Kudos to District E City Councilman Oliver Thomas for encouraging a little more cooperation and a lot more focus on the people and the business of New Orleans among his colleagues as well as the mayor’s administration.
Somebody had to say it.
And earlier this week on Oct. 2, Councilman Thomas did just that when he released the following statement about the current political climate and its impact on City government:
“We are in a time where government seems to function on an ‘I’ basis. Politics has become personal, when it should be people, business, then, politics. Whether it’s fair or unfair, the press and many political observers have talked about the difficulty of these times and our inability to get both branches of government on the same page.
I think it’s important that we change the narrative of discourse, fights, political battles, and elected officials and agency heads who are too locked into their positions to come together to serve our city. We must come together to work across titles, across political lines, and across agendas.
Over a year and a half ago, I requested our then-Council President to consider holding a Council retreat or workshop that would include the Administration and critical partners in our quest to serve this city and make New Orleans a better place for all citizens. Recently, I have sent another request to our current Council President asking for consideration of the same. The response was very encouraging.
During my time as Council President, I hosted a Council Retreat. We were able to come together and discuss solutions. It has been done before, and I am hoping it can be successful again, this time, including the Administration. The time is now to act and put the citizens of our great city first.”
Well said. We agree.
But Will it Help?
Now, whether a retreat, in this instance, will be helpful is debatable. We suspect that unless it features one hell of a facilitator, who can command attention and respect and will unabashedly tell folk what they need to be told, it will not do much good.
We’re not pessimists, just realists. So if we can be real for a second, let’s acknowledge that if some of the players at the heart of the tensions and contentions at City Hall had any real concern about the greater good, we would not be where we are now. What is taking place in city government right now is not the result of ignorance. They know better. They just refuse to do better, because their current course of action serves a purpose for them.
We could be wrong. We doubt it, though. Still, it’s uplifting to know that someone who is on the inside has the courage to be a voice of reason in what has become a madhouse.
And Councilman Thomas could not be more right. Our elected leaders ought to focus on the actual needs and priorities of the community instead of narrow, selfish political motives and spiteful power struggles. But they already know that!
We have been saying this for quite a while now. And well, we will say it again – though not as diplomatically as Councilman Thomas.
There are individuals on the New Orleans City Council who, from the word “go”, started an all-out war against the Mayor and her administration. Hell, we will name them. At-large members, Council Vice-President Helena Moreno and Council President J.P. Morrell have been way too busy waging their premature campaigns for mayor to actually be effective council members. And, we have not been too impressed by a few others on that board. While they don’t keep up as much noise as Moreno and Morrell, they quietly cosign their actions to create a majority bloc that has fed some of the foolery.
And for better or worse, Mayor Cantrell is hardly one to back down. The result: City government in New Orleans has become a spectacle – a train wreck. You want to turn your head and look away, but you just can’t.
They came in scrutinizing the Mayor’s travel. We can concede that if well-defined policies were broken, it should have been corrected. But then members of the council introduced an unneeded referendum to change the home rule charter to usurp a mayor’s ability to choose top leaders in his or her administration. And that went too far. Now, the New Orleans City Council is trying to oust a mayoral appointee, Communications Director Gregory Joseph, over a mailer sent out by the mayor’s office touting her administration’s accomplishments. Some of council members are intent on painting this mailer as campaign literature improperly produced with taxpayer funding and designed to fight the failed recall. Mayor Cantrell and her team refute the allegation, asserting that it was routine city business created to inform residents of goings-on in her administration and had nothing to do with the recall.
We suspect an argument could be made for either side depending on who’s talking. But here’s the getcha-gotcha – none of this makes New Orleans a better city or improves the lives of everyday residents – none of it. It is all personal, political and, most of all, petty.
Black folk in New Orleans are still poorer than everybody else in the city. Nearly 24 percent of New Orleanians live at or below the poverty line, according to the most recent Census data. At 33 percent, the poverty rate among Black New Orleanians is even higher. And hearings about mailers is not fixing that!
Sixty-three percent of renters in New Orleans are housing-burdened, paying a third of more of their income on related costs. The Council’s big housing win in 2023 — ending the Mayor’s use of the city-owned Pontalba apartment and putting the unit back in commerce at an estimated rate of about $3,333 a month or $40,000 year. In a city where the median household income for Black families is less than $30,300, who can afford the rent!
But here’s the thing. Elected officials know what they should be focused on. They are engaging in this infighting for reasons we can’t even begin to fully dissect. So we just aren’t so hopeful that three days at some corporate lodge will actually help.
Please don’t misunderstand our position. We are thankful that Councilman Thomas had the courage to say something. We also applaud others such as Councilman Eugene Green for his sensible and focused approach to governance as evidenced by the manner in which he has voted on some of the aforementioned issues that the council has raised. He, too, has surfaced as a voice of reason. But we’re just not convinced that a retreat will rectify this mess unless someone there will be giving out swift kicks in the buttocks.
Our schools are still failing. And while violent crime has decreased in recent months, public safety is a constant concern. Meanwhile, Councilman Morrell recently had the nerve to scold a city attorney simply because she insisted that she be allowed to finish speaking, telling the attorney, Donesia Turner, “This is a council proceeding. You don’t get to tell the council president ‘let me finish.’ That’s not appropriate,” according to a local newspaper report.
Now if that’s not impractical, egotistical grandstanding at its worst, we don’t know what is. And we offer it as evidence that it will take a New Testament miracle to fix that sort of thinking.
Here we are just couple of weeks away from disaster; and we bet folk in New Orleans have heard more about the City Council’s concern over a piece of mail sent months ago and its plan to fire Joseph than they know about what the Council is planning or even thinks about the salt water intrusion crisis that is expected to impact New Orleans’ drinking water for three months.
That’s a problem!
So yep, you better believe there are people in City Hall – some a bit more than others – that need to RETREAT – depart . . . withdraw . . . evacuate . . . recoil . . . take flight!
Oh, a leadership retreat?
Well, that’s a start . . . we suppose. And we thank Councilman Thomas for publicly stating that some sort of intervention is needed.
But if it doesn’t work, and we dare say it won’t, the people of New Orleans ought to make up their minds to force some folk to retreat in 2025 using the best weapon at their disposal – their votes.