NEW ORLEANS — The Recovery School District, which has been the subject of two recent audits by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, is instructing its central staff employees that requests for information from state agencies must go through its deputy chief of staff.
RSD Deputy Chief of Staff Laura Hawkins sent an internal email Friday to staffers outlining the procedure to follow.
“Recently, some of you have been contacted by officials from other state agencies, including the state Division of Administration, the Louisiana Inspector General, the Orleans Inspector General, and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, asking for information related to the work of the RSD,’’ Hawkins wrote. “In order to ensure that these requests for information and meetings are responded to in an efficient way, I will be coordinating this work centrally.”
One section was in bold type: “Should you receive any emails, calls, or letters from any governmental agency seeking information or to schedule a meeting, please do not respond directly.”
The email continued: “You should forward the information to me via email, and I will follow up with you to let you know how the RSD will proceed and whether I need anything additional from you.”
The email was sent the same week the Legislative Auditor’s Office released a report that found “inadequate project management practices” resulting in more than $6 million of questionable costs during the RSD’s modular campus construction program from 2007 to 2009.
RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard, who was not working for the RSD at the time, described the project in a response letter to the audit as being “plagued with poor construction management” by the companies under contract.
Another audit, released the previous week, found the RSD could not account for more than $2.7 million in movable property. In Dobard’s written response, he called the dollar amount “an extremely misleading number,” in that a large percentage of the property was not lost but rather had been moved around within the district and had incorrect location codes.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said he doesn’t fully understand the email. Quatrevaux said it was “interesting’’ and that he plans to discuss it with Dobard.
“It’s not necessary and just slows things down,” Quatrevaux said.
He said he could not comment on whether his office is currently conducting any investigations into the RSD.
But Dobard said the protocol has been in place for years and is intended to make responses more efficient.
Dobard said Hawkins was advised to send out a reminder email because the person who usually handles the requests, Chief of Staff Nash Crews, is on maternity leave.
Dobard said that the email was not related to the audits.
According to Dobard, the RSD’s protocol is similar to one that was in place when he worked for the Department of Education and is the same in “most if not all state agencies” in terms of handling requests.
Dobard said that a central point of contact is needed to deal with the large number of requests for information and to keep track of what the request is and when it was asked, and then to make sure requests are handled appropriately.
The email is not telling employees not to reply at all, he said, but rather to first notify a central entity of the request. That way, “we can make sure the responses are timely, appropriate and accurate,” Dobard said.
Hawkins said that by having everything go through her, the RSD can provide the best information and all the relevant information for each request made. Someone from the IG’s office may not contact the person who has the information they are looking for, for example, Hawkins said, so this policy ensures that the requests are directed to the appropriate people or office.
Daryl Purpera, the Louisiana legislative auditor who conducted the recent RSD audits, said it’s not unusual for agencies to go through a central person to make sure the information given out is accurate. Purpera said the RSD has been “cooperative all the way.”
During the recent audits, which were “pretty serious,” auditors spoke with many people and were not told by anyone that they had been ordered not to talk, Purpera said.
It would only become an issue if someone were impeding an investigation, Purpera said. He added that if his auditors perceive an investigation is being impeded in any way, they sit down with the management of the agency being audited and let them know the process isn’t working.
“Sometimes you need to get information from a janitor and not the CEO,” Purpera said.