The pool of finalists vying to become New Orleans’ next inspector general has been whittled down to four after one contender backed away from the chance to take over an office plagued in recent months by scandal and infighting.
Richard David Holmgren, a former deputy IG for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said he withdrew his name after taking a hard look at the issues the office faces.
Meanwhile, a meeting Wednesday of the city's Ethics Review Board offered supporters and critics of Howard Schwartz, the interim IG who has been a key figure in the recent controversy, the chance to air their views on his fitness for the job.
Still competing for the permanent job are Schwartz, the deputy IG who assumed the office’s helm temporarily in October; David Harper, the IG for Albuquerque, New Mexico; Derry Harper, assistant district attorney general for Nashville; and Patrick Sullivan, the assistant IG for investigations at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Ethics Board, the entity tasked with selecting the next IG, held an open session Wednesday to receive comments on the finalists, then convened in private to interview the contenders and discuss their qualifications in detail. The board also heard privately from IG's Office employees.
A final decision on who gets the job could come Dec. 20.
The Ethics Board announced early this year that it would open a national search for a new IG — a move that prompted the incumbent, Ed Quatrevaux, to launch a campaign for his reappointment.
Then in July came the leak of an explosive report authored by Schwartz, the deputy IG for investigations. The report accused Nadiene Van Dyke, Schwartz’s counterpart in the inspections and evaluations division, of the same kind of patronage and corruption that the office is designed to root out.
A day after the report's contents became known, Quatrevaux privately notified the Ethics Board of his intention to retire, though he later said his decision had nothing to do with the leak.
Quatrevaux said Schwartz had a motive for besmirching Van Dyke, as one of the two was in line to replace Quatrevaux temporarily. Schwartz later threw his hat in the ring for the permanent job.
Quatrevaux deemed the report biased and fired Schwartz, days before the latter was due to succeed Quatrevaux on an interim basis at the Ethics Board’s request. Schwartz, however, maintained that it was Quatrevaux who gave him the green light to look into Van Dyke's actions in the first place.
It will be up to the next IG to try to end such discord, which came after another public spat between the IG and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor eventually led to the 2016 split of those two offices.
Some observers have said Schwartz is not the man for that job, given his central role in the acrimony. City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, a Quatrevaux supporter, urged Ethics Board members to give other contenders careful consideration.
“This is about a cloud that has come over the IG’s Office and needs to be cleared,” Guidry said Wednesday. “We have excellent candidates that can come in and start fresh, and I ask that you consider that.”
However, others spoke highly of Schwartz’s work in the local office of the FBI, where he served as assistant special agent in charge, supervisor of the FBI’s city corruption squad and in other roles, before he joined the IG's Office.
“I cannot imagine any other candidates applying for this job who are more qualified than Howard Schwartz,” said Charles Watkins, who said he worked with Schwartz on corruption cases while Watkins was a New Orleans police officer.
The board was expected to interview all four candidates Wednesday.
Members also decided to let the public ask questions of the finalists before the board makes its final decision, in response to calls from some audience members for more transparency.
The open question period and the final decision could come at a Dec. 20 meeting or at another date, members said.