Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration decided to dismiss Malachi Hull as director of the Taxicab and For Hire Bureau in the middle of a holiday weekend after reviewing a scathing report by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux that accused Hull of “gross negligence” and failing to properly run his department.
The inspector general’s report, released Monday, said Hull failed to ensure that the bureau’s inspectors were properly trained and lied to investigators about his knowledge of their lack of preparedness. The report also said the bureau failed to maintain accurate and organized files and records.
A city spokesman said the administration received and reviewed a copy of Quatrevaux’s report recommending “administrative action” against Hull before releasing a three-sentence statement at about 7 p.m. on the Fourth of July holiday announcing that the controversial appointee was “no longer employed by the city.”
Hull had been recruited for the job by Landrieu. During his tenure, New Orleans instituted a package of new rules for the taxicab industry, including setting maximum ages for vehicles used as cabs and requiring that all cabs be equipped with credit card machines, GPS devices and security cameras. The changes were hotly opposed by many cab owners.
Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin had asked Quatrevaux to look into Hull’s performance following widely publicized incidents involving some of the bureau’s inspectors. The bureau oversees for-hire vehicles and companies, tour guides and brake tag stations.
A taxicab inspector pepper-sprayed and handcuffed a cab driver during an October squabble in the French Quarter. That inspector, Ronnie Blake, was suspended and later fired after Landrieu watched a video of the incident. Hull also was reprimanded for not “responding adequately to inappropriate actions by employees,” the city said in January. The cab driver in that incident, Emmanuel Esterlin, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, Hull and other officials last week.
Tour guide Wendy Bosma filed a similar suit after a November altercation with an inspector, Wilton Joiner, who wrenched Bosma’s arm behind her back in an attempt to confiscate her license. Joiner said Bosma had violated a city ordinance mandating that tour groups remain at least 50 feet away from one another. Bosma argued that there was not another group in sight and refused to give up her license. Hull watched as the incident unfolded but did not intervene. Joiner was booked with simple battery and later fired.
Citing those two cases of “excessive and unjustified” force, the report said Hull failed to ensure both that the bureau’s investigators were properly trained and that they didn’t step outside the bounds of their authority.
“(Hull) neglected his duty and was grossly negligent in not providing proper oversight and in not ensuring that his personnel were properly trained,” the report said. “(Hull’s) negligence directly impacted public safety.”
What’s more, according to the report, Hull lied to investigators from the Inspector General’s Office about his knowledge of his inspectors’ training.
Hull, in a December interview, said he learned of his inspectors’ lack of training in October, following the Blake incident. But several email exchanges between Hull and the Police Department in 2011 revealed that he sought training for inspectors that would have provided them with the “special police powers” to arrest and detain individuals.
The NOPD turned down the request because bureau investigators do not have enforcement powers, but Hull allowed them to operate as though they did.
The Blake and Joiner incidents “were facilitated by (Hull’s) gross negligence and neglect of duty,” the report said.
Quatrevaux’s office said its investigation included reviewing more than 1,200 files, including personnel files and “certificate of public necessity and convenience” (taxicab and other for-hire vehicle permit) files, plus interviews with bureau personnel, City Hall employees, taxicab drivers and CPNC owners.
Among the other findings was that between August 2011 and February 2012, 400 — or 80 percent of — CPNC owners paid less to the city in fees and fines than they owed. In one case, a CPNC owner owed the city $62,370 in transfer fees, the report said. The IG’s Office alerted Hull to the outstanding claim in September 2011, but he didn’t act to collect it until March 2013, according to the report. Hull also failed to review holders of 1,600 other CPNCs to determine if they owed renewal, inspection or other fees to the city, the report said.
Investigators also observed that CPNC files were incomplete and the office was in disarray. Documents were “under desks, behind desks, behind file cabinets, in the storage room, in two different recycling bins, in the employee break room and filed in the wrong CPNC files.”
In one example, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office could not find documents needed for a trial. The documents were later found under a bureau employee’s desk, the report said.
Many cab drivers and tour guides welcomed the news of Hull’s termination but said the move should have come months ago, when complaints first were raised.
“The mayor has been knowing he was a problem,” said Dieumafaite Nicolas, president of Alliance Cab Service. “But he said, ‘This is the man for the job.’ ”
Haunted History Tours owner Sidney Smith said he doesn’t think the mayor would have acted if not for Quatrevaux’s negative report.
“It’s a shame that it had to come to one of these inspectors beating up a female tour guide and having Malachi Hull there basically driving the getaway car,” Smith said. “I’m surprised that Mitch Landrieu didn’t do this sooner. But if it hadn’t happened, it would have raised more than my eyebrows.”
Landrieu recruited Hull to New Orleans from Atlanta in 2011 to overhaul the troubled Taxicab Bureau, which was then under investigation by federal agents following a bribery scandal.
In Atlanta, Hull spent more than eight years as director of the taxicab bureau for the Atlanta Police Department. He was appointed to that position by then-Atlanta Police Chief and former New Orleans Police Superintendent Richard Pennington.