by Clancy DuBos
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has informed four City Council members that he will not appoint urban planner Errol George as the interim council member from District B because a city attorney’s legal opinion has concluded that George is not domiciled in District B. At-large Council member Stacy Head and three of her colleagues had asked the mayor to appoint George, but some had expressed concerns about his domicile.
Head formerly represented District B and is the new at-large council member. By council custom, she can nominate someone to take her seat representing District B. She chose George, an urban planner who apparently has residences in District B and District E, the latter of which includes eastern New Orleans. George has not denied that he lived for a time with his parents in District E, and until recently he represented District E on the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee (OPDEC).
Landrieu on Monday afternoon sent a letter to Head and Council members Jackie Clarkson, Susan Guidry and Kristin Gisleson Palmer informing them of the opinion letter he received from City Attorney Richard Cortizas and his decision not to appoint George. Landrieu’s letter to the council members does not indicate whom he will appoint.
Landrieu’s letter includes a copy of Cortizas’ opinion letter, which notes that an interim council member must meet the same two-year “domicile” requirement that elected council members have to satisfy. “Domicile” and “residence” are not the same under Louisiana law. A person can have many residences, but only one domicile. A domicile is akin to a primary or principal residence. According to the opinion letter and Landrieu, George does not meet the legal requirement because he has been domiciled — at least until recently — in Council District E.
“It is the opinion of the City Attorney that Mr. George does not meet the legal requirements to serve as the interim District Councilmember from District B because he is domiciled in District E,” Landrieu stated in his letter, which was hand-delivered and emailed to the four council members. The mayor goes on to cite 13 documents “commonly considered by courts to determine domicile … [which] overwhelmingly support a District E domicile for Mr. George.”
Those documents include George’s voter registration in District E (until April 24, 2012); his service on OPDEC as an appointed member from District E from January 2010 until Feb. 20, 2012; his Louisiana driver’s license, his vehicle registration and insurance papers, his bank and credit card statements, his tax returns, and his personal financial disclosure statements to the Louisiana Ethics Commission (in 2011 and on May 16, 2012) — all of which show him living in District E; the address shown for him in the White Pages of the phone book; the address shown for his business (George & George, LLC), which matches his District E residence; and the address at which, according to Cortizas’ opinion letter, George admits he receives most of his mail.
“At your request, I have considered Mr. George,” the mayor concludes, noting that he has known George for 20 years. “I like him personally. However, I do not have the authority to appoint someone who does not meet the legal requirements to serve. If and when his appointment was challenged in a court of law, any City Council action taken could be thrown into question, and the people of District B could be left without representation. It would be imprudent to take that risk.”
Cortizas’ opinion letter goes even further. It concludes: “It you were to appoint Mr. George and that appointment was to be challenged, it is the opinion of this office that that challenge would likely be successful.”
Head could not be reached for comment Monday night.