‘I’m not firing anybody:’ Cantrell defiant about embattled comms aide

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 12:57 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A defiant Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday (Sept. 13) she has no intention of dismissing her embattled communications director by Friday as recommended by the New Orleans City Council.

“No, I’m not firing anybody,” Cantrell said at a City Hall press conference. “I’m not firing anyone. I’m supporting a city employee who has been villainized, who has been discriminated against, who has been a victim of conscious bias and unconscious bias, of sexism. This is a problem.”

The City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution calling for the removal of Gregory Joseph, accusing Cantrell’s top communications aide of ”incompetence, neglect of duty and gross misconduct.”

Council president J.P. Morrell has said Joseph likely broke state law with the production of a taxpayer-funded mailer touting alleged accomplishments of the mayor -- and featuring her name and likeness -- that was sent to voters in February during a campaign to recall Cantrell. Morrell also suggested Joseph lied to the Council during a combative Aug. 31 hearing focused on his involvement in the mailers.

The Council’s resolution called upon Cantrell to terminate Joseph’s employment by Friday. Failing that, the Council said it would hold a hearing next month to hear why Joseph should stay on the city’s payroll, and perhaps remove him by a majority vote as permitted under the Home Rule Charter.

“We’re not losing Gregory Joseph,” Cantrell said Wednesday. “The City of New Orleans will be supporting Gregory Joseph as someone who is competent and very effective in the day-to-day progress that the city is making.”

Cantrell called the Council’s push to remove Joseph “horrific,” “unjustifiable” and “dangerous behavior” that makes it “more difficult to recruit people to lead our city forward.”

The mayor also defended the mailers themselves, describing them as educational rather than an attempt to fight back against the recall effort.

“I knew we were sharing information with the public, relative to progress we were making, to remind the public, to educate them and to build hope,” Cantrell said. “That is what we did and it was appreciated. ... It was to inform the City of New Orleans of work that was done. And that’s what those mailers did and it was appreciated.”

The mailers cost New Orleans taxpayers more than $50,000.

Cantrell accused the Council of creating a “toxic work environment” for city employees, of making an “unconstitutional” request for Joseph’s termination, and claimed the governing body has spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on fruitless investigations of her administration. Morrell called an immediate press conference of his own to refute that claim.

“I’ll begin by saying, ‘Wow, that was interesting,’” Morrell said. “The council spent zero dollars on that investigation. It was all done in-house.

“We are a council about accountability. Taxpayers expect a certain return on the money they pour into the system. And when they see something happening that is obviously wrong, they expect action to be taken. The ‘toxic work environment’ is created by the cult of personality that surrounds the mayor’s office.”

He added that the council may have had to pay a couple hundred dollars for a transcript but other than that the work was done in-house. And, Morrell said actions they have taken relating to Joseph are within the council’s authority.

“Nothing that we have done is outside what the charter allows and as far as her constitutional argument You can’t really respond to an argument that is nonsense,” he said.

Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins said the nature of the conflict between Cantrell and the council is unprecedented in the city’s history.

“These are not just political conflicts or professional conflicts, these are personal conflicts,” Collins said. “The evidence is that this mayor’s ego has gotten in the way of some of her personnel decisions, some of her policy decisions, and I think that’s going to come back and bite her.”

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