Environmental groups from eastern New Orleans took representatives from four City Council members’ offices on a tour Wednesday to show them the problems of illegal trash dumping, the burdens of land-exhaustive borrow pits, and the blight of failed housing developments built upon landfills. When it was over, the activists wanted to know whether their elected officials would do something about these concerns.
In a lunch forum, City Council staffers spoke to about 75 eastern New Orleans residents and environmentalists. Organizers with the Micah Project, Mary Queen of Vietnam Church, and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice posed several questions:
- Will you work for safer zoning laws
- Will you bolster efforts to make New Orleans greener?
- Will you hold quarterly meetings that convene city department officials with community leaders to address environmental justice issues through policy?
- Will you establish and enforce policies that monitor dumping and hold offenders accountable?
- Will you meet with community leaders within the first 60 days in office?
Four City Council offices were represented: Scott Darrah, a legislative aide to Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell; Lisa Nguyen, staffer for Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson; Andre Kelly, staffer for Councilman-elect Jon Johnson, and T.K. Tieu, of Councilman Arnie Fielkow’s office.
All agreed in principle on the first two questions. Darrah and Kelly also said Hedge-Morrell and Johnson would his office hold quarterly meetings that match community leaders with various municipal departments, including:
- Mayor’s Office of Environment Affairs
- Environmental Health Office
- Code Enforcement
- Public Works
- Office of Safety and Permits
- Environmental Department of Sewerage & Water Board
- City Planning Commission
- Outgoing Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis’ Illegal Dumpsite Taskforce
Nguyen said she could not speak for Clarkson but that she would “personally push for this meeting,” while Tieu said Fielkow or a representative would attend if the citizens organized it.
Darrah and Kelly supported establishing and enforcing policies on illegal dumping. Nguyen said Clarkson’s office would work with the community on new legislation but reminded the group that “we can’t be everywhere at the same time.” Tieu told the group that council members can’t issue citations or fines, but the office would field complaints and ensure they reached code enforcement.
As for whether the council members would meet with community leaders within 60 days, Darrah said Hedge-Morrell “meets with community leaders regularly and will continue to do so.” Nguyen said Clarkson “will try” and Kelly said he couldn’t promise that Johnson would do so within 60 days. Tieu told the group, “give us a time and place and either Fielkow will be there or a representative.”
At least one forum organizer thought that the non-commitments from some representatives offices were at least more genuine than the one-worded commitments from Hedge-Morrell’s representative.
“His responses were not well thought out,” said Mary Williams of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “We have worked with that office in the past but they have not been responsive in the way that he says they have been. The other ladies, I thought their responses were well thought out and if they didn’t know if Clarkson or Fielkow could actually be committed to this then they said so.”