Post-Katrina, New Orleans created three new local ethics entities: the Ethics Review Board (ERB), Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Office of Independent Police Monitor (OIPM). On November 8, voters can approve charter changes to extend local ethics reforms even further.
We write as a former ERB chairman (Tilton) and former pro-bono counsel (Marcello) during the ERB's startup years. We believe that approving ethics reforms on November 8 will improve operations among all three ethics entities.
Here are three reasons why.
First, the proposed charter change requires that all three ethics entities be regularly evaluated through independent, external review. Even ethics "watchdogs" need to be watched and held accountable.
Currently, the OIG is evaluated by quality assurance reviews every year and peer reviews every three years. But the ERB and OIPM have no similar performance evaluations.
The proposed charter change requires regular evaluations for them, just like the OIG. That's a good reform.
Second, the charter proposition commits a portion of annual ethics funding to each entity, at no additional cost to voters. The total amount of ethics money is already fixed by charter and remains the same.
Each ethics entity needs assured funding, because financial independence frees them to use their best judgment in protecting the public interest.
Permanent funding will also eliminate a conflict in the OIG-ERB relationship, whereby each year, the ERB approves IG salary increases and benefits, while the IG decides each year how much money to approve for the ERB’s budget.
This “structural conflict” is unavoidable, embedded in current law, and isn’t fair to the IG or ERB.
The charter change will correct that.
Third, the proposed charter change resolves conflicts between the OIG and OIPM that have impeded the operations of both offices.
One year ago, the OIG and OIPM were waging an ugly public battle over funding and independence. This conflict made it impossible for them to work together effectively.
The proposed charter change will establish once and for all the "independence" of the Independent Police Monitor. Charter reform is vital to improving relations between the two offices.
Our three new local ethics entities have made New Orleans city government more transparent and accountable.
But the struggle for better ethics and improved city government never ends. We heartily recommend a vote "FOR" the ethics reform proposition on November 8.
executive director, The Public Law Center
Rev. Cornelius Tilton
president, Christian Bible College of Louisiana