August 4, 2008

The Good Soldier Jones

What, what, wHAT!

Irresponsive, but with not much left in the tank for fronting, as the lurching-along has caught up to them, the population of Nagina dickers with the locks inside City Hall. The locks are either corroded and not yet replaced, a hand-wringing “how could…?” Or newly minted fingerprint sensors, with a code for each day of the month and a finely engraved imprint: Out of Order. Either way, a fumble, a fumble, and the sounds of spare change in pockets mingling with keys, Notes-to self's, the muffled percussive to the angry radio bites and the sirens—these are not encouraging sounds; these are not cause for gloat.

Pfffft. Of course, I know. And I am late, this was news days ago. Even the Times-Pic honked about it.

But the point of a moment, of marking an event, of a passing announcement, and announced passing, is to put into focus all the clouded visible. We crank on here, we sigh over there; we wrinkle our noses on the riverside. Mostly we are lost on the island, cautious or thickly drunk or—dare we tell anyone—industrious. Once or twice a spell, though, we note a change. A specific, hoped-for, definitive change.

Then we wonder what the hell will ever come of it, and do the hope/doubt juggle.

But for a post here, let us note the removal of Anthony Jones from his post as acting chief technology officer in the administration of Ray Nagin. He cut a prominent figure here, and I want to get this thing right.

(Not that this makes ANYthing right.)
After the 311 collapse, the surveillance camera disaster, and the neglect of computers, the man who lied about his college credentials and was promised a promotion is disappeared. We may see still more consequences of his (in)actions, but his next acts are gone from the public sphere (though hope springs eternal). We know of no punishment for him, he simply moved down a rank and continues to collect…and keep a low profile, if he knows what’s good money for him.

If we’ll hear even fewer words from Jones, we can ask what he—as a figure of our times—says about New Orleans in 2008.

First, the inept nature of this lack-of-recovery. Jones was a bungler-master at the center and failure of some of Nagin’s more atrocious follies, ugly jokes that should have been easy successes. Jones manifested the assumed, that beneath Nagin’s paranoid bluster and podium plays, there remains a crippled, unqualified cadre in City Hall. They are petrified and clutch to power like popes to canes. You think we need surveillance cameras? Shit, Nagin’s been promising them since 2003. When crime took a grip on the post-K city, Nagin bellowed that they’d be there in just a minute, and that’d stop this bullshit. When the truth came out, he promised again, laid some blame, and got ‘em up, damnit. Sorta. Almost. After all, some contractors bailed and didn’t hold up their end.

See, it was Jones who should’ve been the contact for said contractors. But we still don’t know what Jones was up to, certainly not holding anyone—contractors, staff, self--to the efficient execution of a plan. What we got was a prolonged, deadly failure to protect the citizenry. Lies beget decay and violence.
Because at the center of the Jones story was the fact that he’d fibbed about a near-degree from Tulane and, when caught up in that, a second deception re: a vague association with the University of Phoenix. He’d stumbled into his job, lied, and was told if he did good and finished school, he’d be the permanent chief of tech. Then Jones went and proved that, in fact, a Tulane education really does mean something, that you can’t just fake your way through. When this whole farce came to light, the administration furrowed its brow and tried to wait it out, rather than immediately correcting the situation. Superiors like Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield expressed surprise, but flailed weakly to wave away the obvious questions, like why don't you do your homework? Or, was there no one else more qualified? The duplicitous nature of Nagina was Jones’ other signification to our age. The policy is to admit nothing and accept no blame.

Or, in the case of the 311 system, when Jones’ inability to do math (or do the simplest of cover-ups) led to the near de-pants-ing of Kenya Smith in the City Council chamber, the policy was to hit back with as much abrasive how-dare-you?! as possible. Instead of checking the report before entering the chamber, Smith breezed in, looked down onto the table, saw the incredible mistake (that X operators for 311 would be paid a total of Y million, meaning each would make Z, an absurdly high figure), panicked and hissed at the questioners. Rash, divisive defense was better than telling the Council that he’d correct this asap and get back to them with his solutions. This had the effect of stalling the issue for a few weeks, until people started calling 311 and getting no answer. Then Jones came back to the surface, silently, of course.

This is why Jones was important this year. He both embodied the duplicitous and overmatched nature of Nagin’s administration, and provoked the administration into expressions of this nature. He was a small man who caused big things to happen. We’ll never know how much damage can be traced to Anthony Jones, but he lets us track down some specific threads in the great, unending ruin that is Nagina. Again and again, a problem would start in one place and resurface in another, the consequences amplified, shocking, avoidable. When we looked closer, we’d find traces of the invisible Jones. A temporary controller of a seemingly benign division in City Hall, he showed us just how dangerous every section really is, as each one is permeated with the gross foolishness of the greater apparatus. Instead of removing Jones when he failed the city the first or second time, Nagina refused to budge, defiant against would-be attackers, unable to act swiftly for the greater good. In the end, the administration is willing to sacrifice progress for power.

In one room sit 40 unused computers; on a corner in a rough block, a camera misses a murder. Out the door goes a man who helped put them there.

Note: And on Wednesday, head to City Council and check out the IG vs. the City's attorney.