Political leaders are often criticized for making decisions that reflect an end justifies the means approach to governing. Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu appears to be doing what he can to avoid that conflict in his search for a new police chief, but in the end he may have no alternative.
Landrieu is a huge proponent of the big tent approach to governance. He likes to invite everyone with a stake in his biggest decisions to sit down and weigh in, then forge a consensus, or at least a supportive coalition, out of that process. His transition team and its task forces reflect that philosophy.
But Landrieu is also results oriented. He can be single minded, even stubborn, and he is not one to back down from a challenge when he thinks hes right.
Therein lies his first conflict as New Orleans new mayor. His transitions most important task force, the one charged with recommending finalists for the job of police chief, has seen three defections and one involuntary dismissal because several members of the original 21-member committee dont agree with the process. They want the identities of all 78 applicants for the job to be made public. They feel so strongly about that conviction that three of them opted to withdraw from the committee rather than remain part of the process.
Landrieu says the initial vetting process, which is being done privately by several internationally respected law enforcement organizations, is not up for debate. As the new mayor and as the man who bears ultimate responsibility here he gets to make that call.
I think both sides are right. Those who cannot support a process they dont believe in are right to withdraw from that process. Likewise, as the person who must hire someone to lead NOPD out of its current morass, Landrieu is equally right to decide what that process will be.
Both sides also are wrong to the extent that theyre shooting at each other. Weve had enough of that.
A little historical context might help here. Sixteen years ago, Mayor-elect Marc Morial appointed a blue-ribbon search committee much like Landrieus to help him find the best new police chief. The committee didnt have the transparency issue to deal with; it just wasnt part of the citys political debate at the time. All applicants identities remained secret.
What is known, and what cannot be disputed, is the fact that the committee recommended several finalists to Morial and he rejected them all. I remember people losing patience with the new mayor for letting the decision drag on for almost six months. I also remember that he had a good response to those concerns: Its more important to get the right new chief than it is to get a new chief right now.
After rejecting all of his search committees finalists, Morial went his own way and recruited Richard Pennington, who turned around a corrupt NOPD and became one of the citys most respected and beloved public servants. Even today, his name still has magic in New Orleans. History shows that hiring Pennington was the single best decision Marc Morial made as mayor.
To this day, Im sure Morial wishes that his search committee could have turned up Penningtons name, but Pennington didnt apply through the committee. He was recruited by Morial after failing to land the chiefs job in Cleveland.
Meanwhile, most if not all the other 1994 applicants didnt have to endure the embarrassment of having their failure to land the job here hurt them back home where they had jobs in law enforcement.
In government, process is always important. But sometimes, the end result is more important. If Landrieu hires the right police chief with or without the task forces imprimatur it will be his signature decision as mayor. If he flubs this one, no one will blame the committee.