In The News › Police monitor, inspector general ask Orleans voters to finalize their divorce

Police monitor, inspector general ask Orleans voters to finalize their divorce

By Jim Mustian

The Advocate

October 21, 2016

Few breakups play out as publicly — or as bitterly — as that between Ed Quatrevaux, the New Orleans inspector general, and Susan Hutson, the city’s independent police monitor.

Years of acrimony culminated in an agreement last year between the two watchdogs to divide their offices both physically and organizationally, a move that afforded Hutson more autonomy and additional funding. It also allowed her to move her staff out of the office space she had shared with Quatrevaux, an arrangement that had grown increasingly unworkable.

In interviews, Hutson and Quatrevaux both said their contractual separation has paid off over the past year. Now they’re asking Orleans Parish voters to make the divorce final when they go to the polls Nov. 8.

A proposed amendment to the city’s Home Rule Charter would codify the split, decoupling the independent police monitor from the inspector general and providing Hutson’s office a guaranteed allocation from the city’s general fund budget each year.

The Office of Inspector General now receives 0.75 percent of the annual budget. That would be divided as follows: 0.55 percent to the OIG, 0.16 percent to the police monitor and 0.04 percent to the city’s Ethics Review Board.

The independent police monitor has remained a fairly obscure office since its inception eight years ago. Hutson and her staff are responsible for monitoring internal New Orleans Police Department investigations and mediating police-community disputes.

Her oversight role has been somewhat muddied — and overshadowed — by a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department that calls for sweeping reforms within the NOPD. Those reforms are overseen by a separate monitor.

The Inspector General’s Office, meanwhile, investigates dozens of city agencies, producing critical reports and analyzing how taxpayer dollars are spent.

“We really don’t go well together,” Quatrevaux said. “And this is the only practical solution we’ve been able to come up with.”

Hutson agreed but noted the City Council would still need to change a city ordinance to reflect the division of the two offices and to clarify that the independent police monitor now will answer to the Ethics Review Board rather than the inspector general.

She stressed that, contrary to some public perception, the charter amendment would not increase taxes.

“We really have to keep moving,” Hutson said. “A lot of our work this year has been going into getting our (new) physical space together. We’re pretty much getting to the end of that, and now it’s time to build our staff.”

Even if voters reject the charter amendment, Quatrevaux and Hutson said they will continue or renew the arrangement they agreed to last year that separated their offices amid a high-profile falling out.
Quatrevaux hired Hutson in 2010, but the two never agreed on how autonomous the independent police monitor was supposed to be.

A 2008 City Charter amendment called for the police monitor to report to the inspector general, but the extent of Quatrevaux’s authority over Hutson caused constant disagreement between the two. Hutson argued that she needed control over her own budget and staffing to be truly autonomous.

Tensions reached a boiling point last year when Quatrevaux asked the Ethics Review Board to terminate Hutson for a host of alleged improprieties, including her decision to release a video of a police officer striking a 16-year-old in juvenile custody.

That release irked the federal judge overseeing the NOPD consent decree and resulted in a curtailing of the independent police monitor’s access to certain police materials.

But Quatrevaux’s recommendation to terminate Huston proved controversial. Hundreds of people signed an online petition in support of Hutson, who also won the backing of a majority of the City Council. Quatrevaux ultimately withdrew his bid to have Hutson fired, and the two announced they had decided to divide their offices.

While Hutson and Quatrevaux both support the charter amendment, they failed to persuade the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research to endorse it. In a recent report, that group raised a number of questions about the need for the amendment. It noted among other findings that the proposed amendment does not spell out which entity will be responsible for hiring and firing the police monitor.

“The City Council could designate itself, the mayor or even the NOPD as the hiring entity, thereby diminishing the police monitor’s current level of independence,” the report said.

The BGR, which took no position on the amendment, said it also found no evidence that the conflict between Quatrevaux and Hutson “is due to any inherent flaw in the charter provisions making the police monitor a division of the (inspector general).”

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