Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell on Wednesday announced the appointment of five key aides who will oversee the city's public safety and disaster preparedness operations after she becomes mayor next week. But much attention quickly turned to a name that wasn't on the list.
Warren Riley, who led the New Orleans Police Department through a turbulent half-decade after Katrina, will not, at least for now, become director of public safety and homeland security, Cantrell said. She cited pushback from the community — what she referred to as an "uptick" — after she said last week that he was a top candidate for the job.
"I have determined that I am pressing 'pause' at this time," Cantrell said. "Because what I am big on is community, and I am big on listening to my people."
She said she plans to make an announcement "soon" about the job she acknowledged she had planned to offer to Riley. It is not clear whether she has ruled Riley out as a candidate.
Meanwhile, as expected, Michael Harrison will keep his job as NOPD superintendent, Cantrell confirmed. She did not conduct a national search for candidates who might replace him, something she had promised to do on the campaign trail. Instead, she said Wednesday, as she has said during the transition, that she instead intends to come up with benchmarks by which to grade Harrison's performance and decide whether to keep him in the long term.
Others receiving job offers are Tim McConnell, who will continue as superintendent of the Fire Department, and Collin Arnold, a deputy in the city’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, who will assume that office's helm.
Tenisha Stevens, a deputy chief of investigations in the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, will become criminal justice commissioner, a post that had been held by retired Judge Calvin Johnson.
Emily Nichols, an emergency doctor at Ochsner Health System, will become the city's health director, replacing Joseph Kanter.
When Cantrell confirmed to WDSU-TV last week that Riley was on the short list for the homeland security job, the news shocked critics, who cited police misdeeds in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — and what they said was Riley's failure to address them — as reasons to block his return to city government.
Chief among those misdeeds were the police shootings on the Danziger Bridge, which left two civilians dead and four others wounded, and the subsequent police cover-up of the episode.
Riley, a former NOPD chief of operations who was promoted to the top job a month after the storm, has admitted he never read the NOPD's own report on the deadly incident. But he said he received multiple briefings on the incident, and that it’s not realistic for top police officials to read every line of every report.
Riley also has been faulted for the NOPD's lackluster effort to unravel the police shooting and subsequent incineration of the body of Henry Glover in Algiers, which also occurred shortly after Katrina.
Both the Glover case and the Danziger shootings were eventually prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. The troubling findings of federal investigators also played a major role in the negotiation of a federal consent decree after Riley's departure in 2010, requiring a raft of reforms at the NOPD.
Riley is currently a federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Had he been named director of public safety and homeland security, he would not have directly run the Police Department, but he presumably would have had some say in overseeing and evaluating Harrison.
An organization chart for Cantrell’s administration has yet to be released.
Cantrell apparently changed her plans about Riley late in the game. A press advisory Wednesday morning said she’d be joined that afternoon by six hires; instead, only five people stood at her side.
She said she decided to delay the Riley decision after she talked to “people in the trenches” and in city neighborhoods.
Among those bending her ear, she said, were relatives of Ronald Madison, one of the two people fatally shot by police on the Danziger Bridge. Police initially sought to blame Lance Madison, Ronald's brother, for setting off the shootings, booking him on attempted murder. It later emerged that he was unarmed.
Romell Madison, a dentist and brother of both Lance and Ronald who has often spoken for the family, has said a return of Riley would be “letting the fox back in the henhouse.”
The proposed move also was criticized by Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, which often tangled with Riley. Goyeneche predicted the U.S. Justice Department would take a dim view of the appointment and said it would set back completion of the consent decree.
Two officials who investigated and wrote up many of the findings that formed the basis of the consent decree penned a joint column this week arguing that hiring Riley would be "a step backwards." And an online petition against Riley's appointment had garnered 322 signatures by Wednesday.
Harrison, meanwhile, appears to be secure in his role as NOPD chief for now, with Cantrell having abandoned for the time being the idea of a national search and reiterating Wednesday that she intends to come up with measures by which to grade Harrison and other employees.
“I want to give a very special thank you to Mayor-elect Cantrell, for having the confidence in me to give me the opportunity to serve the great citizens of New Orleans,” Harrison said.
He said he plans to continue the department’s current work to address the city’s violent crime rate, improve community relations, and be transparent and ethical in its operations — things he said the department has become known for around the country.
Gregory Rusovich, chairman of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, praised the progress the NOPD has made under Harrison’s leadership, particularly in reducing the attrition of officers and even starting to boost staff strength. He also said Harrison has worked well with the federal judge and monitors overseeing the NOPD’s consent decree and has overseen the beginnings of a crucial cultural change within the department.
“He’s been very cooperative with them and believes in their ultimate goal,” Rusovich said. “He also wants to make sure that we continue policing in a very robust and proactive way as well.”
Harrison is generally well regarded by NOPD officers, polls have shown. In a survey from July, 79 percent of officers said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that he’s moving the department in the right direction.
Rusovich, who has served on Cantrell’s transition committees, said he was speaking from his position at the Police and Justice Foundation and not as a transition member. Cantrell required people working on the transition to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Arnold, meanwhile, will also take on a particularly important role as head of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, given that hurricane season starts June 1. Cantrell said his appointment was a reflection of her desire to promote from within, when possible.
Aaron Miller, who most recently held that position in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, announced his departure in February and began a new job in Virginia last month.
Wednesday’s announcement was the latest in a series of appointments Cantrell has made in recent days. She previously named Gilbert Montano, a former Albuquerque, New Mexico, government official, as the city's new chief administrative officer, and Norman White, a former finance chief in Detroit, as chief financial officer.
Her city attorney will be Sunni LeBeouf, and her communications director will be Beau Tidwell. Several other deputies and department heads were also announced Tuesday.
On Thursday, Cantrell will unveil her plan for city governance, the result of months of work by transition committees who have focused on numerous priorities, including public safety, public transit, housing and economic development.
She will be inaugurated as mayor on Monday.
Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to the story.