BGR opposes shorter wait time for some New Orleans inspector general candidates

By Greg LaRose

Source: WDSU

December 21, 2020

The New Orleans City Council will soon consider easing some of the restrictions for applicants interested in becoming the city’s next inspector general. The Ethics Review Board, which oversees the independent IG’s office, seeks the changes to open their national search to more candidates.

A local watchdog organization likes that objective but has concerns with putting municipal employees and elected city officials who want the job on a faster track.

The Bureau of Governmental Research issued a report Monday that includes recommendations for how a replacement is found for Derry Harper, who resigned Oct. 31. Critics had knocked Harper’s lack of productivity in his two-and-a-half years in the IG’s post. His departure came a day before the Ethics Review Board was set to discuss his future.

There’s currently a four-year wait period for any former or current state or local government employee or elected official who wants to apply to become inspector general. The restriction is meant to discourage applicants who could face a conflict of interest or those who would exploit the IG’s work for political advantage.

The Ethics Review Board wants to shorten that wait time to two years, but BGR thinks that’s a bad idea for city employees and officials.

“A two-year waiting period may be sufficient for officials or employees of the State or its political subdi­visions because their work or service likely does not di­rectly involve City government or city funds,” BGR’s report said. “However, a two-year waiting period for employees and officials of the city and city-funded governmental entities would in­crease the risk of conflicts of interest that could harm the OIG’s independence.”

The four-year period also applies to employees of other inspectors general agencies in Louisiana with at least two years of experience. The Ethics Review Board wants to do away with that restriction entirely, and BGR supports that move.

The BGR report also calls for a clearly defined public role in the search process for the next inspector general, noting the Ethics Review Board currently lacks one. When Harper was hired in 2017, interviews of semifinalists were held in closed sessions. Public comments were accepted just ahead of the board’s final vote.

“The board also should interview and evaluate candidates during open meetings, unless there is a valid reason to move into a closed executive session” to comply with state law, BGR added in its report.

Another gap the BGR report highlighted was the absence of a process for employees of the Office of Inspector General to file workplace complaints. Late in Harper’s tenure, OIG employees approached the Ethics Review Board in confidence to air concerns about his leadership and absenteeism.

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