The Right of Residents to Participate in Council Meetings Under Attack, Groups Say
New Orleans, LA, December 3rd, 2019 –A battle is brewing over a court judgment that threw out the City Council’s approval of the Entergy gas plant for violation of Louisiana Open Meetings Law. The violation occurred at two controversial Council meetings that involve Entergy’s deceptive use of paid actors to fill up a meeting room and speak from scripts as though they were concerned residents. At these meetings, numerous New Orleans residents were denied the opportunity to comment on Entergy’s application for a new gas plant in New Orleans East. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has scheduled a hearing for oral arguments on January 6, 2020.
City Councilmembers, who once said Entergy’s use of paid actors was “nefarious” and “compromised” the public process, have now joined with Entergy to reverse the court judgment. The Council hired the Sher Garner law firm to represent it in the appeal. This is the same law firm that conducted the investigation which uncovered Entergy’s “war” against residents and payments used to hire the actors. According to Council Motion M-19-334, Entergy has arranged to pay the attorneys at Sher Garner to represent the Council on the appeal.
“The Council’s outside lawyers are being paid by Entergy to essentially defend Entergy’s use of paid actors,” said Monique Harden, attorney with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, one of the plaintiffs who filed the Open Meetings lawsuit. “We are defending the right of New Orleans residents to participate in Council meetings, and the Council is on the other side,” she said.
According to the appeal filed by the Sher Garner team for the Council: “It is not the duty of government to establish acceptable grounds for citizens to attend public meetings and speak on matters of public consequence.” Their appeal claims that the Council is exempt from complying with the Open Meetings Law.
“This is an unholy union between the Council and Entergy to attack the right of residents to participate in the Council meetings,” said Rev. Manning of Justice and Beyond, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “We look forward to having our day in court,” he said.
At the Council meetings, many of the New Orleans residents who were denied the opportunity to comment were African American and Vietnamese American residents of New Orleans East, where Entergy planned to build the gas plant.
“This case is about people who have the most to lose with the Entergy gas plant being targeted by the company and being shut out of the Council meetings,” said Sascha Bollag, an attorney with Green Justice representing local groups and individuals. “They are fighting for their right to have a say in what happens to their community,” he said.
“Transparency and open government are bedrock principles of our democracy, principles which the Council continues to abandon in favor of supporting a corporation whose unethical behavior has become a national disgrace,” said Susan Stevens Miller an Earthjustice attorney representing local groups. “Through this appeal the Council continues to fail the residents of New Orleans,” she said.
Bill Quigley, pro bono counsel from Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, said, "This is worse than fake news. This is fake democracy. The City Council, after publicly excoriating Entergy for flagrantly corrupting the democratic process by using dozens of paid actors to lie and displace actually impacted citizens from hearings, now joins Entergy asking the Court of Appeals to endorse the same process. Their position is such an absurd distortion of the open meetings law, maybe the Council and Entergy should pay actors to dress up and sit as judges to justify their illegal actions."
Local groups and residents who filed the Open Meetings lawsuit against the Council are the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, VAYLA New Orleans, Justice and Beyond, 350 New Orleans, Sierra Club, Mr. Theodore Quant and Ms. Renate Heurich.
The Energy Future New Orleans Coalition is: