Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Charbonnet runs on experience/independence for Council

30th December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Ernest “Freddy” Charbonnet holds the unique position of running in the first race for Council at-Large in Orleans Parish history where there will be no white contender. That’s thanks to last year’s landmark Charter change calling for separate elections, instead of the top two finishers.

While the other at-large race has incumbent Stacy Head facing Eugene Green, Charbonnet, the former District E interim councilman, is pitted against term-limited District D Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and former D.A. candidate Jason Williams, two well-known local political names, each with loyal African-American core constituencies.

CHARBONNET

CHARBONNET

“What I like about the system now that we will elect the at-Large posts independently,” Charbonnet explained in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, “is that candidates cannot undermine the democratic process by encouraging their supporters to only vote once. As far as race is concerned, I would hope that voters would examine each candidate and vote for the best-qualified candidate in each division.”

Charbonnet chose to run for a full term, he explained, because he “had the opportunity to serve as an interim Councilmember for Dist­rict E.”

“After that experience, I realized that my experience, independence and accomplishments, made me the ideal candidate to serve. I am not a career politician but I know I can produce results for the people of our city and that I can do much more with a full term.

That experience, he maintained, sets him apart from my opponents. “As an Assistant City Attorney, I played a major role in the City’s lobbying team. As an Interim City Councilmember, I learned how to get things done for the citizens of my district. I have also been a practicing attorney for 26 years. As the owner of my law practice, I understand the needs of the small business owner. It is this combination of experience in both the public and private sectors that uniquely qualifies me for this job.”

Charbonnet runs on three principal campaign planks. “We need to address crime and we should consider all options available to address the root causes of crime, but first we have to fix the police department. We need more officers and better equipment to attract and retain them.”

“Secondly, we have to grow our budget; $500 million is not enough money to fix all of our problems. Other than growing our economy, we need to have an honest conversation about what properties are not on the tax rolls that may need to be.”

“Thirdly, we need to develop economic corridors in forgotten communities, for example, Newton Street in Algiers and the I-10 corridor in New Orleans East.”

Charbonnet does emphasize that regional interparish cooperation must become a priority. “The cities that are prospering now have learned to think regionally. Atlanta is a good example of this trend. Its mayor through its boom years in the 80s was a New Orleans native, Andrew Young. He hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘One of the things I learned when I was mayor is that nobody pays any attention to jurisdictions but elected officials.’”

“We haven’t learned his lesson. We aren’t thinking as an economic unit. Companies are more likely to be attracted to a region that unites to retain businesses. For example, in the metro Denver area, businesses are required to sign a Code of Ethics preventing unhealthy competition between communities.”

“The response from companies looking to do business in the region has been astounding. We forget that companies look to do business with the region as a whole. Another area that is fertile ground for cooperation is transportation. It’s only logical to coordinate efforts to move our citizens quickly and efficiently.”

When directly asked if he would support a state law requiring a public vote before milliages could be rolled forward after being rolled back, Charbonnet did not answer, but did reiterate his tax platform as a way of lowering overall rates. “The real problem is that the City is raising more revenue than it did before Katrina from a significantly smaller population—meaning fewer people are paying more taxes. We need to get more blighted properties repaired by responsible owners and on the tax rolls, so that the burden is more even spread. Once we make some actual progress, we can start responsibly rolling back millage rates for everyone. This falls in line with my platform regarding adding more properties to the tax roll that are currently enjoying a free ride and they should not be.”

Considering the $20 million cost of repairing the current City Hall, Charbonnet supports a new city hall. He just wonders about the urgency, even given the debate between the main Mayoral contenders. “Although I don’t know that it absolutely must happen within the next four years, I do think that eventually turning Big Charity into a new government complex makes a lot of sense. Charity is too important a building to fall into ruin, and no private developer is willing to take the risk of redeveloping it. The project would do wonders for Tulane Avenue, so I support it.”

“It’s just a question of how we’re going to pay for it, and whether we’re going to give developers who wouldn’t take the risk in the first place a piece of the action. I’m theoretically opposed to having the executive and judicial branches under the same roof because the public trust in our legal system must be preserved. I believe the land that City Hall sits on has too much commercial value to be occupied by a government building.”

With Sewerage and Water Board fees expected to rise by an estimated 200% in the next two decades to pay for upgrades mandated under the federal consent decree, Charbonnet demurred from supporting, a state law, backed by a Council ordinance, that would mandate those extra fees would be repealed automatically when the repairs/upgrades are paid for and completed. Charbonnet did declare that rates should go down when the work is done, just perhaps, not all the way back.

“I voted against the rate hike when I was on the Council, not because I didn’t think higher rates are necessary, but I wanted to see real reform first. Just reshuffling the Board composition isn’t going to cut it. As it stands now, I would support a reduction so long as we could cut from S&WB’s budget what is unnecessary spending.”

“Some of the increase is necessary to fund the improvements. If we roll the increases back entirely once the repairs are finished, we’ll be back where we started in 25 years. I don’t think people would mind paying higher rates if they got decent customer service and knew their fees were going towards the repairs. If there is a gravy train, it needs to stop.”

As to the fundamental question why the voters should support Freddy Charbonnet for Council At-Large, he concluded with the words, “I am the only candidate in this race that has the combination of independence and proven on-the-job experience. My passion, commitment and love for this city and all the people in it is genuine. I will bring that passion, commitment and love to the job every day.”

The primary is February 1, 2013, with early voting starting two weeks earlier.

This article originally published in the December 30, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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