Ed Quatrevaux, the New Orleans inspector general who in October retired from an office roiled by infighting, is urging a delay in the selection of his successor, citing what he calls an ethical lapse by the chairman of the board making the selection and legal gaffes in the selection process.
Quatrevaux is accusing Ethics Review Board Chairman Allen Miller of failing to disclose his past work for the Sewerage & Water Board, a public agency that is subject to the inspector general's oversight and of which Quatrevaux was highly critical in recent years.
In fact, Quatrevaux's often scathing criticism of the S&WB, especially a report this summer on the board's failure to notify the public about possible danger from lead in the water supply, appeared to drive a wedge between the IG and the board — especially Miller — at a time when Quatrevaux was thought to still be seeking to retain his job for another five-year term.
Miller, an attorney, should resign from his ethics board post, and the search for a new IG should be halted until the public’s confidence in the board’s decisions is restored, Quatrevaux said in a Friday letter to the board that was first reported by Fox8 News.
Quatrevaux also pointed to an unpublicized teleconference that an ethics board search committee held last month to narrow a pool of 27 applicants for the IG's job to five finalists. He said that move violated the open meetings law and opened the entire search process to potential legal challenge.
“It is essential that individuals free from conflicts of interest shepherd the selection of an IG and that every step of the process be made visible to the public,” Quatrevaux wrote.
“Only then can the public be confident that the process has not been compromised and that it results in the selection of a truly independent IG of impeccable character and top qualifications.”
Miller, reached by phone Saturday, said he no longer represents the S&WB and that he would have a detailed response to Quatrevaux’s allegations at a later date.
He also defended the board’s methods.
“The national search for the inspector general will continue on Dec. 20 with a public meeting, and we encourage the public to participate in what has been and will continue to be a transparent process,” he said.
Quatrevaux’s criticisms only add to the long-running saga of finger-pointing within his former office, which kicked off in earnest after the July leak of an explosive report authored by Howard Schwartz, a deputy IG who in it accused one of his colleagues of the same sort of patronage and favoritism the OIG is tasked with weeding out.
That report sowed seeds of discord between Schwartz and Quatrevaux, who was incensed by its leak to The Advocate.
Quatrevaux has maintained that Schwartz, the former deputy IG for investigations, had a motive for painting his counterpart in the inspections and evaluations division, Nadiene Van Dyke, in the worst light possible. One of the two was in line to replace Quatrevaux temporarily upon his retirement, and Schwartz is also a finalist for the permanent job. The Ethics Review Board named him interim IG after Quatrevaux's departure.
Van Dyke, who retired from the office in October, has maintained her innocence and said that Schwartz was out to smear her.
Days before Schwartz was due to take over the top job on an interim basis, Quatrevaux fired him as a deputy IG, a move some observers said seemed vindictive. The ethics board nonetheless gave him the interim post.
Now Miller — the chairman who tapped Schwartz for the interim job — is in Quatrevaux’s line of fire.
Miller, a partner at the law firm Phelps Dunbar, was appointed to the ethics board in 2013. He signed an agreement two years later between the city and his law firm to provide legal services to the S&WB, Quatrevaux wrote in his letter.
Quatrevaux said Saturday that he found out just days ago about Miller’s conflict, which he said Miller never disclosed.
“In a piece of irony, he is a city contractor, and there is a provision in his contract that provides the OIG the right to audit” his invoices to the city, Quatrevaux said. “So how is the inspector general going to audit the chairman of the ethics board’s contract invoices? It’s structurally impossible.”
Quatrevaux suggested that Miller’s work with the S&WB has already impaired his objectivity. Earlier this year, Miller largely dismissed a report on the S&WB that Van Dyke and other employees worked on, under Quatrevaux’s leadership.
The report focused on the potential that road construction or other work can cause vibrations that will shake loose lead flakes in the water pipes leading to homes, something it said the S&WB does not warn residents about.
But Miller downplayed the report, noting that Quatrevaux's staff did not do any independent water testing before reaching the conclusions in the report, which said the lead danger should be treated as a public health emergency.
Quatrevaux said the exchange was proof of Miller’s intent “to mute criticisms of the S&WB.” He also rapped Schwartz for promising to issue a revised report on the issue after he was elected interim IG.
The report was mentioned in Schwartz’s internal investigation as proof of Van Dyke’s misdeeds, as Schwartz claimed she pressured an employee working on lead issues with the S&WB to come up with more critical conclusions and sought to mislead S&WB officials about what the IG's Office was working on.
Quatrevaux called on the state Ethics Board to scrutinize all of the local board members’ resumés, to ensure there are no other conflicts, and said the entire search for a new inspector general should be put on hold.
He said the search committee's Nov. 29 teleconference was a misstep under the state’s open meetings law. The state's open meetings law requires public bodies and their committees to conduct business in public, and the attorney general has said meetings cannot be conducted by phone.
Miller said he would respond to Quatrevaux’s specific allegations at a later date.
Dane Ciolino, the board’s general counsel, said Quatrevaux’s accusations were “without basis in the ethics laws.”
A spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who appoints six members of the local ethics board from lists of nominees submitted by university presidents, said no conflicts were found at the time of Miller’s appointment, before he began representing the water board.
“After a review of the matter, the administration will determine the appropriate course of action moving forward,” spokesman Craig Belden said.
At least until the latest imbroglio, the ethics board was expected to select the next IG on Wednesday, after having picked two contenders from a list of five finalists following a daylong executive session last week.
Schwartz and Derry Harper, the assistant district attorney general for Nashville, Tennessee, are the last candidates standing, Miller said.
The two are expected to take questions from the public on Wednesday, a move ethics board members agreed upon last week in response to calls from critics for more transparency in the selection process.