To close out the year, we’re back with the third installment of our advocacy series. Previously, we’ve covered advocacy and community engagement basics; now it’s time to start getting more specific. Below is a quick overview of the New Orleans City Council as well as tips on how to find and engage with your councilmember and their office. Ultimately, everyone should feel empowered to talk to their elected officials, and this should help get you on your way.
City Council Basics
The City Council is a group of seven elected officials who, with assistance from their staff, draft and vote on ordinances and other legislative instruments (i.e. motions and resolutions); help address constituent issues and concerns; hold public hearings on, approve, and modify the City’s yearly budget; make rulings on “Land Use” and zoning matters; and perform various other civic duties. There are seven councilmembers—five represent distinct districts of the city of roughly equal population size (labeled A, B, C, D, and E); the other two are councilmembers “at-large” who represent the whole city. The two at-large members serve as council president and vice-president, rotating positions yearly. Council elections are held every four years, and registered voters vote for the councilmember from the district in which they reside and both at-large members. Council staff can be great resources and helpful in many ways. Try to build relationships with them—it will be helpful for both you and the council office! For more detailed information about the roles and responsibilities of city council, visit council.nola.gov/guide.
Finding Your Councilmember
Go to nola.gov and scroll all the way to the bottom until you see the big “Where Y’at” that looks like street name tiles. Type in your address and look to the left under “Municipal Areas.” The first line is council district. Using the letter you see, go to council.nola.gov/councilmembers to find your councilmember, staff, and their contact information.
Engaging with a City Council Office
You can make an appointment to speak to a specific councilmember’s office—if you show up randomly, there’s no guarantee that anyone will be available. If you have an issue you are trying to address, emailing or calling city council offices is usually best. Email allows the information to be shared with any other relevant offices and creates a public record of the interaction. However, when you are emailing a councilmember, don’t just send it to the councilmember themself, also add the email address of the staff member who you think handles the type of request you have—e.g. if you are following up about a pothole, add the community engagement or constituent services staff member. MaCCNO can help you craft your email or find the right person to reach out to—contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Government officials generally can’t make effective use of DMs on social media—if you contact an elected official via social media, do a quick introduction to your issue or concern and then be prepared to follow up with details and documentation via email or phone. All councilmember offices are on the second floor of City Hall; turn left when you see the security officer at the desk, then check in with the receptionist.
Commenting and Speaking at Meetings
There are two ways to comment at City Council meetings—you can show up and make your comment in person, or you can make an online comment.
If you are going to make an in-person comment, you must fill out a comment card and know which item you are commenting on. Meeting agendas are usually available next to the comment cards if you need to look the item number up—it can be helpful to write the item number, agenda page number, and a very brief description (e.g. Regular Agenda #46, page 23, Short Term Rentals) to make sure you are called up at the right time. Sign the card on the back to declare you are not being paid by someone else to be there (if you are, then sign and check the box). You will generally have two minutes to speak, and you are not able to give your extra time to anyone else—or get their extra time either. When they call you up, start your comments with your name and address, and then try to put your most important information towards the beginning of your speech. It can be very impactful for Council to hear how policies, proposed legislation, or a specific issue is affecting you personally, but many organizations will also have talking points that can help you craft a message. If you are entering City Hall from the front doors, take a left and go to the end of the long hallway to reach Council chambers.
You can submit online comments via the City Council website (council.nola.gov/home) but be aware the online comment period ends two hours before the meeting starts. When submitting online comments, get to the point quickly—state your position in the first sentence or two. Long online comments are generally not persuasive. Think of them more as a “yes or no” than a way to make an argument. Staff members will generally read online comments aloud during a meeting, but there is a time limit and individual comments may be cut off; or if there are many comments only some will be read and the rest will be put in the public record. If you want to make a more lengthy case, try to email it directly to the City Council members a few days before the meeting to make sure they see it in time. And if you are using talking points from an organization to help you, try to add at least one or two sentences at the beginning to personalize the message for greater impact.
City Council meeting agendas are generally released on Monday evenings or Tuesdays the week of the meeting. Agendas are not always followed in order. “Big ticket” items can be announced for a specific time which will be set by the City Council president in conjunction with the lead author of the item. This may be listed in a Council news alert, or you can call the office the morning of the meeting to see if a time has been set.
To sign up for City Council meeting notices go to: bit.ly/CC_Notices.
To sign up for the City Council newsletter go to: bit.ly/Council_Newsletter.
We want to thank Andrew Tuozzolo and Sayde Finkel from Councilmember At-Large Moreno’s office for their input on this column.
The Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO) is a broad-based coalition and registered 501c3 non-profit corporation that collaborates with, organizes, and empowers the New Orleans music and cultural community to preserve and nurture the city’s culture, to translate community vision into policy change, and to create positive economic impact.
This space is provided to MaCCNO as a community service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or editorial policies of ANTIGRAVITY.