I was starting to worry that our new city council was going to bore the hell out of us for four years. Finally we're getting some action.
The gloves came off. The claws came out. And any notion that everything is sweetness and light among members of the New Orleans City Council was shredded before a single motion was even considered at Thursday’s meeting.Better still, the issue that finally got the guys and gals to show a little life was incredibly stupid.
Five of the council’s seven members began by squabbling about whose turn it was to speak, in what order the agenda should be considered and who said what to whom on whose behalf.
But those preliminary tiffs paled in comparison to a showdown between Councilman Jason Williams and Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell that was — depending on which side of the issue one happened to favor — the result either of an at-large councilman thumbing his nose at political tradition and trumping a district representative on an issue in her district or of a councilman holding true to a promise made to constituents.
Williams and Cantrell, though never before at odds publicly, apparently spent the better part of the past two weeks feuding in private after Williams introduced an ordinance to change the name of four blocks of Carondelet Street and 11 blocks of La Salle Street to Robert C. Blakes Sr. Drive and Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way, respectively.The irregular motion to rename the streets after politically influential preachers had already stirred controversy when it passed the planning commission against the recommendation of the staff there. The change actually violates city planning rules. It confusingly disrupts the street grid by breaking up otherwise continuous streets. There's also a rule that prohibits renaming a street in honor of a person who has not been dead at least five years. The preachers have been dead less than two years.
But the beef between Cantrell and Williams arose because Williams broke with a "tradition" of deference to councilmembers with regard to matters within their districts. Maybe that shouldn't actually be a hard and fast rule all the time, but it's a decent guideline. The district councilperson is typically the point of contact for neighbors with disputes like this. So she and her staff are doing the legwork talking to people, considering alternatives, hammering out compromises and so forth.
And that appears to have been the case here. Cantrell had intended to put forth a reasonable suggestion.
However, a motion she intended to put forth would have made the changes honorary, meaning the new names would have appeared somewhere on street signs but not on the official maps used by postal and emergency medical workers. Cantrell said the honorary designations would allow more people to be honored in that way and would eliminate the confusion and expense that can come with actually changing a street name.But Williams big-footed her citing the importance of "keeping promises".. to preachers. And since Williams, three other councilpersons, and Mayor Landrieu all owed the preachers a favor, we're all gonna be double-checking our Google maps for a while now.
The good news is there's apparently some life in this council. Next week, I think they're supposed to take up UberX again. Maybe that will end up being less depressing than it once seemed.