New Orleans City Hall (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

New Orleans voters on Tuesday approved an amendment to New Orleans’ home rule charter to require the mayor to get approval from the City Council before hiring certain department heads, such as the superintendent of the NOPD or the director of the Department of Public Works. 

The council already had the ability to dismiss those department heads, but the charter change will give the council a proactive role in approving those picks before they take their position. The new law allows the mayor to make temporary appointments without council approval in case of emergency.

With the vast majority of Orleans Parish precincts totalled, 60 percent of nearly 100,000 voters had voted to approve the measure.

The council now needs to write rules and pass an ordinance to establish the exact process through which it will consider future department heads. 

The ballot measure was introduced in February by Councilman JP Morrell, who has been an advocate for increasing the council’s role in New Orleans’ traditionally “strong mayor” style of government. 

“This City Council is the strongest and most independent council we have seen in decades, and it’s the will of the people that empowers us to keep pushing forward and doing what’s right,” Morrell said in a statement. “The voters of New Orleans have once again made it very clear: government accountability is not a want, but a demand. I proposed this amendment because I believe no leader in city government should be shielded from a public hearing and community input, and the voters agree.”

Councilman Eugene Green told WWLTV Tuesday night he did not support the charter change because the council already has the power to remove appointees.

The measure was introduced at a time of high tensions between Mayor LaToya Cantrell and members of the council, including Morrell. When Morrell first rolled out the idea, he cited two Cantrell appointments he had concerns about — NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson and former head of the city’s Office of Business and External Affairs Peter Bowen.

Some criticized the decision to hire Bowen, a former short-term rental executive, to run the office that oversees short-term rentals. He was fired from his position in January following a drunk driving arrest during which officers said he tried to use his City Hall position to stop the arrest. 

But since the ballot measure was introduced, Morrell has framed the measure as an additional accountability measure for future mayors, rather than a criticism of the Cantrell administration or an attempt to reduce the mayor’s power. Since Cantrell is deep into her tenure and has already appointed her top staff, the charter change will have a much bigger impact on future administrations.

The measure was endorsed by the local think tank the Bureau of Governmental Research. Their report looked at 25 peer cities and found that 80 percent of them had laws requiring City Council confirmation for some or all department head appointments.

Public Service Commission 

No candidate was able to garner over 50 percent of the vote during Tuesday’s primary election for the district 3 seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, sending the race to a Dec. 10 runoff election. Incumbent Lambert Boissiere III, who won 43 percent of the vote, will face Davante Lewis, who earned 18 percent, in the December election. Lewis had narrowly edged out Gregory Manning, who had 17 percent of the vote, with the vast majority of precincts reporting.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission is a state regulatory agency responsible for overseeing utilities including providers of electricity, water and internet. It’s governed by five elected commissioners, including Boissiere. 

New Orleans is somewhat unique in that it relies on the local City Council to regulate the local investor-owned power company, Entergy New Orleans, instead of relying on the LPSC.  However, New Orleans is still significantly impacted by decisions made by the LPSC. 

Most of the energy used in New Orleans is generated outside the city. And that power has to get to New Orleans through a regional transmission system that is largely managed by other Entergy subsidiaries including Entergy Louisiana.

For example, New Orleans suffered an extensive blackout during Hurricane Ida last year when all seven transmission lines coming into the city failed. In the aftermath, residents and public officials began to question Entergy’s maintenance of the regional grid and whether the company had failed to prepare for storms that are increasingly damaging due to climate change.

Boissiere is seeking a fourth six-year term in the role. He first took office in 2005 and most recently ran unopposed in 2016. But Boissiere faced much stiffer competition and scrutiny during this year’s election. The agency has overall been subject to much more public scrutiny recently following the extended blackouts caused by Hurricane Ida last year and sharply rising customer bills. 

Boissiere’s main two challengers, Lewis and Gregory Manning, criticized Boissiere and the Public Service Commission as a whole for being too passive and acquiescent to industry requests. Lewis and Manning, along with a Super PAC aligned with the Environmental Defense Fund, have targeted Boissiere over the fact that the vast majority of his campaign donations came from utilities or individuals associated with companies regulated by the Public Service Commission, The Advocate reported in October. 

The two will square off in a runoff election on Dec. 10. 

Full election results can be viewed on the Secretary of State’s website

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...