Jefferson Parish — The identity of Jefferson Parish’s first inspector general will be announced today, and one of the keys to success for the parish’s new independent watchdog will be working with the two internal watchdogs already in place.
When Parish President John Young made the creation of a new Inspector General’s Office a key plank of his election platform, he told voters that having an independent watchdog was the only way to restore confidence in government. Parish officials and residents were reeling after widespread corruption by former Parish President Aaron Broussard and his underlings was revealed, and Young touted the post as crucial to moving forward.
During their recent interviews, the three inspector general candidates noted that one of the key functions of the office will be proactively serving as a corruption deterrent.
But even as he made that push, Young was incorporating two new positions into his own administration: internal auditor and ethics and compliance officer. Those positions were pushed by interim Parish President Steve Theriot as internal checks against abuses.
Theriot organized the jobs so that they would report directly to a special committee composed of parish council members and administrators, which is then charged with making recommendations to the full council. The parish hired W. Thomas Fikes as its auditor and Kim Raines Chatelain as its ethics and compliance director in 2011.
Broussard’s administration eliminated the auditor position in 2005, just as millions of federal dollars flowed into the parish, while the ethics and compliance position was new to the parish.
However, the duties Fikes and Chatelain perform overlap at times with the tasks generally accepted to be within the inspector general’s realm. Fikes examines the books of parish departments or agencies that receive parish funds. He completed an audit of the Jefferson Economic Development Commission and is finishing one on the Jefferson Performing Arts Society.
Chatelain is charged with ensuring the parish’s compliance with state ethics laws and also making determinations on whether ethical violations should be reported to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Young recently said that Jefferson Parish had completed one of the most extensive ethics overhauls in the state.
“No one else is doing this,” he told the ethics and governmental compliance commission last month.
Chatelain and Fikes both attended the recent inspector general interviews and said they were trying to get a feel for the philosophies of the candidates. Fikes said it’s obvious the three entities will have to work together to avoid duplication of effort or conflicts.
“We have some similar functions, but there are some differences as well,” he said.
One of the key differences is that the parish’s internal watchdogs serve more as consultants than investigators. Neither Chatelain nor Fikes can compel departments to surrender documents or force people to speak to them. They don’t conduct criminal investigations and only make recommendations to an internal committee. By contrast, the inspector general has subpoena power and may work closely with law enforcement agencies on investigations. The position also reports to no one officially except the public.
Young said that independence is what makes the new agency the perfect place to handle investigations into alleged wrongdoing. Young is seeking to get the parish’s charter advisory board to strip the council of its ability to investigate his employees and instead turn that responsibility over solely to the inspector general’s office. The internal office is great for instruction and advice, but the inspector general has a wider purpose.
“These are proactive. … The internal auditor handles the parish’s finances. The ethics and compliance officer makes sure employees comply with state law,” Young said.
Chatelain said when the inspector general gets involved, a clear violation typically has been suggested, while her office is there to set up the policies that avoid those violations.
“He’s identifying something that has either escaped people’s attention, or there are parts and pieces that haven’t been added up,” Chatelain said. “He has certain abilities to compel, but we’re front-end, proactive.”
Chatelain and Fikes both said that if they do their jobs correctly, and establish the proper policies and procedures, it should make things simpler for the inspector general.
“Hopefully we can work and find errors before (the inspector general) gets to them,” Fikes said.
However, Chatelain noted that when the inspector general does make recommendations, it will be her job to make certain those changes are implemented to avoid future problems.
“If (the inspector general) even finds a small link to us, we can firm it up and close it,” she said.
Jefferson Parish’s Ethics and Governmental Compliance Commission, a separate board from the one created by Theriot, will announce the parish’s new inspector general at a meeting tonight. Under consideration are Nicholas Shuler Jr., of Chicago; Dan McClintock, of Baltimore; and David Holmgren, of Virginia. The new inspector general still will need to hire a staff, and the office is expected to have a budget of about $1 million to $1.5 million that is funded through a dedicated tax.