Council members kill time after the scheduled 9 a.m. start of their meeting this morning. Photo by Steve Beatty

Continuing a legislative stalemate, two members were absent from a specially called New Orleans City Council meeting Wednesday morning, preventing  the four members present from conducting council business.

Those present are concerned that city business, from the mundane to the important, will continue to be stalled if Council members Jon Johnson and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell don’t show up at tomorrow’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Council president Jackie Clarkson said Johnson called just before the scheduled 9 a.m. start to say he couldn’t make the meeting. She didn’t say whether he offered a reason. She said Hedge-Morrell called earlier in the morning to say that she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be attending.

Clarkson said she hoped Hedge-Morrell would feel better soon. Her language quickly grew more pointed: she called the continuing lack of a quorum “disgraceful.”

Johnson and Hedge-Morrell walked out of a May 3 meeting after the six-member council split evenly on a measure that would have placed a charter amendment before the city’s voters. The two missing members were strident in their belief that the amendment – adjusting the way the city elects the council’s two at-large members – should be approved immediately.

Others wanted to send the measure through the committee process to work out details and explore possible additional changes in the selection of  at-large members.

Johnson and Hedge-Morrell have been no-shows at subsequent council meetings, saying they didn’t feel their colleagues were respecting them.  Neither appears pleased by new at-large member Stacy Head’s selection of urban planner Errol George as her interim replacement in the District B seat she gave up to run at-large. Their continued absence could influence the interim appointment and who makes it.

Head recently won an at-large run-off against former council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis and was sworn in May 2, leaving the seven-seat council short one member. Head’s district seat, representing Central City and Uptown, can’t be filled without at least five members present to vote on a temporary appointment.

That was just one item of business left hanging May3 when Johnson and Hedge-Morrell walked out.

Council members present on Wednesday – Head, Clarkson, Kristen Gisleson Palmer and Susan Guidry – ticked off a list of items that won’t move forward without at least five members tomorrow:

  • approval of money to finance Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s just-announced plan to repair all street lights in the city by year’s end;
  • approval of a resolution encouraging the state Legislature to keep the tolls on the Crescent City Connection, and
  • approval of Harrah’s Casino-funded grants that benefit councilmember-selected community projects throughout the city.

“If we don’t have a quorum tomorrow, we don’t go on with the process of turning on the streetlights,” Clarkson said. “There is a lot of city business at stake that’s lying dormant, and that’s disgraceful.”

A Landrieu spokesman told our reporting partners at FOX8-TV that said Clarkson was just grandstanding about the street lights and that the program to repair broken lights is already moving forward. can roll forward without council approval. Correction: The communication from the mayor’s spokesman did not characterize any council member’s remarks.

George, Head’s nominee to succeed her as interim representative of District B, watched this morning’s meeting from the audience and took questions from council members from the rostrum.

He said he hoped the council could muster a quorum some day.

Obviously sympathetic, Head said, “ I know this is somewhat of an arduous process … I hope that it’s resolved very quickly.”

Clarkson assured George that his appointment would be on the agenda for tomorrow’s regular meeting.

But if, for lack of a quorum, the council can’t conduct business tomorrow and can’t make an appointment by June 1, Landrieu will gain the right to make the interim appointment. He endorsed Head’s opponent, Willard-Lewis, in the at-large race.

Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...