NEW ORLEANS — The chairman of the Downtown Development District resigned Friday, in protest of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s chief of staff being installed as interim president and CEO of the DDD, which is a state-authorized taxing agency independent of city government.
Leo Marsh read a terse statement at the DDD’s board meeting Friday morning, three days after a contentious special meeting in which six of 11 board members voted to install Cantrell aide John Pourciau as the DDD’s interim president and CEO.
“We have likely behaved unethically,” Marsh said, referring to the fact that Pourciau represented City Hall in its attempts to take control of taxes the DDD collects independently from downtown businesses and residents.
“This board’s concern is not its constituents,” Marsh continued. “I have decided to change my role here and channel my energy into being a constituent. I will be resigning my position as chair of this board effective at the end of the day.”
The DDD board voted 8-0 to hire its longtime finance director, Anthony Carter, as interim CEO on Aug. 2. Marsh was about to sign a contract with Carter on Aug. 10 when he received calls from Cantrell urging him to hire Pourciau instead. The board then voted Aug. 24 to rescind its offer to Carter, who remained as finance director.
The DDD’s general counsel, Bill Aaron, warned that hiring Pourciau could be an ethics violation because of Pourciau’s role in City Hall’s dealings with the DDD, which is also suing the city for allegedly skimming half a million dollars in taxes over the years.
But Cantrell continued a pressure campaign with board members. She sent Marsh a text calling Aaron an “obstructionist and unethical” because he is the registered agent for an anti-Cantrell political committee called Let’s Save NOLA.
“Thank you for your leadership and we need John as interim. Please. This is LaToya,” the text read.
The DDD board ignored Aaron’s advice to wait for an Ethics Board opinion before hiring Pourciau. Aaron stepped down as general counsel for the DDD following Tuesday’s meeting.
The DDD has spent about $60,000 on a national search for a permanent CEO to replace longtime agency leader Kurt Weigle. The search firm, Winner Partners, presented four finalists for the position. But DDD Vice Chairman Gregory Curtis, who led the effort to hire Pourciau and took over Friday’s meeting when Marsh resigned, complained about a lack of diversity among the candidates, especially that they are all men.
One of the four finalists is Black. The plan had been to hire one of them as permanent CEO in the next six weeks. But Marsh said Friday he suspects Curtis’ complaints are an effort to slow the search and keep Pourciau in place longer as interim CEO.