Inside Metro Politics for March 16, 2013

Stacy Head; New Orleans City Council District B
Stacy Head; New Orleans City Council District B

Clarkson, carnies frustrate Head

City Council President Stacy Head thought a revamp of the laws that govern food trucks would be as easy as grabbing lunch on the go.

Instead it has turned out to be a long, drawn-out process, with myriad concerns from various people and groups, and Head appeared frustrated Tuesday when the council’s Economic Development and Special Projects Committee met yet again to discuss the issue.

“I’ll be honest, I did not think it would be this difficult to do something which I, frankly, thought was a no-brainer,” Head said. “But it has been exceedingly difficult, and the main questions ... are coming from Council member Clarkson.”

Considering that, Head seemed even more agitated when about six minutes into what would be a one-hour, 20-minute discussion, Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson announced that she’d have to leave the meeting early. She said she had to make it to a New Orleans Regional Planning Commission meeting to discuss future operations of the Crescent City Connection.

“Oh, gosh, because this meeting was called, actually, to make sure we responded to your questions,” Head shot back somewhat sarcastically.

Clarkson said her main concerns included where food trucks can park in relation to brick-and-mortar restaurants, permits for the trucks, insurance and health regulations, including hand washing and bathrooms.

While she has concerns about some of the proposed legislation, Clarkson said she’s not against food trucks. In fact, Clarkson said, she loves them — or at least an incarnation of the restaurants on wheels.

“My favorite thing at Mardi Gras is the food trucks with hot dogs and candied apples,” Clarkson said.

Head paused briefly and replied: “Uh, those are carnies that are not from New Orleans generally.”

Later in the meeting, Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell suggested that regulations be put in place on how each food truck looks and asked to form a working group to review the proposed food truck pilot program that would allow permits for 100 new trucks.

At that point Head went into a bit of a bizarre tangent about carnies.

“We don’t want it to become a group of carnies,” Head said of the look of local food trucks.

“It’s politically correct to pick on carnies; I can do that. If their fair is not in town in Oklahoma, they send them down here to sell us their leftover schnitzel or whatever. That’s really not what we’re trying to promote here. We’re trying to be respectful of what is wonderful about New Orleans, which is our food culture, and prefab food from a leftover carnival event is really not it. And the look is in part ...” Head said as she trailed off.

Rachel Billow, a food truck owner and president of the Food Truck Coalition, agreed that at some point a discussion could be had about the look but urged action on the other concerns first.

Clarkson left about 50 minutes into the discussion, but shortly before heading to her other meeting, she said she was still concerned that the new ordinance, if passed, would allow food trucks to park within 100 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

When Billow suggested that any law preventing a truck from parking in front of an existing restaurant might be unconstitutional, Clarkson seemed to become frustrated.

“You’re talking about land owners, private property rights, you’re talking about taxpayers on property. I come from that world,” snapped Clarkson, a licensed Realtor. “... You don’t want to go there with me on that. Don’t argue with me.”

Political signs raise tempers in Westwego

It’s election time in Westwego, and that means the city’s businesses, roadways and front lawns are plastered with political signs of various colors and sizes.

In the Salaville Historic District, those signs cannot exceed four square feet, according to a city ordinance. That law stirred up a ruckus at a recent City Council meeting when Mayor John Shaddinger was accused of skirting the spirit of the law while targeting one of his rivals in the upcoming election.

Gil Breaux, a member of the Salaville Historic Commission, accused Shaddinger of pressuring one of the commission’s members to have one of Councilman Ted Munch’s signs in the district removed because it was too large. Munch, along with former Councilwoman Lisa Valence, is seeking to oust Shaddinger as mayor.

Breaux was miffed that Shaddinger made that move while the commission was still debating whether the sign violated the rules, but he also was upset because he said Shaddinger skirted the guidelines by placing multiple individual signs next to each other to make one big sign.

Breaux said Shaddinger should have never contacted the commission, particularly if he didn’t want to come to an actual meeting and state his case.

“I don’t think you have the right to contact the commission to have them to enforce the code,” said Breaux, noting that if Shaddinger was really concerned, he could have had the city’s code enforcement officer remove the sign. “You got us up there to make recommendations, not to be puppets. … I’m not going to be a puppet.”

Shaddinger denied requesting that Munch’s sign be removed, instead saying he only asked a commissioner to exam it to determine if it met the city’s rules. He also stressed that his signs meet the rules since they are separate signs, not a single large sign. Shaddinger added that his larger signs are outside of the historic district, although they are right up against the border.

Westwego residents will select a mayor and four council members next month.

Council summons Serpas for NOPD talk

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas will attend the City Council’s March 27 meeting of the Criminal Justice Committee, in which he is expected to discuss several departmental issues, including recruitment efforts, promotion and police response.

Serpas’ appearance comes as a response to a request from Council President Stacy Head.

Head sent a letter on March 4 to Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who serves as chairwoman of the Criminal Justice Committee, asking her to call Serpas to the next meeting or to set a special meeting.

In her letter, Head said that she wants Serpas to discuss the following:

NOPD spokesman Officer Frank Robertson confirmed Thursday that Serpas plans to attend the meeting following a March 12 request from Guidry’s office to appear.

Compiled by

Danny Monteverde

and Allen Powell II