NEW ORLEANS — Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s Chief of Staff, Clifton Davis III, has been granted a temporary restraining order against New Orleans City Council, preventing the council from holding him and other staff members in contempt.
The order was granted by Judge Nicole Sheppard after a hearing Thursday.
The ruling temporarily freezes any action by the council to hold Cantrell’s staff accountable for not giving up the documents council asked for as part of its “Smart Cities” investigation.
“You have an administration that believes they are not accountable to anyone but themselves,” said Councilman JP Morrell after the hearing.
He says this order “delays the inevitable” as council looks into ethics concerns and contract fixing surrounding the program.
Council President Helena Moreno said, “Because of a lack of information, because of secrecy around this project, and because of a lack of transparency that, really, at the end of the day is a plague in some departments at City Hall.”
Two investigations are rolling at the same time. So far, we know the New Orleans Office of Inspector General has seized computers and cell phones of Jonathan Rhodes and Christopher Wolff, as well as several members of the Mayor’s staff.
Rhodes also testified in front of City Council, and offered up a huge amount of documents, which led council to subpoena the Mayor’s Office. That request included any and all documents and conversations relating to Smart Cities and its vendors.
Outside counsel for the Mayor’s office argued Thursday that the Mayor’s office is fully cooperating with the Office of Inspector General, and responding to City Council’s request is a repetitive waste of resources.
However, City Council Attorney Adam Swensek said the City Council’s investigation includes a larger scope than the OIG investigation. They claim the OIG never asked for Davis’ conversations or documents.
Councilmembers Morrell and Moreno also alleged the Mayor’s Office also hired outside attorneys illegally, without going through the proper channels, because the City Attorney took Council’s side on the subpoena matter.
“When they couldn’t get the response out of the city attorney they liked, they took taxpayer dollars to illegally hire a firm that would say what they wanted to hear,” Morrell said.
The Mayor’s office is calling the investigation dirty politics, writing in a statement, quote, “The City Council has overstepped its ethical bounds by orchestrating an inquiry that is duplicative, superfluous, and firmly rooted in politics.”
City Council and the Mayor’s Office will be back in court, in front of a different judge, the morning of June 8.