By Robert Mann
The verdict is in about who to blame for Ice Capades — the episode reported last week by the New Orleans Times-Picayune | NOLA.com in which Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s administration spent more than $17 million on ice after Hurricane Isaac last year.
Most of that ice went to waste, melting in a large warehouse because the Jindal administration bought too much, spent way too much and had no idea what to do with all the excess they’d purchased.
Each 10-pound bag of ice ended up costing $28.
Until Sunday afternoon, Jindal’s response to the Legislative Auditor‘s report had been rather short and perfunctory. But then the governor’s former chief of staff, Timmy Teppell, chimed in, apparently indignant that someone like me, who once worked for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, was questioning the propriety of buying 34 million pounds of ice, so much more than was needed that much of it was left to melt in a warehouse.
Making matters worse, according to WWL-TV, when a state worker blew the whistle on the deal, he was fired.
In an amazing Twitter exchange with me that lasted for several hours, Teppell defended Jindal — rarely on the facts — mostly by blaming Kathleen Blanco.
Now, it’s actually a fair point to suggest that because of Katrina, Louisiana must be more proactive in purchasing ice before a big storm. FEMA and other federal agencies proved unequal to the task of providing ice, federal troops and other promised help in the days following Katrina. Better to be safe than sorry. (Read this story about how Bush’s FEMA handled ice after Katrina.)
But that’s not the issue here, is it? The question that people are asking is why so much ice? Why pay what seems an astronomical price for that ice? Why such a poor plan to distribute it? Why no idea about what you would do with the excess after the storm?
Why would you fire the person who raised what your own Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness now admits are valid concerns?
As someone who worked for Blanco, I know how hard it is to get things right in the mayhem after a big storm (especially when the federal government keeps none of its promises). So, I’ll cut them some slack and give them credit for being on the ball and wanting to make sure there would be ice for victims of the storm.
But does all that make you unaccountable once your mistakes are duly noted? It didn’t work that way for Kathleen Blanco. But Jindal, it appears, operates under a different standard.
No one is questioning Jindal’s decision to buy ice. They’re questioning just about everything he and his staff did after that sensible decision.
But back to Teppell’s defense of his friend and patron.
When challenged over wasting millions on ice, Jindal’s closest advisor blamed Blanco. That’s pretty much the sum total of his defense, except to also exploit the poor black citizens of New Orleans trapped in the Superdome and Convention Center, waiting for the promised federal buses that weren’t coming.
Kathleen Blanco and members of her administration took their lumps for Katrina, although it should be noted that — except for the U.S. Coast Guard — it was the Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents and many heroic citizens who rescued most people in New Orleans in the days after Katrina. The feds left the state to fend for itself — no ice, no federal troops, basically nothing but hollow promises for almost a week.
Teppell is aghast at my audacity for noting all that. I do believe that Jindal, as a Republican governor, would have probably gotten more help from Bush’s White House than Blanco did? Of course, he would have. Pointing that out is akin to suggesting the sun will rise tomorrow in the East. But that wasn’t our fate.
But if, when discussing Katrina, it’s so wrong to point out Bush’s failures, why is it acceptable for Jindal’s closest advisor to blame Blanco?
For those of you who don’t do Twitter, screen shots of the amazing exchange are below.