Inspector general finalists interviewed by Ethics Board as public calls for public scrutiny

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The city's Ethics Review Board began vetting finalists for the city's inspector general's post behind closed doors Wednesday, even as the list of candidates has shrunk.

But first the board held a public hearing in City Council chambers Wednesday morning to allow the public to weigh in on the finalists and the process. And after public requests, the board voted in favor of allowing the finalists to make presentations to the public and take questions at a later date.

I.G. Ed Quatrevaux left his post in October pointing to health issues, but there was also turmoil in the office. Now four finalists remain in contention to replace him. They are: David Harper of New Mexico, Derry Harper of Tennessee (No Relation), Patrick Sullivan of Virginia and Howard Schwartz, a former FBI man who was Assistant I.G. until Quatrevaux fired him this fall during office in-fighting.

Still, Schwartz became interim I.G. after Quatrevaux left.

A fifth contender, Richard Holmgren of Texas, withdrew his name from consideration over the weekend according to the Ethics Board which oversees the I.G.'s Office.

"This is a critical office in city government that is supposed to be the rock-star, but right now the public is asking who's watching the watchdog. The next leader needs to re-instill confidence in this entity," said FOX 8 Political Analyst Mike Sherman.

There were calls for the finalists to be brought to an open session for questioning by some audience members.

"And I think it would serve our community and serve good government in New Orleans if there were an opportunity for those candidates to appear and be questioned by members of the public," said Michael Avery.

A few former NOPD officers rose to publicly support Schwartz for the job. They had worked with him previously.

"There is no wishy-wash with Howard. It's what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong," said former NOPD Commander Louis Dabdoub.

"I cannot imagine any other candidates applying for this job to be more qualified than Howard Schwartz," said Charles Watkins, who also worked for the police department.

No one in the sparse audience rose to speak for any of the other candidates for the job.

Meanwhile, Quatrevaux said he fired Schwartz over a report written against a co-worker that Quatrevaux did not deem credible.

"There's the I.G.'s response to Mr. Schwartz's report. None of these things can be overlooked and they create, they maintain the cloud over the I.G.'s office. We have excellent candidates who can come in and start fresh," said City Councilwoman Susan Guidry.

The Ethics Board said the candidates favored a closed-door vetting. None appeared to be at the public meeting.

But Sherman said transparency is key, especially for an office like the inspector general which is tasked with rooting out corruption and wasteful spending.

"We've live-streamed a lot of things that weren't available years ago, if government wants to continue increasing confidence, transparency is the way to do it," said Sherman.

Before heading to the executive session the board voted unanimously to allow public scrutiny of the candidates who make the cut after the closed door vetting.

"I envision it being a public statement by the candidate and then questions, and or comments by the public after that," said Board Chairman Allen Miller.

"It would be wise to have a meeting in public for the public to vet these candidates," said Sherman.

The Ethics Board meets again Dec. 20, and the finalists could be subjected to public questions then.

It's not clear if the board will choose a new inspector general at that meeting, but board members have suggested they want a new I.G. in place by early 2018.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.