What is going on with the New Orleans City Council?
Yes, that’s a real question.
And it is one we need answered as we mull this proposed charter change that at-large council members JP Morrell and Helena Moreno want the rest of the Council and ultimately the people of New Orleans to consider.
Morrell’s and Moreno’s proposal would change the City of New Orleans Home Rule Charter by requiring City Council approval for top mayoral appointees.
We could be wrong, but it appears that this move is a direct shot at Mayor LaToya Cantrell because one of her appointees, the now dismissed Peter Bowen, who was tapped to oversee short-term rental regulations while owning stock in a major rental operator in New Orleans, was offered up by Morrell as a reason why such an charter change is needed.
For Morrell and Moreno to start their new tenures on the Council by suggesting that Mayor Cantrell—or any mayor for that matter—needs Council oversight when it comes to picking the top leadership that he or she will work with is overreaching and overreacting. That Morrell picks one appointee out of dozens to hold up as to why such a far-reaching charter change is needed does not sit well with us.
Talk about not understanding your assignment. City Council members are not elected to control the Mayor’s office. If Morrell and Moreno want to do something about short-term rentals in New Orleans they should do so from the City Council dais, and they could start by creating a system that is fairer to local property owners who see the STR industry as a way to earn revenue that allows them to maintain and retain their property while taking part in just a fraction of the city’s hospitality industry. We don’t need a charter change for that!
What’s more is that Mayor Cantrell has done a good job at leading New Orleans through unprecedented times, which indicates that her judgment in choosing her top appointees has been more spot on than missing the mark. And when there has been an issue or a problem, such as the case with Bowen, it can be and was handled by the Mayor, who fired Bowen last month after his drunk driving arrest and run-in with police. The person that hired him fired him. Period.
And if Bowen’s stock in Sonders was the problem, the matter could have long ago been brought to the State Ethics Board for a ruling. In short, there are already mechanisms in place to handle such issues, making this proposed charter change nothing more than unnecessary showboating and grandstanding—superfluous acts on the part of Moreno and Morrell for which the people of New Orleans hardly have the time.
How about y’all put your heads together and figure out a way to get private businesses to pay a living wage in New Orleans so our residents can improve their lives and the lives of their families or maybe come together and put out a plan to slow the tide of gentrification that is pushing long time residents out of historic neighborhoods and leave the City Charter alone.
There are so many other reasons this proposal is unnecessary and egregious, we hardly know where to begin.
First, the extra level of confidence that Morrell suggests this move would provide is a fallacy. There are no guarantees. An appointee could make it through a City Council approval process and then turn out to be a bust.
So far, we have been given little reason to trust that this incarnation of the New Orleans City Council is equipped to make the best decisions. This is the same group that decided it was a good idea to divert $4.6 million in funds intended for public education to an organization that is responsible for the failed reform movement that has ruined public education in New Orleans. This same Council even decided to cut the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Family Services out of that funding at the behest of a do-nothing School Board. And Morrell and Moreno want us to believe that they would do a good job at approving mayoral appointments or that this charter change would not create a highly-politicized process that would slow the work of City government? Yeah, right.
In creating an executive level team, the mayor of the City must have the ability to hand pick the team that he or she will work with to implement his or her platform. There must be a relationship built on trust and confidence between the mayor and members of his or her executive team that, quite frankly, would be compromised by appointees having to curry favor with members of the Council in order to solidify their appointments.
The mayor of New Orleans has already received the only nod of approval that matters—the vote of the people of New Orleans. Anything else is just political posturing. When they don’t agree, the people of New Orleans know how to make their voices heard just as they did when many took issue with the Mayor’s plan to move City Hall to the Municipal Auditorium and Congo Square. So Moreno and Morrell should kindly do what the people hired them to do—run their council offices and serve their constituents—instead of trying to run the Mayor’s office.
This proposal should not even make it out of the City Council, and we strongly urge the remaining members of the legislative body to vote against the measure whenever it is presented to the full board.
But if it does come before the voters, rest assured we will urge a swift and resounding “no” on the measure to not only protect the ability of the current mayor to pick and choose top leadership for her administration, but to protect the ability of every duly elected mayor to follow.