On the Ballot

Gambit 2022 election guide: Changes to the city charter and state constitution, judicial positions and more

By Clancy DuBos

Source: Gambit

October 28, 2022

One of the hottest citywide contests on the Nov. 8 ballot doesn’t feature candidates. It’s a proposed change to the New Orleans City Charter that asks voters to decide whether mayor-appointed department heads should be subject to City Council vetting and confirmation.

Ironically, that proposition is also the LAST thing on the ballot — literally, it’s at the bottom, after a host of other races and statewide referenda.

Also on the local ballot are races for three judgeships, clerk of First City Court and one seat on the Orleans Parish School Board — plus eight proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution. Early voting began on Oct. 25 and continues through Nov. 1.

Referendum on Cantrell?
Proponents of the City Charter change, particularly Council Vice President JP Morrell and the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), say it would give the public an additional layer of scrutiny and transparency — and help ensure top administrators are qualified for their jobs. Opponents, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell, say the proposal would dilute the mayor’s power and could lead to gridlock and dealmaking. 

So far, the charter referendum has not generated much of a public campaign. “It’s been kind of organic,” Morrell says. “The proposition has garnered some key endorsements, particularly from BGR and several media. My biggest concern is the potential fall-off in voting because this is the last thing on the ballot.”

Several of the city’s old-line Black political organizations have come out against the proposition, which comes at a delicate time for Cantrell. The mayor is the subject of a recall drive that reportedly is about to kick into high gear after the Nov. 8 primary.

The debate, to the extent there is one, centers on whether the need for reining in the mayor’s unchecked appointive powers outweighs concerns over the potential for a new level of politicking — and “burdening” future mayors and their appointees.

“It is not overly burdensome,” Morrell told The Times-Picayune. He added that department heads who wield significant power “should be forced at least once per administration to go to a public hearing and answer questions as to what their vision is.”

Cantrell has called the measure “duplicative and duplicitous,” noting that the council already can remove department heads with a simple four-vote majority.

District E Council Member Oliver Thomas also opposes the proposition. “You have seven different political personalities that are on the council,” he told The Times-Picayune. “What happens when five or six, or three or four, vehemently disagree about who gets appointed? Nobody’s talked about that.”

In a recent report, BGR noted that many U.S. cities require legislative approval of mayoral appointments.

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