City of New Orleans Charter Amendment
(PW HRC Amendment - Art. IV, Sec. 4-106 - CC)
The City’s “constitution” is the City Charter, a document that lays out how the City government is structured, how it runs, and what its laws are. This document is updated from time to time, and a charter amendment is on the ballot specifically related to balance of powers within the City government.
Currently, the Mayor has authority to appoint people to a variety of administrative positions. The City Council acts as the legislative branch of the City of New Orleans and has a few powers to balance against the executive, such as passing the budget that the Mayor’s office proposes. One legislative power that we see as a check against the executive on a national level is Congressional approval of presidential appointees, and this charter amendment intends to introduce that power to City Council. This proposed amendment acts as a check against the executive in two ways. First, it makes the appointment a public process, allowing for people to make their public comments in support or opposition of an appointee. Second, it allows the Council to block an appointment.
As an example of an appointment gone wrong, Mayor Cantrell appointed Peter Bowen to be in charge of short-term rental permit enforcement while having stock in Sonder, a private company that owns a mass amount of STRs across the city. That appointment prompted the New Orleans DSA chapter to submit a petition to rescind this appointment that collected more than 750 signatures with no response from the mayor. The relationship between capitalists and the executive power of the City allows for these types of deals to occur that essentially deregulate entire industries within our city and exacerbate crises like the housing crisis.
The executive authority of the Mayor is central to major organizing efforts in both support (The NOLA Coalition, The Mayor’s Fund) and opposition (the recall effort) of Mayor Cantrell’s administration. The current lack of limitations to these highly centralized executive powers engenders a system ripe for corruption, cronyism, and squashing dissent. In this and previous voter guides, we have covered the network of political and economic power brokers that assemble and fund the ruling class in this city; its prominence should be kept in mind when voting on this charter amendment. The current composition of City Council includes a fairly pro-Cantrell voting bloc of three members (Green, Thomas, and King) and a more independent bloc of four (Moreno, Morrell, Harris, and Giarrusso). This proposed check for City Council could lead to even more influence on City Council elections from groups that want to affect Mayoral appointments to be in line with their own interests.
The New Orleans Tribune and Erase the Board are advocating to vote no. NOLA.com and BGR suggest voting yes.
1st City Clerk of Court
The role of clerk is to process and record all transactions that pass through the First City Court, which includes small claims and eviction suits. Managing the constant filings and providing accurate information to litigants is no small task, especially when eviction filings are steadily on the rise since the end of the eviction moratorium in September 2021.
Austin Badon is running for re-election after winning the position in 2018. He is defending his seat after making an unsuccessful run last year for Criminal District Court against Darren Lombard. He is endorsed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Badon is a career politician and member of BOLD, having served as a state representative for District 100 from 2004-2016. In the state House, he voted to expand parole eligibility and loosen marijuana restrictions, as well as for equal pay for state employees. He also restricted abortion access by requiring providers to have hospital admitting privileges, expanded private school vouchers, and wrote legislation to further criminalize sex work.
In his role as Clerk of First City Court, Badon has occasionally advocated for renters, notably writing a letter to the governor asking to extend the pandemic eviction moratorium after Hurricane Ida displaced thousands of residents (it didn’t work). Badon has also been encouraging renters to work out payment plans with their landlords to avoid eviction. He is heavily supported by the city’s real estate interests, including billionaire Joe Jaeger, the city’s biggest hotel owner and speculative investor. He is endorsed by Councilmember and property manager Eugene Greene.
Donna Glapion is running in her first open race, although she is no newcomer to politics. Glapion’s family has deep political roots in New Orleans, and she was recently appointed interim City Councilmember At-Large upon Jason Williams’s election win for District Attorney in 2020. For those trying to build up the political credentials of a future office holder of a higher level, Clerk of Court is a great first stepping stone. Glapion worked from March to July in the transition from Darren Lombard’s to Lisa Ray Diggs’ office for the Second City Clerk of Court (on the Westbank. For clarification: First City is on the Eastbank only.) Glapion is the favorite here of the local establishment, with endorsements from several City Councilmembers and Congressman Troy Carter. Her campaign is funded heavily by former Congressman Cedric Richmond-aligned powerbroker Ike Spears’s Deep South Political Consulting.
To be certain, for both candidates, there is work to be done at the Clerk’s office, particularly on behalf of tenants. We would hope that the candidates in this race are more attentive to the needs of working class renters who make up the majority of the city’s residents. For example: in a recent IWO candidate forum, Glapion and Badon were asked what resources would be made available to renters facing evictions. While both recognized that many people coming to court represent themselves, neither candidate touted the city’s newly created Right to Counsel program, which offers key protections for renters. It’s critical that this program continues to offer free legal help to tenants, because it works to keep people housed. Neither has voiced support for a rental registry. It’s unlikely that either candidate will bring in sweeping changes to curb evictions. Our recommendation? If housing is your concern, go vote, and then link up with the Renters Rights Assembly who are consistently organizing and fighting the city’s biggest evictors – slumlords and short term rental speculators – who have taken advantage of our housing crisis and weak tenant laws to line their own pockets and drive the working class renters of this city into further precarity.
Municipal and Traffic Court Divisions D & E
Municipal and Traffic Court serves the city’s real estate and tourism interests by harassing unhoused people and by collecting traffic fines to fund the harassment of unhoused people. Petty batteries, assaults, trespasses, property damage, and unconstitutional stops and frisks of Black tourists for guns ensure patronage jobs for Judge Paul Sens’s entire extended family. Hurricane Ida destroying the court’s Broad St. building, a leaky roof suspending its operations at the abandoned VA Hospital on Gravier, and a recent plague of flies all seem like good reasons for shutting the entire extractive operation down. Disappointingly, we see no heirs this cycle to 2020’s Flip the Bench criminal justice reform campaigns.
In Division D, we see former city prosecutor Derek Russ challenging 13-year-incumbent judge Mark J. Shea. Russ calls Muni “a court that is rife with corruption,” where his opponent “allows race to influence his decisions in a biased way, leading to a particular demographic receiving leniency.” Russ promises technology improvements and a night court, though the city does not look poised to fund the additional staffing needed to drag residents into the building at all hours to be prosecuted for their poverty - but who knows! Shea and fellow judge Sens just announced an online case resolution system to “dispute a case, work with their attorney, negotiate a settlement with the prosecutor, attend a hearing and pay a fine without physically making an appearance.” The same press release announced a new “community court” offering wraparound services for mental health and homelessness, but we’d be shocked if a single penny went to housing-first services instead of just paying staff to refer people to existing services. Shea has the bigger endorsement list, including donations from former sheriff Marlin Gusman and conservative owner of Nola.com/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate John Georges.
In Division E, city prosecutor Geoffrey L. Gates faces former city prosecutor Bobbie Smith for the open seat. Both committed unforced errors on VOTE’s survey by refusing to recuse themselves when campaign donors appear in front of them, though a charitable interpretation assumes they meant the many attorneys who donate to all judicial campaigns. Each has the backing of the generally liberal-leaning members of the current bench, with Judge Sean Early supporting Gates and Judge Robert Jones supporting Smith, who temporarily filled in as a judge in 2017. Smith expressed no problem with unnecessarily punitive habitual offender sentencing, opposes community oversight of the legal system, is undecided on Jim Crow juries, and when asked whether race impacted Louisiana’s justice system, answered, “Some,” leading us to conclude he does not feel he needs the formerly incarcerated constituency to advance his career.
4th Circuit at Large Court of Appeal
Twelve judges rotate into panels of three to hear appeals from Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard parish courts.
Karen Herman was a prosecutor from 1991-98 and has been a Criminal District Court judge since 2008. In both positions, she sent fake subpoenas and signed arrest warrants based on fake subpoenas, and in the interim between prosecutor and judge, she was founding executive director of watchdog group Court Watch NOLA. She currently runs the mental health court. In VOTE’s survey, she supported unnecessarily punitive habitual offender sentencing, which 100% tracks her judicial record. Her campaign budget dwarfs her competitors’ and shows a quarter-million dollars spent for this seat.
Joseph Cao became the first Vietnamese-American US Congressmember in a Gustav-postponed, low-turnout 2008 election and went on to oppose Obamacare because it allowed federal funding for abortion. Afterwards, he ran unsuccessfully for attorney general and has been practicing civil law since. He carries Republican Senator Bill Cassidy’s endorsement.
Marie Williams is always on a ballot and it’s never clear why. She’s lost elections for Civil District Court, Juvenile Court, Criminal District Court, and City Court, including one race where she recorded former Judge Frank Marullo offering payment and a different judgeship in exchange for dropping out. We’re leaving you to watch her 30-second campaign spot from the last cycle because it’s just too good to pass up.
Orleans Parish School Board, District 1
OPSB District 1 covers New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. The seat is open due to the resignation of John Brown, Jr. whose daughter was among a list of candidates for the New Orleans Public Schools superintendent position. He resigned to avoid a ‘conflict of interest,’ but ultimately the appointment went to Avis Williams to the tune of $300k per year.
Leila Eames was appointed to fill the interim District 1 position in April 2022 by a 4-1 vote of sitting School Board members. She is a member of the Audubon Commission, and serves on the Eastover Property Owners Association Board. She is also a former 15-year board member of the Lake Forest Charter School, one of the most selective schools in the city, which recently came up in the news for expelling a third grader in violation of state enrollment law. Eames is a 33-year educator with experience working in Title 1 programming. She has called for the need to work together to address truancy and attendance issues, and according to The Lens, calling for help from the mayor and district attorney’s office to solve these issues.
Dr. Patrice Sentino is a licensed social worker and former professor at SUNO, and currently runs the non-profit Center for Hope Children & Family Services. She is endorsed by the Forum for Equality PAC, Independent Women’s Organization, and OPDEC, among others. Dr. Sentino worked briefly with the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, where she says “she saw firsthand how under-resourced children and youth became casualties of the school-to-prison pipeline.” Her work since then has been focused on mental illness, behavioral health and environmental and social trauma. Her platform includes rebuilding trust between OPSB and the community, ensuring safety for teachers from COVID, ensuring the mental health of students, and holding charter operators accountable. That last point may have struck a particular chord with State Senator Dr. Joe Bouie Jr., who has contributed to her campaign from his own campaign funds. Dr. Bouie is a strong proponent of ending the charter system here in New Orleans.