On the Ballot

Voters give New Orleans City Council power to approve mayoral appointees

By Michael Isaac Stein

Source: The Lens

November 8, 2022

New Orleans voters on Tuesday approved an amendment to New Orleans’ home rule charter to require the mayor to get approval from the City Council before hiring certain department heads, such as the superintendent of the NOPD or the director of the Department of Public Works.

The council already had the ability to dismiss those department heads, but the charter change will give the council a proactive role in approving those picks before they take their position. The new law allows the mayor to make temporary appointments without council approval in case of emergency.

With the vast majority of Orleans Parish precincts totalled, 60 percent of nearly 100,000 voters had voted to approve the measure.

The council now needs to write rules and pass an ordinance to establish the exact process through which it will consider future department heads.

The ballot measure was introduced in February by Councilman JP Morrell, who has been an advocate for increasing the council’s role in New Orleans’ traditionally “strong mayor” style of government.

“This City Council is the strongest and most independent council we have seen in decades, and it’s the will of the people that empowers us to keep pushing forward and doing what’s right,” Morrell said in a statement. “The voters of New Orleans have once again made it very clear: government accountability is not a want, but a demand. I proposed this amendment because I believe no leader in city government should be shielded from a public hearing and community input, and the voters agree.”

Councilman Eugene Green told WWLTV Tuesday night he did not support the charter change because the council already has the power to remove appointees.

The measure was introduced at a time of high tensions between Mayor LaToya Cantrell and members of the council, including Morrell. When Morrell first rolled out the idea, he cited two Cantrell appointments he had concerns about — NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson and former head of the city’s Office of Business and External Affairs Peter Bowen.

Some criticized the decision to hire Bowen, a former short-term rental executive, to run the office that oversees short-term rentals. He was fired from his position in January following a drunk driving arrest during which officers said he tried to use his City Hall position to stop the arrest.

But since the ballot measure was introduced, Morrell has framed the measure as an additional accountability measure for future mayors, rather than a criticism of the Cantrell administration or an attempt to reduce the mayor’s power. Since Cantrell is deep into her tenure and has already appointed her top staff, the charter change will have a much bigger impact on future administrations.

The measure was endorsed by the local think tank the Bureau of Governmental Research. Their report looked at 25 peer cities and found that 80 percent of them had laws requiring City Council confirmation for some or all department head appointments.

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