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Purpose of This Report
The purpose of this evaluation was to determine how much water the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (SWBNO) was losing through its water distribution system and what policies and practices it employed to reduce water loss. The evaluation sought to determine if the SWBNO followed best practices for water loss control and if these policies and practices were effectively implemented throughout the SWBNO system. Given the importance of the SWBNO in providing safe drinking water reliably and affordably, it is important that the SWBNO manage this critical resource efficiently and effectively.

The New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) received an anonymous complaint alleging that 12 Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB) employees were not paying their S&WB bills. OIG investigators obtained and reviewed information concerning account numbers, billing histories, hearings, disputes, and all correspondence regarding the 12 employees’ accounts for the period January 1, 2021, through April 27, 2023. OIG investigators determined four of the 12 employees were still employed by the S&WB and had delinquent account balances exceeding $500 as of July 2021. The four identified S&WB employees had outstanding account balances ranging from $1,992.64 to $4,433.07. The total outstanding account balance for the four identified employees was $13,136.11.

The SWBNO is currently considering a rate increase between 3% – 6% for its customers to facilitate the cost of long-deferred capital projects. In the interest of fiscal responsibility to the public, the OIG recommends a delay in any rate increase until the SWBNO makes every effort to collect monies validly owed for prior services rendered to its customers. The SWBNO should also utilize the tools currently at its disposal, and those in development, to increase bill accuracy prior to pursuing a rate increase. The OIG is an independent agency and will continue to facilitate the efficient and effective utilization of the City’s limited resources as we identify and mitigate risks facing the City.

The objectives of the audit were to determine if:

  • The City and the S&WB had sufficient policies and procedures as it related to the coordination of the JIRR Program, and if those policies were effectively implemented.
  • The S&WB submitted accurate and timely data to the City to eliminate newly paved roads being torn up for pre-existing drainage repairs.
  • The S&WB repaved utility cuts timely after completing subsurface repair work.

The scope of the audit included JIRR Program projects with invoices paid for City and S&WB expenses during the period January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Auditors selected eight projects for testing, totaling $27,352,907 of invoices paid during the scope period.

The investigation into this matter was predicated on information received from Zepporiah Edmonds, Parking Administrator, Department of Public Works (DPW), alleging that a S&WB employee verbally threatened a City of New Orleans (City) Parking Enforcement Officer (PEO) via social media posts for issuing a metered parking citation to a vehicle parked in the 600 block of St. Joseph Street.

On March 23, 2022, David Callahan, Chief Administrative Officer, S&WB, sent an email to the City of New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) containing a letter from Callahan and six photocopies of images he received from DPW. The six images appear to be screenshots of posts to a social media platform. One of the images includes a portion of a metered parking citation issued in the 600 block of St. Joseph Street, all of which he received from DPW.

This investigation has determined that Mytrell Carter:

  • may have violated the rules of the City’s Civil Service Commission, by posting threatening messages on social media.
  • may have violated the S&WB Code of Ethics, by posting threatening messages on social media.
  • violated City Code because she refused to cooperate with the OIG.
  • violation of City Code Section 2-1120, Paragraph (20)(d)

Over the course of two days, OIG investigators found twenty-six (26) vehicles that were registered to S&WB employees or their relatives, bearing a handicap hang-tag and parked in a metered parking space in the immediate vicinity of the S&WB Office.

Seven (7) of these twenty-six (26) S&WB employees were AUTHORIZED to possess a handicap hang-tag. Nineteen (19) were NOT AUTHORIZED to possess a handicap hang-tag.

In August 2019, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans Internal Audit Department Performance Audit” (2019 Report). The OIG conducted a follow-up audit to its 2019 Report. The objective of the follow-up audit was to determine if the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB) implemented the OIG’s recommendations from the 2019 Report and/or implemented other policies or procedures to resolve the OIG’s findings.

In October 2016, the S&WB switched from its internally created customer accounts program to a customer service management software provided by Cogsdale Corp. By April 2017, the agency had discovered a large number of billing errors, primarily through numerous customer complaints. Specifically, customers complained bills were several times higher than those previously invoiced, received multiple bills for the same time period, or had not received bills for several months. At the November 2017 S&WB Board of Directors meeting, the Interim Executive Director reported a backlog of approximately 5,800 accounts with open billing investigations.

The OIG discovered the S&WB program management did not use information collected in the dispute process to inform executive management for appropriate operational decisions. Because of problems with S&WB customer data, the OIG was unable to perform much of the planned analysis on billing disputes. Rather, the evaluation focused on the process used by the S&WB to resolve billing disputes and did not seek to determine the underlying cause of billing issues at the S&WB. Further, the evaluation was limited to S&WB customer accounts that filed billing disputes between October 2016 and October 2018, with an emphasis on billing disputes resolved after an administrative hearing.

After review, the OIG concluded the process used to resolve disputes was not systematic and fair, and it did not balance the rights of individual customers to have accurate bills with the rights of citizens to have a financially stable utility.

In June of 2017, the OIG received a complaint that Sewerage and Water Board employees were parking for free on and around St. Joseph Street by using handicapped parking placards in their personal vehicles. Vehicles bearing a handicap hang-tag issued to a mobility-impaired person or person with disabilities that are being operated for the transport of the mobility-impaired person or person with disabilities can park in a metered parking space for up to three (3) hours without payment. The investigation identified 26 S&WB employees using unauthorized handicapped placards to park for free in metered spots around S&WB headquarters. The OIG, with the assistance of the Louisiana State Police, determined that the aforementioned 26 employees were not authorized by the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles to display the handicapped placards in their vehicles.

OIG investigators also observed that none of the vehicles bearing a handicapped parking placard parked in the vicinity of the S&WB main office at 625 Saint Joseph Street had received a parking ticket for parking beyond the allotted three hours. Consequently, S&WB employees may have deprived the City of approximately $197,000 per year in parking meter revenue because they exceeded the three-hour free parking benefit. The OIG provided this information to the City’s Department of Public Works (DPW). DPW initiated enforcement action and Parking Enforcement Officers issued citations to vehicles for expired meters. Furthermore, DPW will assign Parking Enforcement Officers to do a monthly sweep of the area around S&WB headquarters looking for potential violations.
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