Zurik: City to demote Safety and Permits Director following discrepancies by department’s inspectors

Smith will be a deputy within the city department
Published: Mar. 2, 2020 at 9:35 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The City of New Orleans will be demoting Zachary Smith, the head of the city’s Department of Safety and Permits, the city’s chief administrative officer confirms to FOX 8 News on Monday.

The action is being taken against Safety and Permits Director Zachary Smith after a series of investigations by FOX 8 News uncovered discrepancies with inspections claimed to have been performed by inspectors within his department.

FOX 8 News examined GPS data of inspectors Julie Tweeter, Thomas Dwyer and Eric Treadaway and found numerous occasions where the inspectors signed off on work, but GPS data shows their department vehicles did not come close to the locations inspected. The City of New Orleans has also been performing an internal and external investigation of the department’s inspections. Among those locations signed off by the inspectors included the Hard Rock Hotel site, located at Canal and Rampart streets. The Hard Rock Hotel construction site collapsed on Oct. 12, killing three men.

Following FOX 8′s reporting, Tweeter and Treadaway were both placed on emergency suspension without pay. Dwyer had retired in the days prior to FOX 8′s initial report and documentation of his discrepancies were placed in his employee file, according to the city.

Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said it is incumbent on the city to find what inspections were not performed and go back and re-inspect them to ensure safety.

“We have taken as much personnel action as we possibly can by removing, suspending and changing leadership within that agency both in the lower, middle and in many cases at the top,” New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said. “I think that it’s going to be important for us to really change everything from the inside out -- leave no stone unturned.”

Montaño said action was taken against Smith because of his actions as a manager and a supervisor. He said nothing in the city’s numerous investigations have revealed that Smith is involved in any sort of corruption. Smith will be kept in the department on an interim basis and then moved to another department.

The leadership change is not the only one Montaño has planned for the department. The city also announced Monday they will be revamping the Department of Safety and Permits into the Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Montaño has selected Tammie Jackson, an attorney in the city’s code enforcement division, as an interim leader for the department. Montaño said in the rebirth of the department there will also be a head of compliance that will report to his office and internal auditors.

According to the city, Smith is the only remaining employee in the department that can sign off on items as a chief building official, as required by law.

Montaño said the city has a “short bench” of four inspectors left after the suspensions and retirements that have occurred. He said that employees in other departments that hold the proper certifications will be brought in to help the department perform inspections.

The suspended inspectors will have a pre-termination hearings next week at City Hall.


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