Judge signs order voiding City Council Entergy plant votes

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Michael Stein / The Lens

In the back of a crowded City Council chamber at the October 2017 hearing stood two men who had recruited people to support and speak on behalf of the power plant: Garrett Wilkerson, left, and Daniel Taylor, right.

Over the objections of attorneys for the city, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Piper Griffin signed an order voiding two New Orleans City Council votes in favor of Entergy New Orleans’ power plant in eastern New Orleans. The order applies to a February 2018 utility committee vote recommending final approval and, more importantly, the full council’s final vote on March 8, 2018.

The ruling ends, at least for now, a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups in April 2018, arguing that the meetings — which were filled to capacity, leaving dozens of people outside and unable to participate — violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

It’s possible, even likely, that the council will appeal the decision. Reached by phone on Friday afternoon, Adam Swensek, executive counsel for the City Council, declined to comment. A spokesman for Entergy New Orleans could not immediately be reached for comment.

Griffin ruled for the plaintiffs from the bench in June, but there was a dispute as to how the ruling applied: to both meetings, as the plaintiffs interpreted it, or just to the February committee meeting, as the city argued. The signed order, provided to The Lens by the plaintiffs’ attorneys on Friday, removes that doubt.

Attorneys representing the council argued last week that Griffin’s central reason for ruling against the city was the use of paid actors at public hearings over the plant.

In June, Griffin said that the council did “nothing wrong.” But she said that “Entergy’s actions undermined” the Open Meetings Act.

While the actors — hired by an Entergy subcontractor to appear as plant supporters — were present in the February 2018 meeting and an earlier one in October 2017, there was no evidence that they were at the March meeting.

“It appears the Court may have only intended to vacate the first vote,” lawyers for the city wrote in an email, which was quoted in an attachment to the plaintiffs’ proposed judgment last week.

Indeed, Griffin wrote in her final ruling that the Open Meetings Act was not violated during the March 2018 meeting. However, she added, the earlier meeting tainted the process.

“The February 21, 2018 action was a necessary component of the full council’s decision” to approve the plant in March. “As such, the full council’s vote to adopt the resolution was void.”

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