Somebody Has to Say It: City Council Push to Change Charter is Misguided Subterfuge

Members of the New Orleans City Council pushed forward with their plan to put a home rule charter change on an upcoming ballot that, should it be approved by the voters, require mayoral appointments to be approved by the City Council.

We hoped this proposal would not even make it out of the City Council; but when it did, we trusted that Mayor LaToya Cantrell would veto it. And she did.

After that, we were sure that at least two members of the Council, namely at-large Councilwoman Helena Moreno and at-large Councilman JP Morrell, would push to override her veto. Again, there we were hoping that this would be a fail–no way that a super majority of a seven-member board of sentient beings would waste the people’s time with nonsense, we thought.

Boy, were we wrong. Then again, we really shouldn’t have been surprised at the level of shock and awe this incarnation of the City Council has displayed.

We do want to thank District D Councilman Eugene Green and District E Councilman Oliver Thomas for being the voices of reason and, quite frankly, common sense by casting the only two votes against overriding the Mayor’s veto.

For his part, Councilman Green says he is troubled by language in the proposed ordinance and charter change that requires all appointees to be “properly investigated” with regard to experience and “good moral character.”

Green says, “I have no ability to determine whether the appointing authority (Mayor) has appointed someone of ‘good moral character’.  Who defines ‘moral?’ “

Who defines it, indeed?

We have already stated why we think this is a bad idea. We will reiterate why we see this proposal as unnecessary and egregious.

First, the so-called checks and balances or the extra level of confidence that Councilman 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. As Green points out, “good moral character” is vague and nebulous. It is certainly subjective and heavily influenced by personal feelings and opinions. That’s right, someone could say something to cast dispersion on a person’s moral character out of spite. Conversely, someone who is “morally corrupt” could look really good on paper and even muster enough friends and colleagues to speak favorably on their behalf. So how do you stop that from happening, Mr. Morrell? What are the parameters of this “proper investigation” that you believe will place the collective mind of the people of New Orleans at ease when it comes to who the mayor of the city chooses to implement his or her plans?

Then there is the fact that we have been given little reason to trust that this incarnation of the New Orleans City Council is equipped to make the best decisions. Nope, we are still not over the fact that this same City Council 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. To be sure, this proposed charter change is another example of the questionable judgement of this group. 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? We are not buying it!

Speaking of politricks . . . could someone explain to us where this idea that the Mayor of New Orleans needs Council oversight when it comes to selecting the executive-level administrators came from? Thin air? Morrell keeps going on and on about a “crisis of confidence” in local government right now. Says who?

We’re in a “crisis of confidence”? Since when? Look, just because the phrase sounds all catchy and punchy doesn’t make it true no matter how many times Councilman Morrell says it. It wasn’t too long ago that the leader of this country constantly repeated and said things that were unfounded, at best, and outright false at worst. Let’s not go down this road.

Still, in an attempt to defend this move, Morrell reportedly brought up the name of a former mayoral appointee from Christmas Past — Greg Meffert under former mayor Ray Nagin. Come on, nah. How many years have passed since Nagin was mayor and Meffert was a part of his executive team? Former mayor Mitch Landrieu immediately succeeded Nagin, and we cannot recall one person questioning whether mayoral appointees needed Council approval then–not even after Landrieu appointed his sister-in-law, who did a good job and performed her duties well, to oversee the City’s office of economic development.

More importantly, we believe that in creating an executive level team, the mayor of the City must have the ability to hand pick the individuals that he or she will work with to implement his or her vision. 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.

We have all the check and balances we need. It is called an election! We also have a state ethics board that can weigh in on real questions of whether the appointment of any particular individual should make the cut.

We don’t always agree with the Mayor, but we suspect that the impetus behind this move is driven by the elite power structure still upset that she kept the city closed for so long during the pandemic. As they watched from their gated communities and towering balconies, they wanted to rush the reopening of New Orleans and put low-wage earning workers and their health on the line. Mayor Cantrell had the guts to say NO to reopening New Orleans too soon. While we thank her for that, we are certain there are those who want to punish her for protecting the residents of the city this way. We fear the City Council is allowing itself to be used by these players.

Look, if Moreno or Morrell wanted to be mayor they should taken their shot last year. You cannot run the Mayor’s office from the City Council chambers! But that is exactly what they are attempting to do with this proposed charter change. And this backdoor power play does not sit well with us. In fact, as we review our recorded endorsement interviews from last year’s municipal elections, we have yet to hear “usurping the duly-elected mayor’s authority” as a campaign promise or a platform plank from anyone currently serving on the City Council. And that this political ploy is what they are engaged in now, as far as we are concerned, is the real crisis of confidence.

Luckily, there is something that the members of the New Orleans City Council can do to fix this very real crisis. They can and should do their work . . . as members of the City Council . . . focusing all the stuff they promised voters they would do when they were out there campaigning . . . stuff like addressing crime, increasing economic development, fostering equity and opportunity for all residents of the city. Do the jobs you were elected to do and stop making up issues and problems where they don’t exist. This subterfuge will not distract us!

This city has a problem, and the problem is NOT whether a mayoral appointee has good moral conduct as determined by some arbitrary standard that no one will likely be able to define. Two people were killed and four others were injured in a mass shooting on May 6. That same day, a woman was killed in the St. Roch area. And we have a City Council that wants a change the charter so that it can challenge mayoral appointees. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And you gots to know that when this matter finally makes it to the ballot box, The New Orleans Tribune will be the loudest “NO”, urging our readers and followers to not only protect the ability of the current mayor to select top leadership for his or her administration, but to protect the ability of every duly elected mayor to follow even — if it’s Helena Moreno or JP Morrell, because obviously, they want the job.

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