Covington — Elected officials and residents of St. Tammany Parish packed a breakfast meeting Thursday to learn how two neighboring parishes started their inspector general’s offices — a signal that the drive to do so on the north shore is gaining momentum.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and newly hired Jefferson Parish Inspector General David McClintock spoke at the breakfast briefing sponsored by the Bureau of Governmental Research, and both stressed the importance of independence for the office.
Inspectors general are relatively new in state and local government, Quatrevaux said, noting that the position originated in the federal government in the 1970s. Now there are 73 IG offices in federal agencies, “because this works,’’ he told the audience.
Quatrevaux described the inspector general’s office as a profit center, saying that his office has saved three times what it costs. But, he acknowledged, “it’s not an easy thing to quantify how much fraud you prevent.’’
His office has saved the city money by ferreting out corruption and poor deals, he said. As an example, he cited a 2009 proposal by former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration to renovate the Morris F.X. Jeff Municipal Auditorium to the tune of $80 million that the inspector general’s office helped stop. At the time Quatrevaux raised questions of bid-rigging and favoritism in the proposed deal.
On Thursday he was more pointed. “It was a heist,’’ Quatrevaux said. “They didn’t have a ski mask, but it was a heist.’’
He also noted the role his office played in unraveling a bribery scandal that resulted in the convictions of New Orleans’ former technology chief, Greg Meffert, and vendor Mark St. Pierre.
The office helps city offices and agencies, he said, noting that the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office asked for help.
“Yeah, I know, you’ve been galvanized,’’ he said to the audience, referring to Peter Galvan, the St. Tammany Parish coroner whose spending has come under criticism and spurred citizen calls for government reform, including the creation of an inspector general’s office.
Quatrevaux pointed to wholesale changes at Louis Armstrong International Airport, which he said had been a pit of corruption but is now being run well with new carriers and more nonstop flights as a result.
“It is possible to change organizations,’’ he said.
McClintock, who has been on the job a few weeks, said that he was drawn to Jefferson Parish from his previous post in Baltimore, Md., in large part because the office has been set up to be independent and have its own source of financing that is not dependent of political whim.
After working with a budget of $750,000 in his last position, McClintock said that the $1.1 million he will have in Jefferson Parish “is enough to be initially effective.’’ But he noted that IGs find what he called “actionable’’ information that they may not have the resources to pursue.
Quatrevaux said that while he has 25 people working for him, “there could be 50, there could be 100 and they would not be idle.’’
Sandra Slifer, with the St. Tammany League of Women Voters, asked how a St. Tammany inspector general would be able to keep an eye on taxpayers’ money when there are 80 taxing bodies to follow.
Quatrevaux acknowledged that things would be simpler if there weren’t so many separate taxing authorities.
Rick Franzo, president of Concerned Citizens of Lacombe, asked the two for their take on how corruption hurts communities.
Quatrevaux said businesses cite three reasons for not choosing New Orleans: an uneducated workforce, poor infrastructure and corruption.
Carl Ernst, who serves as an adviser to the boards of Concerned Citizens of Lacombe and Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, said that those driving for an IG’s office are sometimes urged to start small and then grow it big. He asked what the two IGs thought about that argument.
Quatrevaux said that it’s important to get things right up front instead of trying to fix issues later. He said that he tells people “If you’re not going to do it right, do me a favor and don’t do it.’’