Questions surround New Orleans City Council’s ordinance on Pontalba usage

Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 11:22 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2023 at 7:14 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s use of the city-owned Pontalba apartment in the French Quarter will now be limited under a new ordinance that the New Orleans City Council passed by a vote of 6-1.

The original ordinance, put forth by Council President JP Morrell, called for the apartment to be put back into commerce instead of being a space the city’s mayor could use at their own discretion.

Councilmember Oliver Thomas offered an amendment that would allow Mayor Cantrell and future mayors to use the apartment for public use but not for residential occupancy. The amendment also prohibits overnight stays.

The apartment has been used by mayors dating back to the 1980′s. It was used to house dignitaries for visits, hold meetings and host events. But recent use by Mayor Cantrell came under scrutiny after a series of Lee Zurik’s Outside the Office investigations showed surveillance footage that captured her visiting the apartment 38 times out of 49 days and staying overnight four times.

Still, the amendment passed 6-1, with Morrell being the only council member to vote against it. Members like Eugene Green say it was a win-win by setting some parameters by the council and letting mayors use the apartment for official dignitary business.

“It doesn’t have to be a dignitary. It could be a person that we just want to present a reception to. It’s a resource that we think won’t effect what the overall intent was,” Green said.

But Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins says there aren’t many teeth to the measure passed by the council.

“The regulations that we put on her were very small, very slight,” Collins said.

One of his concerns is that the ordinance does not address the New Orleans Inspector General’s report that the city was losing tens of thousands of dollars by not renting out the Pontalba.


NOLA City Council attempts to govern how Mayor Cantrell uses Pontalba Apartment

New NOLA City Council ordinance prevents residential use of Mayor’s Pontalba apartment

“In this case it’s $2,900 every month as well as $6,000 a year and utilities,” Inspector General Edward Michel said.

Collins also says there is no necessity for the Pontabla when other spaces could hold meetings and house important guests.

“We have plenty of other hotels and places of this type, very nice places in the city of New Orleans,” he said.

Collins also questions the penalties for a mayor violating the ordinance and how it will even be enforced.

“Number one, there is no way of knowing whether or not that regulation is being followed unless someone is standing outside of the apartment to watch it,” he said.

Councilman Morrell also worries the ordnance does not lay any guidelines for what can’t be hosted at the Pontalba.

“If you have future mayors that want to have political fundraisers, we don’t address the fact that they can’t throw parties there for themselves or friends and families,” he said.

But Councilman Thomas feels the measure addressed the issues raised with Mayor Cantrell’s use of the apartment while still letting the mayor have control over the space.

“You can’t live there. You can’t use it as a residence but there’s nothing wrong with hosting an event to honor the city and its culture socially,” he said.

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