New Orleans CTO Ships Out

The City of New Orleans this week announced the departure of chief technology officer Greg Meffert, who helped rebuild many of the city’s networks after Hurricane Katrina swept through the region last year.

According to a news releasefrom the office of Mayor Ray Nagin, Meffert, 38, handed in a letter of resignation on July 14, saying he was leaving for positive reasons and wanted to go back to private-sector work.

“This is a very positive thing and was a purely personal decision for me to re-enter the private sector,” Meffert said, in a statement released by the city. “It has been an intense and challenging position, but also immensely rewarding four years. I have accomplished all the goals set out on that first day and beyond from Mayor Nagin.” Meffert did not say what he plans to do next.

Nagin announced the appointment of Mark Kurt as chief technology officer, effectively immediately.

Meffert, a former software entrepreneur, helped rebuild an improvised communications network following Hurricane Katrina (see New Orleans: Picking Up the IT Pieces). Since then, he has been working to establish information systems to help with tasks like inspecting damaged buildings, using wireless mesh networking, ruggedized laptops, mapping systems and global positioning satellite technology.

Meffert also championed free public access to the city’s wireless network—and that put him in conflict with local telecommunications firms, which thought they shouldn’t face competition with a government agency.

But Meffert promoted the wireless network as an economic stimulus for rebuilding the city and used the city’s continuing state of emergency status to get around a state law limiting government owned telecommunications services. In May 2006, the city announced an agreement to have EarthLink take over management of the wireless network.

Following Katrina, Meffert also came up with the idea that cities could provide each other with backup data center locations as a relatively economical disaster recovery mechanism. In June, New Orleans announced that the city of Austin, Texas, had agreed to provide it with a backup-computing location in exchange for a one-time fee of $5,000.

Meffert became the city’s first high-level technology executive, following Nagin’s election in 2002. In the process of modernizing computer systems, he also had success at recovering additional revenue for the city through identification of unpaid taxes, and took responsibility over several other departments, including city planning and safety and permits.

Before joining Nagin’s administration, he was one of the city’s most successful software entrepreneurs. He raised some $35 million to fund a company—known at various times as ITS, NetEx and Certia—that developed an encrypted document-transfer system where he served as CEO and, later, CTO.