In The News › Board expects to find city IG by summer

Mar 5, 2007

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Board expects to find city IG by summer

Board expects to find city IG by summer
by Deon Roberts

The New Orleans City Council honored voter wishes from more than a decade ago by adopting an ordinance Nov. 2 creating an inspector general’s office.

But in nearly four months since then, the position designed to investigate reports of fraud and abuse in city government remains unfilled as a city-appointed board has yet to advertise the job.

Janet Howard, head of the New Orleans Bureau of Governmental Research, said the IG appointment is “dragging right now. Nothing is happening.”

But the Rev. Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University New Orleans and chairman of the seven-member Ethics Review Board, which will ultimately hire the IG, said the position could be filled by early summer. He hopes the IG’s job description will be approved at a March 23 Ethics Review Board meeting so it can be advertised nationally.

“My hope is that if we get this (job description) approved on the end of March, we can get it listed or posted right away,” Wildes said. “I would hope to have applications by early May and do a further weeding process.”

The City Council approved the Ethics Review Board members Jan. 4. The board has met twice so far and has yet to formulate its policies, Wildes said.

“We’re creating this thing from scratch. The city’s not had this before. The first meeting we elected officers and who’s doing what,” he said. “We really are inventing this from the beginning, which is sort of fun.”

The key is to build it right, he said. Another issue is the IG’s salary.

“I frankly have no idea what a competitive salary is at this point for somebody in this job,” Wildes said.

The city approved about $250,000 to run the office for six months beginning in January, he said.

Wildes is uncertain about funding for the IG office beyond that, and he is spending as little of the budget as possible. As of Wednesday, not a dime had been spent, he said.

“We need to sit down with City Council and talk about the longer-term funding mechanism of this. Frankly, I’m not clear at this point,” Wildes said.

Tension has mounted among City Council members over the specifics of the position. Council members Arnie Fielkow and Shelley Midura exchanged contentious e-mails last month over their interpretation of the ordinance creating the IG post. At issue was whether the ordinance required the City Council to approve governing procedures for the IG before or after the position is filled.

Midura, who wrote the ordinance, said the policies should be approved 90 days after the IG is hired. Fielkow disagreed.

“It would be better for all of us to not be our own lawyers on this,” Fielkow said in a Feb. 6 e-mail to Midura. Fielkow then recommended seeking an opinion from the city attorney and Ron Pursell, City Council chief of staff.

Fielkow later blasted the way discussions were being handled.

“This string of e-mails does not reflect good government,” he wrote Feb. 7 to Midura and other city officials. “Council member Midura, it is the belief of the city attorney that we are not in compliance with our November ordinance. It seems that you disagree with that legal opinion and want to run with something else. I would like to remind you that the OIG legislation was a joint effort by several members and it is crucial that we get it right!”

Midura and Fielkow say the issue has been resolved.

Midura said a last-minute verbal amendment made by Councilman James Carter at an Oct. 19 meeting caused the trouble.

“When that happens it can lead to the kind of ambiguity that’s here,” Midura said.

Carter, Midura and Fielkow agreed on an amendment to require policies to be approved 90 days after the IG is on the job.

“All of us are fine with it,” Fielkow said. “My concern was on the time issue and that was corrected through a rather simple amendment.”

Howard said the BGR is still waiting for City Council members to discuss proposed amendments to the IG ordinance. BGR gave the City Council its opinions Jan. 29 on possible amendments but nothing else has happened, she said.

“I haven’t heard boo,” she said.•

Mar 5, 2007

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

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