District "E" gets interim councilman amid allegations of shenanigans

Published: Jul. 26, 2012 at 9:47 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2012 at 9:58 PM CDT
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Freddie Charbonnet awaits the City Council's vote on his appointment.
Freddie Charbonnet awaits the City Council's vote on his appointment.

New Orleans, La. -- During a special meeting before its regularly scheduled meeting, the City Council appointed a local attorney to serve as the interim District "E" councilman.  But the vote was mired in controversy.

The sudden resignation of District "E" Councilman Jon Johnson created a void on the council.  Johnson resigned earlier in July after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.

"I'd appreciate you guys considering me.  I'm independent, I have no agenda," attorney Freddie Charbonnet said before the vote.

Charbonnet, who once worked in the city attorney's office, was one of the finalists. So was attorney Mike Darnell, who served as an interim councilman-at-large in 2007 after then-Councilman Oliver Thomas resigned over criminal behavior.

"I think it is important to re-establish the credibility of politicians," said Darnell in addressing the council.

Before the meeting there were four finalists.  And to the surprise of some in attendance, it was announced that the other two finalists, Ronald Carrere and Rashida Ferdinand, had withdrawn their names.

"Two withdrew.  I have no reason, I can't answer that, and I don't even know why they withdrew," said Council President Jackie Clarkson.

The council moved to appoint Charbonnet to fill Johnson's old seat.  Four of the six council members voted in favor of his appointment.

But right after the vote, it was clear there is still a lot of tension on the Cty Council.

"My desire was that District "E" be represented, and that there be none of the shenanigans that goes on behind closed doors, [but] that didn't happen," said District "D" Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

She voted no, as did Diana Bajoie, the interim councilwoman for District "B."

Hedge-Morrell criticized the process and said the public should have been given a chance to comment on all of the candidates before a vote was taken.

"I didn't have any cards here when I called for the vote, and had we had all four we would have taken a lot more time and had public speaking," said Clarkson.

Hedge-Morrell questioned why the council rushed to take a vote Thursday, because the city charter gives the council 30 days to make a decision.

Political pundits said the council members did not want a repeat of the mayor having to appoint one of their members.

Recently, Hedge-Morrell, along with Johnson, stayed away from a series of council meetings.  It was linked to a dispute over the appointment of an  interim council person for District "B", after Stacy Head was elected to one of the two at-large council seats.  That created a lack of quorum which allowed the mayor to step in and appoint Bajoie to the seat.

Hedge-Morrell said she does not have anything against Charbonnet, but she objects to the process by which he was chosen.

"The public was totally ignored, and in some cases some of the council persons were ignored, and this is the kind of shenanigans that we're supposed to be getting away from.  And I guess a lot of people are going to say oh well, Cynthia, you're the one complaining about it," she said.

Clarkson denies any backroom politics played a role.  "No. Not at all," Clarkson said.

Clarkson said each of the council members saw the lists of people who were up for consideration.

"Whatever the misconceptions are I am not here to be on a side, or any block vote, or whatever is going on there. I'm not a part of that, I'm open to work with everyone," Charbonnet stated after the vote.

However, the fast action on his appointment caught even him off-guard.

"I'm surprised it happened so quickly," he stated.

"This back door shenanigans has got to stop," continued Hedge-Morrell.

Charbonnet will be sworn in at the next council meeting.  He will serve until an election is held in November.