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Howard Schwartz, Assistant Inspector General, speaks during the press conference held by the New Orleans Office of Inspector General and Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans about the theft of more than 34,000 pounds of brass by S&WB employees in New Orleans, Wednesday December 14, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER

Howard Schwartz, the deputy-turned-interim New Orleans inspector general who assumed leadership Friday of a governmental office engulfed by bitter infighting, said he plans to refocus the office on its core mission and work to restore its credibility for however long he remains at the helm.

Schwartz also spoke out for the first time about an explosive and controversial report he authored that accused one of his top colleagues of the same kind of patronage and corruption the Office of Inspector General is supposed to root out.

He said his former boss, Ed Quatrevaux, gave him the initial green light to investigate his counterpart Nadiene Van Dyke — only to later flip the script and dismiss the report as biased because both deputies were in line for the job of Quatrevaux's successor. Quatrevaux suggested, in effect, that Schwartz had gone rogue.

In an interview Friday, Schwartz, 57, stood behind his report, which he said he drafted after several employees came forward to complain about Van Dyke’s mismanagement.

“I want to set the record straight,” he said. “The idea that I did this because I wanted Ed Quatrevaux’s job is preposterous.”

Quatrevaux did not return a call for comment.

Van Dyke, through her attorney, has said that Schwartz was merely out to smear her reputation. She retired from the office Friday, a few days after Quatrevaux issued a letter trashing Schwartz's report and clearing her of wrongdoing.

Schwartz, the former deputy IG for investigations, was tapped earlier this month to replace Quatrevaux on an interim basis by the Ethics Review Board, the agency that oversees the OIG’s work. Schwartz is also seeking the permanent job, along with three others. The application period has not yet closed. 

Until now, Schwartz has kept publicly quiet while Quatrevaux, who retired Thursday, offered his own narrative of a bizarre cascade of events that has tarnished the office’s credibility.

According to Quatrevaux, both Schwartz and Van Dyke were potential candidates for the office's interim top job once he retired — and that alone was reason enough to question Schwartz’s findings. The people doing reports for the office are supposed to be free of any personal or other bias. 

Schwartz's report, which accused Van Dyke of funneling lucrative contracts to her allies and approaching audits with preconceived agendas, was written after he conducted interviews with numerous employees. But those employees were also biased and unreliable because most of them reported to Schwartz, Quatrevaux said in a review he released to The Advocate last week.

Because of Schwartz’s alleged bias, Quatrevaux fired him on Monday — four days before Schwartz was due to assume the job as interim IG. Some observers, including members of the Ethics Review Board, saw the IG's action as vindictive.

Schwartz agreed. “Absolute retaliation. Pure retaliation,” he said of his firing.

In fact, it was Quatrevaux himself who told him to scrutinize Van Dyke, Schwartz said. That came after an employee complained in March that Van Dyke had undisclosed and inappropriate relationships with contractors working for the office and had made other missteps, Schwartz said.

“I’m no rogue employee who just decided to go after another employee because I wanted the job,” he said.

Furthermore, he said, it was not the first time Quatrevaux gave him the OK to investigate Van Dyke. In another incident, Schwartz looked into whether Van Dyke had exploited a loophole in civil service rules to grant one of her deputies a permanent promotion. Quatrevaux, presented in April with the results of Schwartz’s investigation on that point, gave Van Dyke a verbal reprimand and said she had had an “ethical lapse,” according to Schwartz’s report.

“That particular investigation was done two weeks before this one, and he never mentioned anything about an impairment or a conflict,” Schwartz said in an interview.

As for the claim that other employees were biased, Schwartz said his report was accompanied by hundreds of pages of emails between Van Dyke and other employees, which he said illustrated the behavior the report alleged. 

A copy of the report obtained by The Advocate in July did not include the report's attachments. Schwartz said it is against OIG policy to release a report while it is still under review, and that he was not the one who leaked it.

Quatrevaux was furious about the report's premature publication, which came as he was fighting to keep his job. He recently announced he would retire.

The messy saga has prompted calls for changes to the rules governing IG successions, the ethics board’s authority and other matters. Schwartz threw in his two cents on that point Friday, calling for a change to the rule that bars public employees from serving as inspectors general unless four years have passed since their last public employment date.

That rule, intended to stop people with close governmental ties from calling the shots in an office meant to hold public entities and officials accountable, also unfortunately prevents current inspectors general in other parishes or within state government from applying for the New Orleans position, Schwartz said.

Schwartz sought to allay the concerns of those who might question his appointment as interim IG, given his role in the current controversy. He said the office, under his leadership, is more than capable of refocusing on the watchdog work it became known for throughout most of Quatrevaux’s tenure.

“We are going to go back to work, and we will take all of the personality out of it, all of the drama out of it, and get back to doing the inspector general’s work,” he said.

“We will get back to the mission, because that is what’s important.”

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.