Last year, I authored legislation which called for an ethics reform initiative to be placed on the upcoming Nov. 8 ballot in New Orleans. The initiative will ask voters to do three things.
First, the initiative proposes to amend the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans in order to operationally and financially separate our city's three ethics entities: the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Ethics Review Board (ERB), and the Office of Independent Police Monitor (OIPM).
This separation is long overdue, and if approved by the voters, it will allow each entity to operate with the independence needed to effectively honor their responsibilities and commitment to the citizens of New Orleans. The OIG needs the independence to prevent and detect fraud; the ERB needs the independence to administer and enforce the provisions of the Code of Ethics; and the OIPM needs the independence to act as the civilian police oversight monitor and the ability to sustain the NOPD Consent Decree reforms.
Currently, there is an organizational conflict among the offices that must be resolved. The Ethics Review Board approves the Inspector General’s salary and the Inspector General controls the Ethics Review Board’s and Independent Police Monitor’s budget allocation. This organizational conflict has weakened and created mistrust among all three entities. The initiative my colleagues and I placed on the ballot will allow voters to correct this conflict by truly making each office independent. If the OIG, the ERB, and the OIPM are to effectively and transparently perform their jobs as our city’s top watchdogs, it is essential that each office has operational and financial independence. The public must have confidence that each office can do the work they were created to perform. However, because of the inherent conflicts that exist in the Home Rule Charter, that’s nearly impossible.
Next, the initiative proposes to reallocate current funding that is already set in the Home Rule Charter. This is not a tax and no new funding will be required. Currently, the Charter commits a dedicated portion of the city’s General Fund operating budget to annually fund the Office of Inspector General, the Ethics Review Board, and the Office of Independent Police Monitor. The amount each entity receives is currently determined by the Inspector General. Again, this inherent organizational conflict must be resolved. The ballot initiative will resolve this by reallocating a fixed portion of ethics funding to each office, at no additional cost to the public. This reallocation will end the bitter public battle over funding, improve the relations between the offices, and allow each office to focus on the work the public entrusts them to do.
Finally, the initiative proposes to require each ethics entity to engage in a regular peer review process that meets the professional standards of each of their respective disciplines. This will ensure that each of our ethics entities is being independently monitored by industry experts and being held to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.
This ethics reform ballot initiative is clearly in the best interests of the citizens of New Orleans and in my view reflects what the voters hoped for and intended when they supported the creation of these offices.