Perhaps banking too much on the City Council's goodwill, Entergy New Orleans pushed its luck Thursday, and lost out.
Its deal with a City Council committee to pay $5 million from its profits in exchange for the right to build a $210 million power plant in New Orleans East will still be considered by the full council.
But when Entergy officials tried to convince the committee to call the $5 million a "payment" instead of a fine, members balked.
"Marcus, you gotta be kidding me here," said Helena Moreno, the head of the utility committee, after Entergy counsel Marcus Brown requested the change.
She asked Entergy New Orleans CEO David Ellis if he agreed with Brown's tack. Ellis replaced disgraced chief Charles Rice in December and has said he wants to restore public trust in the embattled utility.
When she didn't get a yes or a no, she turned her ire on him. "Mr. Ellis, you are new to this city, and you have made some very strong commitments to change the path of Entergy New Orleans," she told the Philadelphia native.
"What you all are asking for right now is the old way Entergy would act."
The council's advisors agreed that the wording should stand, and the committee made no move to change it.
The council first discussed fining Entergy in October, after an investigation found the utility culpable in a scheme to hire actors to endorse its project. Entergy officials soon claimed the council has no authority to issue that penalty.
The settlement deal allows both parties to retain their legal position on that point, although the resolution the committee considered Thursday refers to the $5 million as a sanction.
The fine would not be assessed to ratepayers, and the City Council hopes to direct it to the cash-strapped Sewerage and Water Board.
The full council will consider the deal on Feb. 21.