Melvin Rodrigue, the chairman of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center board, said on Wednesday that he had presented a proposal to Mayor LaToya Cantrell for how to settle a dispute between the Regional Transit Authority and the tourism industry over millions of dollars in contested tax revenue. The details of that plan, however, were not immediately clear. 

The dispute between the RTA and the tourism industry began last year. It was the culmination of a longtime arrangement that has forced the RTA to give up about half of its hotel tax revenues  every year, with most of the money going to the Convention Center and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. 

The taxes generated about $14 million in 2018, according to RTA and NOTMC audits. Under the arrangement, only about half went to the RTA.

But in February 2019, the RTA announced that it would stop honoring the agreement and retain all the revenue for public transit purposes. A letter from RTA board chairman Flozell Daniels also demanded that the Convention Center hand over $31.8 million that had accumulated from those tax revenues. 

Last year, The Lens reported that the boards of the RTA, Convention Center and the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation had all been entering executive sessions at meetings in order to discuss potential litigation over the money. 

“I met with the mayor,” Rodrigue said at a Wednesday Convention Center board meeting. “We put together what we believe is a potential solution through a cooperative endeavor agreement. So that is in her hands and I will try to follow up before the next meeting.”

He declined, however, to share further details of the plan. A spokesman for the Convention Center did not immediately return a request for comment. Nor did Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office 

“At the end of the day were just trying to find a solution,” Rodrigue told The Lens after a Wednesday board meeting. “But no, i don’t have any specific details at this time. We’re trying to find an amicable solution for all.”

As for whether he thinks the proposal will stop any potential litigation, he said, “It’s hard for me to say for sure.”

Board member calls for living wage requirement

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, board member Robert “Tiger” Hamond asked the board to consider passing a living wage requirement for its workers. Unlike the city, the center doesn’t require its contractors to pay its employees a certain wage. Board members had made an attempt to do something similar in 2017, but the plan never got off the ground.

“I would like to get that back on the agenda for next month,” Hammond said. “We could get the lawyers to work on the [memorandum of understanding] in the meantime.”

Hammond told The Lens that he would be bringing up the proposal last week when asked about the Convention Center’s history of purchasing products from Prison Enterprises — a division of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections that sells services and products manufactured by Louisiana prison inmates. 

Workers for Prison Enterprises can work for a reduced sentence, or for wages ranging between zero and 20 cents an hour. 

Hammond proposed that the Convention Center adopt the city’s living wage ordinance, which requires contractors with contracts worth more than $25,000 to pay their workers $10.55 per hour, adjusted for inflation each year. That ordinance was passed in 2015, and according to the city’s website, that wage is now up to $11.19. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, the Convention Center’s general council, David Phelps, said that he would look into the legality of Hammond’s proposal and present his findings at the center’s Finance and Audit Committee meeting next month. That is expected to happen on Feb. 11

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...