Friday, March 04, 2011

Culture shock, demonstrated

I guess word takes a while to reach Massachusetts.

This sometimes results in good-government consultants not having heard, and then in people being shocked. Which, given the reputation of New Orleans and Louisiana, is itself just a little bit shocking.

Anyway, this "turnaround consultant" came to the Crescent City to advise Mayor Mitch Landrieu on how to slide the city an inch or two toward the good side of the "government generally works, people generally care" continuum, and he didn't quite run screaming into the humid night . . . but it was pretty close there for a while.

Really, the guy hadn't seen anything like it. And it's not like he just fell off the proverbial turnip truck or something equally clichéd.

AFTER EVERYTHING had been studied, his recommendations drawn up and his report tendered to Landrieu -- and after he presumably had cried into a few stiff hurricanes at Pat O'Brien's -- David Osborne talked to the Times-Picayune:

Osborne, who has advised dozens of cities on streamlining efforts, said Thursday that New Orleans faces myriad, deep-seated problems, the likes of which he has never encountered.

"I was kind of shocked," said Osborne, who served as a senior adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review initiative. "I think they inherited the least competent city government I'd ever seen in this country and the most corrupt -- a really tough experience. I just haven't run into this level of dysfunction before, and I've been doing this work for almost 25 years."


Other observations about city operations included poor customer service, a focus on relationships rather than results, centralized authority that gives little power to rank-and-file employees, contracting and internal workforce systems that lack rewards and penalties, unnecessarily complex purchasing procedures, a fragmentation of city services among independent boards, and poor working conditions and equipment.

"These people, they feel hopeless," Osborne said of morale among city employees. "It's drinking from a fire hydrant. There's so much work coming at them, and they can't keep up with it, and a lot of it is paper rather than automated. And then there's skill issues: secretaries that can't type. I mean, stuff that you just don't see other places."

NO, you don't.

I have written about this. A lot.

Maybe it could have been fixed if the victorious Union hadn't bailed on Reconstruction after only a decade and a half or so. Nation building, after all, always is a long and messy process, and the Yankees didn't occupy the Gret Stet long enough to even make a dent in the cultural underpinnings of a whole heapin helpin' of dysfunction and non-American thinking.

So there you go. As we in the expatriate community like to say about Louisiana (and this goes double for New Orleans), it's a great place to be from.

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