Orleans council calls for investigation of Qualcomm dealings

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 5:46 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is accusing the New Orleans city council of trying to disrupt her administration, costing the city millions of dollars.

On Wednesday, the council held a four-hour hearing looking into possible conflicts of interest in the way the Cantrell administration negotiated a citywide wi-fi contract.

Tensions flared between the city council and the Cantrell administration as councilmembers grilled the mayor’s point man on an ill-fated citywide wi-fi contract called “smart city.”

Councilmembers grilled city utilities director Jonathan Rhodes about his relationship with a consulting company called Verge Internet and conversations held with consultants affiliated with tech giant Qualcomm. The city was exploring a contract to provide internet to the poor, as well as streetlight controls, and data services.

The council produced emails dating back two years concerning relationships between a variety of consultants and Qualcomm, and negotiations for a wi-fi request for proposals. They also questioned Rhodes about deleted emails.

Rhodes admitted that Verge Internet had worked with Qualcomm previously as it was providing information to Los Angeles regarding a tech contract there.

“Did they seek you out or did you go to them?” asked Council President Helena Moreno.

“We offered to provide assistance to them,” said Rhodes.

Moreno pressed, “So someone who wanted to do work in New Orleans, you offered to provide them assistance to other work they were doing?”

“Yes, we offered to do it with no compensation,” Rhodes responded.

Rhodes says Verge is a for-profit corporation, but he insisted it was never designed to profit from work he performs as a city employee. He says there was no “quid pro quo” in his talks with Qualcomm, which pulled out of the deal with New Orleans.

Councilmember J.P. Morrell called it a “bad deal” with significant ethical concerns.

At the end of the four-hour hearing, the council approved a resolution asking the Office of Inspector General to look into the ill-fated Qualcomm deal.

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