In The News › EDITORIAL: Creating an inspector general

Nov 1, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

EDITORIAL: Creating an inspector general

EDITORIAL: Creating an inspector general
Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New Orleans could use an independent inspector general. The city’s storied reputation for corruption and cronyism warrants a watchdog without political ties, dedicated to eliminating fraud and waste, particularly as billions of federal dollars are expected to rebuild the city.

New Orleans voters approved the creation of such an office more than a decade ago, and Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission recommended that it be implemented. Five council members voted last month for a proposed ordinance to establish the office, and the council seems likely to give it final passage as soon as Thursday.

But the current proposal has sections that need to be reviewed. Some last-minute amendments being discussed are problematic, for they would reduce the office’s independence. That’s the opposite of what New Orleans needs.

Some council members have voiced concerns that a powerful inspector general could use the office to foster a political agenda. Those are valid concerns. But just as grave would be for the council to create a post that could easily degenerate into a political instrument to wage war with the mayor and City Hall.

To assuage those concerns, the selection of the inspector general needs to be the result of a national, merit-based search conducted by a qualified and independent group. The current proposal, spearheaded by Councilwoman Shelley Midura, puts a new Ethics Review Board in charge of the search. Presidents of the city’s six universities would nominate board members for mayoral appointment.

But if the board does not take office 30 days after the ordinance’s approval, the council would be in charge of the search. An amendment being discussed would give 60 days for the board to convene before the council takes over. The council, which would be subject to inspector general oversight, should not be in charge of the post’s selection at all. There are other ways to assure that the implementation of the office does not stall out.

The selection group also should extend beyond the university presidents to include high-ranking people with law enforcement and ethics backgrounds, a suggestion made by the Bureau of Governmental Research.

Just as important is for the inspector general to be able to subpoena documents and testimony. The now-inactive Office of Municipal Investigations had that power. Without it, city officials and the council itself could ignore inspector general probes, greatly reducing the office’s effectiveness. Subpoenas should be subject to challenge in state court, as is the case in Miami-Dade County. The current proposal simply would give the inspector general the “right” to seek documents and testimony. That’s not enough.

Other proposed amendments raise concerns about the direction the legislation seems to be taking. Instead of requiring the inspector general to have 10 years of experience in one of several pertinent areas, such as law enforcement, accounting or auditing, one amendment would lower the standard to five years.

Another possible amendment suggests that the Ethics Review Board or the council name the inspector general’s attorneys, giving the IG only the ability to “advise” on the decision. The office should be able to pick its own attorneys without interference from politicians.

Even more worrisome, one proposed amendment would dilute a provision barring past or current elected officials or city employees from being inspector general within five years of leaving office or city employment. The amendment would lower the waiting period to two years. But the IG’s independence would be best assured if the office holder had no ties to local or state government, period.

Creating an effective inspector general is not a step that should be taken lightly. Council members need to get it right if voters are to be truly served. Otherwise this will be pretend reform.

Nov 1, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Fair Use Notice

This site occasionally reprints copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We make such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues and to highlight the accomplishments of our affiliates. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is available without profit. For more information go to: US CODE: Title 17,107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.