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Orleans Inspector General report issues review of office

7th April 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

In 1995, New Orleans voters spoke, mandating the creation of an ethics board and an inspector general. City Council didn’t move to actually make it happen until 12 years later, in 2007.

The relatively young OIG – consisting of Inspection and Eval­ua­tion, Investigations, and Construc­tion Fraud divisions – recently released their report for 2013, claiming to have identified $9.9 million in costs that could have been avoided, as well as fraud schemes with a potential loss of $14.4 million. The report compares that total $24.3 million in savings to the OIG’s net budget of $3 million.

This year’s report on the French Market Corporation’s corporate use of funds revealed that the FMC violated the Louisiana Constitution by making sponsorship payments to other organizations totaling $64,696.

A new audit of sanitation fees by the Sewerage and Water Board found that $8.5 million was not collected in 2011 and that one-third of accounts were delinquent. As a result, the administration and City Council later controversially approved a measure allowing water service termination for those severely late on sanitation fees.

This year the OIG followed up on Aviation Board credit card activity after its March 2012 report on the issue resulted in twelve findings related to internal controls over credit card transactions. The 2013 report stated that all of the OIG’s recommendations had been followed and that credit card expenses dropped by 87-percent, further evidence of a significant turnaround in the management of the Louis Armstrong Airport. A new audit of the New Orleans Aviation Board’s month-to-month contracts also began in 2013.

The OIG conducted a review of the New Orleans Firefighters’ Pension and Relief Fund (NOFFPRF) policies for credit cards and other reimbursements, which revealed that the NOFFPRF did not have a clear and comprehensive written policy, and lacked a separate policy for credit card usage, despite that nine of ten board members, one administrative employee and two individuals unrelated to the fund had unlimited access to credit cards. As a result, policies were strengthened.

An administrative investigation of NOPD determined that 177 thefts in the 8th District (which includes the French Quarter) were misclassified, possibly to keep said crimes from counting towards crime rate statistics.

The OIG’s review of security taxing districts also determined that the city’s private security patrols have no significant effect on violent crime, and that the NOPD’s early warning program could also use improvement. The OIG reports also that its administrative investigations ended in the firing or suspension of nine city employees.

“It was found that among City employees, a net total of 758 hours of leave were not entered into the payroll system, a monetary misstatement projected to total over $200k.”

The report goes on to detail the OIG’s brief history since its first completed project—the inspection of NOPD field interview data—determined that the NOPD’s data was collected and stored in a manner that precluded analysis. The office has since issued a total of 49 reports, 14 follow-up reports and 29 public letters since 2009. The OIG estimates it has saved the city, to date, around $54 million.

Though funded with city tax dollars, the OIG is kept strictly independent of city government, and does not operate out of City Hall. In 2007, the Ethics Review Board appointed the City’s first Inspector General, Robert Cerasoli, who under Mayor Ray Nagin started with a paltry $250,000 budget, before eventually securing a $3.2 million City Council appropriation. The OIG finally hire Cerasoli an administrative staff in the spring of 2009.

Having developed a functional office, Robert Cerasoli was struck ill and unable to fulfill his term. In 2009, Edouard Quatrevaux was appointed OIG and in 2013 he was reappointed for another four years.

This article originally published in the April 7, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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