NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans City Council President Stacy Head confirmed to WWL that she took her family to a Florida resort community from Wednesday, Aug. 29, to Friday, Aug. 31, the days immediately after Hurricane Isaac hit the city.
Her decision to leave came after some private and public confrontations with Mayor Mitch Landrieu leading up to the storm. She said she was blocked from an emergency planning meeting, then reacted testily when Landrieu stood at a pre-storm news conference and asked for Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson to stand next to him.
“No, I’m the president. Don’t forget!” she said as she moved into position next to the mayor and cameras rolled.
Head said that after those incidents she decided it was best to stay away from City Hall. Then, her Uptown home lost power, her neighbor’s generator went out and her children were scared.
She decided she could go with her family to her husband Jeremy’s 3,600 square-foot rental property in Watercolor, Fla., without sacrificing any of her effectiveness.
“There was nothing I could have been doing any differently in New Orleans and I had the lagniappe of being able to get that stuff done while doing the right thing for my family," she said.
Head wanted in on an emergency planning meeting on Sunday, Aug. 26. In a private text message Head shared with us, she told an aide, "I am crashing it." She was turned away.
"The rationale that was given to me at the door was that this was a mayor's-group-only meeting, and of course I expressed to that that I thought it was poor form to exclude the council."
She arrived at the meeting with political consultant Anne Redd, a former staff member. She said she never tried to get Redd into the meeting with her, though.
Head said Landrieu followed with a briefing for the council and told the members not to speak to the press. Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said that was "absolutely false."
Head and Landrieu have been butting heads for some time. First, he supported her opponent when she ran for her at-large seat. Then she was blocked from appointing her successor in District B.
"I suppose in hindsight everyone could say 'Oh, you should have done it differently.' I did it differently in Gustav. I absolutely did. I made different decisions. In Gustav I sent my husband with my kids to Alexandria.”
But Head said conditions were different then, including that she felt more included in the process by then-Mayor Ray Nagin.
"She has an obligation to her family to make sure they're OK, but she also has an obligation to her constituents. She wanted this position. People have entrusted her with this position and they expect their elected officials to be there when things go wrong," said Ed Chervenak, a University of New Orleans political science professor.
Head showed us texts and phone records showing how often she was working on critical storm response issues while she was in Florida.
But the mayor's office said it found the flow of information with the council members who stayed in town critical to their initial response.
Head actually praised Landrieu for his leadership during the storm. That was, she said, another thing that gave her confidence in her decision to leave to attend to family needs.
She did, however, criticize some of how the Landrieu administration has handled the cleanup, particularly debris removal contracts.