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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Editorial: A newly energized New Orleans City Council

Posted By on Wed, May 16, 2018 at 2:48 PM

click to enlarge The new New Orleans City Council held a meet-and-greet last week at New Orleans City Park. - PHOTO BY KEVIN ALLMAN
  • The new New Orleans City Council held a meet-and-greet last week at New Orleans City Park.

At the end of their first week in office, the members of the new New Orleans City Council held an informal meet-and-greet for their constituents at New Orleans City Park. It was a chance for citizens not only to meet their council representatives in a relaxed setting, but also to collect names and telephone numbers of their aides.

Much has been made of the fact this is the most diverse council ever, with the city’s first Hispanic and Vietnamese-American council members, but less has been written about the unity and comity that was on display that evening. A report in The New Orleans Advocate described how the seven members had been meeting regularly at a coffee shop since the election so they could hit the ground running on Inauguration Day.

And they did. The new council’s first move was a letter to the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) — penned by District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso III and signed by the entire council — putting the S&WB on notice that the troubled agency will be expected to provide transparency, and soon. They demanded S&WB leadership appear before the council next month to give specific answers to questions ranging from the handling of billing complaints to the amount of water wasted by the S&WB each month, as well as staffing shortages.

“The councilmembers expect appropriate personnel with knowledge and expertise with the reporting requirements to appear and be prepared to answer specific questions,” Giarrusso wrote. Those questions frustrated the last council. Though the Council doesn’t regulate the S&WB, it does supervise, and the letter put the agency on notice that the new council will brook no guff or vagueness.

The new council also must grapple with news (first reported by The Lens) that a subcontractor for Entergy hired paid actors to appear before the previous council to testify in favor of a gas-fired power plant Entergy plans to build in New Orleans East. Though the practice (called “astroturfing”) is not technically illegal, it hasn’t set well with many. Council President Jason Williams and Vice-President Helena Moreno issued a letter saying such tactics “fly in the face of the dignity, courtesy and respect of traditional public discourse vital to our democratic process” and “warrant a fully independent review by the Council or by a third-party investigator.” Though the plant was approved by the previous council, the matter clearly isn’t over.

Then there’s the contentious matter of short-term rentals (STRs). Giarrusso and District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer ran on their opposition to STR expansion, and others on the new council appear less tolerant of STRs than their predecessors. District D Councilman Jared Brossett, who had supported tying STR licensure to a homestead exemption, may have a more receptive audience for his proposal among the new council members.

All these are positive steps. If the new council can maintain this level of energy, tenacity and responsiveness, the members should have four successful years ahead of them. We wish them well.

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