The wave of political reform that swept across southeast Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina continues to have an impact in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Among the most significant reforms are the new offices of inspector general and compliance directors.
The idea for an Office of Inspector General (OIG) is not new in New Orleans. It first gained a foothold in the mid-1990s when then-Mayor Marc Morial pushed for revisions to the City Charter, but the OIG didn't come into being until after Katrina. Today, New Orleans has an inspector general and is in the process of hiring a compliance officer.
Jefferson Parish is the mirror image of New Orleans in that it is contemplating the creation of an inspector general's office but has already appointed an ethics and compliance officer. She is Kim R. Chatelain, a former assistant state attorney general who also practiced employment law in her private practice. Chatelain's appointment was confirmed last week by the Jefferson Parish Council. (By way of disclosure, I should point out that Chatelain and I practiced law at the same firm before Katrina.) In October, Jefferson voters will be asked to amend the parish charter to establish the Office of Inspector General.
In her new job as director of ethics and compliance, Chatelain will report to a special committee composed of parish President John Young, parish Chief Operating Officer Chris Cox and three parish council members.
On the surface, it may appear that an ethics and compliance officer does much the same thing as an inspector general, but that's not the case.
As envisioned in Orleans and Jefferson, the inspector general is independent of the administration as well as the council. New Orleans IG Ed Quatrevaux and his predecessor have already proved the value of the OIG concept, and the office is hitting its stride with the steady release of reports and recommendations. High on Quatrevaux's to-do list right now is an investigation into the private paid detail scandal at NOPD. The independence of his office is crucial to the credibility of his findings. The same will be true in Jefferson, if voters approve the charter referendum in October.
Jefferson Parish's compliance officer does not have political independence, but Chatelain does not report directly to one branch of government over the other. In addition, her duties will not be the same as those of an inspector general. An IG is more of an independent auditor, whereas Chatelain will function more as an in-house advisor on matters relating to parish policies and procedures, particularly as they pertain to employees and their conduct.
Both offices have a high "preventive" value in that the IG will look at contracts with the aim of eliminating waste and corruption, while the compliance officer will look at policies and procedures to make sure the parish is following all state and federal laws. Chatelain also will monitor compliance with financial disclosure requirements at the state and local level, among other duties.
Another important distinction is that the inspector general has subpoena power; the compliance officer does not.
"The compliance officer does not deal with numbers," Young says. "She will deal with policies and procedures, whereas the IG will deal with numbers and other matters. Above all, I think the creation of these offices will help change the culture of parish government."
Katrina was a terrible tragedy, but it also spurred citizens to get engaged and demand more of their elected officials. That engagement continues to produce results.