In The News › Our Views: A charter change not ready for voters

Our Views: A charter change not ready for voters

The Advocate

October 25, 2016

Vexed by a conflict between Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and New Orleans Inspector-General Ed Quatrevaux, the insiders at City Hall have decided to resolve the problem with a proposed change to the city’s charter that would permanently subdivide dedicated funding among three ethics agencies: Huston’s police monitoring shop, Quatrevaux’s inspector-general office, and the ethics oversight board. There are other provisions in the proposed charter change, including measures for more stringent outside evaluations of the ethics agencies. But the most prominent part of the proposed reforms is an effort to clarify boundaries between the agencies.

As a political solution, this seems easy to embrace. City Council members were dismayed by the highly public quarrels between Hutson and Quatrevaux, the latter now having budgetary authority over the former. Last year, the two struck a truce in something more like a separation than an actual divorce.

The Nov. 8 ballot proposition seems aimed at strengthening the independence of these agencies, but the City Council, which advanced the charter amendment, never adopted a companion ordinance that would detail how the provisions of the proposed charter change would be implemented. That’s an odd omission for an initiative that’s supposed to promote good government.

Currently the police monitor is appointed by the IG, and if the agencies are to be separated, presumably the next police monitor should be picked in a different way. Voters will want to know how that selection works. But there is no ordinance articulating a process. Since the point of the exercise is to make the monitor even more independent, this is a substantial omission.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit, nongovernmental group that studies local government issues, is certainly underwhelmed by the proposition.

BGR pointedly did not endorse the ballot proposal after reviewing its particulars — or its lack of them. “Without a companion ordinance, the charter amendment presents an incomplete picture of the revised Police Monitor structure that would emerge upon passage of the amendment,” BGR noted.

Nor has there been a searching examination of the alternatives, BGR said, although it pointed out that there is a wide variation among cities about how to deal with issues of oversight, whether of police (the monitor’s job) or more widely in city government, the role of the inspector general’s office.

If the charter amendment passes, the division of the dedicated tax money would be set, and there would be little incentive for those who lead these agencies to explore what BGR suggests: “a comprehensive analysis of police monitor offices nationwide, including the appropriateness of the permanent tax dedication.”

Aside from the dedication of money, there would be a lot of organizational questions about the monitor’s office and its independence that would be left open.

Why not clarify those questions, and present to the people at a future date a charter amendment and a related ordinance that would resolve the concerns raised by BGR?

We recommend a vote against this amendment, which might nudge City Hall to get its ducks in a row before a proposal this important goes on the ballot.

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