Updated Oct 17, 2023 - Politics

New Orleans City Council suspends mayor's spokesperson in historic vote

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The New Orleans City Council on Tuesday voted to immediately suspend Gregory Joseph, Mayor LaToya Cantrell's spokesperson, without pay for the remainder of her term.

Why it matters: This is the first time City Council members exercised a new power through the Home Rule Charter that allows them to hire and fire certain high-ranking officials in the mayor's administration.

Driving the news: Joseph was suspended in a unanimous vote. Members opted to suspend rather than terminate, they said, to avoid the possibility of litigation or of Joseph being rehired immediately.

  • The council found Joseph guilty of incompetence, neglect of duty and gross misconduct after an ethics investigation into pro-Cantrell, taxpayer-funded pamphlets sent on behalf of the city during the mayoral recall effort.
  • He did not appear at the special meeting convened to determine his fate.
Photo shows Gregory Joseph and Andrew Logan, both members of the mayor's communications team, at a media briefing.
Gregory Joseph, right, at a mayoral media briefing at City Hall on Oct. 4. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

Worth noting: Joseph can volunteer to work without pay if he'd like to remain in the mayor's office, City Council president JP Morrell said.

  • But he can't be a paid city employee until January 2026.

What she's saying: "I am extremely disappointed by the council's vote today," Cantrell said in a statement Tuesday.

  • "It is deplorable that, once again, the New Orleans City Council has used their power to publicly humiliate those making daily sacrifices to advance this city rather than using their power to actually legislate and move this city forward.

The backdrop: Joseph was hired in summer 2022 as the mayor's director of communications just before mayoral recall efforts officially started in August.

  • He is a member of Cantrell's senior leadership team and is frequently by her side at events. He oversees six employees.

Context: The council on Sept. 12 formally cited Joseph after they said he spent nearly $51,000 in taxpayer money to send a political mailer to bolster Cantrell's image during the recall.

  • None of the evidence implicates Cantrell or other city employees, Morrell said, citing the six-month council ethics investigation.

Between the lines: Joseph was scheduled to give his defense before the vote, but he didn't appear at either council meeting this month.

  • Joseph did not communicate with the council either, members said, expressing disappointment about his absence.
  • City Council members reached out to Joseph "before it got to this," member Freddie King said, but "it got nowhere."

The evidence: An attorney for the City Council on Tuesday outlined Joseph's alleged role in sending the taxpayer-funded mailer.

  • The mailer was sent out a week after New Orleans voters started getting recall petition forms.
  • The proposed contract, according to documents shown during the meeting, called for sending 12 mailers during the recall efforts at a cost of $600,000 to taxpayers. Only one was sent.
  • "We must crush this precedent," Morrell said, of using taxpayer dollars for political mailers.

Editors note: This story has been updated with additional details, including a comment from the mayor.

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