Adding to the palace intrigue already engulfing his office, retiring New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux on Monday fired a top deputy who authored a report that said the office was plagued with the same kind of corruption it was created to root out.
Quatrevaux called the report by Howard Schwartz biased and aimed at impugning a potential rival of Schwartz's. The IG terminated Schwartz, the assistant IG for investigations, just days before he was due to take over the office on an interim basis.
However, Schwartz's firing won't change that, according to Ethics Review Board Chairman Allen Miller, who earlier this month tapped Schwartz to replace Quatrevaux temporarily when the inspector general retires on Thursday.
Schwartz is also a candidate to succeed Quatrevaux permanently, a decision that will be made by the Ethics Review Board, which oversees the inspector general's work.
Quatrevaux was furious when a draft of Schwartz's report criticizing the office was obtained by The Advocate in July. The lengthy report, which was deeply embarrassing to the already-embattled IG, was never officially released.
Weeks ago, Quatrevaux promised a reporter for the newspaper that the report would be thoroughly discredited, though the original plan was to have it reviewed by a third party. That never happened. Instead, Quatrevaux handled the review himself, and he didn't mince words in a statement that seemed aimed at dimming Schwartz's prospects for getting the permanent job.
“The report has no credibility due to its errors of fact, misrepresentations, and personal bias,” Quatrevaux said in a statement Monday. “The employment of the assistant inspector general for investigations responsible for the report has been terminated.”
The Monday statement made no mention of Schwartz's recent appointment as interim IG, though Quatrevaux acknowledged in a later interview that he was aware of Schwartz’s promotion.
Miller, reached by phone, said he was bothered that Quatrevaux personally looked into Schwartz’s claims of mismanagement within the office rather than fulfilling a pledge to contract out the review. Miller also questioned the timing of the ouster, three days before Schwartz was to succeed his boss. Quatrevaux received word of Schwartz’ promotion on Oct. 4, Miller said.
“The timing and the manner of this are all a big concern,” Miller said.
Quatrevaux told The Advocate that he didn’t have time to oversee a procurement process for an independent review, as he has been on extended medical leave for more than a month after needing surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. He did not say why he believed the review needed to be completed on his watch.
Schwartz said he had no comment on Quatrevaux's action.
Quatrevaux has been on the defensive ever since the ethics board announced earlier this year that it would open a national search for his position. The 73-year-old IG questioned the wisdom of that decision and began fighting to win his reappointment.
But in a striking about-face, Quatrevaux submitted his retirement to the board in July — a day after Schwartz’s report was obtained by The Advocate. Quatrevaux has insisted that his retirement was unrelated to the report's release.
On Monday, Quatrevaux sought to dispel that notion that he was personally angry with Schwartz. He said he wasn’t certain if his termination of Schwartz would have any lasting effect.
“But I had to take the action I thought was appropriate, given what my review of that report showed,” he said.
Schwartz’s report accused Schwartz’s counterpart in the inspections and evaluations division, Nadiene Van Dyke, of patronage and corruption. Quatrevaux's review pointedly questions Schwartz's motives and seeks to highlight factual problems in the report. It also clears Van Dyke of any wrongdoing.
Quatrevaux released his review at The Advocate’s request.
Under the city law that governs the IG’s Office, both Van Dyke and Schwartz were potential candidates to succeed Quatrevaux upon his retirement. That conflict alone should have been enough to discredit Schwartz’s report, Quatrevaux said.
“He was an apparent rival of Van Dyke to be the next IG, which created a motive for bias, which made him impaired,” he said.
Other office personnel involved in the crafting of report were biased as well, Quatrevaux said, including investigators who engaged in “office spats” with Van Dyke or who were upset by some of her decisions.
Quatrevaux dismissed outright the claims that former OIG media consultant Paula Pendarvis, a friend of Van Dyke’s, was paid more than $178,000 for her work from 2014 to 2017; that contractors working for Pendarvis received $100,000; and that Van Dyke took a special interest in Pendarvis’ contract.
He said he, not Van Dyke, approved the contracts for Pendarvis, and that Pendarvis was tapped for the job when others were unavailable.
“That accrued to the benefit of the OIG and the city of New Orleans because Pendarvis was indefatigable in her efforts, working days, nights and weekends for the OIG,” Quatrevaux said.
His conclusion echoes sentiments expressed by Van Dyke’s attorney, who submitted a defense of Pendarvis that Quatrevaux included in his investigation and largely agreed with. The attorney also accused Schwartz himself of leaking his report to the Ethics Review Board, outside the chain of command and without Quatrevaux’s approval.
Quatrevaux's decision to review the matter himself has not endeared him to the board. In a situation with such potential for conflicts of interest, the matter should have been investigated by a neutral third party, said Miller, the chairman.
Miller said Schwartz’s termination would have no bearing on the board's consideration of his fitness for the permanent job. Three others had applied as of last month. The application period is still open.
“I think I can speak for all board members that we intend to hire the most qualified and best person for the office, and that could and will include the evaluation of Mr. Schwartz,” Miller said.
“The board’s sole goal in doing this national search as well as making the appointment of Mr. Schwartz is to ensure the integrity of the office. And the recent events coming out that office have just been troubling at best.”
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