What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When You’re Up to Your Ass in Alligators . . .

When You’re Up to Your Ass in Alligators Listen to this podcast

Nine-foot gator caught near homes in Waveland

Geographically and culturally speaking, the Mississippi Gulf Coast shares a great deal with our neighboring South Louisiana region. Of course, the gnats and mosquitoes travel miles without regard to geography. The more exotic habitat such as alligators and the like in bayou country up the road is simply not part of the beach town ambiance.

So when a 9½ foot alligator was found in a ditch of three feet of water near a school bus stop in Waveland, Miss., I thought to myself, “what the $#%&!”

Here’s the deal. After Katrina, the state of Mississippi loaned the Gulf Coast’s cities $79 million for cleaning up the hurricane’s debris. Some of the cities on the eastern coastline have rebounded enough to recover the loan money from its tax revenues. That isn’t the case with Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

Of the $79 million, Waveland received a $4.5 million loan, my hometown of Bay St. Louis received an $8 million loan, and the Bay-Waveland school district received an $11.5 million loan. Those debts—plus interest—are due in October, barely two years after the nation’s worst natural disaster in our history demolished these cities. Remember, these were two of the three tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero.

What impact will the demand for the money have on these tiny coastal beach towns?

Waveland and Bay St. Louis won’t have the money to fix drainage problems. Today, Waveland has four public works employees; however it had 27 employees prior to Katrina. Without money, the drainage problems will persist. The real life consequences endanger everyone, including children. Regarding the alligator near the bus stop, Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo said "You think those parents weren't ticked?"

In Bay St. Louis “street paving projects and drainage work that would solve the city's flooding problems will be put on hold or canceled until the debt can be repaid, Mayor Eddie Favre said,” reported The Clarion-Ledger. The Bay won’t have money to hire police and firefighters or put up street lights either. You know, the basics for residential and business development.

In a debate on the House floor, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) characterized the fiscal strength of “little towns like Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, that have no tax base because their stores were destroyed in the storm, a county like Hancock County, where 90% of the residents lost everything, or at least substantial damage to their home . . . .” [See the video. Quite an education in Republican tactics, priorities, and values.] Yet somehow the towns are supposed to come up with money for this epic-sized natural disaster cleanup. Part of the “you’re on your own” Republican view of government, I suppose.

Hold on there. Isn’t this one of the reasons we pay federal taxes?“What’s not happening here is indicative of a dysfunctional government, and that affects everyone. That’s why folks throughout the country should be concerned about the recovery process. We are all for a highly efficient, functional government, and what we have is its diametrical opposite.

“We are already paying the taxes for all the services you could hope to have available in emergency disaster situations like Katrina. And we’re not getting it. We have to take this back and hold the government accountable.”

— Michael Rosato, owner, Cinemagic Audio-Video.

The Bush Administration has not ensured that it is reimbursing Mississippi and Louisiana for its recovery costs. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—that four letter word, again) is withholding the money. The administration insists that the towns and cities of Mississippi and Louisiana paid too much money to remove Katrina’s debris. When Bush vetoed the Iraq Accountability Act, he vetoed money for Katrina relief including waiving the matching requirement that is putting a great deal of unnecessary burden on the towns and cities in the Katrina-ravaged area.

How ironic that the White House that is hell bent on handing no bid multi-billion dollar contracts to the largest Bush-Cheney campaign contributors (i.e. Halliburton) would insist that in the days after Katrina, the areas impacted would have to go through a traditional bidding process complete with re-bidding should the cost be pricey.

The administration is noticeably silent on paying Riley Bechtel, another major campaign contributor, to transport FEMA trailers 70 miles at a gargantuan price of $16,000 per trailer. Yet, Bush’s FEMA is holding these city and county officials to a standard that is unfair given the extraordinary circumstances.

I’m a former management auditor for the state of Tennessee and the city of San Francisco, and we followed the Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS), also known as the Yellow Book. I fully agree that the traditional bidding process should be followed with very few exceptions. Clearly, the worst natural disaster in our history qualifies for this exception.

Heck, after 20 months of looking for a contractor to renovate our family home, we were ecstatic when we found someone. Yes, it would be very nice to have gotten several bids and negotiate hard like we would under regular circumstances. But these circumstances are soooooo out of the ordinary. We’re grateful to have someone whose work we trust, whom we feel is trustworthy, and who will get to it quickly.

Surely to goodness, with Bush’s FEMA being AWOL in Katrina’s wake, these towns and cities did the best they could.

St. Bernard Parish, La., just outside New Orleans, is among the communities waiting for a check. FEMA paid the parish about $100 million for debris removal but still owes about $70 million, said David Peralta, the parish's chief administrative officer. St. Bernard also is waiting for $30 million in reimbursement for sewer repairs, Peralta said.
Peralta said FEMA has "kind of implied" that it is looking into whether the parish paid reasonable rates. Peralta defended the Katrina contracts, saying officials tried
to solicit competitive bids without delaying the work.
"We didn't have a whole lot of choices in those first few days," he said.

Look, we have a great saying down here. When you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that the point was to drain the swamp. In this instance, Mississippi and Louisiana are painfully cognizant of all that needs to be done to restore the region to its pre-Katrina vibrancy including taking care of the drainage problems.

While the Bush Administration chooses to be caught up with the dumb ass—another colorful Southern phrase, we can choose to focus our attention on a few things at our fingertips that will help drain the political swamp in Washington, DC, particularly the White House.

You know what that means? It’s political hell-raising time! Molly Ivins would be so proud.

Cal your congressional representative and two U.S. Senators to request that they work with Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) to resolve this issue favorably on behalf of Katrina’s survivors.

Go here for phone script to use when calling your U.S. Senators. Go here for a letter to email. Here is a link to find contact information on your U.S. Senators.

Go here for phone script to use when calling your U.S. Congressional Representative. Go here for a letter to email. Here is a link to find contact information on your Congressional Representative.
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