City council votes to hold top Cantrell aides in contempt amid ‘Smart Cities’ investigation

Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 4:47 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2022 at 7:01 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to hold two of Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s top aides in contempt of council after failing to provide documents for an ongoing investigation into the Smart Cities project. The vote adds to the ongoing fight between the council and Cantrell’s administration.

“And I just have to say, it’s really disappointing that we’re at this point,” said council president Helena Moreno.

On Thursday, June 9, the council voted to adopt motions M-22-267 and M-22-268 to hold Arthur Walton, director of Intergovernmental Relations for the city, and Clifton Davis, Chief of Staff for the Mayor’s office, in contempt of council for failing to fulfill public record requests filed by the council.

“Let me make clear that requesting public information should not have been this hard and costly,” said Moreno.

Other councilmembers echoed Moreno, saying it sets a bad precedent for the public, and having to do this is not the best use of council time.

The Mayor’s Office of Communications issued the following statement in response to the council’s vote:

“We stand firm in our position that these actions, including today’s ruling, are political, duplicative, and a misuse of taxpayer funds,” said Gregory Joseph, Director of Communications. “The City Council could have used a more straightforward and accurate procedure by simply submitting a public records request for the administration to turn over executive branch documentation.

As we continue to work with City Council leaders to satisfy their demands in a timely manner, they should, in return, work in collaboration with the administration to address the residents’ most critical concerns, including enhancing public safety, ensuring we are prepared for yet another above-average hurricane season, and improving our aging infrastructure.”

The City Council recently asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate how Cantrell’s administration negotiated a citywide wi-fi contract to provide internet to low-income neighborhoods, believing there may have been a conflict of interest in those contracts.

“Basically they’re the last resort. In essence, the council is saying we’ve exhausted all other possibilities,” said Public Policy Professor for Dillard University, Robert Collins, Ph.D. “So we now have to hold members of the Mayor’s office in contempt.”

Dr. Collins said contempt of council motions are very rare.

“What’s problematic for the mayor, even her closest allies on the council who normally stick with her regardless of the issue have basically walked away on this issue,” he said. ““If all seven elected members of the council are struggling to get the information they need, imagine if a citizen was wanting to get information on their property or something.”

While the fight between the council and mayor’s office has taken another turn, Dr. Collins said it’s not unusual.

“In any mayor’s second term we always see the council start to assert its independence and drift away from the mayor,” he said. “Part of that is political because there are always city council members interested in running for mayor.”

He said it’s a historical pattern in politics, and adds part of it is of the mayor’s own creation by not responding to requests from the council in a timely manner.

The contempt motions will now go before the city attorney who will most likely refer the charges to District Attorney Jason Williams.

“In the end, I’m comfortable in predicting the city council will get everything that they’ve requested,” said Collins. “I think the mayor is going to continue to fight them, but the law is very clear and it’s on the side of the city council.”

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