If only public agencies would use the language more precisely, fully half the problems that beset them could probably be avoided.
Take, for instance, the New Orleans City Charter, which was amended in 2008 to create an Independent Police Monitor. A detailed definition then makes it clear that the role is actually a subservient one.
Still, since the IPM rates its own lengthy section in the charter, it was presumably not conceived as just another cog in Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s machine. The current kerfuffle was inevitable.
Quatrevaux says the charter makes him IPM Susan Hutson’s supervisor, but she regards herself as the free spirit her title might seem to suggest, and their relationship has always been frosty, which is especially awkward because they share office space. He has now had enough and wants her fired.
He cannot maintain that Hutson should not have been hired in the first place because the decision was his. The charter says the IG appoints the IPM from a list of candidates drawn up by a committee he chairs. The charter twice says the IPM runs a “division” of the IG’s office, and her operation is funded by whatever he chooses to allocate from his budget. Whether that means she cannot issue reports without his approval has been a major bone of contention, and she has continued to operate as though “independent” means what it says.
A couple of months ago, Quatrevaux commissioned an outside review of the IPM, giving her, she says, only short notice. The contract for the review was awarded without bids, which seemed a little rich from such a stickler for the proprieties of governance, but he said there was only one outfit up to the task.
Regardless, the charter says the IPM can be fired only by the city Ethics Board on the recommendation of the IG. Quatrevaux has duly dispatched a long letter to the board explaining why he wants her gone.
This is, perhaps, a ticklish time for the board to be weighing a request from a white man to fire a black woman. A couple of months ago, David Marcello, director of Tulane’s Public Law Center, rapped the board, among other alleged sins, for a lack of diversity.
In his letter, Quatrevaux asserts that Hutson “has engaged in ethical misconduct in office; unprofessional conduct; has failed to relate effectively with law enforcement; and other acts tarnishing the integrity of the Independent Police Monitor.”
Even allowing that personal animosities are at play, that is pretty serious indictment, all the more so since Quatrevaux is widely regarded as a consummate pro and straight arrow.
“The most recent and most egregious example” of Hutson’s misconduct, Quatrevaux writes, caused U.S. Judge Susie Morgan in July to restrict her access to NOPD videos and documents. Morgan, who is overseeing compliance with the consent decree reached after the Justice Department unearthed all manner of violent and unconstitutional antics among NOPD’s ranks, called a meeting in her chambers soon after Hutson on her own accord released a video of a New Orleans cop using shackles to belabor a girl in the juvenile slammer.
It was, of course, because New Orleans cops had been such a lawless bunch, and nobody trusted NOPD’s Internal Affairs department to police its own, that the IPM was created in the first place. It is unlikely that the public would have seen that video in the old days, and it was clearly a public service to release it.
Morgan, however, was “concerned,” according to Quatrevaux’s letter, and called the meeting to “develop a protocol” for future video releases “as soon as possible” but “within the confines of the law.”
Hutson turned “combative” and was the only one present who refused to play ball, according to Quatrevaux. Hutson’s attorney says she declined because she was being asked to sign off on a deal to withhold public records. Quatrevaux also claims that Hutson has frequently exceeded her authority and twisted facts in her public pronouncements, but what it all boils down to, her attorney says, is that he “does not like her independence.”
Therein lies the problem that may remain, however the Ethics Board rules, unless we reach a consensus on what “independent” means.
Quatrevaux says the idea was to establish a monitor independent not of him but of NOPD, a proposition that Hutson appeared to accept when she was hired. That is indeed what the charter probably means. But there’s clearly room for dispute.
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.