Morrell, Palmer & Everson Found Common Ground on Many Issues

Credit: Danae Columbus

Much like the 1970’s English progressive rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Xavier University staffer Bart Everson, former state Senator J.P. Morrell and City Councilmember Kristin Palmer often sang the same tune at Wednesday night’s forum in the city council at-large division 2 race which was hosted by the Gambit.

That’s not to say the three candidates in attendance didn’t have their own thoughts on how to best address the major issues of the day – crime, Entergy, garbage collection, SWBNO, affordable housing, homelessness, short term rentals, civil service, etc.  Viewers who were expecting pyrotechnics might only have found an almost civil discourse among friendly competitors. With voter apathy and burnout at an all-time high, citizens could focus on the personality of the candidates instead of taking the time to learn about the solutions each offers.

As expected, Councilmember Jared Brossett, recently arrested for his third DUI, was not in attendance. None of the candidates used the forum as an opportunity to beat up on Brossett. Instead they suggested Brossett should make whatever decision he thinks best. Brossett is expected to make a statement about his current service on the city council and the future of his candidacy in the very near future. Obviously Brossett is going to have to take a break from public life.

In many instances, Morrell had the distinct advantage at the forum. Throughout the campaign he has made numerous claims that although the city council holds the city’s purse strings, they have not shown the leadership citizens want and deserve. He pounded that message again at this forum regarding the regulation of Entergy, STR legislation and enforcement, municipalization, and affordable housing. And by doing so he could repeatedly take not-so-subtle swipes at Palmer as part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

Many key leaders in the community also agree that New Orleans has had a strong mayor/weak council form of government during the last four years. This style of government has not served the citizens well because of an obvious lack of checks and balances. If Morrell made one recurring point at the forum, it was that he would be a change agent. As panelist Clancy Dubos suggested in the forum’s recap, Palmer’s answers were more nuanced and guided by her experiences as a councilmember during the last four – really her entire eight years of service. She’s taken the time to craft position statements that reflect her thought processes.

Ever the progressive, Everson impressed many audience members who had never seen or heard him before with his simple, common sense, and direct answers. When he didn’t have knowledge in a subject area, he wasn’t afraid to say so – a totally refreshing reflection of how a good public servant should act.

Regarding affordable housing, Morrell pointed to his detailed plan. Palmer talked about his history of working in that arena even before she became an elected official. Everson focused on steep gentrification and pointed to the community land trust concept as a workable model for New Orleans.

Though Palmer authored the STR ordinance, all three candidates talked about the lack of enforcement of the existing law. Palmer said the Cantrell administration should be held accountable and that illegal STRs should be shut down. Everson believes that only citizens with homestead exemptions should be allowed to receive an STR license. Morrell said that penalties for illegal operators were ridiculously low.

Regarding homelessness, Everson believes that affordable housing is part of the solution for people who have mental health issues. Morrell, who reflected on his work as a legislator with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said that the homeless – especially those with mental health crises – need more services from agencies like the Metropolitan Human Services District. Palmer too suggested that wrap around services and stopping homelessness before it starts was important.

The rise in violent crime has affected reform of the criminal justice system. Morrell said the city council needs to deal with the NOPD with urgency and that the Council has never stepped up to engage the NOPD. He bemoaned the demise of the former NOPD task forces and suggested they be reinstated. Palmer agreed with many of Morrell’s suggestions and further pointed out that the NOPD’s record on solving crimes was abysmal. Everson advocated for universal basic income to get rid of poverty and eliminate much of the reasons people commit crimes. He also suggested that investing in education would help solve the problem.

Neither Morrell nor Palmer believe that the NOPD are ready for the federally-mandated Consent Decree to end. Palmer thought the NOPD should have 1400 officers. Morrell thinks up to 1600 might be needed.  Everson thinks the number of officers may not be as important as how they are deployed. Morrell also talked about the need to implement a new policy regarding lateral transfers which would make it easier to recruit experienced officers from other jurisdictions.

Entergy is currently lobbying Congress to provide funding to cover the expenses of rebuilding the grid. Candidates did not provide specific answers on how Entergy would be reimbursed if federal dollars did not become available. Morrell clearly blamed the city council for not being able to negotiate good deals with Entergy and said the council needed to be better stewards of public dollars.

Palmer said she was absolutely opposed to ratepayers paying the grid expenses and was also not sure if the council had done a good job. She recommended beefing up the council’s utility regulatory office (CURO) to make it more public facing. Everson complained that Entergy gets its way all the time and that the company is very profitable. He also believes that rebuilding costs should not be passed on to taxpayers.

The candidates considered the privatization of trash collection a failure. Morrell focused on the hoppers who began striking in May 2020 and that the city only gives a portion of the $24 citizens pays each month for garbage pickup to the vendors. He said there had been a failure of leadership on the part of city leaders.

Palmer said she thought competition between trash haulers was a good thing but that Metro has not done a good job in quite a while. Working in the garbage industry was a difficult, thankless job and indicative of society’s messed up values, said Everson. He is philosophically opposed to privatization but believes that government needs to do better.

Both Morrell and Palmer agreed that City Hall should not be located in the Municipal Auditorium. Morrell said he marched with protestors earlier this year and that the City Council has not formally ruled out the relocation to Armstrong Park. He suggested that City Hall should be renovated instead of relocated and that it could be moved temporarily across Poydras Street to state-owned property during the renovation process.

Palmer explained that Armstrong Park should remain a cultural institution and that the city should inventory all of its public buildings to determine other potential locations for a new City Hall. Everson favors a community driven process and thinks New Orleans East would make a good location where a model of greenness could be built.

In the final section of the forum where candidates could only answer questions with one word, Morrell gave Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s performance in office a letter grade of C+. Palmer rated her a C, and Everson a B. Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson received a C+ from Morrell, a C from Palmer and a D from Everson. Morrell and Everson oppose Entergy New Orleans merging with Entergy Louisiana. Palmer said she was not sure. All three are in support of a new lateral transfer policy, as well as millage for the public library system and housing. While Cantrell opposes Constitutional Amendment No. 1 on the November ballot, both Morrell and Palmer support it. Everson does not.

Early voting begins Saturday, October 30 and runs through Saturday, November 6. The primary election is Saturday, November 13. Mail-in ballots are still available for those who qualify.


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