When Leadership Fails

By coincidence, less than a week after Ray Nagin was sentenced to prison a documentary ran nationwide on public TV entitled Getting Back to Abnormal. The film, which was part of the POV (Point of View) series that allows for independent productions, told about the rise of Stacy Head from unknown citizen to council member to public lightening rod. In one famous scene Head, during a council meeting, confronted then-Sanitation Director Veronica White about missing information. It was an ugly exchange as White curtly replied. Because the sanitation director is black and Head is white, racial implications were easily assumed. It was a vintage Nagin administration technique; whenever it was in trouble, which it often was, play the race card. As the city wallowed in its post-Kartrina recovery the mayor’s office could only provide a sideshow. Behind the scenes other politicians, black and white, tried to make up for the slack.

Seeing the clip of that confrontation again, now that time has passed and now that there is far more harmony in City Hall, brought to mind that Veronica White, as bad as she looked that day, was also a victim of the Nagin administration. She was a department head without direction. The Chief Administrative Office oversees the day-to-day executive bureaucracy but under Nagin that office was a rudderless disaster from the beginning. He and his first Chief Administrative Office, Kimberly Williamson Butler, had an early falling out. The mayor released her. She ran successfully for clerk of court out of spite, where she proved to be such a disaster that she was ultimately cited for contempt of court. This was the talent pool of the Nagin administration.

There are police officers whose lives have been ruined and who are sitting in jail today for actions during the tension filled days after Katrina who are also victims of an administration that provided no leadership. There was no one at the highest levels to tell them what not to do. Instead, they heard inflated and undocumented stories of atrocities from their leaders.

Stacy Head was correct to raise those questions of the Nagin administration. That was her job. Even though she never got a straight answer, in retrospect, we learned a lot about the condition of those who governed the city.

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