil tap water because of possible contamination.

The agency, with money from the federal government and a rate hike approved last year by the City Council, is getting ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize its in-house power plant and make other improvements.

The board that will oversee all of this is about to undergo a major shift as well. Laws passed by the Legislature this year and City Charter amendments approved by the voters will cut the number of board members, reduce their tenures and require they have certain professional qualifications beginning next year.

In fact, that transition has raised questions about whether the sitting board should be the one to choose a new leader. The Bureau of Governmental Research called for the search process to be put off until the new board is seated, a position reiterated Wednesday by City Councilwoman Stacy Head, who sits on the board.

“I think it’s awkward for a person to be hired when they serve at the pleasure of a board” that is “going to be largely changed in the next six months,” she said.

Landrieu noted that the complex and drawn-out process for selecting the new board members could potentially stretch on until July. In the meantime, he said, the agency needs to keep functioning.

“Public bodies have to continue doing their work,” he said.