‘What was done will not be tolerated’: City Council sued over paid actors at Entergy meetings

NEW ORLEANS -- Environmental and other advocacy groups are suing the New Orleans City Council, claiming the council violated open meetings laws when paid actors hired by an Entergy subcontractor filled the council chambers and shut out opponents of a controversial power plant.

The City Council gave final approval in March for Entergy to build a $210 million, 128-megawatt plant on Old Gentilly Road that will replace Entergy’s old plant in Michoud. The plant has been met with heavy opposition from neighbors and energy advocates who are pushing for Entergy to use alternative energy sources and not rely on natural gas. Opponents say the new plant will increase pollution and utility bills.

According to the lawsuit, opponents of the plant showed up to a Feb. 21 committee meeting and were told they could not enter the council chambers because the 250-seat auditorium was full.

It was later revealed that the room was full of "supporters" who were paid $60 to attend meetings and fill up the council chambers, while actors who got speaking roles at the meetings were paid $200.

Both parties met in court today (July 19) for a hearing on the lawsuit.

"We want the City of New Orleans to recognize that what was done will not be tolerated," Rev. Gregory Manning said outside the courthouse today. "I want justice to be served ... that it stops here, that in this 300th year of the city of New Orleans, that we're going to be a city that's about fairness, righteousness, justice, and equal representation to its people."

Entergy New Orleans maintains it did not hire paid actors to support the plant, but it did hire The Hawthorn Group to help organize grassroots support for the plant at public hearings. According to Entergy, Hawthorn Group then hired Crowds on Demand — without Entergy’s knowledge or approval.