In The News › IG Quatrevaux: ‘We don’t see wrongdoing, but we do see problems with the system’

Mar 18, 2010

Source: WWLTV

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish

IG Quatrevaux: ‘We don’t see wrongdoing, but we do see problems with the system’

March 18, 2010

The deal to redevelop the Municipal Auditorium is on hold after LeTriomphe Property Group announced it was halting negotiations on a professional services agreement with the city. Some city officials questioned the deal, including the city’s Inspector General, who found potential costly problems with the contract.

And now there are questions concerning the city’s sanitation contract with three companies.

Ed Quatrevaux, the city’s inpector general, sat down with Rob Nelson and Eric Paulsen and talked about his office and several issues he sees with city contracts.

WWL-TV: Let’s start with the garbage contracts that you were discussing Wednesday. What’s the problem there? And if I can ask on overall question, all these professional services contracts, are you alleging some kind of wrongdoing, overspending, a problem with the system or all of the above?

Ed Quatrevaux: “We don’t see wrongdoing, but we do see problems with the system very much. The system the way it’s constructed needs a lot of oversight.

WWL-TV: And specifically, what in the garbage contracts went astray?

EQ: “It’s just a matter of keeping after the contractors. Part of it, to be fair, these contracts were developed in the wake of Katrina and there were lots of difficulties in that time. But it did take several years.

WWL-TV: The trouble with this is right now, people are seeing some of the best garbage service they have had in this city in many years. But as Councilwoman Stacey Head has pointed out a number of times, the contracts were just way overpaid.

EQ: “I don’t know about overpaid, but they’re more expensive then what went before. There are some differences. This contract required automated collecting equipment. It required the contractors to buy carts and distribute them to the people. So there are some differences.

WWL-TV: So what are the problems with it?

EQ: “Oversight. We found that one of the first findings was until 2009, the garbage contractors were paid on the basis of the initial estimate that was in the bid in the contract and the city agrees with that. The other problems we saw, the city could not provide documentation of insurance for all the contractors. They could not provide proof of payment and performance.

WWL-TV: Has the city over paid?

EQ: “I can’t say that.”

WWL-TV: The bottom line, when the city can’t provide this or that, why can’t they? They’re basic functions of city government.

EQ: “A lot of city government has been outsourced to professional services companies. You’ll recall the city staff is about half of what it was before the storm. That’s my understanding. But I think city managers kind of gravitate normally to professional services contracts because it’s a lot easier to work with, it’s a lot faster than dealing with the civil service system. However, there’s a price to pay and we pay much higher rates for that kind of help.

WWL-TV: You also had some strong opinions and strong wording on the Municipal Auditorium deal. Explain what your issue was with that and what your reaction was to the developer saying, ‘OK, we’re backing out and slowing this thing down. We’re pretty much halting it altogether.’

EQ: “I think that’s the best thing for the people of the city. The contract we looked at in December really did not serve the best interest of the people very much. There were no deliverables. It was just all pay.

WWL-TV: It certainly had the appearance, especially with the mayor’s photographer being involved, it had the appearance to some of being a highly questionable contract. It’s your opinion that nothing nefarious was going on, it was just incompetence or lack of planning. What was the fatal flaw?

EQ: “I don’t know the cause. What I know is it was a flawed contract.”

WWL-TV: Is it one of those things where there’s too much power delegated to the mayor’s office when all of a sudden, it can just hand out the contract. Kind of like with the Chevron Building in trying to give the Chevron Building to City Hall.

EQ: “The mayor has enormous discretionary authority in the system we have in place now. That authority has been used unwisely in my opinion in these cases. Going forward, I think, we need to look at the system. I hope the new mayor does that.

WWL-TV: This issue with the police chief and the cooperation you’re getting with his office – where does that now stand. Has there been any progress at all? You were highly critical of the department a couple of weeks back.

EQ: “There has been some small progress. We received policies and procedures of the police department. Yesterday, we received four cases out of 40 where we had taken the complaint ourselves and referred it to the public integrity bureau. We’ve got their concluded investigation for those cases. But what has occurred so far is very much insufficient. It’s inadequate. We can’t do our job as the law requires us to do.

WWL-TV: The central issues seems to be when the IG office is entitled to certain records – while the PIB does it’s investigation or after it’s done. I assume somewhere in the law, it is spelled out explicitly. You say one thing, he says another.

EQ: “That’s my answer. It’s in the law. It’s in the law.

WWL-TV: You say your office should get the records as the investigation is progressing, not when the NOPD says it’s over?

EQ: “Correct.”

WWL-TV: “The Bureau of Governmental Research came out with a report Wednesday with a report that they said outlines some changes that they would like to see in this city as far as those professional services contracts. They were highly complimentary of your office saying it’s one of the best things to happen in this city in a long time for oversight on these things. The problem is, and we’ve seen it in Jefferson or other parishes, when there’s a whole lot of money going on and not that many eyes watching the process, shenanigans tend to happen. Are you finding that in this and do you think the BGR’s report is a good start that the (Mitch) Landrieu administration and City Council can take a look at?

EQ: “Yes, I think the BGR report is an excellent report. I don’t disagree with anything in it. I think the recommendations do move this city to a better system.

WWL-TV: Basically, they want to take the politics out of these professional services contracts.

EQ: “The American Bar Association has developed a model procurement code for state and local governments and it has been adopted by 16 states in full and others in part as well as thousands of municipalities. That system does exactly that. It provides centralized procurement by a professional non-elected official.

WWL-TV: You’ve said a lot of times when politicians are involved, especially parish and city leaders who have campaign contributors in some of these professional services contracts, that’s when the red flag goes up in your eyes.

EQ: “An elected official can’t win in that situation because when a contributor gets a contract, it does create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

WWL-TV: So, if the politics is taken out of that, then the process is done by somebody else?

EQ: “That’s the idea. Usually the chief executive, there’s a variety of approaches, but usually the chief executive is not involved or is presented with a recommendation of professional staff. In some cases, if they choose to reject that recommendation, then they’re required to explain why in writing.”

WWL-TV: You took some issues with the MWH contract, the company that has been overseeing some recovery efforts post-Katrina. What was your main gripe with that contract?

EQ: “I can’t talk about that because our report is still in draft. It was leaked … not by our office. It was provided to the city for its review and response and we’re awaiting that.

WWL-TV: Do you feel like city, and particularly the administration, has embraced and is cooperating with the OIG office? Are you getting the support and cooperation that you need to do the job that you need to do in a city that’s known for corruption?

EQ: “We do get the documents that we ask for. I don’t think there’s an enthusiastic cooperation with my office yet.”

WWL-TV: Are you hopeful that will change with the new administration?

EQ: “I am hopeful.”

WWL-TV: Have talked to the mayor-elect?

EQ: “I have.

WWL-TV: In most of the cases you look at, is it a matter of corruption or a matter of ineptitude?

EQ: “Rather than speaking on cases we’ve looked at. In general, it’s usually the case that the fraud is just a small portion of what can be wasted. Waste is a much bigger problem universally than fraud.

Mar 18, 2010

Source: WWLTV

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish

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