Government & Politics

Citing conflict of interest, City Council candidate wants out of lease with city’s French Market Corporation

New Orleans City Council candidate Eugene Green wants out of a lease with a city agency after learning that the arrangement would violate the law if he were elected.

He planned to open a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop in the 900 block of Decatur Street, a block away from Cafe Du Monde. The property is owned by the French Market Corporation, the city agency that oversees the French Market and a handful of other city-owned properties in the French Quarter.

The French Market Corporation’s real estate committee approved the lease in July, and it was signed in October. In the meantime, Green announced that he would challenge Stacy Head for an at-large seat on the City Council.

“I was awarded an opportunity to open an ice cream parlor, but then I became a candidate for council,” Green said in a phone interview. “I expect to win.”

Green has since asked that the French Market Corporation rescind the lease, which started Jan. 1, due to a potential conflict of interest, according to records provided by French Market Corporation Executive Director Jon Smith.

The document doesn’t name the conflict, but the city’s code of ethics prohibits public officials and employees from leasing city-owned property.

Throughout his interview, Green repeatedly emphasized that he is a private citizen, did not officially qualify for office until December and has not violated the law. That’s all true. But Green, a real-estate agent, signed the lease a few months after he announced his candidacy in August.

Asked why he didn’t try to cancel the lease earlier, Green said he was made aware of the law sometime between when he signed the lease in October and when he submitted his qualifying papers in December.

“I received a couple calls asking that I look into this,” he said. He said he asked that the lease be rescinded as soon as he was confident that he would be prohibited from leasing the property if he were elected.

Still unanswered is how the French Market Corporation didn’t see this obvious conflict, especially since it involved a potential revenue source for the agency.

The deal would have helped the French Market Corporation fulfill its promise to return $1 million to the city’s general fund this year.

Smith did not provide July meeting minutes and staff reports recommending Green’s proposal by publication, but The Lens obtained them elsewhere.

According to those records, the other two proposals for the property were for a jewelry store and a flip-flop store. Green projected the highest revenue among the three: $589,000 in 2014, rising to $629,000 in 2016.

The French Market Corporation asked for 9 percent of Green’s revenue above $400,000 a year. That would bring in $17,000 to $20,000 annually, plus the base rent of $36,000.

Asked by email why the French Market Corporation signed the lease a few months after Green announced his run, Smith responded, “All of those negotiations happened prior to my arrival and I can’t speak to his state of eligibility for a lease at any point up until now.”

Smith was hired by the French Market Corporation’s board in late September.

The French Market Corporation’s July staff report says that Green planned to invest $215,000 in the site, but the city’s online records don’t show any active construction permits. On a visit Friday, the door and front windows were covered by a green tarp.

French Market Corporation records show Green has obtained insurance and transferred utilities for the property. He said he has not yet paid the first month’s rent, but he anticipates the agency will request it and, he said, he intends to pay.

“I clearly stand to lose, but I don’t need to get into the specifics of it,” Green said. “I lose, in a dollar amount, but I win because I get an opportunity to represent our citizens.”

The real estate committee was originally scheduled to vote Friday on his request to rescind the lease, but the meeting has been moved to Monday.

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.

  • NOLACitizen1

    His income projections appear overly ambitious. Running for City Council is one way to get out of an otherwise untenable lease. Hopefully, the FMC will table his request until the outcome of the At-Large race is determined. A win = conflict and cancellation. A lose = sorry buddy you agreed to the terms.

  • sinxovercosx

    In addition to this conflict of interest, Eugene Green displays a clear lack of awareness by trying to open a national chain “ice cream parlor” right there in the French Quarter. I like Cold Stone Creamery ice cream, but this business clearly belongs elsewhere and not in this historic local area. This is not someone I would want on the city council.

  • Incorporeal Matter

    It does seem as though Eugene Green may have become disenchanted with his own plan. Your equation on how to resolve his dilemma is fair and equitable.

  • nickelndime

    Eugene Green goes back to the eastern New Orleans’ NOBID and NORBP days of Ann Duplessis and Liberty Bank. Green’s projections are out of this world – and certainly out of this city too. The FMC may have lost Michael Pizzolotto to the charter $chool non-profit world (the word “non-profit” almost chokes me) (OPSB Plessy), but now the city has in place someone who clearly will not explain a conflict of interest by saying it was before his (Jon Smith, Director) time. Why do they not see anything? Because they don’t want to and they keep getting paid. It’s not a conflict for them. What conflict? 1 for you. 2 for me. 3 for Ann. 4 for Mitch. 5 and counting…

  • Frank

    What concerns me is that this guy wants to manage on behalf of the community and he was considering opening a Cold Stone Creamery franchise aware in the country. Cold Stone is one of the worst franchises in the history of franchising. They have been featured in the Wall Street Journal and on CNBC for their high rate of failures and for their kickback scheme. The OIG recently did an analysis of SBA loan failures and cited Cold Stone along with two other franchises for their exceptionally high business loan failure rate. Can’t imagine what this guy was thinking.