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 He said he asked that the lease be rescinded as soon as he was confident that he would be prohibited from leasing the property if he were elected.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.”
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.