New Orleans City Council gains power to approve mayoral appointees
By Ben Myers
November 8, 2022
New Orleans voters on Tuesday night approved a significant change to how City Hall officials are appointed, setting up a new system that empowers the City Council to confirm or deny the mayor’s picks to run key departments.
The “yes” vote on the city charter amendment passed with 60% of the vote.
The new rules mean that City Hall’s top officials, who until now have been unilaterally selected by the mayor, must appear before the council and receive an approving vote before taking office. The rules apply to 11 departments established in the city charter, including public works, finance and the police and fire departments.
Officials currently serving in Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration are not affected by the charter change, but any appointments after Jan. 1 will be subject to confirmation. Two of the affected departments, public works and juvenile justice, are currently led by acting directors, raising the possibility that permanent picks to those departments must go before the council in public hearings.
The affected departments represent approximately three quarters of the city workforce, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Governmental Research, which supported the measure.
The measure also gives the City Council power to require confirmation for 13 officials within the Mayor’s Office, such as those focused on utilities and economic development. Extending the council’s reach to those offices, which mayors have set up over time through edicts, would require a separate ordinance.
Mayors will continue to be allowed interim appointments for up to 120 days, a provision aimed at ensuring that critical leadership positions are filled in case of emergency.
‘lack of oversight’
Proponents of the measure, chiefly at-Large Council member JP Morrell, who drafted the measure, have stressed that it was not designed to target Cantrell specifically. Still, the vote represents a defeat for Cantrell, who vehemently opposed the measure and vetoed the council’s ordinance placing it on the ballot.
“We are a city that’s been fraught with a tremendous amount of scandal, whether it be through the Morial administration, the Nagin administration and now the Cantrell administration. A lot of that falls down to a couple of different pots, but one of the biggest ones is the lack of oversight,” Morrell said in an interview before the vote.
Morrell introduced the measure in the spring, as the council and administration jockeyed for power on other fronts. Council members temporarily froze departmental budgets and stymied Cantrell’s attempt to remove residency requirements for some employees by fiat.
Cantrell vetoed the council’s first vote to put the charter amendment on the ballot, calling it “duplicative and duplicitous.” Ahead of the veto override vote, the mayor urged the council to consider a more comprehensive review of the charter.
But the mayor’s last-minute charter review proposal flopped, and the council overrode the veto. Council members Oliver Thomas and Eugene Green voted with the mayor, agreeing with her concerns that the new rules could subject nonpartisan appointments to gridlock and politicking.
BGR weighs in
BGR found that legislative confirmation of department heads is commonly used, including in similarly sized cities like Tampa, Lexington and Pittsburgh.
The nonprofit good government group determined the system will provide “significant transparency benefits,” including the expectation of public accountability before officials take office.
BGR also highlighted some concerns, such as the lack of procedures and criteria involved with the confirmation process.
The council is expected to adopt additional rules in the future, though it is not clear when that will happen. Doing so will reduce the risk that confirmations are politicized, BGR said.
BGR also highlighted ambiguities in the 120-day interim appointment provisions that it said could result in litigation.
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