Oct 19, 2023 - News

New Orleans City Council flexes muscle with new oversight power

Photo shows the City Council in session in New Orleans

New Orleans City Council members on Tuesday voted to suspend the mayor's spokesperson without pay until 2026. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

The New Orleans City Council this week is flexing its new confirmation powers in the hiring process for top administration officials.

Driving the news: Council members on Thursday will decide whether the city should hire Anne Kirkpatrick, Mayor LaToya Cantrell's nominee to run the New Orleans Police Department.

  • The decision comes two days after council members voted to suspend Cantrell's spokesperson, Gregory Joseph, without pay until 2026, effectively firing him. Council members had rarely used that power in the past.

The backdrop: Voters gave the council the power to check top hires last year when they approved a change to the Home Rule Charter, which acts like the city's constitution.

  • The mayor must now get the council's approval after selecting appointments for 11 top positions, including chiefs for NOPD and the New Orleans Fire Department.
  • JP Morrell, the current council president, co-authored the proposal with council vice president Helena Moreno. It came up when the council was questioning Cantrell's appointment of Peter Bowen, who she fired after a drunken-driving charge, and Shaun Ferguson, NOPD's previous chief who retired in December 2022.
  • Cantrell criticized and vetoed the measure but the council overrode her and sent it to the ballot, where 60% of voters approved it.

Why it matters: The public hearings add "another layer of transparency and accountability" and help ensure the candidates are "well qualified and capable," the Bureau of Governmental Research, a New Orleans-based think tank, said in a report last year.

  • The group endorsed the change, saying council confirmation is common in 20 of New Orleans' 25 peer cities.

The other side: Cantrell said in 2022 that the change would possibly "grind local government to a halt" and shift the balance at City Hall, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.

Zoom out: Cantrell and the council have had a tense relationship in recent months amid disagreements over the police chief search, a city apartment, payment of vendors and her spokesperson.

Photo shows Anne Kirkpatrick before the City Council
Gilbert Montaño, the city's chief administrative officer, and NOPD interim chief Anne Kirkpatrick appear before a City Council committee on Oct. 11. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

The big picture: The confirmation process has given a platform for council members to publicly question the mayor's choice for police chief, with at least one council member saying he had hoped for Michelle Woodfork, the previous interim chief, to be the nominee.

What's next: City Council members on Thursday will hear from Kirkpatrick before voting on whether to hire her for one of the city's most important positions.

  • In her initial appearance before the council last week, she laid out her plans for running the police department and improving public safety.

Between the lines: When her experience and intentions were questioned by community activists, council members hinted about the accountability options available to them through the firing process if needed.

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