Rarely do you hear the city's inspector general call out a local board.
But an audio recording of a recent board meeting had New Orleans’ inspector general putting the Armstrong Airport Board on notice.
“Let me just say, put it on the table, that in the past this organization had a bad reputation and that reputation has been a pit of corruption,” Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux told the board. “In the past, this board took the low road to high life… In the past, this organization was consistent with the old New Orleans, steering jobs [and] business to favorites.”
Quatrevaux even singled out two FOX 8 investigations from last year. The first showed how former Airport Director Sean Hunter received a six-figure severance package. Months later, he pleaded guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges. The second focused on former Board Chairman Dan Packer, who put tens of thousands of dollars of questionable charges on his airport credit card.
“Your service carries with it a fiduciary responsibility,” Quatrevaux told board members, “so when the felon ex-director took a hundred-thousand dollars of people's money on his way out, you could have been held financially responsible.”
Quatrevaux also criticized “The so-called severance provision that’s in [Hunter’s] contract, signed by the board chair, who also spent more of the people's money on his own personal conduct.”
The inspector general says he will set up a satellite office inside the airport, just a short walk from where the current airport director works.
We asked director Iftikhar Ahmad for his reaction to Quatrevaux’s scrutiny. “I would say that where he’s at and where we’re at is exactly the same point,” he told us.
Ahmad says, for proof that the airport has changed, one need only examine recent contracts that he has procured. “We are procuring based on the services that we’re going to get and how much we’re going to pay for it, and that influence is not playing any role in it.”
Ahmad says only cost and quality will play a role.
For example, last year FOX 8 detailed a lucrative construction management contract with the firm Aviation Resources Team. We questioned the cost of the more than $6 million contract, and the tens of thousands of dollars of reimbursable expenses for travel and meals.
The ART contract used to be $6.7 million. Months after our story, the airport negotiated a new deal and now pays five million less for the same work, and has no reimbursable expenses.
We asked Ahmad if he thought the airport was paying ART too much money. “I think that… if you look at the way things turned out then I believe yes, we were,” he told us.
At the airport, the inspector general says his office will look at everything -- contracts, salaries, billings, even the taxicab industry -- for the first time for his office, digging deep down into one agency.
“This is a new approach,” Quatrevaux insists, “and we’re going to focus on organizations, and stay there until we’re satisfied that they’re free of disease.”
And Quatrevaux calls the airport the perfect place to try this new approach. “It's also important to our soul industry, tourism and convention. And an old, dilapidated airport is not what we need. And the reason we have that is because we wasted money on corruption.”
As he told the board, if they waste any more money on corruption, his office will be there, watching. “The old New Orleans behavior will not be tolerated,” Quatrevaux warned the board. “And if anyone engages in it, we will not hesitate to refer them for prosecution.”