After walkout, Johnson, Hedge-Morrell absent at joint committee meeting on property demolitions



City Councilmembers Jon Johnson and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell were both absent from today's Joint Disaster and Recovery/Housing and Human Needs Committee meeting today.

The meeting, a presentation on property demolitions from members of Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, was the first since Johnson — who serves on both committees as a regular member — and Hedge-Morrell, who serves as an alternate on the Disaster and Recovery Committee — walked out in the middle of last week's regular meeting, leaving only four members — one short of a quorum — for the remainder.

(More after the jump)

The walkout, which occurred after members deferred on an ordinance, sponsored by Johnson and Hedge-Morrell, that would have triggered a popular vote on a charter change that would split elections for City Council's two at-large seats and require that a primary winner receive 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, rather than 25 percent under the current system.

At-Large Councilwoman Stacy Head, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry and District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer were in attendance today, establishing a quorum for the presentation from Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, Assistant City Attorney Tammie Jackson and Pura Bascos, who is currently serving as the director of Code Enforcement and the Office of Safety and Permits. The Times-Picayune reports that the joint meeting was convened after several Councilmembers last month expressed concerns that Bascos couldn't handle both jobs when she was unable to answer their questions about lagging demolition permits or provide information about blighted properties.

Kopplin said the city is in talks with the federal government to start a new phase of the FEMA-funded demolition program. Kopplin said there were 921 FEMA-eligible properties in the city from the last round. Of those, he said, 767 have been demolished, are now in compliance or are in the demolition process. Of the remaining 154, 60 are owned by the New Orleans Redevelopment Agency/Louisiana Land Trust, 60 were denied demolition and 34 are slated for a sheriff sale.

"We are now asking FEMA to look at similarly situated properties," for demolition funding, Kopplin said. "Many more properties are likely eligible," read a slide from the administration's presentation.

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