The legal dispute over whether New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has the right to audit the finances of the Orleans Parish School Board may be headed to the state Supreme Court before long.
Earlier this year, Quatrevaux tried to force his way into the board’s books by issuing an administrative subpoena. Civil District Court Judge Christopher Bruno ordered the board to comply.
But the inspector general is having a harder time with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. A three-judge panel voted to reverse Bruno’s decision, but the vote wasn’t unanimous, triggering another review by a five-judge panel, which heard arguments last week.
The fight turns on the intention of the state Legislature when it passed the law that authorized Quatrevaux’s office.
Quatrevaux says that law gives him the authority to scrutinize any agency in New Orleans that gets tax dollars “through” the city. And the School Board, though it is elected independently and decides for itself where to set property tax rates for public education, depends on the city’s Finance Department to actually collect the money.
The board disagrees, even though at least three of its seven members have said they wouldn’t mind Quatrevaux performing an audit of their books.
The school district’s lawyer, William Aaron, argues that Quatrevaux’s jurisdiction extends only to those agencies that get a cut of the city’s general fund, which is controlled by the mayor and City Council.
At the 4th Circuit on Wednesday, he called the inspector general a “free-range chicken,” accusing Quatrevaux of trying to wander outside his rightful purview.
Suzanne Lacy Wisdom, representing Quatrevaux, said the law is unambiguous, pointing out that members of New Orleans’ own delegation pushed the bill through the Legislature and must have known at the time that every public body in the city ultimately receives tax dollars through City Hall.
Acknowledging that she will need to pick up three votes among the five judges who will now decide the case, Wisdom predicted that the state Supreme Court is likely to take up the case, in part simply because it’s an interesting question of law.