Talking 'Bout a Master Plan and More With NOLA's Chief of Staff

Judy Reese Morse, chief of staff to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, weighs in on the Katrina recovery, the BP oil spill disaster and the city's gaping, $79 million budget deficit.

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Judy Reese Morse is chief of staff to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, working under a new deputy-mayor-based governing structure never used before in this city. In her leadership role, Morse is the highest-ranked African American, and woman, in the city. The Root spoke with her about the challenges her administration has faced in continuing the Katrina recovery, dealing with the BP oil spill disaste and managing a gaping budget deficit through it all.

The Root: New Orleans is facing a $79 million deficit. What are your biggest challenges figuring out how to plug that hole?

Judy Reese Morse: It will be very challenging, but we have to figure out how to address the budget shortfalls and still meet city services with the necessary workforce needed to do that. We didn't expect the deficit to be so large, and there are no good choices for getting it in line, but we'll have to make tough choices now to position ourselves for future growth.

TR: How did it get so big?

JRM: I think the biggest issue was the lack of budget management before, and it's one of the reasons the mayor has instituted a process called "budgeting for outcomes." This process is used in other cities and basically allows the allocations of dollars to service what the citizens themselves request and require. We have been having community meetings to hear what their budget priorities are. Of course, we are working with the city council and the mayor on his priorities to develop what our priorities will be for next year -- and what the proper dollar allocation should be for those priorities.

TR: Speaking of plugging holes, what are the challenges you're facing from the BP oil spill in restoring economic confidence for the seafood and tourism industries?

JRM: We are very clear that we will have to deal with the impact of the oil spill for many years to come. It's such a shame and tragedy after Katrina for our residents to now have to deal with a major hit to the city's largest industry: tourism. The mayor has worked tirelessly since May 3 in protecting the city and the impacted industries. He specifically asked for $75 million from BP to mitigate the impact on tourism. We know that tourists will lose confidence. We saw this after 9/11 and Katrina, so it is important for us to do the proper amount of marketing to dispel any negative perceptions out there.

TR: The oil spill has renewed attention on stopping dependence on fossil fuels. How is your administration making New Orleans greener?

TR: Five years after Katrina, a lot of things haven't come back that served low-income residents -- such as Charity Hospital, public housing -- and some things have changed, like the school system. What is the administration doing to accommodate low-income residents in spite of these voids and changes?

JRM: Well, starting with housing, we have been working with [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to rebuild public housing better than it was before the storm. With health care, New Orleans is a model for national health-care reform. There is a network of 87 primary health-care clinics across the city. Those clinics provide accessible, preventive care better than before. The charter-school movement is an important one, providing a great deal of school choices for families. So I think there are some good choices here for people who are looking to return to the city, as well as for those who've already returned.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM