In The News › New top watchdog stands guard
New top watchdog stands guard
His job is to root out public corruption
Saturday, September 05, 2009
By Michelle Krupa, Staff writer
In his first full day on the job, New Orleans Inspector General Edouard Quatrevaux on Friday vowed to build on the “good foundation” laid by his predecessor, with his first order of business to lay out a plan of attack for improving the efficiency of city government and rooting out corruption.
Quatrevaux, a Metairie businessman and former military inspector general who was selected Thursday as the second official to hold the city watchdog post, said he will spend the coming weeks meeting local officials, including Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley, plus his staff of 30 employees.
Quatrevaux also pledged to publish a strategy blueprint in “coming months” to let the public know precisely what he intends to accomplish, with a rough timeline.
While Quatrevaux said he plans to review his staff, “I have no plans to make a big sweep or anything like that.”
He said Len Odom, who served as interim inspector general until Quatrevaux’s appointment, has resumed his previous job as first assistant inspector general for criminal investigations.
The Rev. Kevin Wildes, who chairs the board charged with selecting the city’s inspector general, on Thursday criticized Odom’s performance as interim inspector general and said he planned to send Odom an e-mail message telling him not to report to work Friday.
Wildes’ position, however, does not give him the authority to fire employees of the inspector general’s office.
Wildes confirmed Friday that Odom is still with the agency.
Separately, Odom told the City Council on Thursday that he plans to leave city government Oct. 9.
Quatrevaux said he still is “considering” whether Odom will remain in his current post until then.
While Quatrevaux allowed that his work may include digging through public contracts and City Hall real-estate holdings, he echoed a philosophy trumpeted by the city’s first inspector general, Bob Cerasoli, that correcting inefficiencies and rooting out graft first requires a deep knowledge of the system.
“I would hope that we would understand, in the next four years, all the major operating functions of the city,” he said during a news conference at Loyola University.
Calling the inspector general position “a great innovation of government,” Quatrevaux said he intends to be active and visible.
“I will produce reports of substance for the city in my terms, and they will come as rapidly as I can make them come,” he said, adding that “it’s not just the quantity, it’s the impact.”
He declined to discuss any ongoing work, saying he had not yet gotten a status report from his underlings. “I don’t know what we’re working on,” he said. “This is the starting point. This is a scientific process.”
Quatrevaux said he will “reach out” to companies and nonprofits that do business with the city.
“To the city contractors, the message is about what we do and how we operate. And, eventually, I want to be in a position that everyone understands that if they steal from the city, they will be discovered . . . and they will be referred for prosecution,” he said, adding that while nonprofit leaders would get the same message, “one expects less difficulty there.”
He also wants to form relationships with the Bureau of Governmental Research and other watchdog groups that “for a long time have on their own have attempted to study the city’s operations,” he said.
He said he will maintain a hotline to solicit leads. “When the public knows something, they need to tell us about it,” he said.
Referring to New Orleans as “my hometown,” Quatrevaux said he has lived or traversed virtually every neighborhood of the city, and he ticked off a string of public schools he attended, including Alcee Fortier and Benjamin Franklin high schools.
Though he left the area for a 14-year stint in the Army and other endeavors, Quatrevaux said he and his wife moved back to Mandeville in 2001, then in March to Metairie, where he runs a small store called The Buck Stop.
Quatrevaux also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Tulane University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from UNO.
He said he expects his knowledge of the city, its history and culture to aid his job transition.
Reflecting on his decade as inspector general for the federal Legal Services Corp., which awards grants to nonprofits that provide legal aid to the indigent, Quatrevaux said he is most proud of a review he spearheaded into the use of information technology to deliver legal services.
The example prompted the kinds of practical changes that many inspectors general see as their highest achievements, though the public tends to expect investigations that end in criminal indictments.
Prompted by Quatrevaux’s findings that poor residents were reticent to use Web portals and computer kiosks to access legal assistance, Congress provided money for demonstration projects to expand access and education.
The projects expedited by three to four years the delivery of certain legal resources to “millions of poor people . . . when they would have otherwise been shut out,” he said.
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