New Orleans City Council paralyzed by no-show members


Posted on May 17, 2012 at 5:43 PM

Updated Thursday, May 17 at 6:27 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @mrodriguezwwl

CITY HALL-- The stalemate in the New Orleans City Council dragged into its second week on Thursday, after Council Members Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Jon Johnson did not show up to another scheduled meeting.

"Personally, I think if this council continues to stall we are all subject to recall," said City Council President Jackie Clarkson.

The lack of a quorum - not having at least five members present - means the City Council can not vote on any issues. Those are beginning to pile up: holdovers from two previous meetings.

"We are not always going to win or get our way, but picking up our toys and walking off is not the way to solve that problem," said District A City Council Member Susan Guidry.

Johnson and Hedge-Morrell walked out of the council meeting two weeks ago, after failing to rally enough support to change how the At-Large Council seats will be elected in the future. Facing an impasse, the other Council members are now agreeing to go along with the changes. Still, though, the two have not returned.

"While some of us wanted to have public hearings and more public input, we have said that is not nearly as important as supporting the desire of our Council member colleagues and moving forward as a cohesive body," said City Council Vice-President Stacy Head.

Now, other Council members are questioning what may really be behind their absences, since one of the other unresolved issues is the appointment of Errol George to the District B seat. It was vacated when Stacy Head won the special At-Large Council election last month. If the council fails to get a quorum and appoint George to the seat, according to the city charter, the Mayor gets to make the appointment.

"So, consequently, I would ask the Mayor, publicly, to respect the majority will of this Council and to respect the separation of powers," said City Council District C Member Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

It is a council power that could erode in the long-run, according to UNO political science professor Ed Chervenak.

"The implications are that the Council is sacrificing it's own autonomy and authority by allowing the Mayor to make that decision," Chervenak said.

A spokesperson for Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a statement Thursday, about the possibility of the Mayor appointing someone to the District B seat.

"Should the responsibility of appointing an interim Council member fall to the Mayor per the city charter, Mayor Landrieu will appoint an experienced and qualified person to represent the citizens of District B," said Press Secretary Ryan Berni. "As always, he would be more than happy to receive recommendations from members of the City Council."

Eyewitness News reached out again to Council Members Johnson and Hedge-Morrell, but they did not respond to requests for comment on this story.