In The News › Editorial: End turmoil in New Orleans inspector general’s office
Editorial: End turmoil in New Orleans inspector general’s office
When New Orleanians more than a decade ago voted to create an office of inspector general, they envisioned it as an effective watchdog to root out waste and corruption in city agencies. By the time the City Council finally selected the first inspector general, in 2007, expectations for the post were sky high. That helps explain the disappointment many residents feel as ineffective leadership and bitter infighting have turned the inspector general’s office into an underachieving mess.
Newly appointed Inspector General Edouard Quatrevaux, who will officially take the post next month, and members of the city’s Ethics Review Board must work to end the office’s turmoil, correct its deficiencies and restore its public image.
That will be a tall order after a head-spinning series of events in recent weeks exposed an internal crisis that has undermined public confidence in the office.
Interim Inspector General Lamar Odom resigned recently under heavy criticism from members of the Ethics Board. Mr. Odom presided over a ho-hum tenure. Much worse, his flawed process to select office insider Neely Moody as police monitor created the impression that the fix was in.
Then, only days after his selection, Mr. Quatrevaux announced he would not officially take the post until mid-October. It’s understandable that Mr. Quatrevaux needed some time to settle his business affairs, but a five-week absence does little to stabilize the office, and he needs to hurry up as much as possible.
On his way out, Mr. Odom released a report accusing former Inspector General Robert Cerasoli of improper equipment purchases. Mr. Cerasoli denies the allegations, but the state legislative auditor received the report and should look into the matter.
Adding to the chaos in the office, Mr. Neely resigned after only weeks as police monitor, apparently out of anger that he wasn’t promoted to another post in the office.
This is not how New Orleanians expected the inspector general’s office to work.
Stabilizing the office is not Mr. Quatrevaux’s only pressing task. He also needs to increase its productivity. Taxpayers are dedicating more than $3 million a year to the IG’s office, which now employs about 30 people. Yet in two years the office has released only a few reports.
Those include important findings, chiefly a report that found that the Nagin administration overpaid contractors by $4 million for crime cameras, which helped spur a federal probe of those contracts.
But the office produced few results under Mr. Cerasoli and even less under Mr. Odom, and New Orleanians expect and need a more active office in the future.
For example, the Bureau of Governmental Research, a non-profit private watchdog, has been more productive uncovering government waste and inefficiencies — even though BGR has fewer than a third the staffers and budget of the inspector general’s office.
Mr. Quatrevaux’s decision to form a new unit to monitor city contracting can be a good first step to get the office out of its stupor. In another promising development, the Ethics Review Board hired Steven Scheckman as its general counsel. As the former special counsel for the state’s Judiciary Commission, Mr. Scheckman effectively investigated and prosecuted unethical and corrupt judges.
Mr. Quatrevaux said the new contract review unit will examine solicitations and check to ensure that bidders have good records and can do the job.
That prompted criticism from Mayor Ray Nagin, who questioned whether the inspector general has the legal authority to get involved in contracting at the front end. The City Charter does give the mayor broad contracting powers. But the IG does not seem to be suggesting that the mayor would be bound by whatever auditors find. Such a review could actually assist the administration.
Mayor Nagin’s criticism, however, went beyond the contract unit. He attacked the inspector general’s office and the Ethics Board itself, suggesting they are withholding negative reports on other city entities. The mayor did not back up his assertions, and board Chairman Kevin Wildes — who is a priest and president of Loyola University — said he’s unaware of any reports being withheld.
Mayor Nagin should not make the calculation that the IG office’s current troubles are an opportunity to undermine it and the Ethics Board. There’s still plenty of waste in city government, and New Orleanians want officials to correct the IG office’s problems and realize its potential — not to abandon the effort.
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