In The News › Inspectors general from N.O., Jefferson Parish address north shore crowd

Inspectors general from N.O., Jefferson Parish address north shore crowd

By Robert Rhoden, / The Times-Picayune
April 11, 2013

Authority, independence and sufficient funding are key elements for creation of a quality watchdog office for St. Tammany Parish, the inspectors general from New Orleans and Jefferson Parish told a receptive audience of about 100 citizens and public officials Thursday morning near Covington. New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and newly-hired Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock explained to the crowd how their respective offices are set up and gave suggestions for establishing such an office on the north shore.

Responding to a citizen’s question about making sure an IG office is established correctly from the very start, Quatrevaux offered the same advice he gave Jefferson Parish some time back: “If you’re not going to do it right, do me a favor: Don’t do it.”

The breakfast gathering was put on by the Bureau of Governmental Research and held at the Courtyard New Orleans Covington/Mandeville.

While the League of Women Voters of St. Tammany and others have for years called for the creation of an IG office for St. Tammany, the idea has gained steam in recent months due to the ongoing controversy surrounding the parish coroner’s office. Numerous reports of questionable spending by the coroner’s office have sparked investigations by the Legislative Auditor and federal authorities, and Parish President Pat Brister and the Parish Council have called for the resignation of Coroner Peter Galvan.

At one point, Quatrevaux made mention of the coroner’s office, eliciting a groan from the audience. He clarified, saying he meant “our coroner” in New Orleans. He then paused and said, “I know you’ve been ‘Galvanized,’ “ garnering chuckles from the crowd.

Parish Councilman Jake Groby, one of many elected officials at Thursday’s gathering, said the large crowd was indicative of the support for an IG in St. Tammany. “This is the grain of sand the pearl will grow from,” he said.

Quatrevaux said an IG office must have authority to investigate and have complete access to information and public employees. St. Tammany would be wise to set up its IG office in accordance with standards established by the Association of Inspectors General and bring in someone with plenty of experience, he said.

“This is not the job for a rookie,” he said.

He spoke of various successes his office has had in exposing waste, potential waste and fraud since he took the job in 2009, including a $400,000 reduction in a grass-cutting contract at Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Quatrevaux said he has some 25 people working in his office, and there is enough work for 50, perhaps even 100 people. “We have unlimited demand for our product,” he said to laughter from the crowd. The office, approved by voters in 1995, receives a percentage of the city’s budget, amounting to about $3.5 million per year, he said.

McClintock, on the job as Jefferson Parish’s IG for just three weeks, said a strong founding authority and dedicated funding source are vital. Jefferson Parish voters in October 2011 overwhelmingly supported the creation of the inspector general’s post, as well as a measure to move $1.3 million in annual revenues from the street lighting budget to the IG office.

Establishing an office through an executive order is good, doing so via a parish or state code is better, but creating it through the parish charter is the best method to give it stability, he said.

To have independence, the IG office requires sufficient funding, investigative authority, subpoena power, outside review and transparency, McClintock said. An IG should be selected by an independent appointing authority and hired under a contract, he said.

Funding the office through a dedicated millage or percentage of the parish budget is preferred, he said, because it is free of influence that may be present in the government’s normal budget process.

McClintock came to Jefferson Parish from Baltimore, where he served as inspector general. Asked about his fledgling office’s staffing, he said, “I don’t have an office. I don’t have a phone. I know where all the Starbucks are and I know how to get into the Wi-Fi. I hope to change that.”

He said he hopes to eventually have eight to 10 staffers.

The event was attended by numerous public officials, including Brister, who strongly supports the creation of an IG, several Parish Council members, Sheriff Jack Strain, Clerk of Court Malise Prieto and Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere.

State Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Pearl River, is currently drafting a bill to allow for the creation of an inspector general for St. Tammany.

Parish Councilman Reid Falconer said after the event that he is optimistic that an IG will become a reality. “There are a lot of details to be worked out. We have to start somewhere.”

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