In The News › Orleans charter change won’t change much

Orleans charter change won’t change much

By James Gill

The Advocate

October 23, 2016

The ballot is so long that, if you don’t show up fully prepared, the line outside will reach around the block.

This is the day you will, after making your presidential choice, be confronted with 24 candidates for the U.S. Senate. Then comes the race for the U.S. House of Representatives and, in Orleans Parish a couple of judgeships. Half a dozen proposed state constitutional amendments, with the usual opaque wording, follow, and woe betide the voter who shows up without having grasped, say, the ins and outs of a Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund.

As if that weren’t enough civic duty to satisfy the most dedicated democrat, New Orleans voters will be asked to change the city charter to separate Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson from Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux.

This is so far from a controversial idea that it has already happened. After the dizzying array of options higher up the ballot, voters may not need to agonize long over ratifying a fait accompli.

A Bureau of Governmental Research analysis concludes that “the charter change may not be necessary,” for it confirms the agreement Hutson and Quatrevaux signed when they buried the hatchet and went their separate ways last year. Questions about how they will operate in the future, however, will be left hanging, however the vote goes on the charter change.

Until their rapprochement, Hutson was subordinate to Quatrevaux, with whom she shared office space. She proved less subordinate that he thought she should be, however, and their relationship deteriorated to the point where they quit talking and he wanted her out.

Impasse followed, because of the somewhat goofy setup decreed by the City Council some 10 years ago when it decided to clean up government operations. To that end it established an Ethics Review Board, which would hire an inspector general, whose responsibilities included appointing the badly needed police monitor. The operations of the monitor and the ethics board were to be funded out of Quatrevaux’s budget at his discretion.

But Quatrevaux, who hired Hutson in 2010, could not function as bosses do the world over, because he was not given the right to fire her. Only the Ethics Board could do that. Impasse was therefore inevitable after Hutson refused to seek Quatrevaux’s approval before issuing her reports, insisting that an Independent Police Monitor should be just that.

It was however clear that the City Council had not intended to make her independent of Quatrevaux – the ordinance styles her operation a “division” of his. The idea rather was that the monitor should be independent of NOPD, so that complaints could be investigated with an impartiality that Internal Affairs could not be trusted to muster.

Regardless, Hutson and Quatrevaux worked on in an atmosphere of mutual resentment until he wrote a letter to the Ethics Review Board, citing various alleged misdeeds and urging that she be fired for “ethical misconduct.” Before the board could make a decision, however, a truce was reached, whereby Hutson was given $92,000 to cover the costs of moving her stuff out of Quatrevaux’s way and into a new office.

Hutson was then allocated about $1 million a year out of the budget that Quatrevaux administers, and both offices appear to have been happily producing their various reports without rancor ever since.

The ordinance making Hutson’s office a division of Quatrevaux’s remains on the books, but that provision will be scrapped if the charter change is approved. The charter change also enshrines in law the budgetary agreement inked by Quatrevaux and Hutson. The Ethics Review Board will also get a small, fixed percentage of the money that goes to keep government on the straight in narrow, which surely makes more sense than letting Quatrevaux settle on an amount. That was a pretty goofy arrangement, for the board has the power to give an uncooperative inspector general the heave-ho.

Whatever happens Nov. 8, there will be no more spats between Quatrevaux and Hutson, but BGR, which takes no position on the charter change, points out that voters will be missing such key information as to who will hire, fire and establish terms of employment for the police monitor. The charter change also requires external evaluations for the board, the inspector general and the police monitor but voters have no idea how this will work.

Those are pretty big gaps in a charter change that offers no improvement to the status quo. Weary voters may emerge from the booth scratching their heads.

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