Uproar over a public letter. A derisive rehashing of one City Council member’s allegedly callous attitude toward constituents. Charges that the same member allowed a corporation to influence some of the rules for advisers to the public agency that acts as its watchdog.
All of it characterized the explosive finale to Thursday's City Council meeting, which quashed any hope that the council’s two at-large members, Stacy Head and Jason Williams, might repair their fractured relationship.
Amid the dispute, the council managed to unanimously retract billing guidelines for the consultants that help it regulate Entergy New Orleans, so that the rules, proposed by Head and approved by the full council last month, could be vetted further.
But all ears in the room were tuned to Williams’ tirade against Head for her critique of his desire to let the consultants weigh in on those rules.
It was Head herself who first proposed language that invited the consultants — who are paid millions of dollars a year — to give their input, Williams charged, adding that Head put the motion on the council's agenda without talking to her colleagues.
Further, a letter Head wrote in the Uptown Messenger last month that initially said she had worked with Entergy, the Inspector General's Office and the council’s lawyers to craft the proposed billing rules for the consultants was "illegal and unethical," Williams said.
“When there is a statement in the media, that states that a committee member is working with the utility company to come up with guidelines for advisers who have been very tough on (the company), that is a problem,” Williams said, his voice rising.
Head, who spoke with the Messenger and other publications ahead of the council’s decisions on the rules last month, replied that the wording was a mistake by a political consultant that was later corrected. She pledged “on my life” that she had not discussed the proposals with Entergy.
She said she also never intended to imply in her original proposal that the advisers should help to craft the rules, an idea she said was “not appropriate.”
It was not the first time that Head and Williams have sparred over the council’s handling of the international law firm Dentons US, the Legends Consulting Group of Denver and the local law firm Wilkerson and Associates, the three outside firms that help the council regulate Entergy New Orleans. The state Public Service Commission regulates all other utility companies in Louisiana.
But Thursday’s fight was particularly bitter, driven by Head’s recent comments to news outlets about her colleagues’ actions in recent weeks.
Her letter to the Uptown Messenger described “a vested interest by some to quietly move” the cost of consulting contracts out of the public’s view, so that “politicians and their donors get rich.”
She also railed against the council’s December decision to award new contracts to the three longtime consultants and said Williams, as chairman of the Utility Committee, “refused to review” offers from other firms.
In conversations with two newspaper reporters this week, she called Williams' and other members’ push to have the consultants weigh in on the guidelines that would help govern their actions akin to “the fox drafting the security plan for the henhouse.”
Williams called Head’s characterization problematic, considering that she claimed to have talked to Entergy about those same rules. When Head insisted that statement was a mistake made by Cheron Brylski, her political consultant, Williams pounced.
“The same Cheron Brylski that was involved in council issues very recently, that became very racially charged? Is that your statement?” he asked, referring to an email Brylski sent in 2015 to two French Quarter neighborhood groups. That email, which was accidentally sent to local media, suggested that the mostly white groups should find black people to speak on their behalf and that the council was racially divided.
“I really thought that you evolved past blowing kisses at disenfranchised poor people,” Williams continued, referencing a kiss Head blew from the council dais a decade ago to people angered by the council’s vote to tear down several of the city’s public housing complexes.
“I really thought we were moving to a point where we could work together, where we could disagree, where we could walk across the hall, to have conversations to change things,” he said.
He finally accused Head of being “at the beach” while her colleagues were scrutinizing the offers put forth by the incumbent advisers and others in the fall.
Head bristled. “Mr. Williams, that is hitting below the belt. I never said that I was at the beach,” she said.
Councilman James Gray also appeared somewhat upset by some of Head’s comments, calling the suggestion of political patronage unfair. However, he quickly carved out his exit from the heated dispute. “I’m not in this,” he said, to chuckles from others in the chamber.
Other council members stayed mostly quiet, except Susan Guidry, a frequent ally of Head’s who tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to interrupt Williams’ tirade.
It was Guidry who finally proposed reconsidering last month's vote, a move Williams said he supported.