Under mounting criticism, former FEMA chief Michael Brown said Wednesday that he will not serve as a paid consultant to St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.
Brown, whose name became synonymous with government ineptitude after Hurricane Katrina, had planned to meet with officials in the parish Thursday to help them navigate the recovery process. He canceled his trip after residents protested.
Brown made the decision after meeting in Orlando, Fla., with parish President Henry “Junior” Rodriguez, where both were attending a national hurricane preparedness conference.
“I talked to Junior Rodriguez tonight,” Brown said Wednesday by telephone, “and I told Junior, ‘My offer still stands. If you need advice, I can continue to do that free of charge for you. But why should I come down there and stir up controversy?”’
Katrina killed 129 people and destroyed 26,000 homes in the parish, just outside New Orleans.
Brown, who resigned from the Federal Emergency Management Agency under pressure in the days after the Aug. 29 hurricane, initially shouldered the bulk of the criticism for a bungled rescue effort. His image improved somewhat after a tape was released showing Brown warning President Bush the day before the disaster that the storm was going to be “the big one” and that water could flow over the tops of the levees.
‘It smells to high heaven’
After resigning in September, Brown formed a consulting company to help governments and others negotiate the federal bureaucracy. Four parish council members, led by Rodriguez, traveled to Washington last week to ask for Brown’s help.
Some parish leaders had denounced the possible hiring.
“It smells to high heaven. I’m a Christian, and the Apostle Paul says, ‘To prove all things, keep the work good and abstain from the very appearance of evil.’ This does appear evil, don’t it? So we should abstain from hiring him,” Councilman Lynn Dean said.
In a statement, Rodriguez had said the former FEMA director could help the parish deal with the federal agency.
‘Issues’ with the agency
“We're having trouble with some FEMA issues,” Rodriguez said. “I think we should hear from him on why and how he could be an asset to a group were putting together.”
Federal rules prohibit Brown from lobbying his former agency directly for another five months, but he could have told parish officials how to deal with the agency. He had said he hoped to help St. Bernard get publicity for its plight.
In New Orleans, City Council President Oliver Thomas told CNN on Wednesday that he wished Brown and the other parishes well, but he quoted a line from what he said had become a schoolyard rhyme.
“In New Orleans, we’re not down with Michael Brown; we were glad when he left town,” he said.