Gretna — When Baltimore Inspector General David McClintock decided to leave his native state to head Jefferson Parish’s newly created Inspector General Office, one thing really drew him to the job — independence.
McClintock, a former police officer, had been Baltimore’s inspector general since 2010, and he’s had to rebuild that office after its budget was drastically cut by the Baltimore City Council because of dissatisfaction with his predecessor. He understands budget fights and political maneuvering and was attracted by the fact that Jefferson Parish voters created an Inspector General’s Office that would largely be shielded from those issues.
As only the third inspector general in the state, McClintock sees the job as not only a chance to craft an office from scratch but also to be a trailblazer in a field that’s gaining traction nationwide.
“In the state and municipal environment, inspector generals really haven’t been around that long,” McClintock said. “In my opinion, there is not really a solidified opinion about what an inspector general does outside of the federal and military system.
“It’s becoming something that is slowly working its way into the mainstream. … When you think about it, there haven’t been a lot of functions like it in the history of the country.”
An inspector general, at least in the form adopted by Jefferson Parish, is definitely a new concept in Louisiana.
The state has developed a national reputation for political corruption, and thus an independent office specifically designed to root out wrongdoing is somewhat uncharted territory.
Louisiana got its first inspector general in 1988 by executive order from then-Gov. Buddy Roemer, but the office only gained statutory independence in 2008 under Gov. Bobby Jindal. The city of New Orleans has the only other inspector general in the state.
State Inspector General Stephen Street said his office is slowly transforming from an agency that strictly did lengthy audits to an agency that handles serious investigations largely because of its new independence. Independence increases public confidence because it allows the office to do investigations into any corner of government.
“If you start asking who people’s friends are before you start investigating a case, then you’re done with,” Street said, adding that it’s obvious from recent headlines that Jefferson Parish needs an agency dedicated to rooting out corruption. “It’s much needed, and I think it’s going to go a long way to helping the taxpayers and citizens of Jefferson Parish believe that someone is looking out for their best interest,” he said.
Jefferson Parish President John Young said he always envisioned the inspector general as a watchdog who remained outside the political fracas. That’s why he pushed for a charter amendment that gave the office almost complete autonomy and established a $1 million to $1.5 million budget with a dedicated property tax. Young said he avoided the meetings of the Ethics and Compliance Commission, which selected McClintock, so there would be no question that it was an independent decision.
“I purposely removed myself from that process,” he said.
Now he looks forward to meeting McClintock and hearing his vision for the office. More importantly, he looks forward to the office saving parish residents money by eliminating the waste, fraud and abuse that have occurred in the past.
“The creation of this office will institutionalize reforms in Jefferson Parish,” said Young, who is pushing to have some investigatory powers stripped from the parish council and left to the inspector general. “If the office operates the way it’s designed to operate, it will help us save more money.”
McClintock said when run properly, an inspector general’s office both roots out corruption and lays the foundation to minimize it in the future. That means hiring employees who can handle both audits and investigations with aplomb, something he stressed during his interview. Investigations may generate more public attention, but audits can expose long-standing questionable practices. Audits can establish protocols, but investigations are better when alacrity is needed, he said.
“They both have equal value, depending on the circumstances,” McClintock said. “The reality of it is that they both need to be done.”
Jefferson Parish’s Inspector General Office is an outgrowth of the scandals that ended the tenure of former Parish President Aaron Broussard, with reverberations still felt today.
Margie Seeman is a member of the advocacy group Citizens for Good Government that has spoken against parish corruption for years. Seeman said that despite reforms, the parish is still ripe with corruption that could be uncovered by an inspector general who listens to citizens and their concerns.
One area of interest is the parish council’s dealing with contractors, said Janet Howard, the executive director and president of the Bureau of Governmental Research. Seeman’s group has been railing against that relationship for years, and the parish seems poised to make some changes, but there is still work to be done, Seeman said.
“We were thrilled that Mr. McClintock was selected. He was our choice, the only one that we really wanted,” she said. “It took too long, but it was worth waiting for … We feel like things worked out exactly the way we had worked for.”
Rafael Goyeneche III, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said that what really impressed him about McClintock was his methodical nature and the fact that he seemed to grasp the realities of his new job. During the interview process McClintock refused to be tied down on how he would handle cases with a criminal nature, something Goyeneche, another former police officer, appreciated.
“You can’t have a blanket hard-and-fast rule that doesn’t have the ability to be flexible,” Goyeneche said. “His answers demonstrated a practical knowledge of what Jefferson Parish is facing right now.”
Although McClintock and the Ethics Commission have not finalized his start time, he already has a pretty good idea of how he plans to begin his tenure. Those residents expecting the new inspector general to immediately begin discovering corruption may be slightly disappointed. McClintock said his first five months will be dedicated to setting up polices and procedures for the office, along with mundane tasks of securing an office space and equipment. He will also create job descriptions and make hires.
However, McClintock said he will still accept residents’ tips and complaints and use them to map out his early plans. He stressed that his success is directly tied to the level of involvement shown by parish residents. In Baltimore, the vast majority of his most successful investigations were driven by information gleaned from the public.
“The best information, the most factual information that we’ve gotten, has come from the public,” McClintock said. “Be patient, there will be steady progress, but it will take time.”