Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS - Sebastien Baudin says his Magazine Street restaurant is essentially being held hostage by the city council's standoff. He is waiting for the council to sign off on a liquor license. After working for a year and a half to get the license, he says every day counts.
"It's hard to survive to be honest. We're in a city where people like to drink. We lose a lot of people," said Baudin. "There's no certainty at all, until everybody signs it off, it's like we're at a standstill, waiting on them."
The council hasn't been able to address any business since two members walked out of a meeting May 3rd. Jon Johnson and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell have missed two meetings since. And without five members present, the council doesn't have a quorum.
"We have to put it in context. With legislative bodies, quite often members of that body who might be in the minority in terms of ideology, then they have to exert their influence by protest, in some instances by filibuster, or in this case, walking out," said Research Strategist Pollster Dr. Silas Lee.
Since May 3rd, Johnson and Hedge-Morrell have refused nearly all reporters requests for comment. But they called into WYLD-FM's "Sunday Journal" program, defending their actions publicly for the first time. They said it's not unusual to leave a meeting early.
"I didn't say anything to anybody. I just got up. Told my people, 'Let's go back to the office.' Unbeknownst to me, people can say what they want to say, Jon had a meeting to go to," said Hedge-Morrell.
Johnson said he had another appointment May 3rd that required him to leave the council meeting early. Hedge-Morrell said she was unable to attend a special meeting because she was ill. Still, both admit they take issue with the way in which the rest of the council is handling two key items.
Both agree they were surprised the council didn't vote in favor of changing the way at-large candidates are elected, since it was approved 3 to 0 in committee.
"The manner in which our colleagues conducted themselves... the comments that were being made, the innuendos, they just went beyond what I consider, they started getting personal," said Hedge-Morrell.
Hedge-Morrell and Johnson said they also take issue with Stacy Head's nomination of Errol George to the District B seat she vacated to become council at-large.
"There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Errol George as the possible appointee to that seat," said Johnson. "He didn't register in District B until after he was nominated to serve in that seat. There were quite a few people who questioned that and said they didn't think the appointment would be legal and we were setting ourselves up for a possible lawsuit and court challenge."
Now, Hedge-Morrell and Johnson say they want the council to come together to appoint someone before June 1st. On that date, the task would fall to the mayor.
"Under no circumstances at all am I interested in having the mayor to make this appointment unless he absolutely, positively, unequivocally has to make the appointment," said Johnson.
Meanwhile, Baudin just hopes the stalemate ends soon.
"I don't know what the issue is but we are the ones paying the price," said Baudin. "And we are still paying taxes."
Baudin said Head has helped give his restaurant a way to continue the process of obtaining a liquor license, which includes advertising for 21 days in the newspaper. Baudin said he is still able to advertise for now, but will need the council's signature at some point in the next three weeks.
Both Hedge-Morrell and Johnson said they plan to attend the next regular council meeting, scheduled for June 7th.
We reached out to every council member Sunday for comment. None were available to speak on camera.
Over the phone, Hedge-Morrell told Eyewitness News she plans to speak with other council members next week in an effort to appoint someone in a "clear, transparent manner."