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Mayor Nagin fires director of S&WB board

Saturday May 24, 2003

By Frank Donze
and Martha Carr, Staff writers

It may be a little short of the pomp and circumstance usually accorded a 25-year career in public service, but Harold Gorman's tenure in city government appears to be over.

Longtime director of the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans, Gorman found out in February that Mayor Ray Nagin had decided to make a change at the helm of the troubled agency.

Nagin didn't say when such a change would come, but the question appears to have been rendered moot March 6 when Gorman, 62, went on sick leave.

While there's been no official announcement on the nature of his illness or
his future plans, the water board offered evidence this week that his
retirement is imminent.

On Wednesday, the board appointed Deputy Director Marcia St. Martin as interim executive director, effective June 2.

The board also voted to increase her annual salary from $89,000 to $98,286, retroactive to March 6, the day Gorman began his leave.

Nagin, who serves as water board president, will soon begin a search for a permanent replacement, according to acting Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice.

Gorman took the water board's reins in December 1985 in the waning days of Mayor Dutch Morial's administration. Before that, he was director of the city's Department of Safety and Permits and then the Streets Department.

Odd man out

In preparation for a trip to Atlanta next week to research United Water's failed water privatization contract in the Georgia capital, water board brass went to an inordinate amount of trouble. Now it looks as if it was all for naught.

Agency officials booked separate hotels, organized duplicate meetings and even scheduled different flights to avoid any gathering that could constitute a quorum of the board's 13 members, and thus a violation of the open-meetings law.

At the last minute, one of the board members planning to attend dropped out, leaving six, one less than a quorum.

Agency spokesman Joe Puglia said members will still fly separately and stay in different hotels but that they will meet as a group with Atlanta officials. He wouldn't say which board member canceled.

The six still scheduled to make the trip are Benjamin Edwards, Sidney Evans, City Councilman Marlin Gusman, Barbara Lamont, Penelope Randolph and Tommy Vassel. St. Martin, board Special Counsel John Lambert and Gordon Austin, chief of the Environmental Affairs Department, also are booked to go.

United Water, one of two corporate bidders in the New Orleans water board's failed attempt at privatization last year, was forced out of Atlanta in January after less than five years when an audit found that the contract had saved only half what the company promised. The trip, set for Tuesday and
Wednesday, is an attempt to find out what went wrong.