NEW ORLEANS -- The city says they’re taking measures to try to get Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell to reign in his spending. But Morrell says some of those measures are disrupting court cases.
A City Council budget hearing grew heated as Morrell explained why a section of Criminal District Court was slowed down Wednesday. He said the city won’t allow him to replace deputy clerks.
“The reason why I’m upset is because I tried to hire four people – in fact I hired four people, put them to work for two weeks, trained them, only to find out that the administration will not pay them,” Morrell said.
But the city administration says they won’t allow Morrell to put more people on payroll because he’s been over budget for the last four years. Payroll makes up 98 percent of that budget.
“Because he was consistently over his appropriation from the city, I stopped approving the addition of personnel, because that was furthering his budget deficit, and it was a continued practice that we had to put an end to,” said Andy Kopplin, the chief administrative officer of the city of New Orleans.
But Morrell said he is $175,000 under budget so far this year and isn’t adding personnel, just replacing them. He said it’s against the law for the city to cut his budget because he answers to the state.
“I am a state-elected official, that I have to answer to the legislature about how I run my office,” Morrell said.
The City Council says Morrell, like other elected officials, must work within the budget he’s given, pointing out that he refused to hand over budget data until just before Wednesday’s meeting and turned down help from the mayor’s office in streamlining the budget.
“It’s incumbent upon the clerk to do everything in his power to keep the court running efficiently,” said Councilwoman Susan Guidry.
“Clerk Morrell has the same responsibility that every other elected official has, is to work within their budget,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “He has enough money to do what he has to do. He needs to streamline his system.”
Morrell said he will shuffle around some clerks Thursday in order to adequately staff Criminal District Court Section A.