The news that Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera has requested years of city credit card records from all members of the New Orleans City Council may or may not make a difference in this Saturday's runoff elections, but it clearly represents a needed step toward accountability and transparency. Purpera wants the records by Friday, Nov. 17 — election eve — but already there are media reports that other council members shared District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell's spendthrift habits with their city-issued cards.
It likely will take weeks, if not months, for auditors to determine if council members violated city policy — and possibly state and federal laws. By then, New Orleans will have elected either Cantrell or former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet as the city's first woman mayor.
Until the release of other council members' credit card records, Cantrell was the focus of media and law enforcement attention. Now it's clear she was not an outlier in using a taxpayer-funded credit card for questionable expenditures — though the fact that she had lots of company does not excuse any council member's failure to properly document and justify all credit card expenses.
Gambit endorsed Cantrell in the primary — before the credit card flap surfaced. On a wide array of issues — from criminal justice reform to reducing violent crime — Cantrell was better prepared than her opponents in her knowledge of municipal government and her proposals for addressing key issues. For those reasons, we stand by our endorsement of her. Win or lose, Cantrell will owe voters a more thorough accounting — and a record of doing much better if she wins. The same goes for her council colleagues.
In other runoffs, we stand behind our earlier endorsement of incumbent Councilman James Gray in the District E race. In District B, where we supported Timothy David Ray in the primary, we make no runoff recommendation. We likewise make no recommendation in the runoff for state treasurer. Elsewhere, voters in New Orleans will decide whether to amend the City Charter to establish a Rainy Day Fund, and Jef- ferson Parish voters will decide the fate of a proposed 8.45-mill property tax for employee raises.
New Orleans Charter Change: YES — Changing the City Charter to establish a Rainy Day Fund is a fitting capstone to the fiscal progress that Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council have made in the past eight years. The fund would be a savings account that could be tapped only for specific reasons and only after a two-thirds vote of the council. This is good fiscal policy. We urge our readers to vote YES on the charter amendment.
Jefferson School Board Millage: YES — Teacher salaries in Jefferson Parish are among the lowest (if not the lowest) in the metro area. That's why the school board is proposing a 10-year, 8.45-mill property tax increase — to boost teachers' starting pay to second-highest in the region. Proceeds from the millage could only be used for employee salaries. We recommend our readers in Jefferson Parish vote YES for higher teacher pay.
Above all, we hope all are readers will remember to vote this Saturday, Nov. 18.