The past few months have inflicted grievous wounds on the credibility of a governmental office whose mission is to hold other governmental entities to account — and which therefore must be squeaky-clean itself.
Consider: New Orleans’ inspector general for the past eight years, Ed Quatrevaux, is retiring this week under duress after the board that oversees his work announced a national search for a replacement and after a report written by Howard Schwartz, a top deputy, alleged mismanagement and even corruption within the office.
A second top deputy who was targeted in the report, Nadiene Van Dyke, is also expected to retire.
Adding to the palace intrigue already engulfing his office, retiring New Orleans Inspector G…
On his way out, meanwhile, Quatrevaux, 73, this week fired Schwartz, accusing him of bias and a conflict of interest — essentially saying Schwartz had written the report to line up the top job for himself. For good measure, Quatrevaux suggested that many of the dozen-plus employees interviewed and cited in Schwartz’s report had either been dishonest or were coerced by Schwartz to speak poorly of the office.
Quatrevaux’s actions came just days after the Ethics Review Board, which oversees the Office of Inspector General, had named Schwartz as the interim replacement for his departing boss. The board said Schwartz would fill the job while it chooses a permanent successor — a post for which Schwartz has been a contender.
Given the bitterness of the infighting, there is a range of opinions about how to restore the luster to an office whose efficacy largely depends on its reputation for integrity.
The Ethics Review Board stands firmly behind Schwartz, the deputy behind the explosive report that brought some of the turmoil into public view.
Other local leaders are standing behind Quatrevaux and his assertion that Schwartz had reason to discredit Van Dyke because he wanted the top job for himself.
But at least one outside expert says city officials should instead consider revising the city laws that govern Quatrevaux’s successor so that history isn’t repeated in the future.
For instance: The rules say that only an existing deputy IG or other manager can be appointed as interim IG, a policy aimed at ensuring a seamless transition until a permanent leader can be installed.
But sometimes well-intentioned rules can have unforeseen consequences, said Ann Skeet of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.
She mentioned set-ups in which colleagues take aim at one another to ruin their chances — as Quatrevaux accused Schwartz of doing to Van Dyke — or in which an IG fires a top deputy to ensure that a different, favored deputy gets the interim job.
Quatrevaux has not said that ensuring the interim job for Van Dyke — whom he cleared of wrongdoing in his report explaining why he was firing Schwartz — was his intention. But even if it was, Ethics Review Board Chairman Allen Miller said Schwartz will take office Friday as interim IG regardless, because Miller appointed Schwartz to the job before he was fired.
Quatrevaux has been on the defensive ever since the ethics board opened a national search for a successor earlier this year. At that point, he launched a public fight to keep his job, one he abruptly abandoned a day after Schwartz's scathing report was obtained by The New Orleans Advocate this summer.
New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, the city official in charge of ferreting out wa…
He insists his retirement, submitted to the ethics board in July but not publicly announced for two months, had nothing to do with the report's allegations of mismanagement and patronage by Van Dyke.
The report, authored by Schwartz, accused Van Dyke of funneling lucrative contracts to her friends and approaching audits with preconceived agendas. Schwartz compiled it based largely on interviews with numerous office employees.
Quatrevaux has not said whether he gave Schwartz the OK to investigate Van Dyke in the first place.
Faced with questions about the report's contents, Quatrevaux pledged to have a third-party investigator look into it, though he told reporters weeks ago that the report was bunk. But after he took an extended medical leave for surgery after a cerebral aneurysm, he ran out of time to oversee a procurement process, he said.
Instead, he investigated the matter himself, deemed the claims baseless and biased, and this week fired Schwartz.
Quatrevaux's termination of Schwartz set off ripples in the city’s political circles.
“It’s vindictive,” said City Councilman Jared Brossett, who said he authored the ordinance to separate the Independent Police Monitor's Office from the IG’s Office precisely because of such infighting.
“Why would you release (Schwartz) right before you are about to leave office yourself? He doesn’t want him to get the job,” Brossett said of Quatrevaux.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry, however, defended Quatrevaux and dismissed the idea that Schwartz should be appointed as interim IG, though she did agree that Schwartz’s claims should be reviewed by a third party.
“I do not believe it is wise to appoint an interim inspector general who is currently embroiled in controversy,” Guidry said. “Our current inspector general has saved our city millions of dollars over his tenure, and I have no reason to question his judgment.”
Miller, who picked Schwartz for the interim post, said a path forward might also include revisions to city laws to give the ethics board more oversight of the office's activities. He also has called for a third party to look into Schwartz’s claims.
David Marcello, a local lawyer who has called for reforms on the board, said a peer review should be done every three years, and another review annually, to ensure the board’s decisions are sound. He also said IG's should write up succession plans months in advance.
But Skeet, the California ethics expert, said the law might instead be changed to improve the rules for successions. The board might also, in the short term, consider sanctioning Quatrevaux for what appeared to her to qualify as misconduct, she said.
“Just to allow him to retire and ride off into the sunset with this much questioning over him, and especially this much questioning in the last week — they should at least have some discussion about it,” Skeet said.
She said she didn’t have enough information to opine on whether the interim job should be given to Schwartz or someone else. But at some point, she said, the board might decide it needs to “reset the culture” in order to restore public trust.
If New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is going down, he means to take the Sewerage …
“And they may decide that means bringing in somebody fresh or brand-new, so no one can say that there was a taint or a hangover from whatever these decisions are,” Skeet said.